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Week in review: Chip beef

The technology world experienced its own version of sweeps week, as hardware and software giants vying for big businesses' attention and dollars pushed new products.

The technology world experienced its own version of sweeps week, with chip giants Intel and Advanced Micro Devices and software titan Microsoft vying for big businesses' attention and dollars.

AMD kicked off the product parade by releasing its long-awaited Opteron processor. First revealed in 1999, the server chip represents the company's best opportunity ever to sell chips to corporate customers and into the lucrative server market.

Opteron can run 32-bit Windows-Linux software, which is found on desktops and small servers around the world, and 64-bit software, which is used on high-end servers. The 64-bit software that will run on the chip will be almost identical to the kinds of applications and operating systems corporate customers use now, making it easy and cheap to adopt.

Opteron was welcomed with a major vote of confidence from IBM. Big Blue said it would use the AMD server chip in future server hardware, including a server system and high-performance computing clusters. Server maker RackSaver chipped in with three servers, including the four-processor Quatrex-64.

Sun Microsystems' software products will support the new processor--but not initially the chip's 64-bit capabilities that distinguish it from rival Intel processors. In the open-source arena, SuSE released a version of Linux that's tuned for Opteron, with rival Red Hat planning its own product for the fall.

Meanwhile, rival chipmaker Intel isn't content to let AMD get a leg up. Intel is working on software designed to dramatically improve how well its Itanium chips run programs written for its Pentium or Xeon processors, CNET has learned.

The software could make Itanium processors more appealing to customers that have been reluctant to use Itanium systems because of the difficulty of running older 32-bit software. In addition, Intel's new strategy could undermine one Opteron's key advantages because it allows customers to gradually transition to new applications without having to discard their current applications.

Itanium got a large vote of confidence from petrochemical giant British Petroleum, which purchased a large cluster of Hewlett-Packard Linux servers using Intel's Itanium 2 processors to help search for oil and gas deposits. BP bought 259 HP rx5670 systems, each with four Itanium 2 processors. The systems collectively have more than 8,000GB of memory and can perform 4 trillion calculations per second.

Opening Windows
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer launched Windows Server 2003, a new version of the company's server operating system, which he described as "the right product" to help companies stretch their IT budgets. The company is positioning the new operating system as capable of pushing aside Unix servers and mainframes in the enterprise--its long-term goal since the first release of a version of Windows for server systems nearly a decade ago.

Ballmer said that Windows Server 2003 would "improve efficiency by 30 percent from where we've been, and (would deliver) even larger numbers" compared with other operating systems. That 30 percent cost reduction would come through server consolidation, improved management features and tighter security features.

But analysts didn't share Ballmer's enthusiasm. Many companies are very reluctant to commit money to upgrade servers that may be working just fine as is. Potential buyers also will need to navigate a product lineup that is more complex than with previous versions, with prices largely unchanged from previous versions.

Unisys was one of a few manufacturers using the release of the operating system to launch new servers. Most other manufacturers are announcing the availability of the software on existing machines. Dell Computer and HP also will tout new customers and services offers aimed specially at enterprise customers, while IBM plans to stick with its broad range of existing services.

On the desktop side, Microsoft is preparing a new test version of its upcoming Office 2003, which will delay the final release of the product until later this year. A company representative said the release is intended to give customers a chance to try out changes made to the software as a result of testing.

Delivery of the new test version would not give Microsoft enough time to adequately test the software in time for its planned summer delivery. Now, Microsoft says Office 2003 will ship "later in the summer," which is also subject to change.

Cracking Windows
Microsoft was busy on the security front as well. The software giant released an update for Windows NT that fixes the critical vulnerability that allowed an intruder to sneak onto a military server running Windows 2000. The software giant issued the patch after learning of the problem, but decided to do its standard analysis to check whether the rest of its operating systems were vulnerable.

The flaw could allow an attacker to gain total control of an Internet-accessible computer running unpatched versions of the Windows 2000 and NT operating systems, according to the revised advisory posted to Microsoft's site.

Microsoft warned customers that they should apply updates for both Internet Explorer and Outlook Express to fix critical security vulnerabilities that could let attackers run programs on a victim's PC. Internet Explorer 5.01, 5.5 and 6.0 all have four flaws, the worst of which could allow an attacker to take control of a person's computer if a victim were to follow links to a Web site or read an HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) e-mail created by an attacker.

The flaw in Outlook Express is in the way that the application handles the encapsulation of HTML in e-mail. A software error in the component allows an attacker to run programs on a victim's computer.

Net music discord
After releasing the first single from her new "American Life" album online a few weeks ago, Madonna's Web site was hacked last weekend, with links to pirated versions of her full album replacing the site?s content. The hacker's attack appeared to be in response to Madonna's most recent, typically colorful broadside against file-swappers who sought free copies of her music.

The singer has put files that appear to be versions of her new songs onto peer-to-peer networks that actually contain recordings of her saying, "What the f*** do you think you're doing?" The hacked page, as sent to CNET by several readers, had a message that read, "This is what the f*** I think I'm doing." It also contained what appeared to be links to the album's songs.

Two major record labels sued Napster investor Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, alleging that it contributed to rampant music theft through the former file-swapping network. Universal Music Group and EMI Recorded Music filed a lawsuit against San Francisco-based Hummer Winblad, its co-founder John Hummer and general partner Hank Barry, who was formerly the CEO at Napster.

The 23-page complaint charges that the Napster system, as conceived and implemented, "provided a safe haven for the rampant piracy of copyrighted works on an epic and unprecedented scale...Hummer Winblad knowingly facilitated infringement of plaintiff's copyrights for its direct financial benefit."

Verizon Communications must give up the identity of an anonymous Internet subscriber accused of swapping music files online, a U.S district court has ruled for a second time. The case has been closely watched by entertainment industry figures and privacy advocates as a key test for how easily file-swappers can be found and identified by copyright holders.

An earlier court decision that also said Verizon would have to give up the information had been temporarily put on hold. The decision will force the telephone company to give up its subscriber's name in 14 days, unless an appeals court steps in to block the decision pending further review.

Also of note
In a move the company claims is designed to comply with federal regulations, said it would delete most references to seven countries from job postings and resumes?Intel fixed a problem with its latest 3GHz processor and cut prices on some notebook chips?Cable modems are outpacing digital subscriber lines in terms of connection speeds, as household broadband access continues to increase...Apple Computer announced that it has revved up its consumer line of iBooks and increased the size of the hard drives?Dell and wireless start-up Good Technology are set to unveil a tie-up next week, but the companies did not disclose the details of the partnership.