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Notebooks for conferences

Posted by felipegaucho on March 19, 2007 at 8:56 AM PDT

Someone who is preparing to attend big conferences like JavaOne and Jazoon'07 should make a criterious preparation in order to optimize the chances of learning and making contacts to smart people. Even minor details like clever clothes can make difference between a sucessful trip or a expensive waste of time. For me, a blogger, an important detail during the conferences is a robust notebook: a lightweight, long life batteries equipped and performant machine. These days I am looking for a new notebook, and checking the market offers and discussing with colleagues. I hope to show up a nice gadget during the next conferences.

Learned lessons

Last year I bought a nice notebook in a giant hardware store, a competitive bargain, global vendor labeled machine offered at a wonderfully exhibition stand. For less than a thousand euro, I bought a 1GB RAM, 17" screen, WI-FI, power multimedia notebook. That was a happy moment, to take that machine home as a satisfied customer and present to my wife and my son the new toy. Time passed by and some features started proving to be more a sales trick than something really useful. I guess the offer was a fair business, but frankly speaking, there are some flaws, the ones I prefer to call learned lessons.

The batteries were the first bad feeling about the machine. Of course, during my shop I didn't have time to wait to see how many hours the notebook was working unplugged, but at home I figured out that more than 1 hour was hard to get from that batteries. Thinking about problems, I read the manual about that, and then some small letters suggested me to buy additional batteries. Detail: such additional batteries were offered by very expensive prices, than the overall price was not more so cheap as in the shop. Other detail was about the multimedia: during the exhibition of the machine, the sales man showed me how powerful was the machine to play music, run games and all other impressive effects with the brilliant wide screen and the potent speakers. My son was with me, and we both get very excited with that presentation. The trap I couldn't realize at first sight was the consume of energy of such features. Also the weight was not so heavy in the shop, but soon I started using my laptop in my day-by-day, I noticed the weight is a natural concern about notebooks. oldnote.jpg

The machine itself is nice, and I am still using that everyday without restrictions, but next time I will try to replace my consumist enthusiasm by a more conscient shopping. For that, I prepared a checklist.

Notebook for conferences - checklist

  1. Connectivity: the notebook of conferences should be connectable to the broad band and also to other computer in a simple way. Of course, the best firewall you can load into the computer helps to protect you, but for sure you don't want to expend time trying weird configurations during the showtime. Blue tooth is a must, but a good wi-fi support can be enough. A pen drive for share files is also very usefull and the notebook should offer several USB ports to connect several different devices at once.
  2. Features and performance: computers are like cars, even if you try to avoid the temptation of a super machine, you will get impressed in front of that. A tip here: after getting stoned facing that powerful multimedia hardware, wide screen blue tooth with nice design machine, think twice. Wide screen is a energy consumer, multimedia is an avoidable trap - you will rarely play sound during a conference, unless you are looking to be noticed at any price. Prefer the 15" notebooks, ultra lightweight (I know, the expensive ones). Think about the bootstrap process, the time the machine requires to startup you operational system - the time you need to get real access to usability since you click the button until your browser is opened. If you are planning to demonstrate software or you are dreaming to test some last minute techs during te event, think about a dual processor, 2Gb RAM with high-speed disc and fast graphic card. Too expensive for just a conference? Sure, like using a BMW to go to supermarket - in both cases, it can be a funny experience and, you know, a bit of luxury sometimes helps you to be relaxed and more productive - a kind of wellness for geeks.
  3. Batteries: notebook users know how stressful is that battery icon alerting you that your machine will shut down in a few minutes while you are in the middle of a nice chat or finishing that amazing text about the lecture you just attended. Well, Lithium Ion batteries seems to be the most reliable type of power sources, but due to the high price it almost never comes as the default battery. Of course, you can buy extra batteries later, but check this detail at the moment of buying a new laptop. Another tip: remember to check the type of the plug used in the conference's country and include the respective AC adaptor in your lugagge.
  4. Weight: it is a fact of life, you will need to carry the stuff ;). And not only the notebook, you need to carry also the batteries, the charger, some extra clothes, a water bottle, snacks, everything in a fashion knapsack. Machines with more than 2kg can be something you think to drop away sometimes. The overall weight of ~3.5Kg is reasonable - more than that you will be doing athletics during the conference.
  5. Cold and quiet: just imagine your legs burning or your machine interrupting that interesting speach with a weird startup sound. The noise of the cooler is another relevant aspect if it produces that intermitent noise.
  6. Ecological machine: the appeal of Green PCs is growing between the geek community - it is every day more clear we need to reduce the polution and try to save some energy for the healthy of the planet. So, save the planet and also your money checking the energy consume of your next machine - here I started thinking why my old laptop has that neon blue lights blinking and flashing everytime I turn it on or access the wi-fi connection.
  7. Open Source OS: The choice of an Operationl System depends on personal criteria, and the easy-to-adopt interface of Windows proved itself a winner over the last two decades of personal computer history. During the same period of time, the Open Source Initiative produced a lot of good resources for the humanity, and the recognition of that effort is not anymore hacking the black screen, it is more about a coherent attitude. If you use open source tools and open source technologies in your day by day, it seems natural that you support the community some how - so, you are asked to run Open Source software in your notebook. I will leave the discussion of this polemic subject to other entry, but for now I just ask you to think about that: Java is becoming open source, so it is more elegant to run it on an open source operation system than to show up macs or windows.

Linux on Laptops

If you share my preference to adopt Linux for Java development environment, you must remember the penguin usually crashes trying to run over brand new technologies. It is an old issue about Linux and has more to do with drivers and hardware business than the operational system itself, but you must be alert about that anyway. A good test you can do is take with you a copy of Ubuntu or any other Live-CD Linux during your market research. When the sales man offer you that fancy notebook, ask to load the linux on it. If it runs without problems, and you can open some applications, uses the mouse and play some sound with it, perfect! Otherwise, check what is happening - if it is just a configuration you are not allowed (or don't have time) to do on a shop, ok, just write a note about that and check later. If you guess too much work simply to test a system, you can check this site first: Linux on Laptops, where people post experiences with Linux running on several different hardware configurations.

That's it! A long reasoning about Notebooks that give us a chance to behave wiser during your next aquisitions. I will be at JavaOne and also at Jazoon'07, then I can show you the notebook I finally bought after creating the above checklist - see you there.

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