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November 07, 2003
[ Software: Google's New Deskbar ]

 If you're not a big user of Internet Explorer, Microsoft's browser -- and therefore no fan of Google's Toolbar -- you may be interested in their new Deskbar.
 
 
It sits in the bar at the bottom of your (Windows) screen, wherein you can type ordinary searches, image searches, even definitions and movie reviews. The answers pop up in a mini window.

[ News: FTC Gets Tough On PopUps. Well, Some Of Them ]

 The Federal Trade Commission has accused a California pop-up advertising company of digital-age extortion. MSNBC reports that D Squared Solutions allegedly hijacked Internet users' computers by bombarding them with Windows Messenger pop-up ads -- as frequently as every 10 minutes. The ads hawked $30 software that promised only to stop future pop-ups from the company.
 
Windows Messenger is a different beast to Microsoft's Messenger: it's supposed to be used for system administrators to send out bulletins to users. Instead D Squared used it to blast annoying messages. The FTC is accusing them of extortion, and with websites like Blockmessenger.com, Endads.com, SaveYourPrivacy.com. and Fightmessenger.com under their control I suspect they have a case.

[ News: More Exploding Phones ]

 I've not been keeping score, but more and more Nokia phones seem to be exploding. Another one did in Finland, The Register reports. Nokia has confirmed that it was one of its 3310 handsets equipped with a rogue battery which exploded and caused minor injuries to a woman in Finland yesterday.
 
 

November 06, 2003
[ News: Internet Payment Under Attack ]

 Internet payment system Worldpay is under hack attack from unknown assailants, hitting thousands of online retailers around the world, the BBC reports. The company's payment and administration networks have been flooded with computer-generated requests, clogging the system and slowing transactions - also known as a "denial-of-service" attack. Worldpay is owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group. It has 27,000 clients around the world, ranging from heavyweights like Vodafone and Sony Music Entertainment to numerous small online retailers.

November 05, 2003
[ News: Wanted, Dead Or Alive: Virus Writers ]

 Microsoft is a mite upset, and is offering $500,000 reward to inform on the virus writers responsible for the Blaster and Sobig worms. (In August, if you recall, the Blaster-A worm infected many unprotected home and business computers, attempted to launch a denial of service attack against a critical Microsoft security update website, and, most importantly, mocked Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. The worm exploited a critical security hole in versions of Microsoft Windows. Just days later the Sobig-F worm, which spread on the Windows platform, bombarded email users around the world, clogging up email servers.)
 
Sophos, the anti-virus people, had this to say: "It's no surprise to hear that they are fed up with this situation and prepared to offer a reward for the capture of these virus writers," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos.  "There must be people out there in the computer underground who know who is responsible for the creation of these malicious worms. Offering a total of $500,000 will be a great temptation for someone to break their silence - and do all legitimate users of the Internet a favour."

[ News: Jeeves, Where Can I Buy Some Plus-Fours? ]

 Here's a new way of finding what you want to buy: Ask Jeeves. Ask Jeeves started out as a place you could ask normal questions ('How long is a piece of string?') and get answers that closely match your question, culled from the web ('Want to buy a G-string?'). At least that's been my experience. Still, it's sometimes useful. Now, its new Smart Product Search feature, Reuters reports, will help consumers find, price and compare products on the Web.
 
 
Smart Search results already cover most consumer electronics, including cameras, computers, MP3 players and video games. In coming weeks, consumers will also be able to see Smart Search results for additional categories, including home and garden, apparel and children's products.

[ Update: Office Update You Should Probably Have ]

 If you've already upgraded to Microsoft Office 2003 (why, exactly?) there's an update you should download. This update, Microsoft says in its understated way, "fixes a problem that occurs when you try to open or to save a Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003 file, a Microsoft Office Word 2003 file, or a Microsoft Office Excel 2003 file that includes an OfficeArt shape that was previously modified and saved in an earlier version of Microsoft Office."
 
It turns out that if you save one of those files containing an OfficeArt shape (a particularly kind of graphic) in Office 2003, then open it in an earlier version of Office, you may lose the whole thing. Or, in Microsoft-speak, "you may experience the following symptoms:
The document may not open completely.
The document may be corrupted.
The document may open but with missing content.
You might receive an error message."
You've been warned. More details here.

