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The cheesy future of online access

More than 1,500 "architects of the future" from more than 50 countries attended the recent ninth International Conference on the World Wide Web in Amsterdam.

Computer scientists, academics, technical decision-makers and venture capitalists met at "The Web - the Next Generation" to hear the latest innovations, to debate ways to make the world a better place and, of course, to enjoy the hundreds of cheeses on offer.

The conference heard that within five years people will be able to access the net in a multitude of ways, wherever they are. Delegates portrayed a future where every car, television, photo-frame, fridge and shoe is connected to the web.

The big news this year was the developments in wireless systems. Soon people will have devices that send and receive an overwhelming variety and quantity of information over mobile networks. Personalised TV programmes, monitors in clothes transmitting body-function data direct to GPs and in-car systems that can pinpoint that elusive car-parking space on a busy Saturday morning were just some of the applications featured.

Gadgets will talk to each other via BlueTooth, a short-range radio system. So when you walk into your living room the email that has just arrived on your Wap phone also pops up on the easier-to-read TV screen The conference heard that in the mobile wireless world Europe has a head start on the US, the dominant internet player, and Britain is playing a big role in the revolution.

Keynote speaker Charles Davies, chief technology officer at Psion, said companies such as his would help transform the mobile net. "Wap is underwhelming at the moment, but in a couple of years we will see enriched entertainment, communications and commerce for everyone," he said.

The World Wide Web Consortium, co-organisers of the conference and the main developers of the net, said it was developing initiatives such as methods to protect privacy and enable web access by everyone, whatever their disability may be.

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