Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Towel Day - May 25, 2007

"You sass that hoopy Douglas Adams? Now there's a frood who knew where his towel was. You are invited
to join your fellow hitch hikers in mourning the loss of the late great one. Join in on towel day to show
your appreciation for the humor and insight that Douglas Adams brought to all our lives."

To quote from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical
value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

MS Word exploit generator circulating?

MS Word exploit generator circulating? by ZDNet's Ryan Naraine -- MessageLabs is reporting a surge in targeted malware attacks against a known Microsoft Word code-execution vulnerability, suggesting that an exploit generator kit may be circulating online.

Microsoft: No plans to sue over Linux patents

In an official statement emailed to ZDNet UK, Microsoft confirmed that it would not litigate for now.

"If we wanted to go down that road we could have done that three years ago," said a Microsoft spokesperson. "Rather than litigate, Microsoft has spent the last three years building an intellectual property bridge that works for all parties--including open source--and the customer response has been tremendously positive. Our focus is on continuing to build bridges."

The infringement allegations, made by Microsoft in a Fortune magazine article, were that free and open-source software violated more than 230 of its patents.

In the Fortune interview, Microsoft counsel Brad Smith alleged that the Linux kernel violated 42 Microsoft patents, while its user interface and other design elements infringed on a further 65. was accused of infringing 45 patents, along with 83 more in other free and open-source programs, according to Fortune.

Microsoft has so far refused to specify which patents are allegedly being infringed by open-source vendors, leading some experts to assert that its threats are empty.

According to John McCreesh, marketing project lead, the open-source world is convinced that Microsoft would not substantiate its allegations. "[Patent litigation] is not an issue, but the Microsoft statements turn a non-issue into an issue in the minds of some corporate buyers," said McCreesh.

McCreesh added that while Microsoft may not have plans to sue, it could be using the threat of litigation to try to encourage corporate customers to move to those open-source product vendors with whom it had signed licensing agreements, such as Novell.

"Microsoft has spent time and money accumulating patents. Maybe it has started using that armory to move corporate customers to open-source software that Microsoft approves of," McCreesh told ZDNet UK. "The patent covenant with Novell covers, and guarantees corporate customers will not be pursued by Microsoft."

McCreesh said that he suspected Microsoft was also trying to encourage more open-source vendors to enter into a commercial agreement such as the one with Novell.

Nick McGrath, Microsoft's UK director of platform strategy, told ZDNet UK on Thursday that some customers were worried about the possibility of patent litigation. "We conducted research into the best way to give customers peace of mind," said McGrath. "For patent violation we give unlimited indemnification to customers [using Novell]."

Senior analysts said that while the threat of patent litigation might have caused a furor in the open-source community, actual litigation could cause damage to Microsoft similar to the damage suffered by SCO. "I hope it doesn't turn into another SCO," said Jon Collins, service director of Freeform Dynamics. "Microsoft is trying to play nice with the open-source community, but it has to do the Republican stance for its shareholders. There's a massive tension between the two positions."

"The danger is that it makes its stance too strong. SCO came away with egg on its face and damaged share price. The danger is Microsoft might respond to a situation to try to make an example, and that action could damage the brand," Collins added.

RAM to avoid: hot, expensive and slow

RAM to avoid: hot, expensive and slow by ZDNet's Robin Harris -- Has Intel ever met a technology they couldn’t make hotter, costlier and slower? The latest victim: DRAM. Here’s what you need to know. Intel is pushing something called Fully Buffered DIMMs (FB-DIMM). You see them on some servers and high-end PCs like the Dell 690 and the Apple Mac Pro that use the Intel 5000 series [...]

Dell announces support plans for Linux machines

Dell announces support plans for Linux machines by ZDNet's Christopher Dawson -- While the exact details concerning timing and availability of Dell’s Ubuntu-based hardware offerings are still emerging, an entry yesterday on their Direct2Dell blog outlined plans for support of the new OS. In particular, Dell will be launching a new wiki for users on their website “that gives technical details of the supported systems, information on [...]

