Los Angeles Times

Monday, May 25, 1998

Computer Basics
Add-Ons and Extras for Home-Office Systems

I  started my company in a sparse home office that contained some used furniture, a computer, a phone and a fax machine. I learned then that if you're serious about the venture, having a truly efficient setup could mean extra dollars in your wallet.
     If you have a home office, you probably have a good, basic computer system--one with a CD-ROM drive, plenty of RAM, a big hard drive and a decent monitor. Top priority on your add-on list should be some sort of removable mass storage device for backups and archival storage to prevent losses from human error, a virus, a hard drive crash or theft.
     Iomega's Zip Drive, which has been the center of attention over the last couple of years, is a good choice. But at last year's Fall COMDEX in Las Vegas, Castlewood Systems ([510] 224-9900; http://www.castlewoodsystems.com) unveiled the ORB drive, whose cartridges will hold a whopping 2.16 gigabytes as compared with the Zip's 100MB. The ORB, whose price is expected to be competitive with the Zip drive, should be available this summer.
     If it's been more than a year since you've shopped for a desktop scanner, you'll be surprised to find how low prices have dropped. You can pick up a decent color scanner for as little as $150.
     Is a scanner necessary for a home office? If you spend any time retyping printed materials into your computer, you may find a scanner can quickly pay for itself. The home-office scanner's power lies in its OCR, or optical character recognition, capabilities, and most scanners include a "lite" version of an OCR program. Especially effective for OCR work is Caere's OmniPage Pro ([800] 535-7226; http://www.caere.com). But be prepared to pay about $450 for the OmniPage Pro's accuracy and ease of use.
     If you repeatedly type information from business cards into your contact management software, you should consider CardScan from Corex Technologies ([617] 492-4200; http://www.cardscan.com). This is a scanner/software solution designed specifically for capturing information from business cards and adding that information to your contact management software. But because you'll be paying about $300, you may need to collect a lot of business cards to justify this expense.
     Tired of having your online sessions interrupted when someone accidentally picks up the phone in another room? D&V Telecomm International ([800] 843-3363; http://www.djvdistribution.com) offers a handy device called Teleprivacy Plus. The device temporarily disables other phones when you're online. Keep in mind, though, that a separate Teleprivacy Plus must be installed for each phone or modem. But at $16.95 each, the cost for two or three isn't that prohibitive.
     If you're using your phone line to receive faxes, you should consider spending about $50 for an automatic signal splitter. Nothing bugs me more than people who say, "Yes, you can fax to me, but you have to call me first so I can get it set up." The signal splitter will distinguish voice and data calls and route them accordingly. Several companies make these devices, which are available at most computer stores.
     Answering machines are great for catching calls while you're out, but if you're already talking on the line, the call can't get through to your machine. And call waiting may not be appropriate in a business setting.
     One way to get around this is to scrap your answering machine in favor of voicemail service from the phone company. This may be more expensive (since you pay a monthly fee), but you'll never miss important calls. You can tie up the line with your modem or fax machine, and business contacts will still be able to leave you messages.
     Dust is the enemy of any computer system. The good news is that combating dust requires a very small investment. For cleaning bigger items--like monitor screens and computer cases--there are a number of products available, including Endust for Electronics. One can sets you back a couple of dollars.
     For getting into all the nooks and crannies, you need a can of compressed air. It may seem strange to buy a can of air, but it is key to blasting away dust particles.
* * *
     One last item for your shopping list: a computer tool kit. Even if you never plan to install any of your own internal components, you should still get inside the case from time to time to blast out dust with your canned air. About $10 should cover a respectable tool kit.
     I found the biggest challenge of having a home office is the sense of bigness that clients respect. I was on the phone with a major potential business partner who asked who was researching the project with me. I looked down underneath my desk at my CPU and said, "PC." I got the deal that enabled us to move into our own office building and hire staff.
* * *
     Kim Komando is a TV host, syndicated talk radio host and author. You can visit her on the Internet at http://www.komando.com or e-mail her at komando@komando.com. Her national talk radio program can be heard on Saturdays from 7 to 9 a.m. on 97.1 KLSX-FM.

Search the archives of the Los Angeles Times for similar stories. You will not be charged to look for stories, only to retrieve one.

Copyright Los Angeles Times


For help, click here