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Week in review: Thin is in at Apple

Apple Computer is squeezing its latest iMac into a much slimmer design.

Apple Computer is squeezing its latest iMac into a much slimmer design.

The new all-in-one iMac G5 desktop tucks all of its components, including its hard drive, processor and DVD drive, behind a wide-screen liquid crystal display. The machine, which is about 2 inches thick and is mounted on a curved metal stand, has proportions similar to those of the company's Cinema Display flat panels.

The unveiling at the Apple Expo in Paris marks somewhat of a change in emphasis for the company, whose designs for PCs in recent months have been overshadowed by its iPod digital music player. On its Web site, Apple asserts that the iMac G5 is "as fun and useful" as the iPod. In fact, the iPod design team came up with the new iMac, which Apple describes as "enchanting."

But the iMac G5 faces some obstacles, including its starting price, which, at $1,299, is higher than a typical consumer-oriented desktop PC, which can be had for $500 to $700, and a 17-inch LCD display, which runs about $400. Still, Apple and others, such as Gateway, have shown that there is a market for all-in-ones, despite their price and the fact that a display can outlive a desktop PC by years.

One of Apple's biggest challenges with the latest iMac was making sure the machine stays cool. The G5 processor at the heart of Apple's new machine gives off quite a bit of heat, so much so that Apple has been warning that it will be some time before consumers see a G5 laptop.

Apple says it managed to beat the heat with a couple of tricks. One is an air intake hole near the speakers at the bottom of the machine. Taiwanese PC maker Acer tried a similar trick on some laptops--using the speakers and area around the screen as a vent. Unlike the top-of-the-line Power Mac G5, the new iMac is not liquid cooled. Instead, it uses three fans--one near the hard drive, one near the G5 and another as part of the power supply.

In related news, Apple hopes the open-source heritage of its operating system will spare the fifth version of OS X from the security woes that have dogged Microsoft. The operating system update is expected to debut in the first half of 2005.

Bertrand Serlet, senior vice president of software at Apple, said having a greater number of people keeping an eye on source code leads to better software security. "A lot of security problems derive from the core," he said. With open-source code, "thousands of people look at the critical portions of source code and...check (to make sure) those portions are right. It's a major advantage to have open-source code."

No harmony in Net music
While Apple is pretty proud of itself for trying to avoid the security headaches that have dogged Microsoft, it's not too happy with the software giant's foray into the online music arena.

The software giant has raised the curtain on its MSN Music Web site, which offers song downloads for 99 cents each. The store also has a home in Windows Media Player 10, which was released this week.

MSN Music will enable people to download tracks onto their hard drives and onto portable devices that support the Windows Media digital audio format. Unlike Apple's iTunes, the MSN store does not require users to download a separate software program to access the music lineup.

In the coming weeks, Microsoft plans to add features to the store, such as expanding its library to 1 million songs. The company said it expects a full release of MSN Music in October.

Apple immediately downplayed Microsoft's threat to Apple's dominance in music download service, saying MSN has fewer features and fewer songs than the market-leading iTunes.

But Microsoft may have some advantages. Whereas Apple has concentrated on music, Microsoft is giving nearly equal weight to video. The software giant is pushing a new category of devices, dubbed Portable Media Centers, that play TV shows and video in addition to songs. And while Apple has taken an exclusively sales-oriented approach, Microsoft has also developed technology that allows people to "rent" music through a subscription service.

Apple is trying to up the ante by offering commissions to third-party sites that drive customers to iTunes. The company said that the iTunes Affiliate Program will allow Web sites to link directly to specific content stored in iTunes' digital archives, and will pay dividends to those companies that can help Apple generate downloads.

The program mirrors Apple's efforts to attract student customers by offering free iTunes site licenses to colleges. The company has also tried to drive sales through volume discount programs.

Tech in court
Court dockets across the country were full of tech-related names and issues this week.

•  A federal judge granted Verizon Wireless a permanent injunction in its suit against a man accused of sending unsolicited text messages to its customers. Jacob Brown, a Rhode Island resident, allegedly barraged Verizon subscribers with large volumes of spam advertising home loans and adult Web sites. The ruling bars Brown from sending further spam to Verizon's customers.

•  Insurance giant Geico got the green light to sue Google and Overture Services for allegedly selling advertisements linked to its trademarks, a federal judge has ruled. The decision delivered a blow to the two Internet search giants in their efforts to defend ad sales of trademarks as fair use. It could also ultimately threaten their livelihood: Google and Overture make money by selling ads linked to keyword-triggered search results, and many commercially driven searches are tied to trademarked brands.

•  A federal appeals court said an anti-abortion activist violated trademark law by registering a slew of domain names, including drinkcoke.org, mycoca-cola.com, mymcdonalds.com, mypepsi.org, and my-washingtonpost.com. Bill Purdy, who lives in South St. Paul, Minn., had purchased those and other domains, and used them to point visitors to anti-abortion commentary and images of aborted and dismembered fetuses. Purdy claims that the companies he targeted promote abortion.

•  A federal appeals court reaffirmed that replacement garage door openers are legal to sell. In a case with important implications for the technology industry, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a lower court decision saying that universal garage door openers cannot be banned under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Security update
Vulnerabilities in a technology known as Kerberos that is widely used for network authentication have left computers running Unix, Linux and Apple Computer's Mac OS X potentially open to attack.

The flaws, known as double-free vulnerabilities, are caused because a part of the program attempts to free up the same computer memory space twice. Such errors are not as easy to take advantage of as another, more common memory error--the buffer overflow. That gives administrators a little breathing room.

Meanwhile, database software maker Oracle pushed out a host of long-awaited patches after struggling to organize its software fixes into a monthly release schedule. The patches fix flaws in several of the company's products, including versions 10g, 9i and 8i of its Oracle Database Server and versions of its 10g and 9i Application Server.

The flaws range from common memory errors known as buffer overflows to a hole that allows an attacker to take control of the servers by inserting commands into instructions sent to the database.

Also of note
Technology is now available that will make it possible for someone to choose what appears on phones that have Caller ID, the feature for displaying identifying information about an incoming call...Logitech unveiled an optical mouse that uses a laser, rather than a light-emitting diode, to track its movements...Friendster, known for breaking new ground in online social networking and promoting self-expression among peers, fired one of its employees for her personal Web log...Walt Disney's MovieBeam will delay expansion into new markets until 2005 and is exploring new strategic partnerships.