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June 2000, Week 2 -- Up2you

 

   No matter how confusing telephone services get, they can get still more confusing.

 

Click2talk

 

   Our first foray is into an interesting new service from Net2Phone. At the moment this is restricted to U.S. and Canadian users. It lets web site operators make their phone numbers clickable for free. A visitor to the site has only to click on the phone number to be connected at no charge. The service is called "click2talk," which is not to be confused with "click2send," a different company. We'll get to that one in a minute.

 

   Click2Talk works with any phone number, regardless of the phone system involved or whether or not the number is toll-free. One obvious use would be to connect to a customer service number where the caller can order products and services. Callers should also be able to get help on navigating the web site, since my experience has been that many web sites are poorly designed and confusing to search.

 

   There is no obvious reason why this service cannot be extended beyond the U.S. and Canada and my guess would be that if it's not done by this company it will be done by someone else. After all the calls are being transmitted over the Internet, and no national boundaries are involved. The problem will not be the technology to do it, but how to make money at it.

 

Click2send

   This second problem, that of making money with a free phone service, has been faced squarely by "click2send." Their solution is to charge.

   Click2send was formerly a free service but will begin charging in July; prices are not yet determined. Whatever the charges, this seems like a useful tool for businesses and individuals to transmit files. The system can be viewed as a digital bank with lock-boxes. Files of up to 100 megabytes can be sent to a box that can only be accessed by someone having the entry code.

 

   There are two obvious benefits:

 

   Files can be sent from one location to another without both parties having to be online at the same time. And, it is a local phone call for each. In other words, a file being sent halfway across the world does not entail long distance charges. Each party would connect to the Click2send web site through their own local service provider and it would be a local phone call for each. Files can be collected directly or forwarded; the recipient can even be notified automatically by mobile phone.

 

Fax4free, R.I.P.

 

   If you prefer faxes, you can turn to "Jfax," which recently acquired "fax4free." That faxing service is no longer free (which is probably why fax4free was the one being acquired, instead of the other way around), but the charge is only $9 for 90 days service. (Note: that that's an introductory price.)

 

   You can send faxes by e-mail, directly from the web or from a Palm VII handheld organizer. You connect through toll-free or local phone numbers in any of 130 cities in 14 countries. Beyond faxing, you can also access all of your messages, including e-mail, by a phone call to any of those numbers.

 

   Web sites for the above services: www.net2phone.com; www.click2send.com; www.jfax.com.

 

Squeezing the bill

 

 Pentazip

   There are literally dozens of file compression utilities around and they're all pretty useful. They compress any digital file to half or less of its normal size, often called "zipping," and thereby make it faster to transmit and download.

   The reason for going into one more is that it combines an amazing number of features. The program is "PentaZip 4.0," an Italian utility for Windows, just being introduced in the U.S. It can handle more than 50 file formats with 10 levels of compression. Scripts can send files at pre-determined times or archive them.

 

   A built-in viewer lets you see the contents of any zipped file without having to open it. That's fairly common; what is more impressive is that you can cut and paste sections of any file and can drag and drop files from one zipped archive to another just as if they were regular Windows folders.

 

   PentaZip supports files in English, French and Italian, and can use double symbols to indicate single characters for Chinese and Japanese e-mail addresses. List price is $49. Sales info: 800-337-1983; web: www.pentazip.com.

 

Internuts

 

-- www.expertcity.com Offers expert help with your computer problems. Log on and submit your question to real humans. First response is free. Fees for further questions are negotiated. If you don't like the results, you don't have to pay.

-- www.vicomsoft.com/knowledge/reference Explanations of numerous technical terms and procedures in Internet telephone and wireless networks. Free.

-- www.instantbooks.com Look up the answers to your technical questions. Browse more than 200 computer books online.

 

-- www.askme.com Amateur experts give answers to a wide variety of questions, like what to do if a squirrel runs up your pants. Answer: rub its stomach until it falls asleep. Real humans reply. Answers are sometimes wide of the mark. The service is free and anyone can volunteer to be an expert.

 

-- http://hotfiles.zdnet.com  The file to look for is "Terragen," short for "terrain generator," and what it does is generate landscapes. Free.

 

-- http://hotfiles.zdnet.com  Search word is "Babylon," and it refers to a translation program, not the city. Click on any word in any Windows application, including browsers, and it will give you the translation in any of 10 languages. Free.

 

   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.