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The future of the PC revealed

How advanced technologies will shape tomorrow's PCs

As technology evolves, every aspect of computing will change. And users will benefit from a number of developments including a better internet and PCs in every surface.

A better internet

TCP/IP, the technology on which the entire internet is based, is no spring chicken. The current version of the protocol, Internet Protocol version 4.0 (IPv4), has been around for more than 25 years. The old technology suffers from some serious limitations, including a shortage of addresses for all the computers that use it.

IPv6 will change all that. Unlike IPv4, which uses 32bit addresses (such as, IPv6 uses 128bit addresses such as 2001:0ba0:_01e0:d001:0000:0000:d0f0:0010. This change makes it possible for every person and every computer in the world to have a unique IP address. IPv6 also features network-layer encryption and authentication, enabling secure communications between parties.

IPv6 is already available but hardly anyone is using it yet - the hardware needed for it remains more expensive than that for IPv4 and few network administrators are trained to manage it. However, the US government will move all its networks to IPv6 by summer 2008 so, even at government speeds, the technology should arrive in time to pick up the slack when the pool of available addresses runs out around March 2011. The lack of addresses should encourage your ISP to update its network before long.

A PC in every surface

Although it seems like second nature to us now, the idea of manipulating images on a screen by moving a mouse around on the desk was revolutionary when Douglas Engelbart introduced it in 1964. As well as it works, the mouse is still a surrogate for a far more natural human interface: the fingertip. Over the next few years, a new category of PC will finally put your fingers in control.

Tabletop computing (also known as surface computing) gets back to basics by letting you gather around a table with some friends for some good old-fashioned interactivity. Accepting a variety of input types simultaneously, tabletop PCs allow multiple users to work with data projected on to the surface of the table by touching onscreen objects with their fingertips.

Lots of companies are working on tabletop computing technologies, but two of the leading efforts are Microsoft's (microsoft.com) camera-driven Surface PC and Mitsubishi Electronics (mitsubishielectric.co.uk) Research Labs' DiamondTouch.

Surface PCs use rear projection to present an image on the surface of the table from inside, while five infrared cameras in the table track finger movements on the screen. DiamondTouch projects the image from above the table and uses capacitive coupling (like that employed in laptop touchpads) to follow your fingertips - with this design, however, you create shadows when you touch the screen.

DiamondTouch is still predominantly a research project, but Microsoft's Surface PC is coming in 2008 to a hotel, casino or phone shop near you.

This first generation of Surface PCs will be strictly for showcasing in public locations, but Microsoft expects to offer a conference-room version for businesses by 2010. Home users will get them three to five years from now. Eventually, Microsoft says, you can expect to have Surface PCs built into countertops, mirrors or just about any other flat spot in your home.

In the future, surface PCs will built into any flat surface in your home from countertops to mirrors

NEXT PAGE: faster data and proper internet phones > >

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