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The HP Palmtop: A Corporate Solution

The HP Palmtop: A Corporate Solution

The HP Palmtop is the ideal Network Computer for corporate use in mobile computing applications.

By David Shier and Carl Merkle

Not too long ago, the Internet was barely visible to the general public and was growing at an increasing pace as a tool to connect educators, researchers and government organizations. In 1994, a newly commercialized Internet exploded, coinciding with the release of the Netscape Navigator browser (a popular Internet browser). By mid-year 1996, Netscape s browser had reached an installed base of 40 million users, passing Microsoft s Word, Excel, and Office to become the world s most popular application ever. The popularization of the Internet may be the single most important technological development in decades.


The types of things that are done on the Internet are useful to private companies and large organizations for facilitating communication, distributing information, and coordinating projects locally and worldwide. However, a problem for private companies is that the Internet is open to the public to anyone who has an account with an Internet Service Provider thus privacy of the information is an important issue.

"Intranets" were developed to address the privacy issue. Intranets are private networks, based on Internet standards, which use the same technology as the Internet (i.e., use the same web browsers to read HTML documents, use linked documents, e-mail, chat groups, etc.). While the Internet growth is huge, the intranet market is growing at five times the rate of the Internet. In fact, Netscape Corp gets 80% of its revenues from sales of its server software to corporations for intranets.

In addition to privacy, intranets offer considerable savings over the client/server networks used today. According to the Gartner Group, a consulting firm, costs per station in client/server environments can be as high as $13,000 a year. Client/ server upgrades require hardware that is expensive, and in large corporations, managing distribution of software and training is also costly. Intranets by contrast are just a lot cheaper.

Corporations use intranets to publish manuals and procedures; develop products and services through the use of groupware; perform group document review; publish catalogs and parts lists; publish human resources and job information; and write and receive e-mail. Basically, any type of information distribution to a group, which remains of value for some time, or needs to be frequently updated but not distributed by e-mail, is a candidate for an intranet application. Also, utilizing forms on intranet pages turns the intranet into a data gathering tool.

Intranet advantages over paper-based systems and client server systems include:

Disintermediation The removal of many people in the middle, especially in the distribution of information (if structured as on the Internet, information will be indexed with hypertext links allowing fast access to related documents); elimination of redundant data storage.

Cross-platform compatibility Intranets work across platforms such as UNIX, DOS, Windows, Apple, HP Palmtop PCs, and even a new breed of cellular phones . A wide array of computers can all access the same document using browsers appropriate for each type of machine.

Security Established security devices and management techniques can be implemented on intranets, including firewalls, firefences, passwords, encryption, and so on.

While graphics are popular on the Internet, the bandwidth to support extensive graphics use is still not widely available and economical. The most productive uses of the Internet and intranets involve text-based content, text-based research and applications such as e-mail.

The HP Palmtop overlooked Network Computer?

The growth of the intranet is the driving force behind the development of a new type of computer the Network Computer. The Network Computer is a simpler and less expensive computer that connects to the Internet or company intranet and relies on it to provide file storage, applications, and connection to the outside world. Many manufactures are working on Network Computers, including Sun, Oracle, and IBM. Microsoft is working with hardware and software manufacturers to produce what it calls the NetPC. Oracle Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison predicts that by the year 2000 more Network Computers will be sold than PCs.

The ideal Network Computer is an inexpensive unit that can connect to the Internet. It doesn't have to be extremely powerful or have a lot of file storage the net provides these. It doesn't even have to have a fancy color display to interact with the net in text mode. Internet graphics slow things down considerably. It doesn't have to be a desktop or notebook computer. All it has to be is there when you need it.

The recent introduction of the Palmtop web browser software WWW/LX makes the HP Palmtop an excellent choice as a Network Computer. WWW/LX is a text-based online web browser that displays text in a formatted fashion (i.e. bold, italics) and can display graphics. It can also be used to fill in forms. Web page forms on the palmtop PC can be filled in with the assistance of pull-down lists, check boxes, and radio buttons. Early comments by new users indicate that they are very happy with the incredibly fast speed with which it browses the web using modems at 9600 to 14.4 kbps. European users of the 700LX are getting the same snappy performance browsing the web using wireless telephones.

HP markets the HP Palmtop as a PC companion. Yet, surprisingly, the HP Palmtop has emerged as many users primary or only computer. The Palmtop is growing especially popular with highly mobile computer users. Many of these users have access to more powerful laptop computers, but are tired of lugging around even the lighter laptops just to do something as simple as e-mail, web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, databases, contact management, expense accounting, and so on, which the palmtop PC is easily capable of facilitating. They find that the palmtop PC, combined with a desktop PC, meets all of their computing needs. They indicate that the computer they use is the computer that is with them all the time.

