by CIO Staff

Top 10 IT News Stories of the Week: Microsoft and Alcatel-Lucent

Feb 23, 20078 mins

1) “Microsoft Must Pay Lucent-Alcatel $1.5B, Jury Says”, Feb. 23

A U.S. federal jury ordered Microsoft to pay Lucent-Alcatel $1.5 billion in damages for infringing on MP3 encoding and decoding patents. Some news reports said the fine was the largest ever in a patent lawsuit, though the companies wouldn’t confirm that. But the jury award is certainly one of the largest in such a dispute. In 2003, when Lucent-Alcatel was still just Lucent Technologies, it filed suit against Microsoft customers Dell and Gateway, alleging those companies infringed on 15 patented technologies through use of the Windows client OS. Microsoft got a declaratory judgment from the U.S. District court in San Diego saying it should be the lawsuit target and not its customers. A judge threw out two of the patent cases and divided the remaining 13 patent-infringement claims into six groups. This week’s jury verdict was the first trial, with five remaining.

2) “Apple, Cisco Come to Terms in iPhone Dispute,”, Feb. 22

Apple and Cisco won’t go to court over their dispute of rights to use the iPhone name. They agreed that both of them can use it. They’ll also “explore opportunities” to interoperate their security and communications technologies for consumer and business users. Cisco sued Apple last month in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California claiming Apple was infringing on its iPhone trademark. Cisco said it obtained iPhone rights when it bought Infogear in 2000. Cisco’s Linksys division already sells dual-mode cordless phones called iPhone. 3) “Google Apps Upgrade Poses Threat to Microsoft Office,”, Feb. 22

Google rolled out a major fee-based upgrade of its hosted suite for businesses of all sizes, called Google Apps, which is widely believed to be a serious competitor for Microsoft Office. For $50 per user per year, Google offers guaranteed uptime, IT management tools, technical support, increased storage, integration with word processing and spreadsheet applications, and BlackBerry support for Gmail. Google Apps Premier Edition is the third and most sophisticated version of the software suite that the company has released since it debuted its hosted service last August.

4) “Microsoft, AT&T Head to Supreme Court: What Does It Mean?”

Network World, Feb. 21

It was a busy bicoastal week in court for Microsoft. Besides the California patent case filed by Lucent-Alcatel, it presented oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in a patent-infringement lawsuit filed by AT&T. The complicated case involves an AT&T patent for converting speech to computer code that Microsoft acknowledges it violated, but the company argues that it isn’t guilty of patent infringement on software shipped overseas. AT&T says that Microsoft violated a provision of patent law that prevents companies from shipping parts to be assembled overseas in a way that infringes on a U.S. patent. The companies have already settled on AT&T’s claim that the patent was infringed in the United States, so the Supreme Court case is to decide whether software is a component of the AT&T patent and whether Microsoft is a supplier to foreign computer makers. It must determine that both are the case to find Microsoft in violation. If that happens, the ruling could alter the software industry and how it operates as far as shipping components overseas for assembly, potentially costing vendors billions of dollars, experts say. AT&T has won judgments in district and appeals courts in the matter.

5) “It Ain’t Smart to Rely on SMART,”

Techworld, Feb. 21

Built-in disk drive diagnostics predict only about half of drive failures before they occur, according to Google research. The study examined more than 100,000 disk drives, including serial and parallel ATA consumer-grade drives, with speeds from 5,000 to 7,200 rpm, and from 80GB to 400GB in size. Modern disk drives have Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology, or SMART, which is a built-in self-test and diagnostic. The drives Google tested are part of its own computing infrastructure, and researchers analyzed data for correlations between hard drive sensor and SMART readings and failures. Examining all SMART signals and temperature readings, they found that about 36 percent of all failed drives had no predictive failure signals. “It is unlikely that an accurate predictive failure model can be built based on these signals alone,” they concluded.

