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Eye on Microsoft: Failed Products, Security Issues, and “7” Sins

There is a lot to cover today, so we group articles by topic and comment on them very briefly.

Dying (or Dead) Products



In recent weeks we presented several examples of products or divisions that Microsoft decided to shut down. The latest addition to this list (reduction rather) is MSN Groups, which is getting the chop.

An e-mail snafu has led to the leak of Microsoft's decision to shutter its MSN Groups service, according to LiveSide.net.


It is now confirmed.

Confirmed: Microsoft Gives Up On MSN Groups, Hands It Off To Multiply



[...]

The rumor was originally reported earlier today after a series of emails were posted to a MSN Discussion newsgroup, and has since been confirmed by both Multiply and Microsoft through a blog post.


Another burdensome business for Microsoft is XBox (360). The company has lost several billions of dollars there and iTWire can attest to bad experiences in this latest article about an overdue fix

I have experienced just how frustrating owning an Xbox 360 can be, with my console being repaired for a second time after being returned from the first repair in a totally broken state.


There is one clear winner in this round of 'console wars'. It continues to be Nintendo with sales that rise sharply.

Nintendo's Wii Sales Rise 37 Percent During September



[...]

Nintendo also led in sales of handheld game players. Consumers purchased 536,800 of the company's DS machines, compared with 238,100 units of Sony's PSP, NPD said.


That's where the gamers' money is going. Sony, much like Microsoft, is losing a lot of money, but it distributes many Blu-Ray-capable devices in the process.

Om Malik, who previously AstroTurfed for Microsoft (as covered here), wrote a piece suggesting that Windows Mobile is in trouble. This appeared in the New York Times, despite its pro-Microsoft bias.

Recently it was revealed that the newest version of Microsoft’s mobile operating system, Windows Mobile 7.0, would be delayed until as late as 2010. The updated version, which the company’s partners had reportedly been hoping to have by early 2009, was aimed at giving Microsoft a bigger presence on the mobile stage. But delay or no delay, I don’t think it would have been enough. With competition from a resurgent BlackBerry platform from Research in Motion, Apple’s iPhone and most importantly, the Google Phone platform (I will analyze Nokia’s Symbian platform in a separate post at a later date), Microsoft’s mobile platform is facing its toughest environment yet.

[...]

Sometime later this month, the G-1 will go on sale and people (at least those in the U.S.) will be able to experience the difference between a Windows Mobile- and an Android-based phone for themselves. Of course, some will find the shortcomings of the Google Phone — and according to Mossberg, there are many — grating. Others, like me, will be suitably impressed. And if they’re impressed enough, most handset makers will want to join the party.


If the troubles of Windows Mobile are recognised and even shared by a Microsoft AstroTurfer in a Microsoft-oriented publication, then something must really be wrong with Windows Mobile. We wrote about the specifics of this before and included many supportive references.

Security



ASUS Eee PCs which contain Windows XP are being taken off the shelves and recalled in Japan. The reason: viruses.

Taiwan's ASUSTek Computer has announced a recall of its Eee Box PCs that were sold in Japan because they contain a virus.

The virus, known as recycled.exe, resides on the D drive of the machine and once opened, the virus will be activated and copy itself to the C drive as well as any other removable or USB drives. Affected by the virus, the running of the computer will become slow and it may download harmful malware programs from the Internet.


ASUS is hopefully watching and learning from this incident. In other news, yet another benchmark shows that anti-virus software is a futile attempt at creating or restoring system's security. This latest one from Secunia agrees with several independent studies that precede it.

Security software suites are doing a poor job of detecting when a PC's software is under attack, according to Danish vendor Secunia.

Secunia tested how well a dozen Internet security suites could identify when a software vulnerability was being exploited, said Thomas Kristensen, Secunia's CTO.


Bruce Schneier says that a lot of anti-virus software is just 'snake oil'.

Moving on and into the news, Microsoft has no less than 20 security holes to patch this month. It's a lower bound because Microsoft just hides a lot of serious deficiencies to brag about perceived security. At least 4 "critical" vulnerabilities (remotely compromisable) are included:

Microsoft on Tuesday issued updates plugging at least 20 security holes in Windows, Office, and other products. They came as miscreants sent out phony emails urging people to download malware that masqueraded as critical Windows alerts.


Ushering Microsoft's 'Panic Tuesday' was indeed a surge of Trojan horses masqueraded as something benign.

Along with the vulnerabilities posed by the flaws for which Microsoft released patches on Tuesday, users of the software giant's products have a new obstacle to grapple with: a fake notification mailing that looks remarkably legitimate.


Some people may wonder how these dangerous E-mails reach so many people without their origin being blacklisted. It's the fault of Microsoft Windows botnets -- a problem so colossal which could reportedly affect phones, too.

