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Week in review: March of the penguins

LinuxWorld is proving to be more than just a gathering of Linux fans, as people and companies there join forces on all things open source.

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
7 min read
The LinuxWorld conference is proving to be more than just a meeting of Linux fans and sellers. It's now a venue for all sorts of open-source advocates.

In fact, allies gathered there this week to prevent software patents from putting a crimp in open source. Red Hat will finance outside programmers' efforts to obtain patents that may be used freely by open-source developers, the company announced at the San Franscisco show. At the same time, the Open Source Developer Lab launched a project that will provide a central list of patents that have been donated to the collaborative programming community.

The threat of patent-infringement lawsuits has long dogged collaborative development, leading some open-source programming advocates to turn against the patent system altogether.

The new initiatives signal a willingness on the part of the open-source community to combat the threat of such lawsuits more directly--and within the existing patent system.

Special coverage
LinuxWorld SF
Open-source hopefuls
join Linux stalwarts
to talk shop and hawk
wares at the confab.

As the acceptance of Linux continues to grow, open-source databases are becoming an increasingly viable option for corporate data centers. Databases have been available with open-source licenses for many years, but the past few months have seen a growing number of partnerships and products aimed at maturing the industry of add-ons and support services--which is vital to winning over corporate customers.

At the LinuxWorld conference, MySQL signed partners Novell and Dell to resell the upstart company's database and support service, making the product easier to procure. MySQL is also readying a release of its namesake database with features including stored procedures and distributed transactions, which large corporations often use.

The growing number of technology companies betting their businesses on open-source database products reflects a gradual shift in corporate spending patterns, according to analysts and industry executives. With many companies familiar with Linux, the Apache Web server and open-source development tools, databases are an obvious next step.

Indeed, within the next five years, half of Oracle's customers may be running Linux, Charles Phillips, one of the company's co-presidents, has predicted.

Oracle's customers have increasingly adopted Linux as they've become more comfortable with it and recognized its lower costs and greater predictability, said Phillips, who spoke at LinuxWorld. Twenty percent of Oracle's customers use Linux, but Phillips expects that figure to climb.

Not just fun and games
Microsoft is looking to squeeze a profit out of the game market with a new royalty program tied to its next Xbox console. Only accessory makers that get Microsoft's blessing and then fork over a slice of their sales to the software maker will be able to produce Xbox 360 game pads, steering wheels, joysticks and other controllers.

In addition, in order to ensure that only authorized products connect to the new console, Microsoft is adding a security mechanism that will be available exclusively to those who sign a deal with the company, according to documents that a peripherals company filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The Xbox 360 console, announced in May, is slated to go on sale in time for the holiday shopping season.

With the last Xbox release, Microsoft had a licensing program in which makers of such gadgets could either pay a royalty and display an Xbox logo, or offer the products without paying the fee or using the logo.

The new approach isn't sitting well with some CNET News.com readers. "MS is sure trying to set up a massive golden goose with the Xbox, especially now that MS is fixing it so only accessories from which MS gets a cut will work on the Xbox," wrote Earl Benser in TalkBack. "It's almost a wonder that MS did not install a quarter slide on the Xbox like on arcade games."

The issue of control was echoed in other readers' comments. "They have always felt that hardware was not important, only their OS matters," wrote Steve Barry in TalkBack. "Now all of a sudden, they think that hardware is important and should cost more money. Yeah, when they are in control."

Meanwhile, Rockstar Games is moving to calm the scandal surrounding its "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas." The company has released a patch that disables the infamous sexually oriented "Hot Coffee" scenes from its game.

In the wake of the scandal surrounding the best-selling video game of 2005, the Entertainment Software Rating Board changed the "Grand Theft Auto" rating from Mature to Adult. At the same time, Sen. Hillary

Clinton, D-N.Y., railed against the game for its content, despite the fact that the Hot Coffee scenes were not directly accessible without downloading the modification from the Internet.

Meanwhile, hackers are raising the ire of Sony. The company claims a group of hackers illegally created a huge amount of "Everquest II" currency last weekend and said the players caused the game's economy to suffer 20 percent inflation in just 24 hours before being caught.

