Hardware

A look at Comdex 2000 from a mail administrator's perspective

So you didn't get to Comdex in Las Vegas this year? No problem. TechRepublic's Christopher Tellez will give you a 30,000-foot view of some of the products and services featured at the big show.


I went to Las Vegas and gained 10 pounds in one day. No, I didn’t spend all day at the buffets. I attended Comdex. The 10 pounds came from the stacks of magazines, flyers, gadgets, and giveaways I picked up while I was there. While Comdex is traditionally thought of as a gadget-fest, the mail administrator community should be aware of some of the items coming to market. From the Personal Computing Tablet introduced by Aqcess Technologiesto the new Visor, this year’s Comdex proved that people want to be able to get their information on the go. And they want it whether they’re cruising at 30,000 feet or running errands at the mall.

New territory for the mail administrator
Currently, most mail administrators don’t have to worry about users accessing the mail server between 10:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M. However, based on what I saw at Comdex, it appears that all the wireless devices coming out will change that. Many people who currently access the mail server from 9 to 5 will want access 24/7. This could mean ramping up the memory and hard drives to accommodate the increased demand. Furthermore, many mail administrators haven’t had experience hooking up Palm devices or Palm PCs for their clients. But by dealing with the synchronization and seeing how it interacts with the mail server, you’ll be better prepared for the onslaught of new devices showing up on your network.

Let’s take a look at a few devices and one service featured at Comdex that are sure to increase your support needs.

Personal Computing Tablet
The Personal Computing Tablet is a little larger and thicker than a clipboard. In the office, it plugs into a docking bay that houses the CD-ROM, connects to the keyboard/mouse, and has 2 USB ports. Under the hood, it offers the following configuration:
  • Intel Celeron 450-600MHz, or Pentium 3 450- to 850-MHz processor
  • Windows Me or Windows 2000
  • 64MB to 320MB of RAM
  • 5- to 20-GB hard drive
  • 11Mbps wireless internal Mini-PCI card
  • 640x480 digital camera
  • 56K V.90 modem
  • 10/100 Ethernet connection
  • Lithium-Ion battery (up to two and a half hours)
  • Under 4 pounds

On the go, the Tablet offers an onscreen keyboard. You can type on it or use a stylus much like a Palm. What’s even more amazing about the device is the price: around $3,000. This is close to the price of a comparative laptop. You can find more info on the Qbe Web site.

Vtech Helio
When I first saw this booth, I did a double take and then asked, “Aren’t you the same people who make electronic kids’ toys?” Their answer was “Yes.” It turns out that Vtech, which previously had great success in the toy stores, is now targeting adult kids. They currently offer a PDA that is like the Palm in every way, shape, and form. Their PDA has a lower price point ($179), but it doesn’t currently have any add-ons. There are several colors to choose from, and you get your standard contacts, calendar, and so on. The PDA synchs up with Outlook and runs on its proprietary VT-OS. You can find out more about this new toy at the Vtech Helio Web site.

Boeing Connexion
My first thought when I came across this booth was, “It’s about time!” Boeing is working with the various airlines to offer in-flight Web service. You essentially bring your laptop, already loaded with special software, hook it up to the network connection on your seat, and boom: You’re on the Internet. You can surf the Web, watch TV, and listen to the radio. Also, through an arrangement with Boeing, you can hook up to your company’s intranet via a secure connection. According to the rep, the average speed on a 747 with all 400-plus people connected at the same time would be 56K. How much? Well they don’t have that worked out yet. It could be billed on a time basis (per hour) or it could be a monthly fee. More information on this new service can be had at the Boeing Connexion Web site.

Palm
Palm has been around for some time and is the current leader in the PDA field. It certainly has many challengers in the market, but it’s maintained its position. The company continues to stay on top by offering new gadgets and software to add on to the Palm. However, unless you have a Palm V or higher, there’s not much you can add on. If you have a Palm V, you can now get a bar code scanner, portable keyboard, and a GPS system. Other new or updated software includes Pocket Quicken and Gulliver, which can help you keep track of your itinerary. There’s a good possibility you’ll see many of your users with these devices after Christmas, especially with the release and low price point of the Palm M100. For more information visit the Palm Web site.

Handspring Visor
My previous exposure to this product had been limited to hooking it up to synchronize with Outlook for one of the executives at my company. I thought it looked just like the Palm and had all the same features, since it’s based on the Palm OS. But at Comdex, I was floored. It does so much more! The available gadgets for this device are numerous. Like Palm, it offers GPS, modem, wireless Web, and bar code scanner add-ons. The Visor extends its capabilities with an MP3 player, cellular phone, vibrating alert, wireless messaging, and FM radio receiver.

Using these add-ons was as simple as plugging them into the Visor. Another wonderful feature: The Visor comes with a USB connector. If you want to get USB connectivity with the Palm, you need to buy a $40 adapter. As we move into Windows 2000, USB is going to play a very important part in the gadgets you buy. The Handspring Visor Web site offers more information on this product.

Pocket PC
A few years ago, Microsoft began pushing Windows CE. After stagnant sales, the device evolved into the Pocket PC. Now, an out-of-the-box Pocket PC offers many features that you must buy as add-ons for the Palm and Visor. You can do everything from surfing the Web to playing MP3 or video files (although I’m not too sure who would be playing video files, given the Pocket PC’s limited memory). While the Pocket PC is like a Windows machine in the operation and function, for some reason, it has failed to gain strength over Palm or Handspring. A few vendors are offering their own versions of the Pocket PC. You can check them out at the following Web sites:

It’s going to be a wireless world
These and many more products and services are headed for the market. Now’s the time to visit the vendor Web sites and get up to speed on what’s coming. That way, you’ll be ready when users start inquiring about these products. Who knows, maybe you can even score one for yourself. By reading up and planning ahead, you, your network, and your mail server can be ready for the next generation of wireless devices.
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