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Week in review: Seeds of Apple's speed

Apple Computer kicked off Macworld by introducing a new laptop and desktop with a new ally "Inside."

Apple Computer kicked off Macworld this week by introducing a new laptop and desktop with a new ally "inside."

Addressing a crowd of the Mac faithful in San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs served up the first Intel-based Macs, introducing a new high-end laptop and a revamped iMac. The new machines both include Intel's Duo dual-core chip.

The iMac will come in the same sizes and sell for the same prices as the current models, but the Intel chips make it two to three times faster, Jobs said. The new laptop, called the MacBook Pro, will be available in February, he said.

In addition to the crop of new Macs, Jobs announced a new version of the iLife suite that adds a tool--iWeb--designed to make it easier to create Web sites with video, audio and blogs. The updated suite also includes features meant to simplify the sharing of photos over the Web and the creation of podcasts.

The release of the new Macs comes just seven months after Jobs shocked the computer world with an announcement that Apple would move to Intel chips, after years of using the PowerPC hardware made by IBM and Motorola.

As always, reaction to the new products was mixed, with the Mac bashers and Mac defenders squaring off.

"I am a PC user and would love the ability to run iLife on cheap dell box," . "The reason I can't is because Apple is a hardware company--they make iLife to sell hardware. If I could run iLife on my dell I definitely wouldn't be looking so closely at those now iMacs."

The new Macs may have Intel inside, but on the outside they don't advertise the chipmaker's presence. Most brand-name PCs that use Intel processors take part in the "Intel Inside" program, which gives the computer makers marketing dollars for displaying the chipmaker's logo on their products and in their advertising. But Apple decided not to sign on to the program with its new lineup of Intel-based Macs.

In another twist, Apple broke with its usual practice of having its newly launched products completely replace its old ones and will instead continue to sell iMac G5s with IBM processors even as its new Intel-based iMacs are now available.

And even odder may be that the pricing for both sets of computers is the same. The new machines will cost $1,299 for a 17-inch display and $1,699 for a 20-inch, exactly the same price as the previous models.

In the mail
Late last week, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing one's true identity. The prohibition is included in the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Criminal penalties for such e-mails include stiff fines and two years in prison.

The law says that "Whoever...utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet...without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person...who receives the communications...shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."

While this provision was not widely reported by the media, CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh ignited a firestorm with his column criticizing the new law's "ridiculous prohibition," taking particular offense to the use of the word "annoy."

Because this was the first time most readers had heard of the law, CNET News.com prepared a FAQ to address readers' questions about the law and whether it conflicts with the First Amendment. For more information, read the FAQ.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from an online dating service that claimed it had the right to send unsolicited e-mails to thousands of University of Texas e-mail accounts. In 2003, the University of Texas blocked thousands of unsolicited e-mails sent to its users by a start-up that specializes in establishing online-dating services for third-party customers.

The University of Texas received several complaints by students receiving "unsolicited e-mail blasts" from the company, according to court filings. Citing its Board of Regents' general policy against solicitation, the university had the company's IP addresses blocked.

Security concerns
A new version of Apple's popular iTunes software is drawing barbs from privacy advocates for sending information about computer users' playlists back to Apple. The new music software includes a "MiniStore" window, which provides recommended links to Apple's music download service when listeners click on songs in their personal playlist, including songs that haven't been purchased from the iTunes store.

To provide those recommendations, the software sends information about the selected song, such as artist, title and genre, back to Apple. But the software also transmits a string of data that is linked to a computer user's unique iTunes account ID, computer experts have found. Because iTunes users typically sign up for the music store with an e-mail address and a credit card number, the account ID number could in theory be linked to that information as well as a customer's purchase history.

Apple also warned about serious security flaws in QuickTime, saying that vulnerabilities in the media player put computers running Windows and Mac OS X at risk of being commandeered by an outsider. An attacker could exploit the flaws by tricking the user into opening a malicious file.

Apple released QuickTime 7.0.4 to address the vulnerabilities. The French Security Incident Response Team, a commercial security monitoring and research outfit, described the problems as "critical," its highest risk rating.

Meanwhile, Symantec released an update to its popular Norton SystemWorks to fix a security problem that could be abused by cybercriminals to hide malicious software. In the PC-tuning application, a feature called the Norton Protected Recycle Bin creates a hidden directory on Windows systems. The feature is meant to help people restore modified or deleted files, but the hidden folder might not be scanned during scheduled or manual virus scans.

Symantec's alert has echoes of Sony BMG Music Entertainment's recent PC security fiasco. The record label was found to be shipping copy-protected compact discs that planted so-called rootkit software on the computers that played them. The rootkit technology also offered a hiding place for malicious software.

Also of note
Microsoft has officially halted development of its Windows Media Player for the Mac and plans no future Apple versions of its music-playing software...The Google Video Store was online late Monday after being announced last Friday...Movie director Steven Soderbergh is taking on traditional Hollywood business practices by releasing a movie simultaneously in theaters and on DVD...Two patents covering one of Microsoft's main Windows file-storage systems are valid after all, federal patent examiners have decided.