Skip to main content

Notebook Technology




Cell phones take flight

Phone home

Airplane passengers may soon be able to use cell phones during flights. Qualcomm claims its CDMA wireless phone system will not interfere with navigational equipment, and legal, commercial use could be two years away.

Cell phones are known to work inside planes - witness the calls made from hijacked planes during the 9/11 attacks - but federal regulators consider them too risky to be legal. The expensive seatback phones, which are FAA-approved, use a different technology.

Qualcomm's plan is to make in-flight cellular phone service available so that travelers can place calls and download movies. It won special clearance to show off CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) on an American Airlines flight earlier this month. The company set up a small cellular base station inside the cabin to enable calls. (Many wireless carriers already use the technology.)

Sound quality on the MD-80 flight out of Dallas-Ft. Worth airport was comparable to calls from the ground. But there were a few hitches: a troublesome one-second delay and the inability of callers to hear the phone ringing on the other end. Engineers are set to do more testing and upgrade the in-flight system over the next two years.

Windows lock

Microsoft is hoping that a new version of Windows XP will allay fears of security flaws. Known as Service Park 2 (SP2), this update will include a series of small revisions intended to keep the software working smoothly.

The company plans to unveil SP2 next month as a free download for legal users of XP. Soon it will replace the existing version, known as SP1, which is sold in computer stores and pre-loaded onto many computers. Microsoft also will send a CD copy of the upgrade for free to people who request it.

Many users will notice no difference except a reduced risk of unauthorized activity. The biggest change is that SP2 will automatically activate a Microsoft-designed firewall, which was designed as a barebones defense against intrusion. That might cause problems for some common security and antivirus programs. For example, users of Symantec's Norton antivirus software must install another update to ensure smooth operation.

Microsoft also urges users to turn on the Automatic Updates feature. (XP users can find it by looking in the start menu for the "System" control panel.) This allows the PC to periodically contact the company's website for updates, then download them in the background.

Only about 3 percent of applications that run on Windows won't work under the updated version of XP, according to Gartner research.

Bits & Megabytes

  • Tennessee's Board of Probation and Parole will launch a $2.5 million pilot project to track violent sex offenders with a global positioning system. Starting next year, about 600 registered parolees will wear bracelets that enable tracking by law enforcement. These convicts will be barred from "zones of exclusion," such as playgrounds and schools.
  • Google's $2.7 billion initial public offering will launch on the Nasdaq stock market, which was home to many sky-high startups during the dot-com boom. This is the biggest such breakout since the internet bubble popped in 2000. So far, this year has been rocky for high-tech newcomers: Research firm Renaissance Capital reported that the average "return" for this year's 22 tech IPOs was a loss of 5 percent.
  • Toshiba is rolling out a laptop that lets users watch TV on the LCD screen without booting the computer itself. The model, known as Qosmio, will include a TV tuner and DVD drive and will sell for around $2,500. More sophisticated multimedia tasks, however, still force the user to load Windows.
  • EBay pulled the auction of a bizarre historical relic: the bathtub where James Earl Ray stood to assassinate Martin Luther King Jr. A Memphis judge tried to sell it for $150,000, but was told that the offer violated site policy against such items. The National Civil Rights Museum, located on the murder site, decided against adding it to its collection.