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National | Technology

Issue: "Ugly truth of partial-birth," April 17, 2004

Bitter over Java

MICRO soft and Sun Microsystems this month ended one of

the computer industry's greatest feuds by settling their legal dispute over the Java programming language. Microsoft will pay $1.6 billion to settle the case.

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While upstaged by the Justice Department's antitrust battle with Microsoft, Sun's spat was still bitter. Chairman Scott McNealy once referred to Microsoft software as a &quothairball" that clogs systems and compared Bill Gates to Darth Vader. Mr. McNealy has long supported Java, which lets programmers write software that can run on multiple operating systems.

The settlement doesn't necessarily spell happy times for Sun. The company is losing money-and plans to shed 3,300 jobs (about 9 percent of its work force). It still reels from the dot-com bust, the Linux boom, and the decline in corporate spending.

Sun first sued back in 1997, alleging that Microsoft violated its licensing agreement for Java and created its own alternative version of the language. They settled in 2001, and Microsoft agreed to support Sun's creation.

Peace didn't last, though, as Sun sued again one year later, saying Windows XP was incompatible with Java. The second suit ended with this month's &quotbroad cooperation agreement," a 10-year deal in which both companies agree to make their products compatible with one another.

Engine upgrade

GOOgle is growing up. The search engine underwent a facelift to prepare it for its long-awaited IPO, adding a simplified new look and promoting a shopping service called Froogle. Google also plans to step beyond searches by rolling out a free e-mail service.

Google was born too late for the dot-com boom and now faces stiffer competition from MSN and former partner Yahoo. Its business model rests on targeted advertising, delivering unobtrusive, specialized paid links connected to specific topics.

Some of Google's additions look like possible revenue generators. The Froogle site, for example, collects referral fees from sites listed in its index.

The proposed e-mail project, dubbed GMail, will offer far more storage than its competitors. In exchange for the &quotfree" account, Google will display text ads on the screen based on the content of user messages.

Google, which indexes nearly 4.3 billion web pages, established its dominance among search engines with a novel method for ranking sites by their popularity. (It also gained a reputation as a good citizen among web giants.) Over the years, it added several small features including a calculator, dictionary, and phone book.

The site shows off some of its upcoming projects in an area called Google Labs (labs.google.com). This &quottechnology playground" includes new types of searches, wireless access, and a toolbar that sits at the bottom of a PC's screen.

BITS & MEGABYTES

Gateway closed down its chain of retail stores as the struggling computer maker fights to restore profitability. The company will still sell products over the internet and by phone. Gateway also faces a lawsuit from Hewlett-Packard for allegedly refusing to pay licensing fees for six design patents.

More than 800,000 Visa and MasterCard charges at Wal-Mart stores were double- or triple-billed, due to a hardware malfunction. The retailer says erroneous charges were reversed. First Data Corp., which processed the payments, warns people who made credit or debit charges after March 31 to check their statements.

A Canadian court disappointed music industry anti-piracy forces by ruling that mp3 file sharing is no different from a photocopy machine in a library. Justice Konrad von Finckenstein argued that uploading and downloading songs in shared directories does not constitute copyright infringement. He refused a motion that would have ordered five internet providers to identify 29 alleged song traders.

Opera Software plans a new voice-operated web browser that lets users speak commands to their computers. It will use IBM's ViaVoice technology and could appear on PDAs and cell phones, as well as PCs. As with all voice-recognition products, this new browser will be limited by the system's ability to recognize a person's inflections.

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