LAW OFFICE COMPUTING
On The Road Again
I’m dictating this column into the new WordPerfect 12 software using Windows XP voice recognition software. I will write a full evaluation of the new WordPerfect in the coming months but at the moment I can already say it is fantastic. The changes from version 10 are pretty much hidden away in of the code of the basic program, but they significantly improve the product. WordPerfect 12 is designed to interface smoothly with Microsoft Word and it does so very well. When the program opens you may choose to work in either Word or WordPerfect mode. For this dictation I have opened WordPerfect in the Word mode and I have the same selection of features and menus that I would have in Word. But more about that later. It is summer and I’m traveling and this column is about my efforts to keep up with my office during that time. Unlike years past, it is a story of some success, sometimes minimal and sometimes spectacular.
The Webmail Default
If all you really want is to check your email then webmail is probably enough. Most commercial Internet Service Providers provide webmail services and all you need do is to log on from any computer with a web browser to check your mail. You can have your office forward your mail (or better yet, only part of it) to the webmail site. Since computers with Internet access are almost everywhere, webmail is the easiest way to go. But you may want, and need, more. For example, you may need a lot of important files and the programs that run them on a regular basis. Here are some of the ways you can do that.
It is amazing how accessible the Internet has become by virtue of the rapid and massive rollout of broadband connections in recent months. If you are in one of the major chain hotels (both first class and budget) you probably will be able to purchase a broadband connection for about $10.00 a day or less. Some even offer broadband free as an incentive to stay there. That broadband connection opens a whole new range of connectivity with your home or office network. There are several options and all of them are great. Some of the hotels offer broadband access through a network port on your computer. I have found that to be the Acura of connectivity-fast, fun and sure. Other hotels offer wireless broadband which is very good but considerably slower than the network connection. That is the Honda of connectivity –very good, very reliable and half the price. If you go to Starbucks when you travel you can sign up for T-Mobile wireless service that you can access from most Starbucks locations and many other places. There are other wireless access points or “hotspots” in virtually any location. Intel provides a service for locating them at http://intel.jiwire.com/index.htm. There are 43,000 and counting hot spots around the world including 28,000 in the United States, 200 of them free. There are 1000 hotspots in New York City and one in Seligman, Arizona. You can even find one at the airport in Nairobi, Kenya.
If you have access to a physical broadband connection through the network port on your laptop, the choice for connecting with your home or office is easy. GotoMyPC (www.gotomypc.com) allows you to replicate your home or office computer on your laptop. If your broadband connection is fast, GotoMyPC allows you to work on your distant computer just as if it were in front of you but even at slower speeds it works very well. It is a remarkable program that has received rave reviews from almost everybody. Because of the way GotoMyPC accesses your home computer it is technically very secure and clearly appropriate for everything but the most sensitive kind of work. GotoMyPC requires that your home computer be turned on and booted up so if there is some kind of glitch like a power outage or other computer failure you may not be able to access your computer until it has been restarted. You need to take that into consideration when planning your computer access needs during travel. I always have someone available in my home office who can reboot or repair my computer. So as long as I have broadband access it is like working there. You can even get a web based fax service such as Intellifax (www. IntelliFax.com) or eFax (www.efax.com) which will allow you to receive faxes on your laptop or anywhere you can find an Internet connection. I have even used GotoMyPC at airport Internet kiosks and it works well there if the kiosk offers sufficient high speed bandwidth. If you have access to a printer, GotoMyPC allows you to print locally just like home. GotoMyPC suffers as the bandwidth drops and at dialup modem speeds it is not usable as a virtual replica of your home machine. It can, however, still function for the simple retrieval of information and other basic chores that do not require the full functionality of the home computer.
Of course, if you are away on vacation instead of business you may not want your virtual office at all. You probably still want to stay in touch by e-mail and here you have a variety of options. If you’re still willing to lug your computer through airport security you can access your e-mail by dialup modem. For years, I have kept my AOL account simply because there are so many available points of dialup access in the AOL network. It is hard to find a town of any size of that does not have AOL access at a local number. Recently, however, AOL competitors have build networks that are at least as universal as AOL and in some cases provide even more local dialup numbers. Those competitors ( Earthlink and PeoplePC) offer another feature that I scoffed at until I actually tried it. That feature is so-called “acceleration” software that lives on your computer that actually doubles or triples the speed of access to the Internet.
PeoplePC is considerably cheaper than Earthlink and I have found it to work very well. Both Earthlink and AOL are very aggressive about curbing popups, spyware and viruses for users of their service. There are allegations on the Internet that PeoplePC permits installation of spyware on your computer but PeoplePC itself denies that and I have been unable to find any spyware on my computer after using PeoplePC for more than a week. If you decide to use people PC and are concerned about spyware one of the spyware removal vendors (who has made the allegation) has posted a workaround. http://www.spysweeper.com/uninstall-peoplepc.html. Earthlink is, of course, the old standby and has a long history of a high quality product and great customer service. Though it is almost twice as expensive as PeoplePC it is my choice for dialup software on my laptop. One of the reasons is that the accelerator software really works and makes a slow dialup connection almost bearable. One unintended benefit that I have found is that it speeds up slow DSL connections by a factor of 4 or 5, even when the connection is not a part of the Earthlink system.
Finally, there are several “palm” type devices that claim to bring you interactive access to your calendar and email 24/7. I have looked at several of them and it seems that the Blackberry handheld device is far and away the one most lawyers prefer. It is expensive, but it does provide the total connectivity that many desire or need.
In the near future we will have complete access anywhere, anytime via satellite. We will have lots of choices then. On the other hand, Workaholics Anonymous www.workaholics-anonymous.org provides a wonderful 12 Step Program that is cheaper and healthier than any of the choices mentioned here! Have a wonderful summer. See you in the fall.