December 7, 2007 9:12 AM PST

Week in review: Battening down Microsoft's hatches

Microsoft says it's gotten better at securing its products, but some observers question Redmond's perspective.

Microsoft is seeing piracy rates for Windows Vista that are half those of Windows XP, and the decline in those rates is largely due to the fact that Vista is much tougher to fake than XP.

"Piracy rates are lower because it's harder," Microsoft Vice President Mike Sievert said in an interview.

There are a variety of reasons for that, including the fact that businesses no longer have volume license keys that can be used to activate an unlimited number of machines. Another is the fact that Vista machines that aren't properly activated pretty quickly become basically unusable once they enter "reduced functionality mode."

For Microsoft, the gains have been significant. In its last earnings call, Microsoft said five percentage points of Windows growth could be attributed to gains in piracy.

However many CNET News.com readers, critical of the new operating system's value, had other theories to the lower piracy rate.

"I can see people getting stuck with Vista installed on a new computer and then looking for pirated copies of XP to install over it," one reader wrote in News.com's TalkBack forum. "I wouldn't be surprised if Vista has actually caused the XP piracy rate to go up."

Microsoft is also touting Internet Explorer as being more secure than Firefox and comparing the number of vulnerabilities found in the two browsers, but critics say this study is flawed.

Jeff Jones, security strategy director of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Group, released a study comparing the flaws in Microsoft's Internet Explorer to Mozilla's Firefox browser; unsurprisingly, he concluded that Microsoft is doing a better job than Mozilla.

Challenging early predictions that Mozilla's Firefox browser would experience fewer vulnerabilities than IE, Jones conceded that both companies' browsers have experienced significant flaws. Jones said Mozilla has fixed more flaws in its browser than Microsoft during equivalent periods, which he said renders Firefox more vulnerable than IE.

However, Jonathan Oxer, technical director and founder of Web application development company Internet Vision Technology and president of Linux Australia, said the study is flawed because Microsoft tends to bundle its fixes, which leads to a lower count over the period being compared.

Indeed, Microsoft's current emphasis on security can be traced back to Internet Explorer. Until 1997, security was seen mainly as a set of features that the company bolted on to its software long after product design and development. The idea of securing code as it was being developed had not been considered.

That all began to change in March 1997, when the first significant flaws were discovered in Internet Explorer. In the aftermath, Microsoft created the Microsoft Security Response Team, as well as a separate Internet Explorer security group.

In a three-part special report, CNET News.com looks at how 10 years of painful lessons have changed Microsoft's approach to security, as well as the major threats of today that the software maker is battling.

Crackdown in Congress
The Bush administration officially entered the file-sharing fray pitting the major record labels against a Minnesota woman named Jammie Thomas, and it's siding with the record labels. In legal documents filed in federal court, the U.S. Department of Justice said it wants to defend the constitutionality of the copyright law that a jury decided Thomas violated.

"The federal copyright statute...has consistently included special provisions to ensure significant monetary awards in copyright infringement suits that will make copyright owners whole and deter further infringement," the department said in its filing. Basically, the department said it was perfectly reasonable for a jury to slap Thomas with a $222,000 penalty for making 24 songs available on Kazaa.

The Justice Department's move is not exactly unexpected. The department is charged with defending the constitutionality of statutes that Congress enacts, even ones (like the Communications Decency Act) that are unlikely to survive judicial scrutiny.

In the aftermath of the Thomas case, Congress is preparing to amend copyright law to increase penalties for infringement. Top Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a sweeping 69-page bill that ratchets up civil penalties for copyright infringement, boosts criminal enforcement, and even creates a new federal agency charged with bringing about a national and international copyright crackdown.

The U.S. House of Representatives also overwhelmingly approved a bill saying that anyone offering an open Wi-Fi connection to the public must report illegal images, including "obscene" cartoons and drawings--or face fines of up to $300,000.

That broad definition would cover individuals, coffee shops, libraries, hotels, and even some government agencies that provide Wi-Fi. It also sweeps in social-networking sites, domain name registrars, Internet service providers, and e-mail service providers such as Hotmail and Gmail, and it may require that the complete contents of the user's account be retained for subsequent police inspection.

The SAFE Act represents the latest in Congress' efforts--some of which have raised free speech and privacy concerns--to crack down on sex offenders and Internet predators. One bill introduced a year ago was even broader and would have forced Web sites and blogs to report illegal images. Another would require sex offenders to supply e-mail addresses and instant-messaging user names.

Peeling Apple
A little more than a month away from the Macworld Expo, expectations are starting to get a little clearer for what is arguably Apple's biggest show of the year. CNBC reported that Apple plans at Macworld to introduce a 12-inch Mac laptop with flash memory in place of a hard drive. Apple followers have long anticipated such a product, and several other reports have come out this year predicting a similar type of announcement.

The ultraportable Mac is said to be 50 percent thinner and lighter than a current MacBook Pro, the largest notebook in Apple's lineup. And CNBC is also saying it expects the price to be about $1,500, the same price as the 13.3-inch black MacBook that's currently available on Apple's site.

As Apple gears up for Macworld, one analyst has a suggestion for Apple concerning its iTunes rift with NBC Universal: kiss and make up. Despite what Apple loyalists may think, iTunes needs NBC Universal more than the network needs iTunes, according to a report issued by Forrester Research.

As NBC shows such as The Office and Heroes began disappearing from iTunes last weekend, James McQuivey, a Forrester analyst, warned Apple executives that it was in their best interest to "win NBC back."

In the report, McQuivey asked what good it is equipping iPods with video monitors if there isn't any video to watch. The way McQuivey sees it, NBC Universal is the clear winner in the feud between the two companies.

