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Cables are the bane of the modern desk. Mine is a tangle of them, and it’s only getting worse. The latest offenders are the proprietary cable that links my digital camera to a USB port, and another that does the same for my Treo cell phone-except it’s different. My basement is worse: a big box holds one-of-a-kind data cables that I might need some day.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way: Like you, I was promised a universal wireless standard to link my “personal area network” of keyboards, mouses, laptops, digital assistants, and cell phones. It was called Bluetooth.

In 2000, Ericsson unveiled the first Bluetooth device, a $500 wireless headset for laptops and cell phones. Unfortunately, there were no Bluetooth-enabled laptops or cell phones to talk to. Since then, Bluetooth’s rise to market dominance has been nothing short of, well, nothing.

While the 802.11(b) Wi-Fi wireless standard has stormed the consumer and business worlds, Bluetooth has been a dud. But comparing Wi-Fi to Bluetooth is a bit like comparing modems to floppy disks: Both transport data, but that’s where the similarity ends. Unlike Wi-Fi, which was designed for range and speed, Bluetooth was designed to be a battery miser and cheap to implement. It’s like this: Wi-Fi connects your laptop to a network; Bluetooth eliminates cables.

And at last, Bluetooth is increasingly a reality. Palm’s new Tungsten series all feature Bluetooth, so I requested a Tungsten T ($399) to review. Then I ordered an Apple Bluetooth adapter ($54) for my 15-inch Apple PowerBook. And guess what? My new 12-inch PowerBook has Bluetooth built-in. So I’ve got a personal network with three Bluetooth devices. Time to start hacking.

Although Bluetooth sounds very cool, in practice it has two big problems when compared with traditional cables. When you connect two computers together with a cable, you know what’s connected to what. With Bluetooth, you might think that you’re sending the file WarPlans.doc to Colin’s laptop, when in fact you’re uploading it to Saddam’s cell phone. Whoops. The other problem is security: even if you send the file to Colin as planned, Saddam might still listen in.

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