ISSUE 480: The high-tech office
January 5-11, 1999
Computerized phones, CD-Rom business cards are among
the best gadget offerings this season
If you're reading this column, I'm going to assume you like gadgets
--little things that attach to your computer (in itself, perhaps the
ultimate gadget) and maybe let you do something better.
Here are a couple that have recently won my heart.
* Anybody with a notebook knows that they just don't
have access to many of the wide range of PC add-ons. Hopefully, as the
Universal Serial Bus (USB) catches on as a way to attach things to
computers, this will change. But, for now, most notebook owners are
limited to gadgets that can be built the size of credit cards, to fit
into skinny PC Card or Cardbus slots.
And because the devices are so tiny, attaching the
cables can be a problem.
Like many users, I needed to connect both a modem and
a network adapter to my notebook. I was using one of the popular X-Jack
modem cards, a clever device with a pop-out jack for a phone plug. The
network card right below it took a special adapter to connect to the
The two didn't get along very well. The phone plug, at
right angles to the PC Cards, pushed down on the dongle hanging from
the network card.
The result was that every few months I had to replace
the network card's adapter -- at a cost of about $45 and a lot of
aggravation. And I was always waiting for the wrong move that would
break one or the other right off, or I'd unplug from the network and
leave the adapter behind, on the end of the network cable.
No more. Xircom's RealPort Integrated PC Card
series offers a clever design that combines both a high-speed modem and
10/100 Mbs networking in a single card and allows users plug two phone
cords (one for the modem, one for a phone) and a networking cable right
into the body of the card. There's even another jack to connect to a
cell phone for wireless connections.
They do this by fattening the card's housing at one
end, making it wide enough to hold all those plugs. As a result, this
single card fills up both of the two PC Card slots available in most
At a price of around $500, it's pricey -- even as a
replacement for both a modem and a network adapter. But it may be worth
it for the ease of use and an end to having to worry about damaging or
losing hard-to-replace connectors.
Xircom isn't as well-known a modem manufacturer as
some, but for years they've been well respected for producing a line of
This gadget is no exception, producing some of the
fastest so-called 56-kbs connections I've seen, especially for a PC
Card product, where typically miniaturization comes at the cost of
* Microsoft is better known for its software
than its hardware, but the company is ex-
panding its range of computer peripherals.
In addition to its well-known computer mice, it sells
keyboards, game controllers and speakers. Its newest product is aimed
at home and small office users: a telephone.
At first glance, this seemingly unlikely offering from
the company is a more or less standard 900-Mhz cordless phone, with
charging cradle and base station -- like lots of other products for
sale wherever you buy your phones. However, the name on the box, the
Microsoft Cordless PC Phone System, may be a giveaway.
This phone is designed to plug into a PC. The base
station includes a serial cable for that purpose. (I would have
preferred a Universal Serial Bus connector.) And it comes with
Once it is installed on your PC (no Macs need apply),
your computer takes over call management.
Building on the phone company's Caller ID, you can
create customized greetings for different callers, block unwanted
callers or allow high-priority callers to ring through while taking
messages from everybody else.
Voice recognition technology allows users to speak the
words "Call dad" into the phone and have the computer look up and dial
dad's number, along with a range of other voice commands.
Your computer can create voice mailboxes for multiple
users at home or work and store thousands of messages. The computer
also logs all calls coming or going -- at least those made through
Microsoft's phone. The telephone costs $289.
* Here's a business card that will really stand out.
I recently received a plastic card about the size of a
credit card with a hole in the middle that turned out to be a real,
working CD-ROM disk. With a little careful placement, right in the
center of the computer CD drive, it played a Macromedia Director
multimedia promo of the company's products (in this case, Okidata's
colour laser printers).
It's cheap enough to hand out widely -- though maybe
not to enter draws for a free restaurant lunch.
Until everybody's using them, it's a chance to have an
eyecatcher of a business card neatly combined with 100 megs of whatever
information or publicity you want to put on it.
No, I don't know who makes these -- if any reader does
know, please drop me a line.