The same week one of the world's worst spam operations is being shut down, security researchers are warning the next big threat may not be for PCs at all -- but rather for cell phones.


If it were not for the massive amounts of SPAM arriving from Windows botnets (about 150 billion per day), phishing attacks would be a lot less practical. But botnets are returning.

After laying low for the better part of a year, the Warezov botnet is back - with some new tricks up its sleeve.

[...]

Stewart says Warezov is more of a payload delivery system than an actual bot. It is in essence a backdoor that installs any software its operator wants. In recent times, the payload of choice is a fast-flux hosting platform that turns compromised PCs into servers that host spoof sites used in phishing campaigns. Fast-flux networks are much harder to shut down because there's no central channel to defeat. If a single node hosting, say, a fraudulent Bank of America website is taken down, there are still thousands of other infected machines ready to take its place.


According to reports like this, even mainframes running Windows can now be turned into zombies.

Hackers have released code that could be used to take control of a server running Microsoft's Host Integration Server 2006, used to connect mainframe applications to Windows PCs.


In a world where roughly 40% of the computers are zombies, none of this should be surprising. There needs to be a serious overhaul which involves a mass departure from Windows.

Here is an article about attempts to turn Microsoft's security mechanism into a compensations mechanism. The EULA permits this.

Microsoft is objecting to a plan that would force the company to use its Windows Update service to notify potential members in the "Windows Vista Capable" class-action lawsuit, according to documents filed in federal court Wednesday.


Shane wrote about it earlier in the week.

Lawsuits



On that same subject of the "Vista capable" collusion/s, some time ago we wrote about Steve Ballmer being approached for a deposition. The investigation is going deeper now because it turns out that he spoke to Intel's CEO on a very significant day.

Plaintiffs' lawyers in the 'Vista Capable' case want to know what Steve Ballmer said to Intel CEO Paul Otellini during a phone conversation the two men had on the same day that Microsoft decided to loosen the requirements needed for a PC to get a 'Vista Capable' sticker.


Never forget what Intel and Microsoft did to OLPC.

While Microsoft battles one class action lawsuit, it gets hit by another. The skeleton in the wardrobe has proven overly troublesome.

Just four words can send a Microsoft Xbox 360 executive running for the hills. And they’ll be getting their trainers on now, because a Red Ring of Death lawsuit has been filed against Microsoft.

A report by DailyGamesNews states that the lawsuit alleges Microsoft knew about the infamous RRoD problem as far back as 2005, but that the firm chose to hide Xbox 360 RRoD failure rates so that sales wouldn’t suffer.


This was also covered here.

The infamous red ring of death rears its head again, this time resulting in a lawsuit over recent revelations made in the press.


Some of these class action lawsuits typically result in nothing but 'Funny Money' (compensation money that returns to Microsoft). Here is a new short article about it.

Microsoft settled the suit back in 2005 that alleged they engaged in anti-trust and consumer fraud practices from 1994 to 2004.

If you purchased any products made by the company during that time, you were able to sign up for this settlement.

Now, finally, you can get reimbursed for new microsoft products you buy.


Just Microsoft products? That's feeding the prosecuted party instead of depriving it from market share.

FUD



If you replace "Micro" with "Tele", then you can get TeleSoft, which sounds like tele (from distance) Microsoft, i.e. Microsoft proxy. That's where a lot of open source FUD has just come from. Matt Asay reports:

Perhaps recognizing that not everyone will buy into its FUD, TeleSoft claims to support the popular Linux operating system, but with a kernel-loadable module approach that keeps its IP safe from that voracious appetite of IP-stealing Linux. Nice. TeleSoft wants to have its cake ("open source is terrible!") and eat it, too ("but our open source is not so terrible!").

TeleSoft provides protocol stacks to the telecom industry, and from the sound of things it's getting sick of losing to open source. I used to work in this embedded Network and Communications market years ago and open-source adoption was exceptionally high. Threatened by open source's low price and high functionality, it's not surprising to see TeleSoft fight back.

But it might want to use factual information next time. The developers it's targeting with this FUD campaign will struggle to understand TeleSoft's point that "no documentation and quality testing means no guarantee of interoperability." (What does quality testing have to do with interoperability?) They'll scoff at the notion that open source isn't (or can't be) "tailored for [customers'] unique hardware and operating system." In fact, the opposite is, or can be, true.


Microsoft and TeleSoft are no strangers, but there's probably no string-pulling here.

Under greater competitive pressure, Microsoft goes on the offence again. It is throwing slime at Apple just days after the last time.

