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Week in review: Playing for keeps

E3 could have been dubbed Battle of the Boxes as game console makers competed to show why their next-gen machines will be the next must-have.

This year's Electronic Entertainment Expo could have been dubbed the Battle of the Boxes, as game console makers competed to show why their next-generation machines will be the next must-have.

Sony kicked off the E3 expo in Los Angeles by releasing eagerly anticipated details about its upcoming PlayStation 3 and said the console will reach shelves in spring 2006.

Boasting a new chip touted as powerful enough to rival most processors in personal computers on the market today, the new console is designed to be a step forward from today's game machines, as well as a key element of a broader networked home-entertainment system. The new console will support high-definition graphics and have wireless controllers, a detachable 2.5-inch hard drive, slots for CompactFlash and Sony's Memory Stick media, and a built-in Wi-Fi connection that can link to the PlayStation Portable.

Meanwhile, Nintendo, once the unrivaled king of the home video game business, released details of its planned new game console and unveiled a new portable device called the Game Boy Micro. The tiny game player, smaller than an iPod Mini, is aimed at a generation of game players increasingly accustomed to filling their pockets with tiny cell phones loaded with games--something that's nearly impossible to do with the larger and more powerful PlayStation Portable.

As for the new Nintendo game console, it's still known by its code name, "Revolution." It will be significantly smaller than rival machines--about the size of several stacked DVD cases--and will come in several as-yet-undetermined colors.

The Revolution will play DVDs, have built-in Wi-Fi and an SD memory card slot, and 512MB of flash memory. Executives said Nintendo will offer a free online gaming service, which may accelerate the move of console gaming to the Net.

Nintendo Revolution

Microsoft, which got a jump on the competition by unveiling its Xbox 360 a week before E3, announced that more than 160 games are on the way for the Xbox 360, with up to 40--including best-seller "Final Fantasy XI"--expected to be available by year's end.

Company representatives also announced a partnership with Square Enix, the Japanese distributor of the "Final Fantasy" series, which has sold more than 60 million copies worldwide.

Broad game support and popular titles are significant for any console. A console, after all, gets all the more appealing when more games can be played on it. Microsoft learned this the hard way, analysts have said, because it was late to market with its first-generation Xbox console and thus unable to build up broad title support.

To learn details about some of the hottest new games coming for the Xbox 360, one might want to track down the nearest Fortune 500 CEO. That's because Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates showed off a montage of new game demos as part of his exclusive yearly gathering of chief executives in Redmond, Wash. However, during that part of his keynote speech, the video feed being shown to a handful of reporters abruptly halted. For several minutes, all that was shown was a security disclaimer.

Coming attractions
In addition to a look at what games Xbox 360 players can expect, Microsoft also offered a peek at its next Office productivity suite.

While the company is still not discussing specifics on most of the features it will add with Office 12, it is promising to have the productivity software suite ready by the second half of next year. The company is also talking about some broad areas that it sees as ripe for improvement, including enhanced collaboration. Among the other key areas are individual productivity, finding business information and managing corporate business documents.

To handle an expected explosion in e-mail traffic, as well as the rise of instant messaging and other forms of electronic communication, Microsoft is trying to develop software that can do a better job of sorting out the really important messages.

As part of its attempt to let workers better make sense of ever-growing amounts of data, the company is adding into Excel the ability to create dashboards and scorecards that offer a quick way to visually keep track of just how a business is doing.

Microsoft has also confirmed that its upcoming version of Internet Explorer will include tabbed browsing, a feature made popular by competitors Opera Software and Firefox. But in a Microsoft blog, IE's product unit manager told consumers not to expect too much from tabbed browsing in IE's beta offering.

"The tabbed browsing experience in the upcoming IE 7 beta is pretty basic," he said. "The main goal for tabs in our beta release is to make sure our implementation delivers on compatibility and security. The variety of IE configurations and add-ins across the Internet is tremendous."

