| PUT YOUR CHECKBOOK AWAY.
Although there are loads of hot, new
technology gadgets on the market, you probably have
nearly everything you really need with little or no
upgrading necessary—that is, if you’ve been keeping
technologically up-to-date. |
SINCE MOST OF THE EQUIPMENT
you may be buying will not be urgent,
got-to-have-it-now technology, there’s no need to
buy just-introduced, cutting-edge gear for a lot
of money. Price competition is so keen these days
that if you wait a while, not only will the kinks
in the new products be worked out, but prices
likely will drop, too.
HERE ARE SOME NEW PRODUCTS TO
USB host adapter: a device that lets
you easily add new peripherals to your computer.
Memory stick: a portable thumb-sized
device that can store huge amounts of data.
Color laser printer: Minolta has
introduced one priced at under $800.
Tablet PCs: One of the big hypes this
year—they are notebook computers with a screen
that can be swiveled around the base so viewers
can see the screen from the left, right or the
rear. Also, you can write on the screen with a
|STANLEY ZAROWIN is a senior editor on
the JofA . Mr. Zarowin is an employee of
the AICPA, and his views, as expressed in this
article, do not necessarily reflect the views of the
Institute. Official positions are determined through
certain specific committee procedures, due process
and deliberation. |
eady for some good news? For the past decade
or two, your office technology goal probably was to stay
reasonably current—or at least avoid obsolescence. That was
a challenge because nearly every year many of your critical
applications underwent upgrades and you were forced to buy
faster, more powerful computers to run that hot, new
software. Not only did your wallet suffer sticker shock, you
had to get up to speed on how to use this new technology.
Although there are plenty of new gadgets out there
right now (and some actually are pretty good), you’ll be
happy to learn you probably have nearly everything needed
with little or no upgrading necessary. So you won’t have to
reeducate yourself on how to use the new stuff, and you can
even put your checkbook away.
To determine whether
your current equipment really can handle your immediate
future needs, read “
Time to Upgrade ” ( JofA , Dec.02, page 30).
If you’ve stayed reasonably up-to-date in recent years, all
you’ll probably need is some minor equipment tweaking, such
as adding computer memory (you can’t have too much memory),
rather than a major overhaul.
And there’s more good
news: Hardware bargains abound. In addition, since most of
the equipment you may be buying will not be urgent,
got-to-have-it-now technology, there’s no need to pay a lot
of money for just-introduced, cutting-edge gear. Price
competition is so keen these days that if you wait a while,
not only will the new products’ kinks be worked out, but
prices likely will drop, too.
For example, those
recently unveiled 3-GHz speed-demon computers not only are
overkill, they’re overpriced; a far less expensive PC with a
1-GHz Pentium processor is fast enough for most business
Now, on to the hot, new stuff.
USB HOST ADAPTERS
In the old days, if you
wanted to add some major components to your
computer—such as another hard drive to expand your
data-storage capacity, or a read-write optical drive
for massive backups or to copy huge chunks of data
onto a CD—you had to hire an expert to crack open
the computer’s case, fiddle with the wires and
cables and then reprogram it to recognize the new
| A typical
USB host adapter
about the size of a club sandwich, can
connect a computer to multiple peripherals.
No more. Meet the
USB host adapter. If you’ve never heard of USB, which stands
for Universal Serial Bus, listen up, because that little
component is about all you’ll need to easily upgrade your
computer into a more versatile machine—without expert help
to open the PC’s case and reprogram its setup.
is a special kind of plug, or port, that links a computer
with any number of peripherals. A few years ago,
manufacturers began installing one or two USB ports in the
back of most computers in addition to the conventional
serial and parallel ports that connect your printer and
other gear. Few people used the adapters even though they
transmit data between the computer and a peripheral far
faster than conventional links.
One of the barriers
to USBs was the computer’s own “stupidity”—that is, before
the plug could work, a user had to laboriously “teach” the
computer where the USB was and what it was supposed to do.
But when the Windows operating system incorporated software
that automatically did the job—called plug and play
—USBs began catching on. All you had to do was plug in
the USB adapter and it played without fiddling with the
An even bigger push came when the second
generation of USB—USB 2.0—was introduced. Not only is it
much faster than its predecessor, 1.0, but it is “backward
compatible”—which means it can adapt to handle components
designed for the slower 1.0.
