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Week in review: Let's be friends

Longtime foes Microsoft and Palm team up for latest Treo, while tech giants clash over successor to DVD.

This week was marked by partnerships, with longtime foes Palm and Microsoft teaming up on a Treo cell phone, and longtime handshakers Microsoft and Intel working to determine the DVD format's successor.

Mobile-phone companies are also getting cozy with the entertainment industry to come up with the latest in wireless gadgets, many of which were showcased at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association Wireless IT and Entertainment show in San Francisco.

Some other joint efforts were announced this week, between Google and NASA, Microsoft and JBoss, and Research In Motion and Intel.

Palm, the maker of the popular Treo cell phone, kicked off the week Monday by unveiling the "Treo for Windows," a product enthusiast sites have been calling the Treo 700w. The move unites two companies that have been significant rivals in the market for software that powers handhelds and other mobile devices.

Such a partnership would have seemed unlikely when Palm ruled the handheld-computing market. But many analysts agree that a combination of events both strengthened Microsoft's hand in the mobile market and made Palm more open to partnering with its old adversary.

Intel and Microsoft also announced this week that they'll be combining their industry power in an attempt to make the next-generation DVD format HD DVD. They say the high-definition format will spur easier home networking of movies and make it simpler to distribute hybrid discs containing both HD and traditional DVD movies.

But Dell and HP shot back Thursday, saying the world's largest software and processor makers were spreading "inaccurate" information. They also reiterated their backing for the rival Blu-ray Disc format.

Atique Khan, one of almost 100 CNET News.com readers who commented on the story, doesn't really care which format wins out, so long as one does.

"What I'd hate to see is that when I go to buy a movie, I have to carefully choose the right format for a movie, depending on if I wanted to watch it on my DVD player or my PC," he wrote. While my PC might support HD DVD, and the DVD player might support Blu-ray...Guys, don't let that happen!"

On desktops and portables
Dell founder Michael Dell also lashed out at Microsoft and Intel on the HD DVD issue during Wednesday's launch of a new premium PC line. The new XPS brand is the premium product line the company promised to delivery back in June.

A sleek XPS logo on top of a silver-and-white chassis with black accents distinguishes XPS products from Dell's lower-cost consumer brands. The XPS desktop PCs ship with dual-core Intel processors, Nvidia graphics cards, hard-disk drives with up to 1 terabyte of data storage and enhanced networking capabilities.

That's quite a contrast from the $100 laptop, which moved one step closer to reality Wednesday. Nicholas Negroponte, the co-founder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, detailed specifications for a $100 windup-powered laptop designed for children in developing nations.

Reader Jesse Dewald, an engineering student currently working on a computer for the masses, was one of many who praised the effort.

"It is great to see the strides that are being made in this area, as I believe it to be one of the most important developments/projects of our time," he wrote. "Knowledge is power, after all."

However, some readers wrote that children in poor nations wouldn't be able to afford even $100 and would be better off with food, clean drinking water and basic education. And others expressed hope that the program could serve urban communities in the United States.

"This technology is desperately needed in today's classrooms so that children here in America will actually have a chance of getting decent-paying jobs, without having to pay to go to private high schools," wrote reader William Bowen.

Negroponte said MIT and his nonprofit group, called One Laptop Per Child, is in discussions with five countries--Brazil, China, Thailand, Egypt and South Africa--to distribute up to 15 million test systems to children. In addition, Massachusetts is working with MIT on a plan to distribute the laptops to schoolchildren, Negroponte said.

Meanwhile, consumers who buy a Mac Mini this week may or may not end up with a machine that's faster than the desktop Apple Computer was selling in prior weeks. A company representative confirmed to News.com that it has started offering machines that, in some cases, have improved processing powers and other enhancements. However, Apple is not labeling the new machines in any special way, so buyers have no way of knowing if they are getting the more capable models.

And it might look like a Mac Mini, but this one has Intel inside: Taiwanese computer maker AOpen is scheduled to release two versions of its Pandora desktop just in time for the holiday shopping season. The company said Apple's Mac Mini inspired its latest desktop PC. Pandora is one of several 2-inch-tall computers being sold as home entertainment PCs.

