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The week in review: Macworld harvest

Mac fans flocked to the Macworld Expo to watch Apple Computer trot out new hardware, software and even a Web services plan--but will people pay for the offerings?

Mac fans flocked to the Macworld Expo in New York to watch Apple Computer trot out new hardware, software and even a Web services plan--but it might be a challenge getting people to pay for the offerings.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs kicked off the trade show by unveiling new iPod digital-audio players and a new flat-panel iMac.

The new iPod players include models built specifically for computers that use Microsoft's Windows operating system. Apple lowered the price of the existing 5GB iPod and a redesigned 10GB model, which is thinner and comes with a new case and remote control. Jobs also introduced a beefier 20GB iPod for $499. The iPod stable now includes three models for Mac users and three models for Windows users with MusicMatch software.

As expected, Jobs introduced a new iMac model with a 17-inch flat-panel monitor. The model offers a widescreen display with 1,440-by-900-pixel resolution versus 1,024-by-768-pixel resolution for the 15-inch iMac.

Jobs also previewed the next version of Mac OS X, version 10.2, which will be on store shelves Aug. 24 for $129. OS X 10.2 includes a new Finder with improved search features, spring-loaded folders and the ability to change the background photo as often as every 5 seconds.

But fans who rushed to OS X last year learned there's no such thing as a cheap upgrade when the company announced it will not offer a discounted upgrade version of Mac OS X version 10.2, code-named Jaguar, to current users of the operating system. To get Jaguar, current OS X users will have to buy a new Macintosh or an entirely new version of the operating system for the retail price of $129.

Apple's decision not to sell a less-expensive upgrade version lay in the qualitative difference between version 10.1 and 10.2. Although the versions share the same core technology, Jaguar includes several new features and services, such as search tool Sherlock 3 and Internet address finder Rendezvous, which arguably classify it as an entirely new piece of software.

Apple also raised eyebrows by transitioning its iTools Web services from a free program to a paid program called .Mac. The company plans to charge about $100 per year for the program. The collection of Web services was launched about three years ago, and now includes online storage via a service called iDisk, online greeting cards through iCards and other features.

Despite iTool's popularity, the company may face a tough sell with the .Mac program. The history of paid services, is not a pretty picture. Customers have bristled when companies try to slap charges on previously free services. Some have succeeded but many have struggled, especially when free alternatives lurked elsewhere. In the early 1990s, Apple's efforts to form online communities and popularize search engines failed magnificently.

To its advantage, Apple has presented a fairly coherent and tangible set of services with .Mac. And although its software division is far more organized than it once was, it's unclear how overwhelming demand will be. However, an online petition protesting the new charges doesn't bode well for the program.

Microsoft's moves
Not one to be caught in anyone's shadow, Microsoft plans to offer a rebate for its Office suite for Mac OS X to those who buy the software bundle when they pick up a new Mac. The promotion entails a $50 mail-in rebate for people buying a new Mac and upgrading to Office v. X, and $100 for those buying a Mac and the full version of the software.

The offers come after Microsoft revealed that sales of the software have not met its expectations. The software potentate had expected to sell 750,000 copies of Office v. X by now, but instead has sold only 300,000 since the program went on sale last November.

Microsoft is also putting the finishing touches on the third collection of Windows 2000 bug fixes, which is nearly ready for release after a protracted period of testing. The update, Windows 2000 Service Pack 3, contains vital security updates and hundreds of fixes to bugs plaguing the operating system that Microsoft released in February 2000. Service Pack 3 could be important for many businesses, as not all of the included security fixes are available as separate downloads.

Not everything will be available as a download, however. Weeks before Microsoft plans to reinstate Java in Windows XP, it has shut down a site that would automatically send its Java software to Windows XP users. The company closed the install-on-demand feature 30 days after it told Java inventor Sun Microsystems it would reinstate Java in Windows XP through the forthcoming Service Pack 1 but remove it altogether in 2004.

Somebody's watching you
You better watch what you write in Yahoo's free e-mail service--because Yahoo is. To protect users from malicious code, Yahoo uses an automated filter to swap out a handful of words such as "mocha" and "eval" that pertain to Web code known as JavaScript.

The reason is that e-mail sent in a form known as "Web enhanced" can contain JavaScript instructions able to run programs on the recipient's PC. JavaScript is a Web language that can issue commands such as telling the browser to open up other windows or to prompt a service to change a password, for example.

"Mocha" is one of those special commands that can be run from Web-enhanced e-mail. Typing "mocha:" into the location bar of the Netscape browser will open a screen with a display area and a text box underneath, in which commands can be entered. A malicious hacker could, for example, use the command line to run a program that changes a person's password without that person's knowledge.

On the heels of plans for new powers to patrol people's Web use, the U.S. government is again turning to technology to monitor suspicious activity in the name of fighting terrorism. The government has unveiled more details of its Terrorist Information and Prevention System (TIPS), a plan to recruit volunteers across the country who will keep tabs on dubious or suspicious behavior.

"The program will involve the millions of American workers who, in the daily course of their work, are in a unique position to see potentially unusual or suspicious activity in public places," according to the TIPS Web site. But the American Civil Liberties Union, one of several critics of the plan, fears the proposal will encourage racial profiling and vigilantism, possibly leading to searches of private homes without a warrant.

Also of note
A handful of entrepreneurial technology companies are advancing techniques once used haphazardly by record companies and Napster-haters, in ways that may be far more destructive to the credibility of file-swapping networks than were previous efforts...Apple released the final version of its QuickTime 6 digital media software, marking a stand-down in a dispute over licensing fees...The Federal Trade Commission is planning to take a deeper look at whether some state laws illegally restrict Internet commerce...In one of the toughest sentences for online auction fraud, a Virginia man was sentenced to 12 years in prison for defrauding hundreds of shoppers on eBay and Yahoo auction sites...The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow for life prison sentences for malicious computer hackers...MPEG LA, a group of patent holders governing MPEG-4, finalized licensing terms for the media delivery standard, bowing to market pressure for manageable royalty rates...Several tech and telecommunications giants are considering a joint venture to pepper the United States with wireless "hot spots."

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