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This week in Microsoft

Microsoft is trying to lure users of bogus copies of Windows with an enticing offer.

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.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
5 min read
Microsoft is trying to lure users of bogus copies of Windows XP with an enticing offer: a free, licensed version of the operating system.

There's just one catch: Customers will have to fill out a counterfeit report with Microsoft and be able to provide the Windows disk they have, as well as some kind of receipt for their purchase. Those who don't have the disk or the receipt are eligible to buy a licensed copy online for $149.

The move is the latest in a series of expansions for the Windows Genuine Advantage program, which Microsoft quietly launched last September. The program, which runs software that verifies whether a particular copy of Windows is legitimately licensed, is the linchpin of a campaign by Microsoft to boost the number of paying customers among the millions of people that use Windows.

The Windows Genuine effort started as a purely voluntary program, but Microsoft has since been requiring validation for more and more customers who want to download software from the company.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is not letting U.S. schools off so lightly. Speaking to a group of journalists, Gates prefaced his remarks on technology trends with a warning that the United States is in grave danger of losing its economic advantages to fast-growing nations such as China, unless the country restores its lead in education and implements policies supporting growth.

Images: Bill Gates
with U2's Bono

"If you look at the trend 10 years ago, the U.S. and China were not that different in terms of the number of engineers graduated," Gates said. "Now we have one-quarter the number of engineers, and the trend is continuing, with the U.S. number going down, and China going up quite a bit...We need to improve our own game, to make sure own slice of the pie stays very large."

Gates is among a handful of technology executives who have issued periodic warnings that the United States is in danger of losing its mantle as high-tech center of the world as the skills of other countries catch up or even surpass those of American workers.

In other Microsoft news, the software maker is gearing up for next week's release of Windows Mobile 5, the next version of its operating system for cell phones and handhelds. The OS, code-named Magneto, is the latest in a string of software releases that highlight Microsoft's attempts to take on rivals including PalmSource and Nokia.

contains both classified and unclassified information about what happened at the traffic control points in Baghdad on March 4, the day of the incident.

Portions of the document had been blacked out by electronic means. But apparently it was possible for outsiders to copy and paste the blacked-out sections into another file--and see the text that had been hidden.

Expanding the search
The Web search arena is expanding well beyond text. Yahoo is developing a search engine for finding music data and downloadable songs from across the Internet, CNET News.com learned this week. The search giant plans to introduce the music search engine within the next couple of months, according to a source familiar with the service.

The specialty engine will let people search on an artist's name, for example, and retrieve all the available songs from other music services, as well as album reviews and band information from Yahoo Music.

Yahoo declined to comment, but in the past the company has invested heavily on music services, and it considers audio and video to be cornerstones of its future. In addition to buying song outlet MusicMatch for $160 million, Yahoo is working on another music service in conjunction with rival MusicNet.

Related images:
Google's TV search

The rivalry between Yahoo and Google turned to video search this week, with each company touting more searchable content and marquee partnerships.

Yahoo released a finalized version of its video search engine, after five months of testing. The company will also announce alliances with CBS News, MTV, Reuters and others to include their video clips within its searchable database.

Meanwhile, Google announced a string of new liaisons with television programmers, including the Discovery Channel and CNN, so that people can find still images and text of their shows in Google's index. The company, however, is continuing public tests of Google Video, which launched in January.

Google is also seeking to patent a technology meant to help its Google News section sort stories based on their overall quality, which would augment the current methods of ranking results by date and relevance to search terms.

In separate filings with the U.S. and world patent offices, Google detailed the new ranking formula. The technology would let Google prerank content from specific news outlets to ensure that those stories appear above other search results.

Dial T for trouble
A tussle regarding antipiracy technology is looming over the nascent market for mobile-phone content, with big phone companies claiming that new music and video services could be derailed as a result. At issue is a set of technologies aimed at protecting music and other content from being indiscriminately copied after being sold through mobile-phone networks. These technologies are a critical component of new data services if record labels and movie studios are to sign on.

For more than a year, the mobile industry has been converging on a standard set of antipiracy technologies, which could help avoid the fragmentation that separates Microsoft and Apple Computer products in the PC world. But now patent holders including Sony and others have put a price tag on that technology, and some of the biggest phone companies say it's too expensive. The carriers have threatened to look elsewhere--a development that could help rival copy-protection developers such as Microsoft--even if it slows down the release of their services and leads to incompatible products.

Meanwhile, wireless operators are fighting a growing backlash from parents angry at the exorbitant ring tone bills their children are racking up. At work is a teenager's penchant for reckless spending, helped along by advertising from ring tone providers, which some critics label as unclear, others as deceptive.

Some of the friction began six months ago, when at least one ring tone vendor, Jamster, began selling ring tones in bulk, in exchange for a weekly or monthly fee, in addition to offering a single tone at a time. Some consumers didn't notice the changes, and thought they were buying a single tone when they were really buying a week's or month's worth. Jamster, however, says its pricing is clear.

Still, a crackdown of sorts has begun. A handful of North American and European operators are now at work on a code of conduct for ring tone sellers, due for release in 30 days.

Also of note
IBM announced this week that it plans to cut between 10,000 and 13,000 positions worldwide and to reorganize its management structure...Several companies say their networking software isn't compatible with Apple's new operating system, and some blame changes made to the kernel of Mac OS X...Google has introduced a technology designed to make Web sites load faster.