What's Hot for 2003
Predictions are always perilous in the PC industry, but one thing's certain: Technology buying decisions won't become any easier in 2003. New gizmos--and old standbys with new shapes, sizes, and functions--will improve your communications, make your workload seem lighter, and maybe even make your life a little more enjoyable.
Five-megapixel digital cameras will fit in your pocket for the first time. Wireless networking will get easier and faster--and more confusing--as a bevy of new 802.11 standards arrive. And AMD's Clawhammer processor, the company's first entirely new processor core in three years, promises an exciting beginning to the year.
But cheaper/better/faster isn't the only story for 2003. Web sites will continue to institute subscription fees, and debate will persist over who should pay to recycle used PC parts. Digital video will make its way into your home and onto your handheld, as television-recording PCs try to occupy your living room, and PDAs get better at multimedia. Systems built around Microsoft's new Windows XP Tablet Edition will have people scribbling on computer screens in corporate hallways and meeting rooms. Yet another new optical storage technology is looming. And a new version of Microsoft's Office suite is on the horizon, though it won't work with Windows operating systems older than XP or 2000. Some things never change.
People love compact digital cameras--the smaller and more full-featured, the better. Expect to see a handful of pocket-size cameras in 2003 boasting resolutions up to 5 megapixels and able to produce sharp, highly detailed photographs. Among the leaders of this trend are Kyocera and Olympus. Kyocera's $600 Finecam S5 offers 5-megapixel resolution and features a slick brushed-silver body that fits in the palm of your hand, ? la Canon's popular PowerShot Digital Elph series. Olympus's $599 Camedia C-50 Zoom has 5-megapixel resolution, too, but it's slightly wider than the Finecam. Both should be available now.
This year, digital cameras should make their way into more PDAs, cell phones, MP3 players, and other devices, either as a built-in feature or as an attachable component. Sanyo, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, Olympus, and Sony are among the vendors introducing these camera-enabled devices.
AMD's successful Athlon CPU line is in for some big changes in 2003. In
its ongoing race with Intel (see
Why does AMD think you need 64 bits? Memory is one reason: A 32-bit CPU can address up to 4GB of memory--more than enough for current desktop PCs. But servers are already pushing past that limit, and AMD is betting that today's 1GB desktops will soon become tomorrow's 4GB systems.
Still, most of the benefits of 32-bit CPUs came after they could run a 32-bit operating system, with drivers and applications to match. Microsoft hasn't announced plans to release a 64-bit OS designed for Clawhammer, so no one knows when that transition will occur. Fortunately, Clawhammer is compatible with existing 32-bit applications.
There's nothing ordinary about Logitech's new digital pen, the Io. Tucked inside the Io's bulky, cigarlike body is an optical sensor that captures your handwriting as you write. The Io can store pages of your scribbles, and it uses a USB cradle to turn your digital scrawl into Microsoft Word or Outlook documents, on-screen sticky notes, or other forms.
The Io requires special digital paper, 80 sheets of which come with the $200 package (refills cost $10 each). You need to spend a few minutes training the software to recognize your handwriting. Each page of the digital paper contains a series of checkboxes that let you specify whether your notes will end up in an e-mail message, a calendar entry, a Microsoft Word file, or a to-do item. But the pen's software converts your handwriting to editable text in only a few situations. For example, the software will open an e-mail window and automatically plug in an e-mail address and subject line after you write them on the special paper.
In our tests, the Io's handwriting recognition improved the more we used it. The Io is pricey, but if you're a manic note-taker, this pen could be very handy.
Look out, big, beige CRT--your days are numbered. According to DisplaySearch's Annual LCD Monitor Strategy Report, last year, for the first time, LCDs topped CRTs in total sales revenue; and LCDs are expected to eclipse CRTs in unit sales in 2004. LCD prices will keep dropping this year: 15-inch units should reach a low price of $300, while 17-inch models--predicted to be the most popular LCD size--should drop to about $450. Prices on 19- to 23-inch models will fall as well, but large LCDs will continue to cost more than their smaller siblings.
