AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Mobile hip replacement

AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Mobile hip replacement

I'm not as much of a gadget-hound as you'd expect. You can't sell me a mobile device unless it's one of two things: the ultimately converged mobile phone/PDA/messaging device or a pocket-size computer that keeps me in touch, at office speed, when I'm indoors.

I'm so enamoured of the concept of roam-at-home that I tried for a solid couple of years to make it work. Readers will write to insist that it can be done, that it has been done, but I've been down every road and found slow processors, proprietary platforms, impractically low-resolution displays, crippled minibrowsers, high prices, optional wireless. I would have to settle, so I gave up. Giving up leaves me in a bad mood.

I carry a mobile phone/PDA/messaging device, but when I'm near my office, my belt clip companion becomes a plain old mobile phone because my PowerBook - despite its heft and the risk of relying on moving parts that have an attraction to the floor that exceeds gravity - is the only option I have even when it's overkill.

There are a couple of fresh contenders in the roam-at-home category, both of which I have yet to handle. palmOne has LifeDrive mobile manager, a hard-disk-based pocket computer - these devices are for carrying, not for hanging on one's belt - with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, a speedy Intel XScale-processor, and a 480-pixel-wide landscape colour display.

There is a bag of consumer stuff mixed in, but the reasonable $US499 price tag and decent Web, email, and Office file viewer apps give LifeDrive real pocket potential. The display is still a bit small for my taste, and I don't connect with the palmOne development tools or the shareware-obsessed community, but palmOne devices natively sync with Macs. Ding ding.

The Nokia 770 Internet Tablet is easy to describe: It's a pocket computer with a huge (800 x 480 pixels) touch-sensitive LCD, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and Linux. Millions of open sourcers mourning the demise of Sharp's Zaurus are considering removing their black armbands. The 770 has no hard drive, but there's only one reason to have a hard drive on a mobile machine, and I don't need an iPod that plays movies.

The 770 displays PDF and Flash files directly, meaning everything I "save as" from my PowerBook is viewable on the 770. And if I want to view a document written in Morse code, I can presumably roll my own viewer by hauling out GNU Compiler Collection (GCC), Perl, Python, Java, JavaScript, or whatever language is covered by the O'Reilly book closest to my chair. LifeDrive views PDFs as well, albeit not natively, but LifeDrive handles only limited editing of Office documents. If you want to edit Office docs, there are lots of open source tools for it, but 64MB starts to feel a little snug if you're prone to immoderate consumption of open source. But then, flash memory is faster than a hard drive and nothing in it spins.

Nokia and PalmOne each get one shot at convincing me that roam-at-home has arrived, and that it's the company that did it right. But be on notice: I don't have time for playthings or for PDAs that want to be computers when they grow up. A mobile device doesn't spin my socks just because it runs Linux. The first one of you that gets me to put down my PowerBook for two hours of my in-office working day, wins.

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