By Mike Elgan, Editor; Lori L. Bloomer, Associate Editor; Jim Forbes, Silicon Valley Bureau Editor; John J. Yacono, Technical Editor; Howard Marks, Contributor
Windows 95 is by far the best operating system ever created for mobile computing. It's loaded with goodies specifically designed for life on the road: the Battery Meter, Phone Dialer, Dial-Up Networking, Microsoft Fax, Direct Cable Connection, the Briefcase, Offline Printing and more. And standard Win95 features like Plug and Play and built-in disk compression are especially helpful when you're far from home and office.
If you were using a laptop as both a mobile and desktop machine before Windows 95, you probably thought it was a wonderful concept--in principle. But in reality, it was most likely a royal pain in the apps.
A docking station used with a Windows 3.1x machine required a different set of system configuration files for every new piece of hardware you added. DOS and Windows 3.1x made it difficult to change any hardware configurations. Adding peripherals like CD-ROMs and external monitors, not to mention connecting to a network, was an exercise in character-building to say the least.
Things are different with Win95. You've no doubt heard folks grumble about how much hard disk space the OS consumes. What you don't hear is how much of that space is taken up by handy files and utilities. The Win95 communications utilities and other mobile-computing features make life on the road a lot easier. In the dark ages (before Win95), you had to spend lots of time, money and storage space on software packages for file transfer, e-mail, remote access, terminal emulation and faxing. The combination of Win95's built-in applets and the Plus Pack can fill all those needs and then some.
Using Dial-Up Networking, you can connect to a variety of remote nodes, including Windows NT RAS, NetWare Connect and PPP servers. Once you install Dial-Up Networking, Win95 treats your modem like a LAN card, so you can dial into the server on your LAN or into your Internet service provider. It uses the standard protocol for each type of server and can even automate your network operating system log-on for your NetWare or NT Server file servers.
Each dial-up connection you create has all the information it needs, including phone number, the type of server at the other end, your account information and password for that server, and even protocol-specific information like your PC's IP address and the DNS server for that connection. Once a connection is created, all you need to do to get online is double-click on the icon. Win95 will even make your Dial-Up Networking connections automatically.
If you need a simple dial-in solution for your home PC or LAN, Microsoft Plus's RNA (Remote Network Access) server lets you turn a Win95 machine into a Dial-Up Networking server. Microsoft's new Unimodem V driver allows a modem to differentiate between fax and data calls. Unfortunately, those features haven't been completely implemented in the applets.
Straight out of the box, Dial-Up Networking automatically establishes connections with PPP servers, but only if they support PAP (Password Authentication Protocol) or CHAP (Challenge-Handshake Authentication Protocol). If you want to connect to a PPP server that requires a plain-text log-on, as do some local Internet service providers, you have to log on manually through a terminal window.
Microsoft remedies this problem with a scripting tool that's available on the Plus Pack CD or from the company's Web site (http://www.microsoft.com). The tool also allows you to set up a script to automatically enter your account name and password at connection time.
Direct Cable Connection, which uses the serial port as a LAN card, is an extension of the Dial-Up Networking concept. With a direct connection, you can hook up two Win95 systems via the serial or parallel port, and then access one computer's hard disk from the other. Since a direct cable connection is just a conduit for the IPX, TCP/IP or NetBEUI network protocol, the system acting as the direct cable connection host needs to be running File and Printer Sharing services for either NetWare or Microsoft networks, and the system accessing the host must be running the appropriate client.
The best thing about traveling with Win95 is that Exchange, MSN, Dial-Up Networking, Phone Dialer, Fax and Hyper Terminal all use TAPI (Telephony Application Programming Interface), so you can program it to do things across the board. For example, you can set it to always use your calling card to avoid excessive long-distance charges.
The TAPI dialer allows you to build a library of home locations. Each entry has an area code, a string to dial to get an outside line, calling card information and other pertinent data. When you tell a TAPI application to dial, it's smart enough to know if the number you're dialing is in the same area code.
You can run multiple TAPI apps at the same time, and they will gracefully manage access to your modem. Without TAPI, you'd have to close your fax program to dial out to the Internet, then remember to restart the fax program to accept incoming faxes. If you use MS Fax and want to set up another TAPI-compliant applet to connect to the Internet or a LAN, this applet will request the modem from Fax, then hand it back when the task is finished.
Since MS Fax is part of Exchange, it's easy to create a mail message that can be delivered to MS Mail, Internet mail and Fax recipients all at once--at least in theory. Anyone who needs hard copy on the road can fax a document to a hotel's front desk, avoiding the need to carry a printer. If you send a fax message to someone running any other Microsoft at Work-compatible fax program, like WinFax PRO, it will automatically be sent as a file rather than a fax image. That means Win95 is simply using the Fax protocol to send point-to-point e-mail.
