Network News Break: Memo to Microsoft: XP SP2 Wants to Be Free

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Microsoft is about to let Windows XP Service Pack
2 out the door, and it appears to be undecided about the terms under
which the update will be released. Some signals coming out of Redmond
indicate that it will be freely available to all, others indicate that
the company might make it unavailable to people running so-called
“pirated” copies of Windows.

If the new service pack were nothing more than a collection of updated
eye-candy and perhaps the latest and greatest version of Freecell, we
might be inclined to argue that Microsoft has no particular
responsibility to people who are running copies of its software that
they didn’t buy. If those people want to run a frequently updated
modern operating system and don’t want to pay, they should consider
a Linux or BSD distribution, and Godspeed. It’s their right to
choose.

But SP2 isn’t just a cosmetic upgrade. Microsoft claims it’s
chock-full of improvements to much more than the wallpaper. According
to
a report from internetnews.com
:

“XP SP2 will introduce technologies for network protection,
memory protection, e-mail handling, secure browsing and PC
maintenance. It also features a brand-new Windows Security Center
that allows the monitoring of firewalls, Automatic Update and
third-party anti-virus software and warns customers about the
need to apply patches.”

These improvements are things any network admin should be happy to
see. As much as each computer user has a choice about what software he
or she runs, none of us have a choice about what happens when that
user’s system is compromised and becomes a vector for viruses and
worms. Network admins are acutely aware of this, because they’re the
part of the tech world that spends the most time preparing for,
dealing with, and cleaning up in the aftermath of the latest Windows
security breach.

None of us have a real choice in the matter of just how ubiquitous
Microsoft’s products are, either. There have been perfectly good
alternatives to Windows for some time now, and they haven’t made much
of a dent in Microsoft’s dominance, despite the inherent risks of
living in a one-platform technology ecosystem. We might have a
collective choice to ditch Windows, but that’s no happening with any
speed.

The responsible entity with a real choice in this matter is Microsoft,
and it apparently can’t make up its mind. The company is clearly
troubled over the prospect of unauthorized, non-paying users of its
software getting to take advantage of the sweat of its brow at no
charge. But it’s also, evidently, struggling with its conscience a
little: Each time a new worm unleashes Yet Another Internet
Apocalypse, the chances are good it’s going to be Windows-driven, and
that’s not only a big pain for everybody, it’s a black eye for
Microsoft, which has a bad enough rep for security as it is.

We’d like to offer a suggestion to Microsoft:

Give it away. Bundle it up in AOL-like CD tins and mail everybody a
copy. Put a few in the Sunday Times for good measure. Rent some
extra bandwidth, buy a few spam lists, and make it the world’s largest,
most obnoxious attachment. But get it out there.

The Internet isn’t a corporate amusement park with a tollbooth and
paid parking outside. It’s a commons. Like any commons, we all pay
when anti-social elements show up and start wrecking it. Rather than
thinking “marketplace,” think “public highway.” If a car maker
manufactured a vehicle that periodically blew up and took out all the
cars around it, we’d demand a recall and we’d expect that the car
maker’s repair shops wouldn’t run the serial numbers on the cars
involved to see if they were stolen: It would be more important to
make sure the exploding cars were fixed. So it goes with this service
pack. There will be enough users who won’t bother to install it. If
an unsavory character with an unauthorized copy wants to do at least
that much good, let him, and don’t try to scare him out of it.

The network admins of the world, at least, will thank you.

Elsewhere:

» Dell and EMC have announced
a
sub-$10k SAN system
aimed at small- and medium-sized businesses.
According to Dell, “the AX100 is the industry’s first SAN server to employ
enterprise-class features such as three terabytes of storage capacity,
RAID 5 support, snapshots, hot-swap drives at a price point below
$10,000 and features easy-to-use installation and maintenance.”

» Broadcom has lifted the
curtain on what it says are the first 4
Gigabit per second (4 Gbps or 4-Gig) Fibre Channel fabric
switches
. Great! The analysts, evidently, aren’t so sure we’re
all ready for that yet:

“The importance of this switch is that it makes Broadcom
the first company to ship a 4-Gig switch,” says Arun Taneja, founder
and consulting analyst at the Taneja Group. “The incumbents have not
been very keen on developing these since there are no disk drives or
HBAs that support 4-Gig right now. Therefore, one cannot make a full
SAN that operates at 4-Gig.”

“The customer has not been pushing anyone to do a 4-Gig SAN, as
they are barely using the 2-Gig speeds,” Taneja continues. Competition
from 10-Gigabit Ethernet and the need for chipmakers to produce just
one type of chip are driving 4-Gig, he adds.

» If your Palm-toting users
have been complaining about their inability to peer up with your
802.11 network, there might be hope on the horizon. There’s a rumor
circulating
that at least two Palm models (the T3 and the Zire
72), will be getting an 802.11-compatible SD card. No love for those
of us dragging around the Tungsten-E, which seems to stand for
“Expandable? Never!”

» If you’re running FTP servers on
your net, it looks like WS_FTP, with new and improved notification
tools using SMS and pagers, might be
worth a look
.

The Week in Crossnodes

» Scripting Clinic: Dissecting a Live Python… Script

By examining a working script line by line, this edition of the
Scripting Clinic shows you how to put your own scripts together and
exposes a few Python quirks along the way.

» Pack-Rats
by Law: A Message Archiving Primer

With the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, messaging archives have gone from a
voluntary tic among pack-rat users to a regulatory necessity. Here’s
how to crate up the correspondence without overloading your LAN.

» AirDefense
Secures the Wireless Perimeter

In the rush to go wireless, administrators will find that they must
supplement standard security measures with serious reporting and
policy-enforcing products. Count AirDefense among them.

» WiMAX
Bridges the Last Mile in Broadband

WiMAX is slated to provide high-speed connectivity over distances that
dwarf 802.11’s effective range. Of course, it also promises to keep
things interesting for network administrators just coming to grips
with Wi-Fi.

»Plan
and Project Your Wireless LAN in 3-D

Don’t guess when it comes to creating a wireless network at your
company. LANPlanner SE lets you design and deploy a wireless network
with confidence.

The Week in Network News

» Monday: Time
to Talk Network Storage

If your CIO hasn’t come to chat about archiving and storage, brace
yourself: the message storage outlook for many companies is a little
rocky. Also: battling message authentication standards, and a boost in
NAS capabilities from Microsoft provokes some products from Iomega.

» Tuesday: Microsoft
Backs a New Way to Slam Spam

With a new day comes a new, Microsoft-backed standard for
spam-fighting. With the merger of Caller ID for E-Mail and the popular
but flawed SPF, there’s no reason to sit out the spam wars. Also:
Cisco’s monstrous new switch, Comcast’s startling admission, and
Microsoft’s new security software.

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