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"BEARMKT6" -- License plate on a BMW spotted on Wall StreetEdited by Sheridan PrassoReturn to top

Frankensmokes? Not in Dixie

This month, the Agriculture Dept. is likely to approve a "health food" cigarette whose tobacco is genetically engineered to be nicotine-free. The company that developed it, Liggett Group Inc., has signed up farmers willing to grow thousands of acres' worth in Lancaster, Pa., and is seeking others in Oklahoma. "We've had no problem finding farmers," says a spokesman for Liggett.

Yet south of the Mason-Dixon line, it's another story. Farmers in the Tobacco Belt want nothing to do with the new leaf. What they fear is not that no-nicotine cigarettes will cut into sales of traditional cigarettes but a backlash against genetically modified tobacco, particularly in the growing markets of Europe and Asia--just as there was vocal hostility against "Frankenfood." And there's considerable resentment against the man who runs Liggett: Bennett LeBow. He has long been an industry gadfly, pioneering generic cigarettes made of cheap foreign tobacco, as well as becoming the first to admit cigarettes are addictive and to testify against fellow cigarette makers. His adversaries say he's causing trouble again. "He acts as if he has some personal mission to jeopardize the tobacco industry," says Billy Carter, a North Carolina grower. But if nicotine-free cigarettes take off, southern farmers may have to rethink the opposition. Given the steady drop in U.S. sales, the Tobacco Belt can sure use new markets.By Charles Haddad; Edited by Sheridan PrassoReturn to top

A Bear of a Virus in Hibernation

Do you have a virus? A mysterious new computer bug known as Hybris has alarmed security experts, who call it the most sophisticated and potentially dangerous virus ever. Hybris began in Brazil last year--via e-mail from spread to thousands of computers worldwide. It's currently hibernating, doing no harm. But what has experts worried is that at any time it could zap memory, steal data, or launch massive attacks on Web sites.

Hybris' creator--yet to be found--remains in covert communication with infected computers via the Net. Because the virus is designed with advanced plug-in software, he can turn it thermonuclear at any time. "Today it is not malicious. Tomorrow, the author enormous damage," says Internet security specialist Shimon Gruper. He and others have written antivirus software. But there's a problem: Hybris is expertly encrypted, so they can't always find it.By Michael France; Edited by Sheridan PrassoReturn to top

This Mac Upgrade Needs Upgrading

The ardor of Apple computer customers knows no bounds, as typified by the guy who showed up for CEO Steve Jobs's keynote at Mac World in San Francisco in January with his head shaved except for an Apple logo of red- and green-dyed hair.

But sometimes you have to wonder just how much Mac loyalty gets rewarded. Case in point: Apple's "public beta" of Mac OS X, a complete rewrite of the basic software for the Mac, which is due to be released Mar. 24. Since September, 100,000 of the faithful have forked over $29.95 for a test version of the new operating system. It was buggy, and many important features, such as support for printing, worked badly or not at all. But that's not unusual in an operating-system test.

In January, however, Apple began selling a new generation of Mac G4 desktops and a free upgrade of its current operating system to version 9.1. Unfortunately, people who had tried the OS X Beta and then installed the upgrade discovered that they could no longer run most existing Mac programs. And the OS X beta won't run at all on the newest Mac G4s. Both facts are pointed out on Apple's Web site, but the site says elsewhere that OS 9.1 "is ease the transition to OS X."

Apple has sent hardware and software developers a new version that solves both problems, but won't make it available to buyers of the public beta. They'll just have to wait till March and fork out $129 for the finished product.By Steve Wildstrom; Edited by Sheridan PrassoReturn to top

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