Week in review: Apple pie

For observers of all things Apple Computer, this week was chock-full of the good, the bad and the what-is-that?

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
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
6 min read
For observers of all things Apple Computer, this week was chock-full of the good, the bad and the what-is-that?

Apple unveiled a 13-inch MacBook, the newest member of its family of Intel-based laptops. Billed as a replacement for both the iBook and the 12-inch PowerBook, the 13-inch wide-screen MacBook, which is on sale now, starts at $1,099 for a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo processor with a 60GB hard drive. Like the former iBooks, that model and the next model up--which packs a 2.0GHz processor, a 60GB hard drive and a $1,299 price tag--are cased in white.

The top-of-the-line 2.0GHz model, starting at $1,499, comes equipped with an 80GB hard drive and is available only in black. Each of the new MacBooks comes with a built-in iSight video camera, which can be used for video conferencing and video podcasts.

For some Mac faithful, the wait to buy Apple's new products can be unbearable, so they take matters into their own hands--so to speak. On the day the MacBook was released, a CNET News.com editor waiting at the store to buy one of the new machines witnessed a shoplifter taking advantage of his own five-finger discount and his quick subsequent arrest. Who says Apple has a security problem?

They aren't exactly a steal, but Apple's Mac isn't that much more than a comparable Windows-based computer. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said his research shows an average price difference of only 13 percent for desktops and 10 percent for laptops, once you factor in the same components Apple uses.

"We believe both consumers and investors tend to believe that purchasing a Mac will cost 20 percent to 30 percent more than a PC," he said in a research note.

The launch gave CNET News.com readers plenty to debate, with discussions centering on color, configuration, software and price.

"The MacBook is a great computer, but $200 is an enormous premium to pay for a color and a somewhat larger hard drive," one reader wrote in the TalkBack forum. "The differential ought to be $50 maximum. I hope that customers will stick with the standard white model to send Apple a message about this ridiculous pricing arrangement."

Apple is also set to open its new 24-hour flagship store in Manhattan on Friday, giving Apple enthusiasts access to products and face-to-face support all day and night.

The new midtown underground store, which features a distinctive 32-foot glass cube entrance, is the most ambitious Apple store to date. The entrance sits atop the public plaza in front of the General Motors building opposite the Plaza Hotel and Bergdorf Goodman on 767 Fifth Ave. between 58th and 59th Streets.

Apple store

In addition to landing an incredible location, Apple may also have created what could become a new New York City landmark. All that is visible of the store from the street is its glass cube entrance, reminiscent of I.M. Pei's glass pyramid entrance to Paris' Louvre Museum.

Tell it to the judge
Apple itself was accused of some theft when Singapore-based electronics maker Creative Technology filed two legal actions against Apple, charging that the popular iPod infringes on its patented technology. In a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission, Creative is seeking an injunction that would stop Apple from selling the iPod and iPod Nano in the United States. Separately, Creative filed another suit seeking an injunction and damages.

In both cases, Creative says the iPod and iPod Nano infringe on a patent the company has for the interface in its Zen media player, a patent granted last August.

In another patent spat, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court sided with eBay, handing down a ruling that could make it harder for some patent holders to force shut-offs of infringing products in the future. About six weeks after hearing oral arguments, the justices ruled that the U.S. Appeals Court for the Federal Circuit was wrong when it issued a permanent injunction that would have prohibited eBay from using patents held by MercExchange.

That injunction, which was put on hold pending the Supreme Court appeal, followed a 2003 jury finding that eBay's "Buy It Now" feature, which allows customers to purchase items without participating in an auction, had infringed on two of MercExchange founder Tom Woolston's patents.

Meanwhile, a federal judge rejected a request from AT&T to kick the public out of a hearing in a lawsuit alleging that the telecommunications company illegally cooperated with the National Security Agency. AT&T had asked for everyone but attorneys to be barred from the courtroom, arguing that trade secrets about the inner workings of its network could be divulged.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed the class action lawsuit in January, which claims that AT&T illegally cooperated with the Bush administration's secret eavesdropping program. EFF has obtained documents from a former AT&T employee that it believes buttresses its case but which the telecommunications company says contain trade secrets and proprietary business information.

In a twist, an AT&T attorney indicated that the Bush administration may have provided legal authorization for the telecommunications company to open its network to the National Security Agency. Federal law may "authorize and in some cases require telecommunications companies to furnish information" to the executive branch, said Bradford Berenson, who was associate White House counsel when President Bush authorized the NSA surveillance program in late 2001.

Chips in AMD's favor
Dell won one from Intel when it announced that it will use Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron chip in multiprocessor servers by the end of the year, ending a longstanding policy of sticking exclusively with Intel. Speculation has mounted for years as to whether Dell would adopt the company's chips, despite Dell's exclusive relationship with rival Intel to this point.

Although the deal is confined to servers at this point--and it's not clear exactly when the servers will arrive, other than before the end of the year--it still represents another win for AMD, which has had a long string of gains over its rival. Intel's earnings and stock price have suffered in recent quarters, due in part to AMD's increasing market share.

AMD is planning to come out with a new chip architecture next year, and it's not messing with the basic formula that has helped it take market share away from Intel. The new chip architecture--currently dubbed the Next Generation Processor Technology--enhances the design underlying the current Opteron, Turion and Athlon 64 chips.

Performance will increase, and AMD will keep a lid on power consumption, but the company has veered away from making radical conceptual changes in the overall blueprint. Processors built under the new design will come out in 2007.

AMD has also gone dual-core across the board with the release of the Turion 64 X2 processors. The Turion processor was AMD's first major effort to build a processor designed specifically for notebooks, and it now has two cores. Notebook makers such as Hewlett-Packard, Gateway and Acer plan to release laptops with the chip over the next several weeks, he said.

Also of note
Meanwhile, Symantec launched a suit charging Microsoft with misappropriating its intellectual property and with violating a license related to data storage technology...A prominent Republican in the U.S. Congress has backed away from plans to rewrite Internet privacy rules by requiring that logs of Americans' online activities be stored...Microsoft launched a test version of a revamped jukebox aimed at trying to knock iTunes down a peg.