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Week in review: Linux battle lines

The open-source movement seems to have gotten under Microsoft's skin as CEO Steve Ballmer asks for help putting the penguin on ice. But don't expect Linux lovers to go away.

The open-source movement seems to have gotten under Microsoft's skin as CEO Steve Ballmer asks for help putting the penguin on ice. But don't expect Linux lovers to go away.

Although the software company cannot compete against Linux on price, Microsoft wants to use its community of professionals to outsmart the open-source movement, CEO Steve Ballmer said. "Linux is a serious competitor. We have to compete with free software on value, but in a smart way. We cannot price at zero, so we need to justify our posture and pricing. Linux isn't going to go away--our job is to provide a better product in the marketplace."

He acknowledged there was more to Linux than free software: the key benefit of the open-source movement is the community developing software and sharing ideas. "Linux is not about free software, it is about community," Ballmer said.

Linux is not without its slip-ups, though. Parts of the newest version of Red Hat's Linux software slipped onto the Internet nearly a week before the operating system's official release date, giving glimpses of a product with a new focus on mainstream computer users.

Web surfers were able to download software updates and release notes describing what's in the package at a third-party download site, according to postings to a Red Hat mailing list. The site no longer has the packages. Red Hat 8, called "Psyche," adds a new "personal desktop" installation option for more mainstream users.

Meanwhile, Linux seems to making big gains lately. Los Alamos National Laboratory is buying a $6 million, 2,048-processor Linux supercomputer to run its nuclear weapons simulation software, an effort that will test the limits of these less-expensive megamachines.

IBM has made some progress in its effort to spread Linux far and wide, selling thousands of high-tech cash registers to two sizable customers. Regal Entertainment Group, which operates hundreds of theaters, will use the systems in 2,700 concession stands by the end of this year and in 3,500 stands by the end of next, IBM plans to announce Wednesday. And Casas Bahia, a Brazilian retailer, plans to install 1,500 of the systems in 320 stores.

Discord over music swapping
Supporters of a proposed law that would permit copyright holders to interfere with peer-to-peer networks angrily defended the bill, saying it had been mischaracterized by opponents. Reps. Howard Berman, D-Calif., and Howard Coble, R-N.C., denounced critics' "scare tactics" and said the proposal is a modest plan that has been carefully crafted to reduce piracy on peer-to-peer networks.

"There have been some truly outrageous attacks," Berman said. "I never expected that anyone would challenge the underlying premise of the bill, namely that copyrighted owners should be able to use reasonable, limited measures to thwart peer-to-peer piracy."

According to the P2P Piracy Prevention Act, copyright holders would have the right to disable, interfere with, block, or otherwise impair a peer-to-peer node that is suspected of distributing protected material.

A coalition of artists and labels started a multimillion-dollar public interest-style ad campaign featuring dozens of major recording stars who compare file swapping with stealing. The ads, reminiscent of the American Dairy Association's Got Milk or MTV's Rock the Vote campaigns, are designed to shame people out of swapping music.

The campaign features artists such as Madonna, P. Diddy and Sting. One of the ads contains quotes from a variety of singers, including Britney Spears. "Would you go into a CD store and steal a CD?" Spears asks.

Meanwhile, swappers got some muscle of their own in an overhauled version of the popular file-swapping software Kazaa that includes features sure to make record and movie studio executives' blood boil.

The new version contains a basic Web search function, allowing people to use it as a gateway to ordinary Web pages as well as other people's computers. It also searches by "playlist," allowing groups of songs, or entire albums, to be downloaded as a single item.

Go go gadget
Microsoft has changed the internal configuration of its Xbox game console, a move intended to thwart hackers and lower manufacturing costs. Some buyers of recently manufactured Xbox units complained that mod chips designed for the original console no longer work.

A Microsoft spokeswoman confirmed that the company had made minor changes to the console's configuration as part of ongoing efforts to "increase security and reduce overall costs."

Camera makers Olympus and Eastman Kodak announced a new standard to ensure that high-end digital cameras can swap lenses. The 4/3 System is aimed at digital single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras, models typically used by professional photographers in which the camera body can be separated from the lens.

Kodak and Olympus said from the Photokina trade show in Germany that adoption of an open standard will help drive down equipment costs, allow the creation of smaller lens systems and lead to improvements in image quality.

Motorola unveiled a global positioning system chip it says is the first GPS satellite sensor small enough and cheap enough for practical use in consumer-electronics devices such as cell phones and notebook computers. The Instant GPS chip will give users of such devices the ability to tap into a satellite system and pinpoint their geographic location.

Measuring only 49 square millimeters, or less than half the area of a Pentium 4 processor, the chip will sell for roughly $10 in volume quantities. That should let device makers add GPS for about a quarter of the cost of current multiple chipsets, which run about $40.

Money trouble on the Net
Online commerce hit some bumps this week as Hotwire double-billed hundreds of its customers as a result of a system "glitch." The company has since fixed the problem and refunded the erroneous charges.

Although the company has mistakenly double-billed customers in the past, the problem has never affected more than a "handful" of customers, a representative said. This time it affected hundreds of customers.

Wells Fargo resolved its second network outage in four days, but one affected client is staying with another provider for now. System problems at the banking giant prevented many consumers from logging into their online banking accounts. The problem forced bill payment service PayPal to switch from Wells Fargo to its backup payments provider.

The problems follow a more than eight-hour outage last week at Wells Fargo that similarly prevented some customers from accessing their accounts. In April, Wells Fargo experienced several days' worth of intermittent access problems with its online banking site.

Amazon.com over the past week charged thousands of its customers for "free" shipping and did not apply discounts they were supposed to receive. The company promised to issue refunds to customers' credit cards, saying that the problem affected only a portion of Amazon's customers who placed orders requesting free shipping or using gift certificates between Friday and Tuesday.

Also of note
Spam may be a costly and seemingly unstoppable nuisance, but the trend offers an opportunity for companies developing technology to fight it...Microsoft is preparing a new version of MSN Messenger with new features that will be available exclusively to paying subscribers of the MSN 8 online service...Amid a continued economic slowdown, Hewlett-Packard has disclosed plans to cut 16,800 jobs by October of next year, 1,800 more than the company had originally stated...The Mozilla development project introduced a new, swifter Web browser, called Phoenix, to smooth over some of the speed bumps of its previous navigation tool...Bell Labs said it fired a researcher for "falsifying and fabricating" results in 16 papers published in scientific journals since 1998.

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