Smallest Web server fits in shirt pocket

A Stanford University professor has created what is believed to be the world's smallest Web server, the size of match-box, which was designed to ultimately be worn by a user.

Using off-the-shelf hardware and software, computer science professor Vaughan Pratt invented a Web server measuring less than 1.75 inches high, 2.75 inches wide and .25 inches thick.

The tiny Web server consists of an AMD 486-SX computer that has a 66MHz central processing unit, 16MB RAM and 16MB ROM. The server connects to the Internet through a parallel port and runs a simplified version of Linux, according to a Stanford News Service statement.

The Web server can be wired into the power supply of a desktop computer or driven by battery, said David Salisbury of the Stanford News Service. The university does not have plans to produce or market the server for commercial use, he said.

The Web server is powering a Web page that contains a picture and description of the computer and provides instructions on how the matchbox-sized computer was built. The page, which debuted January 22, received over 80,000 hits by the month's end. The page is at http://wearables.stanford.edu/.

The Web server can be carried inside a shirt pocket and hooked into a wireless modem, Pratt said. Plugging the server into special glasses that double as a computer display allows the user to monitor the server.

"There is an informal community of researchers working in this area, where the idea is basically that if computers continue to become more indispensable and smaller, sooner or later it makes better sense to wear them (computers) than carry around them around," Salisbury said.

Wearable Web servers can provide users with real-time information such as how frequently a Web page is accessed and if there are technical difficulties to accessing the page, as well as provide the ability to update Web page content remotely, said Salisbury.

There is significant potential for wearable computers in the future, according to Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group. "This class of product will expand as people reach a point when they are almost always connected."

"Having a portable, personal Web device opens the door to a number possibilities, such as sharing and updating all kinds of information, in real-time," Enderle said.

Wearable computers will emerge in the market over the next two to three years as wireless technologies become more pervasive, he said.

The Web server is one of the first projects undertaken by Stanford's Wearables Lab, established within the last year by Platt. The lab develops computer technology that can be incorporated directly into clothing.

The Wearables Lab is now working on a future version of the server, which will be based on the Intel Pentium chipset, Stanford said in its statement. The group plans to combine a credit-card size Pentium motherboard, introduced last quarter by Cell Computing, with a 340MB hard drive from IBM that measures a fraction of an inch thick and less than 2 inches on a side.

The next version will be capable of running the complete Windows operating system and a voice-recognition program, said Pratt.

The lab is also working to develop a special glove that recognises a digital sign language, called Thumbcode, which is intended to replace a computer keyboard.

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