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Until recently, hooking up printers and scanners to your PC was a major hassle. There were conflicts to work out, driver files to download, and even if you did everything right, you still had to reboot the system to get the peripheral to work.
Newer Windows-based and Macintosh computers equipped with Universal Serial Bus (USB) take the fuss and muss out of the installation process by automatically configuring your system for the peripheral once it's physically hooked up to the USB port. USB also allows you to "hot swap" peripherals--that is, to plug a device into a USB port and use it without rebooting. Because USB connections also supply power, you can daisy-chain peripherals (up to 127 devices at a time) with a hub hooked up to a single USB port.
According to David Murray, one of the creators of the new standard, USB-equipped PCs represent a desire by manufacturers to make their machines more user-friendly. "PC manufacturers want to make the machine an everyday appliance," says Murray. "Using peripherals should be as easy as buying a microwave oven, plugging it in and turning it on."
PCs equipped with USB came out in late 1996; according to Murray, 80 million of these machines have been sold in the past two years. However, only a few dozen manufacturers now produce USB peripherals.
USB peripherals are supported by both Windows 98 and the iMac, a good sign that the new standard is here to stay.
Not just for photocopies anymore.
Milwaukee-based Emjay Corp. is a small business with large printing needs. A retirement plan administration firm, Emjay relies on a local Kinko's printing facility to produce the forms and brochures it sends to clients. In the past, a form would be prepared, printed and delivered to the reception area for pickup by a Kinko's courier.
Then came the digital revolution. A year and a half ago, Emjay began using Kinkonet, an online service that allows businesses to transmit document files and printing instructions to Kinko's outlets that are equipped with the service. Kinkonet helped Emjay cut turnaround time by eliminating the need for documents to be hand-delivered to the print shop and reduced shipping costs by printing the documents in the city where the customer was located. It also allows Emjay to check the status of a print job online instead of by phone calls to clerks.
A destination charge is added to the cost of each Kinkonet print job, but copies of the proprietary software (available for both Mac and Windows operating systems) are free. For more information, visit http://www.kinkos.com
Regrets, They've Had A Few
IT employees are on the move.
Keeping technology workers happy may take more than free sodas and the occasional pay raise. According to a recent survey by Fairfax, Virginia's George Mason University and the Potomac KnowledgeWay Project, a Herndon, Virginia, IT trade organization, more than 40 percent of college-educated IT workers polled would choose a different major if they had it to do all over again. The most popular choice? Liberal arts.
Fortunately for business owners, healthy salaries keep most IT workers from trading system bugs for Shakespeare's sonnets. But don't expect them to stick around for retirement: IT workers are twice as likely as the average employee to switch careers. But there's a way to keep your techies: Nearly 90 percent said they'd be more likely to stay with an employer who would pay for continuing education courses.
Emjay Corp., 725 W. Glendale Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53209, (414) 961-0650
Entrega Technologies Inc., (949) 859-8866, http://www.entrega.com