The GN Netcom GN 9120 is a cordless headset that works with a standard office phone. According to its makers, it allows a site manager, say, to pick up calls to the main site number anywhere within a 100 m range. It looks very stylish, too, with a neat aluminium stand that doubles as base station and charger.
The smart headset has a battery life of eight hours, and is available with a choice of three different boom arms depending on end use – each type is supplied with a headband or an ear clip. To answer a phone call, users either pick up the main phone handset to activate the headset, or if their phone has a special headset socket they can use the "line out" button. Call clarity is excellent, and the transmitted and received volume is adjustable – there is even a tone control.
However, its use as a site tool is limited. We found the range dropped to about 50 m once anything solid came between headset and base station, and users have to be by the main phone to answer and end calls. There is an optional remote handset lifter, the GN 1000 RHL, which enables users to answer and end calls from the headset. At £250, the GN 9120 is not cheap, so it's a bit galling to have to spend another £50 to answer the phone remotely. Site users may consider that they are better off sticking with the mobile for now, but office-based staff will find the GN 9120 genuinely useful.
G Mini storage drives for maximum convenience
Iomega, makers of Zip storage drives, have moved into miniaturised data storage with the launch of the Mini USB Drive. This car key-sized device weighs 20 g and can store up to 256 Mb of data; 64 Mb and 128 Mb versions available. Users of compact laptops with separate CD-ROM drives will find the Mini USB Drive particularly useful, as it means the CD-ROM drive can be left in the office. Large files can also be easily transferred between computers, as no separate drive is needed. The company says it is automatically recognised as an external drive by Windows 2000 and XP, and Mac OS 9 and OS X. Users of older operating systems will have to install a driver.
It is easy to operate: the user plugs the drive into the USB port on the computer. It can launch programs, too, and can be set up to launch programs automatically when it is plugged into the USB port. Part or all of the drive can be password-protected, which would offer some reassurance if it was lost. The Mini USB Drive retails for £59.99, £79.99 and £120.90 for the 64 Mb, 128 Mb and 128 Mb versions respectively.
F Ultra-versatile digital assistant
Sony has launched its new top-of-the-range Clie PDA, the PEG-NZ90. It incorporates a two megapixel digital camera complete with built-in flash, making it one of the most versatile PDAs on the market. The Clie has a clamshell design like some mobile phones – open it to reveal the screen and keyboard. Alternatively, you can twist the screen around 90° to enter data using Palm's Graffiti system instead. This Clie features the Palm 5 operating system with a 200 MHz processor, so it can handle multimedia applications such video clips, and it also supports the Clie's high-resolution colour screen. It has built in Bluetooth connectivity and also accepts an optional WiFi card so it can link wirelessly with a PC for easy synchronisation, access the internet and send and receive email when near a Wi-Fi access point. Other features include an MP3 and ATRAC3 format music player, software to view Word, Excel, Powerpoint and PDF files, and it can even be programmed to replace a television remote control. It also has a removable, rechargeable lithium battery, a first for a Clie. Unfortunately, all this technology comes at a price, and we don't just mean its £598 retail value – it is a portly 141 mm long, 75 mm wide and 22 mm thick, and weighs in at 293 g.
Pocket PDA trims down
Viewsonic has launched what it claims is one of the thinnest and cheapest Pocket PC PDAs available. The V35 weighs 119 g and is 12.6 mm thick, 122 m long and 76 mm deep. It has a 300 MHz processor, 64 Mb of RAM and a 3.5 inch colour screen. It offers the usual Pocket PC features such as Pocket Word, Excel and Outlook and the ability to play music. Viewsonic also includes a Powerpoint file and a digital image viewer. The V35 retails for £249 including a rechargeable lithium battery and cradle.
G Tablet PC does the business
IT product distributor Paysan has introduced the semi-rugged PaceBlade PaceBook Tablet PC. This latest version of the PaceBook runs the Windows XP Tablet PC operating system. The product offers the usual Tablet PC features, including handwriting recognition and the ability to save handwritten notes and sketches in Word and Powerpoint files and send notes in Outlook. The company says the PaceBook offers several useful features not found on other Tablet PCs. The touch-sensitive screen will work with any pointing device, such as a pencil. This could be useful if you lose the supplied stylus just before an important presentation. Another PaceBlade special feature is the virtual keyboard the width of the 12 in screen, which should make keyboard data entry much easier than using the standard Tablet PC offering. For normal typing the PaceBook is supplied with a normal keyboard that connects to the main unit with an infrared link, and a carrying case that enables the screen and keyboard to be carried and used just like a conventional laptop. The PaceBook features a magnesium alloy case and toughened screen; the company says it has been drop-tested from a height of 1 m. It has a 867 MHz processor and can be specified with 256-640 Mb of RAM. Users of non-XP-compatible software, including Microsoft Project, will be pleased to know the Windows 2000 PaceBook is still available for £1588; the Windows XP Tablet PC version is expected to retail for a similar amount.
