The days when using a computer meant being tied to a desktop have long gone, and many people now have portable computers or personal digital assistants for computing on the move.
Microsoft has just launched the Pocket PC system for mobile computer users. Pocket PCs have a large colour display screen and include portable versions of Microsoft's Outlook Express (which includes a contacts list and address book), Word (word processor) and Excel (spreadsheet). They also come with Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser and an MP3 music player as standard.
Compaq, Hewlett Packard and Casio are planning to offer Pocket PCs, expected to cost around pound;150-360 each.
More and more PCs are offering CD-recordable (CD-R) or CD-rewritable (CDRW) drives. These not only read CD-Roms, but can record data on to a blank CD, which can be read by most CD-Rom and DVD-Rom drives.
Data stored on a CD-R disc cannot be altered or erased, but CDRW discs can be used and re-used like floppy discs. This makes the format ideal for archiving files and backing-up data - both types of disc can store up to 650 megabytes of data, equivalent to 500 floppy discs.
They can also be used for storing music files such as MP3 (subject to copyright laws, of course).
An existing CD-Rom drive can be replaced with a CD-R or CDRW drive, but if you don't fancy taking your PC apart, consider the ZipCD from Iomega, last mentioned on this page on April 14. This smart-looking device is an external CD-RCDRW drive about the size of a slim paperback book. It's designed for PCs with USB connections (if your computer is less than three or four years old, it is likely to have these as standard) and plugs into the USB port for quick and easy and installation. The ZipCD costs around pound;230 (inc VAT) and the blank discs cost around pound;2-3 each For more details check out www.iomega-europe.com A new website for children aged seven to 12, @Kids, aims to make the Internet safe, educational and fun. It's been launched by UK company Act-Two, formerly known as Two-Can, publishers of the Interfact CD-Rom and book multimedia packs. Act-Two says @Kids is free, independent and updated daily. It offers e-mail and chat facilities, resources, links to other sites (more than 100,000 of which are checked for suitability), games and sections for parents and teachers.
Every child who registers for @Kids earns his or her school pound;1. The company makes its money by advertising, sponsorship and taking a slice of e-commerce transactions. @Kids says every school visited by its representatives has taken up the offer and ordered @Kids CD-Roms for half to two-thirds of its pupils. You can find out more at www.atkids.com The recent problems MI5 and MI6 have had with lost laptops have highlighted the sensitive nature of information stored by organisations, and schools are no exception. But many school PCs probably have little or no protection against theft or unauthorised use.
The most obvious method of protecting against unwanted intrusion is to use a password protection system, but these are often mis-used. Passwords should be a mix of words and numbers (such as ax72H) rather than proper words, as many password-cracking programs exist. And passwords should be changed regularly, not written down next to the computer, and never entered when someone is standing over your shoulder.
It's also worth considering encryption software for highly sensitive information. This scrambles the information, which can be read only when the correct password is entered. Pretty Good Privacy (PGB) encryption software is powerful - and free. Head for www.pgpi.com George Cole.