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When you think of PCs, you don’t necessarily think of household appliances — nor, for that matter, of wireless technologies. Still, Bill Gates found a way to merge all these ideas into his keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. Gates outlined a world in which wireless infrastructure enabled a variety of tasks. “Our vision is a PC you’ll want to leave on 24 hours a day,” Gates said, “one that uses the wireless infrastructure to control things throughout the house.” The Redmond, Wash., icon wasn’t the only computer executive to incorporate wireless themes into his presentation. During his address, Intel CEO Craig Barrett showed a cellular phone with Bluetooth capability that downloaded messages and phone book updates when the holder came close to a Bluetooth receiver on a PC. Intel was also one of the few players showing a wireless home networking product that you can buy today. Its AnyPoint system is based on HomeRF technology, which lets you connect up to eight devices in short ranges, with speeds comparable to your corporate network. The price point is reasonable: You can buy your first two nodes for around $200, which is about half the price it costs to get into wireless LAN technology through Apple’s AirPort or Lucent’s Gold card. In another presentation, Palm CEO Carl Yankowski laid out his road map for the future of the Palm hardware and operating system. Yankowski countered the rising buzz surrounding Microsoft’s PocketPC and showed that it took about 30 seconds to discover the weather in Boston on a wireless Palm VII vs. “up to 3 minutes” on its PocketPC competitor. Yankowski likes to compare his device to a wallet, as evidenced by a demonstration of what he called the first credit card purchase from a handheld computer (though many people have used their handhelds with wireless or wired Internet access to buy items online). Displaying a disregard for money that only a billionaire could have, he impulsively picked up a Sony Aibo and two other items at a makeshift Sharper Image counter and beamed his Visa number to the cash register for a $1,900 purchase. A Visa representative came on stage afterward to explain to the audience that Yankowski “will actually be billed” for the purchase. (Note to Palm accounts payable: Look closely at Yankowski’s February expense report.) But while the visions for a wireless home laid out at the show may be a virtuous goal, they depend on the resolution of a number of problems. One wrinkle: The peripherals — Web appliances, MP3 players, net radios — have already hit the market, but the supporting wireless technologies are still making their way out of the labs even though they are a given prominence in the keynotes and product demos. And the push in related fields, such as the drive for home networking, hasn’t produced the desired results. 3Com and Cisco Systems delayed shipping a high-end networking hub they were planning due to lackluster demand in the market. You may not want to throw away those wires in the basement just yet. Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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