While we’re on the subject of USBs, think memory
sticks. They’re everywhere—hanging from key rings and from
neck lanyards—some people even dangle them from gold
necklaces. They come in many colors (including Day-Glo, so
you won’t lose them) and designs (including zebra stripes
and jungle camouflage). The memory stick is one of the
hottest tech items to hit the market this year.
|So what’s a memory
stick? It is a storage device (technically called
flash mass storage) about the size of your thumb and
encased in plastic that connects to a computer. Say
you need to copy 1 or even 1,000 electronic files
for a client, or you need to back up your whole hard
drive or just a few files: Use a memory stick.
One end of the stick contains a special
fitting—you guessed it, a USB—that plugs directly
into the back of most computers or into one of
those adapters mentioned above.
—such as this 64-Mb device from Sony—offer
convenient, portable data storage at economical
Think of memory sticks as portable hard disks—except they
have no moving parts. The lowest capacity stick can store up
to 8 megabytes (Mb) and the largest (so far) can handle 1
gigabyte (Gb). Some even contain a fingertip-operated
security switch for password protection. Typical street
prices (which are falling fast) range from about $10 for an
8-Mb device, $25 for 32 Mb, $40 for 64 Mb and $60 for 128
Mb. The specialty 1-Gb device sells for less than $400.
People use them in many ways: for personal backups, file
synchronization between different locations and file sharing
with clients and colleagues. Since they are so small,
portable, inexpensive, easy to use and very, very fast, they
eventually should take over much of the portable memory
market, which now includes the bulky 250-Mb Zip Drive
cartridges. When compared with stick memory, Zips do not
seem so zippy.
If you conduct PowerPoint presentations, you certainly
will appreciate the newest projector models: They’re
lightweight, produce bright, sharply focused images and are
significantly less expensive than the models of just a few
However, if you’re wondering whether you
should pay a premium for the lighter and brighter projectors
that employ the new digital light processing (DLP)
technology rather than the conventional liquid crystal
display (LCD) ones, the answer is not a clear yes or no.
DLP devices generally are somewhat leaner by about a
half-pound and—for the accountant who must lug a computer
and a projector in addition to a change of clothes through
airports—every ounce counts. In addition, DLP projectors are
a smidgen brighter; although both models work about equally
well in ambient light.
|The major difference is price. DLP
projectors generally cost about $500 more than the
conventional LCDs. However, LCD projectors produce a
sharper image. So, if you often display detailed
spreadsheet data, LCDs have a slight advantage. But
because the differences are so slight, don’t base
your buying decision on the DLP hype—and there’s
plenty of it; instead, try out each type and go with
your personal preference. ||
InFocus LP 130
weighs in at 3 pounds.
DRIVE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE
If you’re like most computer users, the mention of
disk partitioning produces either a yawn or an anxiety
attack—a yawn if you’ve never heard the high-tech term (and
you probably don’t want to learn about it now) and anxiety
if you’re faced with the awesome task of partitioning your
hard disk. Partitioning, or dividing a disk into sectors, is
done to make way for a second operating system or to rope
off a safe place to store backup files apart from your
|If you are a computer novice and you yawned, I
advise you to pay attention now because partitioning
gives you the option, among other things, of
installing an additional operating system such as
Linux or even DOS (yes, there still are some useful
DOS applications around you may want to use). So if
you are faced with the task, you should know
software available today can make it a no-hassle
www.powerquest.com ) has been the leader in
the field for some time, and now, with its latest
edition, 8.0, it has reinforced that position. The
new version makes it easier to create safe places
on your hard disk for backups even if your main
partition becomes corrupted.
lets you safely add another operating system
to your hard drive.
upgraded from an earlier version of Windows to XP often run
slower than they did before the upgrade. Without getting
technical, suffice it to say that PartitionMagic can solve
that problem. In addition, it gives you the bonus of
creating more available storage space on the drive.
COLOR LASER PRINTER
The high price of color laser printers no
longer is an excuse not to buy one or to limit your
purchase to an insufferably slow (but very cheap)
inkjet color printer. Minolta (
www.minolta-qms.com ) has introduced a
model—the Minolta-QMS magicolor 2300DL—priced at
under $800. But don’t be misled by the affordable
price; the new product is superior.
quality nearly matches true photographs, and the
machine prints up to 16 pages per minute (ppm)
monochrome and up to 4 ppm in color. It can handle
14-inch-wide paper and its footprint is small
enough (14 inches by 19.5 inches) to fit on a
Minolta’s color laser printer—
the QMS magicolor 2300DL—is priced at under
Now that prices for flat-panel LCD (liquid
crystal displays) are shrinking, those big, clunky
beige CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors that take up a
huge amount of real estate on your desk are on the
way out. Last year, LCD unit sales inched ahead of
CRTs; the turnaround came as flat-panel-monitor
prices fell to bargain levels.
