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The week in review: Google takes charge

The search engine is flexing a little of its well-respected muscle to defend the power and sanctity of its Web search results.

Google is flexing a little of its well-respected muscle to defend the power and sanctity of its Web search results.

The search site recently launched a new tool that could help retrieve up-to-the-second results for Web searches or personalize a high-powered navigation system for desktops. Called Web APIs (application programming interfaces), the service lets developers automatically query 2 billion documents from its database on a limited basis. Then they can publish results as they choose, as long as it's for noncommercial purposes.

Early creations of the APIs are cropping up as a "Google box," a display of search results that takes the pulse of any desired term 1,000 times a day. Google is promoting the APIs as a means to create an online game or use its spell-checking technology.

Still, the announcement has the research and software development community dreaming up applications that could be spawned from access to Google's massive database of Web pages, documents, images, news and discussion-group archives.

To be sure, Google is very protective of its search results, which are considered among the Web's most reliable.

About 100 Comcast subscribers this month were temporarily shut out of Google when the search company charged the high-speed Internet access provider with hosting some accounts that had abused its terms of service by performing "automated queries." The crackdown cut a wide swath, taking out a block of IP (Internet Protocol) addresses, shutting down the guilty and innocent alike.

The latest clashes hint at an escalation in a war that may see many more Web surfers caught in the crossfire. Much of the conflict to date has raged over search engine optimization services and software that explicitly aim to push certain Web sites up the rankings for specific key words.

Microsoft in your home
Microsoft's work to enhance home PCs spilled out to industry partners this week as engineers huddled at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, or WinHEC, to hear the latest ideas about DVD, audio, video and other consumer computing technology. The company briefed engineers on developments in writing DVD discs, using PCs to record TV shows, controlling PCs with a remote control, setting up home networks, and revamping computer audio systems.

The software maker is nearing its goal to have all manner of home equipment join a network, with a hardware and software developer kit due by the end of the year to let companies link everything from light switches to refrigerators to computers. To accomplish this task, Microsoft advocates use of a standard called Simple Control Protocol (SCP), a communication method that lets different devices find each other and control each other.

Microsoft threw its support behind Bluetooth with the announcement that the software maker plans to sell keyboards and mice that use the wireless technology to connect to PCs. The company will push Bluetooth software as well, releasing a development kit in May to help programmers support the technology and posting a download that will give Windows XP built-in Bluetooth abilities this fall.

Gates demonstrated use of a PC to make and receive phone calls, with the PC taking actions based on caller ID that ordinary phones can't manage. In addition, he showed music playback, with 22 hours of music stored on a single CD that can be played in a car stereo, PC, home stereo or portable CD player.

In the chips
Intel has produced its first prototypes of the upcoming "Banias" processor, the company's first chip purely designed for use in mobile PCs. Banias systems, including Intel's Odem chipset, will come out in early 2003 and feature 802.11b "Wi-Fi" wireless networking, long battery life, and uncompromised performance, the company said.

Banias is an "entirely new micro architecture" employing different circuitry, the company said. The system's 802.11 support initially will come with separate chips, but those will gradually be integrated with the other chipset components.

Intel also introduced a new flash memory chip aimed at helping manufacturers pump up cellular phones for new uses such as capturing a photo or viewing a video. Called 1.8 Volt Wireless Flash Memory, or W18 for short, the new chip is Intel's fastest, lowest-power flash memory chip to date.

The chip can shuffle data roughly four times faster than its predecessor, the 3 Volt Wireless Flash Memory. Meanwhile, it consumes about 60 percent less power and takes up roughly half the area, Intel said. Because of its features, the new W18 chip will help manufacturers reduce power consumption, which in turn will allow them to create smaller phones by using smaller batteries.

The chipmaker recently cut prices on Pentium 4 and Pentium III chips for desktops and on several low-voltage mobile chips by up to 32 percent to make way for new processors that will appear over the next few weeks.

Advanced Micro Devices is making cuts of its own, announcing that it will phase out its budget Duron processors by the end of the year as part of the release of the upcoming Hammer chips. The move will position Clawhammer, a chip that is expected to make its debut by the end of the year, as its premier desktop and notebook chip. Athlon, the company's current top-end chip, will become its processor for cheap desktops and notebooks.

Coming soon
A new breed of Windows PCs will land on store shelves by the end of the year. Hewlett-Packard, Samsung and some other PC manufacturers will be selling upscale Windows XP computers with Freestyle, an additional software module from Microsoft that lets consumers use their PCs to record TV programs like a TiVo set-top box. Freestyle PCs will also come with a remote control.

It hasn't been determined whether Microsoft will eventually integrate Freestyle fully into the OS to create a new species of XP or how much more Freestyle PCs will cost. Nonetheless, consumers will be well aware that they are getting something different.

Start-up OQO is developing a full-fledged "ultra personal" computer that is slightly thicker but roughly the same size as handhelds currently coming out from Palm or HP. The major difference is that the OQO device, which will come out in the second half of the year for around $1,000, is a complete Windows XP computer.

The screen measures just four inches in diameter, roughly the same size as those on a Palm, but the company will also sell docking stations so that it can be used like a normal desktop or laptop. The device measures 3 inches by 5 inches, is 0.9-inches thick, and weighs about half a pound.

Handheld start-up Danger is moving closer to launching its Hiptop cell phone/organizer device in the United States, having recently received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to start selling it here. The device uses America Online's instant messaging software and appears to be connected to networks run by T-Mobile. T-Mobile, which is owned by Deutsche Telekom, operates in the United States under the name VoiceStream.

However, the company is in the process of adopting the T-Mobile name in the United States. The Hiptop has received much attention at trade shows such as the recent PC Forum and Consumer Electronics Show, but when the device would arrive has been a question mark.

Also of note
Two divisions of the federal government are investigating allegations that HP pressured an investment bank into voting for its proposed merger with Compaq Computer...HP also said in an e-mail to employees that it has fired an employee who admitted to forwarding two company memos to the press...A new variant of the Klez worm managed to squirm into computers in some parts of Asia and appeared to be spreading in the United States...Microsoft acknowledged that its popular Office applications for the Macintosh have a critical security flaw that leaves users' systems open to attack by worms and online vandals.

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