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Week in review: Focus on the OS

Operating systems take center stage, as Microsoft trots out Longhorn, Apple fends off some OS X criticism and Linux gets a boost.

Operating systems took center stage this week, as Microsoft trotted out Longhorn, Apple fended off some OS X criticism and Linux got a boost.

At its Professional Developers Conference, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates demonstrated some new features in the company's next OS. Longhorn is built around three major advances--a new graphics and presentation engine known as Avalon, a new communications architecture known as Indigo and a new file system known as WinFS that borrows from Microsoft's relational database technology.

Longhorn's desktop got the most thorough preview, as Gates showed off transparent windows, animated windows that pop open and a new task bar that displays a clock, buddy list and news that's streamed onto the desktop via a Rich Site Summary feed.

In an interview with CNET after his presentation, Gates explained Longhorn's role in the "Web services world."

Gates did not offer a time frame for delivery of the finished OS, but he said it represents "years of work." Analysts have said they expect it could be 2006 before the software is released.

On the other hand, Apple Computer has taken a different tack by releasing more frequent upgrades to Mac OS X. Last Friday, the company unleashed Panther, technically version 10.3, at a retail price of $129. Panther is Apple's fourth OS release in less than four years.

But after releasing Panther, Apple quickly went on the defensive on several fronts.

The company acknowledged a problem that caused some customers who install Panther to lose the data that's stored on their external hard drives. Apple said the glitch is limited to external hard drives that use a high-speed FireWire connection and a particular chipset from Oxford Semiconductor.

Apple also revealed that Panther patches security flaws that affect previous versions of the OS, leaving security experts wondering if users will have to pay the $129 upgrade fee to be secure.

On Tuesday, Apple released an advisory that indicates that the Mac OS X 10.3 upgrade--which adds an improved Finder menu, better synchronization of files and a tool to help users find a specific window on a crowded desktop--also includes more than a dozen "security enhancements."

Despite concerns that Apple did not intend to fix the flaws in previous versions of the software, the company on Friday said it does indeed plan to issue an update to older versions of Mac OS X that will patch the security issues.

Apple was also hit with complaints that new 15-inch PowerBook G4 has an apparent design flaw that causes white spots to show up on the notebook computer's liquid crystal display.

Meanwhile, both Apple and Microsoft were busy in the courts.

Microsoft reached settlements that total approximately $200 million in six class-action lawsuits over antitrust claims and product pricing. With the agreements, a total of 10 such suits have been settled, leaving five still in the courts.

And Apple received preliminary approval to a settlement that would allow some Mac OS X owners to get a refund.

Rounding out the OS triple-play, an open-source advocacy and development group released a test version of the next Linux kernel, which may be finalized by the end of the year. However, don't look for all the changes to show up in Red Hat's corporate product for at least a year: The largest distributor of Linux is not expected to use version 2.6 of the Linux kernel until 2005.

In other notable technology news for the last week of October:

• Dell announced a disk drive-based MP3 player and details of a partnership with music download company Musicmatch.

• Intel and Advanced Micro Devices cut the price on several chips, a prelude to the PC holiday shopping season.

• Shareholders voted to approve Palm's acquisition of Handspring as well as the simultaneous spinoff of operating system subsidiary PalmSource.

• Napster relaunched as a legal service, charging 99 cents per song.

• Garter released data that shows that server shipments jumped 21 percent to 1.37 million in the third quarter compared with 2002.

• The Recording Industry Association of America filed 80 new lawsuits against alleged file swappers.

• Hewlett-Packard stopped selling products from its decades-old 3000 server line.