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The possibilities are endless

By: Keith Hearne
These days the word “Technology” is synonymous with change, growth and advancement in the modern world. I’m sure that some people might argue the opposite, and say that technology is a corrupting force used for selfish means and is an oppressor of people also, but for the sake of this article I am going to take the first option. There is no disputing that the current global technology market has had its zenith and its nadir, and in a lot of cases is still in a state of flux and inconsistency. However, not even this has stemmed the flow of innovation that seems to be ever increasingly bursting forth in the shape of new and improved services and devices that are becoming common place in our daily lives.
I’m still relatively young but at the same time old enough to remember when a Video Recorder was a big novelty when introduced in the house. Then there were microwave ovens; personal computers and more recently we’ve all seen the effect and impact of the Internet, both in business and general dissemination of information. Or can you remember what the original mobile phones were like? Clunky, cumbersome and large. In the past few years’ things have been getting more compact, faster and offer more for their money. Everything from VCR, DVD, to mobile phones. We even have disposable, recyclable, and wearable mobile phones (check out Hop-on.com http://www.hop-on.com). We have integrated mobile phones with color displays, email, internet and familiar Microsoft applications that can be used while using the same device as a phone(xda details).
We’ve moved into an era of convenience. If something is too much effort, people don’t want to know about it. So in this age of complacency and pragmatism what can we expect to see emerge next? What other gems have the technology makers in store for us? Here are a few possible theoretical scenarios for you to muse over. Bear in mind that while I say theoretical, it is envisaged that most of these will be reached and are being achieved, but maybe not presently.
1. Home away from Home
One possibility in the future is that people may be able to watch their house with the cameras they have set up in-house, either with their PDA while on holidays or with a computer connected to the Internet while working in their offices. People will be able to control devices in the home from mobile phones or devices, such as turning the heating on at home while driving home in your car. Turn your cooker on; set your VCR to record. Indeed this scenario will fit nicely into our ever increasing need for expediency and simplicity in our daily lives. This option may not be too far away at all.
2. Location Based Service
Imagine your voice activated, hands free mobile device being smart enough to contain a profile on you. Your likes, dislikes, eating habits and more. Your travelling abroad and your device picks out the places that you like to eat and informs you when you are close to one and directs you to it with a street map on its colour display. You’ve never been to this city before, you probably don’t speak the language but through
your mobile device you have found a Chinese food restaurant and had a look inside through a web cam set up in the restaurant, paid for you meal and given a tip within an hour of your arrival. And all of this was done through your mobile device, including payment. You pass a cinema and a listing of films pop up on your screen, however your device knows that you are between the age of 20 and 30 and like science fiction movies so it shows you a listing of those films first. It’s also your friend’s birthday at home so you stop and record a message through the inbuilt digital video recorder on your mobile device and sent it to that friend’s mobile device. Just to let them know that they may be out of site but not out of mind.
The possibilities here of services that could be offered to you are almost endless. And in this case your mobile device would not be today’s mobile phones or a hand held device but rather a watch(phone watches are already available check out news.com.com/2100-1033-834266.html), or maybe as small and simple as a necklace and glasses which act as the display and control unit. There are a number of company’s already investing time and research into wearable mobile devices. And with phone and IP(Internet Protocol) devices merging quickly it is quiet feasible for these kind of devices and services to co-exist together in the not to distant future. The whole idea of having a profile on your device that you can take with you wherever you go is a hot area at the moment in the 3G market. The ability to roam through different mobile networks and take your profile with you. Indeed the TSSG have a number of projects that incorporate work on the Virtual Home Environment (VHE) and the applicability of VHE/Mobile Service Portals for the delivery of customizable user services(check out www.ist-opium.org and www.ist-albatross.org).
Some people may be reading this and thinking that it is far fetched and is too much like one of Steven Spielberg’s latest movies, such as A.I. or Minority Report. However, it wasn’t so long ago that people would have watched something like StarTrek and thought just the same about something like teleportation and yet we have lived to see such things come to fruition. Just recently scientists in Australia successfully teleported a laser beam(www.anu.edu.au/pad/).
Technology has been scoffed at for years but that has never stopped it yet. I’ll leave you ponder on this thought. Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple, gave a presentation in the early 80′s and told people that within the next decade or two most houses would have a personal computer, to which there was rapturous laughter at the ludicrousness of the idea. These things have now come to pass and those sounds of laughter have been long stifled, so think on.
For more on possible future scenarios check out : www.wireless.kth.se/foresight/

