Free to roam

Mobile computing options have never been so varied and so accessible, even on a modest budget.

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By  Adrian Bridgwater Published  June 22, 2008

Options for mobile computing have never been so varied and so accessible on even the most modest budget. This month WINDOWS Middle East reveals which services and products can help you work trouble-free while on the road...

Back in the mists of the very early Eighties, one of the world's first ‘portable' computers started to walk the Earth. This beast, known to scientists only by its brand name - the ominously titled Compaq Portable - weighed in at a hefty 12.5 kilos of pure computing muscle.

It's raging 128K of memory and terrifying green-screen display were only satiated once fed with two 5.25 inch floppy disks.

Challenged only in prehistory by the Osborne 1, both machines fought in the early battleground of mobile computing paleontology, as we know it.

Then, basically, the Earth cooled and we got some real mobile computing power in the nineties - so that today, in the ‘naught-ies', we have as wide a variety of mobile form factors to choose from as we do platforms, operating systems and of course applications.

In between the dinosaurs

Although we know roughly where we are right now with iPhones, BlackBerrys and smartphones being sold from retail outlets in every mall from Dubai to Doha, it's important to look at what happened in between the dinosaur era and today to see what is most likely to drive our buying decisions when it comes to the point of purchase.

The in-between years had plenty of laptop and mobile choices open up to us. But they were expensive. The manufacturers themselves were building laptops (or notebooks or mobile PCs or call them whatever you like) with all the functionality of desktop machines, or at least as much as they could cram in.

Then, a decade ago in 1988, Intel decided that it would pump out the Celeron processor for users that really only wanted to use Microsoft Word, access the Internet, keep the odd spreadsheet up to date and maybe play a few basic games.

That scaled-down thinking has, in part, influenced today's latest devices.

Although computing power is now so much higher and even the most basic units can pack a big punch, the hardware and software in these units has been more directly designed with the user in mind.

They are built to support the uses to which they will most likely be put to. In practice, this means that they are typically built to conserve battery life more efficiently, but the user can affect this factor too by running too many applications at the same time.

The 'web-book' has arrived

Setting the standard in the ‘mini' or sub-notebook market at the moment is Asus with its Eee PC 900 units. With the primary function of these units often being Internet access (they come with wireless and webcams pre-installed) they have even been described by some technologists as ‘web-books'.

Echoing the fact that the latest Asus product has been developed with user behaviour very much in mind, Asus CEO Jerry Shen said recently, "Vital feedback from a wide variety of users have been received, which has spurred us on to create more options to cater to different user requirements.

Due to its lightweight stature, most users will place the Eee PC on their laps or hold them in their hands during use.

With the addition of new user-friendly features, users will find it even more convenient to use the Eee PC."

According to Toshiba Gulf FZE, mobility is the buzzword of the moment and from a product sales point of view notebooks have already started overtaking desktops throughout the region.

The company, which lays claim to having developed the world's first notebook back in 1995, says that the functionality and capability of notebooks is constantly improving and increasing, while the design and aesthetics have also become slicker and slimmer.

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