Creeping towards synergy

On a recent flight from Toronto to Vancouver, passengers sprawled out over a half-empty plane, I spent a great deal of my time watching an older businessman out of the corner of my eye.

In the beginning I was just checking out his enormous walrus moustache and curious habit of shoving his index and middle fingers up his nostrils, and humming while tapping his other fingers on his cheek, but before long I was staring at his mind-boggling array of gear.

He had three seats to himself, which was good because he needed the space for his gadgets. Over the four and a half hour flight he worked on a laptop, two separate PDAs and a very capable cell phone. He also had at least two date books going, and a notebook where he scribbled gibberish with one of two leaky ballpoint pens. It was better entertainment than an in-flight movie.

Although clearly a technophile, well-versed in the operation of his business toys, I couldn’t help but feel that technology was letting this man down – why two PDAs? And, if the PDAs were both working, what was with the date books?

Since all of his devices have the ability to sync with one another, why did he need to bring everything on the plane?

The answer of course is synergy. While devices like Research In Motion’s Blackberry ( ) and Palm’s line of Treo smart phones ( have revolutionized the way some people do business, the world is still waiting for a single device that does everything, and does it well.

But instead of five or six devices, most people can whittle their briefcases down to just two or three items with a little work.

Compatibility is still a key issue, but perhaps the biggest obstacle to true synergy lies with the simple fact that most users do not have the knowledge, skills or training to effectively use the available technology. And even if they do have the knowledge, skills and training, the technology is moving so fast that it’s often easier for people to carry around a dozen separate devices than to attempt to synergize all of their gear.

Some companies set up workshops for their employees on how to best use the new technology, but most people are on their own with their instruction books.

So if you’re out there, nose-picking Walrus-man, I’ve put together a list of websites that might be able to help you streamline your briefcase – you’re not going to have three seats to yourself every flight. – While there is no basic tutorial on how to use your gadgets, has put together hundreds of articles relating to specific issues, as well as interesting features like Top 10 Steps to Taking Your Company Mobile. Check out the huge Articles and Resources section to get specific advice on just about everything, as well as the Buyer’s Guide to make sure you’re getting the device you really need. – I reference this website in Cybernaut just about every week, but when it comes to making heads or tails out of the technical terms used in articles and instruction books, this is the first place to go. No computing word term is too simple or too new to appear in their database. – How Stuff Works doesn’t have a specific section on mobile computing but you can find almost everything you need in the Electronics under Computers, Gadgets or Telecommunications. If you can’t find an answer to your question after a couple of clicks, the search engine is powered by Google and works pretty well. – While there are other operating systems out there for portable gadgets, most devices are running some version or other of Windows Mobile. The first place to go on this site is the massive Help and How To section, but the introduction to Windows Mobile is pretty helpful when you’re questions have something to do with software.

A Vista for everyone

Speaking of Microsoft, one spoiler site has revealed that the next version of Windows, called Vista, may be released with seven different versions.

There will be two major categories, Home and Pro. Home will include a starter edition, a basic edition, and a premium edition, while Pro will include a professional edition, small business edition, enterprise edition and ultimate edition. Different versions will come bundled with different features and different capabilities, such as Virtual PC, Cornerstone (a secure encryption technology), and the ability to work with Tablet PCs.

While it’s still a rumour at this stage, forecaster Paul Thurrott has a proven track record for getting the scoops on Microsoft.

Although people have a general idea of what to expect, the when to expect is still up in the air. Most estimates have pegged the release of Vista for late 2006.

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