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MICROSOFT LAST week denied it is creating a games console in collaboration with Intel. Replying to rumours on a gaming website, the software giant told Computer Trade Weekly the game console and set-top box, allegedly code-named X-Box, did not exist. Earlier a Microsoft spokesman said the rumours were speculation, and that the company would not comment - a line echoed by Intel.

The rumoured "X-Box" - to have run Windows CE, and be based on a 500MHz processor and an nVidia graphics accelerator - was to compete with the next generation of Internet-enabled consoles, such as Sega's Dreamcast and Sony's PlayStation II, due to ship later this year.

"X-Box" would make sense for Microsoft. The computer games market is worth about $15bn and Microsoft is the fourth largest maker of PC games. Renewed interest in high-powered, low-cost consoles, with Internet and multimedia capabilities that tie into interactive services on digital TV, means the console sector of the market is growing rapidly, threatening the PC as a games system.

A MUSICIAN, Thomas Dolby Robertson, co-founder of Beatnik, a music technology firm, last week said that record companies are to get their comeuppance for 20 years of abusing their power over artists and fans.

At the Digital Distribution and the Music Industry conference in Los Angeles, he accused the industry, and how it packages and sells music, of "desensitising" fans; he attacked musicians for how they "originally got into music in the first place".

Direct sales and distribution via compressed digital formats, such as MP3, will mean the record companies' manufacturing and retailing arms will die away, he predicted. The relationship between artists and companies will have to change, as the companies concentrate on managing and promoting.

"It's going to mean a shift in the balance of power," Dolby said. "I could see myself five years from now taking bids from a half-dozen different recording companies, to see what they could do for me to add value to my music sales."

STUDIES REPORTED in Nature suggest the World Wide Web is less chaotic than it seems, and that to get from any one randomly picked Web page to another via hyperlinks takes on average only 19 clicks. Researchers at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in California said there is a "universal power law" governing the structure of cyberspace.

"Even though the Web seems to be growing in a very erratic and random fashion, there is a hidden order to it," said Bernardo Huberman, a researcher. "This is manifest in many ways. In this particular paper we are talking about the fact that the distribution of the number of pages per site follows a mathematical formula."

The universal power law can benefit search engines, which can predict the number of sites of a given size. "There is a tremendous amount of order, but it's not apparent when you look at it."

Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, used a software robot to collect the links on Web pages and follow them to their destinations. With 800 million pages, they found the average distance between randomly picked pages was 19 clicks. Using statistical techniques, they found that even if the Web grows ten times larger, the distance between pages will rise to only 21 clicks.

MICROSOFT IS delaying the release of Internet Explorer 5.0 for the Mac. Originally scheduled for this autumn, the browser, released for Windows in March, will now not appear until the winter.

Irving Kwong, product manager of Microsoft's Mac business unit, told Macweek the change followed work on the browser's page-rendering engine, Tasman, and attempts to add "cool end-user features" such as "auction manager", to let users track online auctions.But Microsoft's Mac e-mail software Outlook Express 5.0 is still set for an autumn release.

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