DreamWriter offers schools possible computer compromise

by Alan Zisman (c) 1999. First published in Toronto Computes, September 1999

DreamWriter I.T.
NTS Computer Systems, Ltd.

Parents, teachers and school administrators, students, and taxpayers all share questions and concerns about how to get enough computers into schools to make a real difference.

Macs or PCs? Desktops or notebooks? Labs or in the classroom? One thing seems clear?there?s no single right answer, no one size fits all.

Maple-Ridge, BC-based NTS Computer Systems think they have one answer?their new DreamWriter I.T. Smaller and more portable than a standard notebook, cheaper than a desktop system, it offers a way to put more computers into the hands of more students.

The DreamWriter was developed using Microsoft?s Windows CE-Pro operating system, so it looks and feels much like a Windows 95 machine, and will be immediately usable by anyone comfortable with Win95. Like other CE units, it includes a pack of Microsoft applications, built right into the machines ROM, for instant access- Pocket versions of Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, and Outlook for word processing, spreadsheets, and even web browsing and e-mail

But unlike most CE machines, the DreamWriter offers the hardware options of a ?real? computer. There?s an 8 inch colour screen, and a large, usable keyboard, and a touchpad. A 33.6 fax modem, and a pair of PC-card slots. And built-in parallel, serial, and Ethernet networking ports. There?s even a floppy disk drive.

As a result, unlike most CE machines, the DreamWriter can easily connect to printers and networks, and save files for easy transfer between machines. In fact, while NTS?s license only allows them to sell the DreamWriters to schools, these outclass competitive CE-Pro models aimed at the business market from better-known makers like HP.

Science software is also included, aimed at junior-high level classes: Data Harvest Sensing Data Logger, Sciencesoft Graphing, Statistics, and a scientific calculator. The Data Logger software is used in conjunction with temperature and light-data collection hardware included in the DreamWriter Science Lab package.

Because the unit is so portable, NTS proposes it as an answer to the ?lab vs. classroom? dilemma facing many schools?get a class set of DreamWriters together with their Rol-a-Lab unit, making it easy to pack up 20 computers into one portable package, and roll it from classroom to classroom. Instead of making the students go to the computer lab, the computer lab can come to them! At the same time, the computers are small enough and sturdy enough that students can take them with them?to the library, or on a field trip.

So what?s the catch, you ask?

While Windows CE looks and feels pretty much like standard Windows, it is a completely different operating system. As a result, you can only run CE programs. While the DreamWriter is ready to use right out of the box, it can?t run any of the wide range of standard Windows educational programs. No other games, no other applications. (Of course that might be a good thing?no pressure to spend extra money buying other programs, and no danger of viruses).

Well worth consideration by schools or parent groups trying to figure out how to get the most benefit from their limited resources.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan