The frontiers of space. (efficient use of home-office space)
by Philip Chien
Many home off ices have as little space as a walk-in closet. So how can you use your home office most efficiently--especially with a limited space and a limited budget? The best way to use space efficiently is to think in three dimensions. The walls--and even your ceiling--can be used for accessories and storage. However, if you use a stand that sits on top of your monitor or anything that squeezes components close together, be extremely careful not to cover cooling vents.
Tower cases occupy less space than conventional computers. If you don't have a tower, you can set a PC on its side to reduce its footprint (the space occupied on your desk). Most office supply stores sell special stands to use with upended PCs. Power, keyboard, and video extension cords permit you to place your keyboard and monitor where they are most useful, and the computer wherever it will fit. A stand that holds your monitor above the desk will give you more desk space for papers and notes.
A mouse is one of the biggest users of space. You should consider other pointing devices, such as trackballs.
Portable computers and accessories occupy less space than their desktop equivalents. However, they have their disadvantages. Most portable computers don't include numeric keypads. Many have slightly smaller keyboards Their displays are often limited and hard to read. While standard accessories can be PCs, portable accessories are usually machine-specific, proprietary, and expensive.
Some peripherals work well with portables, though: external modems, for example. If your portable has a video output jack, you may want to use it with a monitor in your office.
A hybrid between a portable computer and a normal desktop computer is a portable with a docking station. A docking station consists of a power supply expansion chassis with space for accessories which normally Wouldn't work with a portable computer. Docking stations are expensive, but they may be worth it, if you need the flexibility of a portable and the capabilities of a desktop computer.
A printer takes up a lot of space in a small office. You can save space if you use a standard-width rather than a wide-carriage printer. Kodak, Star, and others have introduced portable ink-jet printers that are truly tiny. And some laser printers occupy only half the space of early models.
If you use both a fax machine and modem, consider connecting them to the same phone line. SendFax modems are excellent for documents created on your computer. If you're working in a dorm room, think about your computer's noise level. A typical computer and printer probably won't keep anybody from sleeping, but the speaker might--especially if you're playing a noisy game or running a program that beeps to alert you. It's easy to disconnect your computer's speaker or add a volume control so you can turn it down when necessary. Modems with variable volume levels or speakers that can be shut off via software are also desirable.
Besides hardware considerations, you should also think about your software and documentation. The documentation for three or four large programs may occupy more space than your computer! You may want to choose software that includes online documentation or purchase keyboard templates for your most-used programs.
If your office is in your home, security shouldn't be much of a problem. But if you're working out of a semiprivate or public area where others have access, don't forget that many a portable has magically "grown legs" and walked off on its own. A portable should be locked in a desk drawer or closet. You should tape your business card or a piece of paper with your name and driver's license number to the inside of the case to prove that it's yours if you misplace it or if it's stolen and eventually recovered.
Your home or dorm room can be an effective off ice, and careful selection of components can keep your cost within a reasonable budget.