The week in pictures

A company representative said the players began using their so-called "duping bug" to make large quantities of platinum, the game's currency. (A duping bug is a hack that exploits a weakness in online games' code to effectively create counterfeit currency or other goods.) The players then began trying to sell the ill-gotten plat on Station Exchange, the official auction exchange for EQ2 weapons, armor, currency and other virtual goods.

Criminals play and pay
Phishers have added a new lure to their tackle boxes: e-mails that ask people to fax sensitive information to bogus security investigators.

In a new scam, attackers are sending e-mail warnings that appear to come from PayPal. These e-mails say that someone tried to reset the recipient's password and asks him or her to participate in an investigation. The e-mails direct people to a Microsoft Word document hosted on a Web site and urges them to download the form, fill it out, and fax it to a toll-free number.

And who says Net crime doesn't pay? Software giant Microsoft is planning to invest some of the $7 million it is expecting from a damages settlement with "spam king" Scott Richter into fighting Internet crimes. After covering its legal expenses, Microsoft will dedicate $5 million to helping law enforcement agencies address computer-related crimes. The company also said it will give $1 million to community centers in New York for programs that help expand computer-related skills. The software giant, which had sued Richter in conjunction with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, says it wants to "reward" the state.

Describing Richter as one of the world's most "prolific" spammers, Microsoft called the settlement a milestone and expressed hope the decision will send a clear warning to those dabbling in spamming.

Meanwhile, America Online is on the brink of giving away a fully loaded Hummer H2 and nearly $100,000 worth of gold bars and cash, all of which once belonged to an e-mail marketer. Both AOL members and nonmembers--all of whom will have a chance to win the goods--can thank the Can-Spam Act.

AOL obtained the goods as part of a settlement earlier this year in the first lawsuit it filed under the Can-Spam Act, in a case involving a then-20-year-old New Hampshire resident. The law not only arms Internet service providers with legal weapons against those who fire off unsolicited e-mail, it also allows courts to seize any property that a convicted spammer has obtained using money made through the offense. Any equipment, software, or technology used for illicit purposes is also fair game.

Tracking tech
The Department of Homeland Security is testing immigration documents laced with radio frequency identification chips at five spots on the Mexican and Canadian borders. The goal of the technology is to speed up--if not automate--secure entry and exit of visitors at the nation's ports, according to the Department of U.S. Homeland Security.

The chips are embedded in Customs and Border Protection Form I-94A, which the government issues at all ports of entry to chart the departure and arrival of certain foreign visitors--typically those with nonimmigrant visas, such as students or guest workers. At the test sites, chip readers note the entry or exit of visitors who pass by and transmit that information to a government-maintained database.

The federal government is also financing the development of a prototype surveillance tool by George Mason University researchers who have discovered a novel way to trace Net phone conversations. Their project is designed to let police identify whether suspects under surveillance have been communicating using VoIP, or voice over Internet Protocol--information that is unavailable today if people choose to communicate surreptitiously.

The National Science Foundation grant comes as federal officials are fretting about criminals using VoIP to mask their communications. The Federal Communications Commission has approved mandatory wiretapping requirements for some VoIP providers, and the FBI has been warning for more than two years that VoIP may become a "haven for criminals, terrorists and spies."

Gateway is beefing up security by plugging devices into its machines, including a LoJack-style technology to help customers track down lost or stolen laptops. The Mobile Theft Protection product, which uses technology from Absolute Software's Computrace, promises to locate computers that have gone astray. It also includes a so-called Data Delete feature that removes sensitive personal or corporate data by remote control.

Once the device is activated, Absolute Software guarantees the recovery of the computer. If the laptop is not recovered within 60 days, the customer may be eligible for a refund of up to $1,000. The device is preinstalled in the laptops, but customers will need to add $99 to the price of the computer to activate the coverage for three years.

Also of note
A major identity theft ring has been discovered that affected up to 50 banks, according to the security company that says it uncovered the operation...Microsoft said it found a potentially important document in its case against its former executive, Kai-Fu Lee, and Google in the "recycle bin" of one of Lee's computers...Apple Computer has announced it will refund the "piracy tax" the Canadian government has put on every iPod sold in the country.