All eyes were on Apple at the beginning of the week, due to the company's much-anticipated launch of iPhone 3.0, its third-generation operating software for the popular smartphone. And the company delivered, with improvements like a cut-and-paste feature and improved search capabilities.
Microsoft, meanwhile, mixed things up midweek at its so-named Mix confab for Web designers by launching Internet Explorer 8 and talking up the next version of its Flash rival, Silverlight. Talk of IBM possibly acquiring Sun Microsystems also made for some big headlines.
Apple on Tuesday unveiled the next version of its iPhone operating system, dubbed version 3.0, at an invite-only event at its Cupertino, Calif., headquarters.
With CEO Steve Jobs on temporary medical leave, Apple's Scott Forstall, the head of iPhone software development, took the lead, and did so successfully. He kept the focus on the new software by demonstrating an ability to smoothly explain complex topics with confidence and a sense of humor.
Apple's competitors, of course, were quick to point out that the most prominent features introduced with iPhone 3.0 are features that are found on many other smartphones.
iPhone 3.0 was made available immediately for developers and will be available to everyone else "this summer." It's a free upgrade for iPhone users; those who own the iPod Touch will again have to pay for the upgrade.
Developers are probably the ones who will be most excited about the new iPhone OS. The ability to use background notifications, for example, will make for much more compelling iPhone and iPod Touch applications, as was immediately apparent from some of the demonstrations Tuesday.
In addition, developers will have 1,000 new APIs (application programming interfaces) to play with that will unlock parts of the iPhone previously off limits or unavailable to third-party applications. Apple didn't get into all of them, but talked about how developers can now stream audio and video, send e-mail from inside applications, and use the iPhone's proximity sensor, which means Google will once again be in compliance with the iPhone software development kit.
It didn't take long for developers to get cracking on iPhone OS 3.0. The iPhone Dev-Team recognized that it can be jailbroken but issued a warning to some 3G users eager to get that shiny new copy-paste feature.
iPhone OS 3.0: Copy and paste
Developers have also started to turn up interesting tidbits about possible future hardware. Two vague references within the beta could be evidence that Apple has plans for that software that involve something beyond the iPhone or iPod Touch. And later in the week, it was confirmed that AT&T plans to offer $599 and $699 iPhones without a two-year contract starting next week. There's a catch, however; those phones will still be locked to AT&T's network.
In other Apple news, Psystar, Apple's least favorite clone maker, has a newout that comes with OS X preinstalled for $599.
Microsoft Mix-es it up
Microsoft claimed the spotlight later in the week in Las Vegas at Mix, its annual confab for Web designers, where it unleashed Internet Explorer 8 and new versions of its Web tools, most notably its rival to Adobe Flash, Silverlight.
The software giant on Thursday launched IE 8, which has been in testing for months. The new browser adds security improvements, a private browsing option, as well as the ability to save pre-defined "slices" of a Web page for at-a-glance viewing.
But perhaps the biggest change in the browser is one made behind the scenes--the decision to make the browser better adhere to Web standards. That should make life easier for Web developers in the future, but also poses compatibility challenges for sites that are optimized specifically for older versions of IE. In part to address this, Microsoft has a "compatibility" mode that lets Web sites indicate if they would prefer to be run by an engine that is more like older versions of the browser.
Along with the browser launch, Microsoft kicked off its campaign to get consumers to actually using it instead of Firefox or other rivals. The IE 8 release comes at a critical time for Microsoft, which faces its steepest competition in years, facing credible rivals not only in Firefox, but also from Apple and Google, among others. The global market share of Internet Explorer, which was more than 90 percent in 2004, ended last year at just above 70 percent, according to Net Applications.
CNET staffers took a closer look at the browser, and concluded it takes a large leap forward. But it's still unclear whether it's enough to make devoted Firefox, Chrome, and Safari fans switch.
Getting back to Mix 09, Microsoft corporate VP Scott Guthrie talked Silverlight, noting that so far there have been 350 million installations and saying Microsoft believes there are now 300,000 developers targeting Silverlight.
Among the new features of Silverlight 3 is the ability to tap a computer's graphics processor to offer hardware acceleration of the video (both PC and Mac). The company made the beta version available Wednesday.
Also featured at Mix was a talk with computing pioneer Bill Buxton, who kicked off the event with a chat that had a very un-Microsoft feel. He ran back and forth on stage, gesturing wildly and speaking passionately about the need to create better experiences. Buxton encouraged the crowd not to get hung up on programming tools at first, but just sketch their ideas on paper.
"These things are far too important to take seriously," he said. "We need to be able to play."
CNET News Poll
Buxton also sat down for an interview with CNET News reporter Ina Fried.
Will Sun help IBM shine?
IBM is reportedly in talks to buy Sun Microsystems for $6.5 billion in cash, which got industry watchers talking this week about whether such a move is a good idea.
ZDNet's Larry Dignan, for example, notes that server market positioning and open-source resources are just a couple of the reasons the takeover deal makes sense for IBM.
Adds CNET's Matt Asay, Sun has struggled to revive its financial prospects in the wake of declining interest in its Solaris operating system and associated hardware. Open source has been the big bright spot for Sun, but Sun's ability to recoup hardware losses with free software has been suspect.
On the flip side, however, CNET News' Stephen Shankland highlights some of the potential difficulties Big Blue could face, ranging from overlapping hardware and software assets to cultural differences: Sun, based in Silicon Valley, is an engineering-centric, free-wheeling company willing to try many ideas and see which ones stick. IBM is more conservative and driven by business concerns.
Meanwhile, Sun this week announced its entry into the cloud-computing business with a public cloud service aimed at developers, students, and start-ups. It also detailed its plans for an open cloud-computing infrastructure, for public or private clouds.
Also of note
Networking giant Cisco buys the maker of the Flip Video gadgets and has a lot more consumer products than you think...Lessons for big media at SXSWi...Hundreds polled have given the new Facebook redesign the thumbs down...Google deal brings classic books to Sony Reader...Safari hole exploited in seconds at hacking contest.