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The week in review: All charged up

Apple Computer makes a splash with the new iMac, while CES draws large crowds. The technology industry has started 2002 with a bang--will the good times last?

Apple Computer stole the spotlight this week with the unveiling of its new iMac design amid a parade of new gadgets and gizmos from the annual Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the new flat-panel computer during a keynote speech at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco. The new model bears some resemblance to a desk lamp, with a flat-panel monitor attached to a dome-shaped base via a pivoting arm. The company took two years to develop the product.

Three all-white models will be available, at $1,299, $1,499 and $1,799. None are available now, although Apple expects to ship the top-of-the-line iMac by the end of the month. The midrange model is expected to be available in February and the entry-level iMac in March.

What do you think of the new design? Industry experts' and technology fans' reactions ranged from pleasant surprise to shock. One analyst pointed out that the device's close resemblance to a "desk accessory" could prove tricky.

Not all the attention at Macworld was focused on the iMac. Apple also introduced iPhoto, a new photo-editing program that allows Mac owners to order prints of their digital photos or a hardcover book of pictures--all from within the iPhoto program. Apple is providing the e-commerce engine as well as customer fulfillment, while an unnamed company prints the actual book. In the case of prints, Eastman Kodak is providing those services.

Gadgets galore
Also this week, the Consumer Electronics Show kicked off in Las Vegas with a keynote speech delivered by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

Central to his presentation were a couple of new technologies that tie in with Microsoft's new Windows XP operating system to turn the PC into a central home jukebox for content--ranging from Web connections to digital video.

Among the new efforts are "Mira," software for a wireless flat-panel display that connects directly with a PC but also can be carried around the house as a Web pad or a home entertainment control center while communicating wirelessly with a main PC. Mira devices could help extend Microsoft's vision of the PC as an electronic nerve center for the home.

Home networking seemed to generate the most buzz at the show. After two years of secrecy, start-up Rearden Steel jumped into the home entertainment market by announcing its first products and a name change. The company is now known as Moxi Digital and its first products will be the Moxi Media Center and Moxi Media Extension. Moxi designs software and hardware for cable and satellite set-top boxes that lets them effectively function as digital entertainment centers.

The nascent satellite radio industry is betting that American consumers are willing to pay for a superior alternative to broadcast radio that they can receive at home and on the road. After spending more than $1 billion each to launch complex satellite broadcast networks, XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio made major pushes at CES to win over retailers, car-stereo manufacturers and consumers.

The debut of a hot new device or product category often sets the tone for consumer electronics for the rest of the year. This year's crop includes a wide range of products such as computer displays, handheld computers, portable storage devices, and digital cameras and music players.

Did you miss anything at CES? Check News.com's special coverage of the trade show, including a series of video clips of new gadgets and products coming soon to a store near you.

Security concerns
A tool recommended by a security group to squash the bugs in America Online's Instant Messenger application actually had secret backdoor code that allowed the author to, among other things, redirect browsers to porn sites. The security group w00w00, which discovered last week's serious flaw in AOL's instant messenger software, said that a program that could act as a temporary Band-Aid for the AIM problem had in reality been misrepresented by the person who posted it to the Bugtraq mailing list late last month.

Perhaps of greater concern to the Net is the emergence of new viruses, sometimes in unreleased programs.

Antivirus companies warned that future Macromedia Flash movies could carry malicious viruses and worms. The caution came after an unknown virus writer sent just such an infectious program to antivirus company Sophos. Dubbed SWF/LFM-926, the new program does little but infect Flash files on a PC when the movie is played.

The next day, antivirus companies received a copy of the first virus capable of infecting files based on Microsoft's .Net Intermediate Language, or MSIL. Known as W32.Donut, the virus does little but infect other .Net files, but it shows that the programmers who create such code are looking ahead, said Motoaki Yamamura, a virus researcher with security software company Symantec. Late Friday Microsoft said that W32.Donut is not a new .Net virus but an old Windows virus that infects .Net files.

Arguments aside, Microsoft has had its hands full with security issues. Although the software titan has been touting the need for security through its Secure Windows Initiative, the recent revelation of a severe flaw in the company's flagship Windows XP operating system--combined with the discoveries of several recent Internet Explorer browser holes--has left security experts questioning whether Microsoft can fully lock down its products.

Future attractions
Napster is offering a preview of what the service will look like when it officially relaunches. A public beta test is limited to just 20,000 members and will provide access to just 110,000 independent-label songs.

The new Napster is much like the old service, minus the millions of songs. The company has retained the peer-to-peer structure, allowing customers to trade files with each other directly. But it has added a layer of security to prevent trading in unauthorized songs, meaning the freewheeling days are over.

The new year brings a new round of processor battles between Intel and Advanced Micro Devices--and that means newer, faster PCs for desktops near and far. AMD launched its new Athlon XP 2000+, which runs at 1.67GHz, and shortly after that Intel followed suit with its new "Northwood" Pentium 4, running at 2GHz and 2.2GHz.

The chip debuts kicked off the usual parade of announcements from PC makers. Dell Computer has introduced a new Dimension 8200 desktop starting at about $1,900 with the new 2.2GHz Pentium 4. And Compaq Computer has begun offering a new Presario 8000 desktop containing the Athlon XP 2000+ chip, starting at under $1,500.

In a move to leapfrog competitors, Sprint plans to launch a high-speed wireless data service nationwide this summer. The new 3G, or third-generation, technology will provide more bandwidth for faster text messaging, enhanced graphics and other new applications, according to Sprint.

Wireless carriers have been racing to deliver higher-speed services. AT&T Wireless said it plans to offer 3G services sometime this year, and Cingular Wireless said it will have a 3G network in early 2004.

Also of note
Microsoft filed a motion that, if successful, would bar the public from access to any future depositions in its antitrust case, but major media organizations will likely oppose it...AOL Time Warner lost some face when executives revealed that their marriage made in heaven was falling quickly to earth...Jim Barksdale's venture capital fund is shutting down, and Barksdale and two other partners have taken new jobs...The parent of online photo site PhotoPoint.com shut down and is liquidating its assets, but it expects to announce a plan to return photos archived with the service within two weeks...IBM received more patents in 2001 than any other corporation for the ninth year in a row.

Want more? Check out all this week's News.com headlines.