- The Washington Times - Monday, November 26, 2001

Despite my griping and moaning about the overzealous security detailed here last week there was plenty of good stuff to see at the recent COMDEX trade show in Las Vegas. If you could get to it, of course.

Some lingering impressions from the radically reduced tech-fest:

• Tablet PCs will hit big. Yes, this was the highlight of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' keynote opening the show, and, yes, whatever Mr. Gates comes up with is usually hyped beyond belief. But sometimes the hype is deserved, as I believe it is in the case of the Tablet PC.

Simply put, the Tablet PC runs the Windows XP operating system, has a full-sized screen, and that screen can be used for data entry and to control the system. You can attach a keyboard as needed, but the Tablet PC which should retail for as much as a good notebook PC will let you walk into a meeting, take notes as if you're using a legal pad, and let you keep up on e-mail and find files via an IEEE 802.11b wireless connection. The devices also run standard Windows applications, so you can use the same programs away from your desk that you'd use sitting in your chair.

"The PC took computing out of the back office and into everyone's office, "Mr. Gates said in his keynote address. "The Tablet takes cutting-edge PC technology and makes it available wherever you want it, which is why I'm already using a Tablet as my everyday computer. It's a PC that is virtually without limits and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America."

Mr. Gates demonstrated several advanced partner applications designed for the Tablet PC. These included a Tablet version of Groove, the revolutionary real-time collaboration software; a portable version of Autodesk's CAD software; and enhancements to Microsoft Office software that enable people to exchange handwritten instant messages and annotate Word and PowerPoint documents. By the time the Tablet PC is out next year, Microsoft believes that "literally hundreds of applications will be available that are optimized for the Tablet PC and take full advantage of its capabilities."

I've seen some Tablet PC prototypes, including one from Fujitsu, and if they work as well "in real life" as they do in the demo, then Microsoft has a winner on its hands. Expect to see the Pocket PC in mid- to late-2002, however, and remember that products that depend on Microsoft can sometimes miss a projected shipping date. For those interested in learning more, check out www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/ tabletpc/default.asp.

• Wireless networking: The battle is over. Much as there's a decision time in TV's hit show, "Iron Chef," the clear winner in wireless networking is the aforementioned IEEE 802.11b standard. Products are cheap enough to be affordable by almost any user; the standard works quite well on a variety of platforms; and the other wireless strategies notably Home RF haven't come up with anything to effectively compete.

Coming in the next few months will be two other 802.11 standards: 802.11a, which will offer 100 MB/sec wireless networking but won't be compatible with 802.11b gear; and 802.11g, which will send data across at 20 MB/sec, but will also work with the older 802.11b hardware. My bet is on the "g" standard to succeed and emerge dominant.

Linksys, of Irvine, Calif., introduced a raft of 802.11b products at the show. Among these were a $299 Instant Wireless Presentation Gateway, which the maker says is the first of its kind. The product allows 802.11b users to take turns remotely displaying presentations on a projector screen with mere keystrokes, from anywhere in the vicinity. The gateway is billed as suitable for corporate meetings, conferences, and interactive training. Users need not reconfigure or rewire between presentations, and multiple wireless-enabled PCs may control the screen quickly and conveniently.

Also available is an "Instant Wireless-Ready Cable/DSL Router," which lists for $99. This new router can share secure broadband Internet access and network data with all the PCs in a home or small office. When a user is ready to go wireless, merely insert a Wireless PC Card into the device, and transform the router into a Wireless Access Point. Then any of your PCs equipped with a wireless card may roam wire-free in your home or office network and still enjoy high-speed Internet access. More information on these products can be found at www.linksys.com.

Mobility, wireless access, computing freedom those are the highlights of COMDEX this year, and don't be surprised to see offerings based on these themes in your office and at home before too long.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark on www.adrenaline-radio.com every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., EST.

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