Plugged In: Free Wi-Fi Service Gets Easier to Find

Illustration: P.J. Loughran

1. Hotspots Heating Up

The Buzz: We've grown accustomed to paying for wireless hotspot access in airports, at Starbucks outlets, and elsewhere, due in large part to Intel's $300 million marketing splurge promoting its Wi-Fi-enabled Centrino chip. But rival AMD wants to turn the pay-to-play model on its head by promoting free Wi-Fi hotspots in cafés, bars, ice cream shops, and other businesses. AMD expects to see "a groundswell in key metro areas" by the second half of this year. Currently a pilot program, the AMD effort will involve a Web site, promotions, and publicity.

Bottom Line: Initially the AMD hotspot network is tapping businesses that already supply free Wi-Fi--and there are plenty of them. Trouble is, few people know they exist. Not for long, though.

2. Where'd I Put That Web Page?

The Buzz: You can find anything on the Web, but organizing content for later retrieval--that's another story. Responding to this desperate need are two new search utilities. The full-featured $30 Onfolio snags content--Web pages, paragraphs, links, graphics--from IE or various apps, and saves and organizes it on your PC. Once you've created an Onfolio collection, you can post it online or e-mail it with just a few clicks. A free alternative, Furl, lets you grab, share, and organize Web content and archive it to the service's server.

Bottom Line: "Bookmarks on steroids," but without the nasty side effects.

3. Megahertz So Bad

The Buzz: Apparently tired of hyping every bump in speed as worthy of oohs and aahs, Intel is changing the way that it names its chips (see our News and Trends story, "Intel Plays Name Game"). Upcoming mobile Celeron, Pentium 4, and Pentium M processors will boast three-digit names--such as Pentium M 745--denoting the processor family, cache size, and feature set. Intel was the last holdout, as Apple, AMD, and other chip makers went to a similar naming scheme years ago.

Bottom Line: It's about time, Intel. After all, clock speed--as measured in megahertz and gigahertz--is too simplistic a metric for rating chips. Then again, these new labels are about as intuitive as car-model numbers...as in not at all.

4. 90 Gigs to Go

The Buzz: Zip and Jaz had their day. Now Iomega is looking to recapture the magic with the Rev, a storage device that holds 35GB of data (90GB compressed) on a removable disk the size of a deck of cards. Because it's built from off-the-shelf hard-drive technology, the bootable, rewritable Rev is a lot faster than competing tape-backup products. A Rev drive plus one disk will run you about $400, and additional disks will cost less than $60 each. At launch, the Rev will come in ATAPI and external USB 2.0 flavors; SCSI and FireWire versions will follow.

Bottom Line: Both "zippy" and "jazzy," Iomega's Rev looks like a winner.

Nagging Question: What's Behind Software Numbering?

According to my Help menu, I'm not running IE 6; I have version 6.0.2800.xpsp followed by ten more numbers. My NVidia display driver? Version 6.14.10.5664. Huh? Well, taking my NVidia driver as an example, the first five digits indicate Windows XP; the next four refer to "builds," changes made to the source code. Every week NVidia gathers up all the revisions created by the driver-component teams, creates a build, and adds 1 to that last four-digit string. Think of it as a numbers game, software style.

Contributing Editor Steve Fox covers buzzworthy products, ideas, and trends. Contact him at steve_fox@pcworld.com. Go here for more Plugged In.
  
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