Written by David Tebbutt, Mensa 03/91 - scanned

LOVE OF MY LIFE - Toshiba laptop

I see that our own Clive Sinclair is no longer associated with Cambridge Computers, the company which produced the excellent Z88 laptop computer. It's a shame really. The Z88 was a truly magnificent computer, giving its users everything they wanted several years before the opposition even got near.

As you might have guessed, I was a Z88 user. So were most of my contemporaries in the computer writing business. We loved the little beast. It was lightweight, notebook-sized, had a terrific keyboard, plenty of applications and a battery that lasted 20 hours. It's only weakness was a dim, eight line screen. It was fine in good lighting conditions, but not so hot otherwise. This didn't really matter much to me. I frequently typed in darkened conference halls.

So why am I talking about the machine in the past tense? After all, you can still buy it. The truth is that the street price is dropping, Clive has become distanced from the project and, well, I've found a new love. For the last three months I have been using a laptop PC compatible machine. The poor old Z88 has not had a look in since. It sits on the corner of my desk waiting for an occasion when I'll need its light weight and long battery life again.

The more time goes by, the more I think I may as well just buy a spare battery pack for my new computer. So it looks curtains for my old friend. The new machine is a Toshiba TIOOOXE. It is A4 sized, weighs around six pounds. has a fold-up, backlit, 25 line by 80 column screen and. inside, a 20MB hard disk drive. (20MB means it can hold 20 million characters of information, the equivalent of around 5,000 close-typed A4 pages). It can run any program written for the PC, including graphics applications. It cost me just under £800 from Portable Computers, something like a third off the recommended retail price.

For me it represents stunning value for money. Like the Z88 before it, it allows me to work on the train, in aeroplanes, in bed, wherever the mood catches me. The keyboard clatters, unlike the Z88, which was beautifully silent. In contrast to the Z88, though, it gives me complete compatibility with the PCs at home and with my colleagues at the Strategy office.

I've rigged it up with a program called DESQview which allows me instant access to as many programs and files I like. There's a key to the right of the space bar called 'Alt Gr'. I've defined this as the DESQview 'hotkey'. Whenever I want to switch to another program, I press this key and then the number of the program I want to change to. I can take a more long-winded approach using menus or another using two-letter mnemonics but, since I only use five programs regularly, the 'hot-key' and number works just fine.

Each program is exactly where I left it last time. I could be writing an article in the word processor and want to call a contact. A switch to the database produces the telephone number and a switch back to the word processor gives me a vehicle for making notes. As you might have guessed, I also have BrainStorm, lurking around somewhere. This contains a detailed snapshot of my life at any time. I have several strands to my life, including writing, training, software publishing, magazine publishing, computer shows and conferences. To keep track of this lot would be impossible without some kind of 'ideas processor'. In fact, I even have the current development version of BrainStorm on hand just in case I get the urge to do a bit of programming on the Metropolitan line.

Toshiba's machine has a battery saving feature called 'Autosave' which remembers everything in the computer's memory when you switch off. Switch it on again and there's no need to fire up the hard disk in order to get going. The feature is great in theory, but sometimes it goes wrong. I always save my working files before switching off, just in case. It still saves time though, on the majority of occasions when Autosave does work.

The Tosh is delivered with all the usual utilities that come with computers nowadays.

Unusually, these are all permanently encoded in a chip inside the machine rather than on the disk. This has the triple benefit of battery saving, speed and incorruptibility. One extra, and exceedingly welcome, utility is Traveling Software's LapLink 2.04. As you can see from the spelling, this is an American product, but it's probably the best on the market for transferring information between different computers. Since the standard TIOOOXE has no floppy disk drive, the only way to get information in and out is along a cable.

LapLink 2.04 would be absolutely fine, but since I use LapLink 3.0 at home and at the Strategy office, I have installed this program on the hard disk. I have also installed LapLink Mac on the machine so that I can pump information up and down between the Tosh and the Macintosh. At the moment, I use a modem hanging out of the back of the machine in order to access bulletin boards and on-line services such as 'CIX' or 'Telecom Gold'. The TIOOOXE does, however, have room inside for an integral modem.

As you might expect, printing is no problem either, through either the parallel or serial port which are hidden under a small flap at the back of the machine. Other expansion ports include a slot for attaching a floppy disk drive, another for extra memory and a third which allows you to slip the TIOOOXE into a desktop unit containing attachments to networks, office printers, colour screens or whatever. It gives some of the extra benefits of a full desktop machine, while still allowing the TIOOOXE to be taken away as a laptop.

I have used a lot of computers over the past 25 years but, as you might imagine, this one takes some beating. I love the Macintosh for its ease of use and will usually turn to it when the work is unlikely to be needed elsewhere. But, in my Nomadic existence, the TIOOOXE is rapidly becoming my preferred machine. My two editorial colleagues on Strategy happen to feel the same. They were once the editor and technical editor of Personal Computer World and they, too, have both bought the same computer out of their own pockets. As a business computer for people on the move, the Toshiba TIOOOXE really takes some beating.