Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Case for Notebook Computers?

It seems that everybody has a notebook computer nowadays. Why is that? How do people justify paying 50% more for the “benefits and features” of a notebook? It is a mystery.

What are the benefits and features that are unique to notebook computers? There is just one. It is mobility potential. With a notebook computer you have the potential to use your computer whenever and wherever you like. Potential is seduction. Reality is disappointment and regret.

The barriers to real mobile computing are significant. Buying a notebook is only the first step. It is the easy part. More difficult is integrating a notebook into the way you work and live so that you have your notebook at hand, charged and ready with the files you need, when the time arrives to use it “on the road.” A notebook cannot serve as a mobile computer if you leave it at the office or if it is not charged when you want to use it unplugged.

Taking a notebook computer into the real world introduces it to a wide array of factors that limit its usefulness. For example, try using a full-size notebook on an airplane. You’ll find that when the person in the seat in front of you reclines his/her seat, you cannot open your notebook far enough to use it. Try using a notebook outdoors or in a brightly lighted environment. You’ll find that you cannot see the screen. Excessive heat and humidity can slow a notebook to a crawl and/or damage it. Connecting a notebook to the Internet while on the go can be highly problematic. Trying to get your notebook to synchronize with someone else’s projector for a presentation can involve embarrassing delays, if not a complete failure.

Often unappreciated by buyers are the sacrifices that go with owning a notebook computer. Ergonomically, notebooks are a disaster. You have to learn to keep your thumbs up when you type to avoid tapping the touch pad, making the cursor jump around the screen, garbling what you are typing. Few people can use a notebook all day without an external keyboard and monitor. Poor ergonomics translates into discomfort, reduced productivity and higher rates of repetitive stress injuries for notebook owners.

To realize the potential of mobile computing, you have to carry your notebook with you everywhere you go. Depending upon how much and how far you have to carry your notebook, it will frequently seem heavy and bulky. In addition, your notebook will weigh on your mind as you travel about. Knowing that you are carrying an expensive piece of equipment which contains valuable information means that you have to be attentive to it and vigilant against any threats to it. God forbid it gets lost, stolen or damaged. Then what? That depends on what you have on the machine and whether you have it backed up. If you have your tax return and/or valuable business information stored on the laptop and it has not been backed up, you could be in big trouble.

Let’s assume that you’ve done the math, and it turns out that a notebook computer is right for you. Perhaps you are a student who can touch-type 80 words a minute, and you are going to use it to take notes in classes. Here are a few valuable suggestions:

  • Require a user name and password to boot the notebook so that if the machine is lost or stolen, it cannot be easily operated.
  • You have valuable and/or confidential information on the hard disk, so encrypt the disk. Otherwise, if the notebook falls into the wrong hands, it will not be hard to read the disk and steal your identity.
  • Set up automated online/network backups of your data files to minimize costs and disruptions when something bad happens to your notebook.

For most people, the decision to buy a notebook computer is a mistake. But people have the ability to rationalize almost anything. And denial is a common trap that people fall into. So, it is likely that people will continue to buy notebooks in spite of reason and experience.

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