ad info
   personal technology

 custom news
 Headline News brief
 daily almanac
 CNN networks
 CNN programs
 on-air transcripts
 news quiz

CNN Websites
 video on demand
 video archive
 audio on demand
 news email services
 free email accounts
 desktop headlines

 message boards





Mobile mania: Tools for the virtual office

July 21, 1998
Web posted at: 7:46 PM PT

by James Connolly

Gateway's Solo 9100LS notebook: Another digital weapon for serious "road warriors".   
(IDG) -- It was a few months ago that I first noticed the latest version of the mobile professional. He had a 3Com Corp. PalmPilot tucked in his shirt pocket (for E-mail and planning), a cellular phone hanging from his belt (for quick calls and voice mail) and, right next to the cell phone, a two-way pager, complete with the hard plastic protective case. Oh, and what did this symbol of the '90s have hanging from his arm? A leather computer bag, of course, complete with a notebook PC and all the wiring and accessories that try to unite the diverse systems and link him to the home office. If this guy fell overboard with all that iron, he would need two life preservers.

A lot of us dream of the day when you really can take it with you your office, that is. In the months since we first planned this feature, I've experimented with a variety of tools beyond the basic notebooks our staff brings on road trips systems that let us carry out a good portion of our daily office tasks on the road.

For example, I worked with 3Com's Palm III (my second attempt to understand the fascination with the handheld organizer/ computer/communicator/something). Some of my co-workers swear by the Palm; I ended up swearing at it. Entering data was a pain, the documentation was thin, the display was weak, and the sync feature sank. The Palm III and the others in the string of handheld devices I've tried, including Windows CE systems, don't help me take my office on the road, just that part of my desk where I scribble reminders and phone numbers. Fortunately, Palm promoters have backed away from pitching the Palm as a notebook replacement. So, I'll acknowledge that it probably is good at what it was designed for organization and communication and say that I'm a long way from finding a handheld to cherish.

Shifting to the far end of the portability (and price) spectrum, I started to work with a Gateway Solo 9100 LS. With a 266-MHz Pentium II processor, 64M bytes of RAM, combined digital video disc (DVD) and floppy diskette drive module and a 14.1-in. active matrix screen, it's representative of the extreme high-end in mobile power computing. Of course, at 8.2 pounds, it balances 22 Palms, and its $3,899 cost is almost 10 times the base price of a Palm III.

  Computerworld's home page
  Computerworld "Emmerce"
  Get Media Grok and The Industry Standard Intelligencer delivered to for free
 Reviews & in-depth info at's personal news page
  Questions about computers? Let's editors help you
  Search in 12 languages
  Subscribe to's free daily newsletter for IT leaders
 News Radio
  Computerworld Minute audio news for managers
  PC World News Radio

The Solo is probably overkill for my needs word processing, online editing, browsing and E-mail but if I had to err either way, I'd rather have its capabilities. I couldn't tell how much credit was due to the 266-MHz CPU and how much to the program-loading enhancements in Windows 98, but launching WordPerfect by opening a document took less than 3 seconds. Also, it really does seem to be a mobile desktop, even down to the feel of the keyboard. By the way, yes, you can watch DVD movies if you have a couple of hours to kill. Just be patient because the display lags the sound, giving you a bit of a spaghetti western feel.

What can you take away from this, besides my own preferences? I hope it's an understanding of the wide range of mobile technology and how varied users can be in their likes and dislikes. Rather than list a bunch of technologies in the following pages, we've profiled four organizations that have made commitments to supporting the virtual office. In each case, the message is clear: Companies are taking their mobile workers more seriously.

It's been about a decade since companies such as AT&T broke new ground by launching "office without walls" strategies. The idea was that sales representatives had to be out in the field to do their jobs right, not confined by the four walls of a corporate cell simply because that's where their data was. Today, sales representatives and consultants pack their office in a leather bag, and the IT group has to figure out how to equip and support them.

In the related stories below, writers Alice LaPlante and Amy Malloy examine implementation and deployment strategies by four companies that are heavily dependent on mobile technology: Saab Cars USA, Inc., General Accident Insurance Co., Astra Pharmaceutical Partnership Ltd. and American Express Co. The profiles show that supporting the mobile workforce has become incredibly complex. Yet it also has allowed some of these companies to re-examine how they do business.

Connolly is Computerworld's technology evaluations editor.

Related stories:
Latest Headlines

Today on CNN

Related stories:

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window Related sites:

External sites are not
endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Enter keyword(s)   go    help


Back to the top
© 2000 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.