Portability just got a lot more portable...IBM is to release a new family of ThinkPads that feature dual-band wireless, enhanced management software, and, for the first time, fashion choices when it comes to the navigational stick on the keyboard. The ThinkPad R40 family, targeted at small and medium-sized businesses, is IBM's first foray into what will most likely be a busy year for notebooks. Laptop shipments grew by 17.6 per cent in 2002, much faster than desktops, according to preliminary figures from research firm Gartner. The trend is likely to continue with the greater proliferation of wireless networks and energy-efficient technologies such as Intel's Pentium-M processor, formerly code-named Banias. The high-end members of the line come with dual-band wireless technology built in. Dual-band wireless makes it possible to create 300-foot zones to send and receive files wirelessly using both the 802.11b and 802.11a technologies. Although most wireless networks now use 802.11b - also known as Wi-Fi - 802.11a networks transfer data at a much faster rate and feature more communications channels. As a result, 802.11a networks, and another standard called 802.11g, are expected to grow rapidly. Toshiba came out with a dual-band laptop late last year. Others are expected to follow by midyear when Intel releases the dual-band version of Calexico, a wireless networking module tuned to work with the Pentium-M that will be integrated into notebooks. Ease of use will be another selling point for the new ThinkPad line. To revive its position in PCs, IBM has devised a number of applications designed to substantially reduce the costs or pain associated with owning a computer. The ThinkPad R40, for instance, will come with an Access IBM button, which automatically connects the user to diagnostic tools and online help pages. Another feature is RapidRestore, which lets people erase hard drives in case of a virus attack and then recover data and applications from a partition below the same hard drive. Additionally, the notebook features a new version of Access Connections, which senses available wireless bandwidth and shifts between them depending on signal strength and traffic.