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People who liked the original CruisePAD will be ecstatic about the new CruisePAD NXT. And that's not only because it appears to be a terrific product, but also because it is yet another testimony to the perseverance and eventual success of a small group of technological enthusiasts against almost insurmountable odds.

The CruisePAD - as longtime followers of pen technology will recall - was originally designed and produced by Zenith Data Systems. When Zenith Data Systems was bought out by Packard Bell, things looked bleak for the CruisePAD as the Sacramento, California, based maker of low cost PCs had little interest in leading edge technology for vertical markets. For a while it looked like another example of pen technology excellence was going to be lost forever.

But the CruisePAD team would not let the technology die. Instead, they managed to strike a number of deals and emerged as a brand new company, Cruise Technologies, Inc. Almost the entire original CruisePAD team remained together and Cruise Technologies resumed production of the original CruisePAD, busily changing and improving the software underpinnings. For a while the original CruisePAD was basically just a portable touch screen with a wireless connection to your desktop PC, it then metamorphosed into a powerful wireless thin client for Windows NT networks. The system struck such a chord in many vertical markets - healthcare, fleet maintenance, and manufacturing to name just a few - that companies such as Motorola, Wyse, and Telos licensed CruisePAD technology and introduced their own versions named SitePad, Winterm Wireless 2930, and MobilePAD, respectively.

If there was one area where the original CruisePAD was a bit weak, it was the screen. Measuring just 8.5 inches diagonally and being limited to 640 x 480 VGA resolution, the screen sat a bit forlornly in the CruisePAD's substantial housing.

Enter the new CruisePAD NXT. Barely larger than the original PAD, the sleek NXT has a gorgeous 12.1 inch SVGA screen made by Sharp. This means a world of difference to clients that require bright color and high resolution graphics. But that's not the only change. The NXT is a totally new hardware and software design (which, however, retains complete compatibility with the leading thin client protocols - ICA and RDP - and the leading servers - Citrix MetaFrame and WinFrame, and Microsoft Windows Terminal Server). PC Card or microISA wireless LAN interfaces offer customers a choice in radio options through a standard Type II PC Card slot. An embedded microphone and speaker support full wireless audio.

Perhaps the biggest news on the software side is that the CruiseConnect 4.0 thin client system software has been ported to a Windows CE kernel which provides all the benefits of an application - independent on-screen keyboard, a fully unified graphical user interface for radio and system configuration, and optimized wireless performance on a Microsoft standard core operating system. Though the CruisePAD is more a client than a computer, it does have its own (Windows CE-supported) AMD Elan SC400 chip. It also sports Chips and Technologies' 3.3V 65550 high performance multimedia GUI accelerator to drive the big CSTN Sharp color screen.

So what does a CruisePAD system consist of? One or more CruisePADs, radio transceiver "access points" that bridge wireless communication to a wired LAN, and a server running Windows NT 4.0, Terminal Server Edition (formerly known under the "Hydra" code-name).

More than ever, the CruisePAD system is an ideal solution for "locally-mobile" users in a variety of industries. The tablet allows them to access standard Windows, Windows NT, Java, or terminal emulation applications from anywhere in their workplace without having to sit down at a desktop workstation or even plug a notebook into a LAN port. Cruise Technologies has a good thing going, and the advent of the amazing CruisePAD NXT makes the technology even more attractive.

- Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

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