Devil's Advocate: A pain on the knee

An alternative look at the move to laptops

An alternative look at the move to laptops

We've heard about the benefits of remote and mobile computing in our 21st Century Hot Topic (http://www.silicon.com/laptop ) - how the underlying technology is getting better, how security needn't be a problem, how management processes are being honed. In his weekly column, Martin Brampton says it as he sees it. Laptops? Bah humbug! Laptops leave me cold. Actually, that is not strictly true. You would think that a laptop computer was suitable for use on your lap, wouldn't you? If there is no handy table available, putting it on your lap may be the only practical option. That immediately reveals one of the drawbacks. Most laptop computers get uncomfortably hot, especially in warm weather, making them most unwelcome companions. Quite apart from having a hot lap, if you are wearing trousers, the computer is liable to work like a smoothing iron, effectively removing the trouser crease you took so much trouble over. Then there is the issue of carrying them. I cannot deny there has been some progress. I well remember trying to carry the old Compaq lunch box computers with orange screens. They could be lifted easily, by comparison with the first portables, which were more like a suitcase. But they were hardly suitable for carrying any distance. Boastful manufacturers claim that their latest models are incredibly light. I'm afraid they are not light enough for me. I like to travel with one small suitcase, and even that has to have wheels. It is essential to have a few books on any journey, as there are bound to be delays. They are heavy enough without adding computers. And the manufacturers are cheating a bit. To get the computer small and light, they separate out half the components. The trouble is, you never know what will be needed, and so a large, heavy bag of extra parts goes with you. All of them are optional but which will actually come in useful on the trip? Size matters. Laptop computers are big. In fact, the boasts about size tend to concern the size of the screen. Having a large screen means that the whole device has to be large. Well, I suppose I must admit that a good display and a decent keyboard are advantages. Packing a large rectangular object in a small suitcase is challenging though. Wearing a management hat, I look even more askance at these gadgets. People must have one and it must match their status. Budgets go out of the window when it comes to the prestige of the latest laptop. Yet once acquired, they are frequently neglected. It is not always easy to retrieve the laptop when the person leaves the company. With luck, it is salvaged, to find that there are only a handful of files on the machine, all dated long ago. Security is largely forgotten in relation to laptops. Network designers work overtime to develop complex schemes involving multiple firewalls, demilitarised zones and goodness knows what else. This is supposed to keep doubtful software out of the network. Laptop computers simply walk past such controls, bringing whatever data and programs their users may have acquired directly to the heart of the network. The prestige factor is rather dulled by the serious drawback to carrying laptops in stylish computer bags. Thieves grab them. The smart thieves try to sell any useful data they find on the laptops. All thieves sell the laptops. Second hand computer shops apparently fail to notice engraved notices that saying This computer is the property of &. No, I'm going to upgrade my PDA instead, and I want something that's easier to carry than half a house brick. As an IT professional, I won't have any trouble selecting a suitable device. Will I? What do you think? Have laptops come a long way? What changes would you like to see? ** Martin Brampton is a director and founder of Black Sheep Research (www.black-sheep-research.co.uk ), an independent consultancy providing research, writing and speaking services on a wide range of business and technology subjects. Martin was previously a director at Bloor Research, and has worked with IT as a user and analyst for over 20 years. He is a frequent contributor to silicon.com's Behind the Headlines TV programme and can be contacted at silicon@black-sheep-research.co.uk.