The gadgeteers
Apple this week acknowledged a flaw in its new iPod Nano music player, offering to replace for free models that shipped with a defective screen that is prone to cracking.

A company representative said the issue was a manufacturing, rather than a design, problem and said it affected less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all the Nanos that have shipped so far.

However, the representative said the screen-cracking issue is separate from reports on user sites that the slim new music player is more easily scratched than prior models. Complaints about both issues surfaced shortly after Apple introduced the flash memory-based Nano earlier this month.

Get ready for so-called softphone technology, which enables people to download a piece of software to make a call using VoIP from any computer--and could eventually let everything from an iPod to a PDA act like a telephone. Tech executives are betting that consumers will soon change how they make phone calls, but before softphones can really become widely deployed, the technology will have to be accessible to more devices than just a laptop.

The cell phone is also quickly becoming the Swiss Army knife of electronic gadgets, offering users everything from traditional voice calling to music listening to TV programming.

RealNetworks, for example, the company that provides music, games and video to customers on their PCs, is now also offering that content to consumers on their mobile phones. The company announced that Cingular Wireless will provide the mobile operator with technology that allows people to watch streaming video on their cell phones, a key deal for RealNetworks as it moves into the mobile-entertainment market.

But before the cell phone and entertainment industries wed, they will have to iron out some critical issues. Content providers, distributors, and cell phone makers and operators face critical challenges as they try to create business models for future partnerships that will satisfy customers without eroding their existing markets.

Handsets will also need better protection from hackers and from unauthorized access when they're lost or stolen, according to an industry group proposing new, hardware-based security standards for the devices.

Spinning the Web
Google announced on Wednesday plans to build a 1 million-square-foot campus at the NASA Ames Research Center, not far from its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, which is dubbed the "Googleplex."

As part of the Google-NASA deal, the two entities plan to cooperate on research projects such as large-scale data management, nanotechnology, massively distributed computing and the entrepreneurial space industry.

In the latest round of the contest over search index sizes, Google this week also unveiled an updated index that it said is more than three times larger than that of any of its search engine competitors.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt listed the launch of new products, including Google Talk, Google Earth, Google Video and Google Desktop Search.

Meanwhile, a project called Wikibooks aims to create an open-ended curriculum that would offer a free and freely licensable alternative to traditional textbooks.

is still in its earliest stages, but because of its digital model, which lets content written for the project be easily manipulated, read and edited, its backers believe that it could pose a major challenge to the publishing industry's hold on the world of textbooks.

And a California court has temporarily barred about a dozen engineers hired by Yahoo from working on interactive speech technology at the search engine, after the company they recently left filed a lawsuit accusing Yahoo of trying to steal trade secrets.

More from Redmond
In a move that counters Google's successful advertising programs, Microsoft's MSN unit on Monday launched its own paid-search advertising program in France and said it plans to begin testing the system in the United States next month.

MSN AdCenter, which debuted in Singapore at the end of last month, allows advertisers to launch highly targeted online keyword search-based campaigns, with the ability to include or exclude target customers based on geographic location, gender and age, and to run ads only during certain times and days.

Microsoft and JBoss, an open-source Java software company, this week announced an endeavor to explore ways to link their respective server and development products.

And the software giant also on Tuesday moved a step further into the data storage market with new software for backing up corporate data.

The company said it has shipped its Systems Center Data Protection Manager software, which lets companies back up data from file servers to disk-based storage servers. Microsoft says the software can help companies transition from decades-old tape-based backup systems to faster and, ultimately, cheaper disk-based systems.

Also of note
A new federal law aimed at discouraging camcorder-equipped movie pirates has snared its first catch...Some 40 robotic vehicles began racing around the California Speedway this week in a government-sponsored test...More than half of Silicon Valley companies are outsourcing, and roughly half of those outsourced jobs are going to India...Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer have finally entered the million-dollar salary club...A new flaw in Internet Explorer could be exploited to launch attacks or access data on vulnerable PCs...A judge has asked Visa and MasterCard to disclose details about their relationship with CardSystems Solutions...Disney on Thursday unveiled a new line of portable digital audio players for preteen consumers...Technologists are inventing devices for the disaster kit of the future.