Microsoft's Patch Tuesday, Windows Phone 7 Talk Dominated Week

Microsoft's week involved the release its biggest-ever patch on Tuesday, a new "PC vs. Mac" Website, and talk about its strategy for both Windows Phone 7 smartphones and Windows 7 tablet PCs.

Microsoft had its biggest-ever patch on Tuesday, Aug. 10 and issued 14 new security bulletins. Eight of those were rated "critical," of which four addressed high-priority vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office, Microsoft .NET Framework, Microsoft Silverlight, Microsoft's MPEG Layer-3 audio codecs, and the Cinepak Codec used by Windows Media Player.

And they say August is a slow month in the technology sector.

Of the six noncritical bulletins, which fixed vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows and Office, all were rated "important." However, the vulnerabilities behind nearly all 14 bulletins apparently needed some time and effort on the cyber-criminal's part to transform into an exploit.

"This is consistent with what we have seen in recent months, with the attack using drive-by-based malware to exploit the target," said Rapid7 security researcher Josh Abraham. "No need to panic right now, but be sure to start watching the mailing list regarding exploits for MS10-054."

That bulletin addresses an SMB protocol pool overflow vulnerability that could be of particular interest to larger businesses. "Not only does it give an attacker system-level access to a compromised SMB server," said Joshua Talbot, security intelligence manager of Symantec Security Response, "but the vulnerability occurs before authentication is required from computers contacting the server. This means any system allowing remote access and not protected by a firewall is at risk."

File and print-sharing services, including SMB servers, should not be open to the Internet. However, Talbot added, "such services are often unprotected from neighboring systems on local networks."

Security was one of many points argued on Microsoft's new "PC vs. Mac" Website, which took a more measured position on the ages-old rivalry than some of Apple's and Microsoft's advertising over the past few years.

On the Website, Microsoft makes arguments similar to the ones that, however ironically, Apple previously deployed against Windows Vista and in favor of Macs: in particular, that Windows 7 "was designed to make it simpler to do the tasks you do every day," and that it provides a variety of multimedia options.

However, in its drive to show PCs in the best-possible light, Microsoft also makes arguments far more subjective. "While some may say Macs are easy, the reality is that they can come with a learning curve," insists one section. "PCs running Windows 7 look and work more like the computers you're familiar with, so you can get up and running quickly."

Of course, that all depends on the user-and technically speaking, all new software, including Windows 7, comes with a learning curve of some sort. Later on the Website, Microsoft also asserts that "Apple's productivity suite file formats won't open in Microsoft Office on PCs," while neglecting to mention that the company sells a little piece of software called Office for Mac.

Microsoft has sold some 175 million copies of Windows 7 since the operating system's October 2009 release, according to Bill Koefoed, Microsoft's general manager of investor relations. During an Aug. 10 talk at the Oppenheimer Annual Technology, Media & Telecommunications Conference in Boston, Koefoed also re-emphasized Microsoft's plans to move aggressively into the smartphone and tablet PC spaces.

"I think we're laser-focused on tablets as an emerging category," he told the audience. "Intel is going to come out with their "Oak Trail" chip around the first of the year, and we think that's going to offer a lot of new capabilities. Whether it's better usage of battery life and the like, it's going to really help move the category forward."

In the wake of the Apple iPad's enormous success, a number of other manufacturers have explored how to best enter the tablet PC market. Dell began pre-sales of its 5-inch Streak tablet on Aug. 12, the day before general availability; Hewlett-Packard is widely expected to issue tablets loaded with its nearly acquired Palm WebOS. Other companies have reportedly been exploring the possibility of loading tablet PCs with Google Android, even as Microsoft begins to push Windows 7 aggressively into the space.

During Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in July, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told a keynote audience that tablets represent "a terribly important area for us" and that Microsoft would advance "a range of Windows 7 slates."

Koefoed also used his talk to emphasize Microsoft's strategy with regard to Windows Phone 7, the revamped smartphone operating system that the company hopes will allow it to regain market-share from the Apple iPhone and Google Android devices.

The key to Windows Phone 7's broader appeal, Koefoed argued, will be its simultaneous appeal to both the business and consumer segments. The platform is due for rollout on a number of partner devices by the end of the calendar year.

"We've taken a lot of the enterprise tools and enterprise capabilities that we know that people are using, that people have been using on our Windows Mobile platforms historically, and adding consumer capabilities," he said. Those capabilities apparently include Facebook, Xbox Live, and Zune integration.

Presumably, Microsoft is also working on making the phones as secure as possible.