6) “Mystery Cell Phone Charges,”

PC World, Feb. 23

From the cautionary tales file, cell-phone customers, including business users, are increasingly finding charges for monthly services they didn’t want to sign up for and that can take them months to get canceled, and they also are frustrated by the rate of incoming spam text messages they are forced to pay for. Mysterious bills for extra services are especially vexing because those might come from a third party rather than the service provider, and customers find that the service provider isn’t always forthcoming with whom the charges are coming from. Then when they do manage to extract that information and contact the third party, they don’t necessarily get any relief from them either. All the mergers that have occurred apparently have contributed to this sort of situation, as far as analysts and others in the industry can tell. Some service providers refuse to discuss any such issues, citing privacy concerns of customers. Watchdog groups are lobbying for truth-in-billing legislation, but cell phone users are advised to closely monitor all bills and charges.

7) “After IT Cuts, Corrections Dept. Turned to Inmates for Help Desk Duty,”

Computerworld, Feb. 21

Having trouble finding qualified help-desk employees? The Colorado Department of Corrections found an answer in light of planned IT cutbacks when it turned to female inmates from a women’s prison in 2005. The department had to support 6,500 staff with way too few IT workers, so it trained a few female inmates to fill the gap. Initially, at least some staff weren’t keen to call on the inmates for help because they were in part concerned about how much information the inmates would have access to during a help-desk call. But a service desk tool limits the information inmates can see, while still allowing them to do the job. A supervisor of the system says the inmates’ work has been “absolutely excellent,” with the IT support center fielding 46,000 work orders in 2006, and inmates taking 16,000 of those and closing 8,000. For their part, inmates appreciate the responsibilities they’re being given and the experience that they hope to put to use upon release.

8) “GM Aims for Global IP System with New AT&T Deal,”

Computerworld, Feb. 21

General Motors CIO and Group Vice President Ralph Szygenda frames the $1 billion, five-year deal between his company and AT&T to continue developing a global IP network as something of a case study in how IT providers have to work as one in a company. “They can’t work as a bunch of IT companies competing against each other” inside the same company, he said when the deal was announced. AT&T will manage GM’s relationships with about 150 worldwide telecommunications providers with the aim of making sure all of the IT providers work together and are consistent in their service and support. The automaker is developing a worldwide IP network supporting voice, data, video and other services. GM is outsourcing about $15 billion in IT work over five years, and began awarding contracts toward that end a year ago.

9) “TJX: Data Breach Worse Than Previously Believed,”

Network World, Feb. 22

More from the cautionary tales department: The Massachusetts-based retailer TJX Companies now says that the massive data breach it revealed last month was worse than previously believed, with intruders accessing the company’s systems nearly a year earlier than it initially thought. The company had said it was “concerned” that may have happened, but confirmed it this week. The owner of retail chains TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Bob’s Stores, among others, publicly disclosed last month that its payment systems had been illegally accessed and credit-card data and other information had been obtained for an unspecified number of customers in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and possibly the United Kingdom and Ireland. TJX hasn’t yet said how many customers were affected, but analysts estimate the figure is in the millions. Fallout of the intrusion has been widespread, with banks and credit-card companies reissuing thousands of cards and various groups putting more insistent focus on the need for enhanced security measures by companies.

10) “Asteroid Hunt: What Else Is Coming Our Way?”

Computerworld, Feb. 22

Here’s something to take your mind off work worries: The asteroid Apophis has a one-in-45,000 chance of colliding with Earth in 2036. But scientists say those odds will change and probably for the good of Earth, as efforts to identify objects and figure out their likely paths are stepped up. Apophis, named for an Egyptian god of darkness and chaos, was discovered in June 2004 by scientists including David J. Tholen. The low odds of it crashing into Earth aren’t of such concern to scientists as the fact that it was only recently discovered, leading them to wonder what else is lurking out there, traveling the universe close enough to be a possible threat. Scientists are using IT systems to help them answer that question.

-Nancy Weil, IDG News Service

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