Some LCD manufacturers place the image processor and all other electronics directly on the glass, allowing for sleeker profiles and thinner bezels. More vendors are expected to do likewise with their new models. Most LCDs will continue to have both analog and digital (DVI) interfaces, because many graphics cards don't include DVI-out.
Faster processors, beefier storage, and increasing cooperation from Hollywood could lead to a boom in video-to-go in 2003. Companies like Pocket PC Films and Web services like Mazingo are converting movies, TV shows, and news programs into Windows Media Video (WMV) files sized for playback on PDAs. Few titles are available thus far--mainly older and obscure or niche movies like Night of the Living Dead--but both companies say bigger Tinseltown deals are coming. Expect to pay about $15 a month or $100 a year for the services.
This year's handhelds will add screen space and memory to accommodate
video: The $449 PoGo Flipster, a dedicated movie and music player that debuted
in 2002, has a 2.5-inch LCD (diagonal) and 128MB of memory (enough to play one
movie-length WMV file). Sonicblue's ReplayTV Personal Video Player will debut
in 2003 with a screen of up to 4 inches, a 40GB hard drive, and a 400-MHz
processor. Sonicblue's player can handle more advanced video codecs such as
MPEG-4 and even MPEG-2, which is often used in set-top digital video recorders.
If you have a large MP3 collection on your PC, you know how convenient it is to have all your music in one place. In 2003 a group of devices called home media servers will attempt to bring digital music, photos, and video into your living room. You'll see high-end PCs designed to work with your TV, inexpensive specialized PCs running custom Linux-based operating systems, and consumer-electronics devices that combine personal video recorder functions with a DVD burner.
Sorting out the winners among such a mixed bag of products is going to
be tough, however. PCs based on Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition hit
the market just in time for the 2002 holidays. HP's
By now, you've probably heard about the new version of
Office--code-named Office 11--that Microsoft promises to ship in the summer of
2003. (See "
If you spend more time relating to people than to databases, you'll probably be more impressed by the changes in Outlook. Microsoft has redesigned the in-box, arranging the list of incoming mail and the preview of the top message in vertical panes. This simple change greatly increases the amount of information you can see on a screen. Outlook also adds colored flags for marking and categorizing messages, and some new ways to search through your e-mail backlog.
Picture Library, a new application in Office 11, scans your PC (and the network that you're connected to) for images and shows the contents of folders as thumbnails. The library also allows you to rename a whole batch of photos at once.
You'll love the Xentex Flip-Pad Voyager notebook if you have two things: an addiction to multiple-monitor computing, and a sturdy wheeled luggage cart. (Make that three things: You'll also need $5000.)
Think of this laptop as the logical conclusion to 2002's explosion of
desktop replacements. The Voyager's selling points are its two 13.3-inch LCDs,
which stand side-by-side in portrait mode. These dual screens can be used as a
single huge display or as two independent monitors, and one screen pivots 180
degrees to make presentations easier. Interestingly,
Luggage cart or no, how do you carry a double-screen PC around? Good question. Xentex's solution is to make the notebook fold in ways anatomically impossible for most computing equipment. The screens close like a normal notebook, and then the whole contraption folds again along the center spine between the monitors. The resulting package is 14.5 inches long and 10.4 inches wide, similar to a large notebook's dimensions. But it's also 3.2 inches thick, and with its two batteries (which Xentex says support 4 hours of computing), it weighs a hefty 12 pounds. So oil the wheels on that luggage cart. And if you want to work on the plane, you'd better plan to buy two seats.
These days, computers come in more shapes and sizes than ever--PDAs, ultraportable notebooks, desktop replacements, all-in-one desktops, and towers of all descriptions. So do we really need a PC dressed in yet another form factor?
