Can Intel change the wireless world?

Buying plans should change as a new chip set takes mobile computing to the next level.

Today, the world has changed. Your buying plans should have changed along with it. The tricky bit is whether to make a small but significant change, or a dramatic one.

The IT landscape has changed because of one of those small and often ignored introductions: an Intel chip set. Yesterday, Intel launched Centrino, which includes a mobile Pentium (codenamed Banias) and Wi-Fi wireless capability. Instead of being an expensive, power-consuming, plug-in option, Wi-Fi has now become a built-in standard.

Any notebook that does not have Centrino is now either substandard or obsolete.

Company "road warriors" will be the first to benefit. They will find it easier to use the "hotspots" now appearing at Starbucks and Costa coffee shops, hotels, airports and railway stations.

But Wi-Fi will become ubiquitous. Whole cities are now talking about wireless-enabling their downtown districts to deliver high-speed internet services as a public utility. Wi-Fi is also going domestic, where it provides home workers with internet and Ethernet networking for less than £200.

And, as with PCs, users will soon start to sneer if they have dramatically better systems at home than they have in the office.

The question is whether to take a second, more dramatic, leap at the same time. A lot of Centrino-based systems are Tablet PCs running Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. This introduces a digital pen and ink system, with optional handwriting recognition. Executives can take their Tablet PCs to meetings and make handwritten notes on screen, instead of going back to their desks and typing them up later.

This idea has potential. Gordon Graylish, Intel's sales and marketing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, reckons Centrino-based Tablet PCs can pay for themselves in a year if they provide half an hour of extra productivity per week. He says, "[At Intel] we are finding about eight hours a week."

In one of my previous columns, I gave Tablet PCs a 50:50 chance. However, they have done better than most people expected. Analysts have increased their sales forecasts, and popular models have seen stock shortages. Tablets are still short of pen-enabled software, and the hardware is too expensive, but the trend is in the right direction.

So today there is a new Intel chip that encourages users to buy a new Microsoft operating system, and a new Microsoft operating system that encourages them to buy a new Intel chip. Has the dynamic duo pulled it off again?

Jack Schofield is computer editor of the Guardian

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