Rugged phone hits technological heights
Shockproof cordless phone Construction sites can now have a sophisticated cordless phone system with the launch of DeTeWe's OpenCom 1010. This bit of kit offers all the slick functions of an office system, such as voicemail and internal extension numbers, but on rugged handsets that the company says can be dropped from a height of two storeys without damage. Site managers can have notification of emails beamed to their handset complete with sender details and subject line. They can send text messages to other handsets and even plug a laptop into the handset and surf the net. Another handy feature is that the system can be programmed to ring an individual's handset and their mobile at the same time so that if they are away from site, people calling the office number can still get hold of them. Individuals can have their own outside line, or allocate an extension number – just like in the office.
At the system's heart is the OpenCom 1010 central control module, a smaller and toughened version of the existing OpenCom 1000, but still capable of handling up to 256 telephones. The system uses the DECT standard that is also used for modern cordless domestic phones. Weatherproof base stations are strategically placed around the site to transmit the signal from the handsets back to the control panel. A range of phones is available for use with the system, including standard office phones. The company says the system should save money as it substitutes BT lines for the mobile phone, and there should be less need to return calls because callers can get hold of people straight away.
The system is available for outright purchase or on a lease.
Wireless networking for superfast data transfer
Apple Computer has just brought out a wireless networking device that uses the new 802.11g wireless standard. Called the AirPort Extreme, it allows data transfer at the astonishing rate of 54 Mb/s, which is half the maximum speed of category 5 cabling. Users familiar with the 802.11b standard most commonly used for WiFi networks will find transferring big multimedia files much faster – 802.11b transfers data at 11 Mb/s. The AirPort Extreme is also compatible with 802.11b so will work with existing computers, including PCs fitted with 802.11b wireless cards. The AirPort Extreme looks like a shiny smoke alarm and the company says it can be set up in 15 minutes. Users will need to fit a £79 AirPort Extreme Card inside their Mac so it can communicate with the AirPort Extreme base station. Up to 50 computers can be connected to one base station and network with each other. Two versions of the AirPort Extreme are available – the first costs £149 and connects users to each other, and to a hardwired printer, and the second costs £189 as it has an internal modem, allowing dial-up internet access. The system has a range of up to 45 m, which can be extended by using several units together so they act as a series of stepping stones for the signal. Users can limit the range using supplied software so outsiders can't tap into the network.
SoftwareProject collaboration system
Telecoms giant BT has teamed up with online project collaboration provider BIW to offer a turnkey online collaboration solution. The service is called Build Business and users can opt to lease computers, the connection to the web and the collaboration service itself. BT says companies can rent as much or as little equipment as they need, including just the BIW service without any hardware. BT sees the service as having several advantages: it is easy to implement, the whole collaboration service can be costed on a project by project basis and if anything were to happen to BIW, BT undertakes to continue hosting and developing the service.
Texting from the internet
Internet messaging specialist Gordano has added an SMS messaging service to its portfolio of email products. This enables employees to send SMS messages to mobile phones directly from their desk-based email systems. All they have to do is enter the mobile number as part of a special email address and type the message normally, although this is limited to the standard 160 characters for an SMS message. To use the service, an organisation purchases the software from Gordano and installs it one computer, then bulk-buys SMS credits. The email is sent from the employee’s address to this computer, which then forwards it on to the mobile phone. Users of Gordano’s GMS Webmail service can also use it to notify themselves of new emails via SMS. The email server is held on a company-based computer; the only difference is that it is not linked to employees’ machines by a company network. This means employees can access their emails anywhere over the internet, and IT personnel have only one machine to look after rather than software installed on every machine across a business. A filter system can be set up so employees only receive notification of important emails on their phone.
