When Steve Jobs unveiled the new $499 MAC mini computer, he took a big step toward taking away Apple's image as a niche maker of pricey machines. Yet his low price comes with sacrifices, namely a keyboard, monitor, and mouse.
The new no-frills model measures just 6.5 inches wide and 2 inches tall, and it weighs 2.9 pounds, less than most laptops. It runs Mac OS X Panther and includes a G4 processor, 40GB or 80GB hard drive, and multimedia software.
(The $499 Mac mini still packs less power than comparable budget machines running Windows. By comparison, eMachines sell a $449 PC with a 2.8GHz processor and 80GB hard drive, while the Mac mini has a 1.25GHz chip and 40GB hard drive.)
The Mac mini puts the Macintosh line in competition with low-end, discount PCs, a market the maker has traditionally avoided. After 29 years, Apple holds a meager 3 percent share of the U.S. computer market-and Mr. Jobs seems intent on raising that figure.
Apple's sales surged recently thanks to strong sales of the iPod music player. The latest model is a $99 budget unit, like the Mac mini, with a low-capacity flash memory drive and no screen. While the iPod dominates portable digital music, Apple still has far to go before the Mac can take such a lead.
Microsoft plans to give Windows a 3D graphics makeover, promising higher resolutions and easier text readability. The designers of a new video system, code-named Avalon, hope to make ordinary computer use easier and more attractive.
Avalon gives programmers more versatility in making interfaces, making 3D graphics more than a tool for gamers. Microsoft released a preview version on its website this month and plans to make it part of the next Windows operating system, expected in 2006.
Avalon will use a new hypertext language known as XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language), which is intended to help programs pull data off the web. It will also take advantage of next-generation video chips and displays and cram more pixels into less space.
Avalon, along with a new communications system nicknamed Indigo, is important to Microsoft partially because it will be a major selling point for the new Windows, code-named Longhorn. Last year, the company postponed a much-awaited new file system from the new release, and it needed to give users a reason to switch from XP. Typical users will not see Avalon and Indigo, but will notice their effects during day-to-day computer use.
Bits & Megabytes
· Federal prosecutors accused a Pennsylvania man of sending 800,000 e-mails that begged for tsunami relief money, then pocketing the donations. Court documents say Matthew Schmieder, who allegedly collected the funds through a PayPal account, said he planned to repair his car and pay bills. He purported to represent Mercy Corps, a Portland-based charity that told FBI agents about the scam.
· Comcast plans to boost cable modem speeds by up to 50 percent, making downloads even faster for its 6.5 million broadband customers. Subscribers will see the increase by the end of March and need make no upgrades themselves. The change will help the nation's largest broadband company compete with increasingly quick DSL services.
· Google resolved a dispute with federal regulators over charges of improperly issuing $82 million in employee stock options before the search engine company went public. Corporate officials signed a cease-and-desist order, but made no admissions or denials. Still, the allegation bruised the startup's vow of ethical conduct (stated in its motto, "Don't be evil").
· A hacker broke into T-Mobile USA's wireless network and may have accessed some sensitive Secret Service files. The provider notified 400 customers after admitting that the interloper had uncovered their names and Social Security numbers. A suspect, Nicolas Lee Jacobsen, is charged with the break-in and faces a court hearing next month.