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Week in review: All eyes on iPod

Apple is the undisputed champion of the hard-drive music market, but competitors are gearing up for a shot at the title. iPods everywhere

Apple Computer is the undisputed champion of the hard-drive music market, but competitors are gearing up for a shot at the title.

The various versions of the iPod account for 92.1 percent of the market for hard-drive-based music players, up from 82.2 percent a year ago. And Apple is profiting from that dominance, as fourth-quarter revenue from iPods more than quadrupled to $537 million, accounting for 23 percent of Apple's total revenue.

Those numbers are music to the ears of competitors, which have introduced a barrage of products, in roughly the same price range, to tackle the market-leading iPod.

Dell is challenging iPod as part of a plan to expand its brand name in the consumer electronics market. The PC maker this week launched a diminutive version of its Dell Digital Jukebox portable music player, dubbed the Pocket DJ 5, along with an updated Dell DJ 20 music player, a portable photo printer and a line of plasma-screen televisions.

The Pocket DJ 5, which will sell for $199 and offer 5GB of storage, will compete with Apple's 4GB iPod Mini, which sells for $249. The updated 20GB Dell DJ will sell for $249, a drop of $30 from the price of Dell's existing 20GB model.

Virgin Electronics also made its play this week with the $249 Virgin Player, a digital audio player with a 5GB hard disk. The device supports MP3 and WMA music formats and is capable of working with various digital music services. The 3.1-ounce device comes bundled with the company's music software and service, Virgin Digital, which sells song downloads for 99 cents each. Or customers can choose a monthly subscription for $7.99.

Even upstart Archos, a maker of portable devices, is joining the attack, unveiling its own tiny player that costs $250 and has a 20GB hard drive. The Gmini XS200 is comparable in size and price to the iPod Mini but has five times the storage capacity. The Gmini supports MP3, WMA and WAV audio files, and it stores up to 5,000 songs.

Microsoft in your living room
Although Apple's combination of iTunes and iPod has proved pretty popular, Microsoft is betting that people want to do more with their music and that they want to be able to move video and pictures around as well. Chairman Bill Gates made that case at a press event in Los Angeles, showing off a host of gadgets that use various types of Microsoft technology to access movies, music and video.

At the center of Gates' case is Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005--an update to Microsoft's entertainment-oriented operating system. As earlier reported, the updated version of the operating system adds a number of new features, including support for multiple television tuners. A new MSN utility lets customers schedule TV recordings over the Internet.

Helping to support Microsoft's vision, PC makers launched a slew of new Media Center PCs. Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Sony and Toshiba all introduced their latest Media Center PCs, wrapped around Microsoft's operating system.

While the latest Media Centers are PCs at heart, the manufacturers say the machines will function more like entertainment devices that can play and record TV programs, and play DVD movies or music CDs. However, unlike before, the machines will be more adept at acquiring and sharing files with other devices around the home. A design company called One & Co. created its new prototype PC with those functions in mind. The idea, the company says, is a computer attractive enough that you might actually want it in the living room.

Despite all the changes Microsoft is touting with the new version of Media Center, the biggest change may be the price drop. Microsoft had priced the first two versions of Windows XP Media Center edition, which is targeted at consumers, even higher than its professional edition of Windows, which is sold to businesses. This time, Microsoft has priced the software somewhere between Windows XP Home and Windows XP Pro, CNET has learned.

Coming attractions
Segway unveiled a prototype design for a four-wheeled vehicle that would allow riders to traverse rough terrain, among other benefits. The Centaur appears to be in a fairly advanced state of development--videos on Segway's Web site show a test version zooming across a variety of terrain.

But Segway's description is more tentative. The company characterizes Centaur as a "concept that passed (an) initial feasibility test but is not yet ready to become a product." A Segway representative said there's no timeline for development or possible merchandising of the Centaur. The representative said the Centaur information posted on the company's Web site is intended to help gauge market interest.

DVD burners are going new places, too--or, rather, avoiding familiar ones. Sony has unveiled a DVD burner that can be connected to a camcorder or VCR for transferring taped footage directly to a DVD, without using a computer.

DVDirect can also be attached to a PC, the company said. Sony will supply software for video authoring, as well as the creation of data, music and video DVDs and CDs. Sony said the $300 burner is set to begin shipping next month.

Netscape--10 years on
The Netscape browser turned 10 years old this week, and though it's a shadow of its former self, the lights haven't gone out yet on one of the most storied brands in Web history. America Online, which has see-sawed over its pricey Netscape acquisition for years, is once again readying the brand for a comeback try, as CNET explains in a special report.

But don't expect the original engineers to be part of the resurrection. If you're looking for the people who launched the Netscape browser 10 years ago, you might find them in boardrooms, offices, cubicles and even a nightclub or two throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Many work for a Palo Alto, Calif., company called LiveOps--an Internet-based, distributed call center provider where roughly a third of the staff are Netscape alumni.

Ben Goodger is leading a key effort to preserve the Netscape browser's legacy. Only 14 years old when the Netscape browser was first released in 1994, Goodger has spent most of the past four years working for AOL's Netscape division and then at the Mozilla Foundation AOL spun off last year to oversee the development of the Mozilla and Firefox browsers.

As the Web observes Netscape's anniversary, Goodger finds himself the lead engineer for Firefox. Goodger sat down with CNET to discuss his work on Firefox.

Also of note
Microsoft published 10 software security advisories, warning Windows users and corporate administrators of 22 new flaws that affect the company's products...Intel is dumping plans to release a Pentium 4 processor that runs at 4GHz. The chipmaker says it will boost performance on next year's chips using features other than clock speed...Barely two months after Microsoft made a pop-up blocker available for its Internet Explorer browser, Web advertisers have already found a way to slip their loathed marketing pitches past it...Google unveiled its first-generation desktop application for searching through personal files and Web history that's stored locally on a PC, a move that could shake up the landscape of Internet search and raise privacy hackles...Microsoft threatened severe penalties for those who circulate a stolen copy of "Halo 2," the hotly anticipated Xbox game set to go on sale next month.