Technology: More options for road warriors
• Stay in touch while you fly
New for business travelers on commercial airlines is Verizon JetConnect. The service allows laptop-equipped travelers to access many Web services without the Internet. One can send and receive emails, check the market and even instant message without their one's feet touching the ground.
The actions are accomplished by a small on-board server. The cookie-sheet sized server connects with routers in thousands of towers on the ground. You connect your computer to the network via Verizon AirPhone and a RJ-11 cable.
The flip side is speed. Your interaction will occur at 9.6 Kbps, a throwback to the early days of interconnectivity. The future scheme is to equip planes with WiFi (802.11b or later) access. Verizon is seeking approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for the upgrade. But, JetConnect is currently the only solution to the long flight on which you need to send or receive short messages via laptop. At $5.99 per flight segment, it is probably worth the cost.
• Laptops: The best of the batch
This month's edition of Laptop Magazine rates the top WiFi embellished notebooks. The winners are:
• Apple 12-inch PowerBook G4
• Averatec 3150P
• Compaq Business Notebook nc4000
• Dell Latitude D400
• Fijitsu LifeBook P5000
• Gateway 200XL
• IBM Thinkpad T40
• Sharp Actius PC-MV14
• Sony VAIO PCG-TR1A
• Toshiba Portege M100
The Dell Latitude D400 and the Gateway 200XL were selected as best buys. There is considerable variation among the computers, though most boast large hard drives and reasonably fast CPUs. Some are the current standard 802.11b compatible. Others, such as the Dell Latitude D400, come with 802.11g. Since most access points have yet to be updated, bleeding edge WiFi users will often find their speeds throttled back to 802.11b's. I was pleased to see the Apple PowerBook G4 included on the list, since Apple products are often overlooked in the general technology press, though it is lauded mainly for style, not utility.
• Portable products may be plum for Apple
Speaking of the guys and gals in Cupertino, BusinessWeek recently devoted a special report to the company, largely singing its praises. The five-part package focused on the success of Apple products and prophesied a change in strategy. The reporter, Stephen H. Wildstrom, says the vanguard of that change is the iPod, the portable hard disk and MP3 player many of us road warriors take everywhere with us.
Though iPod got rave reviews, it soon became clear that most people weren't going to abandon their Windows PC just for the chance to use what arguably was the best MP3 player on the market. So in August of 2002, Apple introduced an iPod for Windows. By Christmas, it plans to launch more new Windows-compatible products, such as the wildly successful music-download service, the iTunes Music Store, originally just for Macs.
"That represents a shift in strategy, whether they realized it at first or not," says Wolf. "The iPod was the first product that wasn't tethered to the Mac." Apple executives decline to comment on company's strategy.
Considering that the iPod and the music store will seduce many a Windows user in coming months and that the PowerBook has garnered a higher share of the laptop market than Apple's stationary computers have of the desktop market, BusinessWeek may be on to something -- and portability is the key.