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Week in review: Apple the speed champ?

CEO Steve Jobs lays claim to the desktop PC speed title with the unveiling of new G5-based Power Macs, but skeptics say the benchmark tests were rigged.

Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs laid claim to the desktop PC speed title with the unveiling of new G5 Power Macs, but skeptics say the benchmarks were rigged.

Jobs rolled out a new crop of Power Macs that he says can outperform any Windows-based PC on the market. The Power Macs will be built around IBM's new PowerPC 970 chip and come in three flavors--a 1.6GHz model, a 1.8GHz model and a dual-processor 2GHz model.

Dubbed the G5, the new chip is the successor to the G4 that's now used in the Power Mac lineup. Aside from the new chip, the new Power Macs will feature architectural changes including the addition of 1GHz front-side buses, USB 2.0 ports and serial ATA drives.

The new clock speeds and other changes mean that Apple will be offering "the world's fastest personal computer," Jobs said. Jobs showed both benchmarks and Photoshop tests that illustrate the new dual 2GHz PowerMac outperforming a dual 3GHz Xeon machine.

Although Apple has won praise for the new Macs as a substantial improvement over earlier machines, some have criticized the choices made in putting together the rival Dell machine for use in so-called SPEC tests. Apple's tests used the same GCC compiler for both machines, with the Dell boxes running the Linux operating system. Critics charge that much higher benchmarks can be achieved using the Windows OS and an Intel-optimized compiler, rather than GCC.

"It wasn't really a fair test," said one analyst, who said that the Dell machines are capable of producing scores 30 percent to 40 percent higher than those produced under Apple's methodology. "The reason this happened is Apple had a third party go out and test a Dell under less than optimal conditions."

In response, an Apple representative said it wanted to compare hardware performance, so it made sense to use the same compiler on the Mac and the Dell. The SPEC benchmark tests measure the performance of the hardware and the compiler.

Jobs also rolled out the latest Mac OS X upgrade, dubbed Panther. As it did with the original Mac OS X and with OS X 10.2 Jaguar, Apple plans to charge existing users who want to upgrade to the new operating system. The software will cost $129 when it goes on sale later this year.

For that investment, Apple says Mac users can look forward to more than 100 new features, including a new look for the Finder, as well as Expose, a feature designed to make it easier to find the window one is looking for on a crowded desktop. Another new feature in Panther will automatically synchronize files in a particular folder into a .Mac subscriber's iDisk, Apple's name for its online storage service.

Oracle vs. PeopleSoft
Larry Ellison isn't taking no for an answer, and he's leaving the door open to raising the share price offer in Oracle's hostile takeover bid for competitor PeopleSoft. PeopleSoft's board has consistently said Oracle's bid is too low.

Ellison said that Oracle's $6.3 billion cash tender to acquire PeopleSoft is "fully valued and very fair." Asked whether Oracle would top its current offer, Ellison said, "Never say never." The chief executive also disputed notions that his company is trying to acquire PeopleSoft to overcome weakness in its applications business.

In addition, Oracle said it would consider buying PeopleSoft even if the proposed merger with J.D. Edwards goes through--and more acquisitions may be in the cards as Oracle looks to battle competitors such as SAP and Microsoft.

Although Oracle would prefer to buy PeopleSoft on its own, "if it comes down to buying them both, we are not ruling it out," said an executive vice president at Oracle, adding that the database maker has been considering a bid for PeopleSoft for more than a year as part of its five-year plan to increase pressure on archrival and market leader SAP.

To prevent that, PeopleSoft has enlisted one of Oracle's old antitrust allies. Silicon Valley attorney Gary Reback, who marshaled industry opposition to Microsoft's efforts to squeeze Netscape from the browser business and who compiled evidence to aid the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust case against Microsoft, has been hired by PeopleSoft to fend off Oracle.

Although Ellison did not hire Reback during the dogged antitrust pursuit of Microsoft, instead funding the ProComp lobbying group, the two men shared the same strategy during the 1990s: to humble Microsoft through aggressive application of the Sherman Act and other antitrust laws. Now, Reback is accusing Oracle of occupying a similar monopolistic position.

Spammers strike back
A new variant of the Sobig virus has begun spreading, raising the specter that spammers will have a host of new PCs to use as platforms for sending bulk e-mail. Analysis by antivirus companies indicated that the mass-mailing computer worm, called Sobig.E, doesn't have a malicious payload. However, e-mail service provider MessageLabs believes spammers will use the viral mail program on victims' computers to send anonymous messages.

Sobig.E, like other versions of the virus, appears in a recipient's in-box with the subject line "Re: Movie" or "Re: Application." The malicious program is contained in an 80KB attachment to the message. It infects any PC running a Microsoft Windows operating system when the attachment is opened.

The virus grabs e-mail addresses from several different locations on a computer, including the Windows address book and Internet cache, and sends e-mails to each one. The virus also forges the source of the message using a randomly selected e-mail address, so that the infected message appears to come from someone else.

While there is no concrete proof that Sobig.E has been created and released by a spammer, there is evidence that many bulk e-mailers are already using computers infected with a previous variant of the computer virus to avoid leaving traces.

MessageLabs operates servers that block spam and viruses for its clients. Its analysis of data shows that mass distributions of junk e-mail are increasingly coming from the Internet addresses of computers that have in the past sent out viruses as e-mail attachments.

Microsoft stepped up the rhetoric in its war on spam, as Chairman Bill Gates called for government and corporate cooperation to stem the tide of junk e-mail. "Spam is so significant a problem that it threatens to undo much of the good that e-mail has achieved," Gates wrote.

Gates said in the letter that Microsoft researchers are working on other technological fixes, including "smart" spam filters for mailboxes that would continuously adapt to keep pace with the latest spam techniques. Microsoft has become increasingly active in the antispam crusade, most recently filing 15 lawsuits against spammers it said were responsible for sending a collective 2 billion unsolicited messages to Microsoft addresses.

But some companies and organizations working to curb spam accuse Microsoft of grandstanding, saying that the Redmond, Wash., company has demonstrated a preference for splashy press events over difficult technology fixes or product sacrifices. These critics have seized on the company's own statements that it is focusing on reducing the amount of spam its users receive, rather than the spam its users and servers send.

Muscling pirates
In its most serious crackdown yet on file swapping, the Recording Industry Association of America said it will gather evidence against individuals who trade songs online and slap thousands of them with copyright-infringement lawsuits. Bolstered by recent court rulings that make it easier to unmask individual file swappers, the music industry trade group launched a massive campaign to target individuals who offer "substantial amounts" of music through peer-to-peer networks.

The RIAA said it will scan the public directories of peer-to-peer networks to reveal files that people are sharing and detect their Internet service providers. The association will then serve subpoenas on the ISPs to identify the individuals. It expects the first round of suits to be filed as early as August.

A New Jersey man faces up to three years in prison and $250,000 in fines after pleading guilty to distributing a pirated copy of "The Hulk," the tale of a wayward scientist who turns into a machinery-smashing monster whenever he gets mad. The man was identified as a result of an investigation by the FBI's Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property Squad, according to the statement.

Also of note
In a blow to an alliance of librarians and free speech advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a law that requires libraries to filter Web content or lose certain federal funds...A vulnerability in Microsoft's Internet Explorer could result in the creation of a serious Internet worm, security experts have warned...The latest installment of the Harry Potter series can be obtained easily as an audio file on file-swapping services such as Kazaa...Pioneer Electronics is hoping to raise the profile of digital video recording services by adding TiVo's service to its line of DVD recorders.