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Originally published Monday, November 21, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Microsoft outshines GE on respected-firm list

After seven years in second place, Microsoft on Friday topped the Financial Times' annual rankings of the world's most-respected companies...

After seven years in second place, Microsoft on Friday topped the Financial Times' annual rankings of the world's most-respected companies, pushing General Electric out of the top spot.

Microsoft was also the top-ranked company for "shareholder value" and "innovation." The company ranked fourth for best customer service — Toyota topped that list — and fifth for "best turnaround" in a ranking topped by Nissan.

Chairman Bill Gates also cleaned up, topping the list of most-admired business leaders and "most influential business writer or management guru."

The rankings were based on a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of 954 chief executives in 25 countries from August to October. Fund managers were also surveyed to add more perspective on shareholder value and innovation rankings.

One unnamed CEO quoted by the newspaper described Microsoft as "innovative, fulfilling the needs of society with their products and ability to grow."

Apple Computer rose from 42nd to ninth on the list, and Google was 39th. Starbucks made its first appearance on the list at 14th. Apple's Steve Jobs also rose on the most-admired leader list, from ninth to fourth place.

The second most-admired business leader was former GE Chief Executive Jack Welch, confirming that the surveyors did not include the opinions of chief executives' ex-spouses.

Reading the Web

About one in four active Internet users in the U.S. — or about 39.3 million — visited a newspaper Web site in October.

Source: Nielsen//NetRatings

Blue screen of death

It was a very Bill Gates-like moment at the unveiling of Job Tracker 2.0 — an online database of corporate America's worker-rights violations and attempts at overseas outsourcing.

The name-and-shame search engine was presented Thursday at the Labor Temple in Belltown by Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

With the cameras rolling, and a few reporters craning their necks over a beat-up PC for a demonstration, Job Tracker delivered a big, fat error message after several attempts. The organizers blamed the malfunction on clogged bandwidth, a result of its simultaneous debut across the country.

In any case, the would-be activist oracle remained down for most of the day.

By Friday, it was up and running, allowing community activists to research the track records of more than 60,000 companies. Relying on data from the National Labor Relations Board, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Job Tracker 2.0 aims to be an easy-to-use, one-stop source for dirt-digging.

Airlines unplugged

For the most part, passengers have been forbidden to use their cellphones or wireless-equipped laptops during airline flights.

But ABI Research said that might be changing.

Wireless communications systems were banned initially because they log on to terrestrial networks and can cause network-management chaos, which interfere with an aircraft's avionics, the research firm said.

Now companies such as Qualcomm, Siemens and Ericsson are developing interference-free technologies.

"We expect that in-flight mobile communications services will first start in Europe in 2007," said ABI Research's Director Jake Saunders.

"Asia will follow, then North America."

What the technology doesn't account for is the interference cellphones may cause to peacefully sleeping passengers.

Download, a column of news bits, observations and miscellany, is gathered by The Seattle Times technology staff. We can be reached at 206-464-2265 or

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