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MSDN Home > MSJ > March 1999
March 1999

Microsoft Systems Journal Homepage

Editor's Note

Amazingly, we survived the holiday season even despite the incessant airing of Prince's "1999." Witnessing the Times Square ball drop for its final time certainly was among our melancholy highlights, but what really brought tears to our eyes was watching the price of Furbys plummet on eBay.
If for some reason you were aboard a Mars orbiter this season, a Furby (http://www.furby.com) is the popular mechanical toy that curiously resembles a Gremlin crossed with a parrot and competes with Microsoft's ActiMates—Barney and Arthur.
The Furby caused near riots as shoppers battled for the limited inventory and scalpers speculated on the Internet. The real Furby threat turned out to be to national security. According to the Associated Press, the National Security Agency (NSA) has banned Furbys from their Fort Meade headquarters. The NSA-issued Furby Alert warned, "Personally owned photographic, video and audio recording equipment are prohibited items. This includes toys, such as 'Furbys,' with built-in recorders that repeat the audio with synthesized sound to mimic the original signal. We are prohibited from introducing these items into NSA spaces. Those who have should contact their Staff Security Office for guidance."
The Furby contains an embedded processor and associated audio hardware that allows it to speak. Half of its 200 word vocabulary is English and the other half is "Furbish." In addition, the embedded processor records sounds and repeats them back. The NSA obviously wigged out, worrying that the furry spy would repeat overheard classified conversations. We wonder about the potential info-gathering capabilities had the furball from Tiger Electronics used Windows CE as its embedded system. (Technical editor must show marked improvement in authoring segues during next performance review period—Editor-in-Chief.)
To transmit that sensitive information, the Windows CE interfaces provide secure communications including data-link authentication using PAP, CHAP, and Microsoft CHAP, through the Microsoft CryptoAPI, SSPI, Winsock, and the WinInet API. (Perhaps the NSA has determined that Furbish is actually some encrypted version of eavesdropped sounds used to covertly pass launch codes and other info nuggets between the little creatures.) Windows CE also supports the Win32 serial and TAPI and RAS APIs. Add infrared support and it's clear that there would be no problem contacting the underground.
The next version of Windows CE, codenamed "Cedar," will address a host of developer issues. Support is finally planned for MFC, ADO, and other core technologies for all of the mobile platforms, not just one. The Windows CE team also has worked on bringing server-side synchronization, real real-time performance (read: shorter interrupt latency), and an improved task scheduler model.
To get the latest Windows CE info, check out upcoming issues of MSJ. Plus, you can see Cedar in action, as well as other emerging Windows CE technologies such as smart cards, integration with the TV and telephone, eBooks, and Home Networking at the next Windows CE DevCon. It'll be in Denver on April 19 through 21 (http://events.microsoft.com/events/windowsce). So, while designing with Windows CE wouldn't put Furbys on the C2 compliant list (we don't see Barney or Arthur making the list either), it would have allowed them to be more formidable spies.
See you at DevCon.

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