Tool kit keeps mobile notebook PC users on the ball

Pros and cons:
+ Easy to use and not overly technical
+ 24-hour phone support
– Settings can be overwritten on shared notebook

Real-life requirements:
8M RAM and 10M free on hard drive

Sometimes the simplest things work best.

The utilities in Norton Mobile Essentials are surprisingly low-tech, but they throw out
a lifeline to frustrated notebook computer users.

Even veteran road warriors can run into thorny problems long after the help desk has
switched over to voice mail for the night.

Mobile Essentials cleverly divides road trips into three phases to streamline
preparation: before-you-leave utilities, a location controller for presetting parameters
and a post-arrival connection doctor.

On the theory that glitches are easier to iron out at the office than in a hotel room,
Mobile Essentials first tests the mobile hardware to make sure it’s up to the rigors
of travel.

The before-you-go program group accurately identified modem settings on notebooks in
the GCN Lab. It also tested the hard drives for errors and ran a virus scan.

International travelers will appreciate the database of power plugs and phone jacks
used around the world.

If you’re traveling to Uzbekistan, it won’t let you forget a 220-volt
converter and a Russian telephone duplex plug. It even points to a Web site where you can
order needed gear.

The lowest feature on the technology scale, but arguably the most useful, is a
generic-but-customizable checklist of commonly needed items. It reminds you to take items
such as a power cable and business cards.

A second set of programs under the location controller menu lets you specify time zones
and other location information before you leave. When you log on at your destination,
Mobile Essentials automatically updates the Microsoft Windows 95 system clock.

You can set up parameters for dial back to the office and even enter your calling card
number so you won’t have to remember it. The program is password-protected to keep
the information secure.

But even if you take all the precautionary steps, problems can still crop up on the
road. That’s where the connection doctor comes in. It checks all potential
troublemakers, starting with the computer itself, then the modem.

It even test-dials the preset number of your home office. It could determine if there
was too much line noise, the home server was down or the system had resource conflicts.

And if the connection doctor can’t fix the problem, Symantec Corp. offers
something almost unheard-of in the software business: 24-hour technical support.

Through an agreement with Digital Equipment Corp., each copy of Mobile Essentials comes
with a tech support card, a toll-free number and a secret code that entitles the user to
30 minutes of support.

Symantec officials said they put a lot of road research into Mobile Essentials. That
research already has paid off for me. The program recently prompted me to check my train
tickets, which were not where I thought I’d put them.  


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