New search tools invade the browser

SAN FRANCISCO (10/27/2003) - Search Engines Tool Up

The Buzz: The search engine battle moves uptown--or at least up-page--with dueling releases of flashy toolbars from Google and AltaVista. Both uberbars slide in beneath the existing toolbars of Internet Explorer 5.0 or later and offer the expected search functions, plus a pop-up blocker. Google's 2.0 toolbar also throws in an automatic form filler, a tool for posting to blogs, and even a calculator and units converter. The entry from AltaVista (soon to be acquired by Yahoo) can translate Web pages or text into ten languages and dishes up weather, zip codes, definitions, and such on the fly.

Bottom Line: A few more toolbars like these, and I'll never need to consult my browser again. Good thing, since there won't be room for my browser anyway.

Getting Pushy About Talk

The Buzz: If you haven't heard much about "Push to Talk" (PTT), you will soon. A variation on instant messaging, but for voice, PTT transforms your phone into a walkie-talkie. Select a name from your pick list, hit a button, and, bingo, you're connected. PTT uses VoIP (voice over IP) technology, so you'll need a new handset with a two-way radio built in. Nextel has provided PTT for several years, but Verizon Wireless has just introduced it, and Sprint, Cingular, and AT&T Wireless, plus a few regional carriers, are preparing rollouts. The service will be offered as a paid add-in to standard calling plans.

Bottom Line: Perfect for campus residents, Boy Scouts, and other people who wander a lot in their work. A basic cell phone should do fine for the rest of us.

Pixels to the Max

The Buzz: The ante goes up yet again this month when Sony Corp. introduces an 8-megapixel digital camera for US$1,200. The black, magnesium alloy Cyber-shot DSC-F828--with a sophisticated color filter technology that Sony claims will dramatically improve color accuracy--can store pics on CompactFlash media or a Microdrive or Memory Stick. The camera will also do 30-frames-per-second video recording up to the capacity of the storage device that you use.

Bottom Line: Despite its lofty specs, the DSC-F828 is being marketed to "enthusiasts." Ah, finally, the camera for all those amateurs who long to create high-resolution photos they can print for bus shelters and the sides of tall buildings.

Whizzy Wireless Networks

The Buzz: Wi-Fi not zippy enough for you? Netgear Inc. has found a way to push data at 108 megabits per second. That's twice as fast as the 802.11g standard. To get "108 mode" (which is backward-compatible with the 802.11b and Wi-Fi standards), you'll need Netgear's WGT624 Wireless Firewall Router ($150) and WG511T Wireless PC Card ($90), both built on Atheros Communications' chip set with Super G.

Bottom Line: Netgear is aiming this at streaming video fans, small offices running bandwidth-intensive apps, and anyone opening a Starbucks in their front yard.

Nagging Question: What Does Comdex Stand For?

As the Las Vegas mega-trade show preps for its 24th annual opening day on November 16, its sponsors are touting the tagline "The Global Technology Marketplace." Back in 1979, when computers were minicomputers and Bill Gates was just another penniless geek, the "Computer Dealers Exposition"--with 125 exhibitors hawking their silicon to 4000 attendees--was less ambitious. And though the name has stuck, nowadays you'll find more Wi-Fi, Net stuff, and services than good old PCs.

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