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Apple's iMac gains; Idealab's imminent domains

An end to the CD-RW vs. DVD-ROM debate may be near, and a privatized Web addressing system may be about to start.

    What, me again? Yes, a two-column week, a small bit of karmic reparation I suppose for past vacations from the sauce that prevented me from carrying out my rumormongering duties for weeks and months at a time. Plus I have this secret fantasy that to the reading public there can never be too many Rumor Mill columns, just as there can never be enough Clinton scandals or Apple comebacks.

    Although there are no new Clinton scandals to report this morning--yet--there is Apple news. It concerns the new iMac rev expected next summer, the one code-named Kiva and shrouded in semi-secrecy. The latest rumors worming their way to the light of day suggest that the new system may resolve the CD-RW vs. DVD-ROM debate by including the combo Pioneer SuperDrive already built into the company's high-end Power Mac G4.

    Skinsiders are also putting their money on significant changes to the iMac's 3-year-old industrial design.

    Kiva, expected to debut at July's Macworld Expo in New York, should arrive with a passel of new peripherals, including keyboard, mouse and USB microphone.

    On other consumer fronts, Apple is testing Marble, a new iteration of its iBook portable. The new version should include faster processors; in addition, Skinformants tell us, the line can easily accommodate any storage hardware the iMac can handle. That means it could take a CD-RW--if Apple believes there's a market out there for people looking to burn CDs.

    The Big Apple
    Business called me to New York this week; but as I was screening my calls at the time, I opted to roll over, go back to sleep, and stay home. Instead of flying five hours to face freezing temperatures, I turned my dial to CNET Radio and got the skinny, fresh from the Silicon Alley 2001 Conference in New York, on Bill Gross' plans to one-up ICANN with a new, privatized Web addressing system dubbed New.net.

    A top-secret endeavor of Gross' Idealab incubator--a privately held concern--New.net became the subject of a rather unsecret onstage discussion between Esther Dyson and Silicon Alley Daily's Jason Calcanis at the conference. Gross had pre-briefed Calcanis and Dyson, but he and other Idealaborers were aghast when the conference host broadcast the hush-hush info to the assembled guests.

    What wound up on CNET Radio's cutting-room floor was Calcanis' account of being disciplined by an irate Idealab flack after the presentation.

    "I can't believe you talked about that. I gave an exclusive on that to the blah-blah-blah Journal," Calcanis recalled the flack complaining. But thanks to his indiscretion, we now know a little more about Gross' mysterious venture.

    According to Calcanis, the soon-to-be-announced alternative domain name system will only work when used with a small browser plug-in, probably less than 10k. Once you have the application installed, you can access domain names with new extensions such as .book and .film. New.net could sell companies or individuals the rights either to each of the system's top-level domains or to particular domain names.

    Calcanis says the big payoff for Bill Gross would be if a site like Amazon.com would pay to have the .book top-level domain on the New.net system. (Assuming, of course, that bankruptcy rumors are unfounded and it is still around to cut the check.)

    Twenty blocks north of the Silicon Alley gabfest, the Jupiter Research Media Forum was the picture of tranquility in midtown Manhattan, Skintimates of the Rumor Mill report:

    In previous years, this was ground zero for cash-padded start-ups to flash their wares at potential partners. It was a bullpen filled with the giddy, freshly tanned dot-commers liberally spouting catchphrases like "leveraging synergies" and speculating on the next megamerger. It also distinguished itself as the highest concentration of French blue oxfords north of 25th Street.

    Today, things couldn't be more different. With a mere dozen or so exhibit booths and a dismal dearth of compelling gizmos, the room was about as cheery as Rick Lazio's campaign headquarters on election night.

    Just two years ago, you couldn't throw a business card here without hitting an Internet rock star. A Jerry Yang here, a Bob Davis there, some nervous "old media" executives looking to pick a fight with the "new media" elite.

    "The fishing expeditions are over," said John Spencer, co-founder of consumer gripe site PlanetFeedback.com. "People are not spending the money going to conferences unless they know it's going to be productive. Instead of sending five people, companies are sending only one."

    Along with these words of wisdom, Spencer dispensed a foam tomato emblazoned with the company's slogan: "Throw your complaints online."

    While waiting for AOL Time Warner co-COO Bob Pittman to deliver his keynote, I asked Yossi Amossy, co-founder of Web marketing service Gizmoz, who was sitting across from me, what he thought of this year's media schmooze fest. Amossy leaned back in his chair, frowned and pumped his thumb downward twice.

    "No one's here," he observed starkly.

    The Big Capital
    Since I'd successfully avoided having to go to New York, I thought I'd celebrate by dropping in on the world's longest-running soap opera--also known as the Microsoft antitrust trial--in Washington, D.C. There I spied White House chief flack Ari Fleischer shepherding Dubya to his first nationally televised "meet the folks" meeting with the Congress.

    Skinside information has it that Fleischer had been in the running up until the last minute for a plum job as Microsoft's chief policy communications mouthpiece in Washington. Fleischer got edged out by one Ginny Terzano, now responsible for presenting the kinder, gentler face of Bill Gates to the hired help on Capitol Hill. There's nothing kind or gentle about the gossip industry, so help out the hired help around here with your rumors.