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Week in review: Tech tricks

Have you moved a mouse without pointing and clicking? Or shared photo files from a digital camera without a PC? New technologies are all about doing without.

Have you moved a mouse without pointing and clicking? Or shared photo files from a digital camera without a PC?

Some of the more interesting new technologies unveiled this week are about doing without. A software maker is trying to redefine how people interact with their PCs with the "mouse gesture." The idea is to allow people to execute commands with a simple flick of the wrist, rather than navigate through complicated point-and-click toolbars and drop-down menus.

Opera Software's solution first appeared about 18 months ago in Opera 5.11. It has won raves from some of its followers, and now others are closing in on similar versions for a range of other applications. Programmers associated with the Mozilla open-source team released an upgrade this week to a mouse-gestures project known as Optimoz. The effort is one of several to expand the reach of a kinetic, rather than a graphical, user interface (UI) in the browser and beyond.

Handheld devices will be able to share files directly, without the need for a PC, thanks to a new technology that could be on store shelves by the end of the year. An offshoot of the Universal Serial Bus 2.0 specification called USB On-the-Go could allow a handheld or digital camera to connect straight into a printer to produce a photo. Handhelds also could swap documents directly or back up data by connecting directly to a portable hard drive. The technology is also expected to be used in cell phones and MP3 players.

Currently, most handhelds and other gadgets use standard USB, which means that PDAs, cameras or portable drives have to be plugged into a PC in order to download files. Only then are users able to move data to another device, uploading it from the PC.

Picture this
It's no secret that digital photography has hit the mainstream, which is why a Boston-area start-up has created photo software for people who don't like to use photo software. Photolightning has just released the company's inaugural product, a software application that turns the often-tedious process of downloading, sharing and printing photos into a quick series of one- or two-click steps.

Upping the ante in the features war among the handheld computer makers, Sony has added the ability to record video on its new high-end Clie. The Clie PEG-NX70V will let people record voice memos, play MP3 files and wirelessly browse the Internet via an optional 802.11b wireless card.

The new model is the first device based on the Palm operating system that can capture both still and video images. The NX70V is among the first to run on the new Palm OS 5, which is designed to handle advanced multimedia features. Models will cost between $500 and $600.

A seedy side of photography got some legal protection when the Washington state supreme court ruled that "up-skirt cams" do not violate voyeurism laws. The judges said that two men who took surreptitious photos and video of women and girls using tiny cameras "engaged in disgusting and reprehensible behavior." However, the judges said they did not infringe on any reasonable expectations of privacy because the images were captured in public places.

Security focus
The Bugbear virus continued to spread this week, spurring several antivirus software makers to raise their estimates of the program's danger. Security software maker Symantec increased its rating of the virus to a 4 out of 5, while rival firm Network Associates bumped up its estimate of the infectious program to a "high danger" from a "medium."

Also known as Tanatos, the mass-mailing Bugbear computer virus can automatically infect Windows systems whose users haven't patched an 18-month-old flaw in Internet Explorer. PC users who have plugged the security hole still have to be careful--even if an automatic attack is blocked, opening the attachment will still allow the virus to infect a computer.

Microsoft issued four security bulletins related to its Windows operating system and SQL Server database software. The company said that a bug in a Windows help file could let a hacker seize control of a person's computer. The bug affects most currently supported versions of Windows.

Microsoft also issued two "moderate" alerts, one identifying two separate security bugs involving compressed files and the other, three problems with Microsoft's Services for Unix 3. A fourth critical alert advised of a cumulative patch for protecting SQL Server 7 and 2000 from hackers.

With an eye toward taking the ease out of hacking, the FBI and a prestigious computer-security research group have announced the 20 most serious security vulnerabilities affecting both Windows and Unix systems. The lists outline the software features most often used by hackers to circumvent computer security and break into Windows and Unix systems.

Bills on the Hill
Legislators were busy with tech-related bills this week, as a proposal to defang a controversial copyright law became public after more than a year of anticipation and months of closed-door negotiations with potential supporters. Titled the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act, the new bill represents the boldest counterattack yet on recent expansions of copyright law that have been driven by entertainment industry firms worried about Internet piracy.

The bill seeks to repeal key sections of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It would also require anyone selling copy-protected CDs to include a "prominent and plainly legible" notice that the discs include anti-piracy technology that could render them unreadable on some players. Additionally, the bill would make changes to the DMCA designed to permit people to bypass copy-protection schemes for legitimate purposes.

A related and long-awaited bill was introduced that would outline how consumers can use electronic media, books and software in the digital age without running afoul of ever-stricter copyright laws. The Digital Choice and Freedom Act of 2002 would provide protections for consumers who give away or make backup copies of digital material they've purchased.

The bill would amend the divisive DMCA so that consumers could bypass technical protections on copyrighted material if they plan to use the work legally. It would also place restrictions on shrink-wrap licenses.

Another bill was introduced that is designed to fight foreign Web censorship. The legislation would create an Office of Global Internet Freedom charged with fighting Internet blocking and helping Web users in countries such as China and Syria get around censorship efforts and avoid punishment.

The bill also would allocate $50 million each year over the next two years to develop and promote anti-blocking technology. Designed to counter authoritarian governments' efforts to block their citizens from the Internet, the bill would provide technological means to circumvent censorship tools.

Also of note
Microsoft appears to have shut down one of the world's largest distributors of "mod chips"--gray-market add-ons that allow Xbox and other video game consoles to play pirated games...An online auction of the two laptops used to hack major corporations could garner a tidy sum for convicted cybercriminal Kevin Mitnick...Apple Computer unveiled a discounted version of its .Mac suite of online services for the education market...Satellite radios, normally found in cars, will get a new life as boomboxes by December...The chief financial officer of Veritas Software left the company after it was revealed that he had false credentials on his resume...eBay plans to sell off Kruse International, a collector car auction company it bought three years ago...Some Yahoo store owners are upset by a new marketing program the company has launched that attaches an advertisement to their checkout pages.

Want more? Check out all this week's headlines.