From the November 1999 issue of Startups

The time will come when your start-up is sporting more staffers than payment-due notices. 'Til then, you can still learn the art of delegation with this intelligent digital-assistant program. With a little training, Prody Parrot 2.0 will accept your voice commands for navigating PC programs, browsing the Web, monitoring stocks and alerting you to new e-mail messages. And for those all-important goof-off moments, the digital assistant will also crack jokes, sing--or even take you for a visit with Dr. Sbaistso, an interactive psychiatrist. Only downside: Prody Parrot can't be trained to brown-nose.

Prody Parrot 2.0

Street price: $99.95

Requires: Windows 95/98/NT, 32MB RAM, 65MB hard-drive space, full duplex multimedia audio

Mindmaker

San Jose, California

(408) 467-9202

http://www.mindmaker.com


J.W. Dysart (joedysart@aol.com), a software analyst and Internet business consultant, has written for more than 40 publications, including The New York Times.

Special Screening

AOL is already one of the easiest ISPs to master. This instructional video from ViaGrafix makes it even easier. Designed for the unabashed novice, the video leaves no stone unturned--even showing beginners where to install the AOL CD-ROM in their PCs to get started. All the things I learned the hard way--exploring channels, working with e-mail, creating a simple Web page, personalizing news services--are all here, lucidly demonstrated with hands-on clarity. Buy it and you'll save weeks of trial-and-error agony.

Learning AOL 4.0 (video format)

Street price: $39

Requires: A VHS VCR

Viagrafix

Pryor, Oklahoma

(800) 842-3294

http://www.viagrafix.com

Golden Opportunity

Scoring new business on the Web has a lot to do with becoming a search engine favorite. Find a way to become one of the top Web sites recommended by Yahoo!, Excite and others, and you're well on your way to dusting the competition. Powerfully, WebPosition Gold 1.0 does this for you by promoting your site to the Net's top search engines. Essentially, it's like having a seasoned Web veteran at your side, showing you how to optimize each page and keyword on your site for maximum search-engine exposure. Bonus: The package's reporting features and Web site traffic analysis help ensure your winning site won't fade to wallflower status.

WebPosition Gold 1.0

Street price: $149

Requires: Windows 95/98/NT,

8MB RAM, 7MB hard-drive space,

Netscape Navigator 2.0 or higher or Microsoft internet Explorer 3.0 or higher

FirstPlace Software

Joplin, Missouri

(800) 962-4855

http://www.firstplacesoftware.com

Down and Dirty

Too many Web design programs assume you're willing to surrender six months to mastering all their intricacies. Not IBM NetObjects TopPage. Specifically designed for beginners, this package quickly guides you through the process of creating a professional Web site with more than 40 Web page templates, 2,000 graphics, dozens of design effects, and tools for creating lifelike animations from still pictures and graphics. If you're already comfortable with an everyday word processor, you'll easily master this program.

IBM NetObjects TopPage

Street price: $48

Requires: Windows 95/98/NT,

16MB RAM, 120MB hard-drive space

IBM Multimedia

Armonk, New York

(800) 772-2227

http://www.jp.ibm.com/esbu/E/toppage

Mail Polish

There's a reason why more than 18 million people already use this program: It works. Very well, in fact. Besides executing basic e-mail functions flawlessly, EudoraPro Email 4.2 has a built-in spelling checker, can display graphics within an e-mail text message for easier viewing, and works with virus protection programs. Also handy for the entrepreneur are filters that identify, file and/or transfer mail according to your specs. It even sends automatic e-mail replies. Features like auto-check and the ability to send e-mail in the background mean you won't have to babysit your e-mail software anymore. In a phrase: a workhorse with a thoroughbred's grace. (For more ideas on managing e-mail, see "Browsing" on page 14.)

EudoraPro Email 4.2

Street price: $49.95

Requires: Windows 95/98/NT, Internet connection with POP

or IMAP mail account via PPP dial-up access, 16MB RAM, 10MB hard-drive space

(MAC version available)

Qualcomm

San Diego

(800) 2-EUDORA

http://www.qualcomm.com

You're On!

There's nothing like a few seconds of audio/video attached to an e-mail message to make potential clients and customers sit up and take notice. QuickCam VC easily enables you to create and e-mail video attachments that automatically play on virtually any computer. The system, which comes with a video camera, can also be used for entry-level videoconferencing and the creation and transmission of still images. A bonus: A recent software upgrade--free from the Logitech Web site for existing users--enables the QuickCam VC to be run on a PC's USB connection, greatly speeding performance.

QuickCam VC

Street price: $80

Requires: Windows 95/98, 16MB RAM,

10MB hard-drive space,

Soundblaster-compatible sound card,

PC microphone, Internet connection

Logitech

Fremont, California

(800) 231-7717

http://www.logitech.com