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Technology

National

Issue: "Earthquake in Bam," Jan. 10, 2004

Orbitz's orbit

For one moment, it was like the old days. Orbitz, the online travel agency, launched onto the Nasdaq market and its price shot up. Then it crashed.

The strange journey of Orbitz, a 4-year-old dot-com backed by the five biggest U.S. airlines, shows that anxieties continue even as the market recovers. The still-unprofitable startup was born too late to join the big boom of the late '90s. It raised nearly $100 million from its IPO, even though it finished its first day below its initial price.

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Some investors now hope that Google will be the company that reignites interest in new stock offerings. They predict that the powerhouse search engine will initiate an IPO sometime this year. While the company doesn't disclose its finances, many believe it is already profitable.

Other possible IPOs are generating much less buzz. They include Salesforce.com, Shopping.com, and audio warhorse Dolby Laboratories.

The linchpin for the IPO market is whether forecasters' rosy expectations of the strongest economic growth in two decades come true. There are certainly signs of hope for tech companies: Many businesses are resuming investment in equipment, which raises demand for technology. Meanwhile, hot consumer products from digital cameras to laptops are becoming more powerful, less expensive, and more tempting.

Copyright or wrong?

Sco remains a four-letter word to countless computer geeks. The software company is fighting hard to collect payments from users of Linux, an operating system easily available for free.

The Utah company owns the classic operating system Unix and claims some of its proprietary programming code was added into Linux. SCO threatened to sue some major corporations who don't buy software licenses.

SCO began making waves by suing IBM last March. Since then, U.S. Magistrate Judge Brooke Wells set a Jan. 23 deadline for the company to present evidence of how IBM misappropriated Unix code.

As a software company, SCO is a small player. It reported a fourth-quarter 2003 loss of $1.6 million on revenue of $24.3 million. Yet it will transform the high-tech landscape if it wins in court or convinces industry big shots to pay up.

Critics say SCO is blowing smoke with a pile of legalese. They say that while Linux resembles Unix, no copyrighted code is necessary to make it work. They say the two operating systems can coexist.

Meanwhile, another company, Novell, says it, not SCO, still owns the copyrights for Unix. SCO claims it paid $100 million to Novell eight years ago for Unix along with the copyrights. (Both companies are based in Utah.) Novell had bought the software from AT&T, which had given complimentary copies to universities for years.

Bits & megabytes

Michigan State University graduate student Michael Shafer made math history by finding the largest known prime number. The number is 6,320,430 digits long, over 2 million digits larger than the previous leader. He used a normal PC as part of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, which runs in the computer's background, looking for a number divisible only by itself and 1.

Dot-com domain names can still fetch a pretty penny. Rick Schwartz of Florida sold Mem.com to some anonymous investors for $1.3 million. He paid only $15,000 for it in 1997-and plans to use his profits to buy more domain names.

The recording industry now faces harder legal battles against online pirates after a federal appeals court ruled that internet providers do not have to turn over the names of their customers. This means industry officials cannot use subpoenas to identify potential defendants in future copyright lawsuits.

Microsoft has joined forces with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to sue an alleged spam ring that sent billions of unwanted messages. They want $20 million in damages and say the group hurt the viability of online commerce.

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