Interop ‘07: First, Sun’s datacenter in a trailer. Now? Armarac’s wall-mounted datacenter

Interop ‘07: First, Sun’s datacenter in a trailer. Now? Armarac’s wall-mounted datacenter by ZDNet's David Berlind -- Datacenters are showing up in the strangest places. Two weeks ago, while in San Francisco, I took you for a video walkthrough of Sun’s Project Blackbox. Project Blackbox is basically a shell of datacenter in a shipping container (the kind hauled around by tractor trailers). It’s got everything that’s needed (power, cooling, networking, tons of [...]

Three more things that the Linux community doesn’t get

Three more things that the Linux community doesn’t get by ZDNet's Adrian Kingsley-Hughes -- Anyway, after wading through some of the comments (I don't know how some of you managed to keep up with the conversation in real time ... you deserve some kind of award too) I've realized that I missed three more points about regular PC users that some in the Linux community (the more vocal members perhaps?) just don't get.

Five crucial things the Linux community doesn’t understand about the average computer user

Five crucial things the Linux community doesn’t understand about the average computer user by ZDNet's Adrian Kingsley-Hughes -- Question: Why is it that the average computer user still chooses to spend hundreds of dollars on Windows or Mac when there are countless Linux alternatives that they could download, install and make use of completely free of charge?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

About us

About us by ZDNet's Paul Murphy -- Among last week's readers there were 671 Mac users who preferred Safari; 168 Linux users who opted for Konqueror; while only 20.8% of people using Windows stuck with IE.

Analyst: IT departments are sabotaging SOA

Analyst: IT departments are sabotaging SOA by ZDNet's Joe McKendrick -- Here's a switch: businesspeople get SOA, but IT fails to see its full potential

The re-colonization of the Web

The re-colonization of the Web by ZDNet's Dan Farber -- On May 14, 1607, explorers from the Virginia Company set foot on Jamestown Island, establishing a colony in the new world. The first North American colonies began the great and sometimes tragic transformation of the landscape. Nearly 400 years later, explorers with browsers instead of masted ships, led by Tim Berners-Lee, landed in the cyberspace [...]

Do you know what’s leaking out of your browser?

Do you know what’s leaking out of your browser? by ZDNet's Ryan Naraine -- At the ToorCon Seattle (beta) conference, Web application security specialist Robert Hansen (RSnake) demoed Mr-T (Master Recon-Tool), a new utility that combines information disclosure bugs in Internet Explorer and Firefox to collect information on a target's computer system.

Gates: 40 million Vista copies sold

That's more than the total install base of Windows' largest competitors, Gates quipped as he began his keynote at the Windows Hardware and Engineering Conference (WinHEC) here.

"As of last week, we've (sold) nearly 40 million copies," Gates said. "That's twice as fast as the adoption of Windows XP, the last major release we had."

Confirming news that had already leaked on its Web site, Microsoft also announced Windows Server 2008 as the official name of Windows Server "Longhorn," which is due to be finalized later this year.

In announcing the Windows Server 2008 moniker, Gates poked a little fun at his company's penchant for less-than-dynamic product names.

"We've been working hard thinking about it," Gates said. "We played around with a couple different ideas, but what we are going to go with is...Windows Server 2008. We know it's a surprise for us to pick something so straightforward."

Gates also announced several new partners for its Windows Home Server product, including Gateway and Medion. Microsoft has already said that HP will have home servers based on the technology later this year.

"This will come out in the fall," Gates said. He also said that smaller computer makers, known as system builders, will also be able to build products based on Windows Home Server. Microsoft has positioned the product as a central repository for media such as photos, movies and music as well as a more seamless way to back up PCs in the home.

Microsoft also announced the results of a study it commissioned IDC to do that found for every dollar Microsoft makes off Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008, other technology companies will take in an additional $18. IDC also found other companies will sell more than $120 billion in products and services around the two Microsoft operating systems.

Apple releases new MacBook laptops

The new laptops are now available from Apple retail stores, product resellers and the company's online store.

The new consumer laptops, all of which are an inch thick and have a 13.3-inch display with 1280x800-pixel wide-screen resolution, are available in three models: white with the option of 2GHz or 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processors, or black with the faster processor.

