Reader e-mail prompts a catch-up column

on miscellaneous wonders of the marketplace July 22 1997

This week's column is a grab bag of information to supplement previous columns, introduce some new or not so new products, businesses and services, and share e-mail received from readers.

Let's start with a new service: Those of you who drive to work may be interested in tuning in to CKWX News (1130 on the AM dial) to catch the Emerge Tech Minute scheduled for around 7:10 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. Hosted by Tod Maffin, senior strategist for Emerge Online, the Minute aims to help listeners make sense of just how changing technology will affect business. An on-line version is at thisweek/.

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Several readers have sent e-mail to point out companies I had not mentioned in my column about the local software scene in BIV issue 400.

James Waletzky, for one, mentions Ncompass Labs (, a company he says "has taken the Web software business by storm" with a product for Netscape Navigator called ScriptActive, which allows that browser to use ActiveX controls developed for Microsoft's Internet Explorer. DocActive adds the ability to view and edit Microsoft Office documents within Navigator. Ncompass's latest offering: Active Enterprise, an information management system for corporate intranets.

Trevor Davis and Taysha Davis rate a mention for their company, Davis Business Systems, which has been in operation since 1982, and has written custom accounting systems for clients including Pine Tree Nuts, Dickson's Foods and Calona Wines. Davis Business has a new product, BS/1 Small Business, a Windows 95/NT-based accounting system for small to mid-sized businesses. The Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, and General Ledger modules can be downloaded for free (, while a $30 upgrade allows for printed reports. All this from two people, working out of their Whonnock home while taking care of the kids!

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Another of my columns looked at the growth of the Mac-clone industry, which now accounts for about a quarter of all 'Macs' sold. We mentioned several local retailers. We're now mentioning another: If you're shopping around for a Mac clone, add Simply Computing ( in Delta to your list. Simply Computing carries the fully-compatible UMAX and Motorola StarMax clones, along with real Apple Macs.

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There are many ways to search the Web, but if you're looking for Vancouver-specific information, you might want to give The Vancouver Mining Company (vancouver. a try. This local version is connected to The Mining Company based in New York, and despite the name, it has nothing to do with B.C.'s second (third?) biggest industry. Instead, each city's guide (in this case, Vancouver's June Campbell, of Nightcats Multimedia) tries to make it easy to 'mine the city's gems.' To wit, the target city's most relevant and timely information, valuable links, and lively conversations -- all presented in a clear, concise way.

If you think your Web site fits the parameters, e-mail June at

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Gordon Sharpe of GeoAccess Communications remembered a column of a few months back that looked at how hard-drive space can be 'wasted' owing to the way DOS and Windows (3.1 and 95) store data in fixed-size clusters. That column suggested a few ways to reclaim the waste. One solution: use DriveSpace 3 to compress the drive, but set the compression ratio to zero per cent so as not to lose any performance compressing and expanding files.

Gordon discovered that, in fact, most Windows 95 users don't have DriveSpace 3. Instead, that version is available as part of the added-cost Microsoft Plus Pack. The version included with the original Windows 95 base package, DriveSpace 2, doesn't support large drives, making it less useful in this way. (If you have Windows 95b, which is not available for retail sale, but is included with most computers sold since last fall, you do have DriveSpace 3 included, but that version's optional FAT32 file system may be a better option for dealing with cluster waste.)

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Reader F. Meralli has asked about 'handhelds,' the little computers that could, or sometimes can't. His father is currently using a Casio electronic address book to store data for his real estate business. Meralli senior is now thinking about something more powerful with handwriting recognition. Suggestions?

If true handwriting recognition is really a necessity, there is really only one choice: the Newton MessagePad 2000, recently spun off by developer Apple into an independent company. Frankly, the MessagePad does a better job than I'd expected when it comes to reading printing and handwriting. It also has a wide range of available software. On the other hand, the MessagePad is much larger and more expensive than a Casio.

If typing on a mini-keyboard is an option, the British Psion is an interesting choice, and the range of Windows CE machines from firms such as Compaq, NEC, Hewlett-Packard, and Philips are worth a look. (Be warned: the much tinier and cheaper US Robotics Pilot forces users to learn to print its way -- in a special Graffiti script.) (See special feature on Telecommunications, page 14.)

As always, before you put your money down on any computer product, make sure there is software available that meets your present and future needs. With handhelds, make sure the physical form is usable (can I handle it?) and the screen viewable in the sorts of places where the unit will be used.*

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