COMPUTING FOR THE SURVIVAL SET

COMPUTING FOR THE SURVIVAL SET

It takes a licking, but keeps on ticking. No, I'm not talking about a Timex watch. I'm referring to a new breed of sub-notebook computer that is made to withstand the rigors of the great outdoors.

I had the good fortune to test the Scout2 all-terrain sub-notebook made by Melard Technologies Inc. and discovered that all computers aren't created equal.The Scout2 is made for those who have to brave all sorts of natural phenomena in their daily lives, be that hiking through the desert or reporting on damaged boxcars.

Its ability to communicate wirelessly via the Internet using Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) technology makes it easy to keep in touch with the home office and receive e-mail. It also allows for filing of reports directly from the field.

The Scout2 boasts an extremely long-lived battery; Melard says it can last all day on a single charge. I find that a bit optimistic, but you can always run it off your car battery using an optional power cord.

The unit I tested weighed about five pounds, had a 4.3-gigabyte hard drive and 233-megahertz AMD K6 processor. It also was equipped with a touch screen, 64 megabytes of RAM and one of the brightest color displays I've seen on a sub-notebook computer.

And the computer's case is made of magnesium and is environmentally sealed so it can be used in what the company calls ''extreme conditions.''

In addition, it has:

* A touchpad pointing device.

* Two Type III PC card slots.

* A half-wave dipole antenna for wireless communication.

* An integrated touch-pad pointing device.

* A Li-Ion rechargeable battery.

* Santoprene bumpers to avoid shock.

* A fully-sealed keyboard.

* A removeable hard drive.

* The ability to withstand high and low temperatures, rain, sand and dust, vibration, and shock.

Available options include:

* A 10-gigabyte hard drive.

* A docking station to link it with your personal computer.

* Diagnostic/testing devices.

* An external floppy drive.

* Barcode readers and scanners.

It also comes with the ability to use wireless network modems, global-positioning satellite devices and standard ''landline'' modems. In fact, adventurer Doug Gates has been using a Scout2 to map the course of the 2,674-mile Pacific Coast Trail.

Have you downloaded the service packs for Microsoft Office 2000 or Windows 2000? I urge you to do so, even if you're not having problems with these programs.

The Office service pack fixes a lot of the security problems with Outlook and Microsoft Word, in addition to the usual bug fixes. The Win2000 service pack fixes all the bugs that Microsoft denied existed in the final release.

Both can be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site (www.microsoft.com) or can be ordered directly from Microsoft. The Microsoft site will link you to update sites for both programs, which will analyze your versions of Office and Win2000 and tell you if you actually need the service packs.