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Innovations


Practical products to help you meet your challenges

Computers, hardware, software, mobile, cell phone, PDA, business & home

 

David's Newspaper Columns  (updated weekly)

Connected Worry Watch Innovations Features

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H-P's phone, PDA combo better than average

Combining a solid cell phone with a feature-rich PDA (personal digital assistant) is a challenge. Based on most of the products I've seen on the market, the challenge is daunting -- as many vendors give us either a good phone or a good PDA (although some products give us mediocrity on both counts). Hewlett-Packard's iPAQ hw6925 Mobile Messenger does a pretty good job as a phone (using the Cingular network) and a very good job as a PDA.

When determining the quality of a cell phone, I normally base my opinion on... <more>

 

Sleek offering from HP keeps 2nd PC needs slim and trim

Most people buy their second personal computer because they need an additional seat -- so children can do their homework while mom or dad does the family finances; so more than one child can do homework at the same time; or even just to keep the youths from battling over who gets to use AIM, Facebook or MySpace.

Yet buying a second computer for your home is a bit different from buying your first -- because your needs differ. While you need to fully equip your first computer, you may not need all the same bells and whistles on your second. <more>

PlanPlus for Outlook updates not as good as expected

PlanPlus from FranklinCovey has been on my list of top five computer applications since I first used it. And I still think it offers tremendous benefits for busy people who need to take charge of their tasks. But the upgrade is not an enhancement on version 3. At best, it's a parallel move.

If you need software to organize and prioritize your day -- especially your business day -- PlanPlus for Outlook is as close to a must-have product as you can get. But if you're already using version 3, don't upgrade -- unless you want to risk being disappointed.

Service backs up computer files so you don't lose them

I have a compulsive personality, so I frequently back up my computer disk drives to safeguard my data in case a failure in the drive wipes out my files. Sometimes I think I don't back up my data often enough. If I go two weeks without copying an important file to a separate disk drive, I start to sweat. I don't wonder if my disk drive will fail; I wonder when.

I've used several technologies, including CD-R/DVD, tape and local external harddrive. All these methods are good but, in general, still not good enough. David Friend and other entrepreneurs in Boston figured out that storing backup data on the Internet would be a better solution. But he realized that if he used traditional methods to offer a service to do the backups, it would still be susceptible to many of the same problems. So he created a service... <more>

 

Microsoft Student makes school tasks easier, more fun

I never thought that my kids would go wild over software that didn't involve trading messages with their friends, finding some adorable fictional animal for adventures or sports statistics. Until now, my daughters have spent most of their time in front of the monitor either using AIM or visiting some fictional fuzzy world, while my son would be mesmerized by his fantasy leagues and high school friends.

Yet, when I installed Microsoft Student, the reception was overwhelming. This software is a combination of... <more>

 

New HP laptop fits the bill

The most important aspects of laptop computers are that they do common tasks well, while being portable enough to go where you want to go, when you want to go there. Therefore, you want your system to be light, without lots of extra parts.

The Compaq nc2400 from Hewlett-Packard is an ultra-portable laptop PC that weighs in at 2.8 pounds, even though it has an integrated DVD drive that allows you to read or record DVDs. There are many laptops in the weight range -- but not many with the drive built in. That makes the light weight of the nc2400 more impressive -- because you don't have to carry the DVD drive with it, saving you the extra weight and inconvenience of the detached drive.

One of the most intriguing features of my review unit was actually not part of the nc2400 at all. It was a prototype portable...<more>

Note: In my column, I discuss a unique, flat mouse prototype.  HP has turned it into a product and has posted a demo video.

 

Forget the ear buds; it's all in the headsets

MP3 players such as the Apple iPod have changed the way a lot of people listen to music. The problem is that the quality of the sound coming out of those cheap ear buds that come with the player is not the same as the rich sound coming from your big stereo speakers. Not even close. But most of us put up with it -- probably because we don't know there are alternatives.

Then there are the high-end headsets from Bose and Plantronics. These, and similar, rich sounding headsets actually change the whole MP3 listening experience by adding a sound vibrancy that you won't hear with your standard ear buds...<more>

 

Motorola Q combines cell phone with PDA

With prices coming down on popular cell phones, you'll undoubtedly start to see more people carrying the Motorola Q.

