Taking Your Business On The Road

If you spend 50 percent of your time away from your desk, you are one of 28
million American business people who find that meeting clients and taking
action outside the office is essential to making their companies grow.
Nevertheless, you still need instant access to information about your
products and contracts wherever you are. In effect, you need to be able to
take your office on the road with you.
When the first issue of Small Business Success was published in 1988,
a very real separation still existed between the immediate availability of
information in the office, and what was at hand in a client’s firm.
Off-site, doing business was often a series of “I’ll get back to you’s.”
Since then, the business world has evolved significantly, and the
fastest-changing area of office technology is surely the realm of portable
equipment that keeps people in touch with home base from San Francisco to
Samarkand. Every week something gets smaller, lighter, friendlier or more
powerful than its predecessors. The speed at which computers, printers,
faxes and telephones are being miniaturized is, quite simply, amazing.
Computer systems are at the heart of information management, but
chances are that when you look at the range of laptops, notebooks and
palmtops on the market, the decision on “which is best” is confusing.
Ideally, you want everything you’re familiar with on your office PC, but
without the cables that connect your desktop computer to printers, mouse,
scanner and back-up power supply.
Laptops, notebooks and palmtops contrast with desktop computers by
being smaller, self-contained, single units. Predictably, they have fewer
accessories, and those that are built-in are miniaturized. Some of these
smaller versions are as powerful as the desktop units with which you are
already familiar.
Mike McGreevy, executive director – Auditing Services at Pacific
Telesis in San Francisco, is one of the millions of users who find that
portables have dramatically changed the way they conduct business. “I can
be at home or on an airplane, and use the computer’s word processing
capabilities to generate reports, memos and articles, or to put together a
presentation,” he says. “The presentation can subsequently be presented on
the computer itself, or output on disk or paper. Another advantage is that
my portable allows me to write letters which can be automatically faxed to
recipients who, in turn, can fax me replies. To be frank, I can’t do my
job without it.”
Just a few years ago, laptops D which weighed from 10 to 15 pounds D
dominated the portable market. The few available notebooks were considered
too weak for anything but light-duty word processing. But today laptops
are already on the way out as their significantly lighter notebook cousins
leap ahead in power and capacity.
Palmtops are a breed unto themselves. (See “Let a Palmtop Manage Your
Life” in Small Business Success, Volume V.) Small enough to be held in the
palm of one hand while being one-finger typed-on with the other hand, they
are the most truly miniaturized computers. And the distinction between
palmtops and notebooks (which need a flat surface or lap for touch-typing)
will probably hold, since comfortably typing on a keyboard less than six
inches wide will require miniaturization of fingers rather than hardware.
For most users, a palmtop fits easily in a pocket or purse, and a
notebook doesn’t. But most notebooks will fit sideways in a standard
briefcase, which laptops won’t do. Then there’s the 18-ounce Poquet PC
which will slide into a deep pocket or purse, and has a keyboard that
separates people with thin fingers (who consider it a notebook) from people
with fat fingers (who call it a palmtop).
Notebooks, which weigh approximately six pounds, offer the same
processing power as most desktops. Today they come with giant-sized
hard-drives and include such accessories (either built-in, or in
miniaturized carry-along and plug-in form) as: printers, fax/modems, power
supplies and, of course, a mouse with a short tail. Widely used notebooks
are manufactured by Apple, NEC, IBM, Dell, Toshiba and Compaq.
Subnotebooks, a new category of portables that is expected to grow to
about 30 percent of all notebook-computer sales by 1995, are the smallest
and lightest full-function computers currently on the market. Users find
the tradeoffs D reduced keyboard space, smaller screens (seven or eight
inches diagonally) and external floppy drives D worth the benefits of the
smaller size and lighter weight. Subnotebooks weighing less than 4 1/2
pounds include Zenith Data System’s Z-Lite, IBM’s ThinkPad, Olivetti North
America’s Quaderno, Toshiba’s Portege and Zeos’ Contender. Gateway’s
HandBook and Hewlett-Packard’s OmniBook are less than three pounds.
To give an idea of their versatility, Hewlett-Packard’s OmniBook
subnotebooks are equipped with either flash drives or hard disks. They
incorporate full-size keyboards, pop-out mice, and arrive with specially
configured Microsoft Windows, plus Word and Excel, as well as HP’s PIM
(personal information management) system and financial calculator. By
putting its applications software onto ROM, HP has increased the speed by
which programs can be accessed.
Several other features cause OmniBook to stand out in the subnotebook
crowd. First, the batteries of the units with flash drives last up to nine
hours and the hard-disk machines last up to five hours. While that’s
exceptional in itself, additional power can be obtained by inserting an
auxiliary case with four AA alkaline batteries D a true plus for travelers
who can’t always trust local power outlets for recharging expensive
equipment.
As with a number of other notebooks, such as the Apple Powerbook, if
you are number crunching above the Rockies when your dinner tray arrives,
you can turn off the OmniBook without exiting your worksheet, then resume
an hour later just where you left off. Look, too, for the ability to pop
open different PIM functions such as calendars, client indices or data
bases for instant checking of appointments or price sheets while you’re
working on other files.
As is to be expected with any technological breakthrough, subnotebooks
have some drawbacks, as noted above. Nevertheless, they represent a
quantum leap in miniaturization, and may well be the portable of choice for
people who are on the road more often then not.
For now, however, if you want bright, easy-to-read color or an active
matrix mono screen, and the ability to use the same software you prize most
on your desktop back at the office, the portable computer you select will
probably be one of the many full-size notebooks currently on the market.
But, if you do very little inputting and are willing to switch between
RAM cards in order to access all your price list and specification data,
you might prefer a palmtop that will be with you wherever you go. With a
palmtop you can change an appointment while in a restaurant, receive a page
in a taxi cab, fax a memo at 30,000 feet, or prepare a report on the run.
With each new palmtop introduced, you can expect to find increasingly
sophisticated telecommunications tools, PIMS, word processors, and
spreadsheets such as Lotus 1-2-3 on these 3 x 6 inch machines. And not
only are the pocket-sized units rugged enough to be dropped, at least one
(HP’s 100LX) knows when it’s falling and will park its head before hitting
the pavement.
Today palmtops (and many notebooks) use RAM and FLASH cards
(credit-card sized static or solid state disks) to provide unlimited
storage memory and access to a multitude of software. Truly miniaturized
accessories (rivaling a hummingbird’s ratio of ounces to energy) turn them
into pagers and fax machines. And the latest technology allows you to
point an 11-ounce palmtop computer at any laser printer and print a
multi-page document of text, tables and charts in a twinkling of two
infrared eyes.

