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Week in review: Vista furor

Microsoft's Vista is still months away from formal release, but the next version of Windows is already raising the hackles of many consumers.

Microsoft's Vista is still months away from formal release, but the next version of Windows is already raising the hackles of many consumers.

Under changes to Microsoft's licensing terms, buyers of retail copies of Vista will be able to transfer their software to a new machine only once. If they want to move their software a second time, they will have to buy a new copy of the operating system. In the past, those who bought a retail copy of Windows needed to uninstall it before moving it to another machine, but there was no limit to how many times this could be done.

"How much longer will consumers allow Microsoft to bully them?" one CNET News.com reader wrote in the TalkBack forum. "It is precisely because of actions like these that Microsoft products will be hacked more than ever."

Security companies also have been crying foul over the new operating system--and they might have been heard if only they had gotten into a meeting scheduled to field their complaints. Microsoft had set up such a meeting with security companies to discuss some of the changes it has promised to make to Windows Vista in response to competitive concerns. But the conference, which used Microsoft's Live Meeting technology, crashed about 15 minutes after it started, and both Symantec and McAfee were unable to log back in.

In another Vista feature, Microsoft plans to put machines to sleep after an hour of inactivity. While businesses and consumers can change that setting, the software maker said that they would be smart to let their computers nod off. Microsoft estimates that allowing a PC to go to sleep during off hours saves anywhere from $55 to $70 annually, depending on the type of monitor.

Many businesses leave their computers on at night, in many cases to make sure that they can install security patches. By adding the new sleep option, businesses still would be able to wake machines to install security updates, while letting them remain in the power-saving mode the rest of the time.

Browser battle
Some 18 months after Bill Gates pledged to revamp Internet Explorer, Microsoft has released the production version of IE 7. The new Web browser, which has been in testing for months, is now available for download.

On the feature side, Microsoft is playing catch-up in many areas. It has added support for Web standards, RSS Web feeds and tabbed browsing. The new browser also offers protection against phishing sites--malicious Web sites designed to trick users into handing over their personal information.

After months of ceding market share to Firefox, Microsoft has gained back a bit, although the Mozilla Foundation is getting closer to the launch of its own revamp, Firefox 2, which has hit the "release candidate" stage.

Some minor issues with IE 7 have materialized, but overall the new Microsoft browser appears to be well received. Microsoft has defused what would be the most serious issue: a first security hole in the browser since its official release. There is a vulnerability, but in Outlook Express, not IE, according to a corporate Microsoft blog. Security firms, including Secunia, had reported a flaw in IE 7.

Interestingly, Yahoo beat Microsoft the punch by releasing a Yahoo-optimized version of the Web browser. The browser is essentially the IE 7 browser with a number of tweaks, such as Yahoo home pages, Yahoo as the default search engine and a Yahoo toolbar.

A Microsoft representative declined to comment on the fact that IE 7 was available from Yahoo before it was available from the software giant. Microsoft has touted Yahoo's work as an example of the way other companies can customize the new browser.

Fixing a hole
Microsoft also wormed its way into iPod's fifth-birthday celebration with the revelation that some of the latest versions of the digital music player have shipped with a Windows virus. Apple Computer said that a small number of video iPods made after Sept. 12 included the RavMonE virus.

The company said it has seen fewer than 25 reports of the problem, which it said does not affect other models of the media player, nor does it affect Macs. Apple apologized on its Web site for the problem, but also used the opportunity to jab at Microsoft, its operating-system rival.

In a twist on phishing, cybercrooks are hijacking instant-messaging accounts to lure people to their information-thieving Web sites. These sites try to trick people into giving up sensitive information, such as credit card details, Social Security numbers or login credentials for online services.

In a tactic that includes an arsenal of online weapons, scammers are now also commandeering IM accounts to spread their bait. The barrage of attacks used includes account hijacking, phishing and SPIM, or spam via instant messaging.

Netflix has fixed weaknesses in its Web site that could have let outsiders change a user's address, add movies to their rental queue, and potentially hijack their account. The problems were repaired before they became publicly known.

An attacker could have taken advantage of the weaknesses by crafting a Web site that includes some simple HTML code, one security expert said. A Netflix user would have to be tricked into visiting the nefarious Web site for the attack to succeed.

Earnings season
Earnings season is heating up again, and some of Silicon Valley's biggest names reported healthy growth.

Google's third-quarter profit nearly doubled from a year ago as sales of keyword-related advertising continued to grow for the world's top Web search engine. The news sent Google's stock up shares rising nearly 8 percent to $459.51 in after-hours trading, after closing at $426.06, and the stock continued its climb in early trading on Friday, when it approached an all-time high.

Buoyed by greater than 30 percent growth in both Mac and iPod sales, Apple reported preliminary fiscal fourth-quarter earnings that easily topped analysts' expectations, but warned that its results could change once the company completes a probe into past stock option granting practices.

Intel finally provided some decent news for investors in 2006, beating lowered expectations for its third quarter despite coming in way short of last year's figures. During the third quarter, the world's largest chipmaker recorded revenue of $8.7 billion and net income of $1.3 billion, slightly exceeding analyst expectations and Intel's own guidance for the third quarter.

Also of note
FBI Director Robert Mueller called on Internet service providers to record their customers' online activities, a move likely to prompt fierce debate over privacy and law enforcement in Washington next year...A co-founder of Wikipedia and the site's former editor-in-chief is launching a rival site called Citizendium...Hewlett-Packard leapfrogged over Dell to recapture the lead as the No. 1 PC maker worldwide for the first time in almost three years.