"The loser here is Apple, which relies on NBC Universal to deliver 30 (percent) of video download sales," McQuivey wrote. "Any supposed backlash against NBC will not materialize because NBC has made its content available, for free, on NBC.com and six other major portals sites."

Meanwhile, Apple has been sued for patent infringement over the iPhone's visual voice mail feature. Klausner Technologies claims the visual voice mail feature infringes on two patents that are said to cover the iPhone's method of selectively listening to voice mail messages rather than in the order in which they were received.

Klausner has already won cases against AOL and Vonage asserting the patents in question here, and is asking for $360 million in royalties and damages.

Also of note
Microsoft said it is working to develop a version of XP that can run on computers without a hard drive, including the XO computer from One Laptop Per Child...Beginning in the next few weeks, Dell notebooks and desktops will be for sale at Best Buy...Microsoft announced that it will have seven patches available on Patch Tuesday, three of which will be ranked as critical.

See more CNET content tagged:
Jeff Jones, Week in review, flaw, Mozilla Corp., study

13 comments

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Mike is a dumb ass...
Vista might be a little harder to pirate but really Vista sucks so bad nobody wants to take the TIME to pirate it...
Posted by jstorch (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Agree, why spend time hacking Vista?
When it is such a small audience? That includes hacking the copy protection DRM. Despite Microsoft's spin on their sales, Vista is at most 10% of the systems out there. All the rest got rolled back to XP or Ubuntu.
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
Link Flag
Other reasons
Why is Vista's piracy rate lower than XP?

If you can't afford Vista, you can't afford enough hardware to run it anyway. Or, if you bought enough hardware to run Vista, Vista came with it and there's no need to crack it. Anti-piracy through obsoleting existing hardware.

Why pirate Vista if XP works fine and you already know how it works?

If you are capable of cracking Vista wouldn't you rather hack on something cool like Linux or try to make Mac OS X run on a non-Apple x86 machine? Even freeing an iPhone from AT&T's grip is cooler than cracking Vista.
Posted by slewisma (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Customer service what?
I think a lot of piracy exists because people are dissatisfied with
the major Software companies. I know a lot of people who don't
understand why they have to pay hundreds of dollars for an OS
only to find out it doesn't work and customer service is
essentially non-existent.

Here's one example: I own two licenses for XP Home. When the
install disks broke in a move 2 years ago the mighty MS wanted
$100 a piece to replace them. Needless to say they currently
reside at the landfill.

There's been this attitude that because it Windows there's
nothing you can do. "There on 98% of the world computer" is a
common mantra. I think now is a good time for open source
software (Linux) to step up and fill the gap.

You can only treat consumers like this for so long before they
retaliate. Piracy, I think, is one outlet for that.
Posted by jimmyquick1 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Contact your OEM
I can purchase the restore disk from my OEM for about $10. However, owning the disk is not equal to owning the license. Your license is tied to the certificate of authenticity, not the disks. As long as you have the certificates of authenticity with the product ID number, you still own those two licenses whether you have the disks or not.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
This has been the cry since 96
And 11-12 years later its still where?

Thats an abnormaly high amount, when mine got destroyed in a move also it was closer to $20.
Posted by wolivere (780 comments )
Link Flag
No Buys an iPod just to watch NBC
Really both companies loose. But NBC is still losing more than
Apple. People will still buy iPods and iPhones. Those same
people just won't bother downloading and paying for TV shows.
They'll do without or they'll get it off of Bit Torrent or another
P2P service.

For instance, I missed the Strike "Finale" of HEROES because I
found the Pats/Ravens game way more interesting. I would've
spent the $2 and downloaded it from iTunes. But I couldn't. So I
just grabbed it for free off of a Torrent.

You can't deny customers what they want in terms or content,
and you can't force them into something they don't want
(otherwise Napster 2.0 and all those rent-a-song services
would be blowing iTunes away) just to watch a TV show.
Posted by TheDudeandHis360 (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
50% vs. 5%
So they're getting 50% less piracy on Vista, but for all of Windows they're getting a growth of just 5%?

This should start to confirm MS's decades-old theory: if we ever keep people from pirating our stuff, they'll stop buying it, too.

Maybe they'll finally stop their ultimate monopolistic technique - giving software away under the guise of loose policing against piracy. This should start creating a big opening for Apple and open source.
Posted by fokwp (44 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Think of it this way
Vista penetration into the market is = Mac, and all Linux distro's combined.

Not sure who is crying in there cookies here.
Posted by wolivere (780 comments )
Link Flag
Offering a WiFi
[i]The U.S. House of Representatives also overwhelmingly approved a bill saying that anyone offering an open Wi-Fi connection to the public must report illegal images, including "obscene" cartoons and drawings--or face fines of up to $300,000.[/i]

I hope that the bill itself includes laguage to the effect "knowingly and willingly offering an open Wi-Fi connection." If not, potentially tens of thousands of people who haven't properly secured their wireless routers will instantly become criminals.
Posted by Jim Harmon (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Best way to Batten Down Microsoft's hatches
Step 1) Perform a Low Level format of the hard disk in question.

Step 2) Install Linux.

Problem Solved.

Walt
Posted by wbenton (522 comments )
Reply Link Flag
NBC's decision is based on pure greed
The iTunes downloads are commercial free, the NBC downloads are
NOT. You figure it out.
Posted by hpew (76 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Pirates only pirate things they can make money
from. If there is no market for an item, what's the point of making copies and distributing them. That cost money.
We already know that the WGA in Vista has already been compromised, so making copies is no big deal.
Vista is a bust, just hope it fades away and more effort is spent on improving XP.
Posted by wtortorici (102 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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