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Week in review: Where's the Apple iKiller?

Microsoft and Verizon have designs on Apple territory, while record labels send a message to file sharers. Also: Will a Net access tax be stopped?

Challengers to Apple's gadget throne released new products--but do they have the muscle to get the job done?

The first salvo came from Microsoft, which announced that it will offer three new models of the Zune music player in November, including two equipped with flash memory. The 4GB and 8GB versions are iPod Nano lookalikes that will sell for a suggested retail price of $149 and $199 respectively. An 80GB player equipped with a hard drive will sell for $249. The pricing scheme for the devices exactly mirrors that of Apple's iPods.

Some of the other changes include a complete overhaul of the device's software and a redesign of Marketplace, Zune's music store. Other interesting features include wireless syncing and the new Zune Pad, a touch-sensitive technology that enables people to slide a finger across the main navigation button instead of always having to click.

However, analysts are saying the newest Zune models don't offer anything demonstrably better than the iPod. More than a year has passed since Microsoft began developing the music player and the company is still without a video store comparable to iTunes. Zune's Marketplace will begin offering music videos, but it is still without TV shows. While Microsoft crowed about its new touch-sensitive navigation button, the new iPods come equipped with touch-sensitive screens.

While many CNET readers condemned or defended the new device, which learned is set to be released by November 13, one reader suggested that they didn't have much to go on while evaluating the yet-to-be-released player.

"It's just sad that people don't even try something, before saying 'I hate it!'" .

On another front, Verizon Wireless, hoping to put a dent in iPhone's popularity, for the holiday 2007 season. The company expects to have these phones and others on Verizon Wireless store shelves before Thanksgiving.

The LG Voyager is the first phone offered by Verizon Wireless that--like the Apple iPhone--has a large external touch screen. Verizon Wireless is also finally offering its version of the popular BlackBerry Pearl. Unlike models sold by AT&T or T-Mobile, Verizon's version will work over its 3G network.

However, the preview had one CNET reporter wondering where the iPhone killer was in the pack, saying "I wasn't really blown away by any of the phones that Verizon showed off." The reporter added that she didn't think people impressed by the iPhone and hoping to get one this holiday season would be happy with any of these Verizon Wireless phones in their stockings.

The song remains to blame
The spotlight returned to the fight against online file sharing as a Minnesota woman was ordered to pay $220,000 to six of the top music labels after a federal jury found that she shared copyrighted music over the Internet. Jammie Thomas, who was accused of sharing more than 1,700 songs, elected to fight it out in court with the recording industry instead of settling for far less money.

The case marked the first time that a music file-sharing case has gone before a jury. Thomas denied wrongdoing. While she was accused of sharing music with Kazaa, she argued that she didn't even own a Kazaa account.

Meanwhile, tired of their antipiracy messages being ignored by the teen- and college-age set, the entertainment industry is attempting to indoctrinate far younger disciples. Representatives from the Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry's trade group, and the Canadian Recording Industry Association shed some light on their strategies at an antipiracy summit this week hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Entertainment Software Association has gone so far as to develop a copyright education curriculum geared toward the kindergarten through fifth-grade set. Since 2005, the organization has been trying to find ways to get teachers to incorporate its tenets into their everyday lessons. The components, which include charts, teacher's guides, lesson plans and a wall poster imploring students to "Join the ? Team," are also now available online.

NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker also shared a lengthy attack plan in a speech at the antipiracy summit. Copyright holders are "losing the battle" against piracy and will never prevail unless a wide swath of governments and industries gets proactive, Zucker said.

He wants alleged intellectual property violations to take center stage at all levels of government, from the White House to U.S. embassies around the world. He wants Congress to create dedicated IP enforcement departments and to offer federal grants for state and local governments to escalate their own policing efforts.

Washington returns to Net
With only weeks to go before a federal halt to Internet access taxes expires, a handful of Senate Republicans is applying a new form of pressure on the Democratic leadership. Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) reintroduced an identical version of his bill from January that would make permanent an existing moratorium set to end November 1. Unless Congress passes his proposal--or at least another temporary extension--there won't be anything stopping most state and local governments from taxing Internet access, including DSL, cable modem and BlackBerry-type wireless transmission services.

The difference this time is that Sununu filed the proposal under a Senate procedure known as Rule 14, which makes it eligible for immediate consideration on the Senate floor. That's significant because bills typically must first be cleared through subcommittee and committee votes--a process that can be time-consuming, as has been the case this year.

More than a year since reports surfaced that certain major U.S. telephone companies had granted government spies access to customer records as part of a Bush administration warrantless wiretapping program, a congressional committee has decided to investigate those claims. The Democratic leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to AT&T, Verizon Communications and Qwest Communications International posing a detailed set of questions about their procedures for supplying records in response to government demands.

The questions seek information on a variety of topics, including how companies receive and comply with government requests for information, whether they've ever been asked to hand over information without certain court orders, what legal justifications the government has used in its quest for customer data, whether companies have ever been asked to install equipment that sends copies of Internet traffic to third parties, and whether the companies have ever been offered legal immunity by the government in exchange for their efforts.

And there's some good news for anyone regularly engaged in "journalism," which would seem to include some bloggers: you won't generally be forced to divulge confidential sources in federal cases under a bill approved by a U.S. Senate committee.

Some form of "reporter's privilege," either through laws or court decisions, already exists in 49 states and the District of Columbia. This bill would extend that protection to federal cases, shielding anyone engaged in the practice of "journalism"--with a number of exceptions, naturally--from being forced to give up confidential information or provide testimony.

Space special
When the Soviet Union launched its "October surprise" in 1957, it began a space race with the United States largely driven by politics and fear. Now, as the 50th anniversary of the October 4 launch of Sputnik 1 rolls around, the face of space exploration has changed dramatically.

In a multipart series, CNET looks at how space exploration has evolved and how it has affected private business, as well as the state of the satellite industry and how governments and private businesspeople are struggling to define their roles in space.

Also of note
Skype co-founder and Chief Executive Niklas Zennstrom has stepped down and eBay said it will take a $900 million so-called impairment write-down against the value of the Internet telephone company it acquired two years ago...In another clear sign that Microsoft sees the threat posed by its traditional business moving online, the company is readying a rival to Google's Documents and Spreadsheets...Adobe Systems is aggressively expanding into online services as it seeks to garner more revenue from the Web...This week's Japanese trade show brought together all the big names in consumer electronics and puts the country's weakness for high tech on full display.