Tech Talk from Silicon Valley

By Mike Langberg

E-mail’s Nine Lives
Electronic mail never dies. Even when deleted from an individual’s computer, messages often remain on company servers and can be retrieved for anything from corporate espionage to litigation. What’s more, e-mail intended only for the recipient often gets passed along to people the sender wouldn’t want in the loop. Several companies, however, now offer “rights management” software that encrypts e-mail and attached documents, giving senders control over how long the material remains viewable and who gets to see it. The only significant drawback for small businesses: Most of these tools are intended for large enterprises and cost thousands of dollars to implement.

More Customers. That’s an Order.
Here’s an idea worth stealing: The big Web retailer has set up a “Corporate Accounts” program and is now accepting purchase orders from corporations, schools, libraries, and government agencies. Since many large organizations don’t allow credit-card buying, retailers can attract a whole new set of customers if they accept purchase orders on line. Amazon’s new program allows organizations to set up a credit line and designate an account manager who can review all purchases. Early participants include Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, and Stanford universities, as well as Oracle and 3Com.

Chips on Their Shoulders
As a bad year for the technology industry comes to an end, there is good news ahead: Computers and other intelligent devices will continue to get faster and less expensive. Intel Corp., for example, has developed a new technology called “hyper-threading.” It in effect lets a single processor work on two tasks simultaneously. Hyper-threading can boost chip performance as much as 30 percent, utilizing the frequent downtime in processors that run billions of calculations per second. The technology will arrive in Intel’s Xeon processors for servers next year, and could reach personal computers by 2003. Meanwhile, Motorola Inc. has developed a breakthrough process for manufacturing chips combining inexpensive silicon with high-performance gallium arsenide. The new process, protected by more than 270 patents, will create less expensive and more powerful chips for everything from wireless phones and DVD players to automotive equipment and ultra-fast optical networking gear.

A more mundane improvement in PC performance is also arriving now: USB 2.0, a much faster second-generation upgrade to the familiar Universal Serial Bus found in all new Windows and Macintosh computers. USB 2.0 moves data as fast as 480 megabits per second (Mbps), 40 times faster than the older USB 1.1 running at 12 Mbps. The first PCs with USB 2.0 ports should be arriving by the end of the year; upgrade cards for adding USB 2.0 to existing PCs are available at about $50. USB 2.0 external hard drives, scanners, and external CD recorders are also starting to arrive at prices no higher than their USB 1.1 predecessors. Backed by Intel and a group called the USB Implementers Forum (, USB 2.0 is also backwards compatible. A USB 2.0 device can be plugged into a USB 1.1 port and will still function, though at slower USB 1.1 speeds. Look for USB 2.0 to become nearly universal on new Windows PCs in mid-2002.

Mike Langberg is personal technology editor of the San Jose Mercury News.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.
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