Is a Win2K Pro notebook right for you?

I've been testing Windows 2000 Professional (Win2K Pro) on a notebook PC that I borrowed, and the OS has been a pleasure to work with—a huge improvement over Windows NT 4.0 on a notebook. However, you might not want to invest in a notebook that can run Win2K Pro, even if you travel a lot. In that case, I've also found a less expensive alternative that might meet your needs.

Notebooks and NT

Notebooks were never NT's strong suit. After all, Microsoft designed NT to scale up for operation on servers. NT boots slowly, and version 3.51 and earlier lack any vestige of power-management or Plug and Play (PnP) support. Microsoft added features (e.g., hardware profiles, a briefcase folder for synchronized files, PC Card support) to NT 4.0 to support notebook users. Unfortunately, NT 4.0 showed up after Windows 95, which included PnP support and built-in power management. As a result, most notebook PCs introduced after Win95 either didn't support NT 4.0 or provided a poor experience because the vendor designed the notebook for use with Win95. Win2K Pro offers notebook-friendly features and avoids the problems that NT had with notebooks.

Hardware Profiles
Hardware profiles is a Win2K Pro notebook-centric feature that is a holdover from NT 4.0. Using hardware profiles, you can store multiple system configurations in the Registry and select the one you want to use at boot. You can use this feature to store a docked configuration to use when you're in the office and an undocked configuration when you're on the road. The docked configuration can include network connections and an external monitor, and the undocked configuration can omit network support, except dial-up connections.

To access hardware profiles, go to the Control Panel System applet. Open the System applet, select the Hardware tab, and click Hardware Profiles. You'll see the Hardware Profiles dialog box, which Screen 1, page 174, shows. By default, the dialog box shows only one profile. To create a new profile, click Copy and type a name for the new profile.

You can change the current profile's system settings (e.g., change the display settings to provide a high-resolution display on an external monitor, use Device Manager to disable devices). The Registry will record your changes, and the changes will affect the current profile. The next time you start Win2K Pro, you'll have the option to select either the current profile or the new profile that you created. The system settings that take effect on your machine depend on which profile you select.

Standby and Hibernate
One of Win2K Pro's new features for notebooks is its Standby capability, which maintains the current session in memory while the notebook runs in a low-powered sleep mode (the computer will appear as if you had turned it off, but it's still running). On a notebook running Win2K Pro, you can select the Standby option when you click Start, Shut Down. To resume the current session, you press the power button, and after a few seconds, the system will wake up. The system awakens much faster than it would if you started it up from scratch because the OS, applications, and files are already loaded.

The Standby function is especially handy for travelers, but don't use the function at the beginning or end of an airplane flight. Standby doesn't turn your notebook off, and the machine can start itself up even with the lid closed. This possibility puts you in potential violation of federal air regulations that require you to turn off all electronic devices during takeoff and landing.

Many notebook PCs offer a hibernation option that is similar to Standby. Hibernation lets you save the current session when you shut off the system. Hibernation copies the computer's RAM contents to the hard disk before the machine shuts down. Then on startup, the computer copies data from the hard disk into RAM, and your session picks up where you left off. To enable hibernation, select the Control Panel Power Options applet. Then select the Hibernate tab (if you don't see a Hibernate tab, your PC doesn't offer hibernation). Select the Enable hibernate support check box, and click Apply. The next time you shut down the notebook, you'll find that the option list includes Hibernate.

More Power Options
Win2K Pro gives you many power-management settings to balance performance and battery life. As with hibernation, you can access these options from the Control Panel Power Options applet. The Power Schemes tab shows basic power-management settings. You can adjust settings for AC and battery power, or you can select one of six predefined combinations that optimize the AC and battery power settings for various uses. The combinations range from Max Battery, which saves as much juice as possible by aggressively turning off the computer's features (e.g., Max Battery turns off the display after only 1 minute of idle time on battery power), to Always On, which doesn't turn off any computer feature that is running on AC power.

The Alarms tab on the Power Options Properties dialog box lets you customize when the system alerts you to an impending battery failure. The Alarms tab also gives you the option to have the computer go into standby or hibernate mode or power itself off. You can choose to force a shutdown even if the system is running programs, and you can choose to have the computer run a program before shutting down. I recommend using hibernation if your notebook supports it because hibernation ensures that you won't lose your work.

The Power Options Properties dialog box also offers a Power Meter tab that gives you the option of putting a battery icon in the taskbar to give you a visual indication of how much power remains in your machine. Clicking that icon produces a pop-up menu that lets you change your power scheme (e.g., you can shift to Max Battery if your power runs low).

Alternatives
Win2K Pro offers many additional notebook-friendly features. For example, the program's file-synchronization options provide functionality way beyond the capabilities that NT 4.0's briefcase provides. Despite all Win2K Pro's features, you might not want to run out and buy a notebook to run Win2K Pro on. Notebooks—certainly the high-end models that run Win2K Pro—can be expensive; can you justify the cost for a computer that you'll likely use only when you travel?

A less expensive alternative is a Windows CE device—I've used NEC's MobilePro 770. The device looks like a miniature notebook PC and has a three-fourths-size keyboard and a half-height display. The MobilePro 770 weighs about 1 pound and runs all day on a battery charge. As is the case for other Windows CE devices, the MobilePro 770's OS and applications are in read-only memory (ROM), so the computer has no drives to spin up. Thus, you get instant on/off performance without even the brief pause that Win2K Pro takes when it comes out of a standby-and-resume sequence. Best of all, the MobilePro 770 lists for only $799, and similar devices are available for even less. Some people can get by with a PalmPilot or other small device, but I like a real keyboard for writing.

You give up a lot when you choose a Windows CE device instead of a conventional notebook. I had to run cut-down application versions that lack advanced features such as macro support. A Windows CE device works well for word processing, email, and Web browsing (the main things I do on the road), but if I still worked as a consulting programmer, I'd need a full notebook PC with development tools.

Windows CE devices provide an alternative if you can't afford a Win2K Pro notebook (or your company won't let you have a desktop system and a notebook). Regardless of which solution you choose, you'll maintain your productivity on the road.