Week ahead, the week that was

Napster kowtows to the music moguls. Also: The big non-story about Microsoft. Plus: Yahoo and the Broadcast.com fiasco

Will this be the week that Napster wakes up to the fact that it's destined to be toast? More about that down below.

Oral arguments are scheduled in the DeCSS appeal. However this gets decided, the outcome is bound to have ramifications for defining the limits of freedom of speech, linking and copyright on the Internet.

The press is on Steve Jobs alert in advance of an invitation to come down to Cupertino to witness the company's "exciting" announcements. The odds makers are betting on Apple announcing the debut of a slimmer version of the iBook following the success of the company's Titanium PowerBook G4.

More price cuts are on the way from Intel, which will chop prices on its 1.3GHz, 1.4GHz and 1.5GHz Pentium 4s. Translation: Base prices on P4 systems will soon near the $1,000 mark.

Also, AMD will provide its first public demonstration of dual-processor Athlon workstations at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas. The first machines are expected to reach the market later in the quarter.

Word is that more layoffs are in the works at 3Com after a memo sent out this week by CEO Bruce Claflin. With the company struggling to figure out a new business strategy--3Com has been continually reorganizing the past two years--management has scheduled a May 17 all-hands-on-deck meeting with employees.

Webvan will shut down its Sacramento, Calif., operation Saturday, a move that comes as the company reorganizes after elevating COO Robert Swan to replace former CEO George Shaheen, who resigned earlier this month. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, somebody's going to figure this business out sooner or later. If not Webvan, then some other outfit--because the idea makes too much sense. As always, proper execution remains the tough nut.

PricewaterhouseCoopers and VentureOne will announce the results of their venture capital survey. Let me guess: Internet pet food startups are finding it hard to find funding, right?

And not to be overlooked, the UFO Internet Convention will take place in Oakland, California. And if you're not lucky to be within driving distance, no worries: The plan is to stream the proceedings live via the Internet (for a very terrestrial fee of $9.99).

With the music industry threatening to sue, Edward Felten, an associate professor in Princeton University's computer science department, decided against presenting a paper recounting on how his research team he led broke security on digital music. So much for freedom of speech.

The music moguls also had their way with Napster, which kowtowed to them yet again in hopes of buying time. Napster "enhanced" its filters to comply with a previous court order to block swaps of much copyrighted music. Problem is that Napster's blocking more--a lot more--than that. A lot of the good stuff people regularly steal, err, download from Napster is now off limits. Though not a total wipeout (I was able to nab a cut from that immortal 1960's group, "Human Beinz") it's a medium-sized roadblock. When Napster tightens up even further, how long before the masses vote with their keyboards and turn to music-swapping alternatives? At that point, the company's financial backers are going to call it a day.

In the biggest non-story story of the spring, the press is already latching onto reports that developers are discovering compatibility problems between Windows XP and apps written for the so-called 9x code base incorporating Windows 95, Windows 98 and Millennium Edition.) Win XP is slated for release late in the year; if Microsoft hasn't by ten smoothed away any lingering glitches, that would qualify as news. Until then, change the channel.

Speaking of Microsoft, the company has decided that if you want to run the latest version of its Media Player, you're also going to have to be using Windows XP. A lot of hullabaloo was made about how this move was reminiscent of the decision to tie Internet Explorer to Windows, which triggered a government antitrust lawsuit. That's a big stretch, though this episode does provide an example of how incredibly PR tone deaf the folks in Redmond can sometimes be.

More than 650 million messages from Usenet will again become available for perusal thanks to Google's decision to add the archive to a test version of the service. The stuff, which dates back to 1995, was acquired with the purchase of the collection from Deja.com. There's still more work to be done. Users still can't post messages to newsgroups, a feature the company says will become available by the middle of May.

What are the perks of being big? Well, if you're Intel, it's the freedom to spend about $500 million promoting its technology with software developers, on top of a $300 million advertising campaign targeting the corporate market.

Steve Perlman nabbed a cool $67 million to fund his latest startup. Though he's mum about specifics--how about a Web TV killer from none other than the inventor of Web TV?--Perlman's feat in attracting that sum in a down venture market.

Congressman Billy Tauzin pushed through a telecom bill on a House subcommittee that makes big changes in the 1996 Telecom Act. The issue has excited not a small amount of controversy because it removes many restrictions that the baby Bells would have had to satisfy in order to win rights to offer long-distance voice service. Coincidence, I am sure, but critics claim the good congressman is in the pocket of the regional Bell companies, who are naturally drooling at the prospect of Tauzin's bill being passed into legislation.

Yahoo rolled out a new broadcast site, which the company said would bring all its streaming content in one area--and presumably bring in lots more revenue. For Yahoo's sake, I hope so. But rewind for a second: What have the billions it spent to buy Broadcast.com in 1999 brought Yahoo? I'm in a gentle mood so suffice it to say that this acquisition remains a work in progress. Let's at least hope that in return for its generosity, Yahoo's brass at least scored freebie playoff seats to Dallas Maverick home games from team owner (and Broadcast.com co-founder) Mark ("Hang the Ref!") Cuban.

Excite@Home finally made it official, naming Patti Hart as chairman and chief executive. The former Telocity CEO will have her hands full, becoming the company's fourth CEO since 1995, just as Excite@Home moving away from its strategy of offering a combined Internet content with fast network connections to focus on its broadband access business. But this is a plum job. So what if Hart can't pull the company out of its morass; she can always say the ship was listing at 40 degrees when she took over. And if she saves the day, it's a guaranteed Business Week cover story, replete with all the accompanying kissy-kiss treatment.

Yours truly received an e-mail earful from PriceLine chairman and former CEO Richard Braddock who did not care for my recent comments about the compensation doled out to top management. Fair enough. We can disagree about what sort of numbers make for an equitable comp package. But when a company's stock loses 97 percent of its value in a single year, any consideration of the magnitude of Priceline's largess becomes all the more mind-boggling.

IBM bought what's left of Informix Software, a former high-flyer that once ran neck-and-neck with Oracle in the early part of the 1990s. Still, the company has a customer list--as well as technology-- that's of interest to Big Blue.

Bill Joy actually said "modularize" during Sun Microsystems' Jxta rollout. For that offense, alone, he should be required to perform 100 squat thrusts.

Gateway's Ted Waitt is justly receiving kudos for dumping the company's annoyingly silly policies governing warranty and customer support. With brand loyalty at an all-time low, it makes no sense to invalidate warranties, for example, if customers subsequently install software on machines bought from Gateway--a holdover regulation Waitt has now eliminated.

And in the week's Internet morality tale, Nasdaq finally delisted TheGlobe.com, after shares of the Internet community site failed to climb above the required $1 minimum bid price. Amazingly, TheGlobe.com once traded as high as $97, which it reached on its first day of trading in 1998.

In the news
War! Intel launches chip attack

Party's over for online storage

IBM revs up database battle

MS chains new Media Player to Windows XP

Compaq steps closer to PCTV

DSL critics slam Tauzin bill

Report: Bluetooth future not bright

Chicago to IBM: Clean up your act

AOL wants to put the brakes on IE

Napster: Filtering takes another tack

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