22-Sep-01
Attorneys General Protest Windows XP

AGs from several states submitted a letter of concern to Microsoft - it's origins and history were exposed by Microsoft Word.

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Attorneys General not involved in the current anti-trust effort sent a letter to Microsoft president Steve Ballmer protesting features of Windows XP they consider anti-competitive and possibly in violation of anti-trust law.

Microsoft immediately accused AOL Time Warner of instigating the letter.

Analysis

First lets handle the stupidity of what these attorneys general did:

  • They sent the letter to Microsoft president Steve Ballmer. Unless this letter is just "foundation building" for further action, that's an exercise in futility - a complete waste of time. It just reinforces his confidence that Microsoft is conquering the world.

  • The dolts composed the letter with Microsoft Office and sent it as a Microsoft Word .doc file. It took only minutes for Microsoft to examine the file with a text editor and find out who had worked on it, and a lot more too.

Microsoft found the first version of the document had been written by a lobbyist who works for an organization hostile to Microsoft. While this person had little involvement with AOL Time Warner, that's the target Microsoft wanted to attack on that particular day (and most other days).

How many times do we have to say it: don't use Microsoft Office for sensitive documents. Criminals have been caught because they used Office. Companies in negotiations have been stunned to find their opponents seemed to have insider knowledge. Public officials have been embarrassed when early "unrefined" versions of their statements have been published in detail. Here's why:

  • GUIDs - Microsoft documents and spreadsheets contain GUIDs, universal identifiers that can be traced back to a particular computer. This is how the guy who wrote the Melissa virus was tracked down so quickly, he used Word for part of it.

  • Quick Save - The "quick save" feature of Word leaves a lot of old content in the document. It is easy to read this content with a text editor, and negotiating positions or other sensitive material may be revealed. This is probably how Microsoft analyzed the letter from the attorneys general. You can turn quick save off, but it's the default, so it tends to get turned back on.

  • Red Lining - This is even worse than Quick Save. The red lining feature preserves a trail of how the document was composed and modified by everyone having input. Office workers often just turn off red lining and transmit the "finished" document. At the other end, red lining gets turned back on and the receiving party has a field day analyzing the thought processes that went into the document.

  • Random Junk - The Word file format is particularly messy and may not be completely understood even by Microsoft. It is prone to including random stuff from memory and raw disk contents. Again, a text editor will reveal this stuff, and it could be interesting to others.

  • Integration Features make Office a great transmitter of worms, trojans, viruses and other unwanted code. It wouldn't be hard for someone with an interest in your business to send you a Word or Excel document that opens you network up for his investigation.

Now, on to the letter's actual content. Yes, Windows XP contains a lot of stuff that may be in violations of anti-trust law (judged by the rules set down by the Court of Appeals) and in violation of others' patents and copyrights. Writing letters to Microsoft won't get these violations corrected - they'll have to be taken to court again (and probably will be). If a court order tells them to take the offending stuff out, they'll probably defy that order. We'll probably get to see them defying court orders pretty soon now.

- Andrew Grygus

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©:Andrew Grygus - Automation Access - www.aaxnet.com - aax@aaxnet.com
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