The Q is a competent combination cell phone/personal digital assistant -- a breed known to the industry as the smart phone. Smart because you don't have to carry two devices; smart because your address book gets synchronized with your computer every time you synchronize your PDA. Although not perfect, the Q offers the mobile warrior a variety of tools that he may need and want while out of the office.

First, the Q... <more>

 

Hewlett Packard m7680n media center an upgrade

We're used to seeing computers getting smaller, faster, better. But what about when things don't seem to change on the outside; should we still expect them to change on the inside?

I hope so. At least that would be my experience with recent systems from Hewlett Packard. About a year ago, I forked over a couple thousand dollars to purchase a new Media Center PC from HP. It was fully loaded, with a 300 GByte disk drive to save those TV shows I expected to record and 2 Gbytes of memory and a high end graphics processor because I wanted the system to easily run Windows Vista, which was expected "any day now" at that time. It was still in my family room running Windows XP when I received a review unit of Hewlett Packard's m7680n Pavilion Media Center TV PC. So I plopped the review unit down near my computer.

At first glance, it looked like it would be more of the same... <more>

Intuit fulfills business needs with updating of QuickBooks

What do you do if you're a software company that already has produced a product that is stable, seemingly complete and used by 3.7 million businesses? Intuit, the publishers of QuickBooks business finance software, decided to tweak the core functionality of the product and to add... <more>

 

Observing workers leads to new products

Ever wonder how they come up with those great product ideas? I'm not talking about the next fast computer or the software design that makes the user experience easier. I'm talking about those everyday hardware products that just make life easier or better. I often see products that seem so sensible that I ask myself why somebody else hadn't thought of it before -- especially why I hadn't thought of it.

So I asked Tim Shipley and Jim Beile of Fellowes...<more>

Put 'the moments of your life' on the wall

The first time I heard that Bill Gates' mansion would have walls that change their views, I thought how futuristic it was. The idea of large LCD screens that could change to meet the emotional needs of the home's inhabitants was very 1984. (OK, that was the future at one time.)

Over the years, the idea of using computerlike monitors to display photos started catching on as flat panel monitors became... <more>

 

Street Pilot is a handy navigator

My father would have never gotten into his car without his navigation system -- my mother. She could direct him anywhere he wanted to go. But these days, we depend on technology -- navigation systems that stick to our windshields or dashboards and map out the routes for us. And they work remarkably well.

The Garmin Street Pilot c550 is one of those... <more>

 

Camera facilitates photography in low light

When purchasing high-tech products -- or gadgets, as we like to call them -- we often make our decisions based on two factors: 1) the technical specification that the experts tell us is the most important; and 2) the coolness of the gadget. But those factors sometimes break down as buying criteria...

...we used to choose digital cameras because they 1) don't make us buy film, thereby saving us money; and 2) give us a higher resolution -- measured in megapixels, which represent the number of dots we're saving in each photo. But so many cameras now have plenty of resolution that you need other criteria. Wouldn't it be nice to have that one feature to make the decision easy.

I may have found it. Olympus has introduced a feature called... <more>

 

Cool and good don't always come in the same package. There are too many times when a company makes a product cool, but forgets the functionality.

LG Electronics has done a pretty good job of combining both in its Chocolate cell phone. Verizon pushes the cool aspects in its TV commercials; but the real benefit of the product is... <more>

 

In a few months, you're likely to be exposed to the newest version of Microsoft's Office Suite, dubbed Office 2007. This upgrade likely will take many users by surprise, because its user interface is undergoing one of its biggest face-lifts in years. The majority of the change is... <more>

There are a lot of very good products on the market to help you enjoy music. Two products from Griffin Technology get my nod as two of the smartest.  The first is an inexpensive... <more>

I have a confession. The first time I laid my hands on Logitech's diNovo Media Desktop Laser, I was frankly ready to be underwhelmed.

Sure, this complete desktop keyboard/mouse set looked great with its ultraflat black and gray design, but I have long been a keyboard snob... <more>

 

Some products are "must-have" products and others are "wanna-haves." The former are needed to do business. The latter make life more pleasant. QuickBooks, from Intuit, this year went from the first category to the second, which will be a relief to every QuickBooks user who has upgraded or plans to upgrade. QuickBooks 2006 has leaped light years ahead of earlier versions in usability -- most of it because of a few small changes that the developers should have made long ago...<more>

 


I love it when technologists and marketers come up with new ideas that help us do things better -- but once in a while we see that clunker of an idea, and say to ourselves "What were they thinking?"

