COMING SOON: A VIRTUAL OFFICE UTOPIA

By Michael Simon

Ten years ago, if you went to Europe and needed to download e-mail, you were looking at a 20-minute process. You’d pull out a heavy laptop, find a dataport, get an up-to-date local access number – and then wait while the modem connected, the information downloaded and the laptop shut down.

Today, the virtual office is a reality. Web-based tools have added efficiency, from intranets and calendars to remote access, collaboration spaces and shared document spaces. Of course, every minute you spend on setup and tear-down eats into your personal life. And you still need a piece of hardware.

But soon, it won’t matter which hardware. Computer hardware (and processing power) is everywhere: your phone, your car dashboard, even your refrigerator. Technologies out there today can let you tap into these to power your virtual office. Soon, you won’t need a laptop, a desktop, a BlackBerry or any specific piece of hardware. You may need a thumb drive, or maybe not even that. Your office will come to you on whatever you have. And as billions of dollars pour into all levels of virtualization, that new virtual office should get here sooner rather than later. Here are a few things you’ll be able to do.

Work from the dashboard of your car. As we get close to universal connectivity, the next great virtual office initiative will be at the interface. For example, your car has had as much computing power as your laptop for a long time now. Soon, you’ll be able to use your GPS system or dash display to access work data instantly. (Just be sure you pull over first.)

Chuck your laptop. Laptops will become optional as you use a thumb drive to connect to your data via a phone, PDA, iPod or dumb terminal. And as more mobile workers connect this way, dumb terminals will appear where you need them – on airplanes, in business centers and even as a standard feature in hotel rooms. Just plug in and start working.

Watch any movie at any time on any screen. You’ll access your home DVD collection wherever you are to watch movies on a cell phone, TV or PDA.

Fill your iPod from the road. You’ll use a virtual USB cradle that is networked via the Internet to connect with your music library and fill your MP3 player with music no matter where you are.

Sync up your email without buying an Exchange server. You won’t need an Exchange server to sync up your mobile device and your desktop. Software will let you turn your Outlook into a standard e-mail server. For example, you’ll just type in some authentication codes on your cell phone to check e-mail, and everything else will sync up automatically.

The new virtual office won’t stop the global economy from going 24/7. And it won’t let you keep nine-to-five hours. But it will give you more time – for work, vacation, family and fun. For webworkers who need to make every minute count, that may mean something like virtual utopia.

Michael Simon founded leading remote access provider LogMeIn and the wildly popular online game show service Uproar.

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