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     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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March 2002, Week 1 -- Getting to the Point

 

 MapPoint

 

   As impressive as the new Microsoft MapPoint is, I'm even more impressed by the online support. We'll expand on that further down.

   One of MapPoint's many uses is to show the locations for the branches and agents of your business. The software can also map the fastest or shortest route from those locations to the customer. The huge chain of Domino Pizza shops uses it that way, for example. Punch in any address in North America or Europe, and software will select the shortest or fastest driving route from your location.

   There are two versions of MapPoint: one covering North America, the other for Europe. Maps are extremely detailed and identify points that a traveler might need: restaurants, hotels, public transportation, gas stations, hospitals, car and boat rental agencies and even public rest rooms. We checked Chicago and found that the information, while accurate, runs about two years behind. New restaurants and hotels weren't there, for example, and ones that had closed were still on the map. It's hard to keep these things up to the minute.

 

   Now the extra impressive part: If you go their web site www.microsoft.com/mappoint, you get case studies of how businesses use the program, tips and tricks from Microsoft and outside users, user groups you can join, and a list of books that help you master the program. Recommending books for programs is a frequent reader question we get.

 

   Microsoft MapPoint 2002 is for Windows 98 and up, $185 and up, depending on the retail outlet and language, with a $90 rebate after purchase www.amazon.com. We saw an academic version for $78 at www.cdw.com; you usually have to present proof of college or university association.

  Visio Standard

   A 2002 version of Visio is also out from Microsoft. This program has been around for ages and stays around because it's useful.

   Visio is used primarily by businesses, typically for creating organizational charts, schematics, and floor and site plans for buildings. It integrates closely with Microsoft Office and the standard version is $200, the professional version $500. There's a $30 rebate.

   As you move up in price you move up in features, and so the professional version, which we ran a couple years ago, has many more chart and map symbols and some of the characteristics of a CAD (computer aided design) program. It does dimensioning, for example. Let's say you want to build an access ramp for the loading dock, or handicapped access to the front door. If you click on the end point for the ramp and tell the program the slope you want, it automatically draws the starting point. The reverse is true, as well.

 

   The information site for Visio 2002 is www.microsoft.com/office/Visio, and as with MapPoint, there are case studies from business users, tips and tricks, books, user groups, etc. Very handy.

 

Sounds like ...

 

 

   A new service called "Pulse Sonifier" adds sound to any spot on a web page. You can hear samples of this at our web site www.oncomp.com or theirs www.pulsesonifier.com.

   The effect is both amusing and edifying. Visitors to a web site for example, can be entertained by clicking on a link and hearing the whoosh of an airplane or a space battle sound as they are carried to the new location. It might make them more likely to go to other pages of the site. On a more practical level, a travel site can be enlivened with music of the location being presented.

   The service starts at $15 a month but costs mount up quickly if you have more than 5,000 hits in that period. Pulse Sonifier says their research shows that few businesses have more than that; the price goes up $12 a month for every additional 5,000 hits. Obviously this can start running into money for a busy site. The On Computers site, for example, which is maintained as a free service for our readers, gets around 200,000 hits a month (from more than 20 countries, by the way).

 

   There are more than 15,000 sounds to choose from and the delivery comes from the Sonifier service's home site. Sounds range from background rock music to dog barks and duck quacks. Some of them are less than convincing.

 

   Using the service is a little cumbersome but manageable: You select a sound sequence from their software, click on a plus sign to add it to a list, then type in the web page address where you're going to add sound; that page then comes up. Drag the sound over to the position you want and click. End by publishing the sound to your Internet Service Provider.

 

Interesting Downloads

 

-- www.personalstockmonitor.com. Keeps track of your portfolio, provides a pie chart of your assets, percentage gain or loss, price change alerts, etc. Also has a scrolling desktop ticker for your stocks. Free for 30 days, $30 to buy.

-- www.Babylon.com Babylon Pro translates words between dozens of languages, one word at a time. You can also hear the pronunciation of each word. Contains specialized glossaries of business and scientific terms as well as works of fiction, like Harry Potter. Also does measurement and currency conversions. Free for the basic service, which has advertising links, $18 a year for the pro version.

 

NOTE: Readers can search nearly four 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.