[ Update: Online Music Gets Nasty ]

 This whole online MP3 download service business is getting nasty. The Register reports that MusicMatch and Apple, once in cahoots, are now doing what they can to elbow the other off the stage. "Apple and MusicMatch are locked in a battle to see who can infect as many personal computers with DRM (digital rights management) as quickly as possible," The Register says. Good point: with different systems in place for managing the MP3s you download, users will find it hard to have two or more subscriptions to these services going at the same time. The upshot: whichever software you use will determine which subscription service you use.
 

[ News: Blogging And The Art Of Organisation. ]

 Very interesting article from Fast Company on where blogging may be going: turning an individual into a virtual organisation and leveraging the Internet's natural community-building tendency to run it. The focus is the legendary Joi Ito.

[ Update: More On Bluejacking ]

 Interesting discussion about Bluejacking -- the new craze whereby folk send messages to unsuspected cellphone/PDA users across the room -- on Slashdot. The impression I get is that parts of Europe have already been using the Bluetooth function on phones to spam other people for some time. One contributor says that in Copenhagen
...every other time I get in a taxi I get a Bluetooth transmitted business card from the company or sometimes specifically the driver of the taxi. The first time this happened it was a slightly novel new thing I didn't mind much - but now I find myself cursing the people who implemented this standard for not doing it like on Palm where you have to 'accept' the infrared beamed cards. On the Nokia cellphones it's just stored without question so if this practice gets more widespread, soon your address book will be seriously burdened with unwanted business cards. Just finding them will be a big hassle. That's when you switch off Bluetooth I guess.

November 04, 2003
[ News: DVDs Go To Eight GB ]

 Soon you can burn more than 8 gigabytes onto a DVD. Technology co-developed by drive maker Philips and media specialists Verbatim and Mitsubishi Kagaku, adds a second recording layer to a standard-thickness DVD+R disc The Register reports. That's enough for four hours of DVD-quality material, 16 hours of VHS-quality content or two hours' archive footage. The discs are playback-compatible with existing DVD players and DVD-ROM drives.
 
 

[ News: PowerBook G4 Woes ]

 Apple are having a hard time of it of late. According to CNET hundreds of owners of Apple Computer's new 15-inch PowerBook G4 are complaining about an apparent design fault that causes white spots to show up on the notebook computer's liquid crystal display.
 
 
Apple said on Friday that it is looking into the problem. More than 650 individuals have signed an online petition demanding that the Cupertino, Calif.-based company address the issue.

[ News: Microsoft Launches Voice Recognition for the Pocket PC ]

 Microsoft has launched new voice recognition and control software to allow mobile phone and handheld computer users to control most functions of their phones without fiddling with tiny controls. Microsoft Voice Command, Reuters reports, will be sold as a $40 add-on for the Windows Mobile Pocket PC software for PDAs and mobile phones, allowing users to call up a contact on a device by simply asking for a person's name. It will also launch applications, control phone functions and look up and read back calendar appointments.

[ News: Online Music Sites Compared ]

 If you're confused about the abundance of online music sites, here's a chart comparing what they offer, and what they lack, from The Philadelphia Inquirer.

November 03, 2003
[ News: You've Been Bluejacked ]

 If you start receiving weird messages on your Bluetooth-enabled phone (or, I guess, a PDA) from strangers, you've probably been Bluejacked. For more, read here. Nice. Although of course it's open to abuse so expect the vulnerability to be exploited by spammers, hackers and the marketing fraternity.
 
 

[ News: Amazons Discovers The Perils Of Browsing ]

 Interesting piece on the downside of Amazon's new book-searching feature, launched last month, which allows customers to do a full-text search on more than 120,000 books. The Register reports that it has quietly disabled printing after researchers managed to print out 108 consecutive pages from a bestselling book.
 
As a failed bookseller, I sympathise. It would drive me nuts when people would come into the shop, take out a pen and paper, and start taking notes from books they never bought.

[ News: A Worm With A Mission ]

 Further to my posting about SpamCop, it seems that a new virus, actually a worm, is aiming at bringing down SpamCop and some other anti-spam sites. Is it more evidence of collusion between sleazy spammers and spotty virus writers?
 
Sophos reports that W32/Mimail-E is a worm which spreads via email using addresses harvested from the hard drive of the infected computer. It arrives with the subject line : don't be late!, and the message Will meet tonight as we agreed, because on Wednesday I don't think I'll make it, so don't be late. And yes, by the way here is the file you asked for. It's all written there. See you. It looks as if it's sent by someone called John on your domain.
 
The worm will then attempt denial of service attacks -- bombarding a specific website with tonnes of digital rubbish -- on anti-spam sites such as spews.org , spamhaus.org and spamcop.net.

