Handheld computing devices, or personal data assistants (PDAs), are rapidly growing in popularity. Along with the growing use of PDAs has come a corresponding growth in the demand for wireless network connectivity, auditing, and management. Consider the advantages of being able to check your email anywhere in your house or office with only a few taps of a stylus ”and no boot-up time.
Many companies are already developing high-end productivity applications for the PDA market. For example, the Pocket PC (which uses Microsoft's embedded operating system, Windows CE) ships with a Microsoft Terminal Server Client, allowing you to connect to servers virtually anywhere on your network. Medical students are even using PDAs connected to wireless networks to watch surgeries via streaming video. Thus, the potential for growth in this market is tremendous.
Traditionally, the two main competitors in the PDA operating system market have been Palm (using Palm OS) and the Pocket PC (using Windows CE). However, the use of Palm OS has gradually faded away into obsolescence, and has been replaced by Windows CE. Let us then finally exorcise the melancholy specter of Palm from this book and return to it no more (except one last visit in Chapter 8, "Airborne Viruses," when we discuss the viruses that infect it).
At the time of this writing, the Palm has not shown much in the way of 802.11b connectivity, but the Pocket PC, on the other hand, has shown tremendous abilities . Many manufacturers are writing Pocket PC drivers for their hardware, thus expand-ing the capabilities of this already very functional product. Just as with desktop or laptop computers, there are many models of hardware that will support and run the Pocket PC operating system. Each device is unique and offers its own features and benefits. Features such as increased memory, higher resolution screens, and the capability to work with external hardware such as PCMCIA and compact flash cards are all factors to consider in your purchasing decision.
One device that we have found more than equal to the task is the Compaq iPAQ. When it comes to wireless connectivity and features, iPAQ is the hands-down leader in the PDA market. Companies such as ORiNOCO, Network Associates, and Cisco are aggressively pursuing the iPAQ as a key player in the wireless realm. Vendors are targeting software applications specifically toward the iPAQ and its capability to support a wide range of external hardware devices.
Although not yet as powerful as their desktop forefathers, PDAs are a useful extension to a home or business network. With wider deployment of 802.11b networks and the increase of free public networks, handheld devices will soon be ubiquitous among casual users. In addition, the number of corporate employees telecommuting from their PDAs through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) is expected to grow rapidly.