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Future of the notebook

By Gary H. Anthes and Bob Brewin
November 18, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Steal a notebook computer from McKesson Corp. and you may be surprised to find that the data on its hard drive has self-destructed in your hands. "We have a security application that says things like, 'Too many failed log-in attempts, nuke the data,' " says Bruce Kantelis, vice president for mobile computing at McKesson in Alpharetta, Ga.

Giving central IT shops the ability to reach out to mobile computers - to destroy stolen information before it can be read, update applications automatically or repair damage from viruses and other causes - is just one of the trends that will reshape the portable PC over the next five years.

Meanwhile, notebook processors will double in power every two years, to 12 GHz in five years, predict industry observers. Disks will shrink and may be replaced by solid-state memory. Displays will grow clearer, brighter and more energy-efficient and may even unfold to desktop size.

The efficiency of batteries will improve, but perhaps not enough to keep up with power-hungry applications such as multimedia and wireless communications.

Overall, the future of portable computers lies along two axes, as defined by the work habits of users.

"For some, the notebook is primarily a desktop in the office and a notebook at home," says Kantelis. "Then you have the real traveler, the road warrior."

Computer makers say they'll differentiate their products for those two groups. For the mostly office-bound user, they plan to make and portables with large screens, the most powerful CPUs, limited battery life and docking stations. Road warriors will get smaller and lighter units with all-day batteries but less powerful processors.

Strange and wondrous hybrids will hit the market, too, but most will quickly disappear or find niche applications. But whatever type of portable PC they prefer, users will be the winners because they'll see more choices, more capabilities and lower prices.

Form and Function

Tablet PCs will take several forms, including this
Tablet PCs will take several forms, including this "single slab" style from Taiwan's PaceBlade Technologies.
Tablets, a third category of portable PC, will soon join notebooks and subnotebooks. "It's the middle ground between the traditional clamshell notebook design and the small form factor designs like PDAs," says Matthew Wagner, product marketing manager at Hewlett-Packard Co.

Microsoft Corp. is beating the tablet drum, recently introducing the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system (see story). HP and others plan to offer devices based on XP Tablet by the end of the year.

A Tablet PC is about the size of a legal pad and includes a digital pen for handwritten data entry and navigation. Its advocates say it will be just the thing for the most mobile workers, including those who work standing up and those who just don't like to type.


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