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March 2002, Week 4 -- The Right Dantz Partner

    

 

   There are dozens of programs and hardware systems for backups but these two are strictly business.

 

Software only

  

   The first is the software only "Restrospect Backup," for Windows or Macintosh, from Dantz. The server version starts at around $800 and can backup 20 users on a network. You can move up to 100 users, but that costs an extra $2,250.

   All right, it's not cheap, but there's no reason to be frightened yet: a single user version called "Express Backup" is only $49. What this program is best at is what you really want from a backup, and that's the ability to restore either a whole system or just single files. Versions 5.5 and up of this software create a single bootable CD during setup, thus answering a question from many readers faced with hard drive failure: "I've got everything backed up, but how do I start the computer again?" You insert a bootable disk.

 

   The big edge here is ease of use. Retrospect Backup can handle up to 100 gigabytes of data, which is fairly standard for all but the largest businesses, and provides easy access to any piece of it. They don't supply the backup target, though, just the software. You can backup to tape drives, hard drives, DVDs or whatever you have. Hard drives are the fastest and in many ways the easiest to deal with; 100-gigabyte hard drives are currently selling for around $220-$250.

 

Adding hardware

 

 

   Backing up takes time, which can be very annoying. The fastest way to go up till now has been "FireWire," first developed by Apple and now used by all. It is 40 times faster than the USB connections common to both Windows and Apple systems.

   But it's not faster than the newest version of USB: USB2. Though it sounds like the designation for a new submarine it's an add-on circuit board plus software that increases the transfer rate of a regular USB connection to 480 megabits per second. In plain English, that's about 10 million words a second. (All of the weekly columns I've written in the past 20 years could be backed up in less than one-tenth of a second. Kinda humbling.)

 

   All backup software can be set to run automatically (most people set it to run in the middle of the night when they're not using the machine), but CMS Peripherals provides the whole works, software and drive, and this is really automatic. Once you connect it, it starts backing up the computer's hard drive.

 

   CMS' "ABSplus" system combines a 20-gigabyte drive with FireWire or USB2 connections costs $349. Adding a USB2 controller card costs an extra $59; some of the newest computers come with it already on board. A tiny laptop version fits in the palm of your hand and holds 40 gigabytes for $599.

 

   ABSplus was voted best of show for backup systems at Comdex, the largest trade show for computer and computer equipment makers. Their web site: www.cmsproducts.com.

 

MacMouse turned upside down

 

 

 

   It's another cursor controller from Kensington Microware www.kensington.com. This one is a Macintosh wireless trackball, but with programmable buttons.

   A trackball is sort of like a mouse turned upside down. Instead of moving the mouse, you spin a rolling ball. The ball is much larger than a mouse ball, of course, and this offers the potential for precision control. Many engineers favor trackball controllers for work stations, because you can roam over large screen areas quickly and accurately.

   The programmable buttons are the grabber here, I think. I love programmable buttons. Hold down any of six buttons on the trackball case while using any program or viewing a web site and you can go back to that place simply by pressing the button again. You can also program the buttons to handle macros: extended series of keystrokes that can be triggered with a single push of the button.

 

   "Turbo Mouse Pro, wireless" with software lists for $130.

 

Now that's a cheap computer!

 

   Dell has a new auction site www.dellauction.com for used computers. Typical starting bids are $80. There were about a dozen on offer when we looked, some still under warranty. They're older but still fast with plenty of memory and hard disk space. Processor speeds run around 400-500 Mhz, compared with the 1 Ghz common in new machines. The truth is, hardly anyone needs a gigahertz processor and these used machines are plenty fast enough. Most people do word processing or spreadsheets and those take very little power. Save a bundle.

  Typing Instructor

Type casting

   We recently covered a great typing instruction program for kids: "Typing Pal Jr.," and now it's time for the adults. Over many years, the best adult typing instruction program we've ever come across is "Typing Instructor," from Individual Software. Don't worry about boredom, this one uses games for teaching as well. The current "Deluxe, version 12" came out recently and lists for $30 from the company www.individualsoftware.com.


 

Combat Robot

 

Books

   "Build Your Own Combat Robot," by Miles and Carroll; $25, Osborne/McGraw-Hill www.osborne.com. They're talking about the kind of robots you would see on the popular cable TV show "Battle Bots." What does it have to do with computers, you might ask. Well ... while most combat robots on the TV show are radio controlled, some can be autonomous, internally programmed and deadly on their own -- sort of like "Terminator."

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.