Top Office Technology Tools

Equipment to streamline your work.
BY STANLEY ZAROWIN

Office technology products are getting more powerful and easier to use, providing accountants with the opportunity to work smarter and faster. Listed here are many products that can make CPAs' work more efficient and effective.


DESKTOP COMPUTERS
New computer technology has made enormous leaps in the past year. The top speed of the electronic chips that run today's computers has soared to as high as 300 megahertz (MHz), although the more affordable products are in the 166- to 233-MHz range. From the average consumer's point of view, the difference in speed, while technically significant, is not easily apparent. To run most of today's software, 166 MHz is sufficiently fast. But as tomorrow's software gets more sophisticated-and therefore fatter and more complicated-the extra speed will be dramatically apparent and much appreciated. So, if your budget allows, go for the higher speed.

Economy-minded accountants recognize that many of the bells and whistles loaded on new models, while nice, often are not necessary for most tasks. As a result, rather than buying the latest pricey models, an increasing number of accountants are upgrading their current machines. Upgrade options include faster motherboards (the board on which the main computer processor, or chip, is installed), higher capacity hard disks for more storage, faster modems, more RAM and larger monitor screens. In most cases, such upgrades can be a half-hour or so do-it-yourself project; the only tool you'll need is a small screwdriver.

But beware: While upgrading can save loads of money, it also can create severe headaches. For example, upgrading an off-brand computer can trigger compatibility problems. So, if you're leaning toward upgrading, consider seeking out a reliable computer vendor or technician to assess the compatibility issue first.

Since most desktop computers are customizable (features can be added or subtracted easily), we offer no new product advisories. However, we do suggest that if you're buying computers for the office and don't want to get involved in the technical nitty-gritty of compatibility, aim for a national-brand product and be sure each new machine is compatible with the others in the office and with your network. Also, don't settle for less than a 166-MHz machine with at least 32 megabytes (Mb) of RAM and a hard disk of at least 2 gigabytes (Gb). For better viewing, consider at least a 17-inch monitor.


LAPTOP COMPUTERS
Mobile computers have been benefiting most from recent technological gains. Late last year, Intel introduced a new Pentium chip (Tillamook) designed specifically for laptops. The new chip runs faster and cooler and consumes less electricity, which extends a laptop's battery life. As a result, laptop manufacturers are rushing to market with a wide assortment of models that use the new chip. If power and speed are high on your mobile computer requirements list, be sure your new machine has a Tillamook chip.

Depending on how you plan to use a laptop, we suggest you consider these three:

Gateway Solo 2300LE
Powerful for the price, excellent battery life.
www.gateway.com · $2,849

This seven-pound Solo 2300SE is one the most powerful laptops on the market for its price. Its battery life is outstanding: nearly five hours. Highlights: A big (12.1 inches), active-matrix screen, a 200-MHz Pentium processor with MMX, a 3-Gb removable hard disk, 32 Mb of RAM, a built-in sound board and a lithium battery pack (the best laptop battery).

IBM ThinkPad 770
The laptop to replace your desktop when price is no object.
www.pc.ibm.com · $7,540

If you've imagined dumping your desktop computer and replacing it with a laptop but haven't found a worthwhile contender, your search may be over. The ThinkPad, while not cheap, has more power than most desktops and comes in an 8.2-pound package. Highlights: A 5.1-Gb hard disk, a 14.1-inch display, a DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) drive, room for a 20X CD-ROM drive, a full-size keyboard and a new TrackPoint pointing device that in many ways is more nimble than the conventional mouse.

Toshiba Libretto 50CT
A mini-laptop weighing less than two pounds.
www.toshiba.com · $2,000

If weight, not power, is your main concern, consider the Libretto 50CT. Highlights: Unlike most minis, the Libretto is loaded with the full Windows 95 operating system, not the scaled-down Windows CE, which, in turn, uses scaled-down applications whose files need to be converted before they can be used on another Windows 95 computer. Downside: While the Libretto's chip is a Pentium, its speed is only 75 MHz, and the small keyboard takes getting used to. Also, its hard disk has a limited capacity of only 772 Mb.


MULTIMEDIA SYSTEMS
Gateway Destination Big Screen PC/TV
A hot computer, television, conference-size monitor and wrap-around sound.
800-846-2000
· $4,599

Need a multimedia system with a large (31-inch) monitor in one unit? Gateway's Big Screen PC/TV fills the bill. The system includes TV, hi-fi sound and a 300-MHz Pentium II with 64 Mb of RAM. The system can display a TV show or a computer-generated multimedia presentation.


HANDHELD PC
3 Com PalmPilot Professional
A computer that fits in the palm of your hand.
800-881-7256
· $379

While there are several heldheld computers on the market, none match the convenience of the PalmPilot Professional. The super portable unit has no keyboard-data are entered via a special pen. PalmPilot comes with the usual PIM (personal information manager) applications: address book, calendar, to-do lists, memo pads, event scheduler and expense tracker. All that data can be uploaded to a full-size computer. Extras include wireless capability for e-mail transmission.


PERSONAL DATA ASSISTANT (PDA)
Franklin Electronic Publishers Rex PC Companion
Pocket-size replacement for calendar and address book.
888-739-6400
· $179

Instead of carrying a calendar, contact card file, to-do list and memo pad, tuck this 1.4-ounce, credit-card size Rex PC Companion in your pocket or purse. Downside: Its information is read-only; data can be entered and downloaded only from a computer.


SCANNERS
Visioneer PaperPort 6000
Compact, idiot-proof color scanner.
800-787-7007
· $299

Hewlett-Packard used to be the standard of quality for flat-bed scanners. Now Visioneer's PaperPort is giving H-P some stiff competition. This unit is easy to set up and use and generates excellent images. It comes loaded with useful software: optical character reading (OCR), Quicken ExpensAble (so you can actually scan in an expense report) and photo editing.

