Toni's Comdex notebook

At Comdex this year, we enjoyed short cab lines, long security lines (unless you knew about the secret media entrance), and plenty of great technology for roving and home-based workers. I got to meet Bluetooth, the 10th century King of Denmark, and played with some neat Swedish technology that lets you touch type in mid air. I met a Ferengi in Hilton's Star Trek Experience gift shop and witnessed a disappointing demo of Teleportec Ltd.'s next-generation 3-D videoconferencing system that's not a bit like what goes on in Star Trek's transporter room.

Here are some product highlights:

Playing on the success of Expertcity's GoToMyPC, 01 Communique Laboratory Inc. announced I'm InTouch, a Web-based remote access service that uses a peer-to-peer connection to let you access your PC's data files, and Outlook and Outlook Express e-mail, calendar and contacts from any browser-enabled device, including wireless Palm, Visor, RIM BlackBerry, Pocket PC and cell phones. It costs US$9.95 per month for single user.

Here's a great little application for Bluetooth: attach The Troy Group's WindConnect Bluetooth Print Adapter to your printer, then send any print jobs to any Bluetooth-enabled notebook within range. The WindConnect is a small box that attaches to the printer's parallel port; there's also a serial port adapter, and it doesn't need an external power supply. The WindConnect Bluetooth Print Adapter costs $199.

If the only thing you hate about your PDA (personal digital assistant) is the tiny keyboard, Sweden's Senseboard Technologies lets you type without it. Strap its Virtual Keyboard devices around both hands at the base of your fingers, and touch type on any surface, even in the air. Sensors in the units measure the finger movements, and artificial intelligence and a language processor determine the correct QUERTY keystrokes and mouse movements. The data is transmitted to the PDA via Bluetooth or wire. Should be available in a few months.

Several companies announced wireless networking gear based on the new 802.11a standard, allowing for four times the speed of 802.11b networks (54M bit/sec data transfer rates, actual through put about 25M bit/sec). Of them, Intel was the first to actually ship a product suite. Aimed at the small to midsize business, the PRO/Wireless 5000 LAN family of products includes a dual-mode access point (802.11b and 802.11b), notebook PC adapters and software. The company is selling mini-PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) cards for inclusion in upcoming desktop PCs. The access point costs $499; the PC Card is $179.

SMC Networks announced the EZ Connect 11M bit/sec Wireless Compact Flash card, which adds 802.11b wireless connectivity to handheld devices. Pricing hasn't yet been announced.

Linksys and Netgear both showcased the first powerline networking kits. Products adhere to the HomePlug 1.0 industry specification that allows 14M bits/sec data rates over existing electrical wiring. Both networks attach USB (Universal Serial Bus) adapters to the PC and plug into the AC outlet. Netgear's adapters are sleek and silver, Linksys' boxes are its trademark royal blue plastic. Linksys will also offer a 10/100 router and 10/100 bridge to work with existing Ethernet networks. Products won't be available on store shelves for a month or two.

Linksys also announced its first of many "application-driven" devices, the Instant Wireless Presentation Gateway. Essentially an 802.11b access point, the device lets 802.11b-equipped notebook users project presentations onto any VGA-enabled equipment such as projectors and monitors. The Instant Wireless Presentation Gateway costs $299.

Cutting Edge Software announced Quickoffice Conference, conferencing software that adds 802.11b wireless networking to Cutting Edge's Quickoffice suite of word processing, spreadsheet and charting applications for Palm OS devices. The technology includes peer-to-peer and peer-to-multipeer conferencing capabilities, and will be available early next year.

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