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Analysis: Microsoft understands the great motivator

For the longest time, Microsoft has been pleading with users to set up firewalls and regularly patch their software. Now Redmond's finally found the real solution to the rampant problem of computer viruses and worms.

The answer was so obvious that it's amazing no one thought of it earlier.

For the longest time, Microsoft has been pleading with users to set up firewalls and regularly patch their software. Now it's finally found the real solution to the rampant problem of computer viruses and worms: money.

It's a sad but cold, hard fact that money is what motivates most people. In 1964, when three young civil rights workers went missing in Mississippi, the FBI tried everything to find them. It wasn't until the agency offered money to an informant that the world discovered the fate of those doomed men.

It would be callous to compare life-and-death situations with IT security, but the point is, money makes things happen. And today, the world's software systems have become vital to the fabric of society. Critical personal and professional data reside in such systems, and it's up to the gatekeepers of that data to maintain its availability and protect it from an elusive subculture of motivated malcontents.

That's where Microsoft can help.

The $5 million that Microsoft has committed as a reward to catch virus and worm writers -- including a combined $500,000 bounty for the authors of Sobig and Blaster -- is a good first step toward at least slowing down the madness. Rather than create more variants when a worm is released in the wild, some budding crackers may choose instead to turn in a fellow script kiddie and pocket some cash.

Microsoft is wisely leaving the sleuthing up to professionals, though. Hemanshu Nigam, one of Microsoft's lawyers, said that any leads that come its way will be turned over to the Secret Service, the FBI or Interpol. Redmond simply plans to be the moneyman in this arrangement, a role for which it is uniquely qualified.

Looking for a comeback

This week, Novell Inc. took another step in its transformation process. After losing a 1990s battle with Microsoft over networking operating systems, the Provo, Utah, company looked like an IT has-been. Then, last year, it revamped its product line in preparation for its ultimate quest/gamble: open source domination. This summer, Novell acquired Ximian, which had begun making open source developer tools. On Tuesday, Novell announced that it plans to acquire SuSE Linux AG, the maker of a server version of the open source OS, for $210 million.

The only piece of the puzzle missing now is a desktop component. Is Red Had Novell's next pickup? You'd better believe Microsoft is wondering the same thing.

On Oct. 15, Microsoft released the first of its monthly security updates. Now it has released the first of its fixes for those fixes. Security patches for Windows Messenger Service and ActiveX were re-released because of problems with the earlier versions. Those who successfully installed patches from that first alert won't need to re-install the new versions, which are available from the Windows Update Services.

And in another first, Microsoft has put out a patch for the new Office 2003, its well-received suite of applications. The software maker has discovered that data can be lost when documents created in older versions of Office are accessed using the new version. The update, which was rated "critical," applies to Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Justices hint at broader remedies

For those who keep tabs on the never-ending Microsoft antitrust case, here's an update. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court listened to three hours of arguments about whether the 2001 settlement deal contained enough remedies to make the software business a more level playing ground.

Several media outlets openly speculated that the end was near for Massachusetts and others who argue that further measures are needed to keep Redmond in check. Then the justices did something the pundits didn't expect. They hinted, through their line of questioning of attorneys, that they may be open to stronger remedies.

The epilogue to this saga remains unwritten.


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