Multimedia Messaging Service – Texting, The Next Generation

By: Rob O’Connor
The Short Messaging Service (SMS) on mobile phones has been phenomenally successful. The Irish Office of the Director of Telecoms Regulation (ODTR) announced that Irish mobile users sent more that 500m text messages in the first quarter of this year. In Britain, it is estimated that 45 million messages are sent per day. SMS has been so widely adopted that a whole culture has sprung up around ‘texting’, complete with rules of conduct and a vocabulary all of its own. However, SMS is soon to be replaced by telecommunications providers and manufacturers with a new technology – Multimedia Messaging Service.
It has been said that the relationship between SMS and MMS is similar to that between DOS and Windows – it offers all the features of SMS, plus a range of new enhancements. MMS is set to expand the capabilities of messaging by allowing images, formatted text, audio clips and ultimately, video clips to be sent between mobile devices. With this in mind, the potentials for MMS-based applications are huge. An example of one possible service is an update on the familiar SMS scoreflash. There are many existing systems where users receive a text-message whenever their team score a goal. However with MMS, this could be expanded so that the new score is displayed, a few lines of text and video footage of the goal itself. Another example is users sending photographs to one another via their mobile phone.
While MMS is similar to SMS, the technology behind it differs greatly. If User A sends a message to User B, the message takes the following route with SMS:
1. User A sends the message to the SMSC (SMS Centre i.e. the network)
2. The SMSC delivers the message to User B at the earliest opportunity
With MMS however, things get a little more complicated:
1. User A sends the message to the MMSC (Multimedia Messaging Service Centre).
2. When the MMSC receives the message, it sends a confirmation alert back. User A sees this as ‘Message Sent’.
3. At the earliest opportunity, the MMSC sends User B a notification that a new message is waiting for them. When User B receives this, User A gets a ‘Message Received’ indication.
4. User B can then download the message immediately or download it later. Once the message is successfully downloaded, User A gets a ‘Message Delivered’ indication.
MMS is being touted as the “killer app” of GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks (also known as 2.5G networks) and it is central to the business model of the future 3G networks. Mobile operators believe that the benefits of MMS will entice users to upgrade their handsets to MMS-enabled devices and eventually to 3G networks. MMS technology will become commercially available at the end of 2002 or early 2003 and since both Vodafone and O2 currently offer GPRS networks, it is expected that they will incorporate MMS into their array of services. MMS-enabled phones are also creeping into the marketplace, with the Nokia 7210 and the Ericsson T68 now available. The question remains however, as to whether or not the public will embrace this new technology as readily as they did SMS?

