Wireless technology dominates 2002 offerings
    Instant messaging, local networks among consumer favourites

    by Alan Zisman (c) 2002 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #686  December 17-23, 2002; GearGuide column

    In 2002, sales of computers, cell phones and PDAs were lower than hoped. Innovation was also not up to the furious pace of a few years ago. Still, there were a number of new ways to spend money this year. This month I'll pause to look back at some of my favourites from the past year.

    Best all-in-wonder

    Handspring Treo 270Handspring'sTreo line took the best from the Palm-capable PDAs, added a keyboard reminiscent of RIM's popular Blackberry wireless messaging handhelds, and stirred in usable cell-phone features, all in a pocket-sized package. Since the release of the original monochrome Treo 180, they've added the colour-screen Treo 270. Rogers AT&T have upgraded their network to allow Treo users to surf the Web and receive e-mail (from $749 with cell phone package).

    Best music in your pocket

    Apple continued to produce stylish and innovative products in 2002. Its iPod MP3 player remains best-of-breed for taking lots of music wherever you go. Storing songs on your choice of 5, 10, or 20 GB hard drive, it's small enough to fit into a shirt pocket, while sporting a large LCD display making it easy to find the tunes you want. Firewire connection lets it quickly suck up music from your computer. Unusually for Apple, it's available in separate versions for Windows PCs as well as for Macs. If you need to connect to both types of computers, get the Mac version. From $479.

    Best way to add anything to your computer

    Apple iPod MP3 player Computers are capable of playing many roles. But opening up a computer case to add a new gadget is not for the faint of heart. External USB devices are easy to add but slow. This year, two similar technologies reached critical mass, making adding a wide range of fast, powerful gear as easy as plugging in a cord. Firewire (aka IEEE 1394 or iLink) has been around for a couple of years, but while it was built into Macs, it was rarely found on PCs. USB 2 is a new, faster revision of the older Universal Serial Bus. Both are showing up built into newer PCs (and can be easily and affordably added to older desktops and notebooks), and power external hard drives, CD and DVD burners, scanners and more.

    Most digital camcorders include Firewire connectors; if you want to work with digital video, this is the way to go. Otherwise, either standard should meet your needs. Just don't get fooled by products labeled "USB Full Speed." That's the old, slow standard. The faster standard gets the moniker "USB High Speed." Adaptec's DuoConnect ($180) is one of several products that adds both USB 2 and Firewire to older PCs.

    Look ma, no wires!

    I grew up in a long-ago era when phones were connected to the wall and TVs got signals through the air. Now everything's reversed. 2002 was the year when local area networks without cables became popular.

    Linksys WiFi base station While several standards exist (with more coming down the pipe), WiFi (aka IEEE 802.11b) got most of the action. Though it's slower than some of the other standards, it offers a good mix of affordability, range and compatibility across manufacturers. Security remains an issue, making it more popular among home and small business users than in large corporate networks. (Unofficial WiFi networks are popping up in many large enterprises, however, much to the dismay of their IT departments.) Prices have dropped dramatically this year, with base stations now around $200 and adapters for desktops and notebooks around $100 from manufacturers like Linksys, dLink, SMC, Netgear and even Microsoft.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan