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PALMPILOT HAND-HELD devices can be used to break into cars, according to a report in New Scientist. Following reports from Denmark, the magazine estimated that up to 3 million cars using infrared remote- controlled locking devices are vulnerable. The problem arises with the OmniRemote software used by the portable organisers to allow them to learn the behaviour of other infrared devices and emulate them as remote controls for television sets, video recorders and other domestic appliances. Using the same process, the PalmPilot can capture the code of a car's locking system and play it back.

The manufacturers of the devices, 3Com, described the problem as "unfortunate", but said that, as they did not write the software, they are not responsible for any illegal use. They also pointed out that this previously undocumented feature is not unique to PalmPilot. "You could do this with a standard universal remote or anything that has a programmable [infrared controller] in it," a spokesman said. "This is nothing new; it just so happens that these people figured out how to do it on a Palm III."

Engineers and insurance spokesmen said that the problem applied only to some older cars with less-sophisticated security systems, and that the risk is largely theoretical since car thieves would need to position themselves directly in the path of the infrared beam generated by a person locking a vehicle. "There are easier ways to steal cars," said Blake Hannaford, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington .

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NETWORK SOLUTIONS (NSI) and Centraal, the RealNames Web address company, last week announced a deal under which NSI will invest $4.2m in Centraal and distribute subscriptions to RealNames. NSI has an option to acquire a stake of just under 20 per cent in Centraal, and have a seat on Centraal's board.

NSI has held a US government monopoly on assigning traditional domain names, although it is due to cede that authority to an international Internet corporation for assigned names and numbers. Centraal, founded by Keith Teare, who also co-founded the UK ISP Easynet and Cyberia cafes, pioneered a system whereby Web users can type a single name into a browser, rather than a convoluted URL.

The two companies represent "the yin and yang of the name space", said Doug Wolford, senior vice-president of marketing and sales at NSI. "There will always be more Web pages than domain names, and now we have a way of naming all those Web pages as well as those websites. It's an almost limitless opportunity to name the Web pages."

Analysts have predicted that NSI will keep a de facto monopoly on domain name registrations after competing registries enter the market. The alliance with Centraal is expected to cement that hold.

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THE ANTI-TRUST case brought against Microsoft by the US Department of Justice and a coalition of states resumed last week as David Farber, a professor of computer science at the University of Pennsylvania, testified that the bundling of Internet Explorer with the Windows operating system creates more harm than benefit to software developers, computer sellers and end users. Microsoft said Farber's statement "provided nothing more than an opinion piece on how he thinks Microsoft could have or should have designed Windows. But in our market economy, government consultants don't get to redesign software products."

In the ensuing debate over what constitutes an operating system and what an application is - an issue at the heart of the case - the DOJ used Microsoft's own computer dictionary to back up its argument that a browser is an application.

Earlier in the week, one of the states that originally filed charges against Microsoft dropped out. Charles Condon, South Carolina's Attorney- General, said that his state no longer feels that Microsoft is harming competition:

"The merger of America Online with Netscape and the alliance by those two companies with Sun Microsystems proves that the forces of competition are working... The Internet economy is the place where the winners and losers of this competition will rightfully be decided," said Mr Condon

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SUN MICROSYSTEMS last week unveiled Java 2 and a new licensing plan aimed at winning more developers for its programming language. It was due last summer, but getting rid of bugs took longer than expected. Java 2 promises better performance, increased security and better integration with operating systems.

Sun also said that it is changing its licensing model to an open-source- code model, whereby programmers can download the software free, modify it and share it with others. When products are ready for shipping, they will have to pass Sun's compatibility tests for Java. At that point, Sun will collect a licensing fee.

Meanwhile, in compliance with a court injunction, Microsoft last week released a new version of Java Virtual Machine for Windows that is compatible with Sun's technology.

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A EUROPEAN parliament committee last week postponed a vote on legislation aimed at deterring piracy on the Internet, delaying action by the full assembly until at least February next year. The Legal Affairs Committee agreed to schedule a vote for 20 January after the parliament's political groups failed to complete their internal preparations.

The legislation, proposed by the European Commission almost a year ago, gives authors, performers, producers and broadcasters the right to say who can make copies of their work. It also gives them the right to control how their creations or performances are communicated to the public and requires EU member states to prohibit devices aimed at working round anti- piracy technologies.

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STAR DIVISION last week said that it is offering the latest version of its desktop application suite, StarOffice 5.0, free-for-individuals, non-commercial use at its Web site (http://www stardivision.com/). The suite runs on Windows 95, 98, NT, Solaris, Linux, O/S 2, and Java, and includes conversion filters for Microsoft Office including Office 2000, which ships in the coming year.

By offering the new product free of charge, the company hopes that it will make inroads against Microsoft, Lotus and Corel and gain 10 million new StarOffice users by the end of next year.

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