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Microsoft grabs spotlight even when it stands pat

Without fail, the most intriguing technology stories always have a Microsoft angle. This week, for example, Redmond stole Oracle's thunder by preemptively announcing that it had ever so briefly courted SAP.

That bombshell was dropped as lawyers for Oracle prepared to deliver opening arguments Monday in its case to acquire PeopleSoft. Microsoft figured Oracle would divulge the SAP talks in federal court anyway, so it struck first.

Oracle argues that even though the merger talks didn't result in a deal, it proves that Microsoft has designs on entering the enterprise applications market one way or another. The U.S. Department of Justice, on the other hand, said Microsoft has stated that it has no intention of making such a move in the next two years.

The key goal of the DOJ is to

The week's top headlines

Unconsummated Microsoft-SAP merger sets industry abuzz

What Microsoft gets for its $7B R&D budget

Spam hit all-time high in May

'Critical' flaws in Internet Explorer

Tests to uproot Windows passwords begin

ensure that there are at least three viable choices in the market for high-end business apps. As it stands, those three are SAP, Oracle and PeopleSoft.

Who else does MS have its eye on?

With Microsoft holding $56 billion in cash reserves, it's hard to imagine that it won't make a major acquisition soon. The question is: Is the SAP deal really dead? Some think not. And CNN/Money recently floated a couple of interesting alternative acquisition possibilities. The first was Siebel Systems Inc., which would still give Microsoft a big foot in the door to the enterprise apps market, although not as big a foot as SAP. The other would be a bid for Network Associates Inc. and its flagship antivirus software brand, McAfee.

And while Microsoft is free to pursue its options, Oracle is mired in a court fight just to keep its dream of market dominance alive.

In other news this week, members of the Microsoft Research team opened the doors to the company's Mountain View, Calif., lab to give the public a glimpse of some future technologies. Like Detroit's annual auto show, these prototypes may never see the street, but the possibilities are fascinating. Among the projects Microsoft's deep thinkers are working on are a network "shield" to protect users from worms and viruses, and a statistical-analysis application that would block "Web spam" -- those redirects to annoying and offensive pages.

This year, Microsoft plans to spend nearly $7 billion on research and development, with the lion's share of that R&D money funneled into the "D." The five Microsoft research labs, including the one in Mountain View, get far less financing, but at least their work is recognized through public events, such as the preview held Wednesday.

More stats on spam

May set a new record for spam. Antivirus software maker MessageLabs Ltd. did a scan of the 909 million e-mails that were sent to its customers during the month. It found that 76% of those messages -- 691.5 million -- were spam. Meanwhile, Commtouch Software Ltd., a maker of antispam software, reported slightly lower numbers. It said that in May, 69% of e-mails sent globally were spam. Anyway you slice it, that's a lot of spam.

As part of its monthly security bulletin, Microsoft issued a couple of patches for "moderate" Windows vulnerabilities. However, those mild warnings were trumped by two holes in Internet Explorer that the Danish IT security company Secunia rated "extremely critical." Until there's a fix for the IE flaws, Secunia recommends that users disable active scripting support for all Web sites, except those that they trust implicitly.

Trust may be a little easier to come by if technology being tested by Microsoft and RSA Security Inc. results in a final product. The two companies have begun jointly testing authentication technology that combines traditional -- but unreliable -- user-created passwords with a "SecurID" token. The device, which is about the size of a matchbox, can generate a six-digit code every minute. And it never writes that code on a Post-It Note that gets stuck on a user's monitor.

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