MS Fax is nice--and the price is right-but it's not about to put Delrina and other fax software vendors out of business. It's slow at rendering text and doesn't use multiple threads as well as it could. Even though it comes with a cover-page editor, it doesn't have the library of cover-page options or other delivery features of a full-fledged standalone fax program like WinFax. MS Fax is a good place to start, however.
Using drivers and scripts on the Win95 CD, Exchange will access CompuServe mail as well. All you have to do is hook up a modem, run Exchange and use the remote-mail function to connect to each mailbox in turn.
In practice, the Win95 Briefcase is just a special folder. In addition to serving as a holding pen for files, it also keeps track of the files' home locations and the date they were last modified. When you open the Briefcase, Win95 compares the state of the files there with their synchronized copies and allows you to update them.
When you choose Update on the File menu, your Briefcase will copy any file that has changed. It will replace the older version with the newer one, asking for your approval before continuing. If the copy of the file in the home location is newer than the one in the Briefcase, the file is copied over the one in the Briefcase. If the file was deleted from its original location, it will be deleted from the Briefcase.
Since the Briefcase simply copies its component files from one location to another, it cannot resolve changes independently if both copies of the file have been changed since the file was added or last updated. If that happens, the Briefcase will inform you and call up an optional file resolver to merge the updates.
Once you install the Briefcase feature, all you have to do to create a new Briefcase is right-click on the desktop and select Briefcase from the New menu.
In Win95, print jobs wait in the print queue until you connect to a printer and release them. That means you can write--and print--10 letters during a coast-to-coast flight. Your Win95 notebook will just hang on to them until you connect it to a printer, then print them all out.
But wait! There's more! The Win95 Battery Meter shows a graphic of a battery on the taskbar that tells you how much juice your system has left. However, this feature works only if your PC supports Intel's Advanced Power Management.
The Phone Dialer applet dials numbers for you from your portable, and even enters your calling card numbers. Unfortunately, Phone Dialer doesn't import Schedule+ and Exchange address book information.
Win95 is a great mobile operating system. But you're also going to need some great hardware and perhaps a bit more software, plus some streetwise tips from our team of veteran road warriors. Let's start with some tips on how to buy a notebook that will be your perfect travel companion.
You don't need the wisdom of Solomon, the wealth of Midas or the luck of the Irish to buy the right Win95 notebook PC. It's enough to know two things: what you need and what's being offered in the notebook market.
Many of mobile computing's technological underpinnings are in a state of flux. For example, most analysts believe that dual-scan color displays will be used only on the least expensive machines by year's end. Also, most notebook manufacturers say they will launch new lines of machines with 11.3- and 12.1-inch screens this year.
Intel is expected to increase the frequency of portable Pentium launches, as well as the speed of the chips themselves. By the end of 1996, a high-end notebook (which will set you back between $4,400 and $6,000) will have a 150MHz processor, a 12.1-inch active-matrix color screen, and an internal 4X CD-ROM drive, and will ship standard with 16MB or more of RAM.
If you plan to use your new notebook for presentations, buy one with a large active-matrix color screen. At the moment, you won't see many systems with 12.1-inch or larger screens, but they will become more common this year.
Some downsides to owning these big, beautiful screens: They suck power like Las Vegas at night, and their cost is generally prohibitive. In addition, many notebook graphics controllers don't support full-size displays on 12.1-inch panels. If you don't need intense graphics, you'll save a lot of money by buying a portable with a smaller screen and a dual-scan display.
Sound quality is another, if lesser, consideration when choosing a notebook. Some notebooks sound like Carnegie Hall, while others sound like tinny AM radios. Virtually any notebook today ships with an internal speaker, but only a handful of manufacturers offer two quality speakers. Of these, only NEC's Versa 4000 puts its speakers atop its display case, improving sound during presentations.
If weight is an issue, you may want to look at the new ultra-compact notebooks. These machines weigh less than 5 pounds, but they often have no built-in floppy disk drive. They also don't use the latest processor technology, and generally come with smaller screens. Ultra-compacts cost $2,500 and up.
Right now, the 133MHz Pentium is the top-of-the-line portable--until the end of the year, when Intel will ship a 150MHz Pentium for notebooks. Sometime in early 1997, the company will release a new class of Pentium processor called the P55C, which is designed to run multimedia applications more efficiently. Cyrix Corp. and AMD/NexGen are also working on portable-specific chips with clock speeds in the same range as those made by Intel.
Two new peripheral devices may soon be standard on portable computers: fast CD-ROM drives and Digital Simultaneous Voice and Data (DSVD) modems.
A new type of portable CD-ROM drive slips into an internal dock on the notebook's body. If you anticipate adding applications to your system, make sure that any notebook you buy either comes with a quad-speed or faster CD-ROM, or will accept an external drive.
The next generation of high-speed modems will allow you to send voice and data simultaneously, and will become available later this year. With a DSVD modem and a small video camera, you'll be able to take your video teleconferencing just about anywhere.
