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MICROSOFT'S $5bn investment in AT&T last week makes Bill Gates a significant force in the UK cable market, with a stake in Britain's Telwest. It also paves the way for Windows CE to become a major player as the operating system controlling the set-top box market.

Given that manufacturers in that market have been reluctant to use CE, analysts voiced concern over whether the scaled-down operating system is robust or reliable enough to take centre stage as the software controlling interactive TV services. Microsoft, however, is working on strengthening CE and improving its interface.

The set-top market is set to dominate computing over the next few years. "If you look at where computing is going, the set-top is the next wave," said Mark Bunzel, of PricewaterhouseCoopers.


REALNETWORKS SAID last week that its new digital music platform, RealJukebox, which allows users to download music from the Internet and store it in personalised PC libraries, uses AT&T's a2b music format to help protect copyrights. The free software, which needs Windows 95 or better, and a Pentium 200 MMX, is available now in beta format from It also supports the popular MP3 format and RealNetworks own RealAudio audio compression formats as well as WAV and other sound files. The system can encode a music CD rapidly, allowing a 60-minute album to be converted into digital files in around 12 minutes.


NATIONAL SEMI-CONDUCTOR is leaving the PC-chip market to concentrate on making processors for smart devices. Lay-offs of 550 workers will result in a fourth-quarter charge of around $300m, but after restructuring it expects to be back in profit by the end of this year. It promised to fulfil all its commitments to computer-makers who use its Cyrix MII processor.


US ANTI-TRUST officials have revived their 1997 investigation of Network Solutions (NSI), the Internet domain registrar. The investigation was suspended last year while a plan for NSI to cede its government-granted monopoly and open up competition in domain name registration was implemented.

However, negotiations between the government and NSI about how much information from a database of four million registrations they share with their competitors have made little progress, and the Department of Justice is reviewing whether NSI's claim to exclusive rights of the database is a violation of anti-trust law.

NSI has maintained that it owns the database contents, citing a clause that says intellectual property developed under the deal is NSI's property. The matter came to a head with the appointment last month of AOL as one of five test-bed competitors to NSI, and whether the database is a public resource or if fees need to be paid to NSI by competitors who access it.