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Microsoft issues patches to fix 20 Windows, e-mail security flaws

Microsoft Corp., the world's biggest software maker, issued patches to fix 20 flaws in its Windows operating system and an e-mail program that could let a hacker take over a computer.

Flaws were found in the parts of the operating system that handle security for all versions of Windows, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft said on its website. A flaw in the Microsoft Outlook Express e-mail system could let a hacker seize files on a hard drive, Microsoft said.

Microsoft said on April 1 it will delay until next year the test of a new version of Windows, called Longhorn, because it had to dedicate programmers to repair the current Windows XP. Microsoft also is trying to discourage sales of the freely available Linux operating system, which may be seen as safer because its code can be examined by users, an analyst said.

"Microsoft's biggest challenge, and the biggest selling point for Linux, is that Linux is more secure" than Windows, said Peter Misek, who initiated coverage of Microsoft for Orion Securities Inc. in Toronto. He said he doesn't own the shares and Orion has no investment banking business with Microsoft. Microsoft is stepping up efforts to find bugs to persuade customers its products are as safe as Linux, he said.

"We've never seen this many flaws announced all at once," said Vincent Gullotto, a security researcher with the McAfee antivirus unit of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Network Associates Inc.

Gullotto said Microsoft may be under pressure to release more fixes with each of its regular monthly security updates because of increased scrutiny of Windows.

"Windows still has a heightened perception of a security issue," said Tony Ursillo, who follows Microsoft for Loomis Sayles & Co. in Boston. It manages more than $54 billion, including Microsoft shares.

Microsoft shouldn't wait to bundle together and release announcements of security flaws, said Firas Raouf, chief operating officer of closely held eEye Digital Security, a security software maker based in Aliso Viejo, Calif., that found some of the flaws.

The latest software repairs are available for download at Microsoft's website.

Microsoft shares fell 16 cents to close at $25.45 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

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