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Week in review: Dell in the hot seat

Amid massive battery recall, company deals with sharp income drop and expands AMD pact. Plus: NSA no-no, Linux lovefest.

Some of Dell's notebooks are really hot--so hot that the company has launched a massive recall to cool them off.

Dell and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced plans to recall 4.1 million notebook batteries in what may be the largest battery recall in the history of the electronics industry. Dell battery packs The recall affects certain Inspiron, Latitude and Precision mobile workstations and XPS units shipped between April 2004 and July 18, 2006. Sony manufactured the batteries that are being recalled, a Dell representative said.

If consumers have one of the affected units, they are advised to eject the battery from the notebook after powering down and continue using the notebook with its AC power adapter, the CPSC said. Dell has so far received six reports of overheating units that caused property damage, but no injuries.

The recall could cost Sony from $85 million to $430 million, hurting the Japanese electronics maker's short-term earnings, analysts said.

As many CNET readers expressed anger at Sony as did for Dell.

"What's Sony's problem?" one reader wrote to's TalkBack forum. "Have they figured L-Ion batteries out in the past 11 years? Apparently not."

Nervous Dell owners around the world are scrutinizing their battery packs and wondering if their laptop is one step away from bursting into a high-tech inferno. Other laptop owners have to wonder if their systems might also be affected by faulty lithium ion batteries. CNET has created a list of frequently asked questions to help owners determine if they have affected systems and what action they should take.

The recall is also putting the spotlight on alternative energy sources for notebooks. Zinc Matrix Power is one of a number of companies that has been toiling away at a problem that's no longer obscure due to Dell's massive laptop battery recall: Lithium ion batteries can, under the right conditions, explode into flames.

By contrast, Zinc Matrix says it has come up with a silver zinc-based battery that can't explode. The materials inside the battery--mostly zinc, zinc oxide and water--aren't flammable. Notebooks running on these batteries, which will go into low-volume production in early 2007, can last eight to 10 hours, the company said, longer than ones running on lithium ion batteries.

Amid the battery blowup, Dell announced that it is broadening its relationship with Advanced Micro Devices, shipping Dimension desktops and two-processor servers equipped with the Intel rival's chips by the end of the year.

As much as news of the AMD partnership might have pleased customers and investors Thursday, it couldn't overshadow second-quarter net income that, at $502 million, has fallen sharply since last year's $1 billion. Dell also announced an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission into its accounting practices, including revenue recognition and end-of-quarter policies.

The feds and tech
The White House found itself in the hot seat as well, after a federal judge ruled that the warrantless Internet and telephone surveillance program authorized by the Bush administration violates the U.S. Constitution and must cease immediately.

The landmark decision makes U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency's once-secret program. In a sweeping victory for the American Civil Liberties Union and its clients, which included organizations representing criminal defense lawyers, journalists, Islamic-Americans and academics, Taylor appeared to knock down several major legal arguments that the Bush administration has used to defend the program since it was revealed by The New York Times last December.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government renewed its contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, effectively extending its grip on the administrative body that coordinates Net addressing until up to 2011. The new contract covers technical functions related to the Internet domain name system (DNS) and is scheduled to go into effect Oct. 1, one day after the existing contract expires.

Technically, the agreement lasts for one year, and the government has the option of renewing it each year for up to four additional years. In addition to asserting its plans to retain control over the Internet's "root," the master file that lists what top-level domains are authorized, the Bush administration said it plans to maintain its supervision over ICANN.

A first wave of U.S. passports implanted with radio tags will soon begin making their way into the hands of American travelers, despite lingering privacy and security concerns. Not long after researchers at a pair of security conferences in Las Vegas demonstrated potential risks associated with the new documents, the U.S. Department of State insisted that the documents are tamperproof and said it had begun producing them.

The agency said it plans to issue the documents through the nation's other passport facilities within the next few months as part of its original plan to make all future passports electronic by October. It was unclear how many e-passports would be mailed out this year, though a State Department representative said Monday that the agency expects to distribute a total of 13 million passports by year's end.

Linux lovefest
The LinuxWorld Conference and Expo kicked off in San Francisco, with AMD announcing its new "Rev F" generation of Opteron server processors, the next volley in a competition with Intel's newly competitive Xeon models. The chips are officially called the Next-Generation Opterons and will appear in new servers from Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and others.

The new Opteron chips, all with dual processing cores, include AMD-V virtualization technology, which makes it easier to boost server efficiency by running multiple operating systems simultaneously. Another significant change with Rev F Opteron is a faster version of the double data rate memory technology called DDR2.

For Motorola, the No. 2 maker of mobile phones, Linux is the way of the future. So far, Motorola's Linux phone efforts have been confined largely to Asia, and there only with high-end "feature phones." Now Motorola has brought Linux to a more mainstream model, the Rokr E2, which Greg Besio, vice president of mobile device software, showed off during a speech at the Linux show.

But in 2007, consumers in North America and Europe will begin to see widespread Linux phones as Motorola pushes the open-source operating system into mainstream models costing between $100 and $300,

Meanwhile, engineers and designers in need of a mobile workstation now have the option for a preloaded version of Novell's Suse Linux on a ThinkPad laptop computer. Lenovo and Novell announced that the ThinkPad T60p will ship with Novell's new Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10.

The Linux laptops will be geared toward engineers and other high-end users, but they will be available for purchase by anyone on Lenovo's Web site. In addition, Lenovo will provide Linux support for the laptop, including drivers and its ThinkVantage technologies found on ThinkPads loaded with Microsoft's Windows operating system.

Also of note
Microsoft's security update from Aug. 8 to Internet Explorer is causing browser trouble for some systems...The long-awaited next-generation Wi-Fi standard has been delayed again and won't likely be ratified until sometime in 2008...Following Google's insistence that media outlets shouldn't be using the term "googling," Apple Computer has become similarly protective over the word "pod."