Apple’s ‘Malware’ Tactics, Motorola’s Split, BitTorrent’s New Friend

Mozilla’s Firefox has a loyal following of people who say it’s a lot better than the leading browser, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. But Mozilla CEO John Lilly looks like he also has a close eye on Apple’s Safari browser, which commands a mere fraction of Firefox’s market share even though it’s available on both Windows and Mac.

Last year, Lilly used his official blog to call out Steve Jobs over some pie charts he didn’t like. Now, he’s called attention to Apple’s way of pushing out the latest edition of Safari.

Here’s how it happened: Very few Windows users have Safari installed, but a whole lot of them do have iTunes. Every now and then, Apple pushes out incremental improvements to iTunes through its Software Update application. This time, though, Software Update included the option to install Safari 3.1 onto the user’s computer. So far so good, but the installation option was presented with the check box already filled, which really frosted Lilly.

That’s an opt-out installation of new software through a system called “Software Update,” not “Put New Stuff on My Computer.” Lilly said, “Apple has made it incredibly easy — the default, even — for users to install ride-along software that they didn’t ask for, and maybe didn’t want. This is wrong, and borders on malware distribution practices.”

The lesson to users: Just scroll down and make sure you know what you’re signing up for. Doesn’t take that long.

Listen to the podcast (10:52 minutes).

Motorola Calls It Splits

Having watched its shares lose nearly half of their value in the last year while its cell phone business languished, Motorola has decided to split into two publicly traded companies, separating its mobile devices business from its broadband and mobility solutions group.

With no successful follow-up to its popular Razr phone, Motorola has lagged in a field that saw market-changing products from Nokia and Apple. Billionaire Carl Icahn, Motorola’s largest individual shareholder with a 6.3 percent stake, has been publicly pressuring the company.

Earlier this week, he filed a lawsuit asking a court to force Motorola to give him access to strategic plans for the mobile device business, as well as documents pertaining to the hiring process for senior executives.

Strange Bedfellows

What’s next, John McCain having lunch with Hillary Clinton?

It just might be, now that Comcast and BitTorrent are talking. The two companies had been sworn enemies ever since Comcast started meddling with the traffic BitTorrent’s users generated on its network.

Now, they’re doing what they should have done in the beginning — they’ve stopped slinging vitriol and are working together to fix the situation.

Perhaps this approach will let them figure out a way to limit the impact of huge downloads on the overall speed of Comcast’s network while respecting people’s rights to use BitTorrent. Not for piracy, of course.

Vista Woes

After putting up with users screaming for a Vista service pack for months, Microsoft now has to put up with users who say the service pack they finally did get has somehow broken their machines.

It’s like these people expect life to be simple or something. Come on, guys, don’t you know that this is the kind of stuff that’s supposed to make life fun — solving these little problems, coming up with solutions and stuff?

Anyway, SP1 is available to those who want to download and install it themselves, and while most who’ve done so haven’t reported problems, others have talked about strange computer behavior ranging from no sound to dysfunctional DVD drives to the dreaded Blue Screen of Death itself.

Remember, though, that the people reporting these problems are the pioneers — the ones who actively sought out SP1 and downloaded it on their own accord. The rest of us will have to wait until Microsoft pushes SP1 to our systems before we get to join in the fun.

Wireless Winners

The heavily publicized FCC wireless spectrum auction has officially ended, and wireless giants Verizon and AT&T won the day.

The two companies accounted for US$16 billion of the record $19.6 billion pledged in the auction. For its part, AT&T has to dig deep to pay the $6.6 billion it owes, and is tapping operating funds and taking out a loan.

Verizon, which bid $9.4 billion for its Block C spectrum, is already working to open up its network to comply with new rules governing the purchase.

Google, which pushed hard for the openness requirements, was hardly visible in the auction. It made a half-hearted bid, but went home empty-handed. Meanwhile, consumer groups are angry that large corporations claimed the lion’s share of the airwaves, pretty much freezing out new competition.

Learning to Share

Microsoft is seeing its hand pried open more and more lately — by the European Union, which has mandated additional steps toward openness, and by the market, which no longer operates the same proprietary way it did back in 1995.

Now, it’s sharing the API for its Contacts function on Windows Live — a move that will let developers build applications to share contact information across social networks such as Facebook, Bebo, LinkedIn, Tagged and Hi5.

In a blog post, John Richards, the director of Microsoft’s Windows Live platform, said, “Simply stated, our efforts aim to put users at the center of their online experience.”

Uh, simply stated, John, the users have already done that for you.

Blessed Union

Despite the protests of over-the-air radio station owners, the U.S. Justice Department gave its blessing to the merger of satellite radio operators XM and Sirius, which was announced more than a year ago.

Opponents to the merger, including the National Association of Broadcasters and Clear Channel, maintain that the resulting entity would clearly constitute a monopoly.

Supporters argue that the merger will pave the way for others to get into the satellite radio game.

That’s not to say that terrestrial radio has no shot at blocking the merger, however. The Federal Communications Commission has yet to make its ruling . The latest indication is that it’s about halfway through its review.

Unwelcome Bypass

Google quietly unveiled a new search-within-search that lets users refine searches before going to a merchant or publisher’s page.

For instance, rather than clicking through to the home page when it appears in search results, you could enter another search term into a second Google box that appears within the results for Target.

If you type in the name of a toy, for instance, you could then click through to the product page directly. Unfortunately for e-tailers, the feature will likely reduce the amount of time users spends on destination sites, where daily specials and other promotions may be featured.

Photoshop Free-for-All

Scoldings from Steve Jobs notwithstanding, Adobe has been doing alright for itself lately — so well, in fact, that it’s apparently decided to give away some of its more basic tools for free.

It’s opened up Photoshop Express as a public beta. Express is a Web app that lets users upload up to 2 gigabytes of photos and then use a somewhat stripped down version of Photoshop to edit them.

It’s got the usual stuff, like color manipulation, as well as special effects like Sketch — and that wonderful Distort feature that lets you make yourself look skinny and your enemies look fat.

Not a Fan, Apparently

WiMax has backers like Intel, Nokia and Sprint on its side, but one friend it doesn’t have is Australian ISP Buzz Broadband.

At an industry conference recently, Buzz CEO Garth Freeman reportedly went to town on WiFi, calling it an overhyped, disastrous failure after his company dumped plans to roll out the technology.

Freeman pointed out faults like a latency rate as long as one full second, and line-of-sight performance that cuts out just 2 kilometers from the base station. The WiMax forum didn’t comment on Freeman’s gripes specifically; it only noted that WiMax has been rolled out successfully 206 times.

The job of refuting Freeman was left to Airspan, Buzz’s former partner in its failed WiMax rollout. Airspan contended that WiMax wasn’t the problem — it was more like Buzz played it cheap and didn’t put in the kind of initial investment required to do it right.

Also in this episode: Word vulnerability found; Google goes after white spaces; Ubuntu hatches Hardy Heron.

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