An introduction to flexible working and the FlexWork project

By: Catherine Skerritt
If you run a small business in rural Europe you may feel disadvantaged by your location. However, the use of flexible working techniques can let you enjoy the better quality of rural life, attract high-quality staff and compete with urban rivals. The FlexWork project has been set up by the European Commission to provide small rural businesses with the tools needed to fully understand flexible working.
Perhaps the first thing to understand is what ‘flexible working’ is. Flexible working is about using technology to help people work more efficiently and exploit new types of business opportunity. This technology is being used to extend many traditional ways of work.
For example:
* Teams of home workers can do a much wider range of jobs and work together more effectively.
* Salesmen can become much more effective – e.g. by answering all of a customer’s questions without referring back to head office.
* Freelance professionals can form teams more quickly and work in ‘virtual’ teams that don’t need to meet physically.
* Groups of businesses can also form ‘teams’, so that they can react quickly to a wider range of opportunities.
The ‘flexibility’ we are talking about can take many forms, for example:
* Location. People can work from home, at a telecentre, at a number of sites or on the move.
* Time. This includes various types of flexi-time, part time working, and job sharing.
* Contracts. There may be more people on fixed term contracts, more sharing of work with other companies, and greater use of freelance workers.
* Work processes. Workers can become more responsible for how their work is organised and conducted.
* Management. Management has to concentrate more on the development of the company and creating the right team culture, rather than watching individual activities in detail.
So, what are the benefits from this new way of working?
We should start with the people, because they are the most valuable resource. They will make much better use of their time, work well as a team, and miss work less often since there will be fewer clashes between their personal lives and their business lives. There could also be cost savings. For example, it may be possible to reduce the amount of accommodation you need, or it may be possible to avoid recruiting extra staff. There are also major benefits that are more difficult to measure, and these include better access to the labour market and improved service to your customers.
Some small rural companies have already started working more flexibly, overcoming the problems of isolation. However, many small businesses are intimidated by the whole idea and find it difficult to obtain good advice on what tools and techniques would suit them best. These businesses need help.
FlexWork is trying to provide that help.
FlexWork is a project funded by the European Commission as part of a research and development programme called ‘Information Society Technologies’. The FlexWork team is a mixture of small companies and academic institutions from across Europe. They all have a lot of experience of working flexibly and advising other people on flexible working. Most of the partners are based in the more rural, or less-developed regions of Europe.

 

The countries the FlexWork project is active in

 

The FlexWork project team has put together a set of tools and information to help small businesses and their advisers introduce flexible working. All of these are on a website, www.flexwork.eu.com, together with links to other information about flexible working. From here, you can download any of the material for free.
First, there is a handbook of flexible working that describes flexible working, highlights the important issues you need to consider and describes how you can introduce it. There is a set of blueprints showing how other people have used different styles of flexible working and giving checklists to help you to introduce a similar style of flexible working. There is also a set of briefings on commercial, technical and social issues, so that you can dig deeper into what is most important to your business. One particularly useful tool on the web site is a technology matrix, which helps you to find the technologies that are likely to be most useful to your company and then explains them in simple terms.
Apart from making information available on its web site, the project is running regional workshops in many rural regions of Europe, to show small companies and their advisors how they can develop and implement practical plans for the introduction of flexible working.
Many small businesses in rural regions are having to look at how they can continue to survive. Flexible working will help them to survive and thrive, and the FlexWork project is here to show them how.
Flexwork is managed by the Telecommunications and Systems Software Group (TSSG) a research arm of Waterford Institute of Technology.

Crank it up!

By: Shane McCormack
Ending a conversation with the words “My battery’s going” is a scenario that’s all too familiar to mobile phone users and to compound matters it also usually happens when you’re miles away from your battery charger.
Now a revolutionary new idea, borrowed from a relatively old idea is going to provide a solution to this problem. In a throwback to the days of the windup gramophone and the hand-cranked telephone, Motorola is introducing a new wind up charger, which will help you get to say that all important “See you later”.
Developed with London-based Freeplay Energy Group, who make windup radios and flashlights, the FreeCharge is designed to keep dying phones going when a power outlet is out of reach. Winding its handle for about 45 seconds provides four to five more minutes of talk time and about 45 minutes of standby time.
Freecharge is available on the U.K. market in June 2002 and is already available in the U.S. at a cost of about $65. Aimed at boaters, campers, fishermen and those who want the device for
emergencies and peace of mind as your average mobile phone user may not fancy lugging this item around in their clothes or briefcase. The device weighs roughly about twice the weight of your average mobile phone today and consists of a small generator unit, which can be connected to a phone.
Motorola product manager Gary Brandt said “demand could be stronger in Europe, where people are more accustomed to carrying wireless devices around and less willing to risk missing calls”. For now, FreeCharge is compatible only with phones made by Motorola, the world’s second-biggest mobile phone manufacturer. But by August it should adapt to phones made by Nokia and Ericsson too. For more information on FreeCharge visit http://www.freeplay.net.

