The week in review: Beware of Net

Remember when all you had to worry about was downloading a virus that would steal or destroy your data? Now you can worry about strangers controlling your PC.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
4 min read
File swappers this week were alarmed to discover that a California company has quietly attached its software to millions of downloads of the popular Kazaa file-trading program and plans to remotely "turn on" people's PCs, welding them into a new network of its own.

Brilliant Digital Entertainment has been distributing its 3D ad technology along with the Kazaa software since late last fall, but the company has revealed it also has been installing more ambitious technology that could turn every computer running Kazaa into a node in a new network controlled by Brilliant Digital.

The company plans to wake up the millions of computers that have installed its software in as soon as four weeks. It plans to use the machines--with their owners' permission--to host and distribute other companies' content such as advertising or music. Alternatively, it might borrow people's unused processing power to help with other companies' complicated computing tasks.

Brilliant Digital CEO Kevin Bermeister says he will be scrupulously careful about notifying people of exactly what is happening from now on. CNET News.com talked to Bermeister about his plans for Altnet and the storm of criticism.

Should you be worried about Brilliant's software? Read more in News.com's coverage of the controversy, complete with instructions on how to uninstall the technology.

In the latest privacy debate, the delivery of "cookies" through e-mail has raised concerns. Web sites have long planted cookies on consumers' hard drives to tailor Internet pages for returning visitors and better target ads. Now, enhanced messages that share the look and feel of Web pages are delivering the same bits of code through e-mail, in many cases without regard for safeguards that have been developed to protect consumer privacy on the Web.

In some cases, spammers may be able to link formerly anonymous consumers with their e-mail addresses. For example, a Web site specializing in horoscopes may know a consumer only by birth date. But if that Web site rents a list of e-mail addresses with that consumer's address on it, the company may be able to link the address to the individual's birth date and visits to the site.

No joke
Somewhere between the humorous and the ironic is a scheme worked up by Microsoft and Unisys as a way to steer big companies away from the Unix operating system. The punch line: The site itself was powered by Unix software.

The site, dubbed "We have the way out," runs on Web servers powered by FreeBSD, an open-source version of Unix, along with the Unix-based Web server Apache, according to Netcraft, which tracks Web site information. Both pieces of software compete with Microsoft's Windows operating system. The Microsoft-Unisys site solicits names and contact information in exchange for research reports on data center trends.

To the glee of Unix and Linux programmers, the site experienced a days-long outage, but was back online Thursday. Netcraft, which tracks the software running on various sites, reports that the site switched over to using Microsoft Internet Information Server software on Tuesday, the same day as the outage.

If reality is too weird, there were plenty of Web sites to keep the gullible guessing this April Fools' Day, from Napster buying Microsoft to Idealab buying F***edcompany.com.

Even Bill Gates, the world's richest man, was taken in by a couple of Canadian radio show hosts who imitated Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien to dupe Gates for April Fools' Day.

Executive shuffles
Two of the biggest names in technology announced leadership moves this week, some surprising and some not.

Microsoft announced that President and Chief Operating Officer Rick Belluzzo will leave the software maker as part of a reorganization. Microsoft did not name a replacement for the executive, who managed many of the company's consumer products and services at various times, including MSN, the Xbox game console, and Microsoft's interactive TV projects.

He will leave his position May 1. His tenure was marked by the lackluster performance of many of Microsoft's consumer projects, such as the plan to convince customers to pay for software on a subscription basis.

On the heels of a bitter merger proxy fight, Hewlett-Packard decided not to renominate Walter Hewlett to its board of directors. HP said that the decision of its board not to nominate Hewlett is "based on his ongoing adversarial relationship with the company, as evidenced by his recent litigation against HP, as well as concerns about his lack of candor and issues of trust."

HP's board said that it had planned to renominate Hewlett but changed its mind after he launched a lawsuit against the company that questioned the last-minute decision of institutional shareholder Deutsche Asset Management to support the deal.

Despite HP's attempts to explain the exclusion to employees, the move generated criticism but little surprise. Corporate governance experts and others had urged HP to keep Hewlett on the board even if the Compaq Computer deal was ultimately approved.

Also of note
Dell Computer announced a new blade-server line, dubbed PowerEdge 1655MC, along with management software to go with it...Seven major U.S. film studios have joined forces to promote standards for digital cinema technology...In a move that could limit companies' ability to show film clips online, a judge ordered a movie-trailer distributor to stop selling online previews of popular Walt Disney hits...A flurry of changes in Yahoo's Web-based services has customers spinning in confusion over the status of their accounts and preferences...Major League Baseball's Web division experienced "minor glitches" in some of its live online broadcasts Monday--the 2002 season's opening day--causing some fans to be shut out of games.

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