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Week in review: The CEO exodus

Executives exeunt, the instant messenger battle wears on, Apple sues, Dell gets creative, and more highlights of the week in this re-cap.

Chief executives left in droves this week.

Rick Belluzzo surprised just about everyone when he called it quits at SGI, the troubled workstation maker. Later, it was revealed that he'll join Microsoft to run its interactive operations unit, sources said.

SGI anointed Bob Bishop as his successor, and by the end of the week the company was touting a new recovery strategy regarding new server technology. Will it be enough for a return to the glory days?

The CEO exodus extended to Toys "R" Us, which has been battling to regain the leadership of U.S. toy retailing from Wal-Mart. The company with the famous giraffe mascot said its chief executive Robert Nakasone had quit over "differing views regarding the direction of the company."

Michael Goldstein, chairman and the former chief executive, is now acting chief executive. Toys "R" Us said its board was working with recruitment firm Levy/Kerson to find a permanent replacement for Nakasone.

The abrupt resignation comes amid turmoil within Toys "R" Us executive ranks surrounding the company's Internet strategy.

Then, Rick Latman, one of the loudest proponents of the "free" PC movement, packed it in as CEO of start-up Microworkz. Companies offering these deals have insisted that giving away costly computers with paid Internet service can be a successful business. But this latest move indicates otherwise.

Latman's tenure at Microworkz was tumultuous, including soaring demand for the company's cheap PCs, a lawsuit from partner EarthLink, and numerous customer complaints. Microworkz has not named a successor. Latman is staying on as chairman of the board.

AIMing for Microsoft
Amid its ongoing imbroglio with Microsoft over instant messaging, America Online this week released a new version of its AOL Instant Messenger software.

New to AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) 3.0 are tickers that stream news headlines and stock quotes through a separate window. In addition, the new version offers "Buddy Icons," which allow users to "send and receive graphics representing users that appear in the Instant Messaging window," AOL said. AIM 3.0 also has a feature that lets a user stay connected to the service even if his or her Internet connection is briefly cut off, the company said.

The launch of AIM 3.0 comes during AOL's ongoing feud with Microsoft over its new instant messaging product, MSN Messenger. When Microsoft launched Messenger in July, it let users communicate with AIM users after they entered their AIM password. AOL accused Microsoft of hacking into its servers to offer the feature.

In response, AOL has blocked access to its AIM users and has automatically logged off Messenger users trying to chat with AOL users. Microsoft in return has posted fixes to skirt around the blockades.

Deja vu all over again?
Apple Computer's recent volley of lawsuits accusing rival computer makers of stealing the look of its coveted iMac evokes a strange sense of deja vu.

But because of the nature of these iMac disputes--which are different from an earlier, unsuccessful fight over the look of another Apple product--history may not repeat itself, analysts said. If successful, Apple has the potential to extend a category of trademark law known as "trade dress" to the computer hardware industry.

The iMac suits are reminiscent of a seminal one filed more than ten years ago, when Apple sought to protect the "look and feel" of another revolutionary product--the graphical user interface that defined the wildly popular Macintosh.

That suit claimed that icons and other features in Microsoft's new Windows operating system were so similar in appearance to those in the Macintosh that they infringed Apple's copyrights. Six years later, a federal appeals court tossed out the case.

Like that failed suit, Apple's recent actions seek to protect an innovation that is based on consumer perception and experience, rather than on underlying technology. But don't expect history to repeat itself, legal observers say, noting that a radically different set of facts and legal theories this time around put Apple on much more solid legal footing.

New iMac coming soon?
A year after it was introduced, the sales figures for the iMac continue to impress, and they could be boosted soon by a new version to be introduced this fall for the back-to-school and holiday buying seasons.

"Sales of the iMac should be far stronger than we previously expected," said Warburg Dillon Read analyst Charlie Wolf in a report. The new iMac will likey debut in October, he stated.

Reuters, quoting analysts, reported that an announcement of new products could come as early as Tuesday at the Seybold publishing conference in San Francisco. Interim CEO Steve Jobs is scheduled to give a keynote Tuesday at the Moscone Convention Center. The man in black, or faded black jeans and black turtleneck in this case, is famous for his keynote surprises.

Deep in the heart of Dell
Dell Computer talked up a new strategy at its DirectConnect hoedown in Austin, Texas.

The PC maker is laying the groundwork for developing Internet devices--with the catch that any device from the company be compatible with existing PC technology.

Bigger-than-normal pagers that can send and receive e-mail messages, home networking products, and other devices that can link up to standard PC applications intrigue the company, according to executives at the conference, dedicated to all things Dell. The first product to emerge from this effort will be the "Webster," a code name for a sleek PC coming this fall, which the company showed off this week. Although technically a PC, the Webster will emphasize style and ease of use, two common attributes of "Internet appliances," a market that the staid computer maker has been slow to enter.