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By Guy Kewney  |  Posted 2005-06-01 Print this article Print

My jaw was virtually coming unhinged at the sight of these guys. They come from all around the world, and NEC copes splendidly with their idiosyncrasies. "They log into the PC with their own personal settings, and they get their own desktop, configured in exactly the language and so on that they need," recounts Tagger. "You see that guy? He is from an Arabic magazine; he has the screen showing Arabic characters." Indeed, he was. And he was using an AZERTY (French layout) keyboard. The marks on the keys bore no resemblance whatever to what was appearing on-screen, but it was clear he was clattering along at a lot more than 30 words a minute. Next to him, a reporter from some Cyrillic- using country was hunting and pecking, and shaking his head and backspacing, finding the right keys by trial and error.
Why would anybody who had their own laptop computer put themselves through this sort of torture? Simple enough, it seems: They havent got their heads around what wireless can do for them.
NEC reckons to budget some 300,000 euros for its sponsorship of the festival—and after tax breaks (cultural sponsorship in France is highly regarded by the revenue authorities) the company will probably have to find 200,000 euros net. Its a lot of money—paid off because it allows NECs biggest customers to see it managing a huge system. And, of course, who would turn down an invitation to walk the red carpet and rub shoulders with the stars? There are technical advantages to the use of a press center computer. For a start, youre plugged into an NEC-provided giant FTP server. You log in, upload; your managing editor back home logs in and downloads. On the WLAN, you dont get access to that FTP server because of security concerns. And this, I suppose, is where I start moaning and groaning. I do, honestly, understand that there are concerns with wireless security. And lets be honest, security is one of the obsessions of Cannes during the festival. I couldnt get into my own hotel without a full luggage search, and I had to wear a photo ID at all times—not just the normal IT convention card. These stars are not just shy, theyre paranoid. Along the side of the red carpet into the giant screening auditorium, there is space for about 100 photographers; each has to stand on his or her own numbered circle, so that security will be able to tell whether something is out of the ordinary. There are even signs in the press center forbidding photography of the red carpet proceedings from the balcony because the security people wouldnt be able to tell if there was a cunning plot to disguise a firearm as a digital camera. But the threat from wireless PC users these days is containable. We know because pioneers like Microsofts Andy Cheeseman, who goes around the world installing and running gigantic Wi-Fi networks for Microsoft conventions, have shown that even the nastiest Internet worms can be contained, isolated and dealt with. We know that the only people who get excited about WLAN security threats are security consultants hoping to get expensive commissions exposing these threats. In a word, clarity. Until we, the professionals, achieve mental clarity about this technology and stop behaving as though Wi-Fi is a way of getting pink demons with piglike grunts into the network, or seeing Darth Vader using The Force on hapless network cards, we cant really expect the general non-tech public to buy into the idea, either. And I suppose, you want to know which film it was I was watching? It was the Chinese film "Three Times"—which is easily the most powerful and astonishing ... but there, Ill save that for my film blog, shall I? Contributing columnist Guy Kewney has been irritating the complacent in high tech since 1974. Previously with PC Mag UK and ZDNet UK, Guy helped found InfoWorld, Personal Computer World, MicroScope, PC Dealer, AFAICS Research and NewsWireless. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.


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