Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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July 2000, Week 1 -- Now That's Tiny



   One of the neatest things about this new digital technology is it still has the power to astonish. Take the new "Thumb Drive" for example.

   It's less than half the size of a package of chewing gum, and it holds anywhere from 16 to 256 megabytes. It plugs directly into the USB port on any Windows 98 computer. I don't mean it connects to the USB port by a cable, it just plugs into the port. The system sees it as an external disk drive.


   As a nifty device this is hard to beat. Forget about carrying around a Zip drive or even the cartridge; just drop a little memory stick in your pocket, and try to remember not to chew it.


   And now the bad news: The 128 MB version of Thumb Drive has a list price of $400; the 256 MB version was not available at press time. That's double the price of a Zip or Imation drive, and the data transfer rate is 350,000 to 700,000 bytes per second, considerably slower than most external drives. The supreme portability and pure gee-whiz quality of the device has to outweigh these disadvantages for your use. Laptop users should find it worth the difference. As befits such a tiny drive, the manual is pocket size.


   The Thumb Drive almost immediately calls to mind the memory stick that Sony publicizes for its digital cameras. While the technology is obviously similar, employing flash memory, the two are not interchangeable. Sony's memory stick requires a second device, a memory stick reader, to communicate with a PC; the Thumb Drive just plugs in.


   Thumb Drive is made by "e.i.Ware." For those with only modest portable storage needs, the 16 MB version is $70. Phone info: 408-956-7950; fax: 510-315-3017; e-mail:; web:


Rumors of war


   Rumor has it that IBM will release a 100 gigabyte hard drive this Fall, and prices could be dropped to $100 and still be profitable. If true, that would push other makers to the wall.


Fax web



   Ramp Networks' new "WebRamp 200fx" for Windows connects an office fax machine to the Internet. For companies that do a lot faxing, this can save a ton of money on phone bills.

   When the WebRamp box is connected between a fax machine and the phone line, it sends faxes as e-mail, requiring only a local phone call. (The device stores up to 1,000 phone numbers and their e-mail links.) If the receiving phone line is also connected to a WebRamp 200fx box, the fax will be printed out on their fax machine instead of stored as e-mail. The sender will also get a "fax received" acknowledgement.


   As a practical matter you can send an unlimited number of pages of text through e-mail but only around 25 pages if they have a lot of graphics. If it's fax to fax, there is no limit.


   The WebRamp 200fx has a list price of $600, which seems high to me, but we'll probably see lots of discounts. Phone info: 888-726-7638; web:



-- A collection of seven shareware and freeware programs designed to let you make free phone calls over the Internet. The programs are not a set, but seven separate programs meant to be used on their own.

-- Advice and prices on 40 cell phone plans.


-- SPDRs, or "spiders" as they are frequently called, are trusts established to mimic the performance of a certain stock market index or sector. It's a relatively new investment tool and one that has proved quite popular. This site is devoted to the new sector trusts set up by Merrill Lynch.

-- The site offers a free online demo of a service that verifies phone numbers of customers making credit card purchases. It verifies that the person providing the card number can in fact be reached at the phone number they provide. It's not a guarantee but should limit fraudulent charges.

-- A kind of web site overlord. It lets you update your web site by typing the changes, much like using a word processor. The service then updates your site.


-- Use search word "Konverter" to find the program of the same name. It converts files from one format to another, covering more than 200 formats, some of them absolutely antique. Program is free to try, $22 to keep.


That's Entertainment

 Star Lancer

  Microsoft isn't all work and no play, as witness their new "Star Lancer," from the developers of the famous "Wing Commander" series of space opera adventures. Up to four players can operate their own spacecraft in the game, eight players over a network or through the Microsoft Gaming Zone at For Windows 95/98, $50, graphics accelerator required. Graphics and action are outstanding. Web:





   "iMovie: The Missing Manual," by David Pogue; $20 from O'Reilly & Associates

Buried inside Apple's iMac DV computers is the circuitry to read digital video and make your own movies. The trouble is figuring out how it works. O'Reilly's "missing manual" series doesn't refer to any real missing manuals but rather to the hypothetical manual that should have been in the box but wasn't. This one explains how to make iMovies with your iMac.


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