Downtime: don't be Microdaft, they surely won't sue

The wacky world of IT

Don't be Microdaft, they surely won't sue

Microsoft is no stranger to spats over its intellectual property, but it looks like it may have met its match in a group of open source enthusiasts. The group are merrily challenging Bill Gates and co to sue them over more than 200 technology patents that Microsoft claims have been infringed by the open source community.

The group members - more than 1,000 so far and counting - think they are on safe ground, since they allege that most of Microsoft's software is already a refinement of other people's work, meaning challenges on the grounds of "prior art" are decidedly dicey.

Of course, if it ever did come to court, Microsoft's challenge could run the risk of going the way of McDonald's, whose attempted suing of a couple of eco-activists in the so-called McLibel trial ended up entertaining millions and humiliating the burger giant.

The boys and girls at Redmond surely wouldn't risk that. Or would they?

Clubs pour cold water on golfers' electric dreams

Staying with the world of patents, it looks like Nokia's enthusiastic patenting of technology to build a warning system into its phones that would give golfers time to take cover from possible impending lightning strikes might not quite work out.

Downtime reader Stephen Morris says the theory is great, "But since most golf clubs insist that mobiles are switched off and not used while on the course, it might not be much use in practice."

Still, Downtime feels sure that even non-golfers are keen to avoid being struck by lightning, so maybe there is still a market.

Don't panic! You can still shop online securely

Here's something to gladden the spirits. It seems our recent doom and gloom about phishers winning the phoney war by being able to tell from the log-in time delay on shopping websites whether or not someone has bought stuff was way too fatalistic.

We thought there was no easy way to thwart this, but reader Justin Bentley is more cunning than us.

"One simple tip to counter this is to use something other than your e-mail address as your user name. Some sites allow this, and others should be encouraged to," he notes sagely.

So there is no need quite yet to close all your accounts and never shop online again. Silly us.

Clarice Starling and the Post-it note passwords

Downtime has seen all the films and knows only too well that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is populated exclusively by quick-thinking super-beings who run intellectual rings around mere mortals.

We are not in the market to have this particular illusion shattered, and were appalled this week to read that a report just out on the law enforcement agency says its security is so lax that it is leaving itself wide open to any criminals who want to steal its secrets.

According to the Government Accountability Office in Washington DC, the FBI fails to consistently apply passwords and biometrics to guard against unauthorised access to its systems. It means all a potential data thief would need to do is get a job at the FBI and help themselves.

Downtime really does not know what to think about this particular bombshell. We thought they would have DNA-level biometric readers as a basic first line of defence, with things getting a whole lot more complicated from there.

Disappointing.

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