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The week in review: Microsoft and Macs

Microsoft's to-do list was a mile long this week: lend a hand to Macintosh, give a nod to some DVD standards, and get some repairs done on a few software applications.

Microsoft's to-do list was a mile long this week: lend a hand to Macintosh, give a nod to some DVD standards, and get some repairs done on a few software applications.

Microsoft reiterated its support for the Macintosh, as its five-year agreement with Apple Computer came to a close. Apple and Microsoft are not currently in talks to extend the agreement, but a Microsoft representative said Microsoft is focused on developing Office and Internet Explorer for the Mac. Microsoft did say that it would consider adding other titles if it does not take up too much of the software maker's resources and if the company can get a decent return for the efforts.

The software giant also threw its support behind one of two competing formats for popular DVD recording technology, a decision that is intended to make the storage devices as easy to use as current CD burners and floppy drives. At its annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, Microsoft plans to demonstrate software and to provide technical documentation for incorporating the DVD+RW format into its Windows operating system.

The endorsement could prove important in determining a winner in a long-running standards battle for DVD burners. Many hardware manufacturers find it easier and cheaper to build PCs that follow such specifications rather than risk breaking from the pack and supporting a technology that might wither.

Microsoft also teamed with IBM and VeriSign to create security specifications for Web services, a move analysts say will help drive adoption of the hyped but still emerging technology. The three companies released a new specification, called WS-Security, which will encrypt information and ensure that the data being passed between companies remain confidential.

Mending Microsoft
On the security front, Microsoft released a "critical" patch for its Web server software, plugging 10 new holes that could allow hackers to take full control of computers running the company's Internet Information Server (IIS) program. The company recommends that customers running a Web site on its Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 or Windows XP Professional operating systems install the patch immediately.

However, engineers with one security company reported that installing the patch broke some functions of IIS's SiteServer module that enables authentication and Web site customization.

And here's some good news and perhaps some bad news for Mac fans: Microsoft plans to offer a modest update to its Mac OS X version of Office in late May or early June, but the company is not saying when it will offer an e-mail program that can directly share data with a Microsoft Exchange server.

The issue is not just critical to Microsoft, but also to Apple, which is trying to pitch OS X as ready for prime time, even as programs from various third parties aren't. Because the Entourage e-mail and calendaring program in Microsoft Office v.X does not talk directly to the Exchange server, Mac owners can get their e-mail, but not manage tasks such as group calendaring.

Of course, nine states' attorneys general have their own idea about what needs fixing at Microsoft. An economist testified that without stiff controls on its business practices, Microsoft will continue to maintain "an applications barrier to entry" that significantly thwarts competition in the software market.

Carl Shapiro, an economics professor with the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business, said that "Microsoft's rallying cry in this case has been 'freedom to innovate.' An effective remedy will ensure that Microsoft's rivals also are free to innovate."

Not all fun and games
U.S. game players are finding it tough to buy memory cards, the most common add-on for Sony's PlayStation 2 video game console. The 8MB memory cards plug in to the PS2 and are necessary for people to save games in progress and game settings, making them almost mandatory for lengthy games such as action titles and role-playing fantasies.

Sony announced the release of a PlayStation 2 version of its popular online PC game "EverQuest," as it tries to build an audience for an upcoming online add-on for the video game console. "EverQuest" is one of the biggest financial success stories in the nascent world of online gaming, with more than 400,000 subscribers paying subscription fees--$12.95 a month as of April 25--for access to the huge virtual world the game occurs in.

But are gamers having a hard time separating the real world from the virtual world? Game addiction is receiving serious attention lately as fantasy games proliferate.

A Wisconsin woman has blamed "EverQuest" in the suicide late last month of her 21-year-old son. The game was also implicated in the death last year of a Tampa, Fla., infant, whose father allegedly was so devoted to the game he fatally neglected the child. While such cases are rare, mental-health professionals say the fantasy worlds offered by computer and video games can become the stuff of very real addictions that destroy marriages and careers.

Also of note
Two days before Hewlett-Packard shareholders met to vote on the Compaq Computer merger, HP CEO Carly Fiorina said in a voice mail to another top executive that the company might "have to do something extraordinary" to sway two large stakeholders to approve the deal...Web surfers who thought online advertisements were becoming increasingly obtrusive may be dismayed by a new tactic: pop-up downloads...MovieLink, a joint venture among five major movie studios, is expected to launch its Internet video-on-demand service later this year using MPEG-4 technology...eBay experienced Web site problems for three consecutive days, with some members having difficulty logging in to their personalized "My eBay pages," the company confirmed.

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