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Fading floppies: Dell next to drop drives

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2003

Like vinyl records and eight-track tapes, floppy drives are slowly succumbing to the march of technology.

Dell Computer Corp., one of the world's largest computermakers, says it will stop putting the drives in its desktop computers next month and offer them only as an option.

Newer storage devices can hold far more data, at a competitive price, spelling likely extinction for the floppy.

"What Dell has done, I expect every major vendor to do in the next 12 months," said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a technology consulting company in San Jose, Calif.

The floppy disc, the square 31/2-inch plastic device that stores 1.44-megabytes of information, has lost its allure for many people who have evolved to newer, larger-capacity technology.

Rewriteable CDs, Zip drives and portable hard drives -- especially keychain-size flash memory devices -- have established themselves as far more useful.

Dell brand 16-megabyte USB flash memory drives will be offered standard in Dimension's high-end model first, and the company will consider making it available on all desktops depending on customer response, Dell spokesman Lionel Menchaca said. The keychain-size USB drives will cost the same as floppy drives, he said.

Persuading some desktop users to drop the floppy could be a challenge, which is why Dell is moving slowly, Menchaca said. The company no longer provides floppy drives on standard notebook computers.

Apple Computer Inc. stopped including floppy disc drives in Macintosh computers five years ago. Other makers of PCs, including Hewlett-Packard, continue to offer floppy drives on desktops.

Crossing a cell phone with a game pad

Nokia Corp., the world's biggest maker of mobile phones, is pioneering a new market with a hybrid that combines video gaming with wireless telephony.

The N-Gage is a far cry from the Finnish company's traditional crop of phones. Most of its models come standard with simple games such as Snake or versions of the classic Tetris.

Boasting a color screen and GSM technology that will make it usable in Nokia's major markets, including the United States, the N-Gage is the company's first foray into handheld gaming.

The N-Gage could even help usher in serious multiplayer mobile gaming, giving the battered wireless industry a needed revenue boost.

The N-Gage is a half-moon-shaped device that measures 5.2 by 2 inches and is an inch thick. It has a 4,096-color active-matrix display and built-in camera for video and still images. Like other Nokia phones, it offers Short Message Service text messaging and Internet access. It uses the Java language for downloading applications to the phone and has built-in Bluetooth technology for short-range wireless connectivity to devices such as printers.

But the N-Gage differs vastly from other handsets in its gaming potential.

Nokia said its games will be console quality, boasting better color and sound and more akin to those found on Nintendo's GameBoy Advance.

Internet worm displayed unexpected speed

The Internet worm that struck hundreds of thousands of computers last month spread more quickly than past attacks, doubling in numbers every 8.5 seconds, researchers say.

At that speed, the worm infected more than 75,000 computers within 10 minutes during its Jan. 25 rampage, clogging Internet pipelines and slowing traffic for Internet users around the world.

Researchers say the programming code behind the worm, alternately dubbed Slammer or Sapphire, was 376 characters long, about one-tenth the size of Code Red, a worm that hit the Net in July 2001. The small size allowed the new worm to reproduce and spread more rapidly.

The analysis was conducted by computer scientists at the San Diego and Berkeley campuses of the University of California and other institutions.

At-home work outweighs at-work surfing

Attention employers: Don't be too concerned about personal Web browsing on the job. That is more than compensated by time spent at home completing office-related tasks, a new study finds.

According to the survey, employees who had Web access at home and work spent 3.7 hours a week taking care of personal online needs on the job. At home, they spent 5.9 hours a week on work-related surfing.

Overall, about 85 percent of employees with online access at work said they use it sometimes for personal purposes.

The Center for e-Service at the University of Maryland co-sponsored the survey with Rockbridge Associates Inc., a technology market research company. It tracked 501 people randomly by phone in December. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

A screen saver solution to smallpox?

It's the ultimate needle-in-the-haystack search, but a coalition of scientists and technology companies think they may be able to make headway on a cure for smallpox using computer screen savers.

Their project aims to use the idle processing power of up to 2-million personal computers to sift through millions of molecular combinations in hopes of finding one that fights smallpox after infection.

Though smallpox vaccinations exist, there is no known cure for the disease once a person is infected.

Volunteers download a screen saver from www.grid.org that runs whenever their computers have resources to spare to perform computations for the project. When the user connects to the Internet, the computer sends data back to a central hub and gets another assignment.

Researchers said the combined power of 2-million personal computers is 30 times greater than the fastest supercomputer.

The smallpox research follows similar efforts to use "grid computing" to hunt for extraterrestrial life, a cure for cancer and an anthrax treatment.

It was launched with funding by United Devices Inc., IBM Corp. and Pharmacopeia Inc. subsidiary Accelrys of San Diego. Many of the 35-million molecule models are being provided by Oxford University, which led the anthrax and cancer grid computing projects.

Sims Online not as popular as expected

Electronic Arts Inc., whose third-quarter profit rose 89 percent, has attracted about half as many subscribers to its Internet video game the Sims Online as it initially expected, a company spokesman said.

Electronic Arts said that by Jan. 28 there were 82,000 registered users of the game, which went on sale on Dec. 17. The number of subscribers to the character-based game has been about half what the company expected, company spokesman Jeff Brown said.

The Sims Online, a simulation of everyday life in which players interact through online personas, costs $9.99 a month to play. To make the game more exciting, Electronic Arts is adding new features such as casinos where players wager with their simoleons, the online world's currency, and a process that allows players to create more unique characters.

-- Compiled from Times wires

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