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Signs hopeful for a Microsoft-Cisco security pact

Microsoft and Cisco Systems Inc. find themselves steaming directly at one another in the area of network security, but this technology brinkmanship doesn't have to end badly.

At its partner conference in Toronto this week, Microsoft outlined a plan to control access to a corporate network right from Windows. If the Network Access Protection program has a familiar ring, that's because San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco beat it to the punch with plans to release its Network Admission Control product later this year.

So what happens now? Well, the Microsoft of a few years ago would have gone right for the jugular and tried to run Cisco out of the perimeter security market, regardless of Cisco's high standing in

The week's top headlines

Microsoft heads toward perimeter collision with Cisco

Microsoft releases more details on XP SP2

XP SP2 delay causes domino effect for WUS

Microsoft issues seven security bulletins, two 'critical'

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the networking industry. The new -- and antitrust weary -- Microsoft might just be a little smarter than that and be willing to work something out with John Chambers' gang.

Signs abound that Redmond is leaning that way.

Steve Anderson, Microsoft's director of marketing for the Windows Server division, hinted at a cooperative effort in an interview with's Jim Rendon. "We are in deep discussions with Cisco," Anderson said. "We are just not in a place where we could announce [a partnership] with them today."

Authentication spec an example of cooperation

And there is a recent precedent for Microsoft partnering -- rather squaring off -- with a potential rival. In May, Redmond reached an accord to merge its Caller ID for E-mail initiative with the complementary Sender Policy Framework. The combined e-mail authentication technology, which now goes by the moniker Sender ID, is being reviewed by the IETF standards body.

Information security is one area that forces vendors like Microsoft to go beyond the predictable dog-eat-dog approach. If Microsoft and Cisco can strike a deal, it would be a big boost for enterprises looking to secure themselves at the network edge, and those titans of technology still might make a buck or two in the process. Where's the downside in that?

Elsewhere in the news

Besides its network security initiative, Redmond used the Worldwide Partner Conference to update Microsoft watchers on the much-anticipated release of Windows XP Service Pack 2. The refresh of the desktop client is now expected to be released to manufacturing in August, which is a convoluted way of saying that users will probably be able to download it in September from the Windows Update site.

Rumors have circulated that SP2 has been breaking applications during the beta test, which has pushed back the release date. But that's not such a big deal, some users say. I recently spoke to the head of IT at a big Windows shop in Boston who said it's a given that a major release such as this will break some apps. His biggest wish is that Microsoft just be honest with its customers and provide them with a list of potential trouble spots to keep an eye on when customers deploy the service pack.

In a related matter, the delay in getting XP SP2 ready has pushed back the release schedules for other Microsoft products. The software maker said that Windows Update Services (WUS), which succeeds Software Update Services as Microsoft's free patch management utility, will now be released in the first half of 2005. A general beta test is scheduled to begin toward the end of the year.

Patch Tuesday fixes

On the bug front, Microsoft issued seven patches in its security bulletin this month. Two of those fixes were labeled "critical." The first is for a vulnerability in Windows Task Scheduler caused by an unchecked buffer. The other is for an HTML Help flaw that occurs because the program does not completely validate input data. As always, patches and security information for administrators are available on Microsoft's TechNet site.

There's also a high alert this week from the Department of Irony Security. A column this week by PC Magazine's John C. Dvorak posits the theory that Microsoft is behind a secret campaign to discredit Linux. The piece offers numerous examples of nefarious deeds, but not one shred of evidence that Microsoft is responsible for any of them. Open source advocates have long accused Microsoft of spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about Linux, but it's funny -- and very ironic -- to see those same fans shamelessly using a tactic they profess to abhor.

This one has to qualify as at least on "orange" on the irony alert scale.

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