[ News: Round 68289 In The Spam War? ]

 It's not clear whether this is another salvo in the Spam War, but if it is, it's a novel one. A major anti-spam website, SpamCop, was taken off air -- by the registrar, SlashDot reports. Could it be a move by a spammer frustrated by the efforts of SpamCop to eat into their little game?

[ News: Information Overload ]

 In the end this may be more important than anything else in the evolution of technology: information is growing very, very fast. The BBC quotes a study by the University of California, Berkeley that:
  • every year 800MB of information is produced for every person on the planet;
  • information stored on paper, film, magnetic and optical disks has doubled since 1999;
  • The amount of information stored in books, journals and other documents has grown 43% in the same period;
  • the amount of information generated has grown about 30%;
  • in 2002 alone about five exabytes (an exabyte, unless I'm much mistaken, is a billion gigabytes) of new information was generated by the world's print, film, magnetic and optical storage systems.
And yet we still don't have decent programs for letting us find stuff -- words, pictures, sound -- on our own computer. Why is that?

[ News: RFID Tags' Dirty Secret ]

 A story from Reuters that says one of the biggest hurdles facing RFID tags -- the widgets that store information about products -- is that they still aren't very good. "The tags fall far below the 99 percent reliability rate of UPC tags because of the difficulty of transmitting clean radio signals," the piece says.
 
Many of the companies currently making them may not survive long enough to see the market emerge, apparently. "We are at an incredibly early stage of this technology and what it is actually capable of doing. All the promise of real-time supply chain visibility is just that. It's promise," IDC analyst Christopher Boone said.
 
 

November 02, 2003
[ News: China Awash With Viruses ]

 I'm sure this is true in other part of Asia: The majority of Chinese computers are infected by viruses, according to a survey conducted by the public information network security supervision bureau of the Ministry of Public Security. CyberAtlas says 85 percent of computers in China were affected by viruses in 2003 - 1.59 percentage points higher than in 2002 and 25.57 percentage points higher than measurements in 2001.
 
What worries me is how many of those were actually cleaned, and how many are still infected?

[ Update: Windows XP Service Pack 2 Details ]

Windows & .NET Magazine report that Microsoft have given some details about their next Windows XP update, called Service Pack 2 (SP2), which is due in the first half of 2004. Some important changes:
  • XP SP2 will ship with all XP security features enabled by default, meaning that the Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) will be on, and the Windows Messenger service will be off.
  • The company is also reducing XP's susceptibility to buffer-overrun errors, which worms and viruses commonly exploit, by adding support for new code execution features available on newer Intel and AMD processors.
  • Finally, Microsoft is enabling the automatic download and installation of critical security hotfixes on XP SP2, ensuring that users' systems are always protected.
These are all welcome, apart from the firewall, which I found to be slow and memory-hungry. Also I have some reservations about the automatic update of security fixes -- some of these are big, too big for dial-up. Unless Microsoft is really careful at limiting their size, and ensuring that 'critical' doesn't include every bit of update they throw out, folk with slow connections are not going to be happy.

[ News: IBM Pursues The Fold Out Computer ]

 I've always thought this would be the way forward: fold out computers. Now IBM are onto it, according to ZDNet.
 
One of their more promising designs, ZDNet says, uses a dual screen, connected by a single hinge, which provides a total display area closer to that used on desktop PCs when the device is unfolded.
 
 
IBM has already licensed the Meta Pad, which packs most of the components of a normal PC apart from the screen and keyboard into a package about the size of a PDA, which can be plugged into either a portable screen or a desktop adapter. Antelope Technologies will begin selling a device based on the technology this week.
 
 

[ New: Gator Changes Name, But That's All ]

 A rose by any other name? CNET reports that Gator, the controversial advertising software and e-wallet company, has "changed its name to better reflect its business in behavioral marketing". The change, CNET says, distances the company from a name that has become synonymous with "spyware"--that is, ad-tracking software that can be installed surreptitiously.
 
Despite landing such Fortune 500 advertisers as American Express and Target, the company has had difficulty dispelling the negative connotations of its software. It also has faced several lawsuits for its advertising practices. In recent weeks it has gone on the offensive, launching a legal offensive to divorce its name from the hated term 'spyware', with some success. In response to a libel lawsuit, antispyware company PC Pitstop has settled with Gator and pulled Web pages critical of the company, its practices and its software.

about loose wire
musings, snippets, grievances and links on personal technology by dow jones columnist jeremy wagstaff. I want to hear from users -- technology-related stories, complaints, thoughts, ideas, brickbats -- so please email me

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