Every now and then, in the reams of email that I get about wireless computing, the subject of Bluetooth comes up. Bluetooth is a wireless-device specification for connecting enabled devices within a very short radius (approximately 30'). For more information about Bluetooth, see the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SI) Web site.
Despite the optimistic lists of available devices and OSs with Bluetooth support, Bluetooth's reception in the market has been less than stellar. On the surface, that lukewarm reception is a little hard to understand. Getting rid of all the cables that connect computers in a small office/home office (SOHO) environment sounds like a good idea, and you can buy products that convert existing hardware, such as printers, into Bluetooth-enabled devices.
Part of the problem was that until September 27, 2002, Microsoft didn't provide Bluetooth support for Windows XP, so convincing vendors and consumers that the future was bright for devices that use the Bluetooth standard was difficult. But on October 15, Microsoft released the Microsoft Wireless Optical Desktop—a package that contains a wireless mouse and keyboard as well as a USB-connected Bluetooth transceiver. (Information should be available soon.)
Although it works only with XP, the Wireless Optical Desktop is a good solution for an office that has too many cables snaking around the desk or for a conference room that uses a dedicated PC for presentations and displays. The 30' radius of operation is more than enough for most rooms, and product installation is a simple matter of installing the software and plugging the transceiver into the USB port on the host computer.
The Bluetooth keyboard and mouse each require two AA batteries, and the transceiver can support as many as five additional Bluetooth devices should you want to add Bluetooth connectivity to your printers or cell phones. The keyboard is a standard QWERTY design (not the split "natural" style) and has dedicated controls for the Windows Media Player for Windows XP (MPXP) as well as a number of other one-button application-launching setups. The keyboard software is preconfigured with a wealth of shortcut keys for Windows applications and uses an onscreen display to show the current status of such things as Caps Lock and Num Lock.
Although I can easily see using this wireless configuration with the recently announced XP Media Center Edition, the Wireless Optical Desktop doesn't lend itself to activities such as game playing, due to the latency inherent in wireless devices (the latency is unnoticeable or insignificant with knowledge-worker applications). And you'll still need to have a wired keyboard handy if you want to launch the Setup or BIOS program on your computer because the Bluetooth keyboard isn't available until the device driver has loaded.
Bluetooth isn't a cheap solution, either—Microsoft expects to sell the keyboard/mouse/transceiver combo for $159. But if you need a wireless console for an XP computer, tight integration with the OS makes the Wireless Optical Desktop a very good choice. A wireless-mouse-only package (mouse and transceiver) will be available in November for $84.95.