Notebooks are main PCs for some feds

—Bill Wall, supervisory
systems analyst, Navy Fleet Material Support Office, Mechanicsburg, Pa., on his Compaq
notebook


“The keyboard is a problem for me. I’m not a very
good typist, and I’ve got big hands.’’


—Dan Grispino, financial specialist for the Defense Finance and
Accounting Service in Cleveland, on the Dell notebook he shares with his office mates


Will the notebook computer eventually replace the desktop PC? For some feds we talked
with, it already has.


At the IRS’ Oakland, Calif., office, employees use IBM Corp. notebook
PCs—top-ranked in the GCN survey—as desktop replacements. Users plug them into
port replicators to access full-size monitors and keyboards, Larry Wirick, a revenue
officer, said.


Wirick relishes his new IBM ThinkPad 380ED’s large screen, built-in wrist pad and
speedy Pentium II microprocessor.


Short battery life, usually a nagging concern for notebook users, isn’t a problem
for Wirick. “Whether I’m in the office where the notebook is docked or working
out my home and attached to AC power, battery life really isn’t much of an
issue,” he said.


Another fed who has chucked his desktop PC is Richard Creasy, a Coast Guard telephone
technician who uses a Toshiba Satellite Pro 445CDT Pentium notebook on the road and in his
New Haven, Conn., office.


“I took my desktop PC home and gave it to the kids,” Creasy said. “The
notebook has everything my desktop has, so it’s really nice.”


What about the small keyboard and tricky, mouseless maneuvering? Creasy said he has
become adept at using the Toshiba’s tight keyboard and eraser-head pointing device.
“Plus it’s got a serial port where I can plug in a mouse if I want to,” he
added.


Most feds who carry notebooks aren’t quite ready to hand over their desktop PCs to
the kids. About 18 percent use notebooks as desktop replacements, the GCN survey found.


Moreover, about half of feds who use notebooks expect to significantly step up their
notebook use, from 18 percent to 26 percent, over the next one to three years, according
to the survey.


Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. notebooks ranked second in the survey. They
were the most widely used, capturing 19 percent of the market GCN canvassed. Other popular
brands were Dell Computer Corp. (18 percent) and Compaq Computer Corp. (13 percent). IBM
notebooks, despite their top rating, were used by a smaller portion of feds polled (10
percent).


Toshiba user Eric Koglin, a scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency’s
National Exposure Research Laboratory in Las Vegas, described his T4800CT, a 4-year-old
machine with a 486 processor, as a great workhorse but outdated for high-end applications.


“It can’t handle what I need now,” said Koglin, who combines text and
graphics in his reports. He’s gearing up to buy a Pentium notebook from Winbook
Computer Corp. (unranked and used by 1 percent of feds in the survey) with a 6G hard
drive, 64M of RAM and a 56-Kbps modem.


Air Force Quality Assurance in Minneapolis is another federal office “moving
toward total portability,” said Rosemarie Berkebile, a management assistant.
“We’re starting to wipe out some of our desk systems and use just laptops with
docking stations,” said Berkebile, who shares a Gateway Pentium notebook with
colleagues.


Berkebile likes the Gateway’s durability. “It does seem reliable,” she
said. “I haven’t been able to knock it out yet. I managed to wipe out Windows on
a Zenith system about four times.”


Her one beef was with the machine’s pointing device. “I hate the
touchpad,” she said. “I always carry a mouse.”


Compaq user Timothy Ruland, chief of automated data processing security at the Census
Bureau in Suitland, Md., does not like touchpads either. “I have a serial mouse that
I carry in my briefcase,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to use.”


Ruland uses his Compaq Armada 1550 mostly on the road. “I wish it was a little
lighter, but it’s not bad,” he said.


At the Navy Fleet Material Support Office in Mechanicsburg, Pa., supervisory systems
analyst Bill Wall takes an office Compaq Pentium notebook on road trips to write reports
and keep in touch with the office via e-mail. But he’ll soon be using a notebook
full-time as he assumes a new position that involves more travel, he said. He’s
getting a docking station so he won’t have to transfer files all the time, he said.


The only thing he dislikes about the Compaq is the keyboard. “It’s an
adjustment going from a standard keyboard to a smaller keyboard, but I don’t know how
[manufacturers] can get around that,” he said.  

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