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Commentary: Mobile Computing 2004; Laptop of the Month

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==== Commentary: Mobile Computing 2004; Laptop of the Month ====
by Paul Thurrott, News Editor, thurrott@winnetmag.com

We enter Q2 2004 with unprecedented mobile technology choices. In addition to ever-improving notebook computers and Tablet PCs, most business and IT workers use powerful, PC-connected cell phones and smart phones and have access to other highly mobile devices, such as personal data assistants (PDAs), BlackBerry devices, and the like. If anything, we're hitting a bit of an inflection point: Just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should. And as many busy travelers will tell you, bringing a bag full of devices on a trip often causes as many headaches as it solves.

Responding to this proliferation of mobile options, device makers are finally consolidating functionality. Today, for example, you can buy a smart phone that includes an integrated digital camera and, thanks to Secure Digital (SD) card expansion and a software media player, can double as an iPod-like digital music player. Add Global Positioning System (GPS) functionality--both the hardware and software parts--and you have an all-in-wonder device that does it all. You can even grab an external keyboard for many models and use it to take notes in Pocket Word (Pocket PC) or a Word-like application (Palm OS).

But, as I've always noted, mobile devices are a study in compromise, because of size, capabilities, and most damningly, battery life. Although most people would probably be well-served by the limited version of Microsoft Word that ships with most Pocket PCs and Windows-powered smart phones, most people aren't the types of business travelers that would even own such a device, and those people need something a little more powerful for their word processing needs. So they bring a laptop, further burdening them on the road.

I've been a regular business traveler for almost a decade, and I've struggled with the proliferation of devices during that time, each promising to solve all my problems. When handheld PCs--the clamshell-like devices that predated Pocket PCs--appeared, I wondered whether such a machine, with its lightweight and excellent battery life, could replace a laptop on the road. For me, they couldn't: As noted earlier, the Pocket Word version included with the devices was too limited, the memory capacity was too small to handle my email, and the connectivity options were almost nonexistent. Today's Pocket PC devices are more powerful and far more connected, but their small screens make them inefficient for desktop-type work: a classic technological catch-22.

I need a full-featured Windows XP laptop, in the smallest possible form factor. I've always jealously watched my contemporaries from the Far East type away on tiny laptops that aren't sold here in the United States, not that it would matter--my large hands would render such a device useless. I've reviewed several subnotebooks over the years, and in 2003, the IBM ThinkPad X30 series was, perhaps, the ultimate travel companion. Small, light, and powerful, the X31 could be configured at less than 4 pounds, yet had a full-sized keyboard and killer battery life. It didn't seem that IBM--or any other company--could make such a device any smaller and still have it serve the US market.

I was wrong, of course. At COMDEX 2003 in Las Vegas, Nevada, last November, IBM gave me a preview of its ThinkPad X40 series, which finally debuted in February. The ThinkPad X40 series is even smaller than the X30 series, thanks to a unique edge-to-edge keyboard design, and it gets even better battery life than the earlier devices. The style is classic IBM: sleek, black, and high quality. Intrigued, I scheduled a review and eagerly anticipated its arrival. Personally, the timing was good: I need to purchase a personal-use notebook, and I want something small, fast, and light. Maybe, I thought, the X40 would be it.

Naturally, mobility comes at a price: At less than 3 pounds in its base configuration, the X40 can't use the powerful Pentium M 1.4GHz to 1.7GHz processor found in its X30 brethren. Instead, it uses an Ultra Low Voltage (ULV) Pentium M running at 1.0 or 1.2GHz. Because 1.7GHz Pentium M chips outperform all but the fastest Pentium 4 chips, I was hopeful that the ULV chips would be adequate performers--and for most people, they are: For business applications like Word and Excel, the tiny X40 performs admirably.

If you need to use performance-oriented applications, however, the ULV Pentium M comes up short. I found the system inadequate for Adobe Photoshop work or running Virtual PC virtual machines, even with a healthy dose of RAM. I don't see this shortcoming as much of a problem--a machine this small is clearly designed for mobility over performance--but it's something to keep in mind.

Aside from that performance concern, the X40 has proven to be a near-perfect device. Like virtually all subnotebooks, it features a 12" XGA 1024 x 768 pixel screen, which I consider the minimum useful resolution for running XP. It ships with at least 256MB of RAM, though my unit included a more palatable 512MB of RAM. The unit has a 40GB hard disk (fantastic for a machine of this size) and includes gigabit and wireless networking, optional Bluetooth technology, and a handy integrated SD card slot. (The X30 features a less-useful CompactFlash slot).

Like the X30, the X40 benefits from a removable media slice--a slab you can dock to the bottom of the unit--that adds optical disk expansion. My unit includes a CD-RW/DVD combination drive, but you can choose from a wide range of drives, from a simple CD-ROM drive to DVD burner. You can also choose between regular-capacity and high-capacity batteries, the latter of which provides a whopping 10 hours of juice. If battery life and size are your primary concerns, you simply can't do better than the X40.

The X40's keyboard, although a bit smaller than that of the X30, is still adequate and of the expected IBM quality. Again, I have pretty big hands, so getting used to the new keyboard took a while, but I was soon typing away, with only a minimum of mistakes. However, after a few hours of work, fatigue kicked in, and it's pretty clear that, for me, the X40's keyboard is smaller than the minimum size my hands require.

