Week in review: Market whiplash

The rollercoaster stock market ride may be reviving at least one takeover effort, while laptop makers debut their new offerings. Also: security alert.

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.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
6 min read

The rollercoaster stock market threatens to change the landscape for at least a couple of tech titans.

Case in point: Yahoo could have been sold for $33 per share to Microsoft in the spring; in midweek, it was trading at less than $12. No doubt, most tech companies are getting pummeled on Wall Street, but Yahoo's drop has to be particularly galling, given how much more Microsoft was willing to pay for the company just months ago.

Yahoo closed at $11.75 a share on Wednesday, down 7.1 percent, during regular trading. That gave the Internet search pioneer a market capitalization of roughly $16.3 billion. For those of you still keeping track, that's less than half of what Microsoft offered in its initial $44.6 billion unsolicited bid for Yahoo at the start of the year.

Someone else who has noticed is Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. He noted on Thursday at the Gartner ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., that at the right price, it would still make sense for the software giant to acquire the Internet search pioneer.

"We offered $33 (for Yahoo), and it's $11 today," Ballmer said. "It's clear Yahoo didn't want to sell. They probably still think it's worth more than $33 a share. I still think it makes sense for their shareholders and ours."

Internet advertising may be in for a rough patch, along with the rest of the economy. Given the day-to-day changes in the world's economic fortunes, it's surprising that analysts are willing to make any forecasts at all, but among those who do, the news isn't sunny.

In the Internet sector, nobody is backing away from predictions that online sales and advertising will fare relatively well. But larger economic factors are inescapable, according to some new reports. Specifically, the analysts said, search-advertising spending will likely be flat, and the graphical "display" ads that advertisers often use to tout their brand names might shrink.

However, Google easily cleared analysts' profit expectations for the third quarter of the year, patting itself on the back for the results but offering a cautious qualifier about current economic conditions.

Google was joined by chipmaker Intel, which posted a record $10.2 billion revenue in third-quarter revenue, but Intel CEO Paul Otellini was quick to caution. "As we look to Q4, it is hard to know what impact the financial crisis will have on end customer demand," he said.

The company also said that due to "the uncertain economic environment, Intel intends to publish a mid-quarter business update this quarter." To that, it added this warning: "Current uncertainty in global economic conditions pose a risk to the overall economy, as consumers and businesses may defer purchases in response to tighter credit and negative financial news, which could negatively affect product demand and other related matters."

At a laptop events at Apple headquarters, Steve Jobs took the wraps off a new line of rumored MacBook Pros that feature unibody aluminum construction, LED-backlit displays, and Nvidia processors. Specifically, it will have a GeForce 9400M, which is four times faster than the current processor. It has a 120GB hard drive now and a 128GB solid-state drive as an option. It also will have a Mini DisplayPort. The standard model is $1,799, and $2,499 will buy you the 1.86GHz processor and a bigger SSD. It will be available in November.

Watch this: Daily Debrief 2nd Edition: No surprises at Apple laptop event

As it turned out, a high percentage of the rumors and leaked images of the notebooks announced Tuesday were right on target. But as would be expected, several of the most widely circulated pieces of speculation proved false.

In brief comments after his keynote speech, Jobs did something he doesn't usually do, clarifying what isn't on his company's immediate notebook road map. Three of them are some of the most oft-repeated rumors of future Apple products. He said touch screens, Blu-ray Disc technology, and Netbooks are not what Apple has in store for us anytime soon.

Apple may have presented lower-price machines on Tuesday, but one top Microsoft official on Monday said Mac buyers will still be paying an "Apple tax." In a lengthy interview, Brad Brooks, vice president of Windows Consumer Product Marketing, argued that Mac buyers face hidden costs if they try to add Windows to their Mac or if they decide to forgo Windows compatibility.

"It's really a definition now between choosing something that is limited, and somebody chooses for you--basically the 'i' way--or actually taking it to a much broader scope, which is 'your' way, and defining it through Windows, and the experience that comes with the tens of thousands of partners that build applications, services, and content for the Windows platform every day," Brooks said.

