A great year for the gadget-happy IT administratorFor geeks who love gadgets, 1999 was a great year. From handheld computers to a biometric mouse, the IT scene was flooded with new gadgets. Some of last year's new toys have become must-have tools for corporate users, while others are entertaining but nearly useless from a business-productivity standpoint.
Many of the most useful -- not to mention popular -- tech gadgets from 1999 facilitate information gathering and organization. For instance, a range of personal digital assistants (PDAs), such as 3Com's Palm V and Palm VII, Research In Motion's BlackBerry, Hewlett-Packard's Journada 820, and Handspring's Visor, provide users with a portable, lightweight device or with wireless access to their e-mail, address book, and other important information.
Data entry on the go was also popular; the Cross Pen Computing Group's CrossPad XP jumps to mind. This pen-and-paper tablet integrates a digital pen to capture notes and drawings and allows them to be quickly transferred to a PC.
Also, the C-Pen 200, from C Technologies, squeezes a digital scanner and optical character recognition package into a gadget the size and shape of a highlighter pen, and you use it in a similar manner. You can scan pages of text and transfer them to a desktop machine via an infrared interface.
On the security front, CompuLink Research's U-Match BioLink mouse is a gadget for the paranoid. With a built-in thumbprint scanner, the BioLink mouse can verify your identity and lock down your workstation with your thumbprint instead of a password.
The Qbe from Aqcess Technologies is the ultimate in geeky gadgets. This Intel-based computing tablet provides a full Microsoft Windows 98 environment in a sleek magnesium-alloy case. The device even includes a FireWire port and built-in digital video camera. However, because it was just released at Fall Comdex, it remains to be seen whether or not the Qbe will make an impact on the corporate market.
Keeping mobile users happy, the Clik PC Card drive is a tiny removable storage drive. The 40MB Clik Disks fit into a drive mechanism that slides into a standard PC card slot, eliminating the need to lug around larger drives such as the Zip or Jaz drives.
No discussion of gadgets would be complete without mention of the seemingly endless stream of new digital cameras. Both still and video cameras went digital in a big way in 1999. Resolution and memory size has increased, and prices have dropped. Of course, for most business users these aren't must-have items.
Also last year, cell phones left the realm of simple telephone devices. Many now sport PDA capabilities and Internet access, a trend that seems to be gathering steam as new models are released month after month. These can be a great option for the busy executive who needs to keep track of stock prices or other such data, but browsing the Web just isn't practical on such a small screen.
Gadgets infiltrate every business, often because users purchase the devices without official IT sanction. Support costs for companies that go too gadget-crazy can pile up quickly. These costs must be considered along with the business benefits of such devices to truly gauge their usefulness in a large company.