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A new set of wheels

As schools obtain more and more computers, portability and space can be a problem. Les Watson checks out some innovative, versatile solutions.

There was a time when the computer trolley was a means of pushing the school BBC computer from classroom to classroom. You wouldn't be forgiven for thinking that trollies were extinct now schools are bristling with more hardware than the average ironmonger. Wrong - the trolley has been reborn as a new concept.

As schools obtain more computers, space becomes an issue. What's really needed is a portable network - on a new-style trolley.

Scotsys, the Glasgow-based Apple and Compaq dealer, has been supplying such a "Class in a Box" solution for some time. It has a number of versions that hold five, 10 or 15 Apple iBooks or Compaq portable computers. It has a robust locking system to prevent theft, is of tough metal construction, and has a one connection recharging system for all the machines. The Class in a Box also comes with an Ethernet connection. The radio technology is Apple's Airport whic runs at 11 Megabitssecond which is perfectly adequate for most file and print services, and will support Internet work - given a little patience. Of course the more machines that share the 11 Mbits available, the slower things will get.

RM has also recently released its trolley, the NoteBus, which takes up to 16 portable machines, provides one-stop recharging, and uses radio networking. Like the Scotsys offering, the cabinet is designed to survive the rigours of the school environment. RM's is constructed of durable, grey powder-coated 18 gauge steel and features a rubberised top surface which could be used as work space for a laptop or printer.

A portable computer lab that simplifies battery recharging and deals with networking is likely to prove attractive to schools looking to keep their teaching space versatile. Prices start at around pound;13,000 for a five-station trolley, including the machines.

Les Watson is director of learning and information resources at Glasgow Caledonian University

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