What do you get when you cross the nation's fastest-growing coffee-shop franchise with one of the most aggressive wireless-network providers? The future of wireless computing -- and a good cup of coffee. Last August, Starbucks teamed up with T-Mobile and Hewlett-Packard to create a new blend: Wi-Fi access in over 2,000 Starbucks across the country. More than 300 of the "HotSpot" enabled stores are in northern California; the San Francisco Bay Area is home to the five stores with the highest Wi-Fi usage.
So if this is the future, what does it look like? A visit to the Starbucks on University Avenue in Palo Alto is like joining the Stanford University campus wireless network. By mid-morning, the place is packed with laptop-toting students who are logging on to course Web sites over their first cups of java. Resident tech entrepreneurs claim the last three or four seats. According to Susan, one of the store's barristas, "They're doing their deals here. You'd think this was their office." Turns out, the economy still runs on caffeine.