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What treats are in store for infotech consumers in 2005?

Search engines will yield more accurate results, we will be abe to save more junk on our hard drives, and everyone will be able to talk over the internet

DPA , WASHINGTON

There's hardly been a dull moment in the world of technology, and 2005 will surely follow suit.

While the good old PC will clearly continue its evolution, the most rapid technological advances that affect consumers for 2005 and beyond will encompass a wide range of products.

Here are some predictions about what's ahead for technology consumers and watchers in the year ahead.

More sophisticated search

Search engines took centre stage in 2004, thanks in part to Google's unveiling as a publicly traded company and to Microsoft's entry into the increasingly competitive search engine field.

But the greatest advances in search lie ahead. 2005 should see search become more sophisticated, with so-called "semantic inference" technology attempting to bridge the gap between what we find and what we want to find.

In short, semantic inference technology helps our search results become more precise by examining not just the contents of Web documents but their context.

That's a simple explanation for a complex technology, but the end result for users will be better search results with less effort.

Add to that the likelihood that 2005 will see searches extend to more types of material -- including material scanned from libraries, resources that up to now were not available on the online world, and the data on our own computer -- and you have a year in which searching for information will become much less frustrating and a lot more fruitful.

Storage gets serious

Hard drives aren't keeping up with today's data needs. Today's large 300 and 400 gigabyte (GB) hard drives are easily filled to capacity by digital photos, increasingly large audio files, and video. Some computer users attempt to cope with the problem by stuffing multiple hard drives into their PCs. But there is a limit to the number of hard drives a PC can operate and many are finding the 4.7 gigabyte DVD is just not large enough.

2005 will see the introduction of reasonably-priced personal NAS devices. Short for "network attached storage," these NAS devices hold multiple hard drives and can be accessed by anyone on a network - wired or wireless. They'll become indispensable for dealing with data-hungry applications and accessories, such as digital cameras, as well as providing a means to back up the growing number of computers and notebooks in today's household.

The optical disk -- today's DVDs -- will undergo a revision, as well. Already in development are high-definition DVDs capable of holding up to 30GB of data. Unfortunately, several companies are competing over the standard for the next high-capacity optical disk, but 2005 will likely see one standard accepted and introduced commercially.

All-in-one handhelds

Who wants to carry around a cell phone, MP3 player, digital voice recorder, and personal organizer as separate devices? No one. That's why 2005 will allow people to lighten their loads without giving up the digital conveniences that they've come to depend upon.

Expect to see devices that hold videos, photos, music, and allow you make phone calls. Some manufacturers have already announced such combo units. They'll become ubiquitous -- and faster cell phone networks will make it easier for you to send data wirelessly using these miniature multi-taskers.

Better batteries

Pity the poor notebook user who must be content today with two or three hours of mobile computing time. Thankfully, 2005 will see the introduction of miniature fuel cells that will amount to significant independence from the wall socket.

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