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Products That Make Good Gifts

LAWRENCE J. MAGID <i> is a Silicon Valley-based computer analyst and writer</i>

Need a last-minute Christmas gift or a New Year’s present for yourself? Here are some of my favorites:

The first is ideal for anyone who must sit through long meetings while colleagues drone on. Sound familiar? If so, your organization is wasting time and money.

To find out how much, turn on the Meeting Meter, a $29.95 program that’s like a taxi meter for meetings. The program allows you to enter the names and hourly costs for up to 80 participants. You can also enter the cost of the meeting room and other facilities.

The display, which looks like a taxi meter, keeps a running total of the meeting’s actual cost. It might make the perfect gift for your boss or for a colleague in need of a not-so-subtle hint. It was created by Bernard DeKoven, whose Institute for Better Meetings helps companies use technology to enhance communications.

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The IBM PC version is memory-resident, so it can be displayed even when other programs are running. The Macintosh version runs under Apple’s HyperCard programming environment.

Meeting Meter can be ordered from the Institute for Better Meetings in Palo Alto. Phone: (800) 729-1757 or (415) 857-1757. Fax: (415) 493-1417.

My second choice--actually two choices--will help you maintain your schedule and keep track of your friends and business associates. And you don’t need a computer to use it.

The choices are two new versions of Sharp’s Wizard handheld electronic organizer. I disliked the original Sharp Wizard because its keyboard, laid out in an “ABCD” fashion, was almost impossible for me to use. A lot of people complained and Sharp listened. The new models have the traditional “QWERTY” keyboards that are a lot easier to use if you know your way around a computer or typewriter.

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The new models still fit in a coat pocket but are a bit larger than their predecessor. Both weigh 10.2 ounces and measure 7.1 by 3.8 by 0.7 inches. In addition to being larger, the keyboard is now horizontally positioned so that you actually have some room to press keys. It’s by no means a full-sized keyboard, but at least you can find your way around.

The two new models are identical except for their memory capacity and price. The Wizard OZ 8200 has a suggested retail price of $399.95 and comes with 128 kilobytes of memory--enough to store nearly 2,600 names and phone numbers or more than 1,800 appointments. The other model, OZ 8000, has 64 kilobytes of memory and costs $359.95. The built-in functions of both models include a monthly, weekly and daily calendar, along with a memo pad, address and phone directory, business card directory, outliner and calculator.

The Wizard is not classified as a computer, but that’s a matter of semantics. It is programmable and can run optional software from Sharp and other companies. It doesn’t have a tiny little disk drive, but it does have a slot for credit-card-size integrated circuit cards. Optional cards from Sharp include a money planner, a scientific card, a language translator, a time and expense card, a Spanish/English card and a spreadsheet. Card prices range from $79.99 to $129.99.

The Wizard comes with built-in communications software so that it can be used with a modem to access electronic on-line services such as CompuServe and MCI Mail. Sharp also plans to introduce a modem and integrated circuit card for outgoing faxes. The company also is developing game cards, including Box Jockey, Tetris and chess. Also, you can opt for a golf scoring card or a Bible on a card.

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Sharp offers software to link the Wizard to a PC or Macintosh but will soon introduce a new linking program for MS-DOS, with enhanced searching, printing and indexing capabilities. It also has a converter for Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet files and calendar and address data from Sidekick 2.0, the yet-to-be-released new version of Borland International’s popular personal information management software.

For more information or the name of a dealer, call Sharp at (800) 321-8877.

My third choice will come in handy for anyone who needs to upgrade or maintain a PC. “The PC Configuration Handbook: A Complete Guide to Troubleshooting, Enhancing and Maintaining Your PC” by John Woram answers questions that are almost never covered in basic manuals. Its 700 pages are full of technical data, but the book is surprisingly easy to understand, even for the beginner.

I wouldn’t make it required reading for every new PC user, but I recommend it to those who want to get under the hood of their PC. The just-revised second edition (Bantam Computer Books, $26.95) covers every type of PC--through those using Intel’s 486 microprocessor--and each version of MS-DOS, including 5.0.

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One additional gift idea that doesn’t have any bugs--but might cause cavities: The Original Chocolate Byte and the Original Chocolate Computer, starting at $10.95, are compatible with anyone who has a sweet tooth and a sense of humor. Call (800) 332-BYTE.

Happy holidays.

Computer File welcomes readers’ comments but regrets that the authors cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Lawrence J. Magid, P.O. Box 620477, Woodside, Calif. 94062, or contact the L. Magid account on the MCI electronic mail system.


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