SINCE the launch of the first portable computer a decade ago, the laptop computer has come a long way. Size and weight have fallen incredibly, while power and performance have increased to a level equal to that of many desktop personal computers (PCs). But the idea of the notebook computer as an anytime, any place, anywhere PC still appears to be some way off, with manufacturers struggling to find the right mix of portability and practicality for the user on the move. Today, a user will choose a notebook depending whether he is looking for a machine to supplement a desktop system or as a stand-alone PC. Compaq last week announced the launch of three new LTE Lite notebooks which show a portable can match powerful desktops. They are 121.25 x 27.5 x 5 centimetres, which means they are small enough to save valuable office space, but powerful enough for most applications. The top-of-the-range LTE Lite 4/33C uses the power-saving Intel 33-MegaHertz 486 SL chip to prolong battery life while giving high performance. It has up to 418-megabyte (MB) hard drive memory when used with compression software in MS-DOS 6.0; has 4 MB random access memory (RAM), expandable to 20 MB; trackball; and a 21 cm active matrix colour VGA monitor. Compaq also announced the launch of Enhanced QuickConnect, a slim, lightweight connection device that connects the computer to up to 10 peripheral devices including mouse, monitor and keyboard, It also supports Ethernet, turning the portable into a fully fledged 486 desktop with networking capabilities. In the Asian market, notebooks fulfil a different role from those being used in Europe and the United States. In the West, the laptop is seen largely as a tool to be used out in the field and then transferred on to a PC back at the office, but, in Hongkong, the space saving provided by a notebook is seen as a major advantage. For the user who is seeking a machine to be used out in the field, a number of options exist. Hewlett Packard's HP 100LX, successor to the 95LX and announced last week, shows there are no longer technical limits to how small a fully functioning PC can be. The same size as a small paperback book, the HP 100LX runs MS-DOS, has 2 MB built-in RAM supporting applications software, 1 MB RAM and the option of an additional 10 MB RAM using PCMCIA memory cards. It also boasts infrared Input/Output capability for remote transfer of data. Use of the 100LX is limited by the fact that it is so small. The keyboard is too small to allow touch typing and, while the screen does have the full 80 characters, its ability to show graphic displays effectively is also limited by the size. HP sees the main users of the 100LX as people in business who need access to large volumes of data while out in the field, such as insurance estimators, health care workers and real estate professionals. One of the major limitations on the use of portable computers in the field has been the inability of manufacturers to provide long battery life without sacrificing the benefits of compact, light mobility. Until a happy medium can be reached between size, weight, power and battery life, it would seem that truly mobile business computing is still some way off.