I'm going to be traveling extensively this summer and would like to avoid dragging my laptop around if possible. I'm open to buying a tablet, but I'm not sure I can do everything that I'd want with it. Thoughts?
The tablet PC (popularized by Apple's iPad) is certainly a worthy travel companion, but it does have its limitations when it comes to productivity tasks such as spreadsheets and word processing.
There are plenty of ways to work with spreadsheets and documents on a tablet PC (Google Docs, Office 360, etc.) but the on-screen keyboard and lack of control without a mouse (especially on spreadsheets) can make productivity tasks very inefficient.
You could certainly add a Bluetooth keyboard and even 'jailbreak' the tablet (break the protection system) to allow a Bluetooth mouse, but at that point, you would be better off taking the laptop in my opinion.
If your productivity needs are primarily reading and writing e-mails and web surfing, the tablet will be just fine. If you have an office computer that you need to access remotely from time-to-time to look up old documents or anything else you would do if you were sitting at your desk, I've used LogMeIn's Ignition (iPhone/iPad $29.99) with good success.
It takes a little time to get used to using your finger on the iPad to control the mouse on your remote computer, but it's a great safety valve for those 'uh-oh' moments that can pop-up on the road. It even allowed me to switch which display I was working on since my office PC has dual monitors.
If you know that you will have access to other Windows based systems while you're on the road (business centers at hotels, Internet cafes, friends and family's computers, etc.) you could supplement the tablet PC by carrying a flash drive with portable apps installed on it.
Many 'open-source' apps exist that are designed to be portable, meaning they can run directly from a flash drive without the normal hassle of installing the program on the computer in use.
You could, for example, install Open Office (similar to Microsoft Office with a word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation and drawing tools), Skype portable, Google's portable Chrome browser and the KeePass password manager on a flash drive.
Add your important documents, templates and address book and you have a portable office on a flash drive that can be used from any Windows-based computer within seconds of sitting down.
By using a portable browser (such as Firefox or Chrome) you don't have to worry about leaving digital 'crumbs' on the temporary computer and KeePass will store all your websites and associated access codes in an encrypted manner so accessing them quickly and securely is a snap.
The easiest way to get setup is to visit PortableApps.com for both a simple menu-based utility for accessing your programs as well as a huge list of portable apps to choose from.
You can download the platform only (best for tech savvy users that want complete control), the Suite Light or the Suite Standard (best choice for those that aren't sure what they might need).
Everything is free (so be ready for commercials to run in the middle of the screen when you start your download - they are unrelated to the download).
Once your download is complete, plug your flash drive into your computer and pay attention to which drive letter it gets assigned.
Launch the install program that you downloaded and when it asks you where to install the programs, browse to your flash drive (by selecting the letter it got assigned).
Once everything is installed, be sure to copy your important documents, spreadsheets, etc. that you will want to work with while on the road into the Documents folder created by PortableApps.
Be sure to run the various programs as if you were on the road BEFORE you hit the road so you can get everything setup, configured and transferred that you plan to use on the road.
Finally, make sure you attach the flash drive to something else (keychain or lanyard) to reduce the chances of losing it!