Taking It on the Road: A Working Summer Vacation

Taking It on the Road: A Working Summer Vacation
In last week's commentary, "Living in a virtual world. No, not that kind," (http://windowsitpro.com/article/articleid/99885/living-in-a-virtual-world-no-not-that-kind.html), I discussed the rapidly evolving world of online meetings, specifically with Microsoft Office Live Meeting, and how its enhanced capabilities are minimizing the need for business travel. This week, I'd like to offer up a similar discussion about how our work and private lives often intersect. I'm speaking, of course, of summer vacation.

Like many of you, the concept of a true 9-to-5 job disappeared somewhere in a hazy past. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that the workaholic lifestyle is healthy or even reasonable, but I do recognize that we live in a hyper-competitive world, and as much as I'd honestly like to disappear for a few weeks, that just isn't going to happen. Thus, connectivity with coworkers and the pulse of the workplace--as virtual as it may be--is key. I have to be plugged in.

That's a lot easier than it used to be. Not so long ago, I maintained a legacy dial-up account for the dwindling ranks of hotels that still don't offer Wi-Fi Internet access, but these days such a place is hard to find. My laptops no longer need modems and the last time I paid for a dial-up account was probably a few years ago. Soon, pervasive connectivity via high-speed cellular networks will be as common in PCs as are USB ports. It's where things are going.

This is true, maybe even especially so, overseas. We're in Ireland for a few weeks, and as I write this, five hours ahead of my normal time zone, I'm using technologies that, just a year or two ago, would have been wishful thinking. The laptop, a Vista Business-based Lenovo ThinkPad SL500, is astonishingly powerful, with a 2.4GHz dual-core Intel microprocessor, 4GB of RAM, and a huge 320GB hard drive. It posts a Windows Experience Index score higher than that of my desktop machine back home, and the typically excellent ThinkPad keyboard and 15-inch widescreen display (at 1680 x 1050 no less) makes this machine even more comfortable to use than that desktop.

Back at home, all my crucial work and personal data--almost a decade's worth--is stored on the Windows Home Server-based server in my basement, served by 2TB of storage and accessible remotely via a handy if somewhat primitive Web interface. This means I can back up photos from the road, which is handy, but it also means I can retrieve critical data from anywhere in the world; for last week's commentary, for example, I grabbed a few screen captures I had made of the LiveMeeting interface, which I used in the Web version of the article.

I also use Microsoft's little-publicized Live Mesh technology to synchronize data between my laptops (I also brought a second machine, mostly so the kids can watch movies) and with my desktop PC back home. Live Mesh is amazing, and while I'm curious to see what enterprise- and mobility-oriented solutions Microsoft will eventually deliver, as it is right now, it's still something to get excited about. Right now, Live Mesh performs two crucial services: Automatic and immediate folder synching between any number of PCs and remote desktop to virtually any version of Windows XP or Vista.

The folder sync functionality means that articles I write here are instantly replicated back to my home PC's hard drive in real time. It means that photos are automatically replicated to my other laptop. And if I need to do something from my main PC back home, I can. No need to call a family member and ask them to run over to the house and perform some PC housekeeping task.

My cell phone? It works in Europe, and although the data plans between continents are still egregiously expensive, I suspect that will get better over time as well. At the very least, I can use its Wi-Fi connection to check email on-the-go in the many readily available cafés and coffee shops around town, or back at the place we're staying. It pulls data from IMAP and Exchange email accounts with ease, and with a few strategic mobile Web applications, I can keep up to date with what's going on in the industry that I cover.

Thinking back to a decade ago when I used to fly regularly to San Francisco for work and have to sign-in via the MSN dial-up software on my Pentium 133 laptop with 12MB of RAM (and yes, it was running Windows NT), I'm vaguely nostalgic for the simplicity of the time. But pervasive connectivity and steady technological advancements mean that I can actually get work done more efficiently no matter where I am. And for a workaholic like me, believe it or not, that also means more time to do some fun stuff as well. And what the heck, it is summer after all.

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