For most people, however, keyboard size won't be a concern, and I was struck again and again by the stunning battery life this machine provides. Like all mobile devices before it, the X40 is a study in compromise, but it's a compromise most business travelers will likely make quite happily. Configurable from $1400 to about $2500, the IBM ThinkPad X40 has raised my expectations about what a notebook computer can be. I highly recommend it.

Incidentally, you might be wondering what I've decided to do about a notebook. For my home office, I prefer a large, desktop-like notebook such as Dell's stunning Latitude D800 model, but for the road, I need something small and fast, with fantastic battery life. Not coincidentally, IBM will continue selling the ThinkPad X30 because it addresses a slightly different need than the recently introduced X40. Unless something dramatic happens in the next 30 days, the X30 will likely be my next notebook.

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==== Hot Off the Press ====
by Paul Thurrott, thurrott@winnetmag.com

BBB Tells Apple to Halt Misleading Ads
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) recommended that Apple Computer stop advertising its Power Mac G5 as "the world's fastest personal computer" after reviewing tests that refute that claim. Acting on a tip from Dell, the BBB told Apple that its advertising could deceive consumers, who need to base their purchases on accurate information. For the complete story, visit the following URL:
http://www.winnetmag.com/article/articleid/42165/42165.html

==== Keeping Up with Win2K and NT ====
by Paula Sharick, paula@winnetmag.com

SBS 2003 Shutdown Problems; Terminal Services License Mode Reset; an NTP Problem; and More
If you’re preparing to deploy Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) 2003, you should be aware of two problems that can cause the server to shut down improperly. In the first case, the SBS installer incorrectly defines the registry value entry that controls the amount of time the system waits for services to stop before initiating a shutdown. The WaitToKillServiceEntry value is located in the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control registry subkey. This value should be defined as a string of data type REG_SZ, but the installer incorrectly defines it as a REG_DWORD type. When you shut down the system, the shutdown process interprets the incorrect data type WaitToKillServiceEntry as zero milliseconds and immediately stops system processes. The immediate stop prevents running services related to Web access or email from completing pending work and can result in lost data or compromised files. To correct the problem, you need to delete, then recreate the WaitToKillServiceEntry as a REG_SZ data type with an initial value of 120000 milliseconds and reboot. After you make this change, the SBS shutdown procedure waits 2 minutes to allow services to stop cleanly before restarting the system. This problem is documented in the Microsoft article "Services may stop abruptly when you shut down or restart a Windows Small Business Server 2003-based computer" (http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=839262).

WEB-EXCLUSIVE ARTICLES: The following items are posted on the Windows & .NET Magazine Web site. For the complete story, use the following link and scroll to the appropriate article.
http://www.winnetmag.com/article/articleid/42176/42176.html


- Windows Server 2003 Resets Terminal Services License Mode
- Windows Server 2003 NTP Problem
- Windows 2000 Server SP4 Corrupts Event Logs
- Windows 2000 Wireless Client Hotfix

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==== Instant Poll ====

Results of Previous Poll: Software Update Services
The voting has closed in Windows & .NET Magazine's nonscientific Instant Poll for the question, "Does your organization use Microsoft Software Update Services (SUS) to keep computers up-to-date?" Here are the results from the 389 votes:
- 54% Yes
- 7% No, we use a different Microsoft patch-management solution
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- 25% We don't use a patch-management solution

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The next Instant Poll question is, "Can you access enterprise applications from your mobile device?" Go to the Windows & .NET Magazine home page and submit your vote for a) Yes, or b) No.
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==== Resources ====

Tip: How can I use Group Policy to disable System Restore in Windows XP and later?
by John Savill, http://www.windows2000faq.com

System Restore is a systemwide setting. As a result, you must disable it at the Computer Configuration level by performing the following steps:
1. Load the policy that you want to modify. For example, go to Start, Programs, Administrative Tools, Active Directory Users and Computers; right-click a domain; select Properties; select the Group Policy tab; then create a new policy or edit an existing policy.
2. Navigate to Computer Configuration, Administrative Templates, System, System Restore.
3. Double-click "Turn off System Restore," set it to Enabled, then click OK.
4. Close the policy.

The change will take effect at the next policy refresh.

==== Events Central ====
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New Web Seminar--Preemptive Email Security: How Enterprise Rent-A-Car Eliminates Spam
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http://www.winnetmag.com/seminars/emailsecurity/index.cfm?code=emailannc ==== New and Improved ====
by Carolyn Mader, products@winnetmag.com

Simplify Your Repackaging Process
ITripoli announced PackageCleaner, a software add-in for your repacking process. PackageCleaner makes you aware of any potentially troublesome files or registry entries and provides you with a simple way to remove the troubled files. The software costs $249 or $399 if you purchase it with a year's worth of program updates (including major version releases).
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Automatically Update Your Vulnerabilities
Beadwindow! announced ZNQ3 SoftPatch, a policy-driven patch-management solution that automatically updates your OS and application vulnerabilities before hackers can exploit them. ZNQ3 SoftPatch is available as a software solution or a preconfigured appliance. The software solution costs between $6 and $65 depending on length of subscription and number of nodes, and the SoftPatch appliance starts at $6100 for 100 to 499 nodes. Contact Beadwindow! at 603-626-7055.
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