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The week in review: IM at war

In a high-tech version of Godzilla vs. Bambi, a tiny instant messaging start-up challenges behemoth AOL Time Warner to a fight over access to its AOL Instant Messenger "buddies."

In a high-tech version of David vs. Goliath, a tiny instant messaging start-up has challenged behemoth AOL Time Warner to a fight over access to its AOL Instant Messenger "buddies."

PalTalk, which runs its 16-person operation on a shoestring budget, is giving its users access to AOL's claimed 100 million registered IM contacts. The battle heated up as AOL succeeded in shutting out PalTalk for eight hours Wednesday. But the IM upstart foiled AOL's block by the end of the day.

One analyst called PalTalk's plans ill-advised. "This cat-and-mouse game is not interoperability--it's guerrilla warfare," the analyst said, going on to criticize AOL for keeping its systems closed. "When is AOL going to make this capability available to everybody on a nondiscriminatory basis?"

Connectivity is the name of the IM game, and Microsoft is finding lately that it is its own biggest opponent. A glitch affecting the software giant's instant messaging system is preventing some from staying connected to the service.

Problems started as far back as mid-January, with many people reporting similar troubles: messenger disconnecting without notice anywhere from five minutes to 15 minutes after signing on, and people occasionally appearing disconnected to their "buddies" even during instant messaging exchanges.

Those using Windows Messenger, which is only available as part of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system, appear to be suffering the most consistent disconnects.

Rough times in Redmond
Antitrust arguments continue as PC makers and several states allege that new Microsoft licensing agreements, arrived at under the proposed antitrust settlement between the software maker and the U.S. Justice Department, impose harsher terms on some manufacturers than agreements currently in place.

Under the new agreements, which Microsoft began putting into place late last year to satisfy the Consent Decree between the company and the government, Gateway and Hewlett-Packard will pay $4 more per copy for Windows. Meanwhile, in a legal brief filed this week with U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the nine states seeking tougher sanctions against Microsoft allege the software company wrote these new terms for its own benefit.

And in a move that may be more symbolic than material, Microsoft is opening its Windows source code to systems integrators in a move to appease both large customers and a federal judge. About 150 enterprise systems integrators are eligible to receive no-cost access to the source code for the Windows operating system, Microsoft said.

Although the code revelations aren't unprecedented--a year ago, the company disclosed that it had begun showing the code to some larger customers--they do stand in stark contrast to Microsoft's typical conduct of closely guarding its most valuable property.

Security spotlight
A common message from experts and politicians alike is that if we want to be safe, we are going to have to spend more on security. The United States' top adviser on cybersecurity recently pointed out that many companies spend less on computer security than they do on coffee for employees.

Richard Clarke told security experts that such complacency leaves the Internet--and many other critical infrastructures--in danger of attack. Clarke cited statistics that indicate that less than 0.0025 percent of corporate revenue on average is spent on information-technology security. Clarke went so far as to say if companies didn't button up security issues, they "deserve to be hacked."

That message was echoed by two U.S. legislators, a Department of Defense officer, and two security experts from government agencies at the RSA Conference 2002 who said more money needs to go to cybersecurity.

"While the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 took an unexpected form, we have to make certain that the next attack is better anticipated," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. That cyberattacks may be the next unexpected form of terrorism was a common thread throughout the panel discussion. Yet, the solution that several members proposed was old hat: Devote more funds to the problem.

Net protection is the goal for Microsoft and other software makers that met with several computer-security companies to hash out the last details of a group that will set guidelines for reporting software flaws that affect Internet security. Currently named the Organization for Internet Safety, the group is still in flux, with members and rules not yet finalized.

The group springs from discussions between Microsoft and a handful of security companies on the responsible reporting of software bugs, known as vulnerabilities, that affect a business' security. Those discussions resulted in an announcement in November at Microsoft's Trusted Computing conference that a new group would be forming.

Who are you?
Web services is the latest technology buzzword, and dozens of companies are scrambling to design their own niche in the future Web services world. As originally envisioned, Microsoft's .Net My Services was to become a "digital safe-deposit box" for hosting and delivering personal information while providing an array of services ranging from commerce to communication in partnership with Web retailers.

But as it prepares to launch the first trials of .Net My Services this fall, Microsoft says key details of the plan are still "not figured out." In surprisingly candid interviews with CNET, Ballmer and other top executives recently acknowledged that Microsoft is still in search of a business plan for the initiative and has not determined how to make money on .Net My Services, nearly a year after it was announced.

Cooperation seems to be another issue. Representatives from the two major initiatives to build a common infrastructure for verifying identity on the Internet said that while a standard system is necessary, the sides may not be able to work together anytime soon.

Microsoft would like to guarantee interoperability between its Passport services and the future Liberty Alliance specification within a year, the company said. However, while the software giant has had talks with the Liberty Alliance, the company has not joined the group because of concerns it has with the operating agreement.

Even Sybase has joined its competitors in planting a stake in the Web services market. The database software maker has overhauled its line of e-business software and tools to support Web services, a method for building software that lets companies with different computing systems interact and conduct transactions.

Also of note
A survey commissioned by David W. Packard finds that HP employees in the Corvallis, Ore., area oppose the Compaq Computer merger by a two-to-one margin...As part of a push to regain the public trust, Microsoft plans to release a free program to help home software users and network administrators protect their computer systems from outside attack...Microsoft amended the privacy policy for its Windows Media Player after a noted computer security expert warned that the software keeps track of the DVD titles people watch...An ambitious overseas effort to create an online video-on-demand service without the permission of the Hollywood film studios disappeared from the Net.

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