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Week in review: Spotlight on search companies

Google unveils a platform to run mobile phones, while Washington's tongue-lashing of Yahoo eclipses Alibaba's IPO.

A week after Google shares traded over the $700 mark, the search giant again made headlines--this time for Android, a new Linux-based software platform designed to run mobile phones and give developers open access to the software.

The company also announced the Open Handset Alliance, a multinational alliance of 34 companies, including several chipmakers, handset manufacturers, and mobile operators that will work together to develop handsets and services that leverage the new software.

Android, unveiled Monday and set for release next year, is being touted as the answer to a major challenge facing mobile-application developers: how to make developing applications for mobile devices as open and easy as crafting applications for the Web.

"This will open the flood gates for mobile computing and accelerate what people can do with cell phones/mobile devices," one reader wrote in CNET News.com's Talkback forums.

But as News.com's Tom Krazit and Marguerite Reardon report, consumers shouldn't expect Google's new mobile-phone software to revolutionize their cell phone experience overnight--or anytime soon. For one, mobile operators must be willing to allow the new, open devices on their networks. Android also must compete with a long list of mobile operating systems already entrenched in the market.

Plus, writes Reardon, Google executives have plenty of work ahead as they court application developers skeptical of the new platform.

As Google enjoyed a heap of media attention for its latest initiative, rival Yahoo might have preferred to avoid the cameras as top company executives endured an hours-long tongue-lashing on Capitol Hill. Tuesday should have been a day of celebration for Yahoo founder and Chief Executive Jerry Yang. Alibaba.com, a business-to-business site of which Yahoo owns nearly 30 percent, went public on the Hong Kong market and nearly tripled in price. And Yang turned 39.

Instead, members of Congress showed virtually no mercy for Yang and General Counsel Michael Callahan for attempting to smooth over accusations about their company's role in the imprisonment of Chinese dissidents.

Apologies from Yahoo
The executives repeatedly apologized to the committee, both for failing to update the politicians with details about their subsidiary's cooperation with the Chinese government and for the suffering faced by families of the imprisoned dissidents. They also professed the Internet portal's commitment to human rights and continued to defend their decision to keep their Chinese operations alive, despite the censorship-happy whims of the Communist power.

But Democrats and Republicans alike on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee seemed unmoved by the executives' responses.

"Look into your own soul, and see the damage you have done to an innocent human being and his family," said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the panel's chairman, referring to the case of 37-year-old journalist Shi Tao, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison based on information Yahoo handed over to the Chinese government.

Some readers called the Congressional response to Yahoo hypocritical. ("The criticism would hold so much more moral weight if the hypocrisy of these grandstanding politicians--who won't even vote to protect our own nation's children from disease--wasn't dripping with irony," one reader wrote in News.com's Talkback section)

But others had their own harsh words for the search company. "Don't 'apologize'--words are cheap," wrote another reader. "Show you are really sorry, and take responsibility for your actions by making reparations to the family."

Also in Washington, a key U.S. Senate panel pushed back a hotly anticipated vote on a new proposal to shield telephone and Internet companies from lawsuits alleging illicit cooperation with federal spying programs.

The Senate Judiciary Committee had planned to consider the bill, known as the FISA Amendments Act, at its morning business meeting Thursday. The plan now is to consider the bill next week, giving committee members more time to review proposed amendments and, if they're lucky, work out their lingering differences.

Wall Street happenings
In a highly eventful week for the Street, a number of companies announced quarterly earnings, with a disappointing forecast from networking giant Cisco Systems sparking a wide selloff in tech stocks Thursday as investors worried that tech spending would slow in the coming months.

Cisco shares dropped more than 9 percent in Thursday trading. Another tech heavyweight, Oracle, dropped 7.9 percent. Even high-flying Apple and Google saw share prices drop more than 5 percent.

Time Warner posted a higher quarterly profit on increased digital cable subscribers and strong box office results for the latest Harry Potter movie.

The One Laptop per Child Foundation also had good news to report. Taiwan's Quanta Computer finally kicked off mass production of the One Laptop per Child Foundation's much-awaited XO laptop for needy children. The commencement of mass production, which follows a number of delays, means that children in developing nations could have the rugged, open-source laptops in hand starting this month.

More kids may be getting laptops, but some children could find themselves spending less time with their game consoles. Microsoft showed off a new Xbox feature, available in a few weeks, that will let parents set the amount of time kids can play games. The move is part of the company's effort to broaden the reach of the Xbox 360 to include more families.

Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices unit, said the ability to set time limits on children's gaming should help parents feel more comfortable having a game console in the house.

The new feature, which will be available in a few weeks, is also designed to be easy for parents who may not be as technologically savvy as their game-playing offspring. "It's really, really easy," Bach said. "You go to family settings. You go to timer. You say daily or weekly. You pick a number of hours and you are done."

Also of note
Intel Capital announced a $10 million investment in security company Iovation...Microsoft's Windows Live services are losing the "beta" label and becoming available as a free Windows suite of six Web-connected applications...Lenovo is entering the workstation market...Dell will offer Spanish-language sales and support to U.S. consumers...and a new line of gas pumps will be equipped with a touch-screen panel that includes a slightly stripped-down version of Google Maps.