Strange New World: Picks of The Week

Ah, the first weeks of spring and new technology continues to bloom here in the Strange New World. Like some techno Cirque du Soleil dancer, Microsoft is getting itself in one heck of an operating system contortion: It has released service pack upgrades for both Vista and XP at basically the same time. The company is on record as saying it will wind down XP support. But considering the less-than-lovely response to Vista and the proliferation of cheaper OS alternatives, Microsoft may be supporting both systems for some time.

Also, global positioning systems are getting downright chatty, and just in time for Earth Day, eco-gadgets are getting real. This summer you will be able to rock out on your iPod with little to no carbon footprint to feel guilty about.

Here are our picks of the week:

Chatty GPS

It looks like global positioning makers are taking idle chatter very seriously. The next generation of in-car navigation systems includes once-unimaginable voice-recognition features.

Now voice commands give deeper instructions than simply "turn right" or "turn left" and they offer improved information services and directions to local points of interest. Even more bizarrely, they now offer subtle commands and prompts that keep you from speeding or missing turns.

The big mover here is the new AVIC-F system announced by Pioneer last week. Units start at $850 and are offering some sophisticated voice recognition. So instead of saying, "play Jay-Z," you can now say, "I, uh, want to, uh, maybe, like, hear what's his name … Jay-Z." We figure that will make the AVIC easier to talk to than your kids.

Windows XP SP3 Is Out Next Week

Microsoft has confirmed that the Windows XP Service Pack 3 has been released to manufacturers and will be available for download next week. Now don't get too excited. SP3 will not update your old XP machine into a Vista machine. In fact, the service pack does not include all the new features found in Vista. It does have some network protocol functions, but we're talking about the sexy features.

SP3 really is just a collection of Windows updates. It has all of the security, compatibility and performance updates of the last year rolled into one convenient package. The service pack will be available via a 70MB download at the Microsoft Download Center and the install should take a little more than an hour. If you have an XP system, there is really no reason you shouldn't run this. It will automatically bring your PC up to date and you can put off buying a Vista system for another year or so. If you have a Vista system, take the time to download Vista SP1. In short, it gives the PC a speed boost, quicker transfer times on large files and network connections. It came out in March and you can also download it at the Microsoft Download Center.

Green Power for the iPod

In honor of this week's Earth Day, we thought we would make one of our picks eco-friendly. Rather than plugging your gadgets into the grid when they need a charge, next time why not use a little wind?

The HYmini is a "micro wind power generator" that lets you convert wind power into electricity for your personal gadgets. It has a built-in, 1,200 mAH battery that stores the juice captured by the fan and in peak conditions can store enough juice to power your iPod for 30 minutes or give you 30 more shots with a digital camera. Optimum conditions are a 19-mph wind, so it's better used hanging out a car window than on the front of your bike. And if wind isn't your game, it also has a solar power attachment.

Jonathan Blum and Dan Evans co-host "Strange New World," a weekly syndicated radio show. Blum hosts the blog and Evans is a features editor at PC Magazine.