General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

Hardware and Internet Connections

With the price of computers dropping like a brick, there is no reason not to go out and buy a computer with as much processing power and storage space as you can get for $1,500 to $2,000. Pentium processor speed is lightning fast on these new machines. And you’ll get at least 64 megabytes of RAM, which is adequate for most operating systems (128 megabytes is better), a built-in high-speed modem (56K at least), and a CD-ROM drive.

Regarding Macintosh operating systems versus Windows, when you are connecting to the Internet with a browser, the computer you use is not the main issue. However, Windows-based computers dominate the non-graphics business marketplace; unless you have a reason to go to Macintosh, you will probably have fewer compatibility problems if you get a PC. The place to spend your money is on the monitor. Get at least a 17-inch monitor.

If you get an ink jet printer, get a fast one that prints at least eight pages of black and white per minute. It should have dual cartridges, one for color printing and a separate one for black ink. I opted to buy an IBM Thinkpad 600 through the ABA member discount program. This is a portable 233MHz Pentium 2 with 96 megabytes of ram, a 12 gigabyte hard drive, and built-in read-only CD-ROM drive.

Because I telecommute much of the time, I rely heavily on Dan Coolidge and Mike Jimmerson’s A Survival Guide for Road Warriors (ABA Law Practice Management Section, 1996) for how to maximize my use of a portable plus desktop computer solution to better serve my clients. Though the book was written a couple of years ago, the only major change is that it’s easier now than before to work on the road because the portables are so much more powerful.

Another item to consider is a scanner. You may want to defer this purchase for a short while, but take it into account, because you will probably want one after you have your virtual office in operation for a few months. Visioneer makes a scanner/keyboard combination that plugs into the computer and allows scanning that takes roughly a few seconds per page. I am just beginning to explore the potential of this device to reduce paperflow.

I use a zip drive to back up my work, and I’m thinking of changing to CD-ROM. The two most popular accessories for backing up workproduct are a zip drive, which can be built in at purchase or bought separately; and a writable/erasable CD-ROM, which can also be built in to the computer or added later. Zip drive disks are very expensive and hold less information than a CD-ROM. Until recently, zip drives have been the standard for backing up your data, but writable CD-ROMs will probably prove to be the more cost-effective approach.

Internet Connections

Speed and secure connections are the key to working on the web. Some areas of the country have what is known as broadband access through cable operators. This access is about 50 times faster than telephone line access. If you spend any considerable time on the Internet, broadband is the way to go. Luckily for me, this is what I have, and it costs about $40 per month.

Before my cable connection, I had a contract with an Internet service provider (ISP). This is a telephone connection to the Internet that uses the dial-up modem inside or connected to your computer. There are two types of ISPs, large commercial vendors such as America Online, Compuserve, Earthlink, and others; and local business ISPs. Prices vary from free (watch ads or check out to AOL’s industry standard $21.95 per month. I also dedicated a separate phone line for computer use so that I did not end up with conflicts between regular phone use and computer use.

Other possible paths to the Internet include ISDN lines, T-1 lines, and Digital Subscriber lines. At this point, unless you are in a shared office environment that makes one of these services available to you, it is probably too expensive to consider these alternatives.

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