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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Tech Industry

Week in review: Tale of two tech shows

Two technology expos in two cities compete for consumers' attention, with Apple unveiling new hardware and software, and gadget makers targeting the home front.

Two technology expos in two cities competed for consumers' attention, with Apple Computer unveiling new hardware and software, and gadget makers targeting the home front.

Apple kicked off the Macworld Expo in San Francisco by introducing a Titanium PowerBook with a massive 17-inch display, which the company is aiming at desktop competition. The new PowerBook is 1 inch thick, slightly thinner than its predecessor, and it weighs 6.8 pounds, compared with 5.4 pounds for the 15-inch PowerBook.

The big new model--which features a 1GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 512MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive and a DVD recording drive--is priced at $3,299 and ships next month. Apple also introduced a 12-inch PowerBook, which costs $1,799 and includes an 867MHz G4 processor, a 40GB hard drive, and Bluetooth and 802.11g capabilities.

Apple also unveiled a new Web browser, saying that software innovation has placed the company at the forefront of digital entertainment in the home. CEO Steve Jobs claims the Apple-developed browser, called Safari, is the fastest available--"three times faster than (Internet Explorer) on the Mac." Before the announcement, IE for the Mac had been the default Web browser on new Macs.

Safari is available as a free download and runs on Mac OS X version 10.2. Apple also introduced a new presentation application, called Keynote. The program conceivably would compete with Microsoft's version of PowerPoint for the Mac.

Home is where the gadget is
The unofficial theme for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas seemed to be "electronics everywhere." Microsoft set the tone early by demonstrating how wristwatches and refrigerator magnets could be used to improve people's daily lives. Slicked-up versions of those common objects--based on Microsoft's previously announced Smart Personal Objects Technology--were the highlights of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' opening keynote address.

The watches will connect to PCs to calibrate themselves, download software and connect wirelessly to streaming data beamed over FM radio signals to grab the latest sports scores or stock prices. The only notable new arrival in Gates' talk was the Media2Go software design, for portable multimedia gadgets with a 4-inch screen, a hard drive and basic controls for viewing photos and listening to digital music.

Sony's future may be coming full circle with a product that helped establish the company as a consumer-electronics giant. During his keynote speech at CES, Sony Chief Operating Officer Kunitake Ando predicted the rebirth of the television as he touted new products and strategies that will guide the company throughout the year.

Ando said that future televisions will be the center of home entertainment networks, allowing consumers to access data and services found on other devices connected to the network. The strategy for televisions echoes similar efforts by Sony to connect all of its products to networks, letting customers access the company's vast supply of entertainment content such as music and movies. Other technology and consumer-electronics companies, such as Microsoft, Intel and Philips Electronics, have recently begun exploring similar plans.

TiVo wants to be part of that effort. Abandoning its quest to be the center of home networks, TiVo wants recorders using its service to simply be a part of the network. The DVR (digital video recording) service company announced new software that essentially allows recorders to access and share content on home networks.

Whole new game
A computing project has abandoned its effort to crack the main security code for Microsoft's Xbox video game console. An update on the home page for The Neo Project says the group is no longer working on the Xbox "due to legal reasons."

The Neo Project is a group of computing enthusiasts devoted to cracking security challenges using distributed computing techniques, in which heavy-duty computing tasks are divvied up among a number of PCs. The group's initial software release focused on a $10,000 challenge from computer security firm RSA Security to crack a 576-bit encryption code.

Japanese video-game giant Nintendo unveiled a sleek new version of the Game Boy Advance, its market-leading portable games player. The Game Boy Advance SP sports a two-piece design with an illuminated screen that flips up from the main body.

The dimly lit screen has been the most common complaint about the Game Boy Advance, inspiring legions of hardware hackers to concoct work-arounds. The new model also has built-in rechargeable batteries that provide 10 hours of use with the screen fully illuminated.

Executive shuffle
It seemed like an unusually busy week for furniture movers in the corner office. Terra Lycos Chief Information Officer Timothy Wright has left the company to take on the same role at applications provider Geac, becoming the latest high-level executive to leave the Internet company. Hard-drive maker Maxtor announced that its chief executive, Mike Cannon, is stepping down to take over as CEO at manufacturing giant Solectron.

Information technology services giant Electronic Data Systems has hired Robert H. Swan, a former executive at defense contractor TRW, to be its chief financial officer. Steven Cooper, a one-time Corning executive has been named chief information officer of the new Department of Homeland Security.

Storage-management software maker StorageNetworks named Paul Flanagan, previously chief operating officer and chief financial officer, as its new CEO, replacing co-founder Peter Bell, who is pursuing "other personal and business interests." Segway, the maker of the human transporter formerly known as "Ginger," announced that it has appointed a new chief executive and that its president resigned.

Also of note
U.S. regulators plan to unveil a major overhaul in telecommunications policy in the coming weeks that could strengthen the hand of local phone monopolies in a number of key areas, including high-speed Internet access...Two major retailers and a consumer products giant are teaming up to test a new "smart shelf" technology that allows for real-time tracking of inventory levels...A British programmer released software online that is said to dismantle the anticopying technology in the Microsoft Reader e-book software, setting up another potential confrontation in the digital piracy wars...A new e-mail worm--dubbed Avril, Lirva and Naith by various antivirus companies--not only spreads by hitching a ride on e-mail messages that may refer to 17-year-old singer Avril Lavigne, but when activated, will also open a browser to the singer's official Web site...Consumers' holiday spending pie may have been smaller, but the online shopping slice is getting larger.