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Weekend December 15 & 16, 2001 Top

Sun Readying Version 6 of StarOffice for Release

Sun Microsystems will cut off downloads of the StarOffice 6 beta software on Dec. 31 as the company prepares for a final release in the first half of 2002, the company said Wednesday. "We've got all the feedback we can handle here," spokesman Russ Castronovo said. "We are at saturation point. I think we've satisfied the requirements of the program." The new version 6 drops an e-mail program, moves to open XML file formats and separates the remaining components--word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics and other packages--into standalone programs. The open-source site that hosts development is called OpenOffice. Even after Sun cancels its download program, the software can be downloaded from OpenOffice or purchased in several CD-ROM versions. Sun and other StarOffice fans hope their product will become more popular as customers balk at the cost of running Microsoft Office, which has by far the largest chunk of the market. The cost of developing the software is steep, though; Sun decided earlier this year to leave development of a Macintosh version up to the open-source community. Sun started offering glimpses of the new version 6 earlier this year.

Microsoft Receives Patent for Anti-Piracy OS

Microsoft has won a patent for an anti-piracy operating system. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued the patent Tuesday. Analysts said the significance of the patent was unclear, given the complexities of intellectual property law. But some downplayed the patent's importance, noting that many of the claims appear related to technology from rival InterTrust Technologies--a company that has sued Microsoft for patent infringement over its so-called digital rights management software. "I'm assuming it's...posturing," Jupiter Media Metrix analyst Aram Sinnreich said about the patent. "There are a lot of references to InterTrust technology in the documentation." Microsoft could not immediately be reached for comment. Microsoft has bet heavily on digital rights management in its battle for dominance in digital media, a market the company sees as crucial to extending its Windows operating system from PCs to servers. An InterTrust spokesman Thursday said there appears to be nothing new in Microsoft's patent, but it raised concerns about the software company's growing sway over a key new digital technology. "While new, this patent is relatively limited and relatively late," InterTrust spokesman Ed Fish said. "Companies need to be careful about who they trust as a gatekeeper...If Microsoft owns the locks to Viacom content, it's like Sumner Redstone giving Bill Gates his front door key."

Company Developing FED Display Technology Falters

Candescent Technologies, once a lavishly funded start-up with plans to revolutionize the market for PC monitors and other displays, has scrapped its manufacturing aspirations and will cut its work force, the company has confirmed. The San Jose, Calif.-based company, which received more than $600 million in funding from venture capital firms and corporate backers including Sony and Hewlett-Packard, has abandoned plans to manufacture screens based on field emission display (FED) technology, said Dawn Morse, the company's director of investor relations. Instead, Morse said Friday, Candescent will license its technology to other companies looking to manufacture thin, high-resolution screens based on the FED system. The change will involve an unspecified number of layoffs, Morse said. "The focus is going to go to a licensing model, so we won't need the same level of staff," she said.

Candescent began operations in 1991 as one of a handful of companies hoping to capitalize on FED, an emerging technology touted for producing flat-panel screens with exceptional brightness and color depth. The company came close to manufacturing several times, going so far as to build a 340,000-square-foot plant in San Jose in the late 1990s. But continued challenges with FED technology and market conditions prevented it from ever creating a product. Candescent filed for an initial public offering in February, planning to sell 150 million shares at an undetermined price. The company withdrew the IPO plan in May, citing market conditions. David Mentley, senior vice president of Stanford Resources, a research firm specializing in display technology, said FED screens have turned out to be more expensive and more difficult to produce than many expected in the early 1990s.

"It's stuck in the laboratory, basically," he said. "A few runs at manufacturing just didn't take hold. Motorola had a big line set up, but it hasn't gone anywhere and there's basically been zero product sales." Major backers of Candescent included HP, whose $25 million investment made it the biggest single shareholder in the company, with a 13.4 percent ownership stake, according to the regulatory filing. Sony owned a 5.4 percent stake and signed an extensive licensing agreement with Candescent set to expire at the end of this year. Morse said the companies were still negotiating renewal of the agreement. Young said FED technology still shows promise for some large-scale applications. "For large-size panels, like for hang-on-the-wall TVs, FED still seems to have potential," he said. Added Mentley: "I wouldn't say FED is dead--there are some interesting variations being developed. But the near-term future for FED certainly does not look good."