It was also a busy laptop week for Toshiba; along with a trio of Porteges and a bunch of Satellites, the company also introduced two new Tecras.

The 14.1-inch Tecra M10 and 15.4-inch Tecra A10 are refreshes of the company's M9 and A9 models, adding Centrino 2 components with vPro. Both include facial-recognition software that lets you log onto the computer without a password; the built-in 1.3-megapixel Webcam also doubles as a business card reader.

As with the Portege line, Tecras come with Toshiba's EasyGuard technology, which encompasses security measures both hard (hard-drive protection, fingerprint reader, Trusted Platform Module) and soft (a program that tracks the status of components).

After months of rumors, Samsung is bringing its NC10 Netbook to the United States. The 2.8-pound NC10 has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 processor, 1GB of 800MHz RAM (upgradeable to 2GB), and Windows XP, plus a large, 160GB hard drive. (With computers, as with apartments, a lot of storage is always welcome.) The 10.2-inch screen features the expected 1,024x600-pixel resolution. Connection options include 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and integrated Bluetooth. Around the case, there are a 1.3-megapixel Webcam, VGA-out, Ethernet, three USB 2.0 ports, headphone and microphone jacks, and a 3-in-1 memory card reader.

Despite the volatile economy, the PC industry overall appears on the surface to be doing fine, thanks to the influx of cheap, underpowered notebooks. Overall, worldwide PC shipments rose to 80.6 million units during the third quarter this year, a 15 percent increase over the same quarter a year ago, according to a new quarterly report from research firm Gartner. In the United States, however, the picture is not so rosy.

Perhaps because of consumers' economic worries, a lot of sub-$500 computers sold in the third quarter. Whether a new worldwide Netbook market is being created or they're cannibalizing cheap laptops isn't quite clear yet.

Security alert
A notorious Internet underground site that ceased operation last week has turned out to have been used since 2006 by the FBI as part of an elaborate sting operation. DarkMarket was an online forum for "carders," those who buy and sell stolen identities, as well as credit card information, online. The site was recently made public with the arrest of "Chao," a Turkish criminal who allegedly stole personal information from devices mounted over the card slots and keypads of ATMs.

DarkMarket's primary operator, "Master Splynter," turned out to be J. Keith Mularski, a senior FBI agent. The DarkMarket site had been long rumored to have been under law enforcement control, but that didn't stop online criminals from buying and selling credit card information through the forum.

Meanwhile, the threat of cybersecurity attacks are on the rise from organized crime, terrorists, and foreign governments, according to an FBI official. There are a "couple dozen" countries interested in breaching U.S. networks, said Shawn Henry, assistant director of the FBI cyberdivision, though he declined to list any specific countries.

The attempted attacks on U.S. networks are "increasingly sophisticated," and "the amount of information that has been stolen is significant," Henry said. In particular, the use of botnets continues to increase, he said, while companies have lost tens of millions of dollars from "pump and dump" schemes in which criminals buy and sell stocks with other people's account information harvested online.

And if you think there are a lot of phishing scams cramming your e-mail in-box now, just wait: fraudsters have more tricks up their sleeve. That's the message from McAfee Security Journal. Most of the articles deal with ways in which scammers use social engineering--not hacking--to dupe people into downloading malicious software to their computers or giving out their personal information, passwords, and bank account details to malicious Web sites.

Also of note
Electric-car company Tesla Motors replaced its CEO and plans to lay off some staff members as part of a corporate review...Popular Mechanics magazine unveiled its Breakthrough Awards on innovators and innovations, including tech that lets you read books on a thin, digital device, see all around your car as you park, and explore outer space through your imagination...Companies lobbying the Federal Communications Commission to access unused spectrum known as "white spaces" won a big victory when Chairman Kevin Martin threw his weight behind the proposal, citing findings in an FCC report.