Gillette (now part of Procter & Gamble), long a generator of great marketing and product ideas, came up with one such clunker lately. They call it the Fusion; and it's supposed to have a technologically advanced shaving system that will revolutionize the way men shave...<more>

 

I love my Media Center PC. It gives me the TiVo-like ability to record a TV show while watching another part of the same recording; and it lets me pick out and record a show from an on-screen TV directory.

But there's one thing I really dislike about it...<more>

 

As we become more dependent on multimedia -- such as audio, high-resolution photographs and video -- for our home and business PCs, disk space and speed become more important. Video, in particular, uses up huge chunks of space. A typical half-hour TV program, for instance, could use 1.7 Gigabytes to 2 Gigabytes of disk.

Maxtor, soon to be part of Seagate, has introduced several unique disk storage solutions that make life a bit easier as they provide more disk space -- the Shared Storage Plus and the OneTouch III Turbo Edition... <more>

 

One of the problems with computers that do everything is that they keep getting bigger. They take up too much room because we keep asking PC companies to put more in the box.

But sometimes less is more, as Hewlett-Packard Co. realized when it created its line of Pavilion Slimline personal computers... <more>

 

While there is a loud cry about the expense of health care, it's not unusual to hear similar complaints about how hard it is to manage. After many medical procedures or office visits, patients end up receiving multiple bills from service providers they didn't even know existed. The result is often duplicate payments or extra work to ensure that you don't pay the wrong bill. It becomes even more complicated when insurance companies are involved.

Intuit has addressed the problem by creating Quicken Medical Expense Manager... <more>

 

As podcasting grows, individuals and companies will be looking for ways to take advantage. They'll need a way to create their podcasts -- audio shows of some sort -- and a way to publish them where others can download them.

There's already a good "everything-in-the-box" solution called Podcast Factory. Podcast Factory bundles together several near-broadcast quality components to make podcast creation and publishing easy.

At the core is a professional audio interface that... <more>

 

Two years ago when I wrote about Diskeeper, I had high praise for the product that defragments your disk drives, connecting together files that had become split apart over time as you used your system. Now, with the release of version 10, I still think it's one of the best productivity purchases... <more>

 

Large screens on computers are great for almost any kind of input, whether you're creating a document, writing an e-mail message or entering information into a database.

Entering information onto a personal digital assistant (PDA) such as a Palm Treo or HP iPaq isn't as nice because of the small screens and lack of keyboards. Palm and Microsoft have tried to make it easier by letting you write directly on the screen but even this is not optimal.

That's why DeveloperOne came up with Access Panel, a utility for Windows Mobile PDAs that makes it very easy to... <more>

 

You probably use the Internet for more types of business than ever. If so, you'd welcome even small advances in the Internet products you use.

If you consistently transfer files between your local computer and a server on the Internet, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the newest features in CuteFTP Pro. Version 7 of this file transfer software makes it easier than ever to... <more>

 

Mobile professionals often carry PDAs -- personal digital assistants -- to organize their contacts, notes, to-do lists and appointments. However, sometimes these on-the-go executives keep their data in more than one Microsoft Outlook folder -- perhaps separate personal and business calendars or separate address books for each project. The problem is that PDAs typically cannot synchronize multiple calendars, contact lists or other Outlook folders. It only synchronizes one of each.

Chapura solves the problem with... <more>

 

You've been collecting your favorite music, pictures and videos on CDs and DVDs, but it's hard to tell them apart because they all look alike. The normal solution is to buy stick-on labels; but labels decrease the life of your media. Some people purchase CDs or DVDs with writable faces -- but you need a printer that accepts these disks as media; and there aren't too many that do.

Hewlett Packard has come up with a solution, called LightScribe Direct Disk Labeling. LightScribe consists of a special burner that etches onto the face of CDs or DVD disks. And it's very simple to use... <more>

 

There are enough things to distract your attention while you're driving. Your portable digital music player shouldn't be one of them. Yet most owners of iPods and MP3 music players want to listen to their music in their cars, which for many means not hearing traffic noise because it's blocked by their earbuds. Not a good idea!

Instead, play digital music through your car speakers. Traditionally, that would have meant plugging in your device through a cassette adapter. But cassette adapters don't work if your car has a CD player instead of a cassette deck.