Potentially, the greatest beneficiaries of a highly-mobile, low-cost Network Computer are these mobile computer users salespeople, field representatives, delivery people and others whose remoteness has made providing new and timely sales materials, pricing lists, sales strategies, policy manuals and so on difficult at best. The Palmtop running an application such as WWW/LX to access a company intranet could change that.

Advantages of the Palmtop as an Intranet PC

There are many advantages in using the Palmtop in a corporate environment, including:

Cost Advantages The Palmtop currently has a cost advantage over today s Windows 95-based machines. A Palmtop capable of browsing the World Wide Web in text mode can be acquired in the U.S. for a cost less than $1,000, including browser software and PCMCIA modem. Some people are discovering the cost advantages to purchasing a high-end desktop computer and a Palmtop as compared to the purchase of one high-end laptop computer.

Mobility Advantages The Palmtop can be taken and used anytime, anywhere, and can run for weeks on a standard set of AA batteries. Plus the Palmtop has instant on-off, providing a productivity advantage in the types of normal, periodic "use environment" that people naturally work in. Currently there is no Windows 95-based machine that can claim this capability.

Ease-of-use advantages Out of the box, the Palmtop must easily qualify as the simplest full-function personal computer to operate that is available today. It beats the Macintosh and Windows machines for ease-of-use functionality. Its robust suite of programs is built-in, requiring no installation. It offers one-button access to the most used programs. It has simple-to-use keys for date and time stamps and for cut-copy-paste. Most built-in programs use an on-screen Function key menu. It can keep multiple applications open at the same time and has an exceptionally stable operating environment with very few system hangs and blowups forcing a reboot of the computer. In turn, that stability improves productivity because of less lost work and fewer boot-ups.

Great hardware quality, incredibly low maintenance costs and excellent resources Hewlett-Packard has justly earned a reputation for creating high-quality, long-lasting products. The Palmtop is no exception. HP offers a standard 1-year warranty, with express overnight exchange, which can be increased to 3 years with a fee of less than $100. In addition to HP s telephone support, other excellent resources exist, such as The HP Palmtop Paper and the HPHAND forum on CompuServe. The Palmtop even has its own book (PC in Your Pocket, edited by Ed Keefe and available from Thaddeus Computing), and a CD Rom with a wealth of information to help a new user get productive quickly. This combination of resources and stable platform is hard to find anywhere else in today s rapidly changing computing environment.

E-mail advantages E-mail enthusiasts can read and compose e-mail on their Palmtops anytime, anywhere. This includes commuting to and from work, relaxing in an easy chair, relaxing at the park, etc. How many people do you see lugging around even a "light" four-pound Windows 95-based laptop to do these things?

Productivity advantages Palmtops offer a reduction in the waste of time caused by a graphical environment and virus exposure. The Palmtop, with its software built into ROM, is less virus prone. Additionally, the Palmtop, as a primarily text-oriented machine, is less likely to be used to browse the big graphical web pages than a Windows 95-based machine and is less likely to be used to format fancy documents than a computer with a WYSIWYG software program.

Proven corporate track record Some corporations and institutional organizations have discovered that the Palmtop is valuable in solving a variety of nagging corporate issues. These organizations include the Coca Cola Company, Harvard Medical School, the Dutch railways, a Korean insurance Company, and Micro Age. These corporations are seeing real productivity improvements and cost advantages to the use of Palmtops. And, those who have discovered the Palmtop believe it represents the future of computing.

Fast web browsing One of the authors of this article, using a Palmtop equipped with a 14.4 EXP modem and running WWW/LX and HV in text mode, is able to browse the web faster than when he uses Netscape graphically running on a Pentium 133 laptop computer attached to a high speed network. For straight text-based work, the Palmtop is definitely as capable as most laptops.

Reduced risk of loss from theft Many corporations looking at field automation activities have been equipping their personnel with laptops, which have grown in power and are now as capable as desktop machines. With an increase in laptop use, there has also been an increase in theft. While Palmtops are just as subject to theft as laptops, they are less likely to be stolen because, with their ultra-portability, there is no excuse to leave them behind.

Less burden on phone lines Increasingly, telecommunications companies have been complaining about the disproportionate use that Internet users have been making on telephone lines. While extensive phone use by desktop Internet users may be occurring, Palmtop users have a tendency to do much of their work offline, and only connect when it is truly necessary to do so, much like standard phone use. WWW/LX reinforces this concept with a feature allowing users to disconnect and read a document, then re-connect when a link is encountered.

Lots of software availability As a standard DOS computer, there are literally thousands of programs available which can run on the Palmtop, many of them customized for unique industry niches. Also, new software continues to be developed specifically for the 200LX platform, with over 3,000 applications developed to date.

Familiar programming environment The programming language of choice for many PC and Windows-based applications has become C. With the Palmtop running in a standard DOS environment, many programmers can develop custom solutions with standard tools. There is even a collection of C routines available in the PAL library allowing programmers to rapidly develop applications having the same look and feel as the Palmtop s built-in applications.

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