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Burney's Legal Tech Reviews - Burney's Gadgets for Legal Pros: Making Use of an Idle Laptop / Expand your Laptop's Horizons / Pu

By Brett Burney, Published on May 14, 2005

Brett Burney is the Legal Technology Support Coordinator at Thompson Hine in Cleveland, Ohio. He regularly reviews products for Law.com's Automated Lawyer and Law Office Computing Magazine. Feel free to e-mail Brett with your legal technology questions.

I've always been a fan of a) wireless keyboard/mice setups, b) laptop docking stations, and c) dual-monitor environments. So this particular column is near and dear to my little techie-heart.

When I work at home, I'm usually pecking away on my desktop PC. My laptop gets ignored and just sits there idle. So I was very happy to find this combination of products that makes using my laptop at home much more attractive.

Dock It and Forget It

First up is the brand new Kensington Expansion Dock with Stand. I've looked at several laptop docking stands in the past, but I like the style and connectivity options on this Kensington model. The instruction "poster" is helpful, although it takes a second to figure out why a huge, multi-colored hand is printed on it. Turns out it's a unique system for determining how high you need to adjust the dock so that it's at proper eye-level for you.

The dock seems a little bulky to me, but I usually like items to be as streamlined as possible. It looks very nice sitting on my desk, and I don't foresee that I will be moving it much anyway.

A detachable port replicator about the size of a mass-market paperback slides into slots on the upper back of the dock. The port replicator includes connectors for Ethernet, parallel and serial ports (which is handy for many of today's laptops that do not include such ports), and USB 2.0 slots. The port replicator also includes connectors for 5.1 surround sound audio. Having access to all those ports helps explains the price tag of $169.99.

The port replicator connects to your laptop via a single USB 2.0 cable. Unfortunately, the port replicator requires a whole separate power cord to make sure that products you plug into it are going to have enough power.

The front of the Kensington dock completely covers up the keyboard although it does come with a handy document holder-clip.

Since you're cut off from your laptop's keyboard, a wireless keyboard and mouse are essential.

Comfort in a Keyboard

Microsoft has been making wireless keyboard sets for several years and I tend to prefer them over similar products from Logitech. Nothing against Logitech, but I like how the software drivers and utilities from Microsoft work on my system a little better.

I've also used the so-called "natural" keyboards from Microsoft. These are the weird looking keyboards where they basically split the keyboard in half, and twist the sides up slightly to create a more "ergonomic" keyboard.

Fans of the natural keyboard continually sing its praises, but the style has a sizable flock of objectionists. I was intrigued, therefore, that Microsoft started offering a "comfort curve" design in the Wireless Optical Desktop Comfort Edition.

Looking at the comfort curve from the top, it almost looks like the keyboard is smiling. All of the letters and numbers have a slight curve which again is intended to better fit the natural lay of your hands on the keyboard.

Microsoft also added a few programmable buttons and a "zoom slider" to the setup. You can set these buttons to automatically launch Internet Explorer, the My Documents folder, and your e-mail client, among others, You can also program five buttons to automatically jump to your favorite Web sites.

The zoom slider looks like a good idea, but I honestly didn't use it much. Theoretically, when you are editing pictures or images, you can zoom in and out using the slider rather than clicking the zoom button on the screen. The zoom slider also operates to make text bigger and smaller in a Microsoft Word document.

One nice addition to the Wireless Optical Desktop Comfort Edition is the faux leather wrist-rest along the front of the keyboard. It's nice, soft and comfortable.

The Optical Mouse that ships with the Desktop Comfort Edition is mediocre. I like Microsoft's wireless mice because I feel like they do a wonderful job on battery power.

The mouse features Microsoft's "Tilt Wheel" technology which means that the wheel on the mouse not only scrolls up and down, but also side to side. So you if you're looking at a Web page that requires you to scroll horizontally, you can do that directly from the mouse wheel.

The Wireless Optical Desktop Comfort Edition ships with the latest Intellitype (keyboard) and Intellisync (mouse) software which provides a nice interface for customizing the buttons on the keyboard.

The only thing I wish the keyboard had on it are LED lights for indicating if you have the caps lock or num-lock on. Instead, these indicators are on the wireless base (which is about the size of a mouse itself). As much as I miss them, the lack of these indicator lights probably cuts down on the power consumption overall of the keyboard.

Maximize your Vista-Views

Having my laptop propped up in the Kensington Notebook Expansion Dock with the Microsoft Wireless Optical Desktop Comfort Edition keyboard and mouse looks good on my desk, but I wanted a little more.

With my laptop more accessible, I actually started using it a little more to test out software or check a Website while my desktop was busy. But while I was working on my desktop, my laptop just sat there.

MaxiVista is a small, brilliant application that turns a laptop screen into an extension of your desktop screen.

 

I've been a big fan of the extended desktop screen (a.k.a. dual-monitor) ever since Microsoft starting supporting the option in Windows 98. The problem was that you needed an extra video card and another monitor to use it – two things I could rarely afford. Fortunately, many of today's video cards will now support two monitors on their own.

I feel more productive when I use two monitors. For example, I'm always checking on my e-mail. Outlook is usually the first application I pop up and I just leave it sitting behind all the other windows that I open up. If I get a new e-mail, I have to minimize my windows, or click on Outlook in the taskbar to bring it up.

With two monitors, I can drag Outlook over to the second monitor and keep my other work on my primary monitor. This is great because when I get a new e-mail, I can simply glance over the other screen and see what it is. If I don't need to respond to it right then, I can continue working and the interruption is minimal.

Similarly, I put iTunes or media player over on to my other screen so I can just glance over there to see what's currently playing.

Extended desktop screens also come in very handy when you're looking at a wide Excel spreadsheet.

Instead of requiring a extra hardware video card, MaxiVista works over your local network, firing up a "virtual" video driver for the other computer.

I installed the MaxiVista "server" on my desktop computer and generated a "viewer" for my laptop computer. I copied the viewer over to my laptop and installed that quickly and easily.

When I launch the MaxiVista server on my primary PC, it automatically finds my laptop with the viewer and connects to it. If you have a firewall in place, it's probably going to ask permission before the connection goes through.

There is a small icon in the system tray that pops up on both computers. The system tray icon on my desktop computer lets me control the configuration on the laptop, or "secondary" computer. I can change the resolution and other settings with just a few clicks.

I was truly amazed at how easy MaxiVista installed and how easily it found and connected to my laptop. It automatically created the extended desktop screen and I was moving windows over to it within a few seconds.

If I click my laptop's mouse, or hit a key on the wireless keyboard, the extended desktop screen automatically goes away and I'm back to my laptop screen – MaxiVista minimizes itself. When I'm ready to go back to the extended screen, I simply click on MaxiVista in the task bar and I'm up and running again.

Video going over a network can be a little iffy due to refresh rates and a handful of other contingencies. Sure enough, I would see a stutter every once in a while or my mouse wouldn't respond as quickly at times.

But overall, I was extremely pleased with the performance. MaxiVista even worked over a wireless network connection which is even more impressive.

If nothing else, MaxiVista is a great way to use your idle laptop, or even recycle an older laptop back into service. MaxiVista is a little bit pricey at $34.95, but it's refreshing to find an application that does what it says, and does it well.