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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Using High-Tech Tools and Software

In this section, you will learn how to turn the gadgets of early twenty-first–century technology into powerful organization tools.

High-Tech Tools

This era of explosive growth in information technology has had phenomenal impact on our lives, at home and at work.

Today's tools have dramatically increased worker productivity and the ability to communicate in manners considered unimaginable only 10 years ago.

Cell Phones

Cell phones are convenient and portable, weighing from two ounces to four pounds. The most well-known brands include Ericsson, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Sanyo, and Samsung. Prices are associated with three types of technology: analog, digital, or digital PCs, and cellular service that you lease.

Analog phones are the cheapest and oldest models. You can get them free with the service, but digitals, today's more common technology, can cost as much as $75 to $300. A monthly service can be had for around $15.

Finally, digital PCs is the latest technology, using a higher-bandwidth frequency than its predecessors. The cost of this phone can range from $50 to $200, and monthly phone service costs about $15. It is important to note that monthly cell phone services will vary from one place to the next, but the price trend is moving downward because competition in the cell phone service industry is intense.

Desktop Computers

Nowhere is the rapid evolution of information technology more evident than in desktop or personal computers. By the time you read this book, there will be bigger and faster models on the store shelves everywhere.

PC World, one of the most respected consumer magazines about computers, categorizes these computers by power, midrange, budget, and home PC models. The major distinctions are in processor speed, hard drive space, amount of RAM, and add-on hardware devices.

CAUTION

Most PCs come with a standard-size monitor. If you spend many hours a day at the computer, get a 19-inch monitor, even if it means an upgrade. It's worth it to avoid eyestrain.

Today's personal computer characteristics are as varied as the three major categories—power, midrange, and budget.

Type

Power PC

Midrange

Budget

Price

$2,500+

$1,500+

$900+

Hard Drive

20+GB

13+BG

10+GB

RAM

128MB

64MB

32MB

Processor

800Mhz

600Mhz

466Mhz

Monitor

19+ inches

17 to 19 inches

15 inches


The most notable difference is the lack of or reduced performance of extra features. Of course, price ranges are approximate and represent what PC World defines as "street prices," which can vary from one month to the next. Brand names are quite diverse, but the more well-known brands include Acer, Axis, Compaq, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett Packard, Micron, Micro Express, and Quantex.

The previous table reflects the three categories of computers as of this printing. It should be noted that prices and other features constantly change, reflecting the very short product life cycle in the computer industry. You would be advised to periodically review industry magazines such as PC Magazine (http://www.zdnet.com/pcmag/) and Smart Business (http://www.zdnet.com/smartbusinessmag/) for changes in prices and features

Plain English

RAM Random access memory. The more RAM you have on your computer, the better the performance of your applications.

Laptop Computers

A must-have for many traveling executives, laptop computers (also called notebook computers) are diverse and have street price ranges of $1,200 to $3,200. Typical specification ranges include 366MHz to 650MHz processors, 64MB to 128MB of SDRAM, 4.3GB to 12GB hard drives, and 12- to 15-inch screens.

Apart from the well-known desktop brand names (Toshiba, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM), Chem USA, Enpower, and Twinhead are also notable among the notebooks. Apart from increased power, speed, and storage space, notebooks are adding CD-ROM and CD-RW drives. They have also made great strides in the viewing screen and built-in mouse features. The touch pad has become commonplace, and screens now have the technology to be viewed from all angles; they no longer require head-on vision.

Palm Computers and Wireless Applications

First introduced by Apple Computers in 1993, handheld and palm devices, from computers to connected organizers, have become incredibly popular only in the last year. The handheld PCs typically range in price from $400 to $3,200.

Operating on external power and batteries, these devices have processor speeds that can reach 750MHz, and their screen sizes average about 10 inches. Just three to five pounds in weight, they have docking stations for hooking up to your desktop and sharing data. Hard drives can now reach 1GB. Common brand names include IBM, Palm, Inc., 3Com, Compaq, and Dell.

TIP

Limit yourself to one or two compatible types of organizers. Otherwise, you'll spend a lot of time updating different systems.