Enter the newest type of connection device, a mobile FM transmitter like the... <more>

 

You got that cool iPod, but also want to play all its music through your home stereo system. You can by connecting your iPod directly to your stereo using... <more>

 

Imaging being able to command your PC or television the same way Ali Baba opened his door to riches. You can, if you use the Media Center Edition of Windows XP. But instead of starting with "Open Sesame," you start your commands with "One Voice."  It's made possible by...<more>

 

It was a great vacation, and you caught it all on your Super8 video tape recorder. Time to move it to VHS tape. Or perhaps you'd rather burn it to CD via your computer. Problem is that you don't have any available input/output jacks -- or they are inaccessible behind your TV or VHS deck. Wouldn't you like them to be right in front and ready when you are?

Radio Shack offers a device called A/V Extend-A-Jack that brings your audio/video inputs front and center where you need them, and...<more>

 

Look around you. Every month your home and office are increasingly filled with spaghetti. Not noodles -- I'm talking about cables, cords and wires to connect all those new electronic devices. Even your old electronics (TVs and radios) are starting to look like a breeding ground for dreadlocks as you plugin new devices to your older entertainment and communications gear.

It looks horrible! (At least my wife thinks it does.) But it doesn't need to look that way...<more>

 

We spend so much time on the Web, it's only natural that small enhancements in the way we access it will lead to large gains in our yearly productivity. More than 100 million people have...<more>

 

I finally found a way to keep myself from getting upset when the TV remote control is missing, a frequent occurrence in my family of five. The remote control seems to make it under every cushion, into every other room and anywhere that makes it difficult to find.

My secret: My personal digital assistant can double as a remote control. So if the real TV remote control is lost, I can pull out my PDA while I relax in front of the tube. The remote control software, called Nevo, came standard with... <more>

 

Say you've purchased one or more songs from Apple's iTunes Music Store and joyfully play them on your iPod. However, you've just received an iRiver H10 portable music player as a gift and want to listen to those same songs on your iRiver. It's legal according to the federal copyright laws, but because the iRiver competes with the iPod, Apple doesn't let you do it. Songs purchased from the iTunes store are encrypted in a format that non-iPod music players cannot play.

In the past you might have made a copy by recording it on tape, then playing it back. But the quality wouldn't be as high. Now, Uruguay-based United Virtualities gives you an alternative -- a software package called HotRecorder for Media.

 

Almost every business is concerned about protecting its valuable assets. Creative enterprises worry about people stealing their works instead of paying. Other companies worry about competitors stealing documents containing private information.

Sealed Media lets companies encrypt their documents in such a way that...<more>

 

Remember the talk of the paperless office? It never happened. Instead, we now use more types of paper than ever before -- and we're using it more often. But word processors don't always let us do what we want to do: create exactly what we need...<more>

 

Most businesses have Web sites, and therefore have the need to update them at least occasionally. Macromedia has made Web content management easy with the latest version of Contribute... <more>

 

As businesses become more sophisticated in the way they use data, customer relationship management systems are becoming more commonplace. Salesforce.com has been leading the charge for several years by offering a system that... <more>

 

When it comes to keeping your system safe from spyware, it's the guys in the white hats vs. the guys in the black hats -- just like in the old Western movies. Every time you make a move to protect your system, the bad guys find a new way around it. Sounds like we're talking about viruses, doesn't it?

With spyware, though, you don't... <more about anti-spyware solutions>

 

Your system is powerful -- and there are many ways to tweak it "under the hood" to gain access to some of that power, or simply to customize it to your liking. However, many Windows functions can be tweaked only by... <more>

 

You're minutes from one of the biggest presentations you've ever had to make. So you've been preparing day and night -- and you have finally jumped into your car to make it to your client's meeting room on time. Uh oh! You forgot a very important file.

This and many other similar situations make remote access extremely important for many businesses. With remote access, you can... <more>

 

The race is on to provide you with the optimum desktop search experience. Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! are building new desktop search capabilities in the hopes that you turn over your desktop to them. And their desktop search products get better with each successive release. But I'm going to surprise you by discussing...<more>

 

There are a lot of good business books and periodicals out there. But who has the time to read them? We're too busy with meetings, getting work done and traveling. Wouldn't it be nice if the authors would read them to you while you drive or during other inactive parts of your day?

