This is the time of year when columnists like to, and pretty much are expected to, look into the future and tell the world what’s coming. This is despite the advice of the late Will Rogers, who remarked: “Never make predictions, especially about the future.”

OK, let’s stick our

neck out a wee bit. In this case, we’re going to mention not so much what’s coming as what may be going.

The thing that struck us most about the enormous growth in online holiday sales was that roaming the Internet has become a primary use of the computer. It may be THE primary use. In that case, the choice of operating system loses significance. To get right to the point: You can access the World Wide Web with any operating system: Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.

This brings into question the long-time dominance of Microsoft’s Windows. It will still be important to business, which has so much time and money invested in Windows programs, but of diminishing importance to home users, who really don’t care how they get on the Web. In fact, getting on the Web with a system other than Windows, with its built-in Internet Explorer browser, will actually be an advantage, since other systems are less vulnerable to attacks by viruses and spyware.

This situation should be good for Apple’s Macintosh systems, at least for the moment. Perhaps with this very thought in mind, rumors are rampant that Apple is about to introduce a Mac for less than $500, or maybe it’s less than $600, depending on whose rumor is getting the most press. These prices are in U.S. dollars, but they can conceivable be the same in Canada. Of course, there are already Windows computers selling for less than $500, if you look at Supercom’s newly launched Touch A Extreme Value line. A jolly good price war is about to start for one and all.

D-link D-lite

We recently had a rather acrimonious exchange with someone from D-Link Systems, who demanded the immediate return of their latest wireless equipment when we indicated we had strong reservations about wireless networking and Internet access.

We just weren’t on the team, their spokesman told us, in so many words. He meant their marketing team, of course. And here we didn’t even know we were supposed to be working for them. Boy, are we naive.

One of the primary problems with wireless is that it’s not secure. Sure, you can make a wireless system secure, but most of them ship with that feature turned off, and many people don’t turn it on. A study last year found that upward of 80 per cent of home users do not use the security features of their wireless network and Internet access routers. This is usually because it’s so hard to figure out how to do it.

What does it mean that it’s not secure? Well, a wireless system is a radio station. Anybody else with a wireless computer system running less than 150 to 200 feet away can watch whatever you’re sending and receiving. They can also use your wireless system for their own online computing. They can even make it appear that e-mails they write and orders they submit are coming from you and respond to them. They can ask for and collect any personal information you send.

Is this an open invitation to theft? The fastest-growing non-violent crime in North America? Does this open you up to legal liabilities? Are you kidding? As we all nervously tap our fingers, Broadcom (www.broadcom.com) is supposed to release a new way to secure home systems.

In defense of Wi-Fi

Our attention was drawn to a program from OTO Software that can monitor who is using your wireless Internet access and block it if you want to. It’s called Wi-Fi Defense, and it sells for under $50; there’s a 30-day free trial, as well.

The software enables you to know who is on your network and how often they are using it. Some of those people will be known to you: yourself for one; family and friends for another. But if you see a PVRs or TIVO in the U.S. connected and you know no one in your household has one, you can block it by adding it to a list labeled “foes.”

If you know you have three computers in your wireless network and the Wi-Fi Defense software shows that four are using the network, something is rotten in Denmark, and we don’t mean fish. You can identify the rotter because the software has previously asked you to give names to all the computers in your own network.

You can see a demo of Wi-Fi Defense at www.otosoftware.com.

Coming soon to a cell phone near you

Just to show you there’s room for more paranoia, we’ll turn to cell phones. Cell phones are wireless receivers. They are also transmitters. Duh, another radio station.

Everything you send that’s not encrypted can be picked up and understood by another receiver. That includes your phone number. Soon to appear in great numbers (we’re back in the prediction business again) will be unsolicited ads and probably pornography sent to your cell phone.

You will be delighted to learn that under some subscription payment plans you’ll be charged for receiving ads you didn’t want. You will also begin to receive cell phone viruses. (Is this the end of Western civilization as we know it? Or just the end of chatter about what else to get at the supermarket?)

One small protection: Go to www.donotcall.gov/default.aspx and add your cell phone number to the Do Not Call Registry.

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