Simplify your work by consolidating your devices

Like all professionals who need to keep in contact with their workplace, Windows 2000 (Win2K) and Windows NT systems administrators must deal with numerous handheld devices. Not only do you probably use a pager, cell phone, and electronic organizer device, but you also have to keep your users' devices up and running and synched with their email and calendar. I've been thinking about ways to make managing all these devices easier. Here's my vote for the ultimate communicator device.

I've been using a Palm PalmPilot and a Nokia cell phone for more than 2 years, so I was excited to hear that Nokia and Palm were working together on a new combined device. I asked myself whether this combined device should look like a phone, a PalmPilot, or something else, and what functionality it needs to have.

First, the communicator should be shaped like a PalmPilot, which fits nicely in my shirt pocket. The PalmPilot's screen is four times the size of most cell-phone screens and is definitely adequate for reading short documents such as email. Second, the communicator needs to be voice activated with a wireless ear piece and microphone so that I will rarely have to use the dialer. Because my communicator holds all my contacts, I want simply to speak a designated nickname, word, or phrase (such as "Dial home") and let the communicator do the rest. If I haven't saved the phone number, I want to just speak the numbers. Wireless email will probably replace most of my short phone conversations and will be more private and less annoying in public environments.

Next, my communicator needs to have a color screen similar to the Palm IIIc or the Casio Cassiopeia. I work mostly indoors, so the washout effect of direct sunlight on color screens isn't a problem for me. I would like to read articles from AvantGo (http://www.avantgo.com) news channels on my communicator, and the color screen will make reading enjoyable.

Ultimately, I would like to beam my authentication information from my communicator to my laptop or any Bluetooth-enabled Web terminal and automatically log on to my personalized Web-enabled desktop. I could then use a full-sized monitor and keyboard to work with my applications. When I log off, I want to synchronize any updates to my communicator. This capability will be handy for times when I've moved outside my optimal wireless coverage area. To pull off this feat, my communicator needs a Bluetooth-enabled infrared port. In addition, my communicator will need to be able to scan my thumb for a unique biometric digital signature. Thumb scanning is quick and provides peace of mind in case I lose my communicator.

The communicator needs to play at least an hour of MP3 files and be able to connect to the Internet wirelessly so that I can listen to Internet radio stations. In addition, once wireless speeds get up to 56kbps, I would like to have a streaming video player as well. I also want the ability to record my voice and have the option of speech-to-text conversion after I synchronize with my desktop machine. For example, I would love to have dictated this editorial to my communicator, synched it with my laptop, and output the text directly into Microsoft Word.

After I described my communicator to my 12-year-old son, Andrew, he added a few requests. He wants the communicator to play Nintendo Game Boy games and to replace all the remote controls that we use for home entertainment (e.g., TV, DVD, video, sound systems).

Would my communicator replace my desktop? Not entirely. I still need to edit documents and produce detailed spreadsheets and Microsoft PowerPoint slide shows. But I would use my communicator for about 80 percent of my needs.

The exciting point is that all the technology I've described exists today. Someone needs to package it affordably and provide reliable wireless connectivity. I'm guessing that I'll have my communicator within 2 years.

What OS will my communicator use—PalmOS, PocketPC (Windows CE), Symbian, or something else? I don't care as long as the OS lets me wirelessly connect to my Win2K laptop and servers. I'll need to be able to centrally manage wireless access to the company's servers. I do not want to set up configuration files on individual PCs. I also want to push application changes to my communicator from the server side so that my communicator is up-to-date the next time I synchronize. I want to be able to perform this central administration from any Web terminal. In fact, I should be able to perform some of the administration tasks from my communicator if I have the right security.

The purpose of communications devices is to make life easier. So let's consolidate our communications devices into one universal device and make our work easier, too.