The Challenge Of Getting Hard Copy

True printers will probably never be small or light enough to please the
traveler who has to shoulder a bag through an airport concourse, but
manufacturers are taking giant steps to provide printing convenience at
minimum weight.
The four-pound BubbleJet was already the most popular portable printer
when Canon slipped it into a computer as the NoteJet D a computer/printer
that prints three pages a minute. For some, having instant access to a
printer, with no cables to connect, will be worth the 7.7 pounds and
ink-jet quality.
However, if laser quality printing is more important than instant
access, then infrared technology may be your best option. With infrared
sensors clipped onto office equipment that needs to communicate with other
equipment, such as desktop computers, notebooks, palmtop PCs, calculators,
printers and fax/modems, users only have to point and shoot to transfer
data.
The first non-HP product using Hewlett-Packard’s patented infrared
transmitters is the JetEyes Printer Connection developed by Extended
Systems, which consists of two small black boxes. When the 2 x 4 inch box
is plugged into the serial port of any laser printer, and the smaller box
is placed on a convenient desktop and lined up with an infrared-equipped
notebook or palmtop, in a blink the computer’s files start printing. It’s
a “Look Ma, no hands” printing that can take place in a copy shop, your
hotel’s business center or a client’s office.
You can also manage without a printer, or a web of cables to connect
(you hope) your computer to the hotel’s or copy shop’s business center, if
your computer will take a PCMCIA fax-modem card. With this credit
card-sized modem in the A or B drive (and appropriate software in the
computer), you can fax your file to the nearest available fax machine. And
if your notebook supports graphic capabilities, you could even use a
graphics file of your letterhead as a “header” on letters you print on the
road.
Electronic mail services can also take care of the printing needs of
traveling entrepreneurs. After modeming your files to an e-mail service,
they can be forwarded in three ways: electronically to a recipient’s
e-mail account, by phone to a fax number, or printed and mailed to a street
address.
“Whether on the road or at home,” advises Mike McGreevy, “small
business people can use portables to access information, do billing, fax
customers and receive order requests from them, and even compose
advertising brochures. The capability is enormous. In effect,
entrepreneurs can increase their access to customers 24 hours a day. I’m
a very firm believer because I’ve found I can be anywhere, anytime,
anyplace, and still do my job.”

Posted by on July 21, 1999