Meanwhile, Netscape released the final version of Netscape 8, a browser that includes features to protect Web surfers against two types of security risks now causing concern among consumers: spyware and phishing.

Whereas many anti-spyware tools can help people after the malicious software has already hit their PCs, the new browser can prevent people from getting it in the first place, the company said.

To help people avoid phishing frauds, the updated browser automatically adjusts security settings while they surf, based on lists of sites that are known to be malicious or trusted.

Dial FCC for emergency calls
In one of the biggest challenges yet for the young VoIP industry, the Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously that Net phone operators must be able to steer 911 calls to the geographically appropriate emergency call center. In addition, the calls themselves must be accompanied by the originating address and phone number, the FCC said. The operators will have 120 days to comply after the ruling is published, which is expected in the next few days.

The commission is responding to concerns from lawmakers and the public about a growing number of U.S. residents who use VoIP services. VoIP, or voice over Internet Protocol, allows a broadband connection to double as a phone line, and Net phone calling plans are cheaper than regular landline plans. But because the calls aren't routed through the traditional phone system, carriers must engineer a way to get them onto the 911 infrastructure serving the nation's 6,200 emergency call centers. That task involves many technical, business and political hurdles.

Congress is joining the effort to force Internet telephone companies to link up to the 911 network. A 10-page measure, which has been introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives, also would permit state and local governments to levy taxes on VoIP companies in exchange for providing access to 911 operators.

The bill was made public just hours before the meeting at which the FCC passed its 911 regulation.

Another emergency service got a boost when nearly a dozen cell phone carriers announced they would begin broadcasting Amber Alerts to their customers, as the industry looks to cast a wide net in locating missing and kidnapped children. Cingular Wireless, Nextel Communications, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless are among the nine cell phone carriers that will participate in the program, along with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and wireless industry group CTIA.

Cellular subscribers who can receive text messages on their phones will be able to opt in to the free service. Customers will have to register at either the Wireless Amber Alerts Web site, or through their cell phone company.

Changing of the guard
This week saw the passing of the leadership torch at a few tech companies, including a long-anticipated promotion at Intel.

Paul Otellini took over as CEO at the chipmaker's annual meeting. A 31-year veteran of the company and the fifth CEO at Intel, Otellini told analysts and shareholders that the PC market continues to be a vibrant one.

Paul Otellini
CEO, Intel

With the promotion of Otellini to CEO, Craig Barrett will become chairman. Andy Grove, meanwhile, will step down as an active member of the board. The fourth employee hired at Intel, Grove served, among other jobs, as president, CEO and chairman. Otellini differs in many ways from his predecessors. He is the first Intel CEO not to be an engineer. He came out of finance and sales. Still, like earlier CEOs, he's a lifer, having arrived at Intel after turning down job offers at Advanced Micro Devices and Fairchild.

In the personal computer arena, Gateway co-founder Ted Waitt resigned as the computer maker's chairman and as a director, saying he now wants to pursue philanthropic and business interests. Waitt served as Gateway's chairman for 20 years. His departure comes at a time when sales of Gateway computers are showing signs of a turnaround and the company is about to post its first profitable year since 2000.

Richard Snyder will take over for Waitt as chairman. Snyder has been a Gateway board member since 1991 and is a former president and chief operating officer at the company.

Completing the CEO hat trick is Symbian, which announced Nigel Clifford will be the company's new chief executive starting in June. He takes over from David Levin, who left the smart-phone operating-system company in April to become the chief executive at United Business Media.

Clifford, 45, was formerly CEO at telecom software and service provider Tertio Telecoms. He will be charged with boosting the company's shipments in the midrange mobile segment.

Also of note
In what appears to be a broadside aimed at MyYahoo, Google launched a new feature that lets people set up a personalized Google home page...Samsung has devised a 40-inch panel that could lead to television sets that measure a little more than an inch thick... A San Francisco radio station began airing programming created exclusively by listeners with podcast technology...A new variant of the Sober virus has appeared, spreading right-wing messages in German and English.