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Issue: "Iraq: The WMD debate," Feb. 21, 2004

Curtain time for Opera

Opera Software, the Norwegian company known for the "rebel browser" aimed at users who want neither Netscape nor Internet Explorer, plans an IPO next month. Over nine years as a digital dark horse, Opera built a niche among PC, Linux, and Mac users-and gained a foothold in the PDA and mobile phone market.

Opera is one of the few companies to charge for a web browser. For $39 users get a program with a reputation for running faster while using less disk space and memory-which may be why the software is popular on small, handheld devices. (A free version is available for those willing to tolerate extra advertising.)

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The company claims it can cram more functions into tiny, low-memory spaces. It signed deals with cell-phone giants like Nokia, Sony Ericsson, and Motorola to install its web browser on their handsets. The software allows full web access, instead of limiting users to the less popular wireless application protocol (WAP) format.

By American standards, Opera is tiny but stalwart. The company, which has only 125 employees, earned $182,000 in profit last year and plans to reap from $10 million to $20 million when it debuts on the Oslo market. It reported that users downloaded over 10 million copies of its desktop browser in the first half of 2003.

Band aid

APPLE'S NEW GARAGEBAND SOFTWARE COULD turn any Mac user into a musician. The new software lets users mix digitized instruments, prerecorded loops, and sound effects to generate their own songs using a simplified interface. Its creators claim it offers "a professional-quality musical instrument and recording studio for musicians and aspiring musicians alike."

GarageBand is a part of Apple's iLife '04 suite of five programs; except for iTunes, the whole bunch is Mac-only-and sold for only $49 a copy. The project is clearly aimed at maintaining the Mac's niche among creative types, providing something extra that can't be found on a PC. (The other programs in the iLife package are updates of iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD.)

"Over half of U.S. households have at least one member who currently plays a musical instrument," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said at the MacWorld Expo. "So we think GarageBand is going to find a very receptive audience."

This new software resembles other music programs in that it offers a standard collection of sounds: 50 instruments, 1,000 loops, and 200 special effects. A $99 add-on contains even more options. What makes it special is the user-friendly Mac-style interface.

Bits & Megabytes

U.S. Magistrate Judge Brooke Wells said that SCO Group's $5 billion lawsuit against IBM over the Linux operating system is at an impasse. SCO gave the court documents to support its claim that the computer giant infringed on its proprietary UNIX programming code. IBM attorneys responded that the small Utah software company didn't identify which specific instructions violated its intellectual property rights.

The Justice Department wants the FCC to delay new rules for internet phone calls until federal officials figure out how to monitor private conversations, since conventional wiretaps may not work with the new technology.

Tower Records' parent company, MTS Inc., filed for bankruptcy as the chain struggles to survive against big-box retailers, dot-com discounters, and internet song swappers. The chain, which once had 173 stores ringing up $1 billion in annual sales, is down to 93 locations. The Sacramento chain plans to continue business as usual at its stores during the reorganization.

New York drivers widely ignore their state's landmark ban on cell-phone use behind the wheel, according to a study commissioned by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It found that use dropped by more than half after the law took effect three years ago, but bounced back after the initial fervor died down.

Microsoft signed a deal with Disney to make movies and TV shows available on cell phones, handheld computers, and portable players. Under the multi-year deal, Disney will use the Microsoft Windows Media digital-rights-management technology, which is intended to deter piracy. The two companies say the deal will speed the rollout of new portable content to the public.

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