Price cuts in DPS chips lead to mainstream technology expansion

Although Trimble Navigation Ltd., the leading global positioning system vendor, never
responds to my phone calls or faxes, I do manage to follow GPS. There's big expansion
coming in this field.

 One reason is that a new $50 chip-and-software GPS combo from a Sunnyvale, Calif.,
start-up company called Sirf Technology Inc., has targeted notebook computer and cellular
telephone manufacturers for its offerings.  


Until now, the lowest price for a handheld GPS system intended for hunters and hikers
has been about $200. Devices that link to portable computers cost more, even though they
usually don't need their own displays or power supplies.

 But with the complex GPS hardware (besides the antenna) and software squeezed onto a
single chip, GPS could soon become a standard feature of notebook computers. Among other
things, you could stick the antenna out your car window for automated navigation help.

 Cellular phones with this new chip could transmit your exact position in an
emergency-great for car accidents or law-enforcement work.

 I also expect to see GPS integrated with digital video cameras in a few years.
Military, law enforcement and emergency workers could videotape a building, vehicle or
person and record the exact location as effortlessly as they record the time today.  


Linked to one of those briefcase satellite telephones that cost less than $5,000, a
digital video camera with built-in GPS could make real-time surveillance foolproof at
reasonable cost and without any need for extensive observer training.

 Other uses might include low-cost inventory and theft-tracking GPS devices built
right into the government's large equipment or vehicle fleets.

 Remember Syncronys Softcorp's SoftRAM95, the utility that was supposed to substitute
for physical RAM, letting Microsoft Windows 95 users run more applications faster?

 Extensive tests showed no performance increase and caused a lot of red faces among
the package's supporters and users.

 Quarterdeck Corp.'s new Magna- RAM97 isn't that bad, but its speedup of Win95
applications appears marginal. It's not worth the money or installation time, because even
Quarterdeck officials say the biggest boost goes to MagnaRAM97 users who already have lots
of RAM installed.

 Utilities such as this are marginal now, when RAM is so cheap. In fact, the
installation cost for an extra 8M of memory probably exceeds the chip cost itself.

 Software fixes, even if they work, aren't cost-effective in the long run, and they
certainly aren't a good idea with power users' odd mixtures of applications.

 Let's face it, if agencies keep buying bloated operating systems and applications,
they have to keep upgrading their hardware-even if all the workers do is word processing.
Software fixes look attractive, but even clever ones like MagnaRAM97 can't substitute for
real memory. 

Do you know how many of your computer resources are wasted on stale files? Looking through
my Windows directories the other day I found nearly 30M of .tmp files and a good 40M of
outdated World Wide Web data and images.

 Gigabyte-plus hard drives might be cheap these days, but buying and installation
costs stay about the same, so it's a good habit to clear out a few directories when you
have the time. 


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at jmccormick@penn.com.


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