Coming soon: The Big Apple

About six months after it began selling the revamped iMac, Apple will release a new version of the all-in-one PC sporting a 17-inch LCD monitor, CNET’s News.com reports. Apple hopes the new machine will spur consumer interest at a time when the entire PC industry is experiencing seriously sluggish sales. “The back-to-school market, which usually helps the September quarter, has not materialized to a great degree the past two years and may disappoint this year once again,” wrote Merrill Lynch analyst Steven Fortuna in a recent report. Apple is mum on the machine, declining to acknowledge it, let alone what it will cost. But one analyst quoted by CNET says it can’t be dramatically more than current iMacs, or buyers will stay away. “When the price is right, consumers are saying, ‘For a $600 or $700 difference, I’m not going to move, but for $200 it’s worth stepping up.'”

Loss of a troubled leader

Gene Kan, peer-to-peer file-sharing programmer extraordinaire, took his own life June 29, and Wired.com has a fine tribute to the troubled but brilliant 25-year-old. Kan’s professional life revolved around developing ways for people to swap information easily and quickly. As Wired notes, Kan was among the first programmers to create an open-source version of the file-sharing application Gnutella, which lets users search for and transfer files from computer to computer. “His ability to translate complicated technology into easily understandable terms quickly led to his becoming the unofficial spokesman for Gnutella in particular, and for file-sharing applications in general,” the new site says. “Gene was one of the first people to make hay with the idea that peer-to-peer file sharing wasn’t just about music, but about a powerful approach to problems in computer networking,” adds Tim O’Reilly, of O’Reilly Publishing. “It was Gnutella and Freenet, more than Napster, that got the attention of the technical elite and made us think more deeply about the way the Internet was evolving.” Kan’s death was not entirely unexpected, Wired reports. Friends had hoped Kan was winning his hard-fought battle against depression. “We did all the things you’re supposed to do,” said Cody Oliver, Gene’s business partner in peer-to-peer search technology gonesilent.com. “We got him on Prozac; we connected him to the suicide hotlines. He promised he wouldn’t do anything drastic. But now he’s gone. It’s a really rough time.”

Cocaine Inc.’s IT infrastructure

Business 2.0 has a compelling read in its July issue. “The Technology Secrets of Cocaine Inc.” looks at the IT infrastructure the Cali cartel has built to help manage its vast cocaine smuggling and sales empire. Particularly chilling is the organization’s use of data mining software to sift through phone records of its own operatives and the entire Cali phone exchange to see if any members were actually snitching to the authorities on the side. “They could correlate phone numbers, personalities, locations — any way you want to cut it,” said a former director of a law enforcement agency. “[Cali cocaine cartel leader Jos?] Santacruz could see if any of his lieutenants were spilling the beans.” At the heart of the system was a $1 million IBM AS400 mainframe. Observed one high-level DEA official: “It is very reasonable to assume that people were killed as a result of this capability. Potential sources of information were compromised by the system.”

The soul of a new server

Intel this week launches the Itanium 2 server processor. The company is betting big that it can convince companies which build servers to use the new chip as ubiquitously as PC makers now employ its lower-end CPUs. But the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports Intel has its work cut out. By Intel’s own admission, most corporate clients are already plenty happy with the oomph their existing 32-bit processors provide. And for folks that need supercomputer-level power, clustering many weaker, but far cheaper chips may provide an appealing cost-benefit ratio. Yes, there is that segment — which in revenue terms is substantial — willing to pay a premium for 64-bit processors. But in that arena Intel will compete with entrenched products from IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun. Finally, if and when all those dragons are slain, pokey old Advanced Micro Devices is coming round the bend with a new line of “Hammer” chips that feature both 32- and 64-bit capability. Five years from now it’ll be a kick to read a “The Soul of a New Machine“-style chronicle of how Intel handles the coming slugfest.

Hey pal, here’s a billion-five

Hand it to eBay CEO Meg Whitman: She knows a bargain when she sees it. The online auction giant said Monday it would buy PayPal for about $1.5 billion. That’s a fair enough price by any reckoning for the Internet’s most popular electronic payment service. But when the teeming masses of eBay bidders and sellers get thrown into the mix, PayPal truly becomes a bargain. Indeed, with the right marketing it could one day join the likes of Visa and MasterCard among the heavy hitters of consumer payments. It was just as smart for PayPal’s board to see recognize which way the wind’s blowing. As Reuters notes, the company already derives about 60 percent of its business from eBay.