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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | COMPUTER BASICS / KIM KOMANDO

Things to Keep in Mind When on the Road

November 18, 1996|KIM KOMANDO | Kim Komando is a Fox TV host, syndicated talk radio host and founder of the Komputer Klinic on America Online (keyword KOMANDO). She can be reached via e-mail at komando@komando.com

Being on the road used to mean being out of touch. Now laptop and notebook computers put your office as close as your fingertips wherever you go. But getting the most out of them sometimes means a little extra effort, and maybe even a little extra money.

If you have Windows 95 on both your desktop and laptop systems (which you should), you have a very useful, free utility built right into your system. It's called "My Briefcase," and it's found on the Windows 95 desktop.

The first time you open the briefcase program, the briefcase setup wizard appears. Let the wizard help you configure your briefcase, but here's how it works. You simply add files from your desktop system to your Windows 95 electronic briefcase. Then copy the whole desktop briefcase (by floppy, modem or whatever) to your laptop.

Afterward, Windows 95 automatically keeps track of which system has the latest version of each file and updates each system when you tell it to. That way, you'll never have to wonder which system has the latest version of your appointment calendar or a report; Windows 95 will figure it out for you.

Windows 95 has another feature especially designed for road warriors who travel without a printer: offline printing. With offline printing activated, you can "print" a file to your hard drive. Once you get back to your office and hook up to a printer, all the documents you printed offline will queue up and begin to print for real.

To set up offline printing, from the Windows 95 "Start" menu, select "'Settings," then open the "Printers" folder. Select the printer you want to print to when you are at home or in the office. From the "File" menu, select "Work Offline." Now when you send a document to this printer, it will be stored until you turn the printer online by selecting the "Work Offline" command again.

Even though Windows 95 makes it much easier to juggle files between two systems, the ultimate solution is to have one computer that serves both as a desktop and portable system--in other words, a portable computer with a docking station.

A docking station is a device that holds all the stuff your laptop PC left out, like expansion slots and extra ports. You can add expansion cards, a full-size keyboard, a large monitor and other external devices to the docking station. Then when you plug your laptop into the docking station, it's suddenly transformed into a complete desktop system with all these features at its disposal.

Pricewise, dockable systems aren't for everyone. But on the other hand, when you compare the cost of configuring two separate systems, then figure in the added convenience of only having to manage a single system, it's an attractive solution.

As I've discovered myself, one of the biggest challenges of being out on the road is keeping in touch with the home office. The whole key to that, of course, is a modem. You can get an internal one in most laptops, or you can get a machine with one or more PC card slots (formerly known as a PCMCIA). PC card slots accept little expansion cards, including modems that pack all the punch of any full-size modem.

Naturally, a modem won't do you much good if you can't plug it in somewhere. If you're willing to pay the piper, some hotels offer full-blown business suites stocked with computers, fax machines, copiers and printers. At the very least, you should call ahead and make sure your hotel room has a modular phone jack for a modem connection. You might also want to bring along, just for convenience, a modular Y adapter, a small, cheap connector that lets you plug both a telephone and a modem into the same jack.

But what if the nearest phone jack is 100 miles away and you need to fire off a fax or e-mail? If you often find yourself in situations like this, consider a wireless modem. Although they're not cheap (almost $500), they work directly with a wireless packet radio provider like RadioMail or Wyndmail. This will give you instant e-mail access from just about any point on the U.S. map.

If you're looking for full Internet access without the wires, you may be disappointed, at least for the time being. The easy answer to this is a cellular modem. The problem is that the cellular system wasn't originally designed for the transmission of large data files and doesn't work that well. New wireless services known as personal communications services, or PCS, will help solve this problem, though they're not yet available in most places.

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