Friday December 14, 2001 Top

Microsoft Releases Patch for IE 5.5 & 6.0

Microsoft released a security patch to plug a hole in its Web browser that could allow hackers to steal passwords and trick people into downloading virulent files. Microsoft said customers using Internet Explorer versions 5.5 and 6.0 should install the patch immediately. The patch, released Thursday, can be found on Microsoft's Web site. The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant, which in recent months has patched a wide range of security holes in its Web browser and Web server software, said the patch eliminates all previously known security problems affecting the two versions of IE and plugs three new holes. The problems were first reported Nov. 19 to Microsoft by Jouko Pynnonen at Finland-based security firm Oy Online Solutions, according to Pynnonen. By Nov. 27, Pynnonen said he informed the company of more serious flaws. Microsoft then released a patch Dec. 13 and acknowledged Pynnonen in its security bulletin for reporting the security holes.

"Since the attacker could run any program on the victim system, they can do anything a malicious program can do on a system--possibly read or destroy files (including temporary internet files and cookie files), sniff network traffic, find passwords, install backdoors...or viruses," Pynnonen said. One problem, affecting only IE 6.0, allows an attacker to alter HTML information in a way as to trick IE to open a damaging executable file without asking the person for confirmation. Two other problems affect both IE 5.5 and 6.0. The first problem is a variation of a previous security glitch that allows a hacker to open two browser windows: one in the Web site's own domain and the other on an unknowing computer user's system. This could allow the hacker to gather personal information from the local system. A hacker could read, but not change, any file on the computer user's system that can be opened in a browser window.

The second security breach can involve a flaw related to how file names are displayed in the "file download" dialogue box. A hacker could misrepresent the name of a file in the dialogue window when a person tries to download a file. The attacker could fool people into accepting tainted files from a trusted Web site. Left unpatched, computer users could face security breaches that may not become apparent for some time. "Opening an e-mail attachment or accepting any download isn't required," Pynnonen said. "The victim user doesn't necessarily notice anything out of ordinary when reading a malicious e-mail message or visiting a malicious Web site."

Microsoft Release First Service Pack of Office XP

Microsoft on Thursday released the first major collection of bug fixes for its Office XP business software. Service Pack 1, a 17MB download, is supposed to enhance Office XP's performance, security and stability, while fixing a wide range of glitches, Microsoft said. The download for system administrators, which includes additional tools, is 40MB. Both files are expected to be posted to Microsoft's Web site later on Thursday. The service pack also consolidates other separately released enhancements and fixes, such as Outlook 2002 security updates. The release of the first service pack typically signals to businesses that the product is ready for prime time. "Service Pack 1 is always a milestone for any product, certainly Office XP, especially as a lot of enterprises accelerate Windows 2000/XP deployments into next year," Gartner analyst Michael Silver said. "Doing both of those deployments at once adds some efficiencies to the process." David Jaffe, Office XP lead product manager, said Microsoft hopes the service pack release will help nudge companies to install the software. "We see this as a key driver for organizations that recently purchased Windows XP and Office XP that haven't deployed yet."

The security fixes close vulnerabilities that would allow hackers to run malicious code in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Another security patch prevents hackers from remotely manipulating files or data. The service pack resolves a problem with Outlook not notifying users when their main data file had reached its size limit. It also handles problems sending e-mail when instant messaging is running and crashes caused when using custom bullets in PowerPoint. Office XP's "Error Reporting" tool proved instrumental in developing bug fixes, Jaffe said. Microsoft also uses the tool in other products, such as Internet Explorer and Windows XP, to collect data following a program's crash. Following a crash, people are prompted to send an error report to Microsoft, a feature that can be overridden.

ATI Introducing Mac Version of 8500 Card at Macworld

Since ATI Technologies, Inc.'s introduction last summer of its Radeon 8500 graphics chip and card, a question has rested heavily on many Mac users' minds: When will ATI announce a Mac version of the technology? That question has at last been answered: The Radeon 8500 Mac Edition card will debut at next month's Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco. ATI has made no secret of its plans to continue support for the Macintosh with the new hardware; the question has never been "if" but rather, "when?" The answer finally came in the pages of the Macworld Expo Web site. On the site, ATI's booth exhibitor information includes this tantalizing tidbit: "The pioneer, innovator and market leader in the graphics industry, ATI will be demonstrating the high performance Radeon 8500 and Radeon 7000 Mac Edition graphics cards and the Xclaim TV USB external TV tuner at its booth." ATI Technologies spokesperson Stan Ossias confirmed with MacCentral that the company plans to debut the Radeon 8500 Mac Edition at next month's Expo. The company will also show off the Radeon 7000 and Xclaim TV USB device as promised, as well. Ossius indicated that specific details about the Radeon 8500 and 7000 Mac Edition cards will have to remain under wraps until the show gets started, however.

