From the November 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Heard about all the money everyone else is saving by buying office equipment and machines over the Net, but haven't figured out how to do it yourself? Then listen up and, by following a few easy steps, you'll learn how to always get the smartest buy on the Net.

Case in point: A recent search for 3Com's popular Palm IIIx personal digital assistant (PDA) found a high price of $364.95 and a low of $277.95--a whopping $87 difference. Buy that PDA in the wrong store, and you'll pay a 31 percent premium compared to what savvy buyers are paying.

How long did it take to ferret out these prices? A minute, maybe three, with a log-in to mySimon (http://www.mysimon.com), a "bot" (robot) that lets you enter what you want to purchase, then scours the Web and, in a jiff, returns prices from dozens of online vendors. See a price you like? A simple click moves you from mySimon to the storefront.

You could bookmark dozens of store sites and visit them before each purchase, but bots do this hunting for you automatically and with scarcely any effort on your part. Better still, it's easy to double-check prices by using other spiffy bots. Good ones include ShopFind (http://www.shopfind.com), a fast, powerful bot; the exceptionally easy-to-use Jango (http://www.jango.com), which is integrated with the Excite search engine (http://www.excite.com); and Planet Retail (http://www.planetretail.com), a remarkably comprehensive bot.

These bots will hunt for many types of merchandise, but there are also specialty bots that limit the search to a single type. For instance, Best Book Buys (http://www.bestbookbuys.com) hunts dozens of online retailers for the title you crave, and, in a handy chart, it shows not only purchase prices, but also total costs (including shipping). Auction Watchers (http://www.auctionwatchers.com) scours online auctions for the best prices on tech gear.

Need still more bots that find different types of merchandise? A handy roundup is available at BotSpot (http://botspot.com/search/s-shop.htm). A recent look found a score of bots, all ready to simplify your online shopping trips.


To contact Robert McGarvey, email him at rjm@mcgarvey.net

No More Excuses

Still don't have a Web site because you think it's too complicated? Not anymore.

Got a minute? Get a free Web site at HomePage.com, which features both a speedy sign-up process and tools that the company claims will let you create a site in less than 60 seconds. Better still, you get a personalized address (YourName.homepage.com) and 10MB to build a site with photos, hundreds of pages of text and more. The price? It's free. ZyWeb (http://www.zy.com) may be even faster--it promises results in 30 seconds--and it packages both space for a Web site and lots of advanced tools (for site-building and graphics manipulation and editing) at no charge. So get on the ball and get your site up already.

Keeping Time

http://www.isbister.com/worldtime

Do you know what time it is in Mumbai, India? (Try Greenwich Mean time plus 5.5 hours.) How about Hilo, Hawaii (where daylight savings time doesn't exist)? Good as world time software apps can be, many stumble when it comes to calibrating for vagaries such as daylight savings time. But don't just guess; know the time pretty much anywhere in the world with a visit to this site. iSBiSTER International Inc. wants to sell you its TimeZone Map software ($24.95), but if you only need to check offbeat times occasionally, this Web site, which demonstrates the technology, is a dandy freebie.

Shareware To Go

Software finds for Windows CE users

The PalmPilot may rule the handheld computing market, but Microsoft's Windows CE operating system still has legions of fans. Are you one of them? Want to spice up your Windows CE handheld with spiffy software? You're in luck--more Web sites filled with jazzy software offerings come online all the time. Take a look at what's out there:

  • http://www.cecentral.com: Want one-stop shopping for peripherals (communications cables and the like) and full-featured software (including titles for handwriting recognition, financial management, travel and maps)? This site ranks as one of the Internet's most complete retailers of CE-related gear and tools.
  • http://www.windowsce.com: Full of try-before-you-buy shareware, this site offers hundreds of titles pertaining to communications, productivity, utilities and so on. AOL users, in particular, can rejoice: Several titles make it simple to download AOL e-mail and to send and receive Instant Messages.
  • http://www.winfiles.com/apps/ce: Head to CNet's WinFiles, where hundreds more shareware titles await you. Don't miss the button for "Newest CE Shareware." Another convenience is that WinFiles provides a tool that lets users easily register--that is, purchase--shareware that suits them.

If you crave more links to boost the usefulness of your CE device, go to PDAntic.com's roundup of top sites (http://www.pdantic.com/wincelnk.htm). For the motherlode of WinCE info, surf into the Windows CE Web Community site (http://www.windowscewebring.com), which catalogs some 250 CE-related sites (including 20-20 Consumer, http://www.20-20consumer.com/windowscehpcs, a site that provides you with instant surveys of current pricing on CE devices for sale via the Web). While you're at it, check out Microsoft's Windows CE site (http://www.microsoft.com/windowsce/products), which is filled with news, tips, books, tech support and still more links to software developers and retailers. It's a rich resource that's packed with info on how to make WinCE boxes hum with productivity.

Search Party

http://www.searchiq.com

Need to find data fast? One good starting point is SearchIQ, which ranks engines in terms of thoroughness and usability. Ratings change, but in one recent look, SearchIQ gave the "best" title to little-known but muscular InferenceFind (http://www.infind.com). The "most intuitive"--that is, easiest to use--was AskJeeves (http://www.ask.com). Literally hundreds of search tools are catalogued and reviewed at SearchIQ, making this a site worth stopping at if you come up empty using the standard tools.

Portals of Call

http://www.onvia.com

The Web is a cornucopia, filled with anything you might need to grow your business--but who has the time to hunt it down? That's the insight behind Onvia.com, a new portal site that aims to provide one-stop hunting for time-strapped entrepreneurs. Under one Web-based roof, Onvia.com offers "hot deals" (keen pricing on desktop computers or cellular plans, for instance); tips on marketing, finance, even how to succeed; a roundup of business services (clicks for applying for business credit cards or Web hosting, for instance); and an easy way to personalize all of it into a free MyOnvia page that delivers just the info you want.

Flash

Time is of the essence: Eight seconds--that's how long surfers will give your Web site to load before clicking away, according to a study by Zona Research. Translation: Either keep graphics to a minimum, or lose viewers.

Plugged in: Twenty-five percent of all U.S. households now have Internet access, according to new numbers from the U.S. Commerce Department. But access rates are dramatically lower for rural Americans and for Latinos and African Americans.

Kid stuff: Children and teens are monster e-shoppers--by 2002, the 5- to 18-year-old crowd will spend a whopping $1.3 billion online, predicts new research from Jupiter Communications. By 2002, 38.5 million youngsters will be online.