Round the table

The emergence of the latest generation of internet applications, dubbed Web 2.0, has meant a renaissance for many technologies that never quite made it. Social networking, with sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and the huge rise of instant messaging and the near cult status of the Blackberry, have all meant we now consider online communication as the norm.
One industry that has been quietly but effectively growing in this area has been video-conferencing – a technique that was once a bit of a black art, with kit that was complex to set up and dodgy video quality, something even industry experts have been forced to admit.
"The legacy of the first wave of video-conferencing is that many firms invested in expensive end-point video equipment and due to various reasons the investment failed to deliver the expected returns," admits Steve Frost of networking company Cisco. "The systems used to be far too complex. People used to step into a room and be given a remote control and told ‘set it up, then’ – it was never going to work."

Computing on the move

It used to be a simple equation – on the road you had an underpowered but light machine to take notes, while back in the office was a powerful desktop for most of your day-to-day work. Today, however, things are blurred, to say the least. When you’re out and about there’s a choice of mobile phone, Blackberry, ultra-light portable or laptop, while in the office, it seems you really don’t need a desktop at all, with some laptops now sporting 17-inch screens and enough processing power to handle anything you can throw at them.
There are, however, a few things to bear in mind. The biggest issue is battery life – in a highly powerful machine, don’t expect longevity. These are really designed to be used at a desk, next to a power supply. If   battery life is an issue, then it’s well worth looking for something with a slightly lower spec – it may not be as quick, but at least you’ll be able to get your work done without the horror of the "low battery" warnings. For processors, look out for Intel’s Core™ 2 Duo processor – it’s the best around at the moment, and will give you desktop-like performance without almost instantly draining the battery.
Here are a few of the best of the new breed of dual-purpose portables.

Mobile communications

Wifi is taking over the world – or so it sometimes seems from a consumer standpoint. Venues from churches to coffee shops are offering internet access to customers as an added enticement, and many homes and offices have also installed hotspots as laptops slowly edge out desktop machines.
One of the biggest UK providers of wifi is BT’s Openzone, which has agreements with several hotel chains, including Thistle and Hilton hotels. It believes that many people now choose hotels based on the quality of their wifi. "Research shows that, for the business traveller, flexible, fast and reliable wifi access is a prerequisite when  choosing a hotel," says Chris Bruce of BT Openzone.

VoIP: 21st Century telephony

You have to admit it’s pretty tricky to keep up with developments in technology. Even if you love gadgets, the way in which they evolve is so rapid that just as you’re getting to grips with your shiny new PDA, something new is released that makes your tiny piece of wizardry look like a clunking museum piece.