Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

Home (947 bytes)

Columns  (947 bytes)

Internuts (947 bytes)

  Bob's Bio (947 bytes)

Email (947 bytes)





 About Us




November 2001, Week 3 -- Office Suites, No Charge


   Why pay close to $400 for Microsoft Office when you get the same thing or better for free or just a few dollars?

   Sounds like one of those pitches in a TV commercial, but it's for real. Sun Microsystems has had a free office suite called "StarOffice" available for more than a year. It runs on their own Solaris workstation operating systems as well as Windows and Linux and comes in 11 languages. "EasyOffice" is another free offering. Let's look at both:

   StarOffice is a monster, in size not difficulty. It's 85 megabytes as a free download, but that's for all the pieces; you may want only a few. There are 10 segments in all, but you don't need them all. You may want just a word processor, database and spreadsheet, for example. Though frankly, it's hard to resist the drawing tools, presentation manager, scheduler and e-mail manager. StarOffice is compatible with Microsoft Office, Corel WordPerfect and Lotus AmiPro and can share files. Open a Word document, change it, save it back and keep all the formatting.


   Since the full load of all components is a bit much to handle for many people, you may want to pay $17 for an expert installation. If you don't want to wait for the downloads, you can buy the whole thing on a CD for $10. If you want paper manuals, that's $40. Or skip all that and download it for free at:


   A smaller suite is "EasyOffice," a 28MB set of office programs that you can download for free from If you go to the site, search on the key title "easyoffice." If you just want the word processor and contact manager (the techie phrase for an address book), you can download "EasyOffice, Tiny Version," which is only four megabytes.


   EasyOffice has some interesting features and unusual features: it can read text out loud through your sound card, check your grammar, do mass e-mailing, create PDF files, and zip and unzip files for fast e-mailing.


Hard Copy

 HP LaserJet


   Hewlett Packard  has a new laser printer for less than $250. This is not the lowest current price for laser printers -- Lexmark and Samsung both have models for less than $200 -- but is a new low for HP, which started the laser printer business and has a reputation for high quality.

   The LaserJet 1000 model has a 600 x 1200 dpi (dots per inch) resolution and a print speed of 10 pages per minute.


Scanners and film scanning



   There are half a dozen scanner brands for around $100-$150 now, and some have adapters that allow you to scan 35mm slides.

   High image resolution and good back-lighting are the keys to film scanning. A 35mm transparency has an analog resolution roughly equivalent to 4,000 dpi, so you want to get as close to 4,000 dpi as you can for good reproduction. Visioneer's new "OneTouch 8920" has an optical resolution (true resolution, without using software for enhancement) of 1200 x 4800 dpi, which is definitely good enough for most film scanning. The scanner sells for $150 with a transparency adapter, or $99 without the adapter.

 One Touch Scanner

   The Visioneer OneTouch 8920 has a set of buttons on the front for frequently used functions like scan, copy, fax, e-mail, etc. Many scanners have such quick action buttons now, but if memory serves, Visioneer pioneered this design (hence the name "OneTouch"). They also were first with the "PaperPort" software for ordering and viewing scanned images, still the best we've seen. The latest version of PaperPort is included with the scanner.


   A more expensive model, the 9650, just came out for around $600 and is aimed at business users. It has a document feeder and can scan 12 pages a minute. Nobody with a business wants to stand there and place sheets on a scanner bed one at a time. This model should be particularly good for law firms, medical practices, insurance companies, etc. Visioneer web:






-- The science behind the news and much more. This is a production of the University of Wisconsin and one of the best science information sites we've ever found. Lots of reliable information and interesting pictures. Also covers pollution and health issues. The site permits you to interact with other readers and has a fun section on "wacky science."

-- A commercial site from the big dairy cooperative. Has recipes from singers and actors, holiday recipes and online help from experts.

-- Points out astronomy errors in movies, television shows and newspaper stories. Provides good information on basic astronomy and recent discoveries. Author is a contributing editor for Astronomy Magazine.


-- Fuel economy figures for most automobile makes and models and some articles on future technologies.



 Internet Guide for Seniors 

   "Mr. Modem's Internet Guide for Seniors, 3rd edition," by Richard Sherman; $25, Sybex

   Senior citizens and retirees are among the heaviest users of personal computers and the Internet. This demographic is basically unchanged since we first noted it more than a decade ago. This book has lots of usage tips and Internet sites especially aimed at seniors.

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