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Tech Industry

Week in review: Goin' mobile

Chipmakers bank on Net surfers' desire to unplug, releasing an array of notebook processors in hopes of hitching a ride on the wireless wave.

Chipmakers are banking on Net surfers' desire to unplug, releasing an array of notebook processors in an effort to ride the wireless wave.

Intel officially launched Centrino, a group of chips designed specifically for wireless computing , which the company is betting will be a shot in the arm for the computing and communications industries. The chips were created to foster a new generation of portable PCs that run longer on battery power and connect more easily to wireless networks.

The Pentium-M processor consumes less energy and produces less heat, meaning notebooks weigh less because they don't need as many fans or heat sinks. And Pentium-M notebooks generally run four or more hours on a single battery charge, longer than typical laptops have in the past.

Virtually all of the major manufacturers will sell notebooks containing the Centrino bundle, which comes with Intel's new low-power Pentium-M processor, a chipset and a Wi-Fi chip tested by Intel. The chipmaker is spending $300 million to publicize Centrino.

Advanced Micro Devices jumped onto the wireless wave this week with the debut of 12 notebook processors. The new notebook chips, which will be sold under the Athlon XP-M brand, include three based on the recently released "Barton" processor for performance desktops, and five energy-efficient models for so-called thin and light notebooks that use a maximum of 25 watts of energy, according to the company.

Energy efficiency will help PC makers add wireless networking. The energy-efficient chips will skimp a bit on performance, but will let notebooks run longer on a battery charge.

Pressure on pirates
Plans to hard-wire copy protection into popular digital music and video devices are being shelved as the consumer-electronics industry grapples interminably with antipiracy policies, standards and consumer rights. Many makers of chips for consumer-electronics devices had hoped to build anticopying technology into the chips themselves, a process known as "hard coding."

Chipmakers have not completely abandoned efforts to create such copy protection features. But developers now say that they're ready to move ahead with what some call a second-best alternative in order to feed surging demand for chips bound for new multimedia devices such as MP3 players, cell phones and personal digital assistants.

On the software front, Hollywood and Microsoft are uniting to warn Congress that their intellectual property is being stolen and resold by organized-crime gangs around the globe. Software and movie DVD counterfeiting is an acute problem, with criminal gangs operating factories in Russia, Malaysia and other countries that have weak copyright laws, Microsoft and the Motion Picture Association of America warned.

In its anticounterfeiting effort, Microsoft has developed an edge-to-edge hologram that covers an entire side of a CD-ROM and is etched into recent versions of Microsoft Office. A Justice Department official who oversees the computer crime division, warned the panel about the connections between copyright piracy and terrorism.

Microsoft was also involved in an uncommonly harsh application of a widely used Internet enforcement tool when a Windows news site, Neowin.com was taken offline for nearly 24 hours after the software giant accused the site of infringing its copyrights.

The sotware giant's Internet investigator sent a takedown notice, alleging that the site was infringing the company's copyrights relating to its recently released Windows XP Peer-to-Peer Software Development Kit (SDK), apparently because of a message posted by a reader in an online feedback forum. Such legal filings are routine, but in this case the request turned into a nightmare for Neowin when it was sent to the upstream Internet service provider responsible for Neowin's Web connection--not the site itself.

Coming attractions at CeBit
Thousands of companies and visitors descended on CeBit, the world's largest annual tech extravaganza, to see what the industry could expect on the market in the near future.

PalmSource used the tech show to announce that South Korean consumer-electronics maker Samsung will be the first phone maker to use the latest version of the Palm operating system. Samsung's Mobile Information Terminal SGH-i500 will run on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) cellular networks and use version 5 of the Palm OS.

The SGH-i500 has a clamshell design with a 16-bit color liquid-crystal display and a built-in digital camera. The device comes with an ARM-compliant processor and a Wireless Application Protocol 2.0 browser.

Microsoft added broader language support to its Smart Display and Tablet PC technologies and announced a manufacturing deal with Packard Bell. Packard Bell plans to start selling a 10-inch smart display in Europe by the end of the first half of the year. Microsoft also greatly expanded language support for tablet PCs, with the beta release of Multilingual User Interface & Recognizer Pack (MUIRP). The final version is scheduled for July release.

All the participants at CeBit are looking to clean up, and a talking washing machine on display could pave the way to home electrical devices that respond to voice commands--and can even help inexperienced users to operate them. Called Hermine, the device is being developed in partnership with Siemens, but Speech Experts, a German company, believes that a commercial model could be in stores as early as 2004--if its prototype proves popular enough.

Hermine and the company's wide array of program types are designed to help people who are foxed by the complexity of modern washing machines. Speech Experts demonstrated on Wednesday that when consumers told Hermine what clothes they needed to clean, it could tell how they should be washed.

On the Hill
Members of Congress said new laws aimed at restricting pornography on peer-to-peer networks might be necessary, as police vowed to step up enforcement efforts. A House hearing highlighted two problems: the allegedly widespread distribution of illegal child pornography on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, and the ease by which a youth could stumble across sexually explicit files that may be legal for adults but inappropriate for minors.

The hearing, which featured two secondary-school students testifying about their disturbing P2P experiences, was designed to showcase the release of a pair of reports on the topic. As previously reported by CNET News.com, the government studies warn that P2P networks are exploding with readily accessible pornography--much of which is legal, and some of which is not.

The U.S. House of Representatives also accelerated its investigation into a troubled federal program that subsidizes Internet access for schools and libraries. A House committee asked for detailed information about the management, funding and oversight of the "e-rate" program, which amounts to about $2.25 billion in federal spending a year.

A letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell said that the committee was "investigating the potential for and troubling reports of waste, fraud and abuse," which totaled more than $200 million, and requested that the relevant documents be delivered to Congress by April 4. Created as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the e-rate program relies on taxes levied on Americans' telephone bills to provide subsidies for Internet connections.

Also of note
A group of computer hobbyists has resumed its effort to crack the main security code for Microsoft's Xbox video game console?Although a new accounting method helped Hewlett-Packard's PC business turn a $33 million operating profit in its most recent quarter, new data shows that by using the same method, pre-merger HP had a PC unit a year ago that was nearly as profitable?A redesign of software maker Macromedia's main Web site is attracting criticism from customers because it doesn't work with some browsers, including Apple Computer's much-hyped Safari?Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has resigned from Danger's board of directors but will join its newly created advisory board?Major League Baseball will broadcast live video of 2003 season games via its site, in the latest push to promote Webcasting.