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Technology | Cell phones take flight

Issue: "Berger can't keep a secret," July 31, 2004

Phone home

Airplane passengers may soon be able to use cell phones during flights. Qualcomm claims its CDMA wireless phone system will not interfere with navigational equipment, and legal, commercial use could be two years away.
Cell phones are known to work inside planes - witness the calls made from hijacked planes during the 9/11 attacks - but federal regulators consider them too risky to be legal. The expensive seatback phones, which are FAA-approved, use a different technology.
Qualcomm's plan is to make in-flight cellular phone service available so that travelers can place calls and download movies. It won special clearance to show off CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) on an American Airlines flight earlier this month. The company set up a small cellular base station inside the cabin to enable calls. (Many wireless carriers already use the technology.)
Sound quality on the MD-80 flight out of Dallas-Ft. Worth airport was comparable to calls from the ground. But there were a few hitches: a troublesome one-second delay and the inability of callers to hear the phone ringing on the other end. Engineers are set to do more testing and upgrade the in-flight system over the next two years.

Windows lock

Microsoft is hoping that a new version of Windows XP will allay fears of security flaws. Known as Service Park 2 (SP2), this update will include a series of small revisions intended to keep the software working smoothly.
The company plans to unveil SP2 next month as a free download for legal users of XP. Soon it will replace the existing version, known as SP1, which is sold in computer stores and pre-loaded onto many computers. Microsoft also will send a CD copy of the upgrade for free to people who request it.
Many users will notice no difference except a reduced risk of unauthorized activity. The biggest change is that SP2 will automatically activate a Microsoft-designed firewall, which was designed as a barebones defense against intrusion. That might cause problems for some common security and antivirus programs. For example, users of Symantec's Norton antivirus software must install another update to ensure smooth operation.
Microsoft also urges users to turn on the Automatic Updates feature. (XP users can find it by looking in the start menu for the "System" control panel.) This allows the PC to periodically contact the company's website for updates, then download them in the background.
Only about 3 percent of applications that run on Windows won't work under the updated version of XP, according to Gartner research.

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Bits & Megabytes

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