FIVE years ago, portable computers lagged behind in the
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
* 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)
"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. …