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Week in review: Snuffing out OS bugs

Microsoft and Apple release dueling OS updates, while Oracle looks to the past and future. Also: Going green in the garage.

Often in competition with each other in many arenas, Microsoft and Apple both released major updates to their respective operating systems.

Microsoft released a trio of updates for Windows Vista this week, a move the company said should help ease some of the top complaints leveled against the operating system. The patches address core issues like performance, reliability, and stability of the nearly year-old operating system.

One update aims to improve battery life on mobile devices, boost stability of wireless connections, and improve the operating system's response time following a period of inactivity. A second patch deals with the operating system's interactions with USB ports.

Microsoft is hoping that with some of Vista's wrinkles ironed out, customers will start noticing more of the advantages it has over its predecessor. In an interview Wednesday morning with CNET's Ina Fried, Corporate Vice President Mike Nash acknowledged that the initial experience for many consumers was a frustrating one as they found their old software might not work right or that their hardware lacked the proper driver .

But, he insists, the situation is much better now. Not only are the hardware drivers out there, they are readily available.

Microsoft is also toying with a new way of improving its operating system--through its Windows Live online services.

"What we've decided is the way to deliver those experiences, whether it's communications or memories, is with Live," Nash said, referring to things like the Windows Live Photo Gallery. "Photos with Vista today is way better than when we shipped Vista a year ago."

Some readers seemed unimpressed by Microsoft's message and critical of the company's efforts to assuage discontent.

"You could hear the balloon deflating on the marketing campaign shortly after the critics got a hold of it and it was released to the wild," to the TalkBack forum.

Apple joined in the OS update fray with a few of its own. The first update to Mac OS X Leopard arrived, with fixes for bugs in Time Machine and Finder, in addition to some of the more notable bugs reported in the first three weeks since Leopard's release.

The update arrived just one day after Apple shipped what will probably be the last update for Tiger. Mac OS X 10.4.11 delivers several improvements, fixes some bugs, and patches several security holes identified in recent months.

A couple of highlights worth calling out are RAW image support for some Panasonic, Olympus, Leica, and Canon cameras as well as reliability improvements for Intel-based Macs running VMware's Fusion virtualization software. Other Mac users might be interested to know that 10.4.11 improves the reliability of mounting external hard drives and a Mac's compatibility with third-party wireless networking equipment.

Listening to Oracle
If Oracle renews its bid for rival BEA Systems, it would come in at a price below its initial offer of $17 a share. Larry Ellison, Oracle's chief executive, said the initial $6.7 billion, or $17 a share, offer for BEA seems overpriced these days.

"If we made another offer, the price would be lower," Ellison said during a Webcast of the analyst meeting. "They have done enough things now--and we'll have to see all the data--that clearly, the $17 price seems too high now."

The comments came during Oracle's OpenWorld conference in San Francisco. Ellison kicked off the conference with a little trip down company memory lane by revealing some little-known tidbits about Oracle's history. For instance, what was Oracle's original name, and who was the company's first official bean counter?

Oracle President Charles Phillips played tour guide, pointing out that virtualization and the company's application integration architecture will be two key areas to watch as the software giant moves forward in building its application "stack."

The company, for example, unveiled its Oracle VM, which is open-source server virtualization software designed to support Oracle and third-party applications. Oracle VM aims to offer a graphical interface for creating and managing groups of virtual servers running off of x86 and x86-64 based systems.

In other developments at the conference, Sun Microsystems and Dell announced a distribution agreement under which Dell will distribute Sun's Solaris 10 operating system on Dell PowerEdge servers. The agreement brings two rivals together, with Dell gaining a relationship to better serve its customers already running Solaris on their systems and Sun a potentially larger market base for Solaris.

The agreement also calls for the companies to work together in certifying systems and creating products based on the Solaris partnership. The companies will work in unison to gain support from key resellers to distribute Solaris on Dell's PowerEdge servers.

Go go green
The LA Auto Show kicked off this week, and the most popular color at the event seems to be green--as in more environmentally friendly.

While it still won't get you the 45 mpg of a Toyota Prius, the new version of the Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid may make you feel less guilty about driving a large pickup. The 2009 Chevy Silverado hybrid, which was unveiled at the 2007 LA Auto Show, is a full-size pickup that looks identical to the regular Silverado, but features guts that lessen its carbon footprint.

The 2007 Silverado Hybrid, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's fuel economy Web site, got about 15 mpg in the city and 19 mph on the highway. That's not much of an improvement over the efficiency of the regular Silverado pickup: depending on which engine you choose, that truck gets at the very worst 13 mpg driving in the city and at most 20 mpg on the highway, according to General Motors' own specs.

Chevy also garnered some praise for its 2008 Tahoe Hybrid, which was awarded Green Car Journal's Green Car of the Year title. The Tahoe Hybrid--the largest car to win the award--uses a dual-mode hybrid system developed by GM, Daimler-Chrysler, and BMW.

The Tahoe Hybrid uses a 6-liter V-8 gas engine in conjunction with electric motors for propulsion. The motors get electricity from a battery pack which gets charged by the engine and through regenerative braking. This system, along with another fuel-saving system called cylinder deactivation, gives the Tahoe Hybrid about 25 percent better fuel economy than its gasoline-only counterpart.

Meanwhile, Ford CEO Alan Mulally wants to talk about sustainability, fuel economy, and energy security. In the near term, Mulally said, Ford plans to offers more turbocharged gasoline direct-injection engines, lighter-weight cars, and new fuel-saving transmissions to increase fuel economy.

Among the changes consumers can expect to see will be a 10 percent more fuel-efficient Ford Taurus due to transmission changes, an 8 percent more fuel-efficient 2008 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner, a 3 percent more fuel-efficient Ford Focus, and a Ford F-150 pickup that gets 1 mpg more than usual.

Volkswagen used the auto show to introduce the Space Up to the U.S. press. The hybrid concept vehicle, which would run on a combination of compressed hydrogen fuel and lithium-ion batteries, would have a top speed of about 75 mph. Its batteries could be recharged from common electrical outlets. On electrical battery power alone, the Space Up could travel about 155 miles, and on a full tank of hydrogen would have a range of about 220 miles.

Also of note
Adobe Systems announced that Shantanu Narayen has been named as new chief executive, replacing outgoing CEO Bruce Chizen...The U.S. House of Representatives took a step toward approving a Hollywood-backed spending bill requiring universities to consider offering "alternatives" and "technology-based deterrents" to illegal peer-to-peer file sharing...IBM announced an offering called Blue Cloud meant to make it easier to run large-scale applications with massive databases over the is expected to unveil its Kindle e-book reader at a high-profile event in New York on Monday.