I intended to continue our discussion of wireless networking this week, but because this is the last Tuesday in April, I'll switch gears and look at the next laptop of the month: Dell's diminutive Latitude L400/Inspiron 2100. But I'd also like to discuss Microsoft's decision to cancel Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 7 (SP7), which will affect many of you. We'll return to the wireless adventures next week.
Laptop of the Month: Dell Latitude L400/Inspiron 2100
First up is the laptop of the month, which represents Dell's stab at the small and light market. (This will be the last such laptop considered in Windows 2000 Magazine UPDATE for a while because—beginning next month—I turn my attention to desktop replacements.) Dell has a small and light machine in each of its product segments (Inspiron and Latitude): I'm looking at the business-oriented Latitude L400, but the company also makes an identical Inspiron 2100 for consumers that I expect performs identically.
If you've been following the Laptop of the Month series, you'll note some similarities between Dell's L400 and Gateway's excellent Solo 3500, which is based on the same hardware platform. The Dell version of this laptop offers a 700MHz Pentium III processor and a CD-Rewritable (CD-RW) drive, which connects to the system externally through a port replicator. I've discussed the trade-offs of this design in the past, and your choice depends on personal preference. For travelers who don't need CD-ROMs or 3.5" disks on the road, the L400 offers a powerful, small, and light alternative to larger laptops. But for those who need removable storage with them, bringing the port replicator, external drive, and associated cables along is a bit ponderous (on the other hand, you can check it with your luggage).
However, once you decide that portability is your number-one goal, you can't go wrong with the L400. I tested this machine with Windows 2000 for almost a month, but with the release of Windows XP Beta 2 in late March, I couldn't resist and loaded Microsoft's latest and greatest. With both OSs, performance was admirable, even with 128MB of RAM, which should be considered the minimum for Windows XP. Battery life was limited to about 2 hours and 20 minutes, largely because of the small size of the battery device. I recommend getting a second battery, which adds little to the weight you carry; the battery is a thin and small slice that features a handy button for visually checking the battery life, even when the unit is closed.
Because my wife and I alternated using the machine on a recent vacation, I also tested the L400 with Windows XP's multiuser capabilities. Although this feature might find limited use in the workplace, I suspect it will sell a lot of machines for the home. Even with 128MB of RAM, the multiuser feature worked flawlessly and performed well. Despite the small overall size of the machine, the L400's keyboard is a perfect size—although I'm not a fan of the keyboard layout, which places the Page Up and Page Down keys next to the arrow keys, which I often hit by mistake.
The L400's screen is astonishingly crisp and much brighter than that of the Inspiron 400 I usually use. The L400 uses a touchpad pointing device, which I prefer to a pointing stick. And because of the speed and power of the processor, the unit gets warm, but not overly hot like some machines I've used this year.
Overall, the L400—and likely, its Inspiron sibling—is an excellent performer for anyone looking for a small and light machine. If portability is the primary concern—and it is for many frequent travelers—you can't go wrong with the L400, which comes with a variety of excellent service options from Dell. But if you need removable storage on the road, you might consider a different class of laptop. These days, your choices are virtually unlimited.
NT 4.0 SP7
For those of you waiting for NT 4.0 SP7, the news is mixed. A year and a half after the release of SP6a, Microsoft has canceled SP7 and replaced it with an upcoming Security Rollup, which it will release late this year. Microsoft discussed SP7 with customers and partners and found that they had three main expectations of this release: An easy way to aggregate and install security fixes, the NT 4.0-based Active Directory (AD) client, and high-encryption capabilities for Internet Explorer (IE). Microsoft has since released free downloads that address the last two requirements, and it will address the first with its Security Rollup.
"This fall, we will release the Security Rollup for Windows NT 4.0," Jill Friar, a Windows product manager, told me this week. "It will include all of the security fixes we've released since SP6a, through this summer, chained together in one package. For the end user, the rollup installation will resemble that of a service pack. It's due in third quarter 2001." If you were waiting for SP7 for security fixes, the Security Rollup should address your concerns. The company tells me that the fall release date is when it had planned to release SP7 anyway. It's strange that this release will take so long to come to fruition, however: the third quarter is still 6 months away (and a good 2 years after the release of SP6a, an eternity in this business).
If you can't wait that long, you can find a list of all of the security hotfixes the Security Rollup will contain on the Microsoft Web site. Regarding Win2K SP2, the company promises news soon. "We're real close," Mark Croft, a lead product manager for Windows, told me. "SP2 is in the final stages, and we'll have news soon."
Next week, we'll return to our look at wireless networking. I've also been testing Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), as promised, and will have more on personal information management throughout May.