12/03/2001 Amid the thundering roar of the sky falling over the stock markets and bourses of the world, it's easy to forget the simple fact that high tech is still making tons of money but that if it ever stops getting better, it won't. This isn't lost on IBM, Sony and Toshiba. The triumvirate is busy working on a new, more powerful processor called a Cell, which as well as being damn smart is also damn good at playing with others. Indeed, the whole idea is that it can talk unto other Cells over broadband links, distributing processing and becoming the perfect host for the distributed computational environment that everyone -- including yours truly -- expects to evolve. We really will have our desk lamps talking to our cars, and our televisions talking to our wristwatches. The companies concerned aren't making a huge investment over the four or five years the project is due to run, but doubtless they'll come up with some good stuff along the way. Oh, and don't mention the Transputer. There is another side to all this, as Seti@Home fans know already. All that computing power is a useful resource -- so why not use it? In fact, it's a miracle that Microsoft hasn't worked this out already -- surely the next logical step after making the punters hire out their software is to make them give away their spare CPU cycles in exchange. This has already occured US free net service Juno, which has made it a condition -- deeply buried in the terms and conditions -- of the new version of their system that the user must let the company install and run whatever software it likes on the user's PC without any comeback whatsoever. Reading the small print that comes with our software, processors, even toasters, is going to be a major hobby of the 21st century.