Week in review: Origami unwrapped

After weeks of rumors, conjecture and suspense, we finally get to see what Microsoft has been tinkering on with its Origami project.

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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.
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Steven Musil
7 min read
After weeks of rumors, conjecture and suspense, we finally get to see what Microsoft has been tinkering on with its Origami project.

In a preview demonstration, Intel showed CNET News.com several of the ultramobile PC devices, including an example of the kind of hardware that will ship in the next few weeks as part of the Microsoft effort.

The first devices have a 7-inch touch screen and standard x86 processors, and can run full versions of desktop operating systems, including the Windows XP variant being used for Origami. In later generations, due for release probably next year or later, the devices could have the pocket size, all-day battery life and $500 price that Microsoft and Intel are aiming for.

Photos: Minitablets

The first-generation devices are likely to get about three hours of battery life.

Whatever the merits of these devices, reality still trails Microsoft's ambitions. The first-generation devices are bigger, pricier and more power-hungry than the software maker had hoped. Microsoft acknowledged that instead of being a mass-market hit riding a wave of prelaunch hype, these devices are likely to appeal only to the most hard-core gadget fans.

"This is definitely our first step in looking at the area of ultramobile PCs," said Mika Krammer, a Windows marketing director for Microsoft's mobile platforms. "To really hit the mass market...in the hundreds of thousands and the millions of customers, we have to improve," Krammer said. The devices that begin shipping in April are likely to be more of a niche product, he said.

Many CNET News.com readers were left unimpressed with the announcement, and some even questioned seemingly conflicting strategies.

"It would seem to me to be bad timing to 'launch' these things in the shadow of Windows Vista," wrote Frank McNulty in News.com's TalkBack Forum. "For a new hyped product not to be able to run Vista, which is not that far away, would have negative influence on the "geek" and first adopter buyer."

Microsoft expects greater mass appeal to figure in the release of its next operating system. Aiming to recreate the excitement that accompanied the launch of Windows 95, the software giant is gearing up for a massive campaign to launch Windows Vista.

Chairman Bill Gates has tasked the Windows marketing team with repeating its achievements with the launch a decade ago, a challenge that will require convincing scores of people to line up at retail stores to purchase the operating system. The marketing budget won't be finalized until the end of Microsoft's fiscal year in June, but "regardless of that, we're still being held to that goal," said Dave Block, a senior product manager for Vista.

One of Microsoft's chief goals is to spur businesses and consumers into buying higher-end versions of Vista. Microsoft announced last week that there would be six major versions of Vista, including a new "ultimate" edition of the OS that will combine the best of the company's corporate and home features.

Inside Intel
Still, the Origami project was the big buzz as analysts, executives and industry insiders met in San Francisco at the three-day Intel Developer Forum, eager to see what the chipmaker has to offer next.

During the conference, Intel gave a name to the next-generation chip innards, on which it's basing its counterattack against Advanced Micro Devices: the Intel Core microarchitecture. Derived from the design of the Pentium M processor, the architecture puts major emphasis on lowering power consumption and the older priority of boosting performance.

IDF spring 2006

Core microarchitecture is designed to deal with two related pains in computing--excessive power consumption and resulting waste heat. Improving performance per watt gives Intel a new sales pitch at a time that it faces financial troubles and market share losses to rival AMD.

Intel also demonstrated two quad-core processors, "Clovertown" for servers and "Kentsfield" for PCs, directing attention toward the future and away from a more troubled present. Both chips are built using

Intel's 65-nanometer manufacturing process and will ship in the first quarter of 2007, Intel representatives said.

One factor could affect the popularity of chips with four cores, however. Although servers often run software whose tasks are divided into multiple threads that can take advantage of multicore processors, PC software is not so amenable to the approach.

Meanwhile, Intel introduced a new generation of its Centrino notebook technology. Santa Rosa--due in the first half of 2007--is the code name for the next iteration of Centrino, which combines a mobile processor, chipset and wireless chip. Santa Rosa will accommodate the Merom processor that's expected to launch later this year, but will feature a new chipset called Crestline that's designed to improve graphics performance.

Kedron, the new wireless chip in Santa Rosa, will support the 802.11n standard expected to be ratified early next year. But Wi-Fi networks such as 802.11n are only one part of Intel's wireless vision. The company continues to push WiMax technology as a future wide-area-network standard that could deliver data signals at broadband speeds over areas the size of cities.

Mac attack
The war of words is heating up over Apple Computer's Mac OS security.

The Mac maker released a security update for its operating system on Wednesday to plug 20 holes. The patch arrived after two weeks of intense scrutiny of the safety of OS X, prompted by the discovery of two worms and the disclosure of a vulnerability that was deemed "extremely critical" by security monitoring company Secunia.

The update added a function called "download validation" to the Safari Web browser, Apple Mail client and iChat instant messaging tool. The function warns people that a download could be malicious when they click on the link. Before that change, clicking on a link could have resulted in the automatic execution of code on a Mac.

However, experts say the patch doesn't completely fix a high-profile Mac OS X flaw, leaving a toehold for cyberattacks. Apple failed to address a key part of the problem: The fix should be at a lower, operating-system level, experts said. It is now still possible for hackers to construct a file that appears to be a safe file type, such as an image or movie, but is actually an application, said Kevin Long, an analyst at security specialist Cybertrust.

Meanwhile, a Mac hacking contest is raising the hackles of many Mac fans. An individual who won such a contest last month by gaining root control of a machine using an unpublished security vulnerability called it "easy pickings."

On Feb. 22, a Sweden-based Mac enthusiast set up his Mac Mini as a server and invited hackers to break through the computer's security and gain root control, which would allow the attacker to take charge of the computer and delete files and folders or install applications.

Within hours of going live, the "rm-my-mac" competition was over. The challenger posted this message on his Web site: "This sucks. Six hours later, this poor little Mac was owned, and this page got defaced."

However, many observers criticized the validity of the competition because participants were given local client access to the target computer.

The contest raised the ire of a university systems engineer in Wisconsin, who invited hackers to break into his Mac. Dave Schroeder asked hackers to alter the home page hosted on a Mac Mini that is running Mac OS X 10.4.5 with the latest security updates.

The system has two local accounts, and has SHH and HTTP open--"a lot more than most Mac OS X machines will ever have open," Schroeder said on his Web site.

But the event ended early after information emerged that the contest had drawn the scrutiny of the chief information officer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, whose network Schroeder's Mac Mini was on.

"The Mac OS X 'challenge' was not an activity authorized by the UW-Madison," Brian Rust, a university spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. "Once the test came to the attention of our CIO, she ended it...Our primary concern is for security and network access for UW services."

Also of note
AT&T will acquire fellow phone company BellSouth in a stock deal worth $67 billion, creating a telecommunications giant that dwarfs Verizon, its nearest competitor...Advanced Micro Devices will launch "Rev F" versions of its Opteron chips in the third quarter, a move that ends the single-core server processor era and paves the way for four-core models...TiVo is phasing out its popular lifetime service plan and implementing a series of flexible pricing options that include the company's hardware...Google said it erred last week when it posted on its Web site internal projections not meant for the public...The U.S. economy is headed for a "day of reckoning," warned Robert Reich, former Department of Labor secretary in the Clinton administration.