Microsoft is trying to lure users of bogus copies of Windows with an enticing offer. Also: Viruses, phishes and flubs--oh my!
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.
"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.
Viruses, phishes and flubs--oh my!
The prospect of finding a safe haven on the Net continues to be remote. The latest Sober worm spread rapidly earlier this week, making up about two-thirds of virus traffic on the Internet.
As of Tuesday, Sober.P accounted for 77 percent of all viruses detected by Sophos' threat-monitoring stations worldwide, the British security company said. At the same time, Kaspersky Lab, a Russian maker of antivirus software designed to combat such threats, described the worm's spread in Western Europe as an "epidemic."
Variants of Sober have been circulated since 2003, hitting corporate and home systems. The mass-mailing worm has continued to spread because people still open attachments in infected e-mail, despite warnings not to do so.
Meanwhile, phishers are increasingly using new methods to steal sensitive information from Internet users, according to data from Websense Security Labs. In recent months, Websense researchers detected a rise in schemes involving malicious programs known as keyloggers, according to a report released this week.
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The technology, which records the keystrokes of people using infected machines, could be designed to help phishers stay one step ahead of honest folk. In the past, attackers have relied mainly on e-mail messages that lure victims to malicious Web sites, where they are duped into disclosing the login information they use at banking sites and for other sensitive online accounts. The keylogger programs are built specifically to capture this login data and send them to the attackers.
Sensitive information can also be leaked by people you might think would know more about protecting it. Experts are warning people to be careful with electronic documents that contain sensitive data, after a breach in which classified U.S. military information thought to be blacked out in a PDF document was made visible.
The document in question was a report written after an investigation into the death of Italian citizen Nicola Calipari at a checkpoint in Iraq. Itcontains 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.
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.