Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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April 2000, Week 2 -- What if There is a Free Lunch?



   Flashbase and Bitlocker are two database services you can get on the web for nothing.

   The database forms can be taken from a ready-made list or you can design your own. Obvious uses are the creation of address books, lists of group members, customers, marketing surveys, employee hires, etc. Flashbase even offers templates customized for various types of businesses and clubs.


   A simple mouse click on your web site takes the visitor over to their web site to fill out a form. So, for example, if you had a small business with product brochures to mail out, you could direct the viewer to click on a button and fill out the form for product information. Later, you would go to the Flashbase site and collect the information. Clubs and schools could sell event tickets this way ("please fill out this form to order your tickets") and accept credit card payments. Clubs could do quick surveys of their members ("who is interested in forming a bike club?"). The sales and information gathering opportunities seem boundless. Once the form is completed, a simple button click returns the visitor to your home site.


   The appearance of free business services is part of a growing trend on the web. Business and personal programs are offered at no charge, or a slight charge, in return for tolerating the display of ads as you work. The advantage is no cost or setup time for the user; the disadvantage is the limitations of the software that's on the site, and the risk that the site itself might shut down, taking your collected data with it. You might think this never happens, but I've been to sites that shut down in just the few days between visiting the site and writing the column.


   Flashbase at Flashbase is the easier of the two sites to navigate and edit, with more forms and services. For $25 a month you can get extra features, like your own logo on the forms. Bitlocker can be found at





   The file viewer "PowerDesk 4" is available free from the Ontrack web site:

   This is one of the oldest and most highly regarded of Windows utility programs. You can view and sort almost any Windows file without having to open the parent program. It also decodes those pesky "mime" e-mail files.


   The "Pro" version of this utility is $20. It covers more than 200 file formats and does graphics format conversions. Ontrack phone: 800-645-3649 or 612-937-5161.


Be Still, Web Cam



   The new "Web Cam Go" from Creative Labs answers a question many web cam users ask. In fact my son keeps asking it.

   And that's simply ... why can't I unplug the web camera from my computer and go out and use it like a regular digital still camera? Well, you can't. Except for this one. Disconnect the "Web Cam Go" from the computer and you can take up to 90 digital pictures at a resolution of 640x480, which is fine for most uses.


   The web cam can act as a normal still camera (taking just one shot at a time), or you can push a button that will take a sequence of shots -- sort of the motor drive on 35mm cameras.


   Web Cam Go is $150 list price, for Windows. Creative Labs phone: 800-998-1000; web:



--  I'm always reluctant to give column space to corporate publicity sites but this one is kind of fun. And it lets you design your own screen saver, which does not have to include any Nabisco products.

--  This is a site that lets you leave comments on how you felt about doing business with anyone on the web. But the part we found more interesting was a free service called "auction magic" that lets you create automatic auction listings.


--  A newswire in Spanish and English.


-- This is an Internet version of the ride boards that are posted on most college campuses. People going somewhere seek riders to share expenses, and riders look for rides. The site will also list more private ride boards, for institutions, groups, companies, etc.


-- Folk tales and ghost stories from the American South. Not a university site.

-- Which financial papers you can keep and which ones you can throw away.

-- Helps you pick a name for your web site and checks your new name against already registered names.


Games: Let there be action!


  From Activision we have "Battle Zone II," sequel to last year's "Action Game of the Year" award winner from gaming magazines. Dramatic sound and lighting, big machines, heavy weapons, take no prisoners in a battle against invading aliens. The whole solar system is at war. For Windows, with accelerator and 64MB of RAM. Single and multi-player. Web: or

  Slave Zero

   "Slave Zero," from Infogrames. Slave Zero is a 60-foot-high robot, battling other robots through the streets of an enormous city. People are running and screaming, cars getting crunched, etc. The game first came out in Japan, which probably accounts for its Godzilla-like atmosphere. For Windows, accelerator card required. Web:

   NOTE: Readers can search more than four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at or