Week ahead, the week that was

Backing down on McVeigh Unplugged. Plus: MS disses GPL. Also: Another Paul Allen stinker

And now for a detour into the realm of the truly surreal, David Marshlack, chief executive of Entertainment Network, finally decided that no, he wouldn't take his request to Webcast the Timothy McVeigh execution to the Supreme Court. Marshlack, who explained that there was simply not enough time to "mount an effective appeal" before the execution, said his request was based on the First Amendment and "goes to the very heart of constitutional protections against government secrecy."

Well, I'm not so sure there's any secret about what's going to happen to McVeigh--unless you're curious about the color of his face and the look in his eyes just before his final moment. I'm sure Marshlack's lawyers believe he has contributed mightily to the quality of our civilization by bringing us the likes of VoyeurDorm.com and ErotixMall.com. But even by those exalted standards, a $1.95 pay-per-view execution strikes this old head as beyond the pale.

What's next: Human sacrifice?

Is the recent tech stock rally a sucker's bet? I'll leave that to the Wall Street geniuses, but from this vantage point the fashionable pessimism about IT spending notwithstanding is based on yesterday's news.

Pay attention to Advanced Micro Devices CEO Jerry Sanders, who said this week the PC market is "definitely in a recovery." Sanders, who expects sales to perk up after the second quarter, is not alone. Earlier in the week, Chuck Phillips of Morgan Stanley, one of the savviest industry watchers around, reported that a survey of CIO managers suggested that the rate of budget reductions is leveling off. What's more, only 15 percent of the execs who responded said they were so flush with new technology that it would take a couple of years to digest their purchases. At the risk of being labeled a Pollyanna, the worst may well be over.

Will this herald the next step in broadband? At the Networld+Interop show, SBC plans to announce a fiber-optic connection breakthrough, offering speeds up to 2,000 times faster than dial-up for homes and small businesses.

Inventor Raymond Kurzweil (who recently won a $500,000 Lemelson-MIT inventor's award) and artist Harold Cohen will take the wraps off the next incarnation of its "cybernetic" art program "AARON." This is an outrageous oversimplification of a project that's been in continuous development for the last three decades, but suffice it to describe AARON as a software application that continuously creates original artwork on a computer screen.

The week that was
Microsoft exec Craig Mundie commanded a fair share of ink after suggesting that open source "leads to a strong possibility of unhealthy 'forking' of a code base," the upshot being "multiple incompatible versions of programs, weakened interoperability, product instability, and hindering businesses' ability to strategically plan for the future." More about this in a future column, but his subsequent slam against the GPL is at odds with the increasing adoption of open source within the corporate world.

Speaking of Microsoft, another week and another security hole reported out of Redmond. This time it earned a description of "serious vulnerability" from Scott Culp, security product manager for the software giant. Only a few days earlier, Microsoft was dealing with the so-called W32/Hello virus, which was spreading via the MSN Messenger Service. Not to pile on here, but why does a company this big and this talented still need to wind up doing mad scrambles to plug an increasingly porous cyberdike in its software?

I wonder why folks didn't make a bigger deal of it, but Motorola's agreement to use ReplayTV's DVR software in set-top boxes--the first such deal between a big cable set-top box maker and a supplier of DVR software--rates more than just a footnote in the business page. We'll see how quickly Motorola integrates the technologies and how much it's going to cost consumers (who will presumably buy the boxes from cable operators). In addition, will the cable operators wilt in the face of opposition from the networks, who are none-too-happy about the prospect of viewers being able to blithely skip past their ads?

i2 president Greg Brady was promoted to the chief executive post, replacing Chairman Sanjiv Sidhu. Word has it that Marsha is in line to become COO.

Sun Microsystems has offered to "help" IBM clean up its mess after city officials in San Francisco and Chicago rightly ripped Big Blue for its "Peace, Love and Linux" campaign, which involved spray-painting symbols on sidewalks. You have to wonder whether the folks up in Armonk are dropping heavy acid when Big Lou's not looking.

Following recent DSL price hikes by EarthLink and SBC Communications, AT&T jacked up the monthly connection fee it charges consumers for cable modem Internet access. Not to get left behind, the good folks at Verizon and BellSouth raised their DSL rates. Any of the stragglers who have not yet followed suit will surely do so in coming weeks.

In its race against time to bring cash burn and revenue growth more in line, Loudcloud plans to hand out pink slips to about 122 employees, or about 19 percent of its work force. I think the company has a good shot at making it, but Loudcloud's fate hinges more on the macro impact of the four recent Federal Reserve rate cuts than anything Marc Andreessen or Ben Horowitz can pull out of their hats. Unfortunately for them, Loudcloud went public during the perfect storm of tech retrenchments.

After Dell cut prices by 10 percent on corporate desktops earlier in the week, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard responded with sizable cuts of their own.

The Baby Bells' push for permission to enter the long-distance market in data services is running into congressional opposition. Reps. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, and John Conyers, D-Mich., introduced legislation that would effectively block a bill sponsored by Billy Tauzin, R-La., and John Dingell, D-Mich., which was approved in the committee's Telecommunications Subcommittee.

Paul Allen's golden touch continues as iMotors.com, the online seller of used cars, becomes his latest investment to bite the dust. Microsoft's co-founder (and charter member of the Accidental Billionaire Boy's Club) has suffered through a rough patch. Earlier in the week, the Portland Trailblazers, Allen's basketball team, did its annual choke and was summarily bounced from the NBA playoffs. But hey, maybe the Seattle Seahawks--Allen's other boy toy--will fare better when the NFL season begins this fall. One can only hope.

Turbolinux and Linuxcare found themselves in the remarkable position of having to call off their merger after three months of operating as a single company. In the textbook, you'll find this one under the heading "major mess."

An investment firm by the name of Gores Technology Group bought what remains of Micron Electronics' PC business. Gores prides itself on being a turnaround specialist, but this is going to be a royal challenge. It's not that Micron systems are inferior to those offered by Dell or Gateway--in fact, they are not--but against the backdrop of slowing sales and escalating price-cutting, Gores, which is expected to attempt to sell the business to another PC maker, will need lots of luck finding a bidder. Maybe if Gores had purchased Proxicom--but Compaq beat it to the punch.

The people running Computer Associates had a collective embolism after a New York Times article last Sunday accused the company of using "accounting tricks" to inflate sales figures. The company struck back with a conference call, attacking the article as "misleading and erroneous." The folks at the Gray Lady don't need yours truly to defend them. But despite the best spin money could buy over the last decade and a half, CA continues to battle an image problem--so far, I might add, unsuccessfully.

Webvan hiked delivery fees for orders under $100 in Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area; customers elsewhere are already charged the higher fees. Smart move--this is a service, after all, and if you want the convenience, shouldn't you be prepared to pay? Maybe Webvan's new tagline should be: No more free lunches.

In the news

MS races to fix security hole

No Windows XP until 2002?

Replay sneaks into the set-top

Chinese hackers declare May Day war

Micr on to sell PC business assets

Music biz: Throw the book at DeCSS

Linux marriage goes awry

When ASPs go sour, what do you do?

Lawyers slam FBI hack