Week in review: Apple marks three decades

Apple Computer marks 30 years in existence as if it were just another day at the office.

Like the co-worker who doesn't seem to want a big deal made of an upcoming birthday, Apple Computer marked its 30 years in existence as if it were just another day at the office.

But for Apple fans, the world changed when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak decided to shift their focus from making devices for free long-distance calls to making computers. In the three decades since its founding, Apple Computer has grown from a tiny start-up to a household name and cultural icon known as much for its iPod digital-music players as its computers.

CNET News.com looks back on a wild ride that saw Apple fall from the top of the tech heap in the 1990s as Microsoft grew into the largest software company in the world and PC makers such as Compaq Computer and IBM came to dominate the industry. Compaq now exists only as a brand name sold by Hewlett-Packard, IBM no longer makes PCs, and Apple is enjoying perhaps its finest hour.

As part of the retrospective, CNET News.com shows the evolution of Apple computers and their early fonts and graphics, and examines their radical shift to a graphical user interface. Also, Mac fans share photos and stories about how Apple has affected their lives.

After News.com invited readers to share memories and impressions of their experience with Apple products, the TalkBack forum filled with plenty of feedback.

"After using OS X, I cannot imagine going back to the Windows platform," Clay Morrison wrote in the forum. "And I really feel sorry for anyone who still uses it."

While consumers reflected on Apple's innovation and leadership, the company announced that it would lose one of its core leaders. Avie Tevanian, the man who led software development efforts at Apple for nearly a decade, is leaving the company. Tevanian joined Apple in 1997, after serving as head of engineering for Steve Jobs' start-up Next.

Apple this week also had some some legal business to take care of. Attorneys representing the company returned to court in London to battle another lawsuit from the company that controls the Beatles' music catalog. Apple Corps claims that Apple Computer's use of its fruit-shaped logo in promoting its iTunes Music Store violates an earlier trademark agreement.

The , which also has heard plenty of litigious noise over the volume control on its iPods, released a free software update for some iPods that lets listeners set a maximum volume limit. The update, available for video iPods and all iPod Nano models, also includes a parental-lock option. After setting the volume limit, parents can lock the setting with a combination code to prevent children from raising the maximum volume without their parents' knowledge.

Patent fights pending
In a dispute that's part of a broader debate over the future of the patent system, some U.S. Supreme Court justices suggested that the patent at the heart of a suit against eBay may be too vague and trivial to even be taken seriously. During oral arguments that lasted about an hour, Justice Stephen Breyer suggested that if eBay's "Buy It Now" feature could be patented, "then maybe A&P could patent its process for a supermarket."

Patent holder MercExchange sued eBay in September 2001, accusing it of patent infringement through its use of the "Buy It Now" feature, which allows shoppers to halt the auction process and purchase items at a fixed price. A federal appeals court sided with MercExchange and granted it an injunction against eBay. The injunction is currently on hold.

When Research In Motion's wildly popular BlackBerry service faced a shutdown earlier this month, the legal spat in that case illustrated the potentially disruptive effects of court injunction based on patent infringements. In a case brought by eBay that the online auction site hopes will curb what it calls "near-automatic" injunctions, the U.S. Supreme Court is examining the question of when such court orders are appropriate.

Most patent disputes proceed in mind-numbing obscurity, but this one has drawn an unusual amount of attention, in part because the BlackBerry shutdown threat was so recent. Many of the nation's largest software, hardware and Internet companies have sided with eBay in their own briefs, while individual inventors and pharmaceutical giants have opposed the online auctioneer.

Meanwhile, a Texas lawyer has lost a patent lawsuit over antipiracy technology embedded in Microsoft's product activation program. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court's decision, which said Microsoft did not infringe on Kenneth Nash's patent for detecting pirated software by assigning each program a unique ID and verifying it over the Internet.

The dispute involves patent 6,449,645. It describes how to collect the unique ID--such as a serial number or activation key--assigned to each computer in an Internet database, preferably without the user's knowledge, and check for multiple, running copies of the same program. That could let it flag two friends who were illegally running, say, a video game with the same activation key.

Google on the go
Google increased its lead over Yahoo and Microsoft in the U.S. Web search market while a rebranded Ask.com inched up in the standings, according to the latest statistics from ComScore Networks. Google's domestic market share rose to 42.3 percent in February, up from 36.3 percent a year earlier.

Yahoo's search market share in the United States fell to 27.6 percent from 31.1 percent a year ago, while Microsoft's MSN fell to 13.5 percent from 16.3 percent and Time Warner's America Online fell to 8 percent from 8.9 percent.

Google plans to sell up to 5.3 million shares of Class A common stock, which could would raise nearly $2.1 billion. The plan, included in documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, marks the search company's second follow-on stock offering since going public less than two years ago.

Google expects to use the proceeds from the offering for "general corporate purposes, including working capital and capital expenditures, and possible acquisitions of complementary businesses, technologies or other assets," according to the filing.

Google is also launching a feature for businesses that want to target customers based on geography. Marketers will be able to place photos and logos inside balloons that pop up on Google maps exactly where the merchants are located.

Users will notice that with certain searches on Google Local, icons representing types of businesses will appear on the map. A given icon might be a coffee cup, a shopping bag, a grocery cart, a car or, in the case of Ralph Lauren, a flower. When someone clicks the icon, a balloon pops up containing more information about the merchant, including a logo or photo and maybe a link to the merchant's Web site.

Following the money
Despite being on opposite sides of the country, Washington and Silicon Valley are pretty close, thanks to the almighty dollar. This week, in a four-part special report, CNET News.com examined the tech community's changing lobbying strategy, the emerging power of nonprofit companies, the adoption of the junkets path and the rise of tech pork barrel projects.

Also of note
Federal regulators approved new rules that take a largely laissez-faire approach toward governing political speech and advertising on the Internet, at least for now...Microsoft is expanding its licensing to the keyboard and mouse, the first time the software giant has signed up licensees for its hardware technologies...The lax dress code of the open-source community is one of the reasons behind the software's slow uptake in commercial environments, says former Massachusetts Chief Information Officer Peter Quinn.

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