A typical 15-inch
flat-panel monitor costs about $300 and a 17-inch
model (the most popular size) is going for about
$450. Prices for the larger screens are
maintaining their slight premium prices because
larger screen LCDs still are a little tricky to
manufacturer. But that, too, will change as
companies perfect new technologies.
ViewSonic’s VE170 flat-panel display
is only 3.5 inches thick.
Tablet PCs (also called slate PCs) are one of the big
hypes this year. The tablets are notebook computers with
something extra; they include a screen that can be swiveled
around the base so viewers can see the screen from the left,
right or the rear. Also, users can swivel the screen so it
sits flat atop the PC like a slate, and people can write on
the screen with a special stylus.
as a regular notebook computer…
But with a twist of the screen, it can be
viewed at any angle… ||
And with another twist, it becomes a slate
to write on.
Click on an icon,
and the tablet PC reads your handwriting and does its best
to translate the words and numbers into typescript. The
handwriting recognition, while not perfect, can handle neat
script fairly well.
Most of the major notebook
makers are offering slate models—Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba,
Acer and Fujitsu. They carry a price premium over regular
laptops of between 10% and 20%, but within a year, if the
tablet design catches on, price tags should shrink
UNIQUE LAPTOP PCs
The perfect laptop is thin, lightweight and its
battery lasts a long time. While that may be hard to achieve
in one product, here are two laptops that come close:
Portg 2000: This PC weighs in at 3 pounds and
is 0.3 inches thick. Despite its slim, light body,
it has a full-sized keyboard and a 12-inch screen.
It runs on a 750-MHz Pentium III, has a 20-Mb hard
drive and is priced at about $1,900. For more
www.toshiba.com . ||
Toshiba Portg 2000
is slim and lightweight.
IBM’s ThinkPad X30:
Thin and powerful with a long battery life.
||IBM ThinkPad X30: If
battery life is your passion, but weight and
slimness still count, then the X30 may be just what
you’re looking for. It weighs 3.7 pounds, is about
1-inch thick and has a six-cell battery that claims
4.5 hours of power. And if you need more battery
life, you can clip on an auxiliary battery for
another 4.5 hours. It runs on a 1.2-GHz Pentium III
and has a 40-Mb hard drive. It starts at $1,800 and
has an array of extras including a docking station
and snap-in bays into which a variety of peripherals
can be plugged. For more information visit www.ibm.com .
For those who like to be plugged in, online and with
most of their data at their fingertips 24/7, check out the
new PDAs on steroids: Handspring’s Treo family and the
T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone.
Handspring: The Treo 180 PDA includes a Palm
operating system, a cell phone, an e-mail client, an instant
messaging system, a speakerphone, three-way calling and a
Web browser. It also has a “thumbable” keyboard for typing
messages and inputting data, but you’ve got to have
flexible, slender thumbs. It lists for about $250. For an
extra $50, the Treo 270 comes with a color display.
is a computer and communicator that fits in
the palm of your hand. ||
adds a color display. ||
T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone
integrates with Microsoft Outlook.
T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone Edition: Unlike the Treo,
T-Mobile’s pocket PC phone runs on Microsoft’s new operating
system that integrates with Microsoft Outlook. So if someone
in your Outlook database calls, that person’s information
flashes on the screen. T-Mobile’s PC phone costs about $550.
And now for something we’ve all been waiting
for—but never knew it. How often do you mutter under
your breath when you have to plug one of those bulky
black AC power transformer-adapters (for printers
and portable gear) into a power strip only to
discover the adapter is so big it covers a second
socket as well? A small California company,
Carpenter Group (
www.powerstripsaver.com ), has introduced a
product called the PowerStrip Saver that solves the
problem with handy adapter cables which plug into
any powerstrip socket (see photo below). The product
comes in two configurations: a single-plug adapter
and a two-plug adapter.
End power-box clutter.
Don’t be awed by
all this hot, new technology. Try to resist the hype. In all
likelihood, your current technology will effectively do the
job. Instead, keep your focus on making your current
technology work more efficiently. It will save you lots of
money and time.