Top 10 IT News Stories of the Week

1. "Microsoft Details Plans for Vista SP1—Beta 'In a Few Weeks' "

Aug. 29, PC World

Screen shots of the first service pack for Vista have been popping up on Windows watchdog sites, so it wasn't much of a surprise when Microsoft said a beta will go out to a limited group of testers soon, with a full release to the rest of us due in the first quarter of next year. XP SP3 is also expected out, though the release time frame was given as the first half of next year. A lot of companies hold off on installing new versions of Windows until the first service pack is available because those typically take care of problems that early adopters contend with, so the release is expected to be accompanied by a deployment boost. Vista SP1 will feature security, reliability, performance and compatibility fixes, including all of the ones put out under Windows Update so far. It also will improve on administrative features and add support for new hardware and standards, Microsoft pledged. The company says it might expand the initial beta to a wider group, and applications for those who want to participate are being taken at the Microsoft's Windows beta site.

2. "Microsoft Admits Swedish Employee Promised Incentives for Open XML Support"

Aug. 30, Computerworld

"Microsoft's OOXML Vote Gambit Backfires"

Aug. 31, Computer Sweden

Microsoft fessed up midweek that a Swedish subsidiary employee offered compensation to partners who vote in favor of the Open Office XML document format being approved as an ISO standard. Votes are due in to the ISO by Sunday. Microsoft made sure the offer was taken back once it heard what happened, and managers in Sweden notified the Swedish Standards Institute, or SIS, which represents the nation in the ISO, based in Geneva. The SIS had voted in favor of making Open Office XML a standard. But by week's end, the organization declared that vote invalid, not because of the wheeling and dealing that had gone on. The SIS said proper procedures hadn't been followed. So, a new vote has to be held, but it's doubtful that will take place before the Sunday deadline, meaning that Sweden could wind up not participating in the ISO vote.

3. "Hacker Cracks Embassy Systems"

Aug. 31, Techworld

User names and passwords of more than 100 e-mail accounts of employees at embassies and governments in various countries were posted online as way to get attention that better safeguards are needed. Computer Sweden verified with some of the embassies in question that the data breaches had occurred and also spoke to the freelance security consultant who posted the information, which he said he stumbled upon accidentally and did not use to access accounts. Dan Egerstad, the security consultant, said that usually he would contact those whose data was obtained, but in this case with multiple countries involved, that task would have been too big. So, he posted the information hoping that would lead the embassies and governments to make sure that passwords are changed.

4. "States, U.S. Clash Over Microsoft Antitrust Ruling"

Aug. 30, InfoWorld

Plaintiffs in the never-ending U.S. antitrust case against Microsoft submitted sharply differing reports to the U.S. District Court charged with making sure the company is complying with a 2002 consent decree. The U.S. Department of Justice, along with New York, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio and Wisconsin say the decree is doing what it's supposed to do—opening up markets and helping consumers. But six other states, led by California and Washington, D.C., don't see it that way. "There can be little doubt that Microsoft's market power remains undiminished and that key provisions of the final judgment have had little or not competitively significant impact," they contend. Microsoft's court filing says the final judgments have led to an environment "in which market forces can determine the relative success and thus the market shares of participants" and "measured by that standard, the final judgments have been a success." The consent decree is in force until Nov. 12, and District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has to decide whether to extend it. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Sept. 11.

5. "Acer to Acquire Gateway for $710M"

Aug. 27, CIO.com

"Analysis: The Impact of the Acer-Gateway Merger"

Aug. 27, PC World

Acer plans to buy Gateway in a deal valued at $710 million. The combined company will be the third-largest PC maker worldwide, according to Acer Chairman J.T. Wang, who also noted, "This is the biggest acquisition in Acer's 30-year history." At least in its early stages, the effect of the acquisition on consumers is expected to be minor, but that didn't stop questions from flying about how Acer will market its existing brand in conjunction with Gateway and the eMachines line that comes with Gateway. For now, Acer plans to keep all three brands going, and the expectation is that it will try to bring some excitement to the Gateway and eMachines lines, described by one analyst as "bottom dwellers." The brands could be marketed differently in different regions, with some combining of lines. But right now, it's all guesswork.

