With infrared ports connecting hardware instead of cables, and a radio-wave system called Bluetooth about to let your palmtop ask your fridge what's for dinner, communication is coming of age.
When I go out with my notebook computer, I have to take a mass of cables to connect to phone lines, printers or desktop PCs. Is there any way to get rid of them?

Almost all notebooks have an infrared port that operates on the same principle as your television remote control. The idea is that you can walk up to almost any device, point your notebook's black plastic window at a similar black plastic window and the computers will talk to each other.

You can download files and print or fax documents without having to use a cable.

Really? I've never done this.

Nor has anyone else. Infrared has proved to be unworkable for most applications and has remained almost unused. One problem is that hardly any desktop computers are fitted with infrared, so your average notebook user has nothing to communicate with. Although some printers are infrared-enabled, not many people actually want to print directly from their notebook. They would rather download to a PC, edit it and print from there.

Is it possible to fit an infrared port to a desktop PC?

Several small companies make ports that you plug into a serial port, and most PCs actually have the hardware inside the box, so all you need is the infrared sensor. Infrared ports cost £60-100.

So, if I don't buy an extra port for my desktop PC, can I still use the notebook's infrared port?

Yes. There is one area where a notebook's infrared port is a brilliant success: connecting a notebook to a mobile phone. Two phones, the Ericsson SH888 and the Nokia 8810, have a built-in modem and an infrared port, allowing a notebook or a palmtop to link up to the computer at base, or to the Internet, simply by placing the two items next to each other and pressing a few buttons. That is one wire you need not carry about any more.

Portable printers such as Canon's tiny BJC-50 also have infrared ports, making it possible to print on the move.

Isn't there an easier way to connect my notebook to other computers?

Not yet, but next year, a short-range radio system called Bluetooth, originally developed by researchers at Ericsson and now being developed by an international consortium, will be launched.

Bluetooth is a single-chip, two-way radio for data with a range of about 10 m. It will always be searching for other Bluetooth devices, and will automatically establish a channel of communication when it finds one. The user will just send data without having to make any settings or anything – if it works as advertised.

Will it be very expensive?

If it catches on, each chip should add about £5 to the cost of the device.

Will Bluetooth have any other uses?

Very likely. Because it uses radio waves instead of infrared, the two ends of the channel do not have to be in line-of-sight contact, so Bluetooth could replace fixed cables as well as mobile ones. For example, your fridge could have a computer and a barcode scanner that would detect everything placed in it or taken out. When it found you were short of milk, it would tell your PC over the Bluetooth link. The PC would ring Tesco and order more. Building sites where cabling has yet to be installed could be instantly wired for data using Bluetooth devices.

Incidentally, why is it called Bluetooth?

Bluetooth, a Danish king, was the son of Gorm the Old and father of Sweyn Forkbeard. The name was apparently chosen by a history-loving Danish engineer at Ericsson.