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Roger Frost's column in 'TV Technology and Production' from when the Internet just started to get easy

A very portable computer for the Internet – HP Jornada (June 99)

I remember a school science lesson where they asked us to think about life without electricity. It would surprise me none if kids still do the same lesson today, though the new unthinkable situation is about a human trying to exist without a computer, e-mail and access to the Internet. With a long business trip coming up, I pondered to find a way to stay connected.

Something portable, elegant and simple was needed. The notebook which came to hand brought with it kilos of excess baggage and excessive function too. In contrast, an electronic organiser fitted the pocket exceptionally, but its keyboard seemed best suited to note taking. Finally appeared a portable computer, the Hewlett-Packard Jornada 820e, remarkable for its size, half-way between the two. It offered a colour screen, a decent keyboard and a built-in modem to get to the Internet. Running a version of Windows called Windows CE, it had the word processor, web browser and e-mail program that could sustain life away from base. It was a technology bridge between the palm size machine, full spec notebook and the tethered desktop. 

The Jornada travels well. If there are three things that suit it for a journey, they're its size, battery life and solid state components. The CE machine offers a similar size keyboard as an ultra thin notebook and is imminently usable. At a little over a kilo - it saves weight by not having floppy and CD-Rom drives, it's tolerably portable too. Then, as a solid state device without hard disk, it works silently in a meeting and its lithium battery runs for ten hours on a single charge. With what seemed like constant use, the Jornada needed only two to three charges a week.

With an account with an international Internet provider such as Compuserve, connecting to the net abroad was easy given research into the appropriate settings. The machine uses Pocket Internet Explorer for browsing and Pocket Outlook for collecting e-mail, address book and appointments. While it would have been simpler to use the free web-based HotMail e-mail system, the ability to reply offline with Outlook suited better. This way one could pick up mail, compose replies on a journey and connect up later to send. 

For those with the stomach for mobile phone bills, the Jornada has a PC card socket that ought to connect to a suitable mobile modem to make everything wireless. The dial-up networking features of Windows CE are versatile and work with any TCP/IP network no matter whether you connect to it through the Internet, a serial port, infra-red port or a direct dial into your PC or corporate network. However you do it, the portable can connect to your machine and synchronise diary dates, addresses and e-mail. It's very flexible, though everything needs a rehearsal before leaving base.

Waiting between connections, travel offers short rather than lengthy time blocks for work. This situation where you can only sip at your work calls for special technology. I'd liken using a desktop computer to having a full meal, while using a notebook is like having a TV supper. On the move when you work in 'snacks' - this CE device that never needs to 'boot up', and is ever ready for use is really does suit well.

The Jornada offers some intriguing frills. There's an infra-red port that can beam a file or a contact's address to another machine. When this works, and it only works when not trying to show off, this is taste of the future. Equally tasty is a utility from Trio that links to an infra-red capable mobile phone. The software sucks the address book from the phone, lets you add new numbers from Pocket Outlook and uses the portable PC to send text (or 'SMS') messages.

On this well-connected portable, fringe benefits abound. There is a USB port that ought to take countless peripherals such as a mouse or a printer. Unusually, there's a monitor socket to connect to a computer projector and thus offers the possibility of giving presentations using the Pocket Powerpoint. Because this software is display-only, and you have to make your slides on a regular machine, this can only rate as half-good. As they say, it's the thought that counts. In fact you have to adjust to the idea that CE applications such as Word, Excel and Access are no match for their full-blown counterparts. They do work better on this size machine than the palm size equivalents. 

Extremely useful was a 'compact flash card' socket where you can gain backup storage for precious files. I used the card from a digital camera - offloading photographs to the Jornada each time the card filled up. I then sent photos and files by e-mail as a sort  of offline storage.

As ever, while there are no single, right answers with technology, the Jornada served excellently as a surrogate PC - coping with an extended period of PC deprivation. If there are school pupils who haven't given thought to what such deprivation means, I wouldn't ask them questions. Just get them to give up their Sony PlayStation for a fortnight, to see what real life is like. 



Hewlett-Packard www.hp.com

Handheld PC's at www.hpc.com 

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