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It's been four months since we last danced the technology tango on these pages. For many of us, the summer has gone by like a fleeting instant.

But suppose we were dogs; say, baby German shepherds. Four months would be enough time for us to grow from harmless pups to vicious monsters.

This past summer, hype in the computer industry grew like a German shepherd. The twin peaks of this hype were two companies: Microsoft and Netscape.

Netscape Communications Corporation, known for its popular World Wide Web browser, went public in August; shares started trading on the secondary market at a 300 percent premium. The company later suffered the public humiliation of having its transaction security protocol cracked twice--first by a French hacker who cracked the international version, then by a pair of computer science students at the University of California at Berkeley who cracked the (supposedly more secure) domestic version.

The Berkeley students wrote a program that can, in less than 60 seconds, defeat the encryption scheme used by Netscape's Navigator software to conceal information such as credit card numbers in transactions over the Internet. (Rumor has it that the authors of the cracking program did their handiwork after watching the movie Hackers.) The security flaw stems from Netscape's use of a 30-digit binary "key" to decrypt such messages; the company has since released a new version using a 300-digit key which is significantly harder to defeat.

Need this security risk bother most Harvard students? From a practical standpoint, the answer is no; unless you have a penchant for buying items with your credit card over the Internet, use of Navigator version 1.1N (the one available from the Science Center) is harmless. If you're still concerned, simply avoid typing credit card or other personal information into any document on the World Wide Web. For extra peace of mind, select the Netscape "Preferences" option and make sure that all security alerts are turned on.

Microsoft released its long-awaited Windows 95 operating system in August; the Empire State Building wore the colors of Win95 and the Times of London went free for a day, all courtesy of Uncle Bill. Does use of Windows 95 yield a giant leap in productivity for most people? No. A small leap? No. A couple of baby steps? Maybe. But the upgrade comes with a damn good version of Solitaire (oh wait, that came with Windows 3.1, too).

The real value of Windows 95 lies in its ease of installation. Network services and peripherals are particularly easy to set up and use, so long as you're using brand-name peripherals. But if you're already using a Windows 3.1 or 3.11 setup without snags, and especially if you're connected to the High-Speed Date Network (HSDN), then a migration to Windows 95 would most likely cause more headache than glee.

More on Windows 95 later in the term. In the meantime, I should mention before closing this week that Apple has just released a new line of laptops that reaffirm the PowerBook's position as the premier portable computing solution. If you are in the market for a laptop, take a close look at the new 5300-series Power-Books.

Eugene Koh '96-'97 is a new media consultant whose clients include America Online, Inc., and Mindscape, Inc. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays. He may be reached online as ""

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