The makers of the Tiqit Eightythree think we do. The Eightythree is a fully functioning PC in a package not much bigger than a PDA. The device, priced between $1000 and $1500, should be available in the first quarter of 2003. It has a built-in 4-inch-diagonal, 640-by-480 screen and a thumb keyboard. With a 300-MHz National Semiconductor Geode processor, 256MB of SDRAM, and up to a 20GB hard drive, the Eightythree can run Windows XP and any compatible applications--though as you might expect, application performance wasn't exactly snappy on the preproduction unit we tried. The screen is touch-sensitive, and you can use handwriting recognition to enter data. You can also attach a USB keyboard and an external monitor (with an included dongle), thus transforming the Eightythree into a bare-bones desktop machine whenever you have a desk to put it on.
Who needs a near-PDA-size computer? Most of the first batch of Eightythrees will likely go to people who are in specialized professions or in the military, according to Tiqit executives. But if it gets a speedier processor, this tiny computer could make sense for people who want to take all their data and applications with them wherever they go.
Nine years after the original Doom put its indelible mark on PC gaming, Id Software is readying the next chilling installment in the series, Doom 3. The game, expected to arrive before summer, reaches several milestones in computer gaming and promises to deliver some of the most amazing 3D graphics ever seen on a PC.
The original Doom was supposed to be scary, but back in the days of 256 colors and 320-by-240-pixel screens, developers could do only so much. Nine years later, PC graphics have advanced to the point where the original vision for Doom can become a reality--and a frightening reality it is. The game will be one of the first designed with graphics chips like NVidia's GeForce as a minimum requirement, and it will be one of the first made to work with Microsoft's upcoming DirectX 9 application programming interface.
Early demos of the game have displayed stunning effects (see above). For example, Doom 3's lighting is entirely dynamic, so you could shoot out all the lights in a room and create total darkness. Just be ready for a scare if you do--all of Doom 3's monsters can see in the dark.
Tablet-style PCs have come a long way since the bulky Gridpad of the late 1980s. The November 2002 debut of Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet PC Edition have helped revive the concept of computing with a stylus rather than a keyboard and mouse. The handwriting recognition in these new tablets is greatly improved, and Microsoft claims that future Tablet PCs won't carry the 10 to 20 percent price premium that is attached to current models.
Tablet PCs (or slates) have already found a home in the health care
industry, in warehouses, and in other special applications, but the key for
success will be sales to businesses. Slates available now, such as the $1699 HP
Wireless is just getting warmed up. The success of 802.11b in 2002 may have been only a prelude to a wireless blitz poised to strike in the second half of 2003, as products based on three new 802.11 standards debut. Last summer saw the introduction of the first products supporting 802.11a, which has a top transmission speed of 54 mbps (802.11b's theoretical maximum is 11 mbps). Get ready for three more wireless letters in 2003: 802.11e, 802.11g, and 802.11i (see chart at right). The first of these standards, 11e, supplements 802.11a and -b (as well as -g) to enhance quality of voice, video, and other media transmissions. The 11g standard runs at 802.11a's 54-mbps rate but is backward-compatible with -b products. Finally, 11i improves on the WEP wireless security protocol by adding the 128-bit Enhanced Security Network standard, which uses the new Advanced Encryption Standard algorithm.
The last details of the -e, -g, and -i standards should be worked out by the end of 2002; but some vendors, such as Cirrus Logic with its WhiteCap2 initiative, are jumping the gun by offering their own signal quality and security solutions already. Before you purchase a new wireless system, keep in mind that proprietary approaches may not be compatible with the new standards.
Planning a purchase? Look ahead with our timeline of technology milestones and new products set to debut in the coming year.
The CD isn't dead yet, and already we're planning for the DVD's demise? Late this year we could see the arrival of the first drives based on Blu-ray technology, a type of optical storage that uses blue lasers to record data onto DVD-size discs. Since blue lasers have a shorter wavelength, they can burn smaller pits than your DVD or CD drive. Smaller pits mean more densely packed data, which in turn means more storage--to the tune of a whopping 27GB for a single-sided, single-layer Blu-ray disc (see below). That's enough space to store 13 hours of DVD-quality video, or more than 2 hours of high-definition video.
