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SUN MICROSYSTEM has bought Star Division, a maker of free Microsoft Office compatible software, StarOffice, which runs on Windows and Linux. Sun said it will promote the software and encourage people to download it for free over the Internet as part of an attempt to change the model of software use and storage from local hard disks to a network.

Scott McNealy, Sun's chief executive, said the company was not targeting Microsoft. "Sun has never won any business for beating up Microsoft," he said. "This is all about consumer choice." McNealy said that the move would expand the market for Sun's network servers by promoting storage of programs and data in centralised equipment rather than on individual PCs. "This is a wonderful way to sell servers," he said, adding that the company would also make money by offering services based on the use of the software.

Later in the week Microsoft said that it had plans to offer Office-based software as a Web service, but would not confirm whether the service would be free, or when it would start. The president of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, denied that StarOffice posed any extra threat since its take over by Sun; it had been a competitor for some time.

STEVE JOBS, interim chief executive of Apple Computers, introduced the new G4 range last week at the Seybold publishing conference in San Francisco with the claim that it is "a supercomputer that's been miniaturised on to a sliver of silicon". The machines, based on a new Motorola Power PC chip capable of operating at one gigaflop (one billion floating point operations per second), are targeted at the design and publishing industries.

Apple also introduced a new 22-inch flat panel display (pictured above with the new G4), which it said is the industry's largest. Capable of displaying a full, 11-by-17-inch page, with room for application toolbars as well, the screen is twice as bright as a conventional monitor, and has twice the contrast ratio and no screen flicker, Jobs said. It will be sold only in conjunction with a 500MHz G4 Power Mac, at $6,498 (pounds 4,060), because of limited supplies.

Canvassing opinion about the new displays, Cnet were told by Greg Hopper, the president of a Californian graphics company: "I'd sell my kidneys to get one."

FATBRAIN.COM, an online bookstore that has so far concentrated on selling businessbooks, last week launched eMatter, a technology for selling books, articles and other documents over the Internet.

The company said its technology will do for publishing what MP3 is doing for the music industry, by allowing authors to sell directly to readers using a system to digitise documents and earn royalties on each copy sold.

"This is going to be one of those things like MP3 and eBay where you can't predict what will happen," said Chris MacAskill, Fatbrain's chief executive. "There has never been an economic channel for the 10-to-100- page document. Authors have had to write for newspapers or magazines, or write a book. What if you want to write something that's 20 pages and sell it? There's never been a model for this."

Authors can set prices for their work, post summaries of it and put it into an appropriate subject category on the Fatbrain website. Authors will receive 50 per cent of royalties for each sale of the work posted.


THE EUROPEAN launch of Sega's 128-bit Dreamcast console will be delayed until 14 October. A company spokesman is reported to have told Excite UK that the delay was to ensure that there would be no problems with the games machine's Internet capability using a network built in Europe by BT.

The machine, a challenger to the Sony PlayStation, was launched in Japan in November last year and features sophisticated graphics as well as Internet connectivity. "Dreamcast involves the most advanced technology ever incorporated into a games console," said J-F Cecillon, Sega Europe's chief executive officer. Full details of the European model's specifications will be announced next Monday.

Meanwhile, the company's rival Nintendo has said that it plans to introduce a successor to its 64-bit console next year. The company also announced it would be introducing an updated version of its portable Game Boy. The Internet-ready Game Boy Advance will be powered by a 32-bit RISC processor developed by the British hardware maker ARM.


MICROSOFT SAW more changes at the executive level last week with the departure of Ben Slivka and the arrival of Richard Belluzzo. Slivka, a general manager in the consumer and commerce group (CCG), who had been a key mover in Microsoft's expansion into the Internet, left to become director of technology at Belluzzo, the former Silicon Graphics chief executive, has been appointed as group vice-president for CCG, which includes MSN and WebTV operations.

Microsoft's president, Steve Ballmer, also announced that Brad Chase and Jon DeVaan have been promoted to senior vice-presidents. Chase and DeVaan were previously vice-presidents at the company.

QXL.COM, THE online auctioneer which has yet to make a profit, said last week that it was going public in what is likely to be Britain's second biggest Internet flotation after Freeserve. It said it was selling new shares on the London Stock Exchange, and on Nasdaq in the US, which would constitute a quarter of its enlarged capital. Analysts estimate that a floatation would value the company at about pounds 750m.

QXL, founded two years ago by Tim Jackson, a journalist, said it would use the cash raised to boost advertising and marketing. "This public offering will allow us to continue to enhance our branding, expand our geographic presence and bring additional services and features to our members," said Jim Rose, chief executive. Shares will be offered to institutions and to members of the public who register on the website before 26 September.