All three models are equipped with 1GB of RAM that can be expanded to 2GB of RAM. They also have built-in iSight video cameras, AirPort Extreme wireless cards capable of 802.11n wireless networking, two USB 2.0 ports and one FireWire port.

The lower-end white MacBook, with a starting price of $1,099, comes with an 80GB hard drive; its 2.16GHz counterpart, which has a 120GB hard drive and a faster, double-layer support 8x SuperDrive DVD drive, costs $1,299. The black MacBook, identical to the faster white MacBook except for the color and a beefed-up 160GB hard drive, is priced at $1,499.

Apple also manufactures higher-end MacBook Pro laptops, which did not receive updates this week.

As reported on CNET's Crave blog on Monday morning, the new MacBooks do not include several features rumored to be included in their next iterations. Among those features are Intel "Santa Rosa" processors, solid-state hard drives and LED-backlit displays.

Google: 10 percent of sites are dangerous

The search giant carried out in-depth research on 4.5 million Web sites and found that about one in 10 Web pages could successfully "drive-by download" a Trojan horse virus onto a visitor's computer. Such malicious software potentially enables hackers to access sensitive data stored on the computer or its network, or to install rogue applications.

Google's report (PDF: The Ghost in the Browser: Analysis of Web-based Malware), published last week, said the rise in Web-based malicious software has been aided by the increasing role that the Internet plays in everyday life, along with the ease in setting up Web sites.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, said Google is highlighting a worsening trend and "a considerable problem" for businesses and individual Web navigators.

An average of 8,000 new URLs containing malicious software emerged each week during April, Cluley said, adding that the notion that such software resides only in the darker corners of the Internet is very outdated. Seventy percent of Web pages hosting rogue software are found on legitimate sites targeted by hackers, according to Sophos.

To place malicious software on Web sites, hackers are manipulating Web server security, user-posted content, advertising and third-party widgets, Cluley said. "They used to spread malware by e-mail attachment. What they do now is spam out URLs."

Cluley warned businesses that they "cannot protect users by restricting what sites they go to. You need to start protecting your Web access as well as your e-mail gateway."

Tech Replublic - Police Blotter: Imprisoned sex offenders demand PCs

What: Sex offenders held in Minnesota facility say it was illegal for guards to confiscate personal computers used in their rooms.

When: Court of Appeals of Minnesota rules on May 8.

Outcome: Sex offenders have no right to possess PCs.

What happened, according to court documents:
The sleepy town of Moose Lake is home to one of Minnesota's sex offender programs, where "people who are committed by courts as a sexual psychopathic personality or a sexual dangerous person" are civilly committed. The unit goes by the generic name of "Therapeutic Concepts Unit."

Last April, four patients escaped from a second TCU location, which raised alarms in nearby communities. During their escape, the sex offenders removed metal bars and broke security glass in windows.

One of the men was a convicted rapist, who was identified and captured after appearing on America's Most Wanted a few weeks later. The other three were caught within hours of their escape.

That escape prompted Minnesota to immediately confiscate TCU patients' computers for security inspections. Rodger Robb, a TCU patient, believed that his computer would not be returned.

He sued, claiming a violation of his due process rights, and was joined by fellow patient Larry Schultz. Other reasons the administration gave for the confiscations include: The rooms are small and electrical outlets are limited.

"The point about this computer thing that is so angering to so many people is that they painted with this real broad brush," Robb said, according to "I have never been accused of misusing my computer for anything. I have never misused my computer for anything."

The confiscation is part of a broader, planned crackdown on personal computers owned by TCU patients, with administrators arguing that the machines are used to store sexual images and ones in common areas should be used instead. That crackdown was put on hold until Robb's lawsuit was decided, though. (A previous Police Blotter article described how one TCU patient claimed to have a First Amendment right to have Playboy images on his PC.)

Robb and Schultz lost before a trial judge, who rejected their request for an injunction and ruled that the duo had "fallen far short" of demonstrating that they would suffer a violation of their rights.

So did a state appeals court, which said last week that administrators enjoy great latitude "to accommodate a growing patient population and provide a safe and secure facility for patients and staff."

