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The week in review: Blame Napster

As the battle over online music has musicians singing the blues to Congress, record labels and tech giants are rapping about selling digital music on the Web.

While the battle over online music has musicians singing the blues to Congress, record labels and tech giants are rapping about selling digital music on the Web.

Singer Alanis Morissette and former Eagles musician Don Henley joined Napster and record label executives to debate the future of Net music on Capitol Hill this week. Although no legislation was being discussed, the debate helped paint the picture of an increasingly fractious online music world, in which artists, labels, retailers, and technology companies are taking diverging positions.

Amid the debate, a handful of companies are scrambling to be in a position to attract online music lovers to new subscription services as free music disappears from Napster. Microsoft threw its hat into the online music ring, unveiling a new MSN Music site--the first time it has directly offered music as a part of its online content portfolio.

In a similar bid, RealNetworks formed a pact with AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann and EMI Group to create a company that will develop an online music subscription service dubbed MusicNet. And Web portal Yahoo unveiled a partnership with Duet, a joint venture between Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, to launch an online music-subscription service on its site by the summer.

Mistakes happen
Nokia is working to fix a software glitch that could cause connection problems for up to 10 percent of all cell phones sold in the United States when carriers upgrade to higher-speed network equipment later this year. According to Nokia, the problem is "minor" and is expected to be fixed before upgraded networks are built. But analysts said the glitch is an embarrassment for Nokia and potentially another setback for the introduction of highly touted third-generation, or 3G, phone networks.

Sun Microsystems has found a problem with its new UltraSparc III processor, and fixing it will cause system performance to drop by about 5 percent for some customers. The problem affects only initial models of the Sun Blade 1000 workstation, one of the first computers based on the critical new design. Though the problem can be fixed by running a software patch that disables a feature of the chip, the repair reduces performance, and a true fix won't come until a future revision to the chip.

And in the auction world, eBay's clocks got a little stuck last weekend after the daylight-saving time changeover. A software problem led to auctions ending an hour early, to discrepancies between auction end times listed on different parts of the site, and to notices sent to members with the wrong closing time for their auctions.

(Can't get no) Satisfaction
A number of Mac owners have accused Apple Computer of doing nothing about a memory glitch. Many Mac owners have found that a minor update provided by Apple has left their machines unable to recognize much of their system's memory. Mac owners complain that nearly two weeks after Apple posted the new software, it still hasn't offered a way for downloaders to tell whether their memory will be recognized by the update, nor did the company warn owners that memory could be disabled by installing the update until only recently.

Troubled Web site aggregator eFront Media is facing a virtual eviction and has alerted its member sites that they must vacate their current servers. eFront, the Web site aggregator that gained notoriety after its chief executive's ICQ logs were posted on the Web, will lose services provided by Space4Rent, eFront warned Webmasters in an e-mail alert. Sources close to both companies said the shutdown is due to lack of payment.

The big picture
The instant messaging wars have pitted the world's largest technology companies against each other in a virtual land grab. A special report by CNET explores the decision by AOL Time Warner to dominate the growing popularity of instant messaging by blocking communication between its subscribers and those using competing software--a choice that may have backfired. The move may have limited the potential growth of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and forced the media giant into a protracted war with Microsoft--just as AOL Time Warner faces other problems, ranging from merger integration to government regulation.

Not all aspects of the software world are as fractious. A software development methodology called Extreme Programming is helping to produce software that is not only of higher quality, but is produced much more quickly than is the norm. Extreme Programming formalizes the process of writing code via its series of outlines and work rules. The goal is to make the code-writing process less random, get software to customers more quickly, and eliminate the inevitable onslaught of bugs discovered during the traditional integration phases.

And as technology companies lay off legions of workers and the outlook for e-commerce companies sours, a growing number of former dot-commers are deciding against polishing their resumes or schmoozing potential employers at pink slip parties. Instead, they're stuffing backpacks with mosquito nets and "Lonely Planet" guide books to weather the economic slowdown among Sherpas and Bedouin. Travel agents--especially those in tech meccas such as California's Silicon Valley, Boston and Seattle--say the layoffs have been an unexpected boon.

Also of note
Intel has created its first preproduction chips on 300-millimeter wafers, a coming technology shift that will lead to cheaper processors by 2002...Sony has delayed the launch of its eVilla Internet appliance, originally due this month, until May...Dell Computer delivered the news that Wall Street had been expecting: It will post its first quarter-to-quarter revenue decline in 17 years...General Motors will pay for 88,000 salaried workers to get master of business administration degrees and take other management-oriented courses online through one of the largest e-learning initiatives of its kind...Webvan auditor Deloitte & Touche has raised questions about the company's ability to operate as a viable business largely because the Net grocer has "suffered recurring losses and negative cash flows from operations."

View all this week's headlines.