Week in review: Gazing at Windows XP

Summary:Microsoft fires a broadside with its WinXP-linked Internet instant messaging, and Sun stirs the Java faithful to action in San Francisco.

With Windows XP's official release mere months away, Microsoft has started to clear some of the haze swirling around what can be expected from its next operating system.

Microsoft this week introduced a test version of Windows XP that significantly boosts the abilities of its instant-messaging software to provide text, chat, video, audio and telephony services. Called Windows Messenger, the software is Microsoft's effort to bundle other communications technologies with Internet instant messaging and to gain an advantage over rival AOL Time Warner.

The release coincided with negotiations between the two companies to include AOL software in the Windows XP operating system and to extend AOL's use of Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser.

In addition, Microsoft is extending to Windows XP a new technology that could give the company some control over consumers' access to sites, content and services on the Web. The feature, known as Smart Tags, would strengthen Microsoft's ability to tie its newest applications and operating systems to its own Web sites or others that it favors, including those that charge fees. Microsoft introduced Smart Tags with Office XP, which the company launched May 31. But the software maker also is testing Smart Tags in the version of Internet Explorer 6 included with Windows XP.

Give me another cup
Loyalists of Java, the programming language invented by Sun Microsystems, descended on San Francisco to hear the latest at the JavaOne conference. With Microsoft set squarely in their sites, most companies, including Sun, Oracle, BEA Systems and others, touted Java in upcoming hardware and software.

Sun President Ed Zander set the tone for the conference in his keynote address, calling on Java programmers to use the language as a tool to keep Microsoft's "evil empire" at bay. He also highlighted a number of advances with Java, including pushing the technology in non-computer gadgets, including Sony's PlayStation 2 video game console.

Sun founder Bill Joy focused on the company's Jxta project, encouraging programmers to embrace plans to create a standard, open-source technology for file-swapping services--similar in scope as Napster and Gnutella. Separately, representatives of eMikolo, a 25-person start-up based in Redwood City, Calif., shared the stage with Joy to announce that the company would be moving its custom-made peer-to-peer software to Jxta.

Software rivals Oracle and BEA traded friendly jabs at the conference, but both agreed that healthy competition between Java software makers was better than butting heads with Microsoft. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison made sure to show why Oracle products ran faster than products from BEA, but also targeted IBM's e-commerce offerings.

Singing a new tune
Napster cut a deal that should allow it to sell music from three of the five major music labels as part of its proposed subscription service.

The company struck a distribution deal with MusicNet, the subscription service jointly created by RealNetworks, Warner Music Group, Bertelsmann and EMI Recorded Music. Expected to go live this summer, the MusicNet affiliation will eventually give Napster access to more than half of the mainstream music most often sought by consumers. The deal marks a direct attack by MusicNet and its three labels against Duet, the coalition formed by Sony Music and Vivendi Universal to distribute their own music.

As Napster makes changes to its business and increasingly feels the pressure of legal requirements, Internet service providers are getting caught in the cross fire as record companies, Hollywood studios and independent copyright bounty hunters target their subscribers as pirates. Increasingly, service providers are even being asked to cut their subscribers' connections, a last-ditch proposition that these companies ordinarily avoid at all costs. Although many ISPs are complying, several of the largest are putting the brakes on the most severe of these requests, saying copyright law simply doesn't cover the new file-swapping services.

It's a deal
Free Internet service providers NetZero and Juno Online Services agreed to merge, combining the last big independent players still operating in the once-hot free Net access market. The two survivors will become a single company called United Online, which will continue to offer free services under the NetZero brand and move its paid services under the Juno name. Together the two will reach 7 million active subscribers--people who have logged onto the service at least once in the last month--giving them a larger base than any other ISP outside of America Online.

Bright stars
A scantily clad, Barbie doll-like woman is the star of the 16-bit color screen of J-Phone's new J-SHO7 cell phone. Ulala is the animated and pixel-perfect star attraction of the world's first phone capable of displaying 3D images, which was introduced this week and should start hitting store shelves in Japan by the end of June. Her presence on cell phones is raising questions of whether 3D phones and applications will spark sales in the wireless industry.

Similarly, a new technology is lighting up the eyes of engineers. Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays are considered the next trend in the world of screens. Still, manufacturers are carefully approaching how they bring products to market and are sticking with small screens at first. Manufacturers are interested in OLED because it could replace liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) for notebooks and flat-panel monitors. Unlike LCDs, OLED technology uses a light-emitting organic material that glows when an electrical charge is passed through it.

Toshiba's new chip-design method promises to increase the performance and reduce the size and power consumption of system-on-a-chip processors. The X Architecture changes the way a chip's interconnects--metal wires that connect transistors and carry signals--are routed. X architecture allows the interconnects to be routed diagonally across the chip in any of eight directions, instead of following the traditional right-angle-grid routing method used in all but a few of today's chips.

Also of note
After claiming last month that the open-source model is flawed and "responsible for releasing unhealthy code," Microsoft Senior Vice President Craig Mundie is set to debate the issue at an open-source conference in July...3Com issued a profit warning for its fourth quarter and discontinued its cable and digital subscriber line modem business...Net2Phone launched a new service that allows consumers to make phone calls over the Internet using their regular phones...A critical link between two Internet networks was cut, blocking some companies from seeing their own Web sites and stalling e-mail between thousands of sources...In another sign that the PC price war is filtering down to handheld computers, Handspring announced a new rebate program on its latest model...Hoping that two Athlons prove better than one, Advanced Micro Devices launched chips that will allow high-end computers to use two of the company's flagship processors simultaneously.

Topics: Microsoft, Browser, Hardware, Open Source, Operating Systems, Oracle, Software, Toshiba, Windows

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