Thursday December 13, 2001 Top

Microsoft Releases Free Entertainment Enhancements for Windows XP

Microsoft released a number of free entertainment enhancements to its Windows XP operating system Thursday, as the software maker continues to advance its digital media strategy. Dubbed Windows Media Bonus Pack for Windows XP, the free download includes tools for getting more out of the new operating system's built-in media player. Microsoft's holiday goodie bag includes new visualizations and skins, a playlist-to-spreadsheet export utility, and extra tools for amateur moviemakers. But one of the free enhancements may benefit Microsoft more than it will digital music consumers. Microsoft is giving away a slimmed-down version of its MP3 Audio Converter utility found in its separate Plus for Windows XP add-on pack. Running the conversion utility transforms MP3 files into Microsoft's Windows Media Audio (WMA) file format. That's great for Microsoft's goal of building support for WMA, but consumers may find little benefit in converting to a less popular file format, analysts said.

The download includes a version of Microsoft's popular PowerToys utility for Windows Media Player. Microsoft has offered PowerToys since Windows 95, giving people ways to tweak and enhance the operating system's interface or to access hidden features. Microsoft also offers a version of the utility for Pocket PC handhelds. Among other things, the media player version of Power Toys offers tray control from the XP taskbar, a way to automatically organize and update song libraries, and the ability to export playlists to Excel spreadsheets. Windows Media Bonus Pack also delivers new visualizations and skins. Visualizations include the MSN Photos picture viewer, holiday fireplace, and visuals from "Dungeon Siege," an upcoming Microsoft game. A stars-and-stripes skin joins others designed by Microsoft also is targeting amateur moviemakers, offering them new sound effects, music clips and title images provided by As part of its effort to woo content providers, the bonus pack also serves up special offers from CinemaNow, Intertainer and Ifilm.

New Gokar Worm Spreads Without Damaging Systems

Security experts warned Thursday of a new mass-mailing computer worm that has the potential to swamp corporate e-mail systems as it spreads. The Gokar worm--full name: "W32.Gokar.A@mm"--spreads as an attachment to an e-mail. The subject line and text of the message can be any combination of more than two dozen options, according to antivirus software maker Symantec. The attachment is named with a seemingly random collection of letters and numbers ending in one of the following extensions: .pif, .scr, .exe, .com or .bat. The worm does no damage to an infected PC, but Symantec rated the Gokar threat as moderate because of its multi-pronged ability to replicate itself and its arrival at several major corporations. "We had some big corporate customers who had gotten it, but it does not seem to have spread wildly," said Steve Trilling, director of researcher for Symantec Security Response.

"If it gets inside a large organization, it can create enough e-mail traffic to really slow down their network...But at this point, I would say there's no evidence it's going to take off in a big way." The worm sends itself to all addresses in the infected PC's Microsoft Outlook address book and also creates a script file that attempts to spread the worm via mIRC, a popular program for using the IRC chat service. In rare circumstances, Gokar can also modify Web pages on infected servers running Microsoft's Internet Information Server software to direct Web surfers to an infected site. As with similar outbreaks, security experts advise PC users to update their antivirus software and not open unsolicited e-mail attachments.

Via and Intel Settle Suit over Chipset

Via Technologies has settled one of its lawsuits with Intel, although several other suits remain pending. The Taipei, Taiwan-based chipset maker and Intel have settled the final claim in a suit Intel had filed in June 1999. Via will not pay a royalty for the dismissal, the company said. The case involved chipsets that Via developed to work with Intel's Pentium III processor and Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon chip, also known as the K7. Intel alleged that Via's chipsets violated a number of its patents. After a war of words between the companies, many of the claims originally alleged in the case were settled in July 2000. Intel, however, continued to pursue its claims that Via's Athlon chipset violated Intel's intellectual property. Since then, the suit has gradually been chipped away at. In November, the U.S. District Court of Northern California threw out one of Intel's claims. Another claim was dismissed earlier this month after the court found that Via had changed the design of its products to get around Intel's patents.

A summary judgment hearing for Intel's final claim in the suit was slated for December 13. On Tuesday, however, Intel dismissed the claim, thereby terminating the suit. The trial date had been scheduled for January 22. "We could not be more delighted with this result," Via CEO Wen-Chi Chen said in a statement. "We believed from the outset that Intel's claims against our K7 chipsets were driven by marketing concerns rather than legal issues. Our engineering and legal teams did a great job so that we remain free to continue our thriving K7 chipset business." Intel called the result a settlement. Earlier this month, an Intel representative indicated that the suit would likely be resolved before the trial.

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