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Briefly: iPhone dates, iTunes Plus watermarks, Apple updates

The shell game of the iPhone's actual release date continued on its erratic course this week. Meanwhile, Apple's newly-unlocked music files appear to be keeping users honest through fingerprints. And, earlier this week, the company issued a pair of important fixes.

iPhone release date fixed at last?

The real release date for the iPhone may be a pragmatic one, AppleInsider has been told.

A contact who has filed accurate reports in the past notes that Friday, June 29th is the date being passed around at some Apple retail stores this week.

The initial date of availability for the inaugural Apple handset has been the subject of feverish speculation in recent weeks. A June 29th launch, while largely considered a rumor at this time, would corresponds the company's recent practice (1, 2) of holding some of its high-profile consumer product launches at the end of the week. It would also conform to Apple's official "late June" launch window and recent comments by company chief executive Steve Jobs.

Previous predictions have often fallen short of the mark. Many had initially suggested that Apple CEO Steve Jobs would use his June 11th keynote for the Worldwide Developer Conference to announce the device, a claim which has since been shot down after Apple narrowed down the release to the end of the month.

Others have attempted unsuccessfully to extract a release date from AT&T's retail outlets. News network CNBC had used this method in May to claim a June 20th launch but has since been contradicted by other chains, which reported release dates as early as the now discredited June 11th and no later than the 22nd.

iTunes Plus may contain watermarks

Apple's introduction of iTunes Plus this week has made songs easier to transfer between devices but may include its own subtle means of discouraging open piracy, according to an investigation.

A test in which two separate iTunes accounts bought the same iTunes Plus song has revealed that the files are different despite otherwise identical data, suggesting that Apple has embedded account names into the files that ultimately reach customer computers. Such information could reportedly be used to track the origins of songs that appear on peer-to-peer networks.

Since the files can be readily copied and produce identical files when converted to different formats, the report determines that Apple's changes appear to be a simple matter of embedding non-obvious text, rather than actively encrypting content.

Apple issues Xserve fix, revised security update

Rounding out the week were two Apple hotfixes, primarily aimed at sorting out security issues.

The company's Xserve Lights-Out Management Firmware Update 1.0 (760KB download) repairs a security vulnerability in the remote management hardware for its Intel-based Xserve computers. It also improves the overall reliability of the management and monitoring tools, Apple says.

The update can be applied through Mac OS X on the host machine or remotely through a command line shell.

Finally, Apple has also delivered version 1.1 of its Security Update 2007-005 released early this week.

The download (15.7MB for PowerPC, 29.2MB for Intel) removes a configuration file that stopped the BIND service from automatically launching after the patch is installed. The update chiefly affects Mac OS X Server systems, which are most likely to enable BIND. Neither Client nor Server versions of the OS enable BIND by default.