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Hot picks for the home office

July 6, 1998
Web posted at: 2:13 PM EDT

by Steve Bass

IDG -- Throw away your copier. Get rid of your fax machine. I have a better idea: the Visioneer PaperPort OneTouch scanner. Connect it to your PC, and you'll have almost everything you need to run your office. The $249 OneTouch looks like any other flatbed scanner, but with one important difference--five buttons adorn its front panel instead of none. Push a button to scan your document. Press another to scan and fax the document. Want to copy something to your printer, or optically recognize the text? All together now: Press a button.

This 36-bit, 600-by-1200-dots-per-inch color scanner is a snap to install: Just plug it into your PC's parallel port. It's compact (about 10 inches wide by 18.5 inches high), so it doesn't hog your desk space. Black-and-white documents took seconds to scan--with sharp output. Color scans were minutes slower, and I had to tweak some images to make them look good, but that's not uncommon even with high-end scanners. The OneTouch comes with PaperPort--my favorite document management program--and PictureWorks PhotoEnhancer, a useful image manipulation tool.

Instant Photo Lab

"What, another printer?" I exclaimed as I opened the box. But when I saw the first document slide out of the Alps MD-1300, I was stunned: The photo I printed on plain paper looked like--a real photo. When I printed it at 1200 by 600 dpi on Alps's glossy Photo-Realistic stock, the output was photo-shop stunning. The secret: Unlike ink jet printers, the MD-1300 uses Micro Dry waterproof ink that affixes firmly to the page. The ink doesn't smudge or soak into the paper and make the image look fuzzy. The $549 MD-1300 prints out ordinary black-and-white documents at about 2 pages per minute; color documents take from 3 to almost 10 minutes per page, depending on image size. The unit is small (about 19 inches wide, 11 inches deep, and 7 inches high) and holds 100 pages in its automatic sheet feeder. Adobe's reliable PhotoDeluxe photo editing program also comes bundled with the printer. Regular color ink cartridges cost $7 each; photocolor cartridges (good for about 15 full-page photos) are $12. Special paper is priced at $10.50 for 20 sheets.

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Back Up to the Max

You've turned on your PC, eager to finish a critically important project. The computer starts up, but the hard disk isn't responding. Yep, the worst has happened: The drive's dead, kaput, a goner. No problem--you have a recent backup, right? Listen, the worst can happen, and the best way to protect yourself is with a tape backup drive. I use the $200 Iomega Ditto Max because it's fast, reliable, and quite capacious. I can work with tape cartridges ranging from a trim 3GB compressed (about $20) to a whopping 7GB ($30). The external Ditto Max backs up data at about 19MB per second, the internal at 36MB. (Their actual speed depends on the type of files you're backing up: On my system, a 1GB backup takes 20 minutes.) The drive includes Ditto Tools 1-Step software for backing up and restoring data, and FullBack--a recovery program that provides protection in case of a system crash.

The No-Surprise-Calls PC Phone

Is the telephone in your small or home office just about ready for the junk pile? If so, replace it with Nortel's $330 PC-compatible Meridian 9617 USB, a standard two-line speakerphone that also connects to your PC by means of a Universal Serial Bus port. When you combine Caller ID (available as an option from your phone company) and the Meridian's Personal Call Manager, information about your caller pops onto your PC's screen after the first ring. The Call Manager software, similar to Microsoft's Outlook, can import ASCII-delimited text from your existing personal information manager. Because the speakerphone has two lines, you can seamlessly conference two callers using the PC's software. While you're out of the office, the Meridian can provide pager notification of incoming calls. You also have the option of entering dialing restrictions to prevent 900-number calls from being placed. And the Meridian works even when your PC is off. Never again will you find yourself asking, "Who could that be?"

Hot Off the Internet

You already know what a valuable business research tool the Internet can be. But you can also get great advice from Usenet newsgroups. Examples: the newsgroup misc.taxes.moderated helps with tax issues; Symantec's 90 moderated discussion groups offer product support; and has tons of employment listings. The problem? Even for experienced users, newsgroups are hard to access and manage. The easiest--and cheapest--way to get to the data is with Free Agent 1.11, a top-notch freeware newsreader. Free Agent takes you online to download message headers (or to sample available newsgroups), then carries you offline to browse the headers and choose the most intriguing messages. Once back online, the program retrieves the messages you've selected and lets you log off to read and respond to them.

Ma Bell Does E-Mail

I was pedaling the backroads of California's wine country on a ten-speed bike when I spotted a pay phone and decided to check my e-mail. So I called a toll-free number and punched in my code--and a synthesized voice read me the e-mail headers. I chose specific messages, listened to them, forwarded one as a fax, replied to another, and deleted the rest. Mail Call's handy service lets you do all this and more. It will immediately read specific messages (say, from your boss) and skip others (maybe from your ex-spouse). You can reply with one of four canned messages or use the telephone's buttons to send your number. You can even record a 15-second message to accompany your reply. The cost for all this convenience? About $10 a month for 30 minutes of use (19 cents per minute thereafter); forwarding a fax sets you back 19 cents per page. Mail Call is ideal if you're tired of schlepping that fat notebook computer around every time you leave the office--or if you want to travel light on your ten-speed.

What's Your Policy?

When I first hired employees, I faced an onerous task: creating a policy manual. But luckily I have Policies Now, a nifty $119 program from KnowledgePoint. I supply details about my company in answer to step-by-step questions, choosing from more than 90 topics that fit my business. For example, I can add boilerplates dealing with child care benefits, safety, work schedules, and employee conduct. The program customizes and prints my official Bass International Employee Handbook, complete with a table of contents. And I'm covered legally, since the policy is written to meet federal labor laws. Performance Now, also $119, provides a quicker way to write employee performance reviews. Test-drive either product by downloading a trial copy at Or create a performance review for $10 at KnowledgePoint's Web site.

Contributing Editor Steve Bass is president of the Pasadena IBM users group.
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