Tech Industry

The week in review: Live at the Linux love fest

Despite diminished Wall Street enthusiasm, start-ups and established companies fought for the spotlight at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo.

Despite diminished Wall Street enthusiasm, start-ups and established companies fought for the spotlight in San Jose, Calif., as the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo triggered a cascade of announcements and demonstrations of Linux technology.

A team of major computing companies and programmers formed the Gnome Foundation, a group that will lead the software project and provide an avenue for corporate influence and funding. The foundation also will determine what software packages will be part of Gnome and will control future releases of the software.

The arrival of major corporate backing to boost the Gnome desktop user interface for Linux won't do much to unify support for a competing effort called KDE. Legal and cultural issues separate the Gnome and KDE efforts. "This whole KDE-Gnome war--it's just plain silly," said one executive, noting that many involved in the feud would welcome a merger but find it unlikely.

Advanced Micro Devices is recruiting Linux developers to write software for Hammer, the company's 64-bit processor that will first appear in late 2001. AMD has created a Web site for Linux developers and will ship participants a "technology simulator" of the chip next month so that the companies can begin to move their operating systems and applications to Hammer. AMD will also fund other Linux-Hammer-related initiatives.

Linux will help Dell Computer dislodge Sun Microsystems, chief executive Michael Dell predicted during a speech in which he also knocked the business plan of one of his company's major partners: Microsoft. "The open-source collaborative development model is built to succeed in the Internet age," Dell said. "It makes much more sense than the proprietary model."

VA Linux Systems unveiled a new online store that allows buyers to configure the software they want as well as the hardware. VA's build-to-order software option allows customers to choose from a few basic configurations, then specify in detail which of more than 700 software packages they'd like installed. Customers can save configurations and return to them later if they want to order another or modify the configuration.

Linuxcare, Dell and OpenSales created a partnership to sell OpenSales' e-commerce software on Dell computers. Dell will sell a server loaded with OpenSales' e-commerce software, which lets people create and run shopping Web sites, bundled with support from Linuxcare. The product will be unveiled in the fourth quarter and will be called E-Shop-in-a-Box.

IBM will ship a CD with SuSE's version of Linux with each of several Intel server models Big Blue sells in Europe. SuSE, one of the four major companies selling Linux, estimates the distribution deal will give 20,000 customers the opportunity to try SuSE. The agreement also permits IBM to sell its Netfinity servers with SuSE pre-installed.

A technology Web site posted a preview version of America Online for the Linux operating system. The software, code-named Gamera, was obtained by Techpages.com. A source close to AOL confirmed the download is authentic. An AOL representative said the company is "aware of the posting and (is) looking into it."

Love hurts more the second time around
A new strain of the infamous "I Love You" virus hit some businesses located in Europe and in the United States. The virus, "VBS/LoveLetter.bd," first appeared in Europe; so far, it has infected only computers at banks in the region and a few locations in the United States, according to experts. The new strain downloads and runs a program, "hcheck.exe," that steals passwords from an infected computer.

The FBI is investigating the Internet password-stealing scam, which may have forwarded stolen online banking codes to free email accounts run by U.S. companies. Like the original "Love" virus, it sends copies of itself to all of the addressees in a victim's email address book. In addition, the bug downloads a password-stealing program that lifts USB PIN numbers and sends them to three email addresses.

Experts warned that the new variant is reason for concern for the security of bank personal identification numbers, not so much for the damage it may cause but because of its potential to affect future attacks. Virus experts warn that the variant could spawn copycat versions attacking other financial institutions. It could also be the first in a new breed of targeted viruses, which security experts say could be the most dangerous kind yet and the toughest to protect against.

Despite ample warning and defenses, old viruses never die. Three months after the virus' initial outbreak, patches abound for the virus and its mutants. The problem is getting people and corporations to implement protective measures.

Breaking in
The motion picture industry won its battle in its war to keep DVDs from being copied and distributed online. The judge ruled that a hacker publication could not publish online a software program that allows DVD movies to be decoded and played on personal computers. Posting the code--or linking to direct downloads of the program--violates copyright law because it is an unauthorized way of breaking through the movie industry's copy protections.

A federal judge blocked the expansion of federal wiretapping powers, saying the proposed laws threatened individual privacy. The decision marks a victory for privacy advocates and the telecommunications industry, which have been fighting federal law enforcement and communications regulators on the issue for years. The FBI had asked for powers that critics said went beyond the jurisdiction they have on older phone networks.

The wireless Web doesn't yet work on Internet time when it comes to privacy issues. Despite discoveries months ago that wireless Web services were distributing customers' phone numbers to Web sites without telling them, little has changed. The privacy hole stems from callers using their mobile phones' tiny screens and slow connections to surf the Web.

New directions
A high-level reorganization left Microsoft headquarters directly in charge of WebTV's most promising businesses, a move that sources say effectively takes much of the company's operations away from its co-founders for the first time since the subsidiary was purchased three years ago. Although Microsoft played down the management shift, it is taking place at a critical juncture for the company's growing interactive TV initiative.

Compaq Computer expanded its popular iPaq brand, introducing new Internet access devices, including the first Web companion device for Microsoft's MSN Internet service. The new gadgets mark a shift in how Compaq hopes to garner revenue. The company has been moving away from pushing typical beige PCs and more toward making money on additional products and services.

Monitor maker Proview International Holding unveiled the iPad, an all-in-one Internet terminal with a built-in, 15-inch color monitor. Hong Kong-based Proview's move follows that of monitor rival ViewSonic, which earlier this month showed off 21 prototypes for Web-surfing devices. Like ViewSonic, Proview is betting that its experience manufacturing one of the most costly parts of computer systems will enable it to cut manufacturing costs for Internet appliances.

Sony Electronics plans to resurrect the Walkman brand for all of its portable music players, starting later this year with a new line of MP3 Walkmans. Sony also will dive into the market for Internet devices and cell phones. Sony intends to develop an Internet appliance "that's much easier (to use) even than WebTV."

Exits
Corel founder Michael Cowpland resigned as chief executive, chairman and president of the company amid continuing financial woes, lagging sales and a failed merger. Cowpland is stepping down from the top spot at the software maker to pursue start-up opportunities. Derek Burney, most recently executive vice president of engineering and chief technology officer at Corel, has been appointed interim CEO and president.

Great Bridge appointed a new CEO after earlier executives didn't see eye-to-eye. The subsidiary of Landmark Communications owns the Weather Channel and other media outlets. Though Great Bridge is less than 8 months old, a disagreement between Landmark chairman Frank Batten and Great Bridge's first chief executive, Al Ritter, led to Ritter's recent exit.

Hewlett-Packard spinoff Agilent Technologies is trimming 450 staff and 200 contract employees from its payroll as part of a restructuring. By one measure, the layoffs appear insignificant when viewed against the test and measurement company's work force of 43,000. But the layoffs will cut more than 10 percent off Agilent's Healthcare Solutions Group.

Also of note
iToke, a kind of alter ego to Kozmo.com, the popular 30-minute delivery service in several U.S. cities, plans to take orders for marijuana delivery in Amsterdam starting Sept. 1, igniting fires under that country's laws that prohibit marijuana sales outside of cafes...The annual candlelight pilgrimage past Elvis Presley's grave made its worldwide streaming video debut on the Presley estate's Web page...Wine.com and WineShopper.com will merge, with hopes that a combined company will hold greater appeal for investors...High-speed Internet access providers and alternative local phone companies have found themselves at the mercy of the striking Verizon Communications technicians, facing unanticipated difficulties in offering new connections in territory from Maine to Virginia.