Even if teleconferencing isn't on your list of travel tasks, you need a reliable, powerful modem. Here are a few guidelines that should help you make a wise buy.
External modems, on the other hand, install easily and often have LED indicators. On the downside, they require a recent UART (like the 16550) in the system, a free serial port, a serial cable (which is almost never bundled with a modem) and a little more cash-but on the plus side, you can use the same external modem at home or on the road.
Though this area of computer telephony has no real standards, it's likely that some form of DSVD will dominate the field. In the last year or so, several proprietary schemes-all called DSVD, but adhering to no consistent standard-have popped up. They're not intercompatible, so unless you're setting up a point-to-point operation, a proprietary DSVD is not worth consideration.
The International Telecommunications Union has charged to the rescue and established a true standard for DSVD called V.61. Rockwell has a chipset to support this so-called MediLink technology, and more than 150 vendors are already on board. This standardized, heavily supported form of DSVD might be worth the wait. If you can't wait, the new Rockwell standard should indicate to you that the proprietary DSVD "standards" are probably not worth the extra expense over a more conventional modem.
Life on the road can be brutal. Your portable gear takes a beating. The hotel may have funky or ancient phone equipment. And let's face it: Stuff happens. You can't fully control your on-the-road computing environment, and you can't prevent accidents. But you can prepare for the worst.
First and foremost, you'll need a suitable notebook case. Depending on the type of mobile computing you do, and how much abuse your notebook will take, you'll want either a very durable, lightweight case or a hard-sided suitcase-style carrier. As far as light, soft cases go, Wetsuit cases from Kensington (800-535-4242, 415-572-2700) are hard to beat-they're made of neoprene, and are both durable and waterproof. PORT (800-242-3133) makes a series of hard-sided laptop bags that protect your machine through even the roughest baggage check.
Now, let's fill that case with survival gear. Some companies specialize in kits for mobile communications, with acoustic couplers, screwdrivers, plastic RJ-11 jacks and in-line duplex adapters, and standard phone cables. Purchase one of these as a foundation for your survival kit. Konexx (303-696-6367, fax 303-696-7067), Road Warrior (800-274-4277 x730, 714-418-1400) and Noteworthy (800-959-4100) make these kits. In addition, you should do the following:
Working on the road doesn't need to be a hardship, so long as you're prepared for the occasional mishap. Even in the midst of the breakneck pace of the aver-age business trip, you don't have to compromise on computing power and performance.
With the advice provided here, it's a simple matter to get connected, stay in touch and keep up to date.
The computing power and versatility you need can tag along with you easily when you travel. Even when you're thousands of miles away from the home office, using Win95 combined with a liberal helping of our travel tips will make your hotel room work just as efficiently as the office.
|Airline||Service Provider||% Of Fleet Equipped||# of Phones||Charges||Information Phone #|
|Alaska||AT&T Wireless||100||1 per seat in first and business;|
average 1 per 3 seats in coach
|$2.50 setup+ $2.99 per minute||1-800-252-4783|
|America West||In-Flight Phone Corp.||90||1 per seat; part of an in-flight entertainment option that includes individual VGA screens||$2.50 setup + $2.99 per minute; customers need to purchase a cord for $7.50, which includes 3 free minutes of airtime||1-800-|
|American||AT&T Wireless||100||1 per seat in first and business;|
average 1 per 3 seats in coach
|$2.50 setup+ $2.79 per minute||1-800-252-4783|
|Continental||In-Flight Phone Corp.||15||1 per seat; part of an in-flight entertainment option that includes individual VGA screens||$2.50 setup + $2.99 per minute; customers need to purchase a cord for $7.50, which includes 3 free minutes of airtime||1-800-|
|Delta and Delta Shuttle||GTE AirFone||100||1 per seat in first and business;|
average 1 per 3 seats in coach
|Voice, data and fax: flat $15 fee per call; no setup charge||1-800-AIRFONE|
|Midwest Express||GTE AirFone||Just starting||same as above||Voice, data and fax: flat $15 fee per call; no setup charge||1-800-AIRFONE|
|Northwest||AT&T Wireless||100||same as above||Voice, data and fax: flat $15 fee per call; no setup charge||1-800-252-4783|
|Reno Air||GTE AirFone||100||same as above||Voice, data and fax: flat $15 fee per call; no setup charge||1-800-AIRFONE|
|Southwest||AT&T Wireless||100||same as above||Voice, data and fax: flat $15 fee per call; no setup charge||1-800-252-4783|
|TWA||GTE AirFone||50||same as above||Voice, data and fax: flat $15 fee per call; no setup charge||1-800-AIRFONE|
|United||GTE AirFone||100||same as above||Voice, data and fax: flat $15 fee per call; no setup charge||1-800-AIRFONE|
|U.S. Air Shuttle||GTE AirFone||100||same as above||Voice, data and fax: flat $15 fee per call; no setup charge||1-800-AIRFONE|