Monopoly money

This week completes the stories nominated by my readers as the Top 10 of my first 10 years at InfoWorld.

This week completes the stories nominated by my readers as the Top 10 of my first 10 years at InfoWorld.

A free personal firewall. I was one of the first journalists to write about ZoneAlarm, a “software firewall” that’s free for individuals. My January 10, 2000 column reported that ZoneAlarm stopped malicious Trojan horses, JavaScripts and ActiveX controls from hijacking your PC and sending data back to a hacker across the internet.

The outcome: ZoneAlarm gained enough notice that Microsoft plans to include a personal firewall in Windows XP (more on this below).

Emails that read you. The Trojan danger took form on November 6, 2000, when I reported that an innocent-looking email could send back to its originator any information on your hard drive, without your even opening an attachment. The flaw also gave internet sites full access to your PC. To illustrate, I gave you the link to a web page that cheerfully listed all the filenames on your C: drive.

The outcome: By now, it’s widely known how insecure Microsoft made Windows. In XP, the software giant will reportedly restrict the actions that emails and internet sites can run on your PC without your approval.

Microsoft misuses DOS and Windows. I’ve saved my most important story for last. After the success of Windows 3.0 and 3.1 in the early 1990s, suspicions arose that secret functions had been built into DOS and Windows so Microsoft applications could offer features that competitors’ programs couldn’t match for years. In a special three-page report on November 16, 1992, I described eight separate examples of such “head starts”. These allowed Excel to speedily access large files, permitted PowerPoint to support OLE etc. long before other companies had been given a chance.

The outcome: a Department of Justice attorney contacted me, among others, for long talks. In July 1994, Microsoft signed a consent decree agreeing not to tie one product to another. It was Microsoft’s alleged disregard of this agreement that led to the filing of the current antitrust suit in May 1998.

The US Court of Appeals negated the impending breakup but unanimously ruled that Microsoft had broken antitrust law by its “anti-competitive” bundling and “campaign to deceive developers”.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates responded: “There’s nothing in today’s ruling that changes our plan for our future products, including Windows XP.” In addition to a firewall, XP will bundle instant messaging, which in turn requires Passport, a new online payment system and so forth. Are Microsoft’s executives even listening, much less learning?

Readers Leo Walding, Jeff Headley, Graham Wilson, Lamar Bevi, and Dennis O’Flaherty will receive free copies of Windows Me Secrets for being the first to suggest topics for my Top 10.

Keep sending tips. The best is yet to come.

Brian Livingston’s latest book is Windows Me Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to tips@brianlivingston.com.

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