Bluetooth's broken. Here's how to fix it

commentary Though he didn't quite say it this way, my fellow ZDNet columnist David Berlind is right: Bluetooth sucks.

commentary Though he didn't quite say it this way, my fellow ZDNet columnist David Berlind is right: Bluetooth sucks.

In his column last Friday, Berlind described how he summoned the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) out to his home office, where he demonstrated for them the joys of trying to use a "standard" that never really became one.

If the SIG folks had come to my home office, I would have shown them much the same thing. But my advice would have been different. Berlind and I usually see the same problems but often disagree on the solutions.

Right now, I have a Bluetooth printer and a Bluetooth-enabled PDA sitting on my desk. I also have a Bluetooth cellular telephone. I used to have a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. And my Apple iMac is Bluetooth-equipped, thanks to a tiny USB adapter I'm now sorry I bought.

All of this stuff works, mind you. It's just that every time I install something new, the old stuff breaks. I used to be able to use the Bluetooth keyboard or the printer, but not both. The iPaq once synced wirelessly just fine, but stopped when I installed the printer or the keyboard. And, in the great tradition of Apple promoting technologies it doesn't quite support, the iMac will talk to the phone just fine but knows nothing at all about the printer.

Berlind thinks the Java people could resolve this situation. More specifically, he writes: "The Bluetooth SIG should join the Java Community Process and create a standard API so that a Java Virtual Machine can access the Bluetooth hardware. Then, the Bluetooth SIG should develop a single Java-based application, one for each of the platforms (phones, PCs, PDAs, etc.) and distribute that application to the 2,000 vendors that are members of the Bluetooth SIG."

Enter Microsoft
I'd take a different approach. I think Microsoft should wield its ability to create de facto standards and add Bluetooth management features to a service pack for Windows XP. If manufacturers want their devices to work with Windows, they'd have to write to the Microsoft "standard." Yes, Microsoft should listen to outside input in developing its Bluetooth technology, and anyone should be able to connect to it. But I think we need a solution, not another standards body that can't make a standard happen.

What I want Microsoft to create is a Bluetooth "finder" (to mix metaphors and use an Apple term in a Microsoft context) that would allow me to see all the Bluetooth devices within range of my computer. I'd then be able to connect them, either on the fly as needed, or "permanently," in the case of making the Bluetooth device my default printer. It would also allow me to use Bluetooth--rather than a USB or serial cable--to synchronize my PDA with the PC.

I mean, would it be so hard for Bluetooth devices to appear in the same places as their wired counterparts--Bluetooth printers in the printer control panel, PDAs in the connections options of the synchronization application, phones as another sync option for Outlook?

Always around the corner
Apple actually comes closest to this. While the company still hasn't discovered Bluetooth printing (bad Steve!), my Bluetooth phone shows up in iSync and then just becomes another place my calendar and address book lands during synchronization.

If reducing the number of wires around my desktop and in the world generally wasn't such a critical issue, Bluetooth would be dead meat. Instead, we continue to hear that great things are just around the corner. Microsoft, for example, is counting on Bluetooth to play a major role in providing connectivity for its future in-car computer and entertainment systems.

Me, I'm not counting on Bluetooth ever amounting to anything, although I retain hope that it will rise above its misspent youth and actually do something useful someday. As for the Bluetooth SIG, aren't these the same folks who helped get us into this mess, at least in part by promoting Bluetooth as the solution to seemingly all connectivity problems, rather than mastering one or two and growing from there?

I hope it's a problem that group--or, more likely, Microsoft--solves soon.

David Coursey is executive editor at ZDNet's AnchorDesk

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