Excerpts from the appeals court's opinion:
Appellants argue that the state infringed upon their due process rights under U.S. Const. amend. V and Minn. Const. art. I, Sec. 7 because they were deprived of property interests. Although the protocol does not allow personal computers in the patients' rooms, they have access to common-use computers and may transfer appropriate data from their personal computer hard drives to disks. Appellants speculate that the state intends to destroy Robb's computer and appellants' other property. Because he has copious amounts of saved material on his computer, Robb speculates that it would be impossible to put it onto disks.

Appellants cite no evidence to support these contentions. And it is important for the state to have the ability to adjust policies to further MSOP's safety goals. Gary Grimm, MSOP program director, specifically denies appellants' contentions in his affidavit, stating "if the patient does not send out his computer, (MSOP) will place it in storage. (MSOP) will not destroy or otherwise dispose of patients' computers." (Editor's note: MSOP stands for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.)

The relationship between the parties is that appellants are committed in the TCU at MSOP, and respondents operate the treatment facility. The district court found that the statutory requirements allow the state "wide latitude" to develop programs and policies for the administration of the program, including disallowing contraband contained on computers. This is consistent with the articulated policy to maintain a "secure and orderly environment that is safe for persons in treatment and staff and supportive of the treatment program."

As the district court found, it would be a heavy administrative burden to require that the district court review each item of personal property to determine whether it complies with protocol. Absent a clear violation of the patients' rights, the state must exercise its professional judgment to accommodate a growing patient population and provide a safe and secure facility for patients and staff. On the current record, it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court, after considering each of the governing factors, to deny appellants' motion to temporarily enjoin the state from holding or confiscating appellants' personal property.

Why do I only get flamed when I support Microsoft?

Why do I only get flamed when I support Microsoft? by ZDNet's Christopher Dawson -- A recent post in Information Week asked a similar question: Why Doesn’t Microsoft Have a Cult Religion? It appeared on Digg and Ars with an even catchier tagline: “A good question: Where ARE the Microsoft fanboys?” A whole lot of us use it, many even with a great deal of success. Sure, [...]

DOD turns off access to YouTube, MySpace, Pandora

DOD turns off access to YouTube, MySpace, Pandora by ZDNet's ZDNet Government -- Soldiers stationed overseas won't be watching their favorite YouTube videos anytime soon. The Department of Defense has announced it will begin blocking 12 popular websites in order to protect information and reduce drag on the department's networks, reports the Associated Press. "This recreational traffic impacts our official DoD network and bandwidth ability, while posing [...]

In just over a month Vista has picked up a bigger install base than both Mac and Linux

In just over a month Vista has picked up a bigger install base than both Mac and Linux by ZDNet's Adrian Kingsley-Hughes -- At the WinHEC 2007 trade show Microsoft's Bill Gates announced that in just five weeks Windows Vista has gained an install base of 40 million users. That's a larger install base than for any other non-Microsoft OS.

Microsoft agitates for open-source patent pacts

In an interview with Fortune magazine published this week, Microsoft's top lawyer, Brad Smith, provided a stark tally of 235 Microsoft patents the company believes are violated by free and open-source software, though he stopped short of detailing any. Specifically, he alleged that the Linux kernel violates 42 Microsoft patents; its user interface and other design elements infringe 65; infringes 45; and other packages infringe another 83 Microsoft patents.

Microsoft could have several motives for rattling its patent saber: slowing down open-source rivals, raising fears of open-source legal risks among customers, and winning payment for technology the company believes it deserves from a group that's generally been unwilling to pony up.

But according to Horacio Gutierrez, vice president of intellectual property and licensing at Microsoft, the company's move is designed to bring parties to the negotiating table that currently aren't there. "There is nothing specific about open-source software that warrants an exception of the intellectual property laws that apply to everyone else," Gutierrez said. He called the purported patent infringements "not accidental."

Microsoft is a major player in the existing legal and business establishment for handling intellectual property, which includes assets such as patents, trademarks and copyrights. That framework gives considerable power to incumbent companies with large patent portfolios and sufficient resources to pursue more.

