The Schmoozer: UK military declares war on Anna K

Viruses attacked, privacy was infringed, Apple won't be sued after all, and people stopped waiting for ADSL... the week according to The Schmoozer

"Could it be the end of all global viruses forever?" the headlines screamed this week, reporting new Ministry of Defence software that stops your computer from sending blanket emails without your permission.

What many failed to notice was that (a) Microsoft has already offered this sort of thing in an Outlook patch and (b) you can eliminate the danger of sexy-yet-dangerous viruses like "Kournikova" and and "ILOVEYOU" by turning off automatic Visual Basic scripting. Neither solution has had much effect, because they both depend -- like the MoD software -- on people actually turning it on. And anyway, given the MoD's info-security record, do you really want to be running their software on your PC?

The new government Net security force, the National High Tech Crime Unit (see last week's Schmoozer), couldn't make it to the UK's top security conference this week, despite such pressing issues as wireless viruses, employers listening in on your email and employees instant-messaging away all the company secrets. Apparently senior NHTCU people are on training missions, presumably fighting jungle guerrillas, overthrowing puppet regimes and taking on fully-tooled-up drug-dealer gangs singlehanded in preparation for facing the evil Hacker Hordes of the online world. "It'll take about six months to get some action," a spokeswoman told the Schmoozer.

Indeed, the unit doesn't yet have its own Web site, and may still be hiring. Interested applicants may apply here.

Across the pond, the FBI has taken a couple of clever Russian hackers to court. Allegedly, the two didn't stop at breaking into e-commerce companies' systems and stealing credit card information -- they then offered their skills as "consultants" to fix the problems they'd created. The Feds used their own tactics against them, however, luring them to penetrate a fictional US company and then offering them jobs there, only to grab them once they crossed the US border. Which begs the question: if they were so smart, how is it they didn't notice that the company whose servers they were cracking did not in fact exist?

It's one of the Web's worst-kept secrets that many journalists cut and paste bits of information to create their own "original" stories. Take the ZDNet story from last year on Cobalt's plans to sue Apple over the Cube trademark, which quoted Cobalt boss Stephen DeWitt as saying: "We will not sit idly by. They are trying to exert their marketing pressure and will pay for it." Researching an update to the story, the Schmoozer was intrigued to see a story on lowendmac.com's groundless rumour mill claiming that Apple was to counter-sue Cobalt. Their source? An "Apple spokesperson", who was heard to say of Cobalt: "We will not sit idly by. They are trying to exert their marketing pressure; they will pay for it." Coincidence? Or just a bad case of Chinese whispers? The Schmoozer thinks the world should be told.

Microsoft isn't hesitating at flexing its marketing muscle. If you want an upgrade to the next Windows Media Player (version 8) you'll have to fork out for a full upgrade to Windows XP -- and, by the way, if you're running Windows 95 you have to pay full price for the OS instead of getting a discount on an upgrade pack. It's one thing to integrate features into an OS, but another to effectively force people to buy a new car when all they want is a better set of speakers for the back seat.

"No matter what the courts say [about the legality of bundling], Microsoft will look like a bully and get called a bully," said an analyst. "It's bad PR, so why the hell are they hitting (sic) themselves in the foot again?" The Schmoozer, on the other hand, wonders what's so unusual about Microsoft sacrificing its image and credibility with the public for a fast buck.

And when are they going to fix that weird bug that makes the User Group icon guy's hair turn grey if there are more than 500 members of the group? Or maybe it's a form of sysadmin humour.

In trying to explain why telcos shouldn't bother with introducing broadband fixed wireless -- super-fast Net connections through radio waves -- one exec notes that "you would be hard pressed to find people within three kilometres of the cell [base station] that aren't already covered by BT", i.e., BT's ADSL lines, which also have a reach of about three kilometres from the switching station. Schmooze wonders how likely that really is, given recent figures showing that the UK has 0.08 broadband connections per 100 people -- the bottom of the league.

BT says it is getting that pesky ADSL waiting list down, though, with only 1,000 still having to schedule days off work for the friendly BT technician's visit. Is it possible they've reduced the number waiting in the same way they've reduced the number of irritating competitors waiting for access to BT's unbundled exchanges? Perhaps the tortoise will prevail after all.

We can't forget that this is the same BT whose boss, Sir Iain Vallance -- who announced he will be replaced by Sir Bland -- once described his company and its efforts to roll out Internet services as the "lollipop man trying to restrain the over-exuberant children".

The Schmooze can reveal that a BT charity pub quiz this week actually reflected most badly on Orange, who refused to take part and was represented at the event by an orange, surrounded by lemons. Lucent came out worst and One2One swept the top honours.

Elsewhere, Sony is giving Linux fans what they've always wanted: Linux for PlayStation2. Why blast bad guys in the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo when you can recompile your kernel?

Another household appliance you can now repurpose: your fridge. The Screenfridge is not just a fridge, but also a computer with dedicated ADSL Internet access and a host of information services. Ericsson has found this invention to be popular in Denmark, where according to the demo reel, kids use it to set up romantic liaisons between their single parents. In Britain, the Screenfridge could be a hit based purely on the fact that it's nearly impossible to get ADSL by any conventional route.

Speaking of surfing, the crack-down by companies on Web surfing at work seems to be having a negative effect on the online porn industry, which has shed its status as the only way to make a buck online and is losing money. Everyone is looking at ways of cutting costs and increasing profits, with some even resorting to the desperate measure of making their workaholic staff take six days' holiday over the next six months.

China itself is getting in on the act with an online auction of Chairman Mao collectibles like ping-pong paddles and propaganda art. Who says Communism is dead?

The Schmoozer is ZDNet UK's irreverent review of the week's news. Send your tip-offs to: mailroomuk@zdnet.com.

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