You've been browsing the Web for years, and--apart from the monthly payment to your ISP--you haven't opened your wallet once. (We're not counting your many online purchases.) You've even installed a pop-up stopper and an ad blocker to keep your browsing commercial-free. Face it: You're a Web freeloader. But somebody's got to pay for all that great information you pick up from your favorite sites.
The Web is tough to make a living on if you're in the information business. In what other industry do vendors have to convince their customers to pay for something they're used to getting free? Slowly, inexorably, and with more than a few hiccups, the Web is evolving into a great big subscription service--whether you like it or not.
Leading the way are big online names like The New York Times, which now
charges for full access to its archives, and Consumer Reports, whose product
ratings have always carried a price tag. Print publications can use services
such as Zinio (a
Critics point out that people who've switched from a $22-a-month dial-up account to a $50-a-month broadband service won't be anxious to pay even a couple of extra bucks a month anytime soon. Even the least expensive subscriptions will be a tough sell for quite some time. But don't be surprised if this is the year in which for the first time you find yourself paying a Web site for its content.
We've been hearing about Bluetooth wireless technology for over four years now. The spec, called Bluetooth after the surname of a tenth-century Danish king, has been final since 2000, but products incorporating it have been slow to appear. Late in 2002 we got our hands on the first real crop of Bluetooth products, including Microsoft's Bluetooth-ready mouse and keyboard (see above). The $159 Wireless Optical Desktop package includes a very comfy mouse, a keyboard, and a transceiver. If you have HP's $299 Bluetooth-ready Deskjet 450 mobile printer parked in another room, you can easily beam pages through most walls for it to print.
The popularity of cell phones--and some states' legislation prohibiting their use while driving--has spawned other types of Bluetooth accessories: Plantronics' M1500 ($200) and M1000 ($120) Bluetooth-enabled headsets use an ear loop to attach to your ear. The M1500 comes with an adapter that works with most non-Bluetooth cell phones that can accommodate a headset. Jabra's $179 FreeSpeak works with non-Bluetooth phones, too--and it's more comfortable than the Plantronics headsets, thanks to its soft gel earpiece. Expect to see many more companies (such as Logitech) jumping on the Bluetooth bandwagon in 2003.
The market for rewritable DVD drives is maturing faster than the CD-RW market did--in spite of battling rewritable DVD formats. The outcome of the format wars--highlighted by the scuffle between leaders DVD+R/+RW and DVD-R/-RW--remains uncertain, but it's safe to say that speeds will double and prices will drop in 2003 as more manufacturers ramp up production.
The first portable rewritable DVD drive, Toshiba's SD-R6012 Slim, arrived in the fall of 2002 and Sony's most recent VAIO notebook series included a model using Toshiba's 12.7mm high, 7-ounce 1X DVD-R and DVD-RW writer that weighs just 7 ounces. A version of Toshiba's drive will offer 2X DVD-R write speeds by early 2003, in line with upcoming slimline notebook burners that support either the DVD-R/-RW or the DVD+R/+RW format, or some combination of the two.
Notebook DVD burners currently cost about 50 percent more than DVD-ROM/CD-RW combination drives. However, industry experts expect that difference to shrink as volume production increases and prices of rewritable DVD drives fall. Write-once burning speeds might reach 4X by the end of 2003; but many insiders believe that the driving factor behind the demand for notebook burners will not be speed, but decreasing costs and the ability to burn discs that work in DVD video players.
Nothing spurs innovation like a rivalry. NVidia, the market leader among graphics chip makers, claims its upcoming GeForce FX chip will offer cinematic realism, as well as support for 8X AGP and Microsoft's DirectX 9. The GeForce FX should have twice the pixel-rendering power and three times the frame rate of NVidia's current top-of-the-line GeForce4 Ti 4600 chips. At press time, sources at NVidia expected cards based on the new chips to arrive in stores at the start of 2003.
