Every year, thousands of products compete for attention at the world's largest consumer technology showcase, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The hottest gizmos, thingamabobs and doohickeys to hit the shelves in 2004 are available for all to see. Products range from infrared massage chairs to refrigerators with DVD players.
Nestled among show-stopping wrist communicators and MP3-playing clock radios are a few new products designed specifically for small businesses or home offices. We've gleaned a few items of merit from the myriad of new products clamoring for attention already this year.
Brother International introduced its first sub-$1,000 color laser printer for small businesses a price point that was shattered by most major printer manufacturers last year.
Brother's new color laser printer, the HL-2700CN, features print speeds of up to 31 pages per minute in monochrome and up to 8 pages per minute in color. This new laser printer is petite delivering a 27 percent smaller footprint than the model it replaces and comes with networking capabilities for Windows or Mac users built-in. The unit comes with a one-year limited on-site warranty and will hit the street for $899 later this month.
Brother also has plans to release a new six-in-one, color inkjet multi-function printer that acts as a copier, fax machine, and scanner. Photo capturing capabilities, along with PC fax and send functions, round out the multi-tasking device. Also new and improved for 2004 are Brother's inkjet fax models that can handle black and color faxing, plus color copying. No word yet on pricing or ship dates for these new small office devices.
Taking the Wireless Route
On the wireless front, NETGEAR unveiled the WGT634U Super Wireless Media Router at the show. The device provides a wireless home networking solution that supports storage access off the router via a universal serial bus (USB) interface.
As small offices accumulate large amounts of digital content, including digital photos and video, the need for external, high-capacity shared storage becomes important. By connecting a storage device to the WGT634U via the integrated USB 2.0 interface, users can store and share files and gain instant access to PC and Web applications on computers connected on the home network.
The device is 802.11g-compliant and capable of attaining 108 Mbps of throughput wirelessly, which means that the WGT634U can stream video up to 200 feet away. The wireless router integrates an 802.11g-compliant access point and a four-port 10/100 Mbps switch. Security and privacy features include a double firewall both network address translation (NAT) and stateful packet inspection (SPI) along with 64- and 128-wired equivalent privacy (WEP) encryption, Wi-Fi protected access (WPA) phase-shift keying (PSK) support, multiple virtual private network (VPN) pass-through support, intrusion detection, URL content filtering, and security logging with e-mail alerts. NETGEAR's WGT634U Super Wireless Media Router will be available soon at national retail outlets for an estimated of $200.
Throwing a Block at Spam
Mailblocks debuted a new Web-based e-mail service at CES. The anti-spam service provider launched a free version of its junk mail thwarting Challenge/Response program.
The free service will deliver functionality consistent with Mailblocks' current premium services, with a few exceptions. The free service will not be accessible via desktop e-mail applications and it won't provide the capability of consolidating multiple Web-based e-mail accounts onto one screen.
Mailblocks' new free service is advertising-supported and features 5MB of storage. Mailblock's basic and premium services priced at $9.95 and $24.95 a year, respectively are capable of consolidating the management of existing Yahoo Mail, AOL, MSN, Hotmail and POP3 accounts into one universal inbox.
The hallmark of Mailblocks' service is its patented Challenge/Response 2.0 anti-spam technology that "completely eliminates" spam from users' inboxes while allowing "all legitimate e-mail" through. A bold claim, perhaps worth a free trial if it works.
RetailiQ is releasing an enterprise-level retail management solution for the mid-market and multi-location retailers. The RetailiQ Express system is designed to improve productivity and enhance inventory control capabilities. The technology is being touted as a way for smaller retailers to maximize profit margins by increasing sales while decreasing costs.
RetailiQ Express incorporates an arsenal of tools and processes that include a point-of-sale system, customer relationship management programming, front office accounting integration, and inventory management programs. We'll take an in-depth look at the retail management solution later this month.
A Vision of the Future
With the use of PCs at home and work nearing the saturation point, top computer industry leaders are making plans to put their software, microprocessors, and hard drives to work elsewhere, moving into direct competition with appliance, electronics and entertainment companies and even auto suppliers.
All of the high-tech world's luminaries are on hand for the CES show. Microsoft's Bill Gates, Hewlett-Packard's Carly Fiorina, Intel's Paul Otellini and Dell's Michael Dell all talked about moving technology from the PC-centered world to triumph over a wider range of doodads and gadgets.
Top computer-maker Dell is now assembling printers and handheld computers, in addition to trying to capitalize on digital photography trends. HP plans to introduce high-end TV receivers and its own music download service. Intel plans to produce microprocessor chips that control big-screen TVs. And Microsoft would like for everything thing to run on its software.
The Redmond, Wash. software giant has developed versions of Windows to control home appliances like refrigerators, TV sets, stereos, telephones and wrist watches. In his keynote address at the show, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates expanded on the company's vision for "seamless computing."
Gates introduced a number of products and services that bring the power of software to the world of consumer electronics, including MSN Premium and enhanced MSN services for broadband Internet users, and new Microsoft Windows Media Center Extender Technologies and Portable Media Centers.
"As computing moves to the center of our lives and more of our everyday experiences go digital, great software is the key to making all these devices and services work well together," Gates said. "Our vision is to deliver the software that enables a seamless technology experience for people wherever they are in the home, in the office or on the go."
Before an audience of more than 1,200 attendees at the Las Vegas Hilton, Gates showed how Microsoft's vision for seamless computing is already helping people manage information overload, enjoy digital entertainment and make the growing amount of technology in their lives work on their behalf and under their control.
Microsoft's unique role, Gates said, is to create innovations that make it easy for device manufacturers and consumer electronics companies to build powerful and compelling technology for entertainment, creativity and productivity in the home, the office, and beyond.
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