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The week in review: Intel gets small

The chipmaker is thinking small when it comes to its big plans for the future, as it uses its Developer Forum to give glimpse of things to come.

Intel is thinking small when it comes to the company's big plans for the future.

The chipmaker used its Developer Forum to disclose technology changes and avenues of research that will direct the future development of its chips. The company confirmed that it is working on a multiple-gate transistor that is expected to increase the amount of electricity flowing through transistors and microprocessors and in turn boost their performance.

Intel is also experimenting with silicon nanowires and carbon nanotubes, two structures made up of, respectively, self-assembling silicon and carbon atoms. After 2010, one of these technologies could begin to replace standard transistors and over time become the building block of chips.

As chips continue to get less expensive, more powerful and smaller, computers and wireless connections will be embedded in everything, speakers told the forum. By middecade, Intel expects to be able to integrate radios onto ordinary silicon chips. As a result, wireless communications would essentially become free.

The chipmaker is also working on performance-enhancing server technology known as hyperthreading for the desktop and technology for securing data on hard drives. Hyperthreading allows different elements of the chip, such as the integer unit for graphics processing and the floating-point unit for complex calculations, to be active at the same time, boosting performance by as much as 30 percent.

On the security side, Intel's LaGrande is designed to prevent hackers or viruses from obtaining or corrupting data in a PC by placing a secure wrapper around selected hard-drive data, as well as around the keyboard, the display and the interconnects inside the computer. Currently, data sent to commerce sites is encrypted while traveling between a PC and a server, but it reverts to its original form on a hard drive.

The company plans to cross a technology threshold midway through the decade by squeezing two Itanium chips onto a single slice of silicon. On higher-end networked server computers, two or more processors often share computing tasks. With chip manufacturing advances, chipmakers can unite pairs of processors so they're etched onto a single slice of silicon, making the chips less expensive.

Broadband's new path
AOL Time Warner is making sweeping organizational changes at its America Online unit in a bid to make that division more profitable and tighten its focus on broadband services. An overhaul had been expected for some time. Recently, former USA Networks executive Jonathan Miller was named CEO of the division, in a move that presaged the restructuring.

Miller will now oversee the AOL brand, interactive marketing and AOL broadband. He added that he wanted to trim the operating levels in the company and move more quickly to turn around the business. Indeed, the stated focus on broadband has given some on Wall Street a shot of optimism. AOL, however, remains a blemish on the parent company.

SBC Communications and Yahoo launched their long-awaited high-speed Internet access service. The DSL service marks Yahoo's most ambitious step to date into the Internet access business, sharpening its rivalry with its chief Web portal competitors: Both America Online and Microsoft's MSN service have melded content and Internet service for years, becoming the No. 1 and No. 2 dial-up service providers in the United States.

After taking a severe blow from a weak online advertising market, Yahoo is pinning much of its turnaround on boosting subscription revenue. Although financial details of the SBC partnership remain murky, Yahoo will take a cut of subscription revenue and offer a percentage of all advertising sold through the partnership to SBC.

Whether these changes actually translate into new business remains to be seen. Broadband hasn't attracted much in the way of corporate support. Corporations are cautious about using broadband Internet services in essential areas of their business, according to a new study. More than 20 percent of respondents said they would not use any type of broadband service in their main offices.

It's a Wi-Fi world
A new wireless standard five times faster than Wi-Fi took an important step as the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers said that a draft of the standard, 802.11g, had passed the first of several votes needed before it's ultimately approved. The IEEE said it intends to finalize the 802.11g standard by May 2003.

The 802.11g network operates in the same radio frequency as Wi-Fi, but equipment using 802.11g can download files or access the Web at 54 megabits per second, compared with 802.11b's rate of 11 megabits per second. It is also more secure than Wi-Fi and is compatible with existing Wi-Fi networks.

Networking groups are working on ways for Web surfers to roam on wireless networks--just as mobile phone users roam on cellular networks. The popularity of Wi-Fi has spawned a number of independent companies that offer wireless services, but it is difficult, and prohibitively expensive, for many customers of a Wi-Fi service to use the network of another.

The barrier to wireless roaming lies not in technology, but in that carriers have only just started to iron out billing issues. The IEEE met recently to discuss how to jump-start Wi-Fi roaming, and the European Telephone Standards Institute is making a similar effort to encourage companies to explore Wi-Fi roaming.

Even Intel is catching the wireless bug. The chipmaker is readying a PC card modem, code-named Calexico, that will contain the first 802.11b and 802.11a chips made by the company. The modem, which will come out in notebooks early next year, will let both PCs and notebooks connect to Wi-Fi wireless networks as well as to those that use the newer 802.11a standard.

To encourage sales, Intel will also pair the module with its processors and chipsets and sell the entire package to PC manufacturers along with "reference designs," or hardware blueprints, a technique it has used to get into the market for chipsets and other components.

Sept. 11 revisited
As the country stopped to observe the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the medium that does interactivity best became a natural destination. In the past year, the Web has become a key place to communicate, commiserate and compile historical information surrounding the attacks.

Soon after planes hit the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, and another terrorist-hijacked plane crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside, the Web emerged as a lifeline for people looking to contact loved ones via e-mail or find the latest news. In the year since then, Web sites of all types have surfaced, preserving information in multimedia formats, archiving personal accounts and spawning new communities.

As major Web publishers increased extensive coverage of the anniversary, some eliminated or cut back on advertising to avoid the appearance of profiting on the anniversary of the tragedy. Major ad buyers such as Coca-Cola, General Motors and Pepsico suspended all advertising on Sept. 11, and some media companies followed suit with similar, if less sweeping, plans.

That sensitivity seemed to elude at least one virus writer who created a new e-mail worm that uses the terror attacks of Sept. 11 to lure victims. The worm has the subject line "All people" and appears to be from "main@world.com." But the programming is buggy, and it fails to work on many systems.

Also of note
A new Greek law banning the playing of electronic games was declared unconstitutional by a judge, and charges against three people were dismissed...Apple Computer released its latest "i" application, as the company seeks to combat slowing computer sales with an increased emphasis on software and services...In another indication of how serious Microsoft is about cracking down on "mod chips" used for hacking its Xbox game console, the company is seeking to hire a software engineer to investigate the gray-market add-ons...Microsoft believes that hackers have systematically exploited Windows 2000 servers that haven't been properly locked down, rather than a hole in the operating system...The software giant also issued the first service pack for Windows XP, but the update may not appear on some new PCs until next year...Photography giant Kodak recalled one of its older digital camera models because of a possible shock hazard...Despite the much-touted benefits of "m-commerce," several large companies are quietly shutting down their wireless services, and more are expected to follow.