Lighten Your Load: Leave The Laptop Behind

It's getting harder and harder to get electronics through airport security, but don't fret: Take advantage of technologies that let you leave your laptop behind and still be productive on the road. We show you how.



Each time there's a security incident affecting air travel, it becomes harder to get electronics through airport security. Last week's terrorism alert, for instance, raises the possibility that laptops, video projectors, and DVD players — devices big enough to conceal a couple pounds of explosives — will soon be banned from carry-on luggage. There's further speculation that any computing device capable of serving as a timer or detonator — which includes cell phones, iPods, basically anything with a battery — may eventually be excluded as well.


Leave The Laptop Behind


•  Thinking Smaller

•  Data As Luggage

•  Apps On Removable Storage

•  The Internet Is The Computer


Nothing is certain, but the mere possibility of being forced to put precious electronics into checked luggage or leave them behind was enough to upset the road warrior crowd and send IT support people scrambling for options.

Fortunately, there are tools available today that let you leave your laptop at home and still stay in touch and productive on the road — and most of them have the pleasant side effect of lightening your luggage considerably. Whether you're doing it because of security restrictions or just to spare your aching back and shoulders, isn't it time you tried leaving your laptop at home?

Thinking Smaller
If you carry a laptop when you travel primarily so you can read e-mail and perhaps review documents created in Office applications, you can do those tasks on a handheld device.

A Palm LifeDrive weighs about 8 ounces, and its folding full-size keyboard and AC charger add another 11 ounces. The LifeDrive with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity handles e-mail and attachments, and includes document viewers and editors compatible with Word and Excel. (There's also a PowerPoint viewer, but it's read-only.) BlackBerrys and some smartphones offer similar capabilities. The LifeDrive also offers 6GB of hard-disk space for storing files, and an SD card slot.

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The drawback is security. If you use a laptop to connect to a corporate network through a proprietary VPN, you may find that the same capabilities are not be available for smaller devices. But if you can get to your e-mail through a Web interface (by auto-forwarding whatever comes into your inbox to a Google Mobile Gmail account, for example), a handheld might work for you.

Not only are handhelds smaller to carry than laptops, they're smaller to pack. If it necessary, you can put a handheld and accessories into your checked luggage more easily, and have more hope of it arriving in working order, than a laptop.

Data As Luggage
If you lug a laptop on the road primarily to use as a presentation device at your destination, you may be able to dispense with computing devices altogether: Just carry your data on a flash drive and plug it into any computer at your destination. Flash drives with 2GB of storage are getting cheaper practically by the day, and pocket hard drives with USB interfaces and 8GB of capacity are almost as inexpensive.

Security isn't a problem with flash drives — as long as you buy a drive with password protection, encryption, and/or biometric authorization built in. Kingston's DataTraveler Elite - Privacy Edition offers 128-bit hardware-based AES encryption and password protection, so if you leave your flash drive in a Paris bistro, your company's financials won't leave the flash drive. Even higher-tech is the Trek ThumbDrive Swipe. This biometric device works without a driver, so you can plug this flash drive into just about any PC (it works with Windows versions since 98, Mac OS 10.2 and up, and Linux 2.4 and up) and run the executable on the public part of the drive. You're prompted to authenticate by swiping your finger over the built-in reader, which gives you access to the protected area of the drive.

We've Got Data; What About Apps?
Storage-only devices can also run applications. You can install applications on flash drives that conform to the U3 standard. When you install Thunderbird on a U3 flash drive, for example, you can travel with your own e-mail contacts and messages. Plug into a Windows 2000 or XP computer, and the application runs directly from the flash drive to connect to the Internet and update your files. When you close it and remove your drive, you take any new or altered files with you, and leave no traces on the PC. The downside: You have to pick your applications carefully. Microsoft Office won't run from a U3 flash drive (but the OpenOffice.org suite will).


Leave The Laptop Behind


•  Thinking Smaller

•  Data As Luggage

•  Apps On Removable Storage

•  The Internet Is The Computer


A couple of applications may help. If you are the Cecil B. DeMille of PowerPoint and you want to avoid wearing a necklace of flash drives through security checkpoints, check out NXPowerLite. This utility application doesn't exactly compress PowerPoint files, it wrings them out, shaking unneeded bytes out of graphics and included objects to radically reduce their size without affecting their appearance. And RoboForm2Go can run from a flash drive to memorize your passwords and bookmarks and log you into online accounts automatically.

If you plan to bring your PDA or smartphone with you anyway, a final option is to use your handheld as a removable drive with the help of third-party software. Mobile Stream's Card Reader, for instance, lets computers read an MMC or SD card in your Palm-OS handheld as if it were an external drive, making it easy to transfer data and applications back and forth. Softick's Card Export II offers similar functionality for both Palm- and Windows-based devices. These products offer no built-in security, however, so if you use this option be sure to encrypt your data.

The Internet Is The Computer
Even if you leave your laptop on your desk at home, you can still access everything on it through remote software and Web-based services. If you can get to a PC and a Web connection, you can get to your computing environment, wherever you are.

GoToMyPC, for example, offers levels of service from single-user to corporate that, at the high end, supports access through VPNs to company resources such as system administration consoles. Competitors add their own wrinkles: LogMeIn offers remote access as a free service. Laplink Everywhere provides some support for handheld devices, so that Web-enabled PDAs or smartphones can remotely access e-mails and files without having to launch a full remote-control session.

If you need to run your own software and get to your own files from somebody else's PC, remote access software is the way to do it. But if you can take "your own" out of it, you can also take "your own desktop" out of it. Need to create a spreadsheet? Stop at an Internet café and run Google Spreadsheet. Word processing? Try Writely, now owned by Google, or gOffice or Zoho Writer or any one of several other online Microsoft Word-compatible editors. Calendar? Google Calendar. Need to whip up a personalized presentation? Try Zoho Show or Thumbstacks.

Depending on the application, you can upload files to these Web-based services before you leave home, then display, edit, or print them from anywhere. Collaboration is easy as well: With most of these apps you can e-mail selected documents or make them accessible and invite others to view them.

When you think about it, traveling without a laptop might not be a nightmare after all. It might be a dream come true.


If You Just Can't Leave The Laptop Behind...


If you absolutely have to have your laptop and it has to go into checked luggage, there are a variety of armored cases for one or more portables — see the Pelican cases, for example.)

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