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The week in review: Apple holds center stage

Microsoft, Intel and especially Sun Microsystems top quarterly earnings expectations, but Apple Computer manages to hold center stage the longest.

    Microsoft, Intel and especially Sun Microsystems topped quarterly earnings expectations, but Apple Computer managed to hold center stage the longest.

    The independent-minded manufacturer too edged Wall Street?s estimates, before confirming its reputation for innovative design at a New York trade show dedicated to its platform. Apple hopes a new cube-shaped desktop, dual-processor systems and a revitalized iMac line will improve last quarter?s somewhat disappointing sales.

    Cubism
    The PowerMac G4 Cube, a miniature system that cools without a fan, is Apple?s latest blend of computing, Internet access and industrial design. Its famously colorful iMac has been a success, but PC makers Dell and Compaq have struggled with similar efforts.

    The introduction of two-chip desktops may be still more risky in that software which capitalizes on the extra computing power isn?t widely used. Then again, the move perhaps compensates for the chip?s failure to keep pace with the accelerating megahertz speeds of Intel and AMD products for PC systems.

    Also at Macworld, Apple rolled out iMac upgrades, including a new color scheme that surprised peripheral makers trading on the old hues, and previewed Macintosh Office 2001, Microsoft?s near-ubiquitous office productivity suite. Supplemental products and software are important to Apple?s ongoing effort to lure new customers.

    Coming soon?
    Intel will again delay the launch of its first 64-bit chip, Itanium, hurting revenue projections and further encroaching on a successor due in the second half of 2001. Separately, despite shortages and increased competition from AMD, the company reported record revenue of $8.3 billion and earnings per share of 50 cents, helped by surging demand for microprocessors and flash memory.

    Palm is set to release two new devices next month, refreshing its product line for the first time in six months. The handheld leader will update the wireless-access Palm VII and replace the Palm III with an entry-level product.

    Microsoft offered a software patch for the latest version of its Web browser that will warn people when sites attempt to embed cookies, and released a voice-enabled version of its instant messenger, plugging a hole in its technology and leap-frogging rivals with new features including PC-to-phone capabilities.

    Ready or not
    The giant additionally touted a spike in new subscribers for its MSN Internet access service. Critics called the numbers underwhelming and misleading, pointing out that Microsoft's 3 million members are dwarfed by America Online's 23 million customers. The company reported fourth-quarter earnings of 44 cents per share, on revenues of $5.8 billion, beating expectations by 2 cents.

    Six months after an ambitious California start-up sent waves through the market by promising consumers around the United States free high-speed Internet connections, the service has been turned on in only a few markets. Many major cities are a month or more behind schedule.

    Amid heightening concerns about potential health risks, many mobile phones will soon carry information about radiation levels. The information, which could be packaged with new handsets in as early as three to six months, is expected to show that cell phones are within acceptable radiation exposure ranges.

    A key patent victory in Europe and Japan, two of the world's hottest wireless markets, could help Qualcomm bolster its stock price and protect its bottom line. Shares have slid in recent months because of concerns over the company's prospects for future revenue. Qualcomm reported third-quarter earnings rose 23 percent, on pro forma net income of $218 million, as cell phone chip sales met shipment goals.

    Business as usual
    Lucent Technologies intends to spin off its chipmaking and fiber-optics component business to increase sales to Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks and other rivals. The company's microelectronics unit sold $4 billion in the past year. Lucent also reported better-than-expected third-quarter earnings but warned of weaker growth ahead.

    Strong server growth propelled Sun Microsystems to quarterly net income that grew 67 percent to $660 million, or 39 cents per share, well over the 33 cents estimated by financial analysts. Sun shipped more than 100,000 servers in the three-month period, including 500 top-end E10000 "Starfire" systems, which typically cost more than $1 million. That's about a fifth of the total 2,500 that have sold over the history of the product.

    CNET Networks will acquire leading rival ZDNet and other Ziff-Davis assets in a deal valued around $1.6 billion. The combination would rank as the eighth-largest property on the Internet. CNET is the publisher of News.com.

    Evidence, please
    People who use Napster and other file-swapping networks to trade MP3 files are more likely to boost their music spending than those who don't use such services, according to a new study, the latest attempt to gauge the impact of services accused of encouraging Internet piracy. Earlier research showed declining CD sales at stores near universities, although music industry sales growth reached 8 percent last year. Separately, The Motion Picture Association of America sued Scour.net, charging the Web site has contributed to massive violations of the movie studios' copyrights.

    A failed dot-com that is majority-controlled by Disney became the first online company charged with violating new federal laws protecting children's privacy online. The Federal Trade Commission said that troubled Toysmart.com transgressed the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) by collecting personal information from children without their parents' consent.

    The House of Representatives passed the first bill that will hold email marketers accountable for the influx of bulk unsolicited email, commonly known as "spam," by a 427-1 margin.

    Also of note
    The most valuable baseball card in the world fetched a record $1.27 million on eBay after a 10-day private auction... Microsoft is closing in on Coca-Cola's turf as the most valuable brand name ... Customers looking to burn music CDs on notebooks are finding recordable drives nearly impossible to come by ... IBM is having difficulty delivering ThinkPad notebooks to customers because of a shortage affecting virtually every notebook it sells.