Thu, Jan 01, 2009 - Page 14 News List

A 2009 technology wish list — and why not?

By Jay Dougherty  /  DPA , WASHINGTON

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Wish lists often accompany celebrations around the beginning of a new year. And why not?

There’s a lot to hope for — especially in the world of technology, which has always promised to help us do more with less.

Too often, though, technology ends up getting in our way rather than paving the path to our success. Here are some wishes for how technology could live up to its promise this year.

801.11N, AT LAST

The world badly needs the IEEE — the professional technical organization charged with ratifying wireless transmission standards — to finally ratify 802.11n, the next-generation wireless protocol that has been in the works for years now. Most of what we do on the computer is either tied to the Internet or headed in that direction, so fast connectivity to the Net has never been more important. 802.11n delivers speed — and lots of it. A good 802.11n-based network connection is as fast as a traditional wired Ethernet hookup.

Yet the 802.11n products on the market today retain the “draft” moniker, as the IEEE drags its feet in ratifying the standard. The delay hurts us all, for it slows the adoption of the faster gear, and the threat remains that the 802.11n “draft” equipment we buy today may not be fully interoperable with the ultimate standard. A fully ratified 802.11n specification in 2009 could help fuel continued innovation in Web-centric applications and bring a plethora of low- cost wireless products to the market.

BLU-RAY AFFORDABILITY

Finally, the hi-def DVD standards wars are over, with Sony’s Blu- Ray claiming victory over the competitor HD-DVD. So are millions of high-def fans celebrating by running out to the store and buying Blu- Ray players? Not exactly.

That’s because the prices of those Blu-Ray DVD players and burners remains prohibitively high. Not many are going to hand over US$300, US$400, or even US$500 for a Blu-Ray DVD player when upconverting models that sell for US$50 can make today’s DVDs look very close to Blu-Ray quality.

Sony has to lower its licensing prices, or else the company runs the risk of winning the standards battle but losing the war for the hearts and minds of technology consumers. In technology, achieving critical mass is as much about affordability as it is about a winning standard. Just ask Apple, which lost big to the world of IBM-compatible computers back in the 1980s by keeping its technology proprietary and its prices high. Let’s hope Sony sees the light in 2009, before other technologies come along and make the DVD itself irrelevant.

LOWER PRICES FOR SSDS

Today’s hard drives — built around rapidly spinning magnetic platters — have been the primary performance bottleneck in personal computers for years. Manufacturers have attempted to improve performance by spinning the platters even faster, but there are always downsides to pushing this technology — namely, more heat and more noise. And no matter what performance-improving gimmick disk makers come up with, they cannot overcome the Achilles heel of traditional drives: they’re fragile. In the millisecond it takes for a hard drive to “crash,” all of your data can be gone — for good.

Solid state drives — SSDs for short — solve the bottleneck issue in a big way. Built using nonvolatile memory chips — the kind that don’t lose what’s stored in them when the power is turned off — these drives are many times faster than traditional hard drives for certain operations. Instead of waiting three minutes or more for your operating system to boot up, how does 20 seconds sound? And then there are the fringe benefits: no more noise, much less worry over data loss, low heat, and much less power consumption.

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