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ISSUE 495: The high-tech office- April 20 1999


Hewlett Packard's Jornada palm PC
is more than just a miniature computer

Once upon a time, everyone read the same couple of magazines and watched the same couple of television stations. Lately, we've seen these markets fragment, with hundreds of specialty magazines and television channels.

Similarly, until pretty recently, you could only buy a desktop computer or a notebook. But now there are standard notebooks, "desktop replacement" notebooks and mini-notebooks, as well as handhelds -- pocket-sized models such as the popular Palm organizers we looked at last week. But that product category, too, has been busily fragmenting.

A couple of years ago, Microsoft responded to runaway Palm sales with Windows CE, a scaled-down version of its operating systems. CE first showed up from a half-dozen manufacturers selling so-called handheld PCs (HPCs for those who adore acronyms), larger than a Palm and sporting a tiny keyboard. First-generation sales were so-so, with critics finding them too large to fit in a shirt pocket while too small to type on comfortably.

One of Microsoft's great strengths, though, is perseverance. HPCs got a bit larger, with some models sporting colour screens. And Windows CE was extended to a variety of keyboardless, Palm-like units: PPCs (or Palm PCs), with a choice of monochrome or colour screens.

(Microsoft, in fact, envisages its CE operating system appearing just about everywhere. It's already shown up on Chinese set-top boxes bringing the Internet to home TVs, in Sega's upcoming DreamCast game system, and in a computer designed to replace your car stereo.)

And instead of getting smaller, the latest offshoot of CE has shown up in larger units -- HPC-Pros. These border on small notebooks. I'm currently playing with one -- Hewlett Packard's Jornada 820. (Other Jornada models come in smaller PPC and HPC sizes.)

At first glance, the Jornada looks like a smallish standard notebook. It's got a standard-sized keyboard that's quiet enough not to draw attention if you're typing notes during meetings. There's an 8.2-inch screen, with standard 640x480 resolution showing 256 colours. It's small compared to full-sized notebooks, but on a par with some of the mini-models. Unlike other CE variations, you don't use a stylus to point to a touchscreen. Instead, like many notebooks, it uses a trackpad.

But like other CE devices, there are no drives -- no floppy drive, no hard drive, no CD-ROM. Programs and data are stored in the unit's memory (16 megs each of ROM and RAM). As a result, it gets much better battery life than a notebook. While most standard notebooks squeeze two or three hours of life out of a charge, the Jornada gets eight to 10 hours from its rechargeable batteries. Enough to fly to the East Coast or Asia.

The Jornada also includes a built-in 56 kbs fax-modem. And there's a USB connector, allowing at least some expandability.

But don't expect to be able to use your standard Win95 software. While it looks like standard Windows, CE really is a different operating system and requires its own programs. Like other CE devices, the Jornada comes with a set of scaled-down Microsoft Office-like applications: Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, Pocket PowerPoint, Pocket Internet Explor-
er, Pocket Outlook with e-mail, calendar, contact list and the like. HP bundles some additional applications and utilities for faxing and more. You can even use it to record short messages.

It does assume you've got a "real" PC back at the office -- HP calls the Jornada a "PC Companion." You need the big PC to install software, for instance. The pocket applications can export their files as real Microsoft Office files to your PC and can import standard Office files, if they're not too large or complex. And, unlike earlier CE models, this one can connect to your office network (if you add a PC-card network adapter).

Like other CE models, however, there's no support for connecting it to a Mac. It's a Windows world, after all.

HP is marketing this unit by comparing what you can do with a standard notebook with what they suggest most people really do -- check their e-mail, write some short documents, keep expenses in a spreadsheet, use a calendar and a phone list, and maybe a bit of light Web-surfing. If this describes how you want to use a computer on the road, you'll like the Jornada's one-kilo weight, instant on, long battery life and low price compared to a mini-notebook. And its $1,568 price is about half what a Windows 95 mini-notebook will cost you.

Just don't expect to be able to edit fancy PhotoShop graphics, or to while away the time on that long plane ride playing games. *

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