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Week in review: Redmond's product posturing

Microsoft touts a big year ahead, while rival Apple continues to roll out the goods.

This week, Steve Ballmer touted a big year ahead for Microsoft--and made it clear he doesn't throw chairs.

Speaking at Gartner's Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., Microsoft's CEO responded to well-publicized testimony by a former employee that Ballmer had hurled furniture and vowed to "kill Google" when informed of the employee's plans to leave Microsoft for rival Google.

But Ballmer used the occasion to address far more than his alleged furniture-tossing habits. He said his company is "at the beginning of 12 months of the greatest innovation pipeline we have ever had. Vista, Office, Windows Mobile, (Internet Explorer) IE 7...I can point to a lot of things. We are in the middle of the best pipeline we have ever had as a company."

Microsoft on Monday launched an update to a community-based preview release of Windows Vista, which includes a number of new features, such as efforts to improve the Web browser and make the operating system more resilient.

Vista is the first major update to the client version of Windows since 2001. The final version of Vista, which has also been known by its Longhorn code name, is due out in the second half of next year, Microsoft has said. A server version of the operating system is expected in 2007.

Amid the rosy product forecast, Microsoft also had some troubles this week. The company on Wednesday published its second advisory in as many weeks for users to deal with trouble arising from October's patch release.

One recently released patch can lock Windows users out of their PCs, prevent the Windows Firewall from starting, block certain applications from running or installing, and empty the network connections folder, among other things.

The other patching issue deals with the fixes in security bulletin MS05-050. The problem occurs when Windows 2000 users who have DirectX 8.0 or 9.0 installed mistakenly apply the patch for DirectX 7.0. The computer will still be vulnerable to the flaw, while the user won't be notified that the system is not updated, Microsoft said.

The problems may result in more apprehension among users when it comes to applying Windows patches, noted Vijay Adusumilli, a senior product manager at security software vendor St. Bernard Software. "Microsoft's patch quality reputation just started to improve, but I think this is going to dent that a bit," Adusumilli said. Meanwhile, Microsoft has pulled back from a plan to exclude rival media players from portable music devices using its software.

Details of the plan--and the reversal--were contained in a quarterly status report that Microsoft and the Department of Justice filed on Thursday with the federal judge who oversees the company's landmark antitrust settlement.

Microsoft has been trying to find ways to make portable music players that run its software compete better in a market dominated by Apple Computer's iPod and its companion iTunes software. Under the program Microsoft had proposed, device makers that included a CD with Windows Media Player and other software would have had to agree not to include any other software, including rival media players.

Apple's product push forges on
Speaking of Redmond's rivals, Apple on Wednesday added to its steady stream of recently announced products with the unveiling of a new high-end photo processing software and upgrades to its Power Mac desktop and PowerBook laptops.

The new Power Mac G5 Quad has two 2.5GHz dual-core PowerPC G5 processors. At press events in New York and later at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., the company said all Power Macs will now feature dual-core chips and improved graphics cards. PowerBook notebooks are getting higher-resolution displays and improved batteries on the 15-inch and 17-inch models. All PowerBooks also will include a DVD-burning SuperDrive.

Meanwhile, Apple pitched the photo software, called Aperture, as a way for professional photographers to regain tools lost in the move from film cameras to digital technology. The application allows photographers to work easily with thousands of uncompressed RAW files and compare and edit the photos using a digital equivalent of a light table for sorting and a loupe for magnification.

While busy trotting out new products, Apple is keeping a close eye on one of its mainstays, the hugely popular iPod. The company is stepping up its push to get iPod accessory providers to pay royalties if they intend to make devices that connect electrically to the music player.

The move could generate millions of additional dollars for Apple, but it also could elicit some grumbles.

"Isn't going all proprietary like this the exact way they lost the PC market?" asked CNET News.com reader Bard Nott. "Apple, don't go down this road. Don't discourage people from supporting your product."

Walt Connery had even harsher words. "The company is constitutionally unable to see other manufacturers within its markets as anything but leeches and parasites who are always seeking gain at Apple's expense," he wrote. "Such companies are never viewed as 'partners' in a growing market."

Other readers, however, found nothing to criticize in Apple's move. "What makes this an 'iPod tax?'" asked a reader with the moniker Ru Sirius. "Answer, nothing. It is standard business practice."

In more iPod-related news, lawyers this week filed a class action suit against the company on behalf of those who have purchased the diminutive iPod Nano.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., on behalf of all those who have bought a Nano, alleges that Apple violated state consumer protection statutes, as well as express and implied warranties. The complaint charges that Apple knew there were design problems with the Nano.

Questions about whether the Nano scratches more easily have been bubbling around Apple message boards since shortly after the product was announced in September.

Video iPod gets steamy
The newest iPod on the block also made headlines this week. A week after the release of the new video-enabled iPod, content for the music player is starting to appear online. Get ready for the big surprise: Steamy subjects are leading the way.

Pinup model site Suicide Girls said Thursday that it had launched a new, free feature on its site offering downloadable videos of interviews and photo shots with its models, all configured for the video-capable device. At least one unambiguously adult site, Povpod.com, has also released content for the device.

The Suicide Girls "featurettes" are among the first of what is likely to be a flood of video reconfigured for the iPod player.

While the deluge of content for Apple's latest MP3 player started to trickle in, a storm of a very real kind continued to brew off the coast of Florida. Hurricane Wilma, a tempest of record force, is expected to to strike Florida this weekend. As it gets closer to the United States, dozens of weather Web sites, blogs and news sites are offering detailed updates on the advance. For weather geeks, a number of weather sites offer loads of meteorological detail.

From meteorology to Sun
Sun Microsystems on Wednesday released its latest Jini development toolkit under the Apache open-source license.

Jini was originally released in 1999 as a way to link consumer devices to Sun's Java software. But companies using the Jini software have been using it mainly for corporate computing jobs such as grid computing and clustered servers, according to Sun executives.

The software is specifically designed for building Java applications that rely on widely distributed components. For example, Sun uses Jini as part of its radio frequency identification software, which runs in small warehouse RFID readers.

The development of the Jini software is done through the Jini Community, an independent forum in which companies other than Sun contribute changes to the software.

Also of note
Google saw its third-quarter revenue nearly double from a year ago...In response to a new federal law, Internet pirates with prerelease movies in their shared folders will face stiffer penalties starting Monday...Hewlett-Packard accused a cartridge reseller of refilling used printer cartridges with ink that relies on a formula for HP-patented ink...Forrester declared Blu-ray the winner in the DVD format wars...EMC agreed to acquire Captiva for $275 million...IBM will introduce a new chassis for its blade servers in 2006...Intel technology could cut PC boot time...The Mozilla Foundation celebrated the 100 millionth download of its Firefox Web browser...Nintendo's NES console turned 20.