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GADGET

San Francisco-based Oqo started taking orders for its “handtop,” the world’s smallest fully functional Windows XP computer, in October. About 13 centimeters by 9 centimeters by 2 centimeters in size, the device has a pop-out thumb keyboard, a 20-gigabyte hard drive, 256 megabytes of RAM, and an 800-by-480-pixel screen.

BREAKTHROUGH

Once the dominant purveyor of servers for storing huge corporate databases, IBM has gradually been edged out by Hopkinton, MA-based EMC. But Big Blue has now struck back, introducing a device that squeezes all the data stored in a refrigerator-sized EMC server – about 1.2 terabytes – into a box a little larger than a VCR, for about half the cost. Key to cramming all the necessary disk drives and electronics into such a small space were advanced cooling techniques adapted from IBM’s blade servers. The boxes can be combined into a system holding as many as 67.2 terabytes, twice the amount of data in the U.S. Library of Congress.

ALLIANCE

TiVo and Netflix – two companies giving the television networks fits by providing more alternatives to live-broadcast or cable TV – have announced a plan to jointly offer movies-on-demand via the Internet. Starting in 2005, TiVo owners with broadband Internet connections will be able to download movies directly from Netflix’s vast library, rather than waiting to receive DVDs in the mail.

DEBUT

Microsoft has unveiled a music download site called MSN Music, an answer to Apple’s phenomenally successful iTunes online music store. As at iTunes, songs are $.99 each. The biggest difference: the tunes at MSN Music are in Windows Media format, meaning they’ll play only on PCs or portable media players designed for Microsoft’s format – not on iPods.

DEPLOYMENT

Lost your hotel key card? No problem: an eyeball will do. Boston luxury lodge Nine Zero has become the world’s first hotel to restrict room access using iris-scanning technology. Guests in the hotel’s exclusive Cloud Nine suite have their irises photographed when they arrive, then peer into a reader outside the suite to unlock the door. The same technology is being tested at Boston’s Logan Airport and other airports as a way to speed travelers through security lines.

ADVANCE

Even the most dexterous robots still lack a sense of touch, which could be critical when they’re repairing other machines, preparing food, or caring for humans in, say, hospitals or senior centers. Now researchers at the University of Tokyo have devised a pressure-sensitive array of transistors on a flexible plastic that could be wrapped around a robot’s fingers, forming a kind of skin. Lead researcher Takao Someya says the material could be ready for practical use by 2008.

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