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Comdex coverage by CNN and

Mobile computers: The more, the merrier

November 19, 1998
Web posted at: 3:25 PM ET

by David Needle

(IDG) -- LAS VEGAS -- A panel of industry analysts told a Comdex symposium we can expect a greater proliferation of mobile computing devices in the next few years than we have today. Not only will new kinds of mobile devices arrive, but a higher rate of corporate and business users will choose to make notebook systems their primary computer over desktop models.

"I see a convergence of desktop and notebook (capabilities)," says Ken Dulaney. "I've heard Kodak, Boeing, and Intel all say they are committing to a move to 100 percent notebook computer use in the next few years."

While notebooks have traditionally trailed desktop PCs in processing power and other specs, Dulaney predicts notebooks will gain parity by the year 2000, making them more practical as primary computers for all kinds of workers, not just mobile ones. Another issue is that fewer organizations are willing to let their users buy two computers, according to International Data Corporation analyst Randy Guisto -- so as the need for more mobile systems rises, notebooks with desktop power will gain favor.

There were differing views on how useful today's handheld and palm-size computers are and how they will evolve. After giving a lot of thought to which handheld device he would use to schedule his Comdex appointments, Dataquest research fellow Martin Reynolds says, he opted for a pen and paper as the simplest solution.
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An executive recently told analyst Rob Enderle of Giga Information Group about a meeting where a group of his subordinates all had small computing devices but took notes on paper instead. "They all said they were trying to conserve their battery life," Enderle reports the executive said.

One of the best features of devices such as the Palm Pilot and palm-size Windows CE computers is easy synchronization with desktop PCs. But as software and networks get more complex, synchronization doesn't always go smoothly. Only half the audience of users of handheld devices responded that they were happy with their units' synchronization performance.

"Maybe my data should be centralized on a server where I can simply access it from any computer with a browser," says Jerry Michalski, former editor of Esther Dyson's "Release 1.0" newsletter, who recently started a company called Sociate. Michalski says that as more appliancelike devices proliferate, better, more intelligent synchronization services will be needed.

Dataquest's Martin criticized both the PalmPilot and Windows CE devices. He says Windows CE was "born prematurely," while the Palm appears to have been "born old. The PalmPilot is a great product, but I don't see a vision of it being taken forward," says Reynolds. "The upgrades have been unexciting."

Michalski had a different take, noting that "even though the company (3Com, Palm's parent firm) is hard to work with, there's been a lot of software development for the PalmPilot. With Windows CE," says Michalski, "I don't see a lot of grass-roots software or cool new stuff."

With storage getting smaller even as capacity increases, Dulaney suggests there may not be a need for some users to carry a mobile computing device who otherwise would. If desktop computers and terminals proliferate in hotel rooms and other locales, Dulaney thinks users could more easily carry personal data files and applications around in tiny memory cards that just plug into any available desktop system.

Is Windows 2000 mobile-ready?

The future of Windows for mobile users was another point of discussion. Microsoft's forthcoming Windows NT 5 (redubbed Windows 2000) will have better power management and other features beneficial to notebook users. The current high end of Microsoft's operating system lineup, NT 4.0, lacks such features and "is awful for mobile users," says Guisto.

But the already delayed NT 5 is over a year away from release by Microsoft's own admission, and Dulaney predicts it won't be ready until the middle of 2000.

Dataquest's Martin predicts that desktop computers will be ready to handle Windows 2000 in a few years, but the overhead might be too much for most mobile systems. Gerry Purdy, chief executive officer of Mobile Insights, agreed, quoting Microsoft executive Brad Chase as telling him NT 5 will require a whopping 500MB of storage.

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