"It's a game in which those who have a lot of resources to throw around have a lot of advantage," said Tom Carey, a partner in the Boston-based intellectual property law firm Bromberg & Sunstein.

As an example of what it would like to see, Microsoft points primarily to the Novell patent deal struck in November, in which Microsoft is selling coupons that permit use of Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server along with the assurance that Microsoft won't assert its patents against customers. It's unclear how high open-source patent protection is on most companies' priority list, but Microsoft has made a big deal out of the fact that Linux protections are included in two patent-swap deals this year made with Samsung and Fuji Xerox.

Raising the prospect of open-source patent risks might not be likely to make Red Hat, the top Linux seller, overcome its current unwillingness to pay Microsoft for patent rights. But it could pressure Red Hat and others indirectly, either through jittery customers or through big-business partners such as IBM. That's Microsoft's hope.

"We don't think that customers will want to continue on without a solution to the problem," Gutierrez said. Microsoft also pointed to the fact that AIG, Credit Suisse, HSBC, Nationwide and Wal-Mart all have bought the Linux Suse Linux coupons from Microsoft.

But does open-source infringe?
The only problem with Microsoft's plan: so far its actions have only rallied the open-source troops, and not everyone believes the open-source gang egregiously violates the intellectual property regime.

"I don't think open-source is not playing by existing intellectual property rules," said Mark Radcliffe, an intellectual property attorney with DLA Piper. "Currently, open-source (participants) use copyright for everything they do. A lot of open-source companies have patents."

Radcliffe also derided Microsoft's reasoning that the purported open-source patent violations aren't accentual because the company thinks hundreds of cases exist. "It's an illusion or deceptive to say merely because there apparently are potentially a lot of patents infringed, it's intentional. That's certainly not the legal standard," he said. "I would also be willing to bet, given the number of patent suits against Microsoft that they've lost, under their own theory, Microsoft itself is intentionally infringing."

The fact remains, though, that patents and open-source software can be anathema. Patents give exclusive, proprietary rights to those who hold them, but open-source software is built on a philosophy of free technology sharing. Many in the open-source realm deride software patents and have been lobbying to curtail their influence.

When Novell and Microsoft announced their patent deal, the Free Software Foundation was quick to say it would move to prohibit such arrangements in a future version of the General Public License (GPL), the most widely used open-source license. The most recent draft seeks to prohibit all future deals of that nature and potentially past ones, too.

The timing of Microsoft's pronouncement is telling, Radcliffe said, "particularly when you think that GPL version 3 is still in draft. I don't think that is a coincidence," he said.

Red Hat, which indemnifies its customers against legal risks and has promised to rewrite any software found to violate others' intellectual property, told its customers Monday they have nothing to fear. "The reality is that the community development approach of free and open-source code represents a healthy development paradigm, which, when viewed from the perspective of pending lawsuits related to intellectual property, is at least as safe as proprietary software," the company said in a statement.

Microsoft won't say how much farther out of the scabbard it will pull its saber if the current effort fails to bring forth more patent deals with open-source companies.

"I don't have the answer for that. I have the answer for those that want to be responsible," Guttierez said.

But Microsoft would prefer not to sue, according to Guttierez. "If we wanted to litigate we would have done that a long time ago. Litigation is not an effective way of going about solutions," he said, adding that the company released the tally of potentially infringing patents now only after three years of effort to come up with a "constructive" way of dealing with the situation.

Open-source allies are willing to call Microsoft's bluff.

"I can't see it as any more than a somewhat hollow anti-open-source charade," said Matt Asay, vice president of business development for open-source document management start-up Alfresco. "If they want to really get people buying into their patents, they've got to put forth some substance...They haven't shown what the patents are or what they cover."

Larry Augustin, a venture capitalist who grew wealthy off a Linux-related initial public offering, told Microsoft on his blog to "put up or shut up." "If Microsoft believes that free and open-source software violates any of their patents, let them put those patents forward now, in the light of day, where we can all evaluate them on their merits," Augustin said. "If not, then stop trying to bully customers into paying royalties to use open source."

