The little laptop that could

Read about how a Dell Latitude LS400 laptop played an active role in a TechRepublic member's network support duties in the days following Sept. 11, 2001. Tell us if you ever owned a system that holds a special place in your heart.

About 10 years ago, TechRepublic member Bob Eisenhardt (reisen55) borrowed a Dell Latitude LS400 laptop to help him with his off-site work for Aon Consulting Group. Bob set up the Dell as a split Windows and Novell server to act as a portable business unit when meeting with clients, saving him the trouble of establishing access to larger, permanent systems on these occasions.

Aon Consulting's offices were located on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center in New York City. On September 11, 2001, the entire world watched as their occupancy was unceremoniously terminated without warning. 175 employees of Aon lost their lives, including Stephen Poulos, who went back to retrieve some data tapes for Aon Risk division that had not been transported off site.

Backups for Aon's Consulting division had been taken off site on September 10, 2001, but no hardware existed to run the business. As Bob said, "When my servers fall 103 floors to the ground, that is a non-recoverable event."

Bob had left the little LS400 at home on that fateful day, so it played an active role during the recovery. Quoting Bob:

September 14, 2001. I travel to the Greenwich CT office for emergency support as Aon employees are now scattered to the four winds and I am one of the very very few WITH A LAPTOP, my little LS400 which did all kinds of emergency chores, a print server, email unit, Novell server.

Nobody could print so I swiped a Laserjet that was doing nothing, attached it direct and pointed everybody on whatever systems they did have with them as a shared printer, the least I could do under rush circumstances. Through the Novell server half, I was partly able to contact what remained of the NDS tree.

Several days later, reinforcements finally arrived...

Photo credit: Paul Paradiso

... and the long process of Ghosting new systems and reconstructing the network began.

Bob kept the little LS400, but after about three years, it succumbed to troubles with the display. Bob purchased a replacement, but the LS400 always held a special place in his heart.

A few weeks ago, Bob attached an external monitor and powered it on for old times' sake. It came up faithfully. So Bob hunted up another LS400 on eBay for $10, and combined parts from the two systems. Here are both systems (old faithful on the left — the newer one on the right):

Photo credit: Bob Eisenhardt

Bob loaded XP Pro on the combined unit, along with everything he needs for remote desktop access to client systems. His little companion is back in the saddle. Bob is donating the remainder of the original unit to the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

As slow as the reconstructed LS400 is by 2011 standards, Bob swears by his "netbook on a dime." I'm sure his feelings for the unit run much deeper than its hardware specs would warrant.

Have you ever owned a system that served you so well that it seemed to have acquired a faithful personality all its own? I know I've had more than a few systems that seemed to suffer from personality disorders. Tell us your stories in the discussion.


Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

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