Mobile computing is expected to grow as more government agencies look at the technologies that allow their field workers, business travelers, etc, to access information from anywhere at anytime. In the Information Age, portability is key, and size and weight do matter.

Fortunately, notebook manufacturers have been responsive to government agencies' demands for notebooks in a wide range of sizes, shapes, weights and prices. The variety of notebooks on the market is staggering. No matter what the agencies' requirements or budgets are, they can always find something in today's market that will fit their mobile needs.

Information attains its maximum utility only when it moves and is accessible to users. For the Northwest Bergen Central Dispatch in New Jersey, which handles calls coming via 911--police, fire and EMS--seconds count. An accurate and speedy flow of information is a matter of life and death.

The emergency units are using mobile computing -- Gateway's Solo 2500 notebooks and wireless technology from Cerulean Technologies -- to access more complete and timely information, which lets police, fire, ambulance and EMS staff perform more effectively.

"We are taking our dispatch screen and moving it out to the field. Our job is to get the information and send it out to the field units quickly, accurately and with as much information as possible," said Bob Greenlaw, the dispatch center's director.

Notebook computers provide instant access to vital information, such as who called, the nature of the emergency and the exact location of the emergency.

"[The notebook does] not only have our dispatch program on it, but also a mapping program. Therefore, field units can actually look at the area they are responding to and identify the exact location of the building," said Greenlaw. "So, oftentimes, the dispatchers have access to information from databases -- we have here a database that has 15 years' worth of calls in it.

"If you think about safety -- it could be hazardous material stored in your building, you could be reporting a fire, you can be talking about a home where there is a history of domestic violence -- and, certainly, emergency units like to know that," said Greenlaw.

Key Elements

"Miniaturization has been the major trend," said Mary Land, product marketing manager for Gateway Business. "Our products are getting thinner and lighter, while trying to provide full functionality -- similar to the power of a complete desktop system."

"The most interesting development in notebooks, that's been happening over the last year, is the differentiation in the different notebook product categories," said Jay Parker, product manager with Dell. "It used to be that customers were offered essentially one flavor, whether that end-user was going to travel or whether that end-user was going to use it from point to point, from the office to home and back to the office.

"What we have been finding is that our IT customers are looking to maintain the simplicity in their environment but they need different types of products to run the applications and to

perform [the] types of tasks that they need," Parker added.

There is also the issue of compatibility. Microsoft Windows in all its flavors -- 95, 98, NT, Windows 2000 and CE2 -- is still the operating system of choice for many mobile warriors.

"One issue of difficulty, especially for a small government agency, is that users have to port different operating systems. That makes it quite difficult to manage," Land said. "I think things are more and more moving toward one operating system, such as Windows 2000. All Gateway [portables] are shipped with some form of Windows operating system currently."

Two main manufacturers of processors used in notebooks today, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), are manufacturing more powerful and efficient processors, which are