Handheld Organizers

A step down from the handheld PC is the connected, handheld organizer, known as the personal digital assistant (PDA). These small machines, weighing in at as little as seven ounces, provide Internet and e-mail access, but they direct other applications to organize dates, phone numbers, addresses, and memos. Prices range from $250 to $500. The dominant operating systems for handheld systems are Windows CE and Palm OS, which come installed on the organizers. Newer versions of Windows CE now incorporate miniversions of the Windows office suite.

Accessories include the stylus, a penlike stick that substitutes for the classic mouse; a three-pack can be purchased for $40. If the handheld doesn't have a keyboard, foldable, full-size keyboards are useful—just slide the handheld device into the tray and being typing. The keyboard relies on the device for its power source and typically retails for $90 to $100. The dominant operating systems for handheld systems are Windows CE and Palm OS, which come installed on the organizers. Newer versions of Windows CE now incorporate miniversions of the Windows office suite.

Pocket Organizers

The predecessor to the handheld organizer, pocket organizers can now be purchased for as little at $10 to $40. They remain a very reliable, low-cost alternative.

Texas Instruments, Rolodex, Royal, Casio, and Sharp were leading brands when these devices reached their zenith of popularity. Still, they remain a very reliable, low-cost alternative for those on a restricted budget but who want to maintain ready access to names, addresses, phone numbers, calculators, calendars, a notepad, and memos. Powered by a lithium battery, they typically store up to 64KB of memory.

CAUTION

Pocket organizers are powered by lithium batteries and store up to 64KB of memory. Make sure that yours also has a backup battery included to avoid losing valuable data.

Software

Just as electricity is the fuel of the desktop, software is the steering wheel of the computer.

Office Suites

The Big Two in office suites have long been Microsoft Office (http://www.microsoft.com) and Lotus Smart Suite (http://www.lotus.com). A full program can cost from $100 to $690. The basic applications of all three suites include word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software.

But nothing stays the same. IBM no longer continues to develop Lotus, and a newcomer has arrived. Called StarOffice, this full-fledged cross-platform office suite is developed by Sun Microsystems and is available for free on the Sun Web site (http://www.sun.com/staroffice).

Money Management

Personal finance manager software (PFM) has become much easier to learn these days. Tools serve bookkeeping, accounting, investment portfolio management, and online banking functions. Microsoft Money, Intuit's Quicken, and Peachtree Accounting are the proven leaders; the various versions range in price from $20 to $220.

Plain English

PFM Short for personal finance manager software, such as Quicken or Microsoft Money.

TIP

Don't overlook business-planning software as an organization tool. It's designed to help you develop milestones, assignments, and deadlines. Some well-known brands are Business Plan Pro (http://www.paloaltosoftware.com), BizPlan Builder (http://www.jian.com), and Smart (http://www.smartonline.com).

Task and Contact Management

Organize your contact and account information with full-fledged software packages. Brand names for software include Day-Timer, Lotus Organizer, Microsoft Outlook, Act!, and Select Phone; prices range from $50 to $180.

Planning Software

Project-planning software can help you in planning, development, and monitoring projects. FastTrack Schedule, Primavera SureTrack (http://www.primavera.com), Microsoft Project, and Visio (http://www.microsoft.com) are the most well-known brands; depending on the complexity and requirements of the project, the price range varies dramatically from $20 to $10,000.

Business-planning software is designed to lead you through the process of developing a comprehensive business plan; prices range from $50 to $100. The more well-known brands are Business Plan Pro (http://www.paloaltosoftware.com), BizPlan Builder (http://www.jian.com), and Smart (http://www.smartonline.com).

Web Calendars

Put your calendar, to-do list, and address book on the Internet for easy access anywhere. These interactive online calendars will remind you to make appointments, gather data, file taxes, and even pay your part-time employees. Many, such as Outlook and Palm Pilot, will synchronize with your PIMs. You can log on to these Internet-based calendars anywhere you can find a computer with Web access. A few are now available, although some were in test stages at this writing:

Plain English

PIM Personal information manager. A software application that lets you enter dates, lists, and reminders. Most also include scheduling, calendars, and calculators. Check out Zdnet.com for the latest PIM reviews and downloads.

  • The Daily Drill (http://www.dailydrill.com). A free online calendar and appointment book. You can customize a calendar to remind you of official or religious holidays, birthdays, and special events. The Drill will notify you of upcoming dates with a Web page alarm, send you e-mail, or page you if your pager is equipped with text messaging. At the bottom of each calendar is a to-do list. Fill it out, update it from anywhere, print it out, and carry it with you.