Storm Technology SmartPage Pro
Compact scanner with a detachable head for scanning books.
888-438-3279
· www.stormtech.com · $199

Most scanning jobs involved separate pieces of paper. But every now and then you may want to scan a page of a book or magazine that can't be torn out and fed into the scanner. Enter SmartPage Pro, a device that resembles a sheet-fed scanner-except the scanning head detaches from its base so it can scan anything. It comes bundled with OCR, document handling (for intelligent filing) and photo editor software.

Corex Technologies CardScan Plus 300
Business card scanner. www.corex.com · $299

If you typically collect many business cards, link the CardScan Plus 300 to your computer and it will not only scan and store all the cards but also organize the data by name, organization, title and any other subject field you create. Downside: It doesn't always scan accurately-especially when faced with unusual typefaces, which means you have to edit some records.


PRINTERS
Epson Stylus Color 800
Economical color printer.
800-463-7766
· www.epson.com · $399

Without the need for special inks or paper, this Epson provides quality color (or black-and-white) printing at seven pages per minute.

Lexmark Optra SC 1275n
High-speed network color laser printer.
800-539-6275
· $4,450

If you need higher quality color printing, faster throughput and network connectivity, consider this Lexmark. Color resolution is 600 to 1,200 dots per inch (dpi) and speed is 12 pages per minute.


MULTIFUNCTION PRINTERS
Brother MFC-7000FC
Prints (in color), faxes, scans and copies.
www.brother.com · $1,000

While we don't like multifunction printers (MFP) on principle (because if one function breaks down, the entire system is likely to be out of commission), the MFC-7000FC is almost worth the gamble. If you're satisfied with black-and-white printing only, Brother has a companion MFC-4550 for just $700.


CELLULAR TELEPHONE
Ericsson LX-100 E
Very smart cellular phone.
800-374-2776
· $199

This dual-capacity cellular phone works in digital mode when the digital carrier is available. When you're out of range, it automatically switches to analog cellular. Bonus: It provides both e-mail and paging services.

MediaCom PhoneMiser
Determines the lowest phone rate for every call made.
888-843-6473 or 617-276-8400
$90 plus $4.95 a month

As competition increases among long-distance phone providers, the consumer is caught in a quandary: Which service has the best rates? PhoneMiser solves the problem; it not only determines which service is cheaper for each call but it also works in the background and places your call without the need to punch in additional numbers. The $4.50 monthly update determines which phone service provides the cheapest call (depending on time of call and location). It handles multiple extensions, modems or fax.


DATA STORAGE
Iomega Jaz
Fast, compact data backup, at 2 Gb, with double the capacity.
800-697-8833
· www.iomega.com
$649 external, $549 internal

Iomega made removable data storage both easy and affordable. As a result, its products have become the standard for removable data storage. The Jaz drive's capacity has been doubled to 2 Gb, but it maintains backward compatibility with the older 1 Gb model. Also, it's 40% faster than the original Jaz.

SyQuest SparQ
Very fast, economical removable data storage.
800-245-2278

www.syquest.com · $199

If price is a problem, consider the SparQ. It rivals the Jaz drive's speed and you can use it as an adjunct to your hard disk. Downside: To obtain the outstanding speed, it had to forgo backward compatibility with its earlier models.


MOUSE
Microsoft InteliMouse
Mouse with a scrolling wheel to enhance surfing.
800-426-9400
· $79

This is the little mouse that can do more than any other mouse around. It has a built-in scrolling wheel, which makes browsing easy. Although it's designed to work only on Windows 95 and NT programs, a $10 shareware program (Flywheel) extends the mouse for use on older programs. To get Flywheel, download it from www.plannetarium.com or call Plannet Crafters at 770-752-5416.


MOBILE PERIPHERALS
IBM Cordless Computer Connection
Your laptop's wireless access to a modem.
www.pc.ibm.com · $200

If you roam around your office with your laptop or find yourself in a hotel with no data port on the telephone, this device can handle your connection. It works like a cordless phone-connecting your computer to a base station plugged into the nearest phone jack. Maximum range: 200 feet.


VIDEOCONFERENCING
PictureTel Live 200
Live videoconferencing system.
800-716-6000
· $1,495

Is videoconferencing on your agenda? You can't go wrong with this system. Linked to an ISDN connection, the PictureTel provides sufficient bandwidth to get good video and audio. It's excellent for face-to-face meetings without leaving your office.


ISDN TERMINAL ADAPTOR
ZyXel Omni.net
High-quality ISDN terminal adapter at a bargain price.
800-255-4101
· www.zyxel.com · $250

Those using an ISDN digital phone line will need a special "modem." For great price and performance, check out the Omni.net. It's a clone of the best-designed product on the market-with no loss of communication quality.


MAILING EQUIPMENT
Pitney Bowes Personal Post Office
For the small office: a desktop "post office."
800-574-8639
· Monthly rental rate: from $24.75 to $48

Personal Post Office weighs envelopes, adds needed metered postage, prints sales messages-and the postage meter can be refilled via phone in less than 30 seconds. The device measures 11.2 x 10 x 6.2 inches.


COMPUTER MONITOR
NEC MultiSync LCD2000
Flat-panel monitor with 20 inches of viewable screen area.
800-632-4636
· $7,999

If desk space is a problem-and you can afford it-the flat-screen NEC MultiSync monitor provides plenty of viewable screen area. The image is sharp and the colors are true-even when viewed from the side. If budget is a problem, NEC has a 14-inch flat screen for $2,700.

STANLEY ZAROWIN is a senior editor on the Journal . Mr. Zarowin is an employee of the American Institute of CPA's and his views as expressed in this article, do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA. Official positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.

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