Comdex Report: The Comdex Crystal Ball

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LAS VEGAS--Comdex may primarily be a PC trade show, but it's still an important event for the Macintosh, whose fortunes are inextricably linked with the rest of the computer industry. Many PC technologies shown at this year's Comdex will eventually find their way to the Mac, and while Apple may no longer define the leading edge of computer technology, it has made its mark by establishing new industrial design trends and by promoting hardware standards like USB and FireWire.

Here are some emerging technologies that Mac users might want to keep an eye on:

Bluetooth. Comdex organizers devoted a special section of the main convention floor to this emerging wireless communication standard, which uses a short-range radio link. Bluetooth capabilities can be built into laptops, network servers, cellular telephones, printers, PDAs, keyboards, and other computer peripherals. Apple's AirPort technology is based on a different wireless communication standard known as 802.11.

Information Appliances. Hand-held organizers and other "appliances" are all over the show floor. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates used part of his Sunday evening keynote to tout hand-held computers based on the company's Windows CE operating system. Many companies demonstrated MP3 players, though few models at present work with the Mac.

Internet Telephony. Many exhibitors are showing hardware or software designed to enable voice communications over the Internet. Tatung demonstrated the iPhone, a telephone that includes a keyboard, built-in modem, and Internet dial-up capabilities.

Linux. In case there was any doubt before, Comdex is providing a dramatic testament to the emergence of Linux as an OS alternative to Windows NT and the many flavors of Unix. A keynote speech by Linux founder Linus Torvalds was among the most-anticipated Comdex events, and the Linux Business Expo, which debuted this year in conjunction with Comdex, is providing a showcase for Linux products from dozens of companies. Several vendors offer versions of Linux that run on a Mac.

Biometrics. This technology uses physical characteristics, such as fingerprints and facial features, to authenticate a user's identity. More than a dozen exhibitors are demonstrating biometric products in the Comdex Biometrics Hot Spot on the show floor. One manufacturer, CompuLink Research, is showing a mouse that incorporates a fingerprint sensor; the company plans to release a Mac version next year. (See "The Password Is Passé".)

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