Get contact details on your phone
Mobile users can now sign up to a service called iPhonebook from Xpherix Corporation that enables them to access all their contact details without having to enter them into the phone manually. Users of Palm Desktop and Microsoft Outlook enter details into their PC in the usual way. This information is downloaded to the iPhonebook website, which then sends the information over the air to the subscriber’s mobile phone. The advantage of the system is that users need only to enter contact details in one place, this can then synchronise with a handheld and mobile phone. If the phone is lost or stolen it is very easy to restore the address book.
Help with health and safety
IT Consilium has launched a Permit to Work manager to help contractors comply with health and safety legislation in hazardous environments. Permits to work in hazardous environments are normally issued from a word processing package or even by hand. The Permit to Work software stores all site and subcontractor details on a database. To issue a permit, the user just follows the on-screen prompts. The system allows users to check current authorisation status of permits, and to schedule hazardous works for greater efficiency and safety. It also has a safety check feature that verifies subcontractors have seen relevant safety procedures.
10 useful things to know when you switch on your PC1- Dredge the internet
If you find that the much-praised Google at www.google.co.uk is not really for you, try Copernic 2001 at www.copernic.com. You can download the basic version of Copernic Agent for free. It checks out 20 search engines simultaneously, and it is possible to add or remove engines to be searched. To save wasting time trying to browse sites that are not available for any reason, the “Validate” function can be used, which weeds out the non-starters. 2- Get rid of all the Post-it notes
A couple of free software packages provide you with instant sticky notes on your screen and not on your monitor – check ATnotes at http://atnotes.fr.st and TurboNotes at www.turbopress.com/tbnote33.exe – this will start the downloading process. You can organise notes by using folders, set an alarm, change colour or font and send your notes to colleagues. 3- Resurrect files
We all know that dreaded moment when we realise that with one absent-minded click we have deleted hours of work. But even if you’ve rashly emptied the recycle bin, that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. If you have EasyRecovery installed – find it at www.ontrack.com/freesoftware/ – restoration is possible – indeed, relatively straightforward. 4- Block unwanted mail
MailWasher, at www.mailwasher.net, is a free email checker that allows you to preview email before it lands in your inbox, and to block any you do not want to receive. It is also possible to stop viruses before they get to the computer. It is easy to set up and use. 5- Put the squeeze on
WinZip www.winzip.com and ZipCentral http://zipcentral.iscool.net/ are two free packages that allow all file formats to be compressed. One zip file can contain several others and makes it easier to group and transport information, and faster to copy it. 6- Protect important files
When a PC is shared by many users, some data needs extra protection so that others cannot delete it, even by mistake. NoDelete at www.softpile.com/Utilities/Security/Review_05028_index.html offers that option free and it allows you to protect up to 510 files from deletion, renaming and moving, while retaining the ability to modify files. Extra levels of protection are also available that will make it impossible either to modify or even access selected files.
7- Get back-up
With lots of nasty stuff either floating on the internet or hidden in innocent-looking emails, the benefits of backing up are obvious. SecondCopy can be downloaded from www.centered.com and evaluated for free. However, there is a small charge for a single license (about £20). It makes a back-up of data files to another directory, disk or computer across the network. It then monitors the source files and keeps the back-up updated with new or changed files and runs with no user interaction. 8- Fend off hackers and viruses
Check the website of the Zone Labs for a reputable selection of firewall software, but pay special attention to ZoneAlarm, which can be found at www.zonelabs.com/store/content/company/ products/znalm/freedownload.jsp. It’s free for personal and non-profit use and provides solid PC protection for the home user. The firewall is capable of examining the header information of each packet of data and acting accordingly. If in doubt, the download is stopped and separate permission asked. Configuring it takes a bit of effort but help is available on the Zone Labs website. 9- Keep your hard drive clear
Uninstalling a program from Windows is, in theory, a relatively simple task using the “remove programs” utility in control panel. However, the reality is very different, and poorly written uninstallation routines can leave files all over the hard drive, slowing down your PC or even stopping Windows from working properly. Add/Remove Plus! 2003 at www.aurelitec.com offers an easy way to uninstall programs no longer wanted on your computer. A free version for evaluation is available but the software will cost $14.95. The good thing about it is that it can weed out those applications that have already been removed but have left traces all over the hard drive. 10- And finally … PC phone home!
An interesting piece of software is available if you are worried that your PC may be stolen. If Catch a Thief for Windows – which can be found at www.stitches.co.uk/dpsoftware/catw/index.htm – is installed then your machine can be tracked down and the police informed. It does this by dialling your telephone number at a prespecified intervals, so it can then be traced by 1471. Quite a bizarre idea, but there you are … I would also install a padlock.