When Microsoft stumbles, there's usually a legion of competitors and card-carrying Redmond haters standing by to gloat. That's decidedly not the case, at least among competitors, in the wake of a $521 million judgment against Microsoft over a Web browser patent.
The collective response has been more like, "Uh-oh."
Lawyers for Eolas Technologies Inc. -- which is basically founder Michael Doyle -- successfully argued in a federal court that Microsoft's Internet Explorer violated Eolas' patented browser technology. Now, Microsoft competitors fear that they may be next on the lawsuit hit list, or even worse, that their software won't be easily accessible if IE is retooled to avoid the patent issue.
The fallout reaches even further. It seems that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is so concerned that the HTML standard may now be construed as a patent violator that it has formed a committee to look into whether changes need to be made to the ubiquitous language of the Web.
A potential white knight for Microsoft is software rock star Ray Ozzie. The Lotus Notes creator says he was using the disputed technology long before Eolas applied for its patent. Ozzie sort of owes Gates et al, since Microsoft is a major investor in Ozzie's Groove Networks Inc.
Stay tuned, this drama's just getting started.
Some official Microsoft-bashing was released this week, as the Computer & Communications Industry Association unloaded a research paper, widely reported on by the media, that says Internet viruses and worms will continue unabated in a world dominated by the Windows operating system.
The Washington, D.C.-based organization's treatise was authored by corporate technology executives and security researchers, who urged the world's governments to force Microsoft to reveal more of its Windows source code so that better security tools can be developed.
But even those who worked on the report were divided about who's to blame for the lack of diversity. Most criticized Microsoft for its go-for-the-throat business practices, although one member, security expert Bruce Schneier, said alternatives to Windows exist. Users choose not to buy them, he said, so they should shoulder some of the blame for the endless wave of exploited-software cases.
Unless you count getting an unemployment check, it doesn't pay to be critical of Microsoft, however. On Thursday, report participant Dan Geer, chief technology officer for the security consultancy AtStake Inc., lost his job. AtStake, which does business with Microsoft, denied that Geer's departure had anything to do with the report. But the company was quick to say it hadn't sanctioned Geer's role in the research.
On the product front, the beta for a newly minted version of Microsoft's Software Update Services has been put on hold for the time being. An e-mail to users from Redmond said version 2.0 of the Windows utility has been "delayed shortly," although it gave no further details. SUS is a free patch management application that is bundled with Windows. SUS 2.0, which is due to be released later this year, will be able to patch a range of Microsoft products, not just Windows, as is the case with the current version.
Those eager for details on Longhorn, the next version of Windows, should be able to get their fix at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in October. Redmond is promising to dole out more information about the software, which is a long way from reality, judging by Microsoft's recommendation that customers adopt Windows 2000 until Longhorn is ready.
The weird Windows story of the week goes to D Squared Solutions, a software maker that apparently likes to play both sides of the fence. The San Diego-based company is using the Windows Messenger utility to blast out pop-up ads that pitch software that purports to combat, you guessed it, pop-up ads. Wired.com quoted one user who likened the practice to the mob extorting "protection" money out of small businesses.
D Squared should see if there's a Sopranos cast member willing to serve as its pitchman.
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