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Week in review: Resuscitating Windows

Microsoft remaps the road to Longhorn as, on another front, companies get to grips with the SP2 update. Plus: An APB for P2P criminals.

Microsoft's drive to Longhorn took an unexpected turn this week as the company strives to meet its deadline for the ambitious Windows revision.

The company on Friday announced a new road map for Longhorn. The changes--removing some features, including the WinFS storage system, and altering others--are designed to let Microsoft have a test version of the software next year and a final release for desktops and notebooks by 2006. A server release is planned for 2007.

"In order to make this date (of 2006), we've had to simplify some things, to stagger it. One of the things we're staggering is the Windows storage work," Jim Allchin, Microsoft's vice president in charge of Windows development, said in an interview with CNET News.com.

Microsoft's top executives had characterized Longhorn as a major overhaul of the operating system and stressed that its release would not be determined by trying to hit a specific ship date. However, as the project threatened to push out into 2007 or beyond, analysts argued that the software maker needed to scale the project back to something more manageable.

The decision to scale back Longhorn was spurred by developers and computer makers who valued on-time delivery over advanced data-management features, Allchin said.

"My goal is to have Longhorn the highest-quality OS we've ever shipped," Allchin said. "At one level you could say, I've had enough, and so we're on a path to drive up the quality level."

Specifically, Allchin said that when the company was finalizing Windows XP Service Pack 2 and updates to Media Center and Tablet software, he turned his attention to Longhorn and realized that the project's ambitions and timetables were not in sync.

Whether Microsoft makes its latest deadline will likely be one of the dominant issues for the tech industry over the next two years. The operating system was originally expected in 2004, and many have predicted that further delays could dampen PC sales.

Chairman Bill Gates sought to reassure the tech community that all was well.

"This is the first time we've actually given a date for when we'll ship the Longhorn operating system," he said in an interview with News.com. "It's always risky in a software project, especially one where the compatibility requirements and the scope of the features of what we deliver in versions of Windows are incredibly broad, but we've made enough progress. We've got enough methodology in place that we decided that was the right thing to do."

Developers had mixed reactions to the revamped Longhorn plans, with some unhappy to see the Windows update split into pieces but others pleased with what they see as a more pragmatic approach.

On another front, Microsoft launched a do-it-yourself kit to help IT professionals assess their software's compatibility with Windows XP Service Pack 2. Fears among system administrators and IT managers that SP2 may break homegrown applications have already led to delays in corporate launches.

The application compatibility testing guide, which can be retrieved from Microsoft's Download Center, is designed to help administrators "test and mitigate application compatibility issues." Microsoft adds that the guide is meant for a network of any size and is "as relevant to peer-to-peer environments as it is to Active Directory environments."

Anxiety over SP2 is running high. Many IT managers believe that upgrading systems to Microsoft's latest security patch could generate problems, according to a recent survey. The InsightExpress study, which polled IT managers in the United States, found that 63 percent of respondents believed SP2 would prove the most difficult Windows update installation ever, with 3 percent noting their "blood pressure rises just thinking about it."

In addition, 66 percent said they expected calls for help from workers to increase with the update. And 30 percent did not know how the SP2 upgrade would affect their company's support desk.

P2P to jail?
The U.S. Department of Justice launched a federal criminal probe of piracy on a peer-to-peer network, searching five homes and one Internet service provider for evidence of criminal copyright infringement. The investigation--dubbed "Operation Digital Gridlock"--is targeting a specific file-swapping group called the Underground Network.

Although no charges have yet been filed, the action is a milestone in federal law enforcement's treatment of peer-to-peer technology. It could portend deeper scrutiny of casual online copyright infringement, expanding beyond the tightly organized groups typically targeted by investigators in the past.

A combination of authorized music services and lawsuits is helping to control illegal file swapping on campuses, a joint entertainment industry-university group said. In the past year, more than 20 schools have signed up for deeply discounted access to music services such as Napster, MusicNet and RealNetworks' Rhapsody, the Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities said in a report to Congress.

In the same period, 158 students have been sued for copyright infringement, the group said. In some cases, the traffic devoted to peer-to-peer networks on campuses has dropped by as much as half, the group said.

One ray of hope for the peer-to-peer industry seems to be a counterattack to a copyright bill intended to ban peer-to-peer networks and which could also imperil devices like Apple Computer's iPod.

Their proposal, dubbed the "Don't Induce Act," is designed to provide the Senate with an alternative that's less threatening to the industry. It is far narrower, saying that only someone who distributes a commercial computer program "specifically designed" for widescale piracy on digital networks could be held liable for copyright violations. Hardware like the iPod and other music players would not be targeted.

Campaign chaos
Good luck finding a copy of "Unfit for Command." Major online bookstores, as well as their real-life counterparts, were having difficulty fulfilling orders for the book, which details allegations from a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that's critical of the Vietnam War service of presidential hopeful John Kerry.

Incessant publicity has made that initial run of 85,000 resoundingly inadequate, with chains such as Barnes & Noble and Borders having to apologize for not having copies of the book in stores while deflecting allegations of political bias.

Major online retailers are advising of varying delays to ship orders for the book. Barnesandnoble.com is promising delivery in 24 hours, Amazon.com needs five to seven days, and other retailers are showing three to five weeks. The publisher has promised a second printing of 550,000 books next week.

The campaign has also a created furor on the Net in the form of a wildly popular parody of the U.S. presidential candidates. However, a music company claiming to own the rights to Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" may have gotten more than it bargained for when it took on JibJab Media, the Web animators behind the clip.

Ludlow Music agreed to allow JibJab to distribute its film, which is based on the tune, without interference. And JibJab dropped its lawsuit against Ludlow. Attorneys for JibJab said they have found evidence that the copyright on Guthrie's song expired in 1973, meaning that anyone can use it for free.

Another winner in the campaign is Kerry. At least that's the way it's working out in "Bush vs. Kerry Boxing," one of several new video games to capitalize on the current presidential campaign.

Sorrent, a specialist in games for cell phones, released the game this week in attempt to give a contemporary spin to virtual pugilism. Gamers can play as either Bush or Kerry, engaging in one-off bouts or advancing through a campaign mode with three-round matches against increasingly tough opponents from the opposing party. Sen. Hillary Clinton referees.

Players looking for a slightly more realistic take on campaign strategy are picking up "The Political Machine," recently published by Ubisoft Entertainment. The game casts the player as a virtual candidate who makes decisions on everything from which states to campaign in to what hot-button issues ads should be based on.

Also of note
Security experts downplayed media reports that an "electronic jihad" was aimed at Israeli Web sites?The Motion Picture Association of America sued two chipmakers for selling DVD chips to companies that are flouting copy-protection rules?A group of record labels plans to introduce a new disc format later this year that combines CD and DVD technology?Playboy magazine posted to its Web site additional material from the controversial interview with Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page?Roughly 43 percent of spam sent around the globe originates in the United States.

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