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The Independent Culture
THE SO-CALLED instant messaging war between AOL and Microsoft could see hostilities cease this week with the release of a new version of Microsoft's MSN Messenger software. Last week Microsoft indicated it would probably not try to enable the new version of its software, which will integrate more deeply with the MSN portal and Hotmail, to communicate with AIM, although a final decision is pending.

Microsoft has for several months been trying to get its MSN Messenger Service to work with AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM) while AOL has continually blocked its efforts, saying that Microsoft's unauthorised use of its servers is a form of hacking. "We've been doing the block and tackle for three months or so, and it's getting harder and harder to inter-operate with AIM," a Microsoft representative said.

Deanna Sanford, product manager for MSN, said: "AOL is blocking us by exposing a buffer overrun bug in their AIM client. We don't want to expose our users to that security risk. We're evaluating if it's something we can continue to do."

Both companies said they are still committed to the Internet Engineering Task Force investigating the design of a standard to allow instant messaging systems to communicate with each other.


ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE vendors last week warned of new form of e-mail worm program that can attack PCs if a user reads an infected e-mail without opening any attachment. The program, called BubbleBoy, affects users of older versions of Internet Explorer 5 with Windows Scripting Host installed (the default with Windows 98 and Windows 2000) where Outlook or Outlook Express is used as an e-mail client. Windows NT and the default set-up of Windows 95 are not affected.

The virus works by running a script command. In the case of BubbleBoy, the script is relatively harmless, the Outlook address book is used to spread further copies of the program. But malicious variants could be written.

Patches are available from the main anti-virus software sites and by updating to the latest version of IE5. Setting IE5 to its highest security setting will disable the virus.


REAL NETWORKS had three lawsuits launched against it in the United States last week after it admitted that it collected details of the listening habits of users of its RealJukebox software. The software secretly transmitted details about which CDs it had been used to play, how many songs had been copied and a serial number enabling users to be identified over the Net. The cases, filed in Chicago, Philadelphia and California, allege the company violated privacy rights.

RealNetworks denied storing or benefiting from the potentially lucrative data it received, and said it would defend itself "vigorously" in court. However, it also said it was taking steps to address privacy concerns, including allowing a third-party audit of its privacy practises, and allowing users to choose if they want a unique identifier attached to their software so that sites could personalise content and services for them. It will also hire a privacy officer.


APPLE WON an injunction last week prohibiting Future Power and Daewoo from selling the E-Power computer, which Apple says illegally copies the design of its iMac machines and causes confusion in consumers' minds.

US District Judge Jeremy Fogel said: "The court concludes that Apple is likely to prevail on its argument that the particular combination of shapes, colours and translucent elements which make up the iMac's trade dress is inherently distinctive."

Although product design has not traditionally enjoyed trademark protection, recent court cases have begun to extend trademark protection to branding where design conveys distinctive ideas.