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Steel claimed to have made its purchase offer directly to the company, though a spokesperson for Liquid says the firm has so far received no such letter.

TECH ROUNDUP: IT'S PATRIOTIC,
OR SOMETHING

Virgin/IBM Kiosks, AOL Gigantism And
Liquid Liquidity

THOSE KOOKY KIOSKS
"A Web-enabled IBM NetVista kiosk in a unique digital preview system? Holy f---ing s---!" said one bystander, clearly enthralled as Virgin Entertainment Group announced its selection of the IBM kiosk for its Virgin megastores. Customers will be able to preview CDs, DVDs and games before deciding what to buy by scanning a product's bar code at the kiosk. A combination of Virgin, IBM, and Microsoft technology powers the kiosk, with entertainment data coming from Muze and Pipeline. "Our digital preview system will set new standards in entertainment retailing by allowing consumers access to web-enabled enterprise technologies, giving customers what they want, whenever and wherever they want it," said Virgin Entertainment Group N.A. CEO Glen Ward. Does this mean they'll finally be installing kiosks in public bathrooms and downtown peep shows?

BREAKING NEWS—AOL IS REALLY, REALLY BIG
Surprising exactly no one in the known universe, America Online has reported that its new Version 7.0 of the AOL software has set a new record, with more than 2.5 million downloads recorded in its first five days of release. The company also took the opportunity represented by that semi-news hook to boast that AOL members spent some $7.9 billion online in the third quarter, with expectations running high for the holiday season. The new software, which includes major enhancements to AOL Music, including a Radio@AOL button on the software's toolbar, among many other new features, is designed to take greater advantage of broadband, always-on connections. Unclear at this point is whether the software will actually be able to talk your web-enabled refrigerator into fixing it a sandwich while you sleep. Speaking of Radio@AOL, HITS primates who are able to reach the button say the "eclectic XL" station (under "Soundtracks and More") is an excellent backdrop for loafing.

LIQUID TURNS TO STEEL?
Steel Partners II, L.P.
, which previously made news by impugning the management of Liquid Audio (see story, 9/12), of which it holds significant shares, has now put in a bid to buy the netco outright for $3 per share (against Monday's $2.36 closing price). Steel claimed to have made its offer directly to the company, though a spokesperson for Liquid says the firm has so far received no such letter. In any case, the news wires got a copy, and the missive reads, in part, "We believe that there is significant, but rapidly diminishing value inherent in the business and assets of Liquid Audio despite the Company's poor operating performance and declining share price." What's Steel's gambit? Why would a firm interested in acquiring a new-media concern go out of its way to bash its prospects publicly? Digital-music insiders smell snake oil.

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