The week in review: Linux lovefest

Linux lovers join computing giants and smaller specialists at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo to discuss the progress and future of the open-source operating system.

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Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
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Linux lovers joined computing giants and smaller specialists this week at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo to discuss the future of the open-source operating system.

IBM argued the relatively new operating system has begun fulfilling its potential as mainstream customers build serious servers with it. Big Blue, which has pledged to spend $1 billion on the Unix clone this year, announced several new Linux customers and said that its Websphere e-commerce software now works on a mainframe running Linux.

Despite technical strength and industry momentum, several obstacles remain before Linux will penetrate the deepest parts of corporate computing. Compaq Computer Chief Technology Officer Shane Robison said corporations worry about the large number of companies and individuals responsible for various Linux components. "Linux lacks a one-stop point of contact," he said.

The biggest development in Linux in the past year has been a more refined user interface, said Linux founder Linus Torvalds. Torvalds in January released version 2.4 of the Linux kernel, or technical heart, but that's not the most significant part of Linux overall, he said. "I don't think the kernel matters anymore," he said. "For most applications, the kernel is good enough."

Linux fans aren't the only ones examining the operating system's progress. Microsoft has spent a lot of time attacking Linux, but the software company has learned and benefited from the rival operating system. Linux's success in low-end servers led the company to revise its server product line, and Microsoft learned that it needs better interactions with the programmers who use Microsoft products.

Talk is chips
From software to hardware, Intel used its four-day Developer Forum to showcase upcoming products and discuss future standards and innovations.

Intel used the occasion to officially announce the 2GHz Pentium 4 chip, which is expected to usher in a new wave of Pentium 4-based PCs. Systems with the new chip are expected to be priced from $1,499 and up. At the same time, Intel is reducing prices of existing Pentium 4 chips, which should bring about Pentium 4 PCs priced as low as about $900 by the end of the year. The new 2GHz chip lists for $562, which is what its 1.8GHz sibling had been selling for.

In addition, the chipmaker will bring 1GHz performance to low-budget PCs with new Celeron chips. Intel introduced its 1GHz and 1.1GHz desktop Celeron chips Friday. Resulting PCs should follow shortly from major manufacturers for prices around $900 for the 1.1GHz version. Some PC makers have already begun advertising the PCs fitted with the new 1.1GHz Celeron.

On an academic front, the chip giant will increasingly focus its research on "proactive computing," or the creation of embedded mini-computers that obtain sensory data from the physical world and shuttle it across networks. The heart of these networks will be microelectromechanical systems, which already exist in antilock brakes and air bags. Sensors dropped on a forest fire will be able to form an ad-hoc network and provide data about where the fire is burning the most fiercely.

Handheld hocus-pocus
Now you see where Palm and Handspring are headed--now you don't.

Handspring received regulatory approval for two handhelds that combine cell phone, Web browsing and traditional organizer functions. Code-named Manhattan, one of the units has a built-in keyboard similar to the BlackBerry e-mail pager. The other unit, code-named Shea, relies on the Grafitti handwriting-recognition program and software keyboard that are a standard part of the Palm operating system. Both devices can surf the Internet using Handspring's Blazer browser and have phone features similar to Handspring's VisorPhone attachment.

Palm's upcoming wireless handheld has moved closer to launch after the company received regulatory approval for the i705, which will have a built-in antenna, a universal connector for add-ons and syncing, and a postage stamp-size Secure Digital expansion slot. There will also be new features aimed at making e-mail a key function of the device.

A day after the devices won approval, the Federal Communications Commission set aside its decisions at the request of the companies. The status of the applications was changed from granted to pending. The reason for the FCC's initial actions was that Palm and Handspring originally failed to indicate on their applications that they wanted to delay approval until they were closer to announcing their products. The effect of the status change is that information made public about the devices is no longer available.

Ad attacks
A software company at the center of a growing dispute over the use of pop-up ads has sued the Interactive Advertising Bureau to protect its right to sell ads that can cover those on other Web sites. Gator filed a lawsuit against the IAB to protect its right to sell ads; Gator's service delivers pop-ups that can obscure banner ads sold on some Web pages.

The move comes amid open disapproval from the IAB about the company's ad-delivery software. IAB Chief Executive Robin Webster said the group's board of directors is demanding that Gator stop its practice of selling ads designed to intentionally block those sold on its members' Web sites. Webster also said that the IAB is considering pressing the issue with the Federal Trade Commission.

As the banner battle rages, the online classified ad attack intensifies. Newspaper publishers Tribune and Knight Ridder bought HeadHunter.net in an effort to battle their main rival for classified ads. But analysts say it's probably too late to stop the attrition of help-wanted ad revenues to the publishers' Internet rival, TMP Worldwide, the owner of Monster.com.

Also of note
Web darling Google has some fresh competition: a pair of start-ups aiming to improve on its immensely popular recipe for serving fast, relevant search results untainted by pay-for-placement listings...Despite a wide technology downturn, Internet subscriber figures continue to grow in the United States where a majority of homes have at least dial-up access and nearly one in four online households use a broadband connection...Gateway will lay off up to 4,600 workers worldwide, pull out of several Asian markets and post a third-quarter loss...Sony is dropping its eVilla Internet appliance less than two months after it started shipping.

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