By Laurent Belsie, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
FIVE years ago, portable computers lagged behind in the technology race.
They were slower, less technically advanced, and more expensive than their desktop cousins. Now, they're leading the pack in many areas of innovation.
"The first generation of notebooks ... were desktops with the air taken out of them," says Portia Isaacson, a consultant and president of Dream IT in Colorado Springs, Colo. For the past year and a half, notebook sales have taken off, innovative companies are jumping on the notebook bandwagon, and innovations are now migrating the other way - from the notebook to the desktop, she says.
* The green PC. With battery power so important for portable systems, engineers have developed all kinds of ways to save energy in notebook computers. They're applying the same techniques, such as power management, to the desktop. Other companies are using portable technology to shrink the size of their desktop machines, reducing materials and costs.
* Plug-and-play. Desktop computers are not consumer-friendly when it comes to installing a new device. Notebook computers are popularizing a much easier add-on technology, which uses credit-card sized devices known as PCMCIA cards. PCMCIA slots are showing up on desktop machines too, making it easy to plug in a computer modem or local-area-network (LAN) connection.
* Wireless communications. Mobile computers are starting to sport communications devices that aren't tethered to wires. Experts suggest that, as the technology develops, some desktop machines will also be hooked together via wireless LANs.
Other notebook-to-desktop possibilities are in the works. NEC Technologies, for example, has built prototype desktop monitors that use the liquid-crystal-display (LCD) technology of notebook computers. One day, it could replace today's cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitors.
"CRT-based displays ... will be the technology of choice till the year 2000," says Jerry Benson, a senior vice president of marketing with NEC.
The major reason is price. For high-end portable workstations, NEC makes a 12.9-inch color LCD screen. It is 20 times the price of NEC's 14-inch desktop monitor. When prices come down, LCDs could gain momentum for desktops. Users might hang them on walls. Or use them as a screen to write on (another technology that's showing up on many portable computers).
Some notebook innovations will simplify desktop computing.
Take PCMCIA technology. At the moment, changing the hard disk in a desktop computer is a relatively complicated procedure.
But several notebook vendors have introduced proprietary systems that allow users to remove and replace hard drives easily. …