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Whether Santa Claus is coming to your town or you're lighting the menorah, this is the time of year when gifts are given and received.
In addition to remembering employees and clients, smart entrepreneurs stuff their own stockings with gifts that can help them get through the next year. Whether it means adding a new Web site development tool to your arsenal or investing in a set of Encyclopedia Britannica CD-ROMs, the point is to take advantage of this gift-giving time of year and give yourself something you've always wanted. Better yet, why not figure out what products you'd like and let your family get you something you can use (instead of the not-quite-right tie, awful-smelling perfume or Chia Pet you seem to get every year)?
Cassandra Cavanah is a Los Angeles freelance writer who has reported on the computer industry for nine years.
A Traveler's Best Friend
On The Go Software's Quicken ExpensAble 98, the latest version of the number-one expense-reporting software program, has expanded its functionality to include travel-related services in addition to its tried-and-true expense features. This program runs under Windows 95/98/NT and comes with 30 different expense report forms. And at $50, it's a gift that won't break the bank.
Perhaps the most significant change to the program is its ability to allocate expenses among two or more clients--giving service-oriented businesses a great deal of flexibility when filling out expense reports. Additionally, Quicken ExpensAble 98 comes with a built-in Web browser and links to travel-related Web sites for booking trips, checking weather or getting updates on currency exchange rates, all while you're working within the program.
Don't let the name fool you--Quicken ExpensAble can exchange data with more accounting programs than just QuickBooks and Quicken. You may also want to check out the server-based module of the program, ExpensAble InSite, which allows access from the Web or via an intranet.
Users of this program claim it saves them tons of time when they're filing complicated expense reports. Call (800) 331-3416 or visit http://www.onthegosoftware.com and check it out for yourself.
Don't Get Left Behind
Being on the road can sometimes be a lonely experience--not to mention a frustrating one. And though computers are a huge part of your life in the office, on the road, this can become a complete nightmare. Just dialing into your ISP while traveling can cause a nervous breakdown.
That's where Symantec's Norton Mobile Essentials comes in. This product was designed to take the pain out of laptoppers' travels--and keep the time it takes to get up and running in a new location to a minimum. It's a stocking stuffer any business traveler in your life will appreciate.
Norton Mobile Essentials costs about $79 and includes three components: Before You Go, Location Controller and Connection Doctor. Before You Go makes sure your hard drive is in order by running an antivirus scan and backing up your data to another drive or to floppies. Before You Go also includes Web links to most major cities in the world so you can determine the correct power and telephone adaptors that you'll need. The Location Controller already has information on common destinations, or you can enter the specifics for a city that's not listed. Finally, Connection Doctor will check your computer, modem and telephone connection to ferret out problems. Connection Doctor also offers solutions, or you can call a tech support specialist for 30 minutes of free support. For more information, call (800) 253-9438 or visit http://www.symantec.com
If you or someone you know could stand for a little organization, there's no better time to start than at the dawn of a new year. Although there are loads of PIMs (Personal Information Managers) to choose from, you might be wise to stick with what you know. For example, if you use a paper-based Day-Timer planner, you may want to check out the software version, Day-Timer Organizer 2000. This product looks and even works much like the paper-based model--you can easily output your computerized Day-Timer pages to specially designed paper that will fit your paper-based Day-Timer planner.
This program, which costs $59.95, lets you keep your contacts, calendars and to-do lists in one easy-to-manage location, and it includes a Time Management Tips database. It also works with handheld computers from Sharp, U.S. Robotics and Philips. The souped-up version, Day-Timer Organizer 2000 Deluxe ($79.95), goes beyond basic contact management and offers an On-Board Info Diary Companion, Rand McNally RoutePlanner and Deluxe Database (which includes hotel, airline and vehicle rental reservation numbers and Web addresses).
And Day-Timer HomeLife ($29.95) is a gift your whole family will appreciate. This product was designed to help keep track of household schedules by day, week, month and year. There's a built-in home-messaging system, places to keep the entire household's addresses and phone numbers, as well as information on emergency and disaster procedures. Head to http://www.daytimer.com or call (800) 225-5005 for more information.
Here's a gift any computer junkie will love: a complete digital photography system that includes a color digital camera and the software needed to work with digital images--all at a price most business owners can afford: $149. Serif's Go Digital Photo Pak includes a Relisys Dimera 2000 Color Digital Camera and complete versions of Ixla Digital Camera Suite and Ixla Explorer, digital photography software published by Ixla Limited.
With the Go Digital Photo Pak, no expertise is necessary. Even users who have never imported or exported photos will be able to easily use this device. You simply take photos with the pocket-sized camera, attach the camera to your computer via the supplied serial cable, and in no time you'll be sending pictures across the Web, importing images into common software programs and creating computer-based photo journals. Images are imported at 640 x 480 resolution; the included software lets you edit the images and then publish them to a printer or the Internet. Visit http://www.serif.com or call (800) 55-SERIF for details.
Tell Me More, Tell Me More
Here's something else for the traveling entrepreneur, or perhaps for the traveler on your staff. Tell Me More from Auralog is language-instruction software that features advanced speech recognition technology to facilitate an interactive dialog between the user and his or her computer.
Created by a team of language teaching specialists, this CD-ROM is designed to help users with oral and written expression, comprehension, pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar skills in four languages: Spanish, German, French and Italian. You can also invest in an `English as a Second Language' version for non-English-speaking workers.
The way it works is simple. Using Tell Me More's pronunciation exercises, students practice correctly saying sentences by talking into a microphone. The program then evaluates their pronunciation skills. The software comes with more than 2,000 exercises and games. Comprehension exercises include 180 word-order activities and 96 fill-in-the-blank drills, while the software's wide selection of phonetic exercises allows students to practice sounds that present special pronunciation problems. There's an unlimited number of dynamic crossword puzzles as well, and a comprehensive glossary that can be used at any time to translate individual words or phrases.
Tell Me More costs $69.95 and comes with three CDs and a headset with a microphone. Check out http://www.auralog.com or call (888) 388-3535.
Share The World
What better way to educate and entertain than through the stunning beauty of National Geographic magazine?
National Geographic has gifts that should suit almost everyone on your list. For the youngsters, there's the GeoBee Challenge, a CD-ROM packed with photos, maps and National Geography Bee questions. The goal here is to teach through fun with Buzz Bee, the worldly wonderbug, who heads up a brain-teasing romp around the world. Children can play on their own or go head to head with one or two opponents. Kids enjoy answering the irreverent multiple-choice questions, solving the surprise puzzles, conquering the lightning round and being rewarded with a listing in the GeoBee Hall of Fame. The GeoBee Challenge is for ages 10 and up and costs $19.95.
For adults, check out two other offerings from National Geographic. For the serious geography buff, there's The Complete National Geographic--109 years of the magazine on CD-ROM. You get every picture, every cover, every story and even every advertisement from each and every issue. This feat is even more amazing when you consider that if you took every issue of National Geographic and placed them end to end, they'd stand about as tall as the Eiffel Tower. There's a search index on each CD to assist in exploring the magazines. This 31-CD set costs $179.
Another option is the National Geographic Photo Gallery. For $35, the aspiring desktop publisher has access to 3,000 tremendous photos by first-class photographers. There's an easy-to-use index to search the collection by photographer, topic or keyword.
All the National Geographic programs can be ordered from Mindscape, the company that produces the software. Head to http://www.mindscape.com or call (617) 761-3000.