  • Day-Timer Digital (digital.daytimer.com). A free, private calendar on the Web. You can view personal and public events at the same time. The service can remind you through e-mail or pop-up screens when you log on. This service will also add e-mail accounts in the future.

  • Excite Planner (planner.excite.com). A free Web portal offering of calendar and day planner. The service can send e-mail and pager reminders, and it synchronizes with popular desktop and handheld organizers, including Palm devices, Microsoft Outlook, and selected Motorola, Nokia, and Ericsson wireless phones. You can also get your own toll-free number for voicemail and faxing.

  • Yahoo! Calendar (calendar.yahoo.com). This free Web portal calendar has Time Guides, a feature that automatically overlays events such as sports games, co-workers' calendars, and stock splits on your own personal schedule. You can keep track of earnings release dates, stock splits, and board meeting dates for companies in your portfolio.

  • You can also keep up with the rest of nation's calendars. For example, Yahoo! has condensed the key economic indicators from several government areas into an economic calendar at biz.yahoo.com/c/e.html. What makes this online calendar so distinctive is that it provides the links to the actual government report for those who want to read more.

  • IRS Calendar (http://www.irs.treas.gov/prod/tax_edu/tax_cal/0100.html). Free, but not personalized. Bookmark this IRS calendar on your computer to keep ahead on your tax obligations.

Voice-Recognition Software

Voice-recognition software translates the spoken word into text in your word processing software, either by microphone or by specialized tape recorder. Some of the more common applications include Via Voice (http://www.ibm.com) and Voice Express (http://www.lhsl.com); they range from $40 to $230. Think about the captions on your TV screen when you hit the Mute button—now imagine the same technology on your computer with a software package. If you're not a typist, or if you always find yourself scrambling for pen and paper when the big ideas hit, this is for you.

TIP

Special versions of voice recognition software can be found for specific professions. Prices range from $200 to $800.

The tiny tape recorders slip easily into a pocket, ready when you are. After recording a day's worth of ideas, download the .wav files onto your computer. It takes a little bit of setup using a microphone plugged in to the computer, but it can be a real time-saver.

Intranets

One restricted-travel highway beyond the Internet is the intranet.

Plain English

Intranet A network designed for information processing within a company or organization.

Having your own intranet requires a software developer to access a series of tools (applications), including page editors, Web designers, code, and WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors. The applications and costs are varied, so you should contact software developers to learn the specific costs based on your company's needs.

A Word About Low-Tech

High-tech tools and software are great, but there are mainstay items necessary to an organized lifestyle, including telephones, pagers, and tape recorders.

TIP

For the office, buy a phone with an answering machine. Other good features include two or more lines with Hold buttons, caller ID, speaker-phone capability, and remote message access.

Telephones

You have four categories from which to choose a telephone—corded or cordless, and with or without integrated answering machines.

Cordless systems enable you to move around without restrictions to location or distance, within limits. Typical brands include Panasonic, Sony, AT&T, V-Tech, Nortel, and Siemens. Prices typically range from $100 to $500.

In more recent times, the use of portable headsets has become very common among executives and SOHO environments. It allows you to communicate by phone, hands free, while performing some other function like typing, filing, and so forth.

CAUTION

If your home office has two telephone lines—one for Internet and the other for telephone/fax—portable phones can create frequency interference, depending on the quality of home wiring.

Pagers

Basic pagers have a numeric readout of the paging phone number. Prices range from $10 to $50. The next grade up offers numeric and word messaging with an average price of $80. Sophisticated pagers allow two-way word messaging and contact management software for prices up to $400.

Tape Recorders

Tape recorders come in two varieties—cassette and digital. The traditional cassette format ranges from $40 to $80 dollars. Newer digital systems allow recording in separate files and feature compatibility with voice-recognition software. Olympus, Dictaphone, and Panasonic sell these items for between $80 and $260

The 30-Second Recap

  • Hardware and software applications are extremely valuable to an organization.

  • Desktop and laptop computers should be compatible. Office suites provide a useful array of software.

  • Web calendars and intranets can help keep distant and teleworkers in touch.

  • With such a variety of choices in hardware and software, comparison shopping for compatibility and price is essential.

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