Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 132 / AUGUST 1991 / PAGE 6

Editorial license. (portable computers) (editorial)
by Peter Scisco

If you make your living out on the road, the current surfeit of small, light, powerful computer products offers a distinct advantage over the tools of five years ago. Then, computers powerful enough to include hard disks and state-of-art displays were called portables without any sense of irony whatsoever.

The last five years have brought marked improvements to the world of portable computers. Each iteration makes use of new technologies and draws upon new engineering designs, both aesthetic and practical.

We have moved rapidly along the scale from transportables and luggables to notebooks and palmtops. In each case, our computing power has grown with steady insistence. This increase in power isn't merely an increase in the functionality of the computer's processor chip; it's also an increase in the computer's practical use.

When we take our computers with us, we have access to facts that serve to enlighten our choices. Those data range from workaday files to network access to electronic mail--the possibilities are nearly endless.

Time is one of our most precious commodities--easily squandered, jealously guarded, bitterly regretted. Portable computers can help people make the most of their time, a fact not lost on a public that's snatching up these machines at a furious clip.

No longer does the office stop at the parking lot exit or at the end of the driveway. With the latest in portable computers, you can time-shift your daily workload to create quality time for your family.

If you're a gung-ho home-based entrepreneur looking for an edge, these small computers can make you competitive with the big boys down the freeway.

An what of the rest of the consumer public? What about those people who aren't involved on the executive level in business, who aren't running a business from their homes? What role will portables play in their lives?

The engineering feats that have brought computers down to the size of paperback books ripple out over the technolandscape to influence the shape of life in the coming years. Electronic organizers, confined now to the executive market, will no doubt become commonplace among the rest of the public once they become easier to use and are less expensive.

In a classic repeat of the generational pattern, it is our children--with their enthusiastic adoption of handheld videogames--that indicate where we are going.

It's not too hard to imagine, given recent developments in various technological areas, living in an electronically linked world that is as routine as the world of television and telephones we live in today.

If Alexander Graham Bell envisioned such a world 150 years ago, it's hard to guess what shape it held in his mind and whether his vision resembled the communication networks we accept today. We have come to expect instant access--by airwaves, cables, and wires--to global and personal events.

Advances in user interfaces promise to make portable computers--in whatever shape--more palatable to the public at large and more effective in the hands of the technoworker.

Advances in cellular technology will make today's pocket pagers and mobile phones seem quaint compared with the portable into stations of tomorrow.

Flat panel displays and portable CD readers may finally usher in the age of the "docking station," as yet an ungainly collection of multiple peripherals.

Recently, during a late night spate of bleary-eyed video grazing, I came across a show that portrayed the future as a world where solitude had been traded for total access. That cheerless world view is but one description of how our tools can define our selves. Still, it poses a large question that rightfully accompanies all technological developments--no matter how small the package.