Column

Pumping up Microsoft's extended warranty

Customers are apparently afraid that Software Assurance -- the maintenance aspect of Microsoft's Licensing 6.0 program -- will end up costing, rather than saving, precious IT dollars. To turn that fear into comfort, Microsoft is taking a two-pronged approach: incentives and education.

The former comes in the shape of giveaways such as software training, an e-learning program and giving remote workers the right to use enterprise software at home without charge. Those sweeteners came out in September, a little more than a year after the launch of Software Assurance.

The latter is another matter.

This week, as part of an ongoing licensing campaign, Microsoft sponsored an online roundtable to discuss the program, warts and all. Analysts from Forrester Research, Gartner Inc., International Data Corp. and the Yankee Group agreed that the value of Software Assurance depends entirely on the individual software needs of an organization. Companies would be wise to give the program another look, they said; there just might be some savings to be had.

The second Tuesday of the month passed by this week, and true to its pledge, Microsoft issued its monthly security bulletin. On tap this month were three critical alerts and a non-critical one.

As reported on SearchSecurity.com, a cumulative update for versions 5.01, 5.5 and 6.0 of Internet Explorer covers five newly discovered security holes, and other critical alerts were issued for Workstation Service

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in Windows 2000 and XP, and for FrontPage Server Extensions in three flavors of Windows: NT, 2000, XP and Windows Server 2003. The less-critical warning was issued for vulnerabilities in Excel, Word and WorksSuite that could allow remote code execution.

An eagle eye who first spotted the FrontPage flaw said that he was surprised it took Microsoft so long to act on the information he provided to the company. Security-Assessment.com's Brett Moore tipped off Redmond about the vulnerability at the end of January.

Moore is more forgiving than some in the security community, however. He said his site, which provides intrusion testing and security code review, was kept up to date on the status of a patch for the flaw. Microsoft explained to him that the delay in releasing exploit code in this case was due to "internal issues," according to a report from Information Security magazine.

On the legal front, Microsoft chalked up a win in one case and scored some points in another this week.

The victory came as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decided that it will have another look at the Internet browser patent that led to a $521 million judgment against Redmond. A court has ruled that Microsoft's Internet Explorer infringes on a patent held by the University of California and licensed to Eolas Technologies. However, a patent office official this week said that "a substantial new question of patentability" warrants a closer look. The patent office may also want to take a closer look at its use of non-words like "patentability."

Microsoft is also learning to speak a language that the European Union wants to hear. The EU's European Commission has been saying for some time that it is willing to strike a deal to end its case against Microsoft over the alleged unfair dominance of Windows in the European market. After closed-door hearings this week in Brussels, Redmond was also talking about a deal. But the software maker also made this argument: Make us radically alter Windows for this market, and all you'll end up with is an inferior product.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Software Assurance deserves a second look, analysts say

Patches for critical IE, Windows flaws issued

Microsoft slow with critical patch

Patent office to re-examine Eolas patent

Microsoft to EU: Windows may be damaged


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