Mobile computing: Where's it all going?

With an array of alternative computing devices flooding the market, Brien Posey examines the question of whether or not mobile computing has finally come of age.

Open any electronics catalog, and you’re bound to see a plethora of devices that can work with your computer or with the Internet in some way. For example, you can buy devices that will allow you to browse the Web through your TV or to send an e-mail message from your phone. Such devices have been around in at least some form for years. However, the latest generation is becoming much more advanced. With an endless array of alternative computing devices flooding the market, it’s time to ask if mobile computing has finally come of age.

Before I attempt to answer such a question, I need to answer another question. What is mobile computing? My definition of mobile computing is being able to perform computer work from any location besides your normal desktop PC. Of course, there are many types of computer work, and I’ll discuss these different types.

Wireless LAN
Mobile computing can mean using your computer from a few feet away or from halfway around the world. Naturally, as distance increases, so does the challenge of accessing all your data without losing functionality.

If you want to step outside for a breath of fresh air or a change of scenery, however, staying connected is easy. Several companies, such as Xircom and 3Com, are shipping 11-megabit wireless network cards. With one of these cards in your notebook (and the appropriate receivers in place), there’s absolutely nothing to stop you from taking your notebook outdoors to the picnic table for a little fresh air (assuming that it’s not too far away).

Getting away from the office
A wireless LAN link is great if you plan on staying at the office, but what if you want to stay connected while you’re somewhere else? There are several ways for road warriors to do so—depending on their needs and budgets.

E-mail without the PC
If all that you need is text e-mail access, the solution is easy. There are many cellular phones and two-way pagers that allow you to send and receive messages. Most of the PDAs, such as the Palm Pilot, also allow you to send and receive e-mail messages.

Full functionality on the go
Having full functionality on the go used to mean plugging a bulky laptop into a telephone jack and running a program like pcAnywhere. However, you’ll soon be able to have this remote terminal capability through Windows 2000. Using Windows 2000’s terminal capabilities, you’ll be able to access your normal desktop, and you’ll have full use of your programs and files on a variety of devices. These devices include everything from laptops (which have become much smaller) to palmtops that run Windows CE.

If the limitation of having to use a modem jack is still a problem, relax. Many such devices support cellular links, and you can work as if you were at the office—no matter where you are.

Speaking of cellular
Don’t rule out the possibility that cellular phones may become the next big trend in mobile computing. Some cellular phones are shipping with low-end Web browsers already built-in and with the ability to send and receive e-mail. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if, within the next year or two, we start seeing cell phones that run full-blown versions of Windows CE on color screens. Such a feature would mean that you wouldn’t even need a palmtop with a modem anymore. You could access your desktop applications directly from your cell phone. How cool would that be?

Brien M. Posey is an MCSE who works as a freelance technical writer and as a network engineer for the Department of Defense. If you’d like to contact Brien, send him an e-mail . (Because of the large volume of e-mail he receives, it's impossible for him to respond to every message. However, he does read them all.)

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

Editor's Picks