Litigation is unlikely, said Brian Kelly, an intellectual property attorney with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips: "If the end game is a lawsuit, you probably lead with a lawsuit."

Of course, SCO Group did lead with litigation in 2003 when it took on IBM with claims that Big Blue violated its contract by bringing proprietary Unix technology to open-source Linux. But Linux continues to spread widely despite that case--even with SCO suing actual customers.

At the same time, open-source allies are accumulating more legal heft by banding together and signing up some of the computing industry's largest companies. Oracle now sells its own version of Linux, and Sony, Red Hat, IBM, Novell and Philips formed the Open Invention Network in 2005 to try to amass a patent counterweight. Patent holders who join the organization or license its patents agree not to sue over patents in the "Linux environment."

Even if Microsoft doesn't sign any more patent pacts, just slowing down the competition could be counted as a victory. Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice, in a blog posting Monday, likened Microsoft's patent threat to Iraq's use of Scud missiles in the Persian Gulf War.

"The point wasn't to actually use the weapon, but rather to require opposing forces to plan and take countermeasures against the possibility of use," he said. "While they were so occupied, they were less effective doing other things."

Amazon to offer DRM-free music downloads

The e-commerce giant announced Wednesday that it would offer songs from more than 12,000 record labels in the MP3 format, without the controversial digital rights management (DRM) software. Record labels are beginning to warm up to the concept of offering music downloads without DRM, after waging war with peer-to-peer companies over distributing their copyrighted music and over piracy issues.

"Our MP3-only strategy means all the music that customers buy on Amazon is always DRM-free and plays on any device," Jeff Bezos, Amazon's chief executive, said in a statement.

Users will be able to play their music on virtually any device, including PCs, iPods, Zunes and Zens, as well as burn the songs on CDs for personal use.

In making the announcement, Amazon also noted it has teamed up with EMI Music to offer songs from its digital catalog. As part of its digital music store, Amazon will offer EMI's new, premium DRM-free downloads.

Amazon said it would announce pricing details closer to the launch date.

This is the second deal EMI has struck since announcing it would begin offering DRM-free music downloads at a premium price.

Last month, EMI and Apple struck a similar deal with the computer maker's iTunes store. Apple is expected to offer the label's DRM-free music later this month at $1.29 per song, and DRM-protected music for 99 cents a song. The cost of a DRM-free album, however, will be the same price as one with DRM technology.

EMI also has signed similar agreements overseas. VirginMega in France will offer DRM-free EMI downloads, as will a number of Scandinavian online retailers and mobile carriers, such as Telenor, Musicbrigade and Aspiro.

Other record labels that have tested the concept of DRM-free downloads include Jessica Simpson's label, Sony BMG-owned Epic, which teamed up with Yahoo Music year last year to offer a single Jessica Simpson track.

Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group both declined to comment on the EMI announcement and their plans relating to DRM.

N.Y. attorney general accuses Dell of fraud

The court filing accuses Dell and Dell Financial Services of 10 counts of fraud, false advertising and deceptive business practices, including offering misleading financing, and failing to honor rebates and warranties.

The state of New York is asking for an injunction of Dell's allegedly bad business practices and an order that the world's second-largest PC maker pay an unspecified amount of damages to customers found to be affected, in addition to a $500 civil penalty payable to the state of New York for each violation.

"Dell's consumers were intentionally misled, and they had to pay for that privilege. I hope this lawsuit sends a message to companies large and small that delivering a product is simply not enough--the promises they make must be delivered as well," Cuomo said in a statement Wednesday. His office set up a Web site Wednesday for consumers wishing to be part of the suit.

The suit (PDF: Cuomo v. Dell), filed in Albany County, N.Y., accuses Dell of "bait and switch" tactics in which customers are encouraged to apply for zero-interest financing, only to be misled and offered credit lines with up to 20 percent interest rates when they do not qualify for the financing promotion.

In addition, the suit alleges that Dell Financial Services bills customers for canceled orders, as well as for returned or missing merchandise. As a result, DFS and other collection agencies harass consumers for "months on end" for payments they do not owe, according to the petition.