Linux – A Brave Gnu World (The Alternative Desktop Solution)

By: Jonathan Brazil
Most people using a personal computer use the Windows operating system. Most people don’t even know that there is an alternative. Well there is and it’s completely free, extremely stable, and comes with nearly every application that you will ever want to use at home or in work for absolutely no cost whatsoever. Shocked? Then read on:
The IT sector has been dealing with Unix systems for years. Typically, these systems were large servers; not for home usage. In 1991 a hacker by the name of Linus Torvalds took a section of the Unix operating system and created his own operating system to be named after him, it was called Linux. For years this open source operating system was revered by hardcore techies and was never produced in a friendly enough state for Joe Soap to install and use. Over the last decade though, the open source community has added many new features, smart touches and valuable applications to the Linux platform.
Progress is fast and furious, unlike large corporations with a set number of developers working on a system, Linux had the support of every single person worldwide that wanted to contribute new material and fix existing problems. These days there are several different versions of Linux known as distributions that can be purchased. The price covers packaging, manuals and not much else but you can download the Linux system itself from the web for free, or copy a friends CD’s without worrying about piracy laws because it is completely legal. My personal favourite distribution is SuSE (http://www.suse.com) which is currently on version 8.
Unlike the old days when installing Linux was a cumbersome task that required a good knowledge of the computer system, this latest distribution from SuSE takes no more setting up than a couple of clicks. The myth of horrifying setup screens has been abolished, don’t let anyone tell you different! The upgrade, or installation from scratch on a new system, is a remarkably quick and easy process; simple enough for a beginner but with enough options and features for advanced users to avail of.
The success rate of installing Linux on a machine without additional setup is increasing by the day. I recently borrowed SuSE 8 CD’s from a friend and installed it on my brand new machine. Within 25 minutes I was copying the SuSE CD’s for myself with the operating system I had just installed. Even though I had seen the ease of Linux configuration evolve over the last few years, I was still shocked by this achievement. I had a minor problem getting my modem to work but searching the web for no more than 15 minutes on another machine yielded all the information and software I needed to get it working and connected to the Internet.
The new graphical environment is as friendly and intuitive as any Windows system I have ever used and the wealth of software that comes with the distribution is unbelievable. SuSE 8 comes with OpenOffice, which is fully compatible with Microsoft Office 2000 and has similar applications for word processing, spreadsheets, etc. While Linux may still not be the choice for everyone, more and more people are turning towards it for the power and flexibility it offers at a cost that cannot be beat. With the price of computer software escalating so much these days it’s nice to see a system that offers you everything you need to work efficiently, on a single DVD. This latest version of SuSE costs roughly EUR100 for the most fully-featured version, a very reasonable price considering what you get for it.
The open source community as I refer to it is everyone in the world who writes software and modifies software for free. They are the true believers in helping to build more stable systems and realise that somebody else might be able to improve on what they have written, so they don’t hide it for the sake of progress. There are literally thousands of open source projects in operation at the moment (www.sourceforge.net) that cover all types of software. Assistance is only an e-mail or newsgroup posting away. The people involved in these projects are very forthcoming with help and always willing to further the success of their projects by any means possible.
There is a drive by many people in this country to get Linux up and running. There is even a version of Linux in Irish (sea, as gaeilge mo chara), although I don’t know how available it is. There have been a number of success stories in business for Linux (www.li.org/success) but not many across the big picture. The only thing that will really push Linux forward is when training institutes and schools answer the burning question of what is more important, Microsoft experience or computer experience? In the meantime check out Linux for yourself.

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