Notebook Safety Doesn’t End With Recalls

The recent recall of millions of notebook computer batteries by Dell and
Apple is a necessary and welcome first step.

But the notebook safety issue hasn’t necessarily been resolved, according to Info-Tech Research Group, a Canada-based IT research firm.

“While it’s good to see companies like Apple  and
Dell  taking direct action, computer companies need
to do root-cause analysis to ensure they are actually solving the problems
at the source,” said Info-Tech senior analyst Carmi Levy.

“Computer designs that limit heat dissipation, as well as the apparent
faulty performance of Sony’s lithium ion batteries, need to be thoroughly

Sony said it has introduced several additional safeguards into its
battery-manufacturing process and believes it’s addressed the overheating

Info-tech said that concern about battery, and by extension, notebook overheating, goes beyond damage to the computer itself.

There is the
potential for human injury, particularly where laptops are used in confined
spaces such as airplanes.

According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald this week, Qantas airlines recently implemented restrictions on Dell laptop computer usage on board its flights as a safety precaution.

The report said passengers would be allowed to carry their Dells either
as checked or cabin baggage, but could only use them through the aircraft
power supply available in some first- and business-class cabins after first
removing the batteries.

Sony said the overheating problem is caused on the rare occasions when
microscopic metal particles in the recalled battery cells come into contact
with other parts of the battery cell, leading to a short circuit within the

But after talking with Sony and several notebook
manufacturers, analyst Roger Kay said there is no definitive proof of the cause of the problem.

“There is a lot of theory as to what may be causing the overheating,”
Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, told

But he said the problem has occurred so infrequently (Dell reported six
occurrences and Apple nine), that it’s been impossible to reproduce in the lab the same conditions that led to overheating.

“We’re talking about a tens of thousandth of a percent frequency,” said
Kay. “You’ve got a lot better chance of getting hit by a semi riding your
bicycle than of having one of these notebooks overheat.”

On the issue of business travel, Info-Tech issued a separate advisory
that the terrorist threat may limit notebook use in planes.

“We can expect that carry-on baggage rules are going to fluctuate in sync
with security alert levels, so it’s time for enterprises and business
travelers to address the issue head-on,” said Levy.

Info-Tech recommends that enterprises use data encryption to protect the
privacy of computer files. Further, it suggests IT managers stress the
importance of data back-up, especially for business travelers whose
computers are more at risk.

One strategy: travelers can use USB ‘thumb drives’ to back up critical
data and carry it on the plane with them if the laptop is stowed in the

Info-Tech also recommends enterprises expedite connections to the office
from remote locations by using technology like Virtual Private Networking
(VPN)  and Voice over IP (VoIP) .

“If you can’t work on the plane, it’s critical to have quick and painless
voice and data connection from your destination,” said Levy.

“The world is
changing, and the best we can do is be as prepared as possible for what comes

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