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The week in review: election and anxiety

As American voters headed to the polls for the closest presidential election in recent memory, the world anxiously turned to the Web to follow the nail-biting political drama.

As American voters cast their ballots in the presidential election, the world anxiously turned to the Internet to follow the nail-biting political drama.

Predictions from only a year ago that the Web would supplant television this election season didn't pan out, but the Internet was still in the party. Online media took center stage during the crunch hours, when television and newspapers fell victim to reporting glitches. After a few embarrassing gaffes, smaller government or candidate sites provided information to offset coverage missteps by the broadcast networks.

The onslaught of Americans heading to cyberspace caused some major media sites to buckle under heavy traffic. But information was still fairly easy to come by. Some sites promised up-to-the minute results as each state closed its polls. Others geared up for extensive coverage not only of the presidential race but also of congressional elections, the governors' races and other local issues.

Florida will also be known as one of a few select areas where overseas residents for the first time used the Internet to vote. The number of online votes is still small, however.

Copy that
Sparks are still flying between popular music-swapping company Napster and the Recording Industry Association of America. The latest skirmish addressed a letter from RIAA chief executive Hilary Rosen to Napster CEO Hank Barry that is made the rounds on newsgroups last week. The letter asked Barry--or Napster founder Shawn Fanning--to extend an apology to Metallica and its drummer, Lars Ulrich, following statements ridiculing Ulrich for his outspoken stance against Napster.

Napster recently signed a deal with German media conglomerate Bertelsmann to create a new subscription service that would allow Net fans to swap copyrighted songs controlled by Bertelsmann. In her letter, Rosen was quick to point out the irony of the commercial deal.

In other music news, the record industry-sponsored Secure Digital Music Initiative released the results of its public challenge to hackers, saying that three of five music-protection proposals survived hackers' attacks. SDMI issued the challenge in September, offering $10,000 to anyone who could strip various copy-protection technologies out of songs provided as examples.

MP3.com launched a new service that will allow music lovers to instantly link downloaded song collections to their wireless devices. The service is made possible through a partnership with FusionOne, which provides the technology to synchronize the audio files. A song that is downloaded on a personal computer also will automatically appear on that person's mobile phone and other handheld gadgets.

The Beastie Boys were one of the first bands to publicly embrace the controversial MP3 audio format, an act that briefly won the enmity of their label, Capitol Records, and the backing of thousands of music fans who had discovered free songs on the Internet. These days, however, The Beastie Boys appear to be sitting on the sidelines, as they are now unconvinced that digital distribution has come of age--yet they're still unwilling to write it off.

Gadgets galore
The eternal feud between America Online and Microsoft will flare up again at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas when the two companies show off Internet devices that deliver content and services to the home. While Gateway and America Online are planning to demonstrate a kitchen-countertop Internet appliance, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates plans to show off his version of a Web pad--a device that looks like the popular children's toy Etch A Sketch--yet connects to the Web.

Hewlett-Packard launched a phone book-sized PC for the home, picking up on a popular trend at the office. The Bonsai Blue and silver metallic case measures 13 inches tall, 14.75 inches deep and 4 inches wide. HP, among others, hopes the new machines--which are smaller and allegedly more stylish than standard computers--will slip unobtrusively into the home and thereby expand the digital lifestyle.

Compaq Computer and Microsoft said they will collaborate on making it easier for handheld devices to connect wirelessly to corporate networks. Compaq and Microsoft are betting that corporations are eager for employees to connect to the information and resources on corporate networks.

Dot-com disasters
Priceline.com lost three executives, a week after the name-your-own-price e-tailer reported disappointing earnings and announced the departure of its chief financial officer. The company did not formally announce the departure of Maryann Keller, who led Priceline's automotive services business. Priceline also lost its vice president of financial planning and investor relations and its director of investor relations.

Pets.com--the leading online pet store--shut down its retail operations and let go hundreds of employees. The company said it would sell off its assets, including its catchy URL and the rights to the famous sock puppet icon. Unlike some of its dot-com brethren, Pets.com has not filed for bankruptcy and has no plans to do so. Instead, the e-tailer will distribute the proceeds from its asset sales to its shareholders.

With Pets.com going out of business, Amazon.com has seen the second of its more than a dozen e-commerce investments go belly up--and several others are showing signs of wear. For some of those investments, many analysts and competitors thought the affiliation with Amazon would give the companies an advantage. The reality, however, has been a series of layoffs, management changes or plunging stock prices for most.

Butterfields, the traditional auction house owned by eBay, is laying off 15 percent of its staff. The move will cut about 32 of the company's 200 positions. eBay bought Butterfields, previously known as Butterfield & Butterfield, for $260 million last year. eBay used Butterfields as a launching pad to start its high-end Great Collections area. But Butterfields initially had difficulties tracking, shipping and billing orders placed through Great Collections.

CMGI-backed home furnishings site Furniture.com shut down its business and dismissed most of its employees. The struggling company laid off 76 of its 88 employees, citing difficulty securing sufficient capital to fund operations going forward. Furniture.com said it will contact customers with outstanding orders.

Health site MotherNature.com announced that it is shutting down, making it the second CMGI-backed company to fold in as many days. The online retailer of vitamins and other health products said its board of directors set a meeting for Nov. 30 to approve liquidation plans.

Also of note
Shares of Transmeta soared in their public trading debut as investors sloughed off fears that major computer makers are turning a cold shoulder to the tiny company that says it can take on Intel in notebooks...Online grocer Webvan said it will begin charging a delivery fee of $4.95 on all orders less than $75...Lucent Technologies said it will lay off 240 employees this month, mostly in corporate operations.