Multimedia to go, please


One of the pleasures of being a technology consultant is the opportunity to take new hardware and software on test drives. This month we look at a multimedia notebook PC and a trial presentation software package.

CD-ROM on your lap

Until recently, I thought CD-ROM in a notebook computer was a luxury. Now I believe it is a necessity.

One of the tasks I really dread is loading today's bloated operating system software and application suites from dozens of diskettes. I can count on half an hour or more of wasted time. And, heaven forbid, if a client happens to call, the process can go on for hours.

The problem is so severe that many developers now provide their programs on CD-ROM. The user answers some questions up-front, then just walks away. The rest of the installation takes care of itself in a few minutes.

Since October, I have been using a CD486 notebook PC from Amrel Technology (Arcadia, CA - 1-800/882-6735). It arrived with a 100-megahertz AMD 486DL4 processor, eight megabytes of main memory, 520-megabyte hard disk, double-speed CD-ROM drive and active-matrix display.

Amrel did a good job of fitting all its components into a reasonable-size package. With some notebook PCs, the user must remove the diskette drive in order to install the CD-ROM drive. The CD486 allows both drives to be installed and operating at the same time - a distinct advantage, and much more convenient than carrying and hooking up an external CD-ROM drive. Response times are good when running Windows 3.1 applications. (An upgrade to 16 megabytes of main memory would be required for Windows 95.)

In my experience so far, the most significant downside is weight. The computer comes in at more than eight pounds. Adding a spare nickel metal-hydride battery and charger brings the total to almost 11 pounds - but the weight is more than justified by the system's capabilities. Retail price (less spare battery and PC card modem): $4,183.

Do-it-yourself trial presentations

Once you've bought your CD-ROM-equipped notebook PC and loaded your favorite software, what comes next? If you are a litigator, consider Trial-Link Express from inVzn Development Corp. (Gilbert, Ariz. - 1-800/828-8884).

Trial-Link Express is multimedia courtroom presentation software that displays electronic exhibits - document images, photographs, full-motion video and animations - from CD-ROM. The software allows zooming for detailed examination of part of an exhibit. Easy-to-use annotations and highlighting are available to add emphasis.

Once exhibits are loaded, the user can print bar codes (similar to the product codes used by supermarket scanners) for the exhibits. At trial, presenting an exhibit simply becomes a matter of swiping a pen-like reader across the right bar code.

Trial-Link Express's scripting capability lets the user automate the display of a sequence of exhibits. Each exhibit can remain onscreen as long as the user wishes, and side-by-side displays are available.

Trial-Link Express offers flexibility and power at a reasonable price: $995 for the software plus a Scan-One bar code reader.

Dana H. Shultz is an Oakland-based lawyer, certified management consultant and speaker specializing in office technology and online marketing. He may be reached by e-mail at and on the World Wide Web at