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Issue: "The Marriage Amendment," June 8, 2002

Antitrust software

Microsoft's federal antitrust settlement filters down to its software this summer. An update to Windows XP lets users replace Microsoft e-mail, Web browser, and instant-messaging software with rival programs. This summer, a downloadable update will offer this option. The government demanded it, saying it opens the doors to competitors. Hardcore Microsoft haters say the move is not enough-and nine state attorneys general still demand additional penalties. Once users install the upgrade, they will find a new utility called "Set Program Access and Defaults." It lets them make their computers behave as if some of Microsoft's own software tools had been removed from Windows. The decision can be easily reversed, making the programs reappear. Much recent Microsoft activity has little to do with desktop PCs. At the company's annual CEO summit, co-founder Bill Gates showed off the soon-to-be-launched Tablet PC. It's supposed to combine the ease of a pen and notebook with the power of a laptop. Hardware manufacturers are expected to roll out the devices in October and sell them in the $1,600 to $2,200 range. (Microsoft is also heavily pushing the Xbox video game system, dropping its retail price from $299 to $199. It followed a similar move from competitor Sony, as sales of the new system have been slower than expected.) The megapower software company may be closing one case, but another is starting-in Europe. The European Union has threatened to fine Microsoft over alleged violations of data protection laws. The charges concern the .NET Passport service, which manages e-commerce services. The company also faces an unrelated EU antitrust investigation into its products. -C.S.

The blind shall see

Robert Rosene is a bionic man. Not the Six Million Dollar Man, but he does have a bionic eye and a bionic ear. The 68-year-old Illinois man is one of six patients to receive experimental eye implants. "Bionics" simply refers to replacing body parts with mechanical devices. The bionic ear, also known as the cochlear implant, may one day replace hearing aids. Now scientists have high hopes for a bionic eye. Scientists say the human brain gives bionic sensory organs an advantage: It can adjust to the crudeness and imperfections of the mechanical eyes and ears. The brain "needs really a small amount of information to reconstruct speech," said Dr. William Heetderks of the National Institute of Health. "It's reasonable to believe that the same thing is possible in the visual realm." Bionic eyes are installed by surgeons who carve a tiny pocket in the retina. The deposited chip is thinner than a hair but contains 5,000 microscopic solar cells. It converts light into electrical impulses that arouse the retina and simulate sight. -C.S.

Mousetrapped

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John Zuccarini is an elusive Internet scam artist. He used thousands of misspelled Web addresses to lure Net users to porn sites and casinos. Now he has been ordered to stop his scheme-and pay almost $1.9 million. To set his traps, Mr. Zuccarini created websites that contained misspellings of popular names, including the Backstreet Boys, Bank of America, and The Wall Street Journal. Many of the websites targeted kids-including 15 variations on the Cartoon Network's website and 41 wrong spellings of "Britney Spears." Once users reached the site, they were blitzed with ads for smut and online casinos. Regulators call the practice "mousetrapping," because those who hit such sites find it difficult to escape. The new windows returned to the screen even after they were closed, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Investigators said Mr. Zuccarini collected $800,000 to $1 million per year by charging advertisers whose ads appear on the browser windows. In the government's suit, Mr. Zuccarini never appeared on his own or through a lawyer. It is unclear whether regulators will be able to collect the money. Florida lawyer Howard Neu, who once represented Mr. Zuccarini, said he had "not the foggiest" idea where his ex-client is. -Chris Stamper

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