A little over 10 years ago I had to teach a seminar of businessmen in Japan about computers. I had two groups, one European and one Japanese. Both were given the same materials and were supposed to be taught the same thing, the only difference was the language of instruction. That was the plan. Plans, unfortunately, have a rather nasty habit of not working out the way they are supposed to. We were to start off with three days on the complexities of WordStar, the word processor of choice at the time, then move on to Multiplan and then a database program that has long since vanished. It was nearly a disaster from the beginning. The Europeans were more than unhappy about having to do WordStar. It took much longer to get through the material because most of the men - there were no women - could not type and I could hear them mumbling about why they paid a secretary. This was the kind of work she was paid to do. In the end, things did not go too badly but it is interesting to see how the world has changed since then. There may still be important executives in the world who cannot type or use a word processor, but they are surely a dying breed. The computer has put us in touch with so many things that to ask a secretary to do it is simply a waste of time. There are also messages and figures in spreadsheets that we are less than happy to allow just anybody to see. The direct, hands-on approach that the computer has brought has made typing and using a computer an important - dare I say essential - part of the make-up of every successful businessman today. Most business people would agree that getting data, organising it into useful information and then acting on the analysis is one of the most important tasks they face. The personal computer is instrumental in bringing this about and now the Internet and the World Wide Web are bringing more changes to the way we obtain and disseminate this information. The notebook computer has made this even more obvious. How many people do we now see on the ferries, the trains and the planes with a notebook on their laps? Notebooks are the fastest growing area of personal computing. It was once perfectly fine to give an assistant the job of finding out something and then waiting a few days to get the results. Today that is not possible. Even for those who merely want to keep in touch with what is going on, something as simple as e-mail is essential. Going abroad, for example, and wanting to access your files and get your messages is something that requires a notebook. For those of us who enjoy playing with the latest technology - merely for the sake of playing with it - no excuse is needed to get the latest version of something. We, therefore, are keen to try out higher-resolution screens, newer sound cards or video systems and a host of other things. For those who merely use the technology as a tool, there is no time - nor, indeed, interest - in these things. It is a luxury they cannot afford. Nevertheless, a few years down the line, they often find themselves using the same things. Shortly, we are about to see a few things that will really shake up the notebook computer world. The maker of video-control chips, S3, told me a short time ago that there will be a 12.1 inch screen for a notebook this summer that will be able to handle 1024 x 768, true colour (16 million colours) resolution. It also will be able to handle MPEG for displaying movies. This will make a tremendous difference for those who are interested in doing real work on a notebook. Not too long ago I had to decide between adding more RAM to my system or getting a 17-inch monitor. I opted for the monitor and have never regretted it. More real estate to work on has made a tremendous difference to what I can do. It has made life easier for everything. If I use Netscape to look for things on the Web, I can enlarge the window to get a much better view of things. If I am writing something and have a few files of notes, I can display the notes in separate windows on the screen and cut and paste easily. If I am programming, I can put a debugger in one window, source code in another and run the program in yet another. Apple has an 800 x 600 screen on its 5300ce and it is almost perfect (if it was a little bigger I would be tempted to say it was perfect). The next thing one wants out of a notebook is battery life. For the time being we shall have to lug about the large, heavy and short-lasting bricks that pass for batteries. Things will change, though. The other great area that could need some work is that of disk size and how to get the data from the notebook to the desktop. An American company, Sumatec, is about to launch a small, 2.5 inch hard disk called the Mirror Link. This is a docking station with portable cartridges that can be as large as 1 gigabyte. They should be fast, easy to use and relatively inexpensive. A Hong Kong distributor has already been found and they should be available shortly.