Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 140 / MAY 1992 / PAGE S6

25 tips from the pros. (Compute's Getting Started with Portable Computing)
by Peter Scisco

1. Simplify. Make your portable computer your main computer. If you're going to spend $2500 to $3000 on a 20MHz-386SX notebook with a 60 megabyte hard disk, modem, and portable input device, then use it as your main CPU and storage unit. You can always plug in your desktop monitor and keyboard. Quit worrying about transferring data, overwriting recent files, or backing up one hard disk to another. It's confusing and a waste of productive time. If that kind of portable computer is more power than you need, or costs more than you can afford, keep your laptop computing tasks as simple as possible.

2. Transfer only the files that you need from your desktop to your portable. Learn to use the DOS XCOPY command to distinguish the most recent file versions.

3. Mirror your desktop. Whenever possible, you should use the same applications on your laptop as you use on your desktop system. If you're limited by disk space, use applications that are compatible. For example, you might be able to use an integrated package on your laptop for word processing and spreadsheet work, and then export your data files to the desktop.

4. Carry a book disk. If for some reason your hard disk refuses to come up, you'll need a way to access your information. A repair disk might also be in order, something like The Norton Utilities, which will help you fix your hard disk if the problem isn't too severe.

5. Take along a spare battery. This is especially true if you plan to work on any plane flight longer than 2 hours, or if you know you'll have a lengthy layover and hope to get some work done at the airport.

6. If you plan to telecommunicate, take a modem connection kit with alligator clips, wires, screwdrivers (both Phillips and straight), and phone line to tap into a hotel's phone system if your room isn't equipped with a modular RJ-11 plug.

7. Before hitting the road, call ahead. Before making your hotel reservations, inquire whether your room will have a plug-in phone jack. They're essential for connecting your modem. If the hotel isn't equipped for a modem, find one that is.

8. Keep all telephone numbers, information service IDs, and system passwords in a separate place from your laptop. If you want to keep a computer file of these numbers, encrypt the file. If your computer is stolen or lost, you don't want someone else having access to your personal files.

9. If your laptop uses a rechargeable Ni-Cad battery, periodically discharge the unit completely. You can use a commercial program such as Battery Watch Pro, or disable all the power savings features and leave it on until the battery runs down. If your laptop uses a rechargeable lead acid battery, ask the manufacturer about deep discharges.

10. Carry a copy of your warranty. If you need to have your system repaired, you might be able to get the work done for free if the system is under warranty. Don't carry the original.

11. Before travelling, plan ahead. If you're going on a day trip and you know you won't be dialing into a remote service, leave your pocket modem behind. That will give you one less thing to worry about.

12. Use cable and software to transfer files. The cost of a commercial transfer program, such as LapLink Pro or HotWire, is small compared with the time involved in copying files by swapping floppy disks. Disks can get mixed up, and you might end up copying an old file over a more recent one. If you can't afford a file transfer program, use your backup program to restore a mirror image to your laptop. Remember: Commercial software is protected by copyright, and you can only use one copy of it on one machine at a time. Consult your licensing agreement.

13. Get small. If you're pressed for space on your laptop, you might try compressing some of your data files with a shareware compression program such as Pkzip or Lharc. You'll be able to fit more data onto your hard disk and unpack them when you need them. Be sure to leave enough room on your hard disk for unzipping and exploding files onto a floppy disk if your laptop has an internal floppy drive.

14. Study the Setup and Utility section in your user's manual. Many times this section will explain about the power-saving features in your laptop. If you have such features, always use them when you're running your laptop from batteries.

15. Include an identify display in your AUTOEXEC.BAT file. Consult your DOS manual to create a file that says something like: "This portable computer is the property of [Your Name, Address, and Telephone Number]. If found, please call. Reward." Use the Pause command to keep the message on the screen until you press a key. If you do lose your computer, chances are you'll never see it again. But you never know.

16. If you use your laptop for business reasons, ask your insurance agent how you can cover it for loss, theft, or damage. (Most home owner's policies don't cover business equipment.

17. Create a RAM disk. If you have enough memory--say 2 megabytes--it sometimes pays to create a RAM disk and then copy an application (a small word processor, for example) or data files to it. Reading data from memory is less of a drain on system resources than reading from a disk. Be sure to copy your data back to a floppy disk or hard disk before you shut down.

18. Consider remote computing. If your desktop and laptop computers are each equipped with a modem, you should think about setting up your desktop machine so that you can dial into it for files while you're on the road. With some remote computing programs, you can actually issue commands from a remote site to your desktop computer. Keep in mind, thought, that running programs from long distance can get expensive.

19. Use an information service. If you need to store files temporarily to make room on your laptop, upload them to yourself via CompuServe, GEnie, America Online, or some other information service. Then, when you get home, you can download the files to your computer. You can also use an information service as a kind of backup for important data files when you're travelling.

20. Travel with an extra long telephone cord. Chances are good that your hotel has placed your phone jack under the bed, which it has bolted to the wall. Unless you want to work from the floor, it's a good idea to extend your reach. Twelve feet ought to do it.

21. If you'll be using a printer at the other end of your journey, make sure your laptop software is compatible and has the right drivers. Almost all software can print to an Epson-compatible printer, and almost every printer can emulate an Epson.

22. It's all right to put your portable through the X-ray machine at the airport. But don't carry floppy disks through the metal detector. The magnetic field might corrupt the disks.

23. Never leave your laptop unattended on a table, counter, or seat. It will be the last time you see it.

24. Tape your business card to the bottom of your laptop. Put one inside the case. Use a luggage tag with your card on your carrying case. It might help if the two of you get separated.

25. If you're carrying very important data--like a do-or-die presentation--make sure you have backups. Either pack a backup copy on a floppy disk in your luggage, or upload copy to a bulletin board where you can get to it. If the data can be printed, take a hard copy with you. Leave a copy with someone at work or at home--they can fax it to you in case of an emergency.