Microsoft has promised for some time now to finally fire back against Apple's marketing onslaught. Beyond a pleasant surprise of the company's new "I'm a PC" ads, Microsoft and CEO Steve Ballmer are also mounting a grassroots assault on Apple and its products through good ol' internal memos and interviews.


According to Associated Press, Microsoft plans to sabotage yet another launch event. This time it's to do with Apple and we recently summarised examples of similar behaviour.

DRM



We wrote quite a lot about the British Library in the past [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. Its preoccupation with DRM was one among the many problems as it taints public assets with unknown vendor-specific digital locks. There is a good new rant about it over at ZDNet UK.

As my correspondent says: "After all that I still couldn't open the document (which I've only opened once before) and got this. Now I know I haven't opened the document at another computer because this is my only computer with a printer - so I didn't open it anywhere else. I am never using this service again. The British Library, Microsoft and Adobe can go shove their DRM up their document delivery service exit. "

This, let me reiterate, is a public body providing publicly paid-for research to a highly-qualified professional engaged in impeccable work for the public service.

It is hard to imagine something more expensive, condescending, inaccurate, frustrating and enraging – nor something better calculated to restrict knowledge and broadcast ignorance.

It's almost as if the parties involved actively want to prevent people learning. It certainly feels that way.


To borrow a favourite analogy, they take important rights away from people and then sell these rights back to them, for a price and only temporarily.

The BBC is still playing with Microsoft DRM.

BBC iPlayer downloads coming to Mac and Linux



[...]

However, the Beeb's downloadable content will come with strings attached: content for all platforms will include DRM.


We covered some of this in [1, 2].

Love and Hate



There are some more short articles that may be of interest to some readers:

1. Who does Microsoft hate the most?

Wow! Now that really is a hard question to answer isn't it? If you listen to what 'Barmy' Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO and 43rd richest person on Earth, has to say then you might be forgiven for thinking it is Google (I'm going to f****** kill Google), or maybe Apple (I've got my kids brainwashed... you don't use an iPod) or even Linux (... a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.)


2. Best and Worst Microsoft Products?

Worst Products - ActiveX, Bob, Hotmail, IIS 5, Internet Explorer 6, Outlook Express, SQL Server 2000, SMS 2.0, Windows ME, Windows Registry


3. Top 10 Microsoft Windows 7 rants

Vnunet.com's recent articles on 'Windows 7' being unveiled as the official name for the next version of Windows, and Microsoft's follow-up explanation for the choice, have generated a huge response from our readers.

Many of those who posted comments wanted to share their views on the number of Windows versions so far, having taken affront at Microsoft's tally of six.


Windows 7 is a good example... of vapourware tactics. Microsoft's CEO is already insinuating that customers might as well forget about Vista.

Office Suites



Now that OpenOffice.org 3.0 is out there for a crowd of skeptical Office users to consider, it's worth pointing to this new IDG column that's also a complaint about usability issues in Microsoft Office 2007.

Arrogance or efficiency? Why Microsoft redesigned the Office user interface, Part 1



Earlier this year, I was writing an e-mail message using Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 and clicked on the button for adding one of my signature blocks.

Presto! Most of my message disappeared! Investigation and testing showed that the behavior was unpredictable; sometimes, only the existing default signature was replaced by the new signature but occasionally the program became confused and wiped out portions of the text as well.


Some months ago we showed fairly new examples of serious mathematical bugs in Microsoft Excel. Amid the financial crisis, this item from the news stood out.

Lehman Excel snafu could cost Barclays dear



A formatting fubar involving an Excel spreadsheet has left Barclays Capital with contracts involving collapsed investment bank Lehman Brothers than it never meant to acquire.


Finance



Speaking of financial danger, Microsoft and its good friends at Intel are both feeling the pinch.

Intel, Microsoft Squeezed by $170 Billion Budget Cuts



Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp. and the technology companies that so far have escaped the credit crisis relatively unscathed will lose out on as much as $170 billion in sales next year as the crunch catches up with them.

Corporate spending on computers, software and communications equipment may be little changed or fall as much as 5 percent next year as the lending freeze spooks clients, said Jane Snorek, an analyst at First American Funds in Minneapolis who has followed the industry for 13 years. It would be the first decline in the $3.41 trillion market since 2001 after the dot-com bubble burst.


Microsoft is also chasing payments now.

As economy falters, Microsoft scrambles for payment



[...]

[N]ow that some of the largest of those companies have fallen on harder times, the software giant Microsoft is making a concerted legal effort to ensure that it gets paid.

Microsoft has filed motions in bankruptcy court to monitor proceedings and prevent potential losses on large software licensing and consulting deals with collapsed Wall Street brokerage Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., embattled retailer Mervyn's LLC and failed thrift Washington Mutual Inc.


MSFT is down over 1% today. Heavy buybacks prevent the stock from falling further.

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