They can, if you... <more>

 

There's been recent debate about the true calling of bloggers. Are they journalists, evangelists, vigilantes or something else altogether? Supporters call them the new journalists. Critics call them...<more>

 

Whether you want to listen to your favorite music without bothering the person next to you, or want to maximize your time by listening to a good self-help book while on the road, a portable audio player can help you. Also known as MP3 players because they play MP3 files, these music devices now do more than download and play 99-cent songs. <more>

 

You just uncovered a great prospect for your product, but the customer is on the West Coast, getting ready to make a decision in a few days. That's too far and too costly for a visit on short notice to show off your product. Don't get on that plane. Get online instead, using... <more>

 

Sniffing out wireless networks within a facility has, in its short history, required somebody to carry a laptop throughout the place, taking readings and analyzing data. It's expensive and prone to errors -- til now... <more>

 

One of the main benefits of using a personal digital assistant is to have easy access to your contacts and calendar out of the office. Both Palm and PocketPC include software to let you store and retrieve these items, but there's not a lot of flexibility with the way you can use them. So Alex Kac, a developer in Texas, created PocketInformant... <more>

 

Throughout time, business people and individuals at home have proven that backing up data is on the short list of things that they'd be less likely to do than jump off a cliff. Despite knowing that their hard drives will crash someday -- notice that I said will , not might -- they put off the task, often because it is time consuming, they don't know how, or they simply don't like to do it.

But it's not as difficult as it seems -- especially when using... <more>

 

For slow typists, creating long documents or sending detailed e-mail messages can be a challenge. If you're on the road, it's even more difficult. You usually don't have easy access to your keyboard; and even if you did, it would be impossible to use it as you drive your car, walk between locations, or do other tasks that require your full physical attention.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could simply dictate to your computer or PDA? <more>

 

Special feature on Internet Telephone Services
(VoIP)

Americans love bargains, so any service that saves them money is likely to be a big winner in their eyes -- especially if the newer service has bells and whistles that make it functionally more appealing.

That may explain the recent growth of VoIP -- short for voice over Internet Protocol -- telephone services... <more>

 

The good news about using a VoIP Internet telephone service is that it is rich in features and less expensive than the traditional circuit-switched telephone service already in your home.

But VoIP is not the same as your traditional home phone and, if you expect it to be, you'll get a surprise. Plus, to get it to feed your entire household like your current phone service, it... <more>


More Innovations:

 

David's Weekly columns:

  • Connected (addressing the impact of tech & tech news on you)
  • Worry Watch (about viruses, spyware, ID theft, threats...)
  • Innovations (they can change the way you work and live)

 

More columns with innovative products

  • Feature: Tax Preparation

IRS joins with partners to offer free online income tax filing

Tips for using the IRS' Free File

Taking QuickBooks to your accountant

 

Still more innovations and opinions about them:

David Answers Your Questions about the SP2 Upgrade

Microsoft's Most Important Windows Upgrade Ever

New Paradigms in Computing

Napster back in tune. Is it same old song?
Thursday, October 30, 2003

Microsoft offers various bundles in its new Office

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Check out the free Wi-fi day
Thursday, September 25, 2003

Upgrades can have undesired side effects
Thursday, August 28, 2003

Quill Mouse changes the way you scroll
Thursday, August 21, 2003

Problems seen with Windows XP security update

Plus: Stupid computer mistake?

Plus: Search for profits
Thursday, July 17, 2003

Cell phone, other devices can connect you to the Net
Thursday, June 19, 2003

 

Judgment Day is approaching, so get Java
Thursday, April 24, 2003

 

Software keeps kids safe on the Net
Thursday, March 13, 2003


 

Microsoft launch of CRM software a very big deal
Thursday, March 6, 2003


 

PDAs, new product ideal for roving writer
Thursday, February 27, 2003


 

Consumers stand alone in seeking AOL support

plus: Saving Printer Ink
Thursday, February 20, 2003


 

Ex-dot.commer deals new hand with low-tech game

plus: Quick Tip: Remove the risk of overwriting documents
Thursday, February 6, 2003


 

Telecom services rise as do costs
Thursday, January 30, 2003


Utilities to wipe your disk clean

Features to look for in buying PC, monitor
Thursday, December 19, 2002


 

PDAs an alternative in gift-giving season
Thursday, December 12, 2002


 

Bargains available on the Web
Thursday, December 05, 2002


 

Online shopping safe but still calls for caution
Thursday, November 28, 2002


 


The Interact Archive
Find Other Articles Written by David and others.
(Many of David's recent articles are labeled "Computer Q&A")

Thanks to The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, "One of America's Great Newspapers," for letting me enlighten so many people!

   
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