By Melissa Campanelli
Several new programs have recently been introduced by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to reach the SOHO market. For example, in March, the USPS began beta-testing the Information-Based Indicia program for small businesses, designed to let you buy stamps online and to make postage fraud easier to detect.
Here's how the system works: A small-business owner buys or rents a USPS-approved manufacturer's hardware or software product. While the systems vary, the hardware usually attaches to a PC's serial port to allow users to automatically add postage to their meters when they're connected to that manufacturer's Web site. Users select the amount of postage desired, their credit card is charged, and the postage is downloaded and stored in a security device. As each electronic stamp is printed on an envelope, the software deducts the postage from the security device.
The only company currently approved by the USPS to offer this system is E-Stamp Corp. (http://www.estamp.com) in Palo Alto, California. It began beta-testing its product in Washington, DC, and trials are expected shortly in the San Francisco area and Tampa, Florida.
Other mail equipment suppliers, including Pitney Bowes Inc. (http://www.pitneybowes.com/soho) in Stamford, Connecticut, and Neopost (http://www.neopost.com) in Hayward, California, are seeking approval for their technologies as well. Neopost has also just introduced PostagePlus, an Internet-based postage imprinting system that doesn't use hardware; users can download electronic stamps from the Internet. The company is waiting for approval from the USPS for this technology.
Microsoft Office 97 Small Business Edition version 2.0 includes Direct Mail Manager, designed to provide small businesses with the tools needed to create, print, mail and manage direct mailings. Users can match addresses and verify mailings through an online connection to the USPS' national ZIP+4 address database, which lets businesses check their mailing lists for correct addresses, postal codes and duplicates. The software also includes an Internet-based "mailroom" that allows users to design, print, address and mail documents such as fliers, brochures, postcards and letters. Microsoft Office 97 Small Business Edition version 2.0 costs $249 for current Office users and $499 for new users. For more information, visit http://www.microsoft.com
John W. Verity is a writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered the computer industry for 21 years. Send your computer questions to John at email@example.com