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     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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January 2000, Week 4 -- Finally: Free Phone Calls

 

 

   We've been looking at two web sites and one hardware solution that let you make free phone calls through the Internet. You have to pay a little for one solution, but you get better quality.

  Both DialPad www.dialpad.com and ZeroPlus www.zeroplus.com let you make free phone calls over the Internet if you sign up with their web sites. It works, I tried it. There are some differences.

 

   DialPad lets you dial the number of any telephone in the United States (all 50 states) and the connection goes through with no charge. (I don't know how the phone companies are going to deal with this kind of competition, but I'm sure they'll think of something; probably calling for laws to stop it.)

 

   The sound quality isn't the best with either of these services and there is a noticeable lag in the speech transmission; you'll think the other person has stopped for a second, but they haven't. I get the same effect when calling Alaska, however, even when using regular phone lines.

 

   ZeroPlus works much the same way but seems to be restricted to calling only numbers that have been registered with its web site. Anyone can register. The advantage here is that once the number is registered with the site it is not restricted to the United States. The user need only go to a computer, no matter where, and log onto the web site. Then, no matter what else they are doing on the machine, they can receive and make phone calls.

 

   The equipment required is a Windows computer, sound card and microphone and speakers. Most computers come with speakers and a microphone already built in, but combination head sets can be used instead and cost little.

 

   All this is simple though still a little primitive. If you want high quality sound and no time lags in speaking, it's best to go with a hardware solution. We received one recently, called InfoAccel, from Innomedia. Here a digital signal processor card takes over the voice transmission that would otherwise be handled by a sound card. The quality improves and time lag disappears. The disadvantage is that both parties in the phone conversation must have an InfoAccel card and software.

 Info Accel Free Long Distance Calls over the Internet

 

   The InfoAccel kits cost $99 each, sometimes less from discounters. You can, if you wish, post your number with the Innomedia web site and be available to receive calls from others with similar equipment. Unlike the above mentioned web site services, the calls made through InfoAccel are not completely free. The charges, however, are only a small fraction of regular long distance rates.

   Despite the small cost, the system from Innomedia seems more suitable for businesses with remote offices. Speed and clarity would over-ride costs, and the conversations can take place while using the Internet for other purposes at the same time.

 

  Innomedia phone info: 408-562-3535; fax: 408-562-3545; web: www.innomedia.com.

 

Internuts

 

 

-- www.liveoffice.com  The biggest site we've seen so far for free office services. Most impressive.

-- www.t10k.com  A charming site containing an adventure game based on a land where fairy tale creatures continue after their story ends. How's it going these days with Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood and all the old crowd. Beautifully done.

 

-- www.build.com  Links to manufacturers of all kinds of building supplies. Navigate by subject.

 

-- www.harmony-central.com  News and reviews for musicians using electronic instruments or synthesizer programs. Professional level.

   

-- www.rxlist.com  and www.pharminfo.com for information on thousands of prescription and non prescription drugs.

-- www.drivingclassics.com Information on car clubs, parts and classic cars.

-- www.middleeastdirectory.com  Links to activities, organizations and groups throughout the Middle East.

 

-- www.uaetoday.com What's happening in the United Arab Emirates.

 

-- www.shell-me.com  What's happening with Shell Oil in the Middle East.

 

-- www.clickaustria.com What's happening in Austria.

 

Games people play. Movies too.

 

 Viper 11 Graphics Accelerator

  I have it straight from a heavily addicted game player: the new hot graphics card is the "Diamond Viper II." It has an "S3 Savage" video chip, AGP bandwith of more than one gigabyte a second, and 32 megabytes of video RAM.

   Reducing all that to English ... this is a really fast high-resolution graphics card. Back in the mists before time, about six years ago, I had a fast graphics card with two megabytes of video memory. When I mentioned this to a fellow graphics addict, he responded with awe and said, "I've never seen a graphics card with that much RAM." I suppose I should give it to a museum now.

 

   There are a couple other things that makes this video card worth noting: One is that it plays DVD movies full screen in smooth motion. Another is that you can output the display to a regular TV. So the kids, and maybe even grownups, can play video games or watch movies on the big screen.

 

   By the way, it's often overlooked but fast video cards aimed at gamers also deliver sharper, faster displays for regular business programs as well. Viper II is for the PC and sells for around $190. For more info call: 800-468-5846 or 408-325-700; fax: 408-325-7070; web: www.diamondmm.com.

 

  NOTE: Readers can search more than three years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.