Wireless mesh may hold future of computing

NORFOLK, Va. ? The Internet has replaced the PC as the chief programmable platform, and services built explicitly for the Web will supplant the wave of Web services for legacy back ends, said Linda Zecher, vice president of Microsoft Corp.'s U.S. public sector, yesterday at the Commonwealth of Virginia IT Symposium.

"There will be more machine-to-machine interaction on behalf of the user, without user intervention. Billions of new devices are being sold each year with computing, storage and communications capacity," she said. These devices' ability to connect and extend will form new local networks and transform a "wireless fabric" of devices into the next programmable platform, Zecher said.

For example, consumer devices such as digital cameras will automatically seek other devices to communicate their photos without user involvement.

"They will have Global Positioning System information of where and when the photos were taken," so users can browse them on a globelike virtual representation, she said.

Handwritten and spoken input will replace keyboards, Zecher said.

"Each device that is bought by consumers will extend the wireless mesh," she said. Distributed backup on trusted ad hoc local networks can guarantee data safety and make possible, for example, webcam security setups without needing any outside intermediary and at near-zero marginal cost.

Jonathan Crane, chief strategy officer of MCI Inc., said he foresees interactive gaming among the next killer apps. "We have a long way to go to catch up with South Korea," he said, where gamers are as glamorous as major-league ballplayers.

"Everything is becoming more and more interactive," he said. "Instant messaging is replacing voice communication and even the spoken word. Users are more demanding, things have to be simple, easy and integrated."

The transition to IP networking and communications is going "faster than we all thought," Crane said. E-commerce, $3.9 trillion in 2003, will go to $5 trillion or $6 trillion in 2004. Voice over IP will be a $6.7 billion market by 2007. he said.

On the downside, he said, spam costs about $4 billion last year, and the many security services he called "cyberhygiene" are going to become an enormous market.

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