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Week in review: The urge to merge

This week saw three merger deals worth about $60 billion--including one that ranks as the largest software merger in history. Ellison triumphs in PeopleSoft bid

A corporate holiday shopping spree on steroids this week yielded three merger deals worth about $60 billion--including one that ranks as the largest software merger in history.

PeopleSoft kicked off the merger mania by giving its surprise approval to a takeover deal with Oracle worth around $10.3 billion, ending a bitter battle. PeopleSoft's board agreed to a deal valuing PeopleSoft at $26.50 per share, higher than Oracle's "final bid" of $24.

The 18-month hostile battle for PeopleSoft came to an end with a single phone call. Oracle President Chuck Phillips told CNET that a PeopleSoft director, through an attorney, contacted Oracle with the lucky number: $26.50 per share, the price it would take to buy the software maker.

"Friday evening, an independent director, through an attorney, reached out to us," Phillips said. "It was the same director that said PeopleSoft would be open to a higher price than $24 and communicated to us the exact number."

The terse communication was the first time the two companies had negotiated directly on share price since Oracle began its hostile takeover bid in June 2003, according to people close to the deal.

Microsoft, however, is trying to get a piece of the PeopleSoft pie. A top executive at the software giant warned PeopleSoft customers that they might want to think about a technology shift, now that Oracle's acquisition has been approved.

"Oracle's acquisition of PeopleSoft may be moving forward, but difficult technology decisions lie ahead," Microsoft Vice President Bill Veghte wrote in an e-mail that was seen by CNET "The ongoing challenges of owning and maintaining business applications remain unchanged."

The deal was nearly overshadowed by the second major acquisition in the enterprise software market--the largest ever in the software sector.

In a long-rumored move, security software maker Symantec said it will buy storage specialist Veritas Software in a deal worth roughly $13.5 billion. The company will operate under the Symantec name, with John Thompson, Symantec's chief executive, serving as chairman and CEO.

The combined company is expected to generate some $5 billion in revenue within the next year or so, putting it on the map with other megasized software powers, such as Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.

John Thompson
CEO, Symantec

Thompson stressed the merger was not an idea born out of a desire to grow the business while cutting costs. Thompson sat down with CNET to discuss his thoughts on the merger and the future of Symantec.

The telecommunications industry got in on the fun when Sprint announced it would buy Nextel Communications in a $35 billion deal that will create a wireless behemoth.

The deal combines the No. 3 and No. 5 players in the market and will produce a company with about 40 million customers, including those through affiliates.

Tech in court
While Oracle managed to avoid its court date over PeopleSoft's poison pill, some appearances were unavoidable.

Technology played a new role in the court as the country awaited the jury's sentence in the Scott Peterson double-murder trial. Peterson's death penalty sentencing was covered live via a wireless device, adding a new dimension to TV news coverage. A TV reporter used a laptop to send reports from inside the courtroom back to the TV station's newsroom, using an existing wireless network inside the courtroom. The word picture augmented what was an audio-only feed from inside the courtroom due to a ban on cameras in the court.

Meanwhile, Google scored a big legal win when a federal judge ruled that the use of trademarks in keyword advertising is legal. The judge granted Google's motion to dismiss a trademark-infringement complaint brought by Geico, which had charged Google with violating its trademarks by using the word "Geico" to trigger rival ads in sponsored search results. Geico claimed the practice diluted its trademarks and caused consumer confusion.

The ruling is a triumph for Google because the search giant derives as much as 95 percent of its advertising revenue from keyword-triggered ads, which appear next to Web search results. Trademarks play a central role to the sale of such ads because people often use Web search to find products and services with common, trademarked brand names such as Nike or Geico.

However, the American Chemical Society filed suit against Google, alleging that the company violated a trademark held by the group when it launched the Google Scholar search tool. The suit claims that Google's use of the word "scholar" violates a May 2003 trademark held by ACS for the name of its Web-based academic search tool, SciFinder Scholar.

Both SciFinder Scholar and Google Scholar are designed to let individuals search previously published academic research. The fundamental difference between the two products is that SciFinder Scholar is used to index information stored in the ACS databases, while the Google tool indexes research already made publicly available on the Internet.

Out of tune
A new kind of copy-protected music CD will likely hit U.S. shelves early next year, as record label Sony BMG Music Entertainment experiments with a technology created by British developer First 4 Internet. Several major music labels have already used a version of the British company's technology on prerelease compact discs distributed for review and other early-listening purposes, including on recent albums from Eminem and U2.

The releases for the retail market, expected early in 2005, will be the first time the Sony music label issues copy-protected CDs in the U.S. market, although the company's other divisions have done so in other regions. BMG, Sony's new corporate sibling, has been more aggressive, with a handful of protected CDs released last year.

Meanwhile, Apple Computer quietly updated its iPod software so that songs purchased from RealNetworks' online music store will no longer play on some of the Mac maker's popular MP3 players.

For the last four months, RealNetworks has marketed its music store as the only Apple rival compatible with the iPod, following the company's discovery of a way to let its customers play their downloaded tunes on Apple's MP3 player. Apple criticized RealNetworks' work-around, dubbed Harmony, as the "tactics...of a hacker," and warned in July that RealNetworks-purchased songs would likely "cease to work with current and future iPods."

Apple's iPod may be getting a hard drive boost soon. Toshiba, whose tiny hard drives power Apple's music players, announced that it has produced an 80GB model. The company said it will begin mass production in mid-2005 of new 1.8-inch drives with capacities of 40GB and 80GB.

Apple did not immediately announce plans to incorporate the drives in future products, but new iPod configurations have closely tracked Toshiba hard-drive developments. Toshiba announced plans for a 60GB hard drive in June, followed a few months later by Apple's unveiling of a 60GB color-screen iPod.

'Tis the season
The holiday shopping season is the most important period each year for the majority of online stores, accounting for 30 percent of revenue on average during the months of November and December. That volume also attracts other entrepreneurs: criminals hoping to part unsuspecting consumers from their money.

According to a survey published in August by the Federal Trade Commission, Internet shoppers tend to be lucrative marks. People shopping online have relatively high incomes and are thus attractive targets for scam artists.

Security experts warn that there are plenty of traps awaiting unsuspecting buyers online. One of the classic examples of holiday fraud trades on shortages. A Web site advertises popular gifts that have become hard to find because of overwhelming demand, and then shuts down and disappears, leaving buyers without their items or their cash.

The spike in holiday traffic also brings a 20 percent rise in the number of attempted security breaches, estimates VeriSign, which provides authentication of Internet transactions.

That traffic plays a part in one fraud scheme, in which scammers use a large number of stolen credit card numbers to make purchases on one site, to make sure those numbers are valid. The fraudsters then use those cards to buy goods at another e-commerce business. Another credit card scam that is increasingly popular, noted Trevor Healy, VeriSign's vice president of payment services, has corrupt employees issuing refunds on numbers that don't exist.

If the threat to e-commerce isn't enough to conjure images of the Grinch in Whoville, then take a look at your in-box. The mass-mailing Christmas e-card virus Zafi.D is clogging huge amounts of bandwidth and now accounts for one in 15 of all e-mails.

Also of note
A hoax e-mail circulating the Internet has millions of Americans scurrying to add their cell phones to a national Do Not Call list to avoid telemarketers...The Motion Picture Association of America launched a new legal campaign targeting the BitTorrent and eDonkey file-swapping networks, two technologies widely used to trade movies online...Apple said it has now sold more than 200 million songs through its iTunes Music Store...Apple CEO Steve Jobs received the green light from local government officials to demolish a historic building on his property in Woodside, Calif.