Ground control

National | Plane-landings without pilots, radio without AM or FM stations, and Windows without crashes on the horizon?

Issue: "Bush: 'We will not fail'," Oct. 20, 2001

Help from belowIn August a Federal Express 727 landed on a runway on a New Mexico Air Force base-without a pilot at the controls. This was a test by Raytheon Corp. of new technology that controls planes from the ground much the way hobbyists control model planes. As the airline industry is on alert over terrorism, experts wonder if such measures could thwart hijackers. Landings directed from the ground may soon be feasible on commercial aircraft, with several companies developing ways to use satellites to help guide planes. Raytheon is developing its system for the Air Force, but intends it for commercial use as well. Known as the Joint Precision Approach and Landings System (JPALS), it involves special ground stations that watch planes with help from the global positioning system. The company said it designed the technology to help navigation, but it could be used in a remote landing system. The test came just days before the 9/11 attacks launched a frenzy of interest in security. Supporters claim these developments could have prevented high-profile disasters like the 9/11 hijackings and the 1998 SwissAir crash, in which fire apparently incapacitated flight crews. Others have been skeptical. John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, wondered whether the ground stations would themselves attract terrorists. Paying for radio
Hugh Panero, president of XM Satellite Radio, flipped a switch in his company's office last month and launched a new type of broadcasting. For a monthly fee, subscribers receive dozens of audio channels that run a gamut of styles and genres. Its backers hope it will do for radio what cable did for TV. XM's service is up and running in San Diego and Dallas and is set to go nationwide soon. The service offers 100 stations for $9.99 a month. A competitor, New York-based Sirius, plans to launch later this year with something similar for $12.95 monthly. To use these services, a subscriber must buy a decoder box for $250-$400 and attach it to his home or car stereo. General Motors has invested $120 million in XM and plans to offer the radios in some 2002 Cadillacs and in 20 other models the next year. Ford and DaimlerChrysler plan to offer Sirius radios in 2003. The idea behind satellite radio is to give choosy listeners more than they can find on AM and FM. XM's offerings range from jazz to bluegrass to Broadway. It offers audio simulcasts of various existing networks, such as ESPN Radio, Fox News, and Radio Disney. Religious product is available, but limited. Two stations called "The Fish" and "The Flow" offer contemporary Christian music, "Spirit" plays gospel music, and FamilyTalk offers "Straight Talk and Faith-Based Guidance." The two companies hope to enlist more than 4 million subscribers each over the next four years. Success depends on automaker support and listeners' desires for more choices. No more crashing Windows?
Microsoft plans to throw open a new Windows on Oct. 25, running in the face of an industry meltdown, a probable recession, and the start of a war. The company will kick off a $1 billion campaign to sell Windows XP to businesses and consumers. XP is the biggest update since Windows 95, and it includes several features that are available as separate software from competitors, including a messaging system, a music and video player, and a graphics viewer. Most important is the Internet Connection Firewall, which guards cable modem and DSL connections against worms, viruses, and other intrusions. These additions have led to a reprise of antitrust charges from critics, along with Microsoft's response that it only intends to serve its customers: to extend their "computing experience," in the words of Vice President Jim Allchin. The Windows XP Home upgrade costs $99, and the software soon will be standard on new PCs. Recommended requirements are a machine with at least a 300-MHz processor and 128 MB of system memory, which includes most machines made after 1998. Heavy users may consider XP simply for the stability and the elimination of the so-called "Blue Screen of Death" that often appears when Windows crashes.

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