LAS VEGAS — If you have a business to run, you're probably not attending the 19th annual fall Comdex show here this week. Here's some of what you missed:
Paragon Software (http://www.paragonsoftware.com) found an easier way to add contacts to your cellular phone's memory than fiddling with the phone keys. The British company's FoneSync Simply Communicating Software comes with a cable that lets you transfer names and phone numbers from a PC to a cell phone. The $69 product works with a variety of phones and comes with its own phone book software, and it also lets you import data from Microsoft Outlook and other programs.
One neat thing about this program is that it transfers numbers to and from phones, making it a great tool for ensuring that all the phones used by your business are programmed with the same numbers. Unfortunately, it does not work with the popular Motorola phones, but stay tuned. Motorola recently acquired Starfish Software, which specializes in synchronizing data between PCs and hand-held devices.
An entire Comdex pavilion is devoted to companies offering solutions for the millennium bug, widely known as the Y2K problem, which could cause computers and other devices to malfunction after Jan. 1, 2000. Although no one has created the magic bullet that will solve the problem for all companies, a number of vendors are offering things that will diagnose and help repair problems.
Intelliquis (http://www.intelliquis.com) is offering fix2000, a $19.95 software product for IBM-compatible PCs that will make a millennium bug diagnosis of a computer's hardware, operating system and software. Problems are inventoried on a report so you know where you stand.
For $20 more, you can buy fix2000 Pro, which can provide an intermediate "fix" that can adjust your PC's built-in clock and other settings to correct two-digit date problems. It can also scan your DOS and Windows operating system and application files to find two-digit dates and "fix the problem in 70% of cases," according to Intelliquis spokesman Ken Jenson.
Regardless of any Y2K repair software you may run, it's a good idea to contact all of your hardware and software vendors to make sure you have Y2K-compliant versions of their products.
The French company Olitech (http://www.olitec.com) chose Comdex for the North American debut of the Smart Memory 56k Portable Office, which is a 56 kilobits-per-second modem as well as an incoming fax machine, voice mail system and speakerphone. This one, unlike most PC-based data and fax modems and voice mail systems, can receive faxes if it's not connected to a PC or if the PC is off. It can store up to 200 pages of faxes or 45 minutes of incoming voice mail on the 4MB SmartMedia card that comes with the unit. You can store even more fax or voice data if you replace the card with an 8- or 16-megabyte card.
What impressed me about the device is that it is very small and surprisingly attractive. In addition to using it in the home or small office, it can be taken on the road to answer your phone or receive faxes from hotel rooms. It can also be used to forward stored faxes to a remote fax machine, and it can notify you by pager or phone when a fax or voice message comes in. The fax remote feature would allow you to have people send faxes to one number, then forward them to a remote location if you're away.
Comdex is always a good place to learn about what's happening with servers--computers that are used to store data and run software for company networks.
This year there are more server options than ever. Microsoft is touting its Windows NT server software, of course, but a number of other companies are here promoting the use of the Linux operating system as a cheaper, faster and more reliable alternative to Windows NT. Unlike Windows NT and most other network operating systems, Linux has open source code, which means that a variety of vendors can make modifications to the operating system.
The operating system itself is free, but companies such as Red Hat (http://www.redhat.com) and Caldera (http://www.caldera.com) sell what are called "distributions," which are CD-ROMs with the operating system, documentation and supporting software. Linux until recently was not considered a mainstream operating system, but a number of major companies now see real market potential in Linux. Intel, Oracle and others are developing companion systems that are starting to make Linux a serious alternative for business users.
Linux is not exactly user- friendly, but setting up any server is never a piece of cake. If you have a savvy employee who recommends Linux, listen carefully to what that person says. For many small and medium-sized businesses, it is turning out to be a cost-effective way to run a network.
Lawrence J. Magid can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.