When laptop and notebook systems first hit store shelves, buyers were considered technologically cool. But today you can seldom get on an airplane without seeing a full-color, active-matrix notebook display. What sets the mobile computing hipsters apart from other notebook users are the extra goodies they add to their systems.
Most notebook systems now include a PC card slot that allows users to plug in a host of devices. If you regularly tap into the network at your place of employment, you can get a PC-card-based ethernet adapter. You may also want to add a modem that plugs into your PC card slot. But do you really want to carry around a bag full of PC card devices? Thanks to Xircom ( 438-4526; http://www.xircom.com), you don't have to.
I've been using Xircom's CreditCard Ethernet 10/100+Modem 56 for my Micron Transport XPE and I've found it indispensable. It combines a full-featured ethernet adapter and a 56K modem on a single PC card device. At a suggested retail price of $379, it's pricey. However, the convenience justifies the price.
When I'm at the office, I use it to tap into the company network. The card automatically detects whether I'm connected to a 10baseT or a newer high-speed 100baseT network, so I never have to worry about being left out in the cold if I need to connect to some other network at some other company. And when I'm out on the road, I can connect to the computers back home using the fastest analog connection available anywhere. It's also a fax machine, which makes it three useful devices in one.
Installation was a snap. The software automatically configured itself to my system. Xircom also offers an optional Cellular Connection Kit that allows users to get online even when there's no phone jack in sight. The CreditCard Ethernet 10/100+Modem 56 includes a limited lifetime warranty.
Although I'm reluctant to admit it, from time to time when I'm in a new town I get misdirected. Not anymore. One gizmo that I've started playing with is the Door-to-Door CoPilot from TravRoute Software ( 252-8197; http://www.travroute.com). This $400 package combines GPS (global positioning satellite) hardware with TravRoute's Road Trips Door-to-Door mapping software. The end result is a portable system that not only tells you where you are, but can direct you to where you want to go.
When I say tell, I mean tell. Once the system figures out where you are and where you want to go, it actually speaks the directions to you. It tells you to turn here, turn there. And if you still get lost, it tells you the best way to get back on track. The mapping software covers virtually every address in the United States.
The only downside is that the system requirements may be a little steep for some people. You need a Pentium-based laptop or notebook running Windows 95. Not too bad so far. You also need an open serial port to connect the GPS unit. Still not a problem. However, your computer also needs a CD-ROM drive and internal speakers.
You may have read about the DataLink line of wristwatches from Timex ( 448-4639; http://www.timex.com). These watches sell for about $100. Using software that runs on your desktop computer, you can flash to-do lists or appointments directly from the computer's monitor into your wristwatch. If you're a busy mobile computer user, you may have passed on this product because it can't communicate directly with the display on your notebook computer.
But Timex also offers a $30 unit that plugs into the serial port on your notebook, allowing it to communicate with your watch.
Finally, since my laptop computer was stolen a few months ago, I've been exploring various security options for my notebook system. One that intrigues me, but I haven't tried yet, is the CompuTrace theft retrieval system from Computer Security Products ( 466-7636; http://www .computersecurity.com). It's like a LoJack anti-theft system for your laptop.
Here's how it works: Once you install the CompuTrace software on your computer, it silently dials into CompuTrace headquarters every so often just to check in. If your computer is stolen, you report the theft to CompuTrace. The next time your computer checks in, CompuTrace pinpoints the location of your computer. The folks at CompuTrace then coordinate a recovery effort with local law enforcement officials.
Maybe you were the first on your block with a notebook computer, but that's not enough anymore. To stay ahead of the pack, you simply must load up on the latest gadgets for mobile computing.
Kim Komando is a TV host, syndicated talk radio host and author. You can visit her on the Internet at http://www.komando.com or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her national talk radio program can be heard on Saturdays from 7 to 9 a.m. on 97.1 KLSX-FM.