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CES 2004: The IT Perspective

Gadgets with IT appeal have begun to infiltrate the ranks of devices at this predominantly consumer show.

(Las Vegas) The annual Consumer Electronics Show is decidedly consumer in nature: An entire convention hall of home theater equipment, for example, makes it clear that there's as much here for play as for work. However, as technology continues to evolve and reach new markets, more so-called "consumer" electronics are just as likely to be found in your data center or even on your own desk. In fact, this year's CES proved that the line between office and consumer electronics is thinning.

Wireless Technologies
It was the year of wireless-for real, this time. In fact, an entire convention hall was devoted to wireless technologies, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and cellular. The upcoming batch of new cell phones from the major manufacturers shows a real concern for hard-working individuals; devices sport PDA and PDA-like features, wireless access to e-mail and the Web and connectivity for synchronizing with your desktop or laptop. Microsoft has two distinct lines of cell phones: the Windows-powered SmartPhone, as well as the more PDA-like Pocket PC Phone Edition. High-end phones from Motorola, Sony, Ericsson, Kyocera, and Samsung were all aimed squarely at the high-tech consumer or IT pro.

Speaking of wireless, what about T1 speeds—without wires—for $50 a month? That's what DataBahn promises with their upcoming K-band satellite Internet service, the first competitor to Hughes Electronics' DirecWAY service. DataBahn's new dishes are available for both fixed and mobile applications, and start at $60 per month for fixed residential service. Satellites are expected to be online in March, according to representatives at the show.

Windows SmartPhone-enabled Samsung i600
Samsung showcased its Windows SmartPhone enabled device, the i600. Other manufactures who will come out with SmartPhone lines include Nokia and Kyocera. (Photo: Samsung.)

Bluetooth, the darling of the wireless world, made a major showing this year. Logitech showcased an array of Bluetooth-compatible keyboards, mice, and other devices, while cell phone and PDA manufacturers pitched devices with built-in Bluetooth capability. GN Netcom, parent company of Jabra, announced a new Bluetooth headset with the unique capability to bond to two devices, instead of the usual one. This allows the headset to pick up calls from both an office phone and a mobile phone. The unit is smart enough to place outgoing calls on the office landline when it's within range, then to switch to the mobile phone when the other is out of reach (however, this feature doesn't happen mid-call).

Convergence Redux
If it was the year of wireless, it was also the year of convergence. Yes, again. This year, convergence took the form of innumerable media player devices from Gateway, Dell, NetGear, and others, all designed to occupy a niche similar to Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition. Generally, these media players are designed to be plugged into a television, where they'll do anything from playing MP3s and CDs to playing DVDs and acting as personal video recorders (PVRs).

Device convergence was also a hot topic, and the well-known Blackberry devices were perhaps the best examples. The newer units, which combine a cell phone with Blackberry's useful wireless e-mail service, also include PDA-like functions such as a calendar and contact list. Placing everything in one device makes it easier for busy IT professional to keep up, whether on the road or just enjoying a rare evening home with the family.

Center of the Laptop Universe
Intel made a major push for their Centrino brand in 2003, something that's already been getting a fair share of marketing exposure, and the push continues. Every major manufacturer has Centrino laptops available, many touting extended battery life, the addition of built-in Wi-Fi (and often Bluetooth), large screens, and all the amenities you'd expect in a high-end machine.

Many of the new wave of Tablet PCs also include Centrino technologies, and are beginning to break the mold established by the original Tablet PCs more than a year ago. Gateway's new Tablet PC has an enormous 14" screen (most tablets are in the 10" range), built-in DVD player and high-quality sound. Like earlier hybrid models, the Gateway's screen pivots 180 degrees and folds flat, converting the unit from a traditional laptop into an all-screen "slate" unit. ViewSonic's new tablet is also a hybrid, and is one of the thinnest, lightest-weight models on the market.

Transmeta Crusoe in OQO UPC
Transmeta's Crusoe processors will power new sub-microcomputers, such as OQO's Ultra Portable Computer, a form factor that's as small as a PDA, but which OQO claims can replace a full-featured laptop. (Photo: OQO.)

Chipmaker Transmeta displayed several tablet and small-form factor laptops, including one unit boasting an enormous 11-hour battery life-enough for a transcontinental flight. Transmeta's Crusoe processors are small, require very little power, generate almost no heat and are fully x86 compatible, meaning they run Windows XP with ease. Transmeta also showed designs for the OQO, a sub-micro computer about the size of an iPaq and fully capable of running Windows XP. Talk about portable!

In the datacenter, Transmeta introduced a new motherboard reference design for blade servers, which was developed in conjunction with HP. By using Transmeta's experience with small form factors, low power consumption and low heat, the two companies are developing blade computers that can be stacked into extremely high-density configurations, making high-density terminal servers and major server consolidation easier than ever.

Tasty IT Tidbits
The DVD+RW Alliance was on hand, pushing their alternative +R and +RW formats. Plenty of manufacturers supporting the DVD Forum's "official" -R and -RW formats were also present, meaning devices like Pioneer's latest DVD-RW/+RW units are probably the best buys, since they cover all bases. Dozens of manufacturers at the show were pushing SD, XD, MMC, and CF media, with signs that price drops are forthcoming in these popular formats. Makers of USB flash drives were also on hand, pitching larger sizes-up to 4GB in one case-and lower prices. Finally, everyone had flat screens. Dell's even jumped into the market in light of rival Gateway's success in plasma screens.

Get Wire(lessed) Up!
Wireless, wireless, wireless, and tiny, tiny, tiny were the watchwords. Everyone had something smaller than last year's model (except flat screen TVs, which were all bigger), and almost everything has wireless capabilities; even, I believe, the Windows Embedded sewing machine (I am not making this up) and bread maker. More than 100,000 attendees showed up, meaning technology is definitely not dead or dying, and manufacturers were bullish about their prospects for the new year.

[Note: A short, downloadable video report of this month's CES 2004 Digital Experience event is available on Don Jones' BrainStorm page at http://my.braincore.net . —Editors.]

About the Author

Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is an Author/Evangelist for video training company Pluralsight. Don is also a co-founder and President of PowerShell.org, a community dedicated to Microsoft’s Windows PowerShell technology. Don has more than two decades of experience in the IT industry, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. He’s the author of more than 50 technology books, an accomplished IT journalist, and a sought-after speaker and instructor at conferences worldwide. Reach Don on Twitter at @concentratedDon, or on Facebook at Facebook.com/ConcentratedDon.

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