Plugged In: Google and Amazon Put Books Online

1. All the Text That's Fit to Search

Illustration by Randall Enos
Illustration: Randall Enos
The Buzz: No longer content with simply cataloging content, Google is now expanding the Web itself, bringing reams of book excerpts, descriptions, and other once-unavailable printed materials online. Publishers submit the text to Google Print, and the results show up in the search rankings. Add in Amazon's program to expose a full-text archive of its gazillion books and Google's mail-order catalog search, and the Web is becoming bookworm central.

Bottom Line: A fine start. And if there's truth to the rumor that Google is digitizing Stanford Library's pre-1923 collection, well, say good-bye to overdue-book fines.

2. A Bit Part in the Movies

The Buzz: Hollywood has a new reason to be nervous: It's called BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer technology that uses a bit of technical wizardry to speed up downloads. The app breaks large files (like giant game demos or, say, the latest movie hit) into tiny chunks, which can be stored on users' machines across a network. When someone requests a file, BitTorrent identifies the constituent parts--on hard drives across the network--and sends them speedily to the downloader's machine.

Bottom Line: Better than the original Napster...unless you're a movie exec.

3. Part PC, Part Console

The Buzz: It's surprising no one has tried this before: Take off-the-shelf PC parts, slap them into a DVD player-type case, and call it a gaming console. The ApeXtreme is built on Via's 1.4-GHz C3 processor and the S3 Graphics DeltaChrome graphics processor. In addition to playing virtually all PC games, it handles DVDs, MP3s, CDs, and more. ApeXtreme turns on instantly, connects to any monitor or TV screen, and has a network port, modem, wireless keyboard, and drivers that map to game controllers. Slated for a spring release, it should retail for $299, or $399 for a souped-up model.

Bottom Line: PC gamers already have faster machines, and console fans like their PlayStation 2s, GameCubes, and Xboxes. Everyone else will love this device.

4. In-Your-Pocket PC

The Buzz: Meet the "ultra-personal computer"--a full-blown PC just barely bigger than a CD case. The wireless OQO--available next fall--comes bearing a 5-inch color screen that slides up, a keyboard, and other goodies, and will cost less than $2000. Antelope's Modular Computing Core eval kit (with desktop cradle, network card, and a shell that includes a color screen, keyboard, and mouse) is available now for $3970. Both run Windows XP Home or Pro on Transmeta's 1-GHz Crusoe chip and pack a 20GB hard drive. The real gimmick: Plug either of these sub-1-pounders into a docking station and, presto, you've got a real PC.

Bottom Line: The market tends to resist new form factors for a generation or two. Remember the Newton, anyone?

Nagging Question: Why Do Windows PCs Crash?

According to professional bug squasher Dirk Smith, president of Alexander LAN (maker of the Alexander System Protection Kit crash recovery utility), the main culprit is driver bugs. Buggy third-party drivers can bring on the Blue Screen of Death faster than you can say Control-Alt-Delete. The prime offenders, he says, are drivers for graphics cards and USB ports, and bugs in antivirus and firewall software. Rounding out the suspect list are bad memory and overheating. And here's an amazing stat: According to a memo from Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, "one percent of bugs cause half of all errors." Now if we could just find that 1 percent, we'd all be much happier.
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