6. "Yahoo Reorganizes...Again"

Aug. 30, Macworld

The shake-ups in Yahoo's top management continue, with the latest change in the organizational structure aimed at increasing advertising sales, which is the company's main revenue stream. President Susan Decker, who took over that job two months ago, issued a memo to the staff saying that the top sales executive is leaving in February, with a new global sales organization being created. Given that Yahoo has had any number of executive shake-ups in less than a year, this one might not be the last.

7. "Unlocking the iPhone Could Invite DMCA Suit"

Aug. 27, Macworld

"iPhone Unlocking Video Hits Web"

Aug. 29, Macworld

"iPhone Unlocker Trades Phone for 'Sweet' Car"

Aug. 28, Network World

If you've been working on unlocking the iPhone so it can be used with providers other than AT&T, you might want to shelve your work or be real quiet about it. Legal experts say that unlockers could be subject to prosecution under the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Or maybe not. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty out there. John McLaughlin, founder of Uniquephones in Belfast, Northern Ireland, had planned unlocking software on the Web last weekend, but changed his mind after he says he got a middle-of-the-night phone call from someone claiming to be from a law firm representing AT&T suggesting that wouldn't be a wise move from a legal standpoint. A low-quality video of McLaughlin demonstrating how to unlock an iPhone was posted on the Web this week, but McLaughlin says he still hasn't decided if he will distribute the software. Meanwhile, New Jersey teenager Greg Hotz figured out how to unlock his iPhone and shared the secret on his blog. Then he put the phone up for auction on eBay and traded it to a company that refurbishes cell phones for a "sweet Nissan 350Z" car and three 8GB iPhones. After that, he went off to college at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

8. "Microsoft Postpones Longhorn Release Date"

Aug. 30, InfoWorld

A little less quietly than word about Vista SP 1 was Microsoft's announcement that the release date for Windows Server 2008 has been delayed. Formerly code-named Longhorn, the server OS was supposed to be out by the end of the year, but that's now been changed to the first quarter of next year. The company used its standard explanation for the delay: "Microsoft's first priority is to deliver a great product.... We would rather spend a little more time to meet the high-quality bar that our customers and partners deserve and expect," a group product manager wrote in a blog posting.

9. "Five Ways to Deal with Gen Y Technology in the Workplace"

Aug. 29, Network World

Perhaps a confession is in order that it's not just the Gen Y crowd that accesses sites like Facebook from work. But they probably do that sort of thing more than the rest of us who are too busy accessing other sites. Whatever. The point is that IT departments need written policies regarding which sites are off limits and if they're always off limits or if employees can surf them during lunch or when the workday ends, even if they're still hanging around the office. Not having the policies written down in the company handbook forces the IT department to have to explain why sites can't be accessed. Policies also should fit the corporate culture, consultants say.

Which leads us to: "Banning Facebook, Similar Sites at Work Not a Good Idea, British Group Says"

Aug. 30, Computerworld

Britain's Trades Union Congress says that banning social networking sites from the workplace could be an "overreaction" and that it's better to let employees check out such sites. Social networking sites aren't going away—in fact, they will proliferate—so companies should set parameters for what is an acceptable amount of access from work. Keep an eye on productivity of employees and make sure that written policies are in place about what can and cannot be posted at such sites that has to do with work. The main thing is not to fall prey to the "hysteria" that gets drummed up in some quarters about such sites, the TUC suggests.

10. "Q&A: Researcher Says Skilled Foreign Nationals Need Green Cards, Not H-1B Visas"

Aug. 30, Computerworld.

A study out this month warns that the U.S. government needs to make it easier for citizens of other countries to obtain green cards or permanent residency status or many of them will leave the United States and take their inventions, and their IT creativity, with them. The report authors, who are at Duke, Harvard and New York universities, call this possibility a "reverse brain drain," and they have plenty to say about why measures should be taken to stop such a drain from happening. Foreign nationals in the United States file one of every four international patent applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty—and that's just one statistic the researchers have in their arsenal.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 secrets of successful remote IT teams