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By Ron Sielinski

Microsoft moves toward interoperability on the plant floor.

Two decades ago a computer expansion board designed to extend the memory of a PC in 64,128,192, and 256 kilobyte (KB) configurations had prices ranging from $495 to $1,095. Users could expand the lower configurations themselves by purchasing a 64-KB upgrade kit for $200. Today, of course, memory is significantly cheaper: 64 KB of RAM costs about a penny.

The reduced cost of memory is just one example of the incredible benefits of Moore's Law, which states that transistor density doubles every 18 months. And in the 20 years since the release of those expansion boards, we've seen similar advances in the speed and power of microprocessors, with clock rates ncreasing from 4.77 kilohertz to 3 megahertz and the number of transistors increasing from 29,000 to 42 million. By the year ?012, Intel expects to have processors running at 10 gigahertz (GHz) with more than I billion transistors.

All of that is pure technology, and if we gave learned anything over these past few tears, technology for its own sake serves little purpose. We must anticipate how we can apply changes in technology to meet the Basic goals of industry.

To eliminate many of the problems associated with business-to- business and application-- to-application integration, Microsoft wanted to find a new approach to software design with its NET philosophy to enable the flow of information among applications, regardless of platform, object technology, or development language.

To better understand how NET hopes to help manufacturers meet their goals of reduced costs, increased productivity, and improved quality, we must first understand the broad-reaching and interdependent trends that underpin NET.

The effect of Moore's Law is most obvious. Desktop computers are already capable of performing tasks that once required a mainframe, and 10-GHz processors will only further increase the possibilities of what a PC can do. But network connectivity has enjoyed even more rapid advances: Gilder's Law asserts that bandwidth grows at least three times faster than computing power. Already, many of us enjoy the benefits of these very wide information highways, which are simultaneously able to send and receive e-mail, transport Web pages, stream audio and video, and much more.

MONITORING TOOLS

But more than just the raw throughput of networks is increasing:The reach and flexibility of networks are also increasing.A variety of wireless technologies-general packet radio service, Wi-Fi, infrared, Bluetooth-are all enabling connections that were never before possible.Today, you can walk through a plant and monitor the production equipment you're standing closest to, or you can acknowledge alerts from a terminal at the airport or the couch in your living room. This, too, is a trend that will continue.



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