Business-like, isn't he?



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    Small business technology packs big-office features

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First published in Business in Vancouver Issue #787 November 23-29 2004, GearGuide Column

    Technology manufacturers are increasingly looking toward the small business market, offering products that are more durable and full-featured than those aimed at home office users, but that don't require the support of a corporate-sized IT department.

    Scan, copy and fax

    All-in-one units combining printer, scanner, copier and fax functions have become common in many home offices. Models are now available for small and mid-sized businesses at a variety of prices.

    Lexmark's X7170 ($350) adds document management to the typical all-in-one mix. For example, users can combine multiple scanned pages into a single, multi-page PDF file for storage and distribution or use included optical character recognition software to turn scanned pages into editable digital text. Thumbnail images of documents can be easily printed, faxed, emailed, or converted to another format. The built-in LCD screen makes it possible to perform many jobs right at the unit, bypassing the computer.

    The automatic document feeder and 150-page input tray help zip through large production jobs. Ethernet and wireless network adapters are optional extras.

    Claiming typical companies spend between one and three per cent of revenue on printed output, HP says its new Laserjet 4345mfp ($3,200) will help businesses reduce these costs by up to 30 per cent while improving employee productivity. The 4345mfp combines colour laser printing, scan, fax, digital sending and finishing capabilities with up to 45 pages per minute copying, all in a desktop-sized unit.

    Storage to go

    For some time now, users have seen an expanding range of roomy and affordable storage devices. A case in point is hard-drive maker Seagate. The company's new Pocket Hard Drives are the size and shape of a yo-yo, and come complete with retractable USB cable that winds up around the unit's body and flashing ice-blue lights. These offer far more storage than popular flash-memory drives. Portable and durable, they come in two sizes: 2.5 GB ($180) and 5 GB ($245).

    If that's not enough capacity, Seagate also offers 40 GB ($205) and 100 GB ($340) Portable External Drives. With a more conventional look, they're about the size and shape of a small paperback book (though also featuring the ice-blue lights).

    Both series of drives use USB 2.0 connections, combining speedy performance on newer PCs and Macs with backwards compatibility (though slower bandwidth) on systems with the more common older USB 1.1 ports. All models draw power through the USB connection; no bulky power bricks needed.

    Pocket workstation

    PalmOne's Tungsten T5 PDA ($600) offers a bright 320 x 480 pixel full colour screen that can be viewed in either landscape or portrait mode. Along with built-in Bluetooth connectivity and a thin, sleek design, its use of flash memory means user data is protected, even when the battery runs out. As well, it can double as a 160 MB portable flash drive, so it can be used to store and transport files between computers even if the Palm's software can't read them. But with the included copy of Dataviz Documents to Go software, T5 owners can read and edit Microsoft Word and Excel files and view PowerPoint files. Missing in this model: the innovative collapsible design used in earlier Tungsten models. But you can use it to play MP3 music files in the background while you work.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan