Tech Industry

Week in review: Lights! Camera! Download?

The Internet appears to be ready for its close-up, but you may want to decline any invitations to join a prerelease party.

The Internet appears to be ready for its close-up, but you may want to decline any invitations to join a prerelease party.

A file swapper who distributes a single copy of a prerelease movie on the Internet would face a possible prison sentence of up to three years, if a bill approved this week by Congress becomes law, as expected. Adoption of the bill would represent the most dramatic expansion of online piracy penalties in years.

The bill is written so broadly that, if passed into law, it could make a felon of anyone who has even one copy of a film, software program or music file in a shared folder and who should have known the copyrighted work had not been commercially released. Fines of up to $250,000 could also be levied. Penalties could apply regardless of whether any downloading took place.

If signed into law, the bill would significantly lower the bar for online copyright prosecutions. Current law allows criminal penalties of up to three years in prison for "the reproduction or distribution of 10 or more copies or phonorecords of one or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of $2,500 or more."

But there is still plenty from the silver screen available on the PC screen. The Net is becoming a popular medium for amateur filmmakers who represent a genre called "fan films." One of the more technically sophisticated is "Star Wars: Revelations." With its audience primed by anticipation of the new Star Wars movie, slated for release May 19, the film is sweeping the Internet as fast as any X-wing.

The movie is part of a broader online culture in which big-screen commercial works are grist for a small-screen creative mill, and onetime audience members are taking over the tools of production. Indeed, this community of fan creators is increasingly the subject of study by academics--not to mention marketing departments--seeking clues to tomorrow's trends.

Meanwhile, Verizon Communications launched a movie download service for broadband customers through a partnership with Movielink. The rentals are available to customers of Verizon Online's digital subscriber line and Fios Internet service, the carrier said. These customers can choose from a selection of titles on Movielink's video-on-demand service.

The downloaded movies can be stored on a hard drive for up to 30 days, Verizon said. People can watch a rented film as often as they want in a 24-hour period. The files can be viewed on a PC, on a television connected to the PC, or on a laptop computer--the system does not have to be online. Thirty days after downloading, the movie files are automatically deleted, Verizon said.

In search of...
Internet search giants Google and Yahoo are in talks with TiVo over a possible deal aimed at bridging television and the Web, CNET News.com has learned. The talks are still fluid and could result in a number of outcomes, two sources familiar with the negotiations said.

One scenario that's been discussed would see TiVo partner with Google or Yahoo on a new service that would let consumers search for videos on the Web and then watch them on their television sets, according to one person with knowledge of the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A second person familiar with the talks said TiVo has had discussions with both Google and Yahoo about a potential equity investment, including the possibility of an outright acquisition.

Also this week, Google began offering people custom accounts for storing their personal query histories, in a move to outdo rivals and endear itself to Web surfers. The search king's My Search History is another of its experimental services that takes a page from long-standing "My" programs from Yahoo, Microsoft's MSN and others. However, unlike typical personalized portal services, such as custom stock reports and headlines, Google's feature will focus exclusively on archiving personal search histories for later recall.

Addressing consumer privacy, Google said that search history data is password-protected and stored securely on its servers. People also can pause search tracking or remove records from their histories.

The importance of search hasn't been lost on Microsoft and Apple Computer. In the next version of Windows, which is still in the early stages of development, and in the soon-to-be-released new version of Mac OS X, users won't have to know where a file is stored. Instead, both operating systems will have a search window in which people need only start typing what they remember--who created the file, what it's called, or even words within the document itself. Results will begin appearing instantly, and then early incorrect matches will be ruled out as a user continues entering information.

Judging from other product similarities, that's not the only understanding Microsoft and Apple share. Longhorn is also expected to feature composited graphics for the desktop, something Apple has had since Mac OS X's debut. The result is that Longhorn's windows will be see-through, revealing the contents of other windows or the desktop below.

Dueling dual-core chips
Intel may have come out with dual-core processors a few days earlier than Advanced Micro Devices, but AMD says it is bringing dual-core chips to the market where it counts.

AMD on Thursday released its first three dual-core Opteron processors for servers. Sometime during the next two months, it plans to follow that release with three more server chips and a desktop line.

Server customers will be able to capitalize on the dual-core performance almost immediately. Several applications and operating systems have already been retrofitted for running on dual-processor systems. Hewlett-Packard, IBM and others will insert the dual-core Opterons into servers.

Intel's dual-core chips, which debuted Monday, are designed for desktops. Versions of its Xeon server chips won't come out until early 2006.

HP has upgraded a four-processor server with AMD's new dual-core Opteron and introduced a blade server with the chip. The ProLiant DL585 system will be available with all three speed grades of the new Opteron--1.8Gz, 2.0GHz and 2.2GHz--said Steve Cumings, manager of HP's ProLiant Opteron systems group. And in an effort to encourage fast adoption, HP is charging the same for a system with 1.8GHz dual-core processors as it would for the existing products with 2.6GHz single-core chips.

The new BL45p blade system, announced Thursday, is HP's first four-Opteron blade, and it brings a substantial change: It's half the size of the existing Xeon model. Four machines can fit into a 10.5-inch-tall chassis compared with two Xeon-based BL40p models.

PC makers got in on the act by rolling out their first dual-core processor desktop PCs--and they aren't cheap. Alienware, Dell and lesser-known maker Velocity Micro are among the first to begin taking orders on dual-core desktops. Their machines are based on Intel's Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840 processor, the first dual-core PC processor to hit the market.

The desktops, which start at about $2,300 to $3,000, are aimed at home multimedia and game enthusiasts who want the latest technology, as well as professionals in areas such as video editing.

The chips represent Intel's latest thinking on advancing PC processors. Instead of driving rapid increases in speed, the chipmaker is now focusing on adding performance by stuffing additional processor cores into each of its chips, as well as building in new features such as virtualization, which helps carve a PC into different partitions to simultaneously tackle different jobs.

Bugs and flaws
Multiple vulnerabilities that could allow an attacker to install malicious code or steal personal data have been discovered in the Mozilla Suite and the Firefox browser.

Ian Latter, senior security consultant at Internet security specialist Pure Hacking, said that most of the vulnerabilities are based on the way the applications handle JavaScript. Another issue could allow malicious scripts to gain access to random pieces of memory, he said.

As security bugs swarm around the Firefox browser, volunteer marketers want to shore up the open-source project's security message. As the Mozilla Foundation made patches available for significant new security holes, Firefox partisans finally acknowledged that the core sales pitch for their browser may be vulnerable.

"The versions of Firefox up to version 1.0.3 have had terrible security risks," wrote one participant for the volunteer Firefox promotion, Spread Firefox. "I think these security risks have undermined the promise of Firefox as a more secure browser."

A flaw in McAfee Internet Security Suite 2005 could let employees sharing the same computer break into one another's files, according to security consultant iDefense. The vulnerability, which exists in the default settings applied during installation, gives anyone the same access rights on a PC as an IT administrator.

That, in effect, would let someone remove any restricted access specified on a PC. It could also let an employee install software prohibited by his employer. An employee who shares a computer with co-workers, for example, could then access colleagues' files or install programs such as peer-to-peer software on the machine.

Also of note
Desktop publishing specialist Adobe Systems is buying multimedia applications maker Macromedia in a $3.4 billion deal geared toward building a software powerhouse...Despite his fondness for Windows, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says the company will make it easier for businesses to manage a wide variety of machines--including those running Linux...Apple reached a settlement with a second man it had accused of leaking prerelease versions of Mac OS X Tiger onto the Internet...Complying with a court order, Yahoo agreed to give the family of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq access to the soldier's e-mail.