Week in review: Need the speed?

The Segway coast to coast? Sure--it works, as long as you don't mind taking your time.

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
6 min read
Technology is expanding the options for traveling from one place to another--the one determining factor between the two seems to be whether you want to complete the trip in months or minutes.

A team of documentary filmmakers completed its quest to pilot the Segway Human Transporter across the United States on Tuesday, when rider Josh Caldwell successfully navigated his trusty scooter across an invisible finish line in plain view of the Atlantic Ocean.

Looking tired and cold, but enthused by his achievement, Caldwell posed for pictures in front of a small gathering of interested onlookers, reporters and Segway enthusiasts.

The trip, dubbed "America at 10 mph," started Aug. 9 in Seattle and took the five-person team across 14 states. It was undertaken in the name of capturing on film "a true sense of what this country is about."

Caldwell said the scooter held up "incredibly well" during the ride and underwent no major mechanical breakdowns. At last count, the machine had required 409 battery charges. The trip averaged 60 miles per day.

That same day, NASA launched an experimental rocket-powered airplane that smashed the previous airspeed record, reaching close to 7,000 miles per hour.

The test of the X-43A "scramjet" was the third and most ambitious in a series of tests. The second test reached 5,000 miles per hour, while the first was aborted after problems with a rocket booster. Tuesday's flight reached Mach 10, or about 10 times the speed of sound.

NASA researchers declared the test, which was aimed at examining both the capacity of the supersonic engine and the performance of the vehicle at the extremely high speeds, a success.

The Mach 10 speed reached by the plane would be fast enough to travel from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles in about half an hour.

Phishing hooks
Phishing is one of the fastest-growing forms of personal fraud in the world. While consumers are the most obvious victims, the damage spreads far wider--hurting companies' finances and reputations and potentially undermining consumer confidence in the safety of e-commerce.

Phishing scammers typically send out an e-mail that appears to come from a trusted company, such as a bank or an e-commerce Web site. The phishing messages attempt to lure people to a bogus Web site, where they're asked to divulge sensitive personal information. The attackers can then use those details to steal money from the victims' accounts.

Companies are paying a hefty amount to fix phishing damage. In many cases, they make good on their customers' losses. Companies are also spending money to educate customers about fraud prevention, and the cost of polishing up a tarnished brand is hard to estimate.

As part of that effort, banks are looking to bring down the number of phishing attacks by adopting two-factor authentication, which would require people to produce two forms of identification, according to Microsoft. The company's chief security strategist, Scott Charney, said that companies had failed to adopt the technology as fast as he would have liked.

"We haven't had as much adoption as you would hope for," Charney said at the Microsoft IT Forum in Copenhagen. "A lot of solutions for two-factor authentication are for enterprise spaces. If you get two-factor authentication to the consumer level, you reduce the phishing threat."

Microsoft has been focusing a lot on security, as well as coming under a lot of security scrutiny. This week, three more vulnerabilities were found in version 6 of Internet Explorer. That brings the total number of

IE vulnerabilities disclosed in the past two months to 19, including eight flaws fixed by Microsoft during its October patch cycle.

The latest flaws were found by two different researchers and could be used together to allow malicious content to bypass a mechanism in Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 that alerts people about potentially harmful programs. The third vulnerability could be used to overwrite the cookies of a trusted site to hijack a Web session, if the site handles authentication in an insecure manner.

Lawsuits and Linux
When Sun Microsystems releases Solaris as open-source software, it plans to provide legal protection from patent-infringement suits to outsiders using or developing the operating system--one of several ways Sun hopes to make Solaris more competitive with Linux. Details of that protection plan won't be revealed until Sun announces its licensing terms for open-source Solaris in the coming weeks.

But at an event this week to announce the Solaris 10 OS, Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy offered an example of how patent protection could work. McNealy mentioned his company's $92 million payment to Kodak to settle a patent suit over Java that could have affected others who ship Java products.

"You should have a company that can protect you and take that $92 million bullet," McNealy said. Sun also has an arsenal of patents it can use as the basis for countersuits against computing companies, he said, adding that "most people with network-computing intellectual property probably don't want to come after us, because we might go right after them."

Intellectual-property protection of open-source software has moved to the forefront in the computing industry as the result of matters such as the SCO Group's ongoing attack on Linux.

However, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer warned that Linux may not really be free given the intellectual-property risks that could be posed by the open-source operating system. Answering questions after a speech to government officials in Singapore, Ballmer noted that entities using Linux could be opening themselves up to intellectual-property litigation.

"There was a report out this summer by an open-source group that highlighted that Linux violates over 228 patents," Ballmer said. "Someday, for all countries that are entering (the World Trade Organization), somebody will come and look for money to pay for the patent rights for that intellectual property. So the licensing costs are less clear than people think today."

Actually, the study by the start-up Open Source Risk Management found that Linux may violate 283 patents, but Ballmer's point was clear.

The SCO Group's legal actions against Linux have shed light on the inner workings of the open-source programming project and on the operations of a company desperate to survive. They've also created a cottage industry for conspiracy theorists over Microsoft's role in the affair. In an effort to separate fact from fiction, CNET News.com this week answered some of the more common questions swirling around the SCO-Microsoft relationship.

Browser bargain
Firefox may be free and open source, but that isn't preventing developers from cashing in on the popularity of the Mozilla Foundation's new browser. New businesses are cropping up to provide organizations ranging from museums to software companies to the U.S. Department of Defense with Mozilla-based applications--for a fee.

"With the popularity of Firefox and the economy rebounding, we've been swamped. We don't even advertise--clients find us and provide us with work," said Pete Collins, who last year founded the Mozdev Group in anticipation of demand for private Mozilla development work.

Pete Collins
Mozdev Group

The Mozdev Group is still a small shop--seven employees scattered around the globe, including two new hires. In response to demand, Collins intends to hire two more workers in January. In addition, hourly rates--which range between $75 and $100 per hour depending on volume--are going up.

Meanwhile, Microsoft, under pressure to add new features to IE, said it might do so by way of the browser's add-on mechanism.

The company has been steadfast in its insistence that it won't issue a new stand-alone IE, which saw its last major upgrade in August 2001. After sustaining a series of security crises with IE, Microsoft issued a major upgrade with the Windows XP Service Pack 2. But that IE update is available only to people who use Windows XP--about half the Windows world.

Microsoft has insisted that all hands are too busy working on the much-delayed operating system under development--called Longhorn--to revisit the browser. But now the company says that through the browser's add-on capability, it might add IE features that customers deem a "super high priority."

Also of note
Researchers at electronics giant TDK have developed a tough new coating that promises to make scratched DVDs a thing of the past, and that advancement will help usher in an emerging data storage format with 10 times the capacity of the current DVD standard...After years of bitter battles between copyright holders and file-swapping services, the outlines of a partial truce are emerging that may soon see major record labels partner with peer-to-peer networks to create legal online music stores; Napster founder Shawn Fanning is at the center of the effort...Microsoft founder Bill Gates detailed his company's plan for computer management software and announced a long-awaited Windows update tool...The National Basketball Association has notified the Toronto Raptors' Vince Carter that using the iPod during pregame warm-ups violates the league's dress code.