The PC maker's advertising campaign, which touts its award-winning tech support department, is also targeted in the suit. Promises made on television are not met, according to the suit. Customers who purchased warranties are instead met with "a nightmarish array of obstacles in their quest for service."

Dell spokesman Bob Pearson told CNET that the company will contest the suit. "We are confident that our practices will be found to be fair and appropriate. While even one dissatisfied customer is too many, the allegations in the AG's filing are based upon a small fraction of Dell's consumer transactions in New York. We are committed to providing a positive experience to all of our customers every day," he said in an e-mailed statement.

Pearson said the suit is not related to the Securities and Exchange Commission's investigation into Dell's accounting practices. Dell's own internal investigation into the matter yielded what its audit committee called "evidence of misconduct." As a result of the SEC's investigation, Dell has filed only preliminary quarterly financial reports for the past three quarters.

In December, analyst firm Friedman Billings Ramsey criticized the way Dell accounted for warranties, saying the company used an "unusual" method for accounting for the money it takes in from warranty sales and the money it reserves to handle expected warranty claims.

Wi-Fi Alliance to begin certifying 802.11n gear

The industry group, which has certified products for all of the preceding 802.11 standards, including 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g, said last August that it would take a two-phased approach to the 802.11n certification process. The group will certify interoperability for products using the 802.11n Draft 2.0 version of the specification starting next month.

Once 802.11n becomes a full standard, the alliance will update its certification process to comply with the standard. The group said it hopes to make sure the standard products also interoperate with pre-standard products it certifies.

Products that are certified will display a new logo to let consumers know they have been certified. Products are expected to hit store shelves in July. The Wi-Fi Alliance has 11 testing labs in seven countries around the world. Testing will begin in the middle of June. All the 802.11n Draft 2.0 certified products will also interoperate with products certified for previous 802.11 standards, such as 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g.

The standard, which has been batted around for more than two years, was supposed to be finalized by early 2007. But the process has been delayed, and a final standard won't likely be completed until 2008 at the earliest. Meanwhile, many companies have already begun selling prestandard 802.11n equipment.

The Wi-Fi Alliance doesn't typically certify products before a standard is adopted, but representatives for the group say that getting interoperable products out on the market is very important.

"802.11n will offer up to five times the throughput and twice the range of existing Wi-Fi technology, which will make it ideal for enabling multimedia applications throughout the home," said Karen Hanley, senior director of marketing for the Wi-Fi Alliance. "So it's important to get products on the market that will work together so that consumers can get the technology they need to extend their home networks."

DRM-free movement snowballs; watch those song prices

DRM-free movement snowballs; watch those song prices by ZDNet's Larry Dignan -- Amazon said Wednesday that it will launch a digital music store “later this year” that will feature DRM-free tunes. The online retailer said it will offer millions of songs from more than 12,000 labels. EMI’s music catalog, which went DRM-free with Apple, will be included in Amazon’s store. The official line from Amazon CEO Jeff [...]

Defeating UAC with a two-stage malware attack

Defeating UAC with a two-stage malware attack by ZDNet's Ryan Naraine -- An independent security researcher has released details on a two-stage malware attack against Windows Vista to show how easy it is for non-privileged code to replace shortcuts on the Start Menu and intercept UAC (User Account Control) privilege elevation prompts.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

OnHollywood: Kevin Rose–’If they sue us, they sue us’

OnHollywood: Kevin Rose–’If they sue us, they sue us’ by ZDNet's Dan Farber -- Digg founder Kevin Rose addressed the user revolt at his site during a panel discussion this morning at the AlwaysOn OnHollywood conference. For background, a Digg user posted a HD-DVD hack code, Digg took down the story after receiving a cease and desist letter saying that the encryption key infringed on intellectual property right holders, Diggers [...]

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

‘Highly critical’ Trillian, Winamp flaws flagged

‘Highly critical’ Trillian, Winamp flaws flagged by ZDNet's Ryan Naraine -- Security holes in two popular desktop software applications could put millions of computer users at risk of code execution attacks. The flaws, rated "highly critical," were flagged in the Trillian cross-platform IM program and Nullsoft's Winamp media player.