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The week in review: Relegating the PC

Handheld devices relegate PCs to the sidelines at a leading computer trade show.

    Handheld devices relegated PCs to the sidelines at a leading computer trade show.

    Palm Computing, Sony and even IBM grabbed PC Expo headlines by touting miniature, limited-function products that supersede desktop systems. With numerous others joining the chorus, the PC?s continued reign as principal tool of the digital revolution looked uncertain.

    Toward services
    Also in the spotlight: Transmeta, an eagerly awaited chipmaker catering both to notebook users looking for longer battery life and the anticipated market for ?Webpads,? a new kind of flat-screen, Net-ready device.

    PCs remain the leading means for connecting to the Internet, but the trend toward wireless Net access is likely to undermine status quo. Meanwhile, handheld instruments like the Palm-based organizer or the portable MP3 player have already nabbed significant share in emerging segments.

    Ironically, though it boasts a gaudy two-thirds of all handheld sales, Palm is following PC makers in moving away from relying on hardware sales. The company sees licensing fees and wireless services as central to its future.

    Not to be outdone
    Dell unveiled Web services alliances with Microsoft and AT&T, as PC makers entering the services business continue efforts to capitalize on their brand names and customer relationships. Dell and MSN will operate a co-branded portal providing Net access and personalized services to home users, while the Round Rock, Texas, company will work with AT&T and four others to offer Web hosting, URL registration services, broadband access, and online applications to small and medium-sized businesses. Separately, Dell reiterated it?s dealing with component shortages.

    A group of underground computer programmers has broken through copyright protections on Sega's Dreamcast game console, sparking a new explosion of pirated game software in just a week's time. The system had been viewed as one of the most secure digital entertainment systems on the market, with internal copy protection and a CD that holds nearly twice as much data as an ordinary disc.

    Oracle condensed its family of database and e-commerce software in an effort to make it simpler for companies to take their businesses to the Web. The three lines are database software, server software that runs e-commerce transactions, and software development tools. The company also faced an uproar over its admission that it hired a detective agency to investigate groups supporting Microsoft in its antitrust case, and announced a three-year partnership with Compaq Computer.

    Although the numbers remain small, high-speed Internet services are beginning to take off in rural areas and small cities where industry experts once questioned whether demand would exist and communications carriers would ever install the technologies. Fear of competition, advances in technology, and potential regulation are leading communications carriers and Internet service providers to begin building high-speed, or broadband, Internet services in these so-called secondary markets more than ever before.

    Better than ever
    An IBM supercomputer designed for simulating nuclear explosions has turned out to be 23 percent faster than anticipated when the project began. The results are more than academic, as the machine is a scaled-up version of a commercial server code-named "Nighthawk 2," due to debut next month.

    Transmeta's Crusoe will debut in ultralight laptops from IBM, Hitachi, Fujitsu and NEC in the second half of the year. Gateway and America Online have already said they will use a Crusoe in their upcoming Web pad. Meanwhile, the start-up will add three more chips to its line, bringing its total to five. The seeming acceptance of Transmeta?s processors sets up a near-instant rivalry with giant Intel.

    Intel will next month release a 1.13-GHz Pentium III, likely to be one of the chip?s last desktop versions. The Pentium III's limitations have contributed to the recent gains of Advanced Micro Devices, whose Athlon chip features a brand-new architecture that permits AMD to raise the clock speed almost at will. Separately, Intel decided to name its next-generation Willamette chip the Pentium 4.

    Better safe than sorry?
    Some dot-com failures are resorting to selling information their customers may have thought would remain under lock and key as they scramble to find assets that can be sold to appease creditors. The practice has raised the hackles of some privacy watchdogs and possibly thousands of consumers who assumed the data would not be transferred.

    Other online companies are struggling to produce strong content while selling products. Oxygen Media said it would discontinue retail sales. Earlier this month, Reel.com laid off its entire e-commerce staff and turned over its e-tail operations to Buy.com, and iVillage said it was in talks with BabyGear to sell iBaby.

    Media Metrix will acquire Jupiter Communications for $414 million in stock to create a new company that will combine Internet tracking with market research and analysis.

    Also of note
    Regional phone company Pacific Bell downshifted its high-speed Internet services for a few customers, angering some veteran Net surfers who say they signed up specifically for guaranteed speeds ? Microsoft submitted C#, its Java-like software programming language, to an industry standards group, hoping to succeed where rival and Java creator Sun Microsystems has failed ? Yahoo unveiled a Net media player based on Microsoft technology, joining a heated battle for control of the growing market for audio and video content on the Web ? Legislation giving digital signatures the same force as traditional means was signed into federal law ? Federal antitrust authorities filed suit to block the proposed merger between telecommunications giants WorldCom and Sprint.