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Tech Buzz 3/04

Voice control, protecting your laptop and more.

Now Hear This

If you've ever dreamed about chucking your keyboard and talking to your computer instead, your dreams are now a little closer to reality. Microsoft's new voice-controlled software isn't ready for the desktop big time, but it is available for Pocket PC handhelds. Dubbed "Voice Command," the $39.95 (street) package allows for natural language recognition, so you don't need to "train" the software. It won't write e-mails for you, but it will let you open applications, control the media player, look up calendar appointments and make phone calls.

Microsoft isn't the only company playing in the voice software arena. IBM, for example, has been at it a long time with its ViaVoice offering. Now represented by ScanSoft (www.scansoft.com), ViaVoice is a natural language recognition offering that, among other features, takes dictation. Accuracy issues and training time have long been stumbling blocks to widespread adoption. Microsoft's entry into this space signals a push into the mainstream.

The Microsoft package is of particular interest to entrepreneurs on the go who need a more efficient way to navigate their PDA. Your mobile workers could benefit as well. Others may want to hold out for more advanced features to arrive. After all, it's not a matter of whether voice software will ever be ready to break out, but when.

What a Steal

A stolen laptop is worth more than just the replacement cost of the hardware. According to the Computer Security Institute and the FBI's "2003 Computer Crime and Security Survey," the average loss from laptop theft topped $47,000. That includes the loss of proprietary information and business data and downtime.

While staying vigilant can minimize the chance of having equipment stolen, there are other precautions you can take. Back up data regularly. Most notebooks come with a security slot that accepts a specialized locking cable, like locking up a bicycle. Notebook lock manufacturer Kensington has an informative security Web site (www.pcsecurity.com). Consider encryption for important data, and passwords or biometrics to prevent thieves from accessing files. Put a security policy into action across your business. A little work upfront can save you from big losses later.

Farewell to Floppies

Floppy drives are getting about as much use as 8-track players these days. But moving files from computer to computer is still a necessity in business life. No single technology is poised to step in and replace floppies, so entrepreneurs are left sorting through the options. Optical drives like CD-RWs and recordable DVDs are popular, and everybody has a CD drive on their computer. If you put your data on a CD, you won't have trouble moving it over to another computer.

However, disc burning takes time and involves dealing with sometimes convoluted software programs. For a quicker (but less spacious) solution, many people are turning to tiny and inexpensive USB flash drives. Prices are dropping, and capacities are growing, but you have to be careful not to misplace the device. Zip drives have the advantage of holding a lot of data, but not every computer is equipped with the hardware to read them.

You may choose one of these or a combination. If you're already equipped for Zip, then it makes sense to stay with it. CD-RWs work well for data backup and are easy to label and store. The USB flash drives are designed to be carried around with you wherever you go and offer a convenient solution for entrepreneurs who move files among many different computers.


By June 2004, roughly
1/3
of all mobile handsets in North America will support Bluetooth.
SOURCE: ABI Research

In the second and third quarters of 2003, more than
25%
of e-marketing newsletters were sent out on a Tuesday.
SOURCE: OneStat.com

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This article was originally published in the March 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Tech Buzz 3/04.

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