Product Guide: Faster Wi-Fi, whether it's ready or not

Product Guide: Faster Wi-Fi, whether it's ready or not

The Buzz: From the same people who brought you the catchy moniker 802.11b--known in less techy circles as Wi-Fi--comes 802.11g, the latest speedy wireless LAN standard

1. Wi-Fi G-Whiz Factor The Buzz: From the same people who brought you the catchy moniker 802.11b--known in less techy circles as Wi-Fi--comes 802.11g, the latest speedy wireless LAN standard. Although the new spec won't get IEEE ratification until around midyear, the big networking companies are already jumping the gun, offering a full slate of g-flavored gateways and cards. With a transfer rate of 54 mbps, 802.11g is five times faster than the current 802.11b, yet it's also backward compatible. And what if the 802.11g spec changes between now and then? No problem: "If a firmware update is needed," says D-Link Corp. marketing VP Bradley Morse, "users will be able to download it for free from our Web site."

Bottom Line: Let me get this straight: 802.11a (for high-bandwidth applications) came after 802.11b. Then came 802.11g, to be followed by 802.11e (better streaming of data), 11i (better security), and 11h (power management). Don't they teach the alphabet at engineering school?

2. Surf the Friendly Skies

The Buzz: You'll still have to switch your laptop off at takeoff and landing, but Lufthansa and British Airways have started trial programs offering high-speed Web access on their flights. Meanwhile, Scandinavian Airlines and Japan Airlines have similar trials in the wings. Boeing's satellite service, called Connexion, will cost passengers about $30 on British Airways, and it will be free on Lufthansa--at least for now.

Bottom Line: Once the service has rolled out on multiple airlines, expect to pay for the privilege. But don't fret: The little bag of minipretzels is still free.

3. Personal Video to Go

The Buzz: The latest gizmos for well-heeled geeks on the go are handheld video players, portable devices that can store 10GB or more of data and play back photos or MPEG-4 movies (plus various audio formats) on a 3.8-inch color LCD screen. The Archos AV340 (at left) should be available in May, while Thomson, ViewSonic, and others have competing gadgets due later in the year, all in the $400 to $550 range.

Bottom Line: The studios should consider reformatting their movies to fit the tiny screen. Coming soon to a microplex near you: My Skinny Little Greek Wedding.

4. The Business of Blogs

The Buzz: They started as online diaries jam-packed with random observations and more than the daily recommended allowance of self-indulgent twaddle. But the blog (for Web log) has grown up. Of course, private Netizens continue to post journal entries that detail cereal preferences and run-ins with the boss; but businesses, media outlets, and journalists now routinely blog (yep, it's a verb) as a way of keeping customers and readers informed. Even corporate America has jumped on the blog-wagon, with Intranet-based k-logs (knowledge blogs) that house company documents, e-mail, comments, links, and the like--much of it contributed by employees.

Bottom Line: Leave it to big business to turn a frivolous pastime into a productivity tool. Now I'm looking forward to Grand Theft Auto: Management Training Edition.

Nagging Question: Why Is It Called Spam?

Don't blame Hormel Foods. The company may have introduced the canned meat back in 1937. But the spam designation--referring to unsolicited commercial e-mail--comes from a Monty Python's Flying Circus skit, circa 1970. A couple tries to order breakfast in a cafe where every menu item includes Spam. Meanwhile a clutch of helmet-headed Vikings break into song, chanting "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam" and drowning out everyone in the joint. Funny stuff; sadly, spammers are now having the last laugh. -- PC World (US)

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