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Week in review: The beat goes on for Net music

New fronts open in the Internet music wars, with a fresh round of lawsuits--including one filed against the recording industry--and a low-tech hack of an iTunes song giveaway.

New fronts opened in the Internet music wars this week, with a fresh round of lawsuits--including one filed against the recording industry--and a low-tech hack of an iTunes song giveaway.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) picked up the pace of its legal attack on Net music swappers, filing copyright infringement suits against another 531 individuals. As with the last round of suits, filed in early January, the latest wave comes without names attached.

Under a legal ruling handed down last year, the RIAA must file suits in court before it can approach Internet service providers (ISPs) for information that links alleged file-swapping evidence to the subscriber names on a given ISP account. But that hasn't stopped the group's legal machine from churning out evidence of copyright infringement. With the total number of people sued now approaching 1,500, the trade association says its legal action continues to be necessary in order to protect the growth of services like Apple Computer's iTunes and other authorized music outlets.

That protection is exactly what one of the accused objects to. A New Jersey woman has countersued the big record labels, charging them with extortion and violations of the federal antiracketeering act. The woman contends that by suing file swappers for copyright infringement and then offering to settle--instead of pursuing a case for which liability could reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars--the RIAA is violating the same laws more typically applied to gangsters and organized crime.

"This scare tactic has caused a vast amount of settlements from individuals, who feared fighting such a large institution and feel victim to these actions and felt forced to provide funds to settle these actions, instead of fighting," her lawyer wrote. "These types of scare tactics are not permissible and amount to extortion."

However, Net music's newest threat may be the corner store. iTunes fans have "hacked" a high-profile Pepsi promotion aimed at giving away 100 million songs through special codes marked on the underside of bottle caps. The codes can be entered on the iTunes site to download a single song for free.

One in three bottles is a winner, but it turns out that the markings can be read without removing the cap. Not only is it possible to pick out winning bottles in advance, but careful scrutiny can reveal the full 10-digit redemption code, meaning that no purchase is required to get a free iTunes single, courtesy of Pepsi.

Intel's vision
In a widely expected move, Intel plans to come out with a server chip next quarter that adds 64-bit power to its current x86 line of processors. In a keynote speech at the Intel Developer Forum, CEO Craig Barrett called the arrival of Nocona "one of the worst-kept secrets in San Francisco."

Nocona chips for two-processor servers will arrive in the second quarter, followed quickly by Prescott processors with 32/64-bit capability for single-processor servers and workstations. Prescott and Nocona are the same processor functionally, but they differ in cache size and bus speed. In 2005, the 32/64-bit technology will come to chips for servers with four or more processors.

Although Intel could bring a 32/64-bit chip to PCs, the company has no plans do so in the near future. Very little desktop software exists for 64-bit desktops, and the amount of memory that would go into a 64-bit desktop would greatly escalate the price.

The chipmaker also unveiled a variety of product ideas and design guidelines aimed at making it easier to shuttle media throughout a networked home. Intel showed off two concept designs for new types of entertainment-oriented PCs.

The first, dubbed Kessler, is a slim PC that runs Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition and connects to a TV. The device will be capable of sharing content wirelessly and, like today's Media Center-based PCs, can be operated with a remote control instead of a keyboard. The other design, code-named Sandow, is slated to arrive in 2005 and adds an "instant on" capability as well as the ability to play and record high-definition television.

Connection is key for Intel. The company teamed with Microsoft in a standardization effort to connect all manners of devices, from computer peripherals to consumer electronics, using Web services protocols. The companies, along with Canon and Java software maker BEA Systems, published on Tuesday a technical specification, called WS-Discovery.

The protocol is designed for situations in which network connections between devices are done in an ad hoc way. For example, the software will enable a personal digital assistant to locate available services such as printing or file sharing on a wireless network.

The chipmaker is also taking an active role in the development of ultrawideband technology, as it looks to fill in the wireless gaps between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The company is part of an alliance that has formed a special-interest group to develop and promote one version of the wireless networking technology.

Ultrawideband technology is meant to enable a slew of PC and consumer electronics devices to communicate wirelessly with one another. The goal of Intel and its partners is to create a common language with which the devices can communicate.

Plugging the leak
Security researchers' perusal of Windows 2000 and NT 4 software code has uncovered a vulnerability in an older version of Internet Explorer. The vulnerability, which affects only IE 5.01, could allow attackers to set up faux Web servers or send malicious e-mails that would compromise persons' PCs, when they click on a URL.

The vulnerability discovery confirms that the Windows source code leaked last week can be used to find flaws in Microsoft's software.

Microsoft has sent several letters to people known to have posted Windows source code on the Internet, warning them to stop offering the files and erase any copies. The letters explain to the individuals that downloading or using the source code is a violation of the law.

Another code is causing a headache for Microsoft. A piece of code has been posted online that exploits a critical vulnerability for which the software maker issued a patch only last week. The posted code raises fears of an imminent MSBlast-style attack.

On Feb. 10, Microsoft released a patch to fix a networking flaw that affects Windows XP, NT, 2000 and Server 2003 systems. The company warned people to patch their systems, because the vulnerability can be exploited by virus and worm writers.

Also of note
Yahoo dropped Google as the default search technology for its United States-based sites, signaling the beginning of the end for the Web's most high-profile marriage of convenience...Apple said it has started shipping its iPod Mini, adding that it has received more than 100,000 preorders for the tiny music player, since the company announced it last month...The federal government has already received enough H-1B visa applications to meet this year's cap, prompting one business group to call for reform of the controversial guest worker program...A federal court decision that upholds the Federal Trade Commission's Do Not Call list helps clear the way for a do-not-e-mail list.