While the GeForce FX may restore the 3D performance lead to NVidia, the company may not hold that honor for long. In August 2002, ATI released the Radeon 9700 Pro, which surpassed GeForce4 Ti 4600 chips in our speed and image-quality tests. And ATI's new generation of chips--which it claims will trump the GeForce FX--is slated to arrive by February or March 2003 at the latest, according to Paul Ayscough, ATI's director of corporate marketing.
If you're tired of waiting for fast mobile Internet access or live in a town where the homes are just too sparse to justify running the wires necessary for either cable or DSL broadband service, relief could come from an unlikely source: 802.11 wireless networks.
The ranges of Wi-Fi networks are usually limited to only about 300 feet.
But San Francisco-based
Vivato "Wi-Fi switches" are due out in the first quarter of 2003 and will initially be marketed to large enterprises that want to set up large-scale networks. But the company says its technology could easily be used to set up Wi-Fi networks on campuses or in an entire downtown. And researchers at Intel are using a similar arrangement to provide broadband Internet access to some employees in rural Oregon.
With businesses anxious to slash IT budgets, could 2003 be the year Linux finally makes a splash on the desktop? Add Linux's improved user-friendliness and Microsoft compatibility (particularly in networking and with Office) to its lack of licensing costs and use restrictions, and you've got a potentially winning combination.
The three big commercial Linux vendors--Red Hat, Mandrake, and SuSE--all shipped new editions of their Linux distributions in the waning months of 2002. Upstarts Xandros, Lindows, and Lycoris remain in the mix, too, focusing solely on end users. And Red Hat achieved an important advance toward desktop acceptance with version 8 of its distribution, tweaking the system so that point-and-click apps look and feel the same, under any of Linux's desktop environments. Look for other distributions to follow suit this year.
All of these companies have at their disposal the strongest building blocks yet produced by the open-source community. The KDE and Gnome desktop environments now sport most of the features that Windows users expect to see. For their part, OpenOffice.org's office suite and its commercial cousin, Sun's StarOffice, continue to improve. The Wine libraries (which enable Linux to run Windows programs) have Microsoft Office (though not Office XP) running on Linux. By the end of 2003, you'll probably see low-cost Linux-based PCs for sale at places other than Walmart.com, where you can currently pick up a Microtel PC running LindowsOS for $199.
If you buy a new PC this year, you may notice that a few things are missing. That's because PC makers are beginning to phase out older components such as parallel, serial, and PS/2 ports. So-called legacy-free PCs have appeared before. But now CD-RW drives are cheap and widespread enough that Gateway's Profile PCs and Dell's OptiPlex SX260 come sans floppy drive. Motherboard vendor Abit omits parallel and serial ports on its AT7 and IT7 boards in favor of FireWire, USB 2.0, and digital sound connectors.
Someday, every computer purchase may include a charge of $10, $20, or more to pay for safe dismantling after the PC has processed its last byte. But not yet. Conservationists, legislators, and PC vendors continue to wrangle over who should pay to clean up the lead, mercury, and other toxins in discarded PC components such as cathode-ray tubes and motherboards.
It will take months to resolve such questions as how to finance and monitor the recycling of old computers, and at what point in a product's life cycle a recycling fee should be applied. This summer the Japanese government will extend its current compulsory recycling program for business computers to all PCs (with consumers picking up the tab); meanwhile, some European countries are putting the onus on PC manufacturers to pay for the safe disposal of their products. PC vendors in this country believe that consumers would balk at even a modest recycling fee tacked onto the price of their new systems.
Ironically, future systems bearing a PC recycling fee will likely
include far fewer potential pollutants than current models: LCDs don't contain
the pounds of lead that CRTs do, and manufacturers are reducing or eliminating
the amount of other toxins in new PC components. See "