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The week in review: Microsoft in Sun's shadow?

Sun Microsystems appears to have won a key battle in its years-long battle with Microsoft, but that didn't stop it from firing more salvos in the Web services arena.

Sun Microsystems this week won a key Java battle and is making waves in the Web services world with a new strategy: free software.

Rival Microsoft said it will reinstate the ability to run Java programs in Windows XP. The reinstatement is a partial victory for Sun, which was stunned in April 2001 when Microsoft decided not to ship a Java virtual machine (JVM), instead adding a "download on demand" feature that Sun said in its antitrust suit violated settlement terms of an earlier Java legal dispute between the two companies.

Microsoft plans to remove the download-on-demand option "to take an issue off the table with the current legal action by Sun," a Microsoft representative said, and therefore is including its JVM as the "best way to minimize any disruption" to customers.

In other news, Sun decided to try a new strategy to chip away at Microsoft's lead in the Web services market. In an attempt to gain popularity among developers, the company is giving away a crucial piece of e-business software, technology that lies at the heart of its Web services strategy.

The company hopes to woo developers who are choosing between its Java-based software--sold under the umbrella name of the Sun Open Network Environment (SunONE)--and Microsoft's overarching Web services strategy, called .Net. Sun has been battling Microsoft and IBM for popularity in the market but has been playing catch-up over the past year.

Also, a proposal being considered by a key Web services organization could pave the way for Sun to join on equal footing with rivals Microsoft and IBM. But continued political battling could sidetrack the effort. The board of directors of the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I), an organization founded by Microsoft and IBM to promote Web services, voted unanimously to create a committee to develop a process for electing two new board members.

Sun, which is not part of the organization, declined an earlier invitation to join the WS-I as a contributing member, lobbying instead for more influential "founding board member" status, so it can help set the group's agenda.

While Web services may someday emerge as a standard piece of every big company's technology arsenal, for now, they won't do much to revive tech spending. Multiple standards have information technology specialists confused, and buyers are waiting for additional standards and better compatibility before they commit to large-scale projects.

Tell it to the judge
The Federal Trade Commission filed an antitrust suit against Rambus, alleging that the controversial memory-chip designer deliberately deceived the industry by not disclosing its patent plans to a standards body. The FTC alleges that Rambus violated antitrust laws by deliberately not disclosing key patent applications while it was a member of the JEDEC Solid State Technology Association. JEDEC's bylaws required members to disclose or license relevant intellectual property to other members.

According to the suit, JEDEC adopted design specifications for SDRAM, the most common form of memory on the market, that overlapped on patents eventually awarded to Rambus. These patents then gave Rambus an unlawful opportunity to obtain royalty payments worth up to $100 million, the FTC alleged.

Research In Motion filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Good Technology, accusing the start-up of violating its intellectual property rights. Good makes software that is similar to the software that runs on RIM's handheld devices and can send and receive e-mail over wireless networks.

The suit accuses Good of violating four patents and asks the court for an injunction barring Good from using the technology and for monetary damages, including attorney's fees. Enterprise customers can buy Good software, called GoodLink, to replace RIM's BlackBerry software. Good plans to release a branded device of its own later this summer.

In a new suit that echoes earlier antitrust charges, Microsoft is accused of bullying companies out of using products and stealing the streaming company's technology. The suit claims Microsoft's upcoming video encoding and decoding product, Corona, includes Burst's patented video-delivery technology. The company also alleges that Microsoft pressured partners and customers into dropping support for Burst technology.

In the complaint, lawyers for Burst said Microsoft's actions have caused the company "serious and continuing damage and have deprived consumers of valuable new technologies that threatened to disturb Microsoft's strategy to maintain and expand its operating system's dominance to the delivery of high-quality video over the Internet."

Cracking, copying and swapping
Technology that prevents people from copying DVDs to videotape has disappeared from some versions of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," raising new questions about Hollywood's anti-piracy plans. Like most other film studios, Warner Bros. includes anti-copying technology on DVDs to prevent digital-to-digital recording, and most also include a separate encryption layer that interferes with recording to analog devices such as VCRs.

"We have piracy deterrents on everything," a Warner Bros. representative said. But a random "Harry Potter" DVD purchased by CNET at a San Francisco retail store last week produced a near-perfect videotape copy when connected from a standard DVD player to a standard VCR.

Audiogalaxy reached a legal settlement with the recording industry, agreeing to obtain permission before allowing people to swap copyrighted songs through its popular file-trading service. The agreement halted song trades on the service. Searches conducted by CNET for tunes by musicians including Lauryn Hill, Marvin Gaye and James Brown returned no results or an error message saying "search prohibited."

The out-of-court settlement comes a year after Audiogalaxy began voluntarily filtering copyrighted music from its system in an attempt to appease the recording industry. Its efforts failed last month, when the Recording Industry Association of America, National Music Publisher's Association and Harry Fox Agency sued the file-swapping service, saying its filters were ineffective.

With congressional investigations and billion-dollar lawsuits, modern copyright policing isn't exactly child's play. But a group of privacy advocates hopes it can teach consumers about intellectual property and privacy issues with a new online game.

In "Carabella," players assume the role of the title character and guide her through a series of decisions as she tries to acquire new tunes by her favorite band. Carabella has to decide between licensed online music services or peer-to-peer, normal or copy-protected CDs, a regular Internet connection or a proxy service that conceals the user's identity. Players are scored based on how well they guard their privacy while obtaining the music they want without violating or giving up copyright protections.

Wi-Fi on the rise
Wi-Fi technology had the spotlight this week as the wireless crowd gathered for the 802.11 West conference in Seattle.

Microsoft plans to extend the security measures now found in its Windows XP operating system to Windows 2000 and the slimmer version of the OS used in handheld devices. The company expects the enhanced security measures, called 802.1x, by August. This follows earlier announcements about implementing more security by spring 2002. About 150 companies and businesses have already signed up to test the new release.

Security has been one of the biggest concerns facing the growing market for Wi-Fi--inexpensive networks that allow for Net access and file sharing within a 300-foot radius. Nearly all Wi-Fi equipment uses wired equivalent privacy (WEP) to protect the information sent over the networks. But beginning two years ago, hackers have been able to crack WEP and hitch a ride onto Wi-Fi networks.

Another concern is the shortage of "public hot spots"--cafes, hotel lobbies, outdoor parks and other well-traveled urban areas in which people can access networks for a low price. It's these areas--especially cafes--that could prove to be Wi-Fi's major avenue to attract new customers.

By Toshiba's count, there are now 1,200 public hot spots. Some say there need to be at least 10,000 hot spots allowing wireless networking. These locations could offer people the opportunity to subscribe to the growing number of Wi-Fi service providers or spend the $500 to $1,000 for a home network.

The conference also featured many new products in the Wi-Fi arena. Two such products hold out the prospect of putting a number of household electronics functions in a single location. One is software that its manufacturer says will let handheld computers function as a universal remote control for TV sets and other consumer-electronics devices. The other is hardware from Toshiba in the form of a wireless hub for a variety of data files.

Also of note
Qwest Communications Chief Executive Joseph Nacchio resigned at the request of the company's board...Electronics recycling legislation in California is drawing fire from a high-tech trade group, whose ammunition is a survey showing consumers' opposition to certain recycling fees...Federal copyright regulators set new royalty rates for online radio companies, halving previously proposed fees that had drawn bitter criticism from Net companies...A security company faced criticism after it released critical security information without giving the open-source community adequate time to respond...Microsoft released an updated version of its Internet Explorer Web browser software for the Macintosh.

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