Bob and Joy
                                      
 
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Into the Game

November 2004, Week 4 -- Whatever is Old is New Again

   We received a clutch of programs from the good old days. (Does "clutch" fit with software?)

   Having reviewed software for 25 years, there was something about these programs that looked hauntingly familiar. Actually, recognition was immediate: some of them were nearly identical to programs produced by the MySoftware Company 20 years ago. This is not as bad as it sounds. They were good products then, and they still look good. Only now they're from Avanquest www.avanquestusa.com.

Yesterday's Software

   "MyInvoices & Estimates," "MyMailList," and "MyLabels" have new features but are also a refreshing blast from the past. Others, like "Design&Print," "CheckSoft" and "In-A-Flash Animation" just have a similarity to older titles.

   Prices for these programs run $30 to $50, which is not cheap by current standards but not expensive either. What they all have in common is they are easy to use, require little or no learning, and perform specific functions. This last runs contrary to the trend of recent years, which is to keep adding features to programs until they begin to collapse of their own weight. Of course users are encouraged to purchase each new version on the strength of the new features, which are often not needed or wanted.

   Basically this is about simplicity. "MyLabels" ($30) does labels. It's true that you can do labels with MS Word, WordPerfect and half a dozen other large programs, but MyLabels comes with over 500 ready to print designs and over 1,000 type fonts. It also does business cards. "MyMailList" ($50) handles mailings and address lists. As you would expect, you can sort by zip code or other criteria in the database.

   All six of these programs are keepers as far as we're concerned. This is not a way to save money, it's a way to save sanity. There are flaws in some, like Design&Print ($40). For instance, you can only print a design on a number 10 envelope (the most common size), and the "greeting cards" look like business stationery. But the program makes it easy to create a matched set of business cards, envelopes, and labels. Finish one project and the next automatically picks up the same design.
 

Cameras for kids, or somebody very much like them.

   There's this digital movie camera called "Digital Blue Movie Creator" and it's shaped like the spray handle on a water hose. You pull the trigger and you're filming. Oh yeah, you have to put batteries in it.

   It's just under $100 from www.bluedeals.com and discounters like Amazon. The camera has no zoom function and can hold only four minutes of video. Those four-minute segments, however, can be strung together by the accompanying software to make a production of any length. The camera has a small docking stand with USB cable to download video or still pictures to a Windows computer.

   This whole thing is a no-brainer and if you have tried other cameras you will know what a pleasure that is. We have a $1,000 Sony that records to a miniature DVD disk, for example. But we're always asking each other things like "What does this button do?" And "Is it on now?" Or "Do you remember how to finalize the disk?" Sony tech support has not been supportive.

   Digital Blue also makes "Snapshot Binoculars." These sell for $40 to $60 from discounters on the web. There are several makers who sell binoculars and telescopes that can take pictures. Typically, the picture is not taken through the lens of the binoculars but is from a camera built into the housing. You can get the same kind of picture with a plain digital camera.

There goes the market

   A new startup called "Into The Game" www.intothegame.com has arrived to offer a deal for video games that is similar to what Netflix does for movies. For a monthly fee of $20 you can get two video games, or for $30 a month, four video games, and keep them as long as you want. To get a new game, you mail one back; there are no late fees. As a startup special you can have a six-month membership for $99.

   Into The Game joins a list of about a dozen game rental services available on the Internet. There are also game rentals available from video stores and some discount store chains. The competition is about to get fierce. This raises the question of the future of video game sales by manufacturers. It may seem counter intuitive but revenues are likely to be enhanced by the rise of rental services.

   Take the recent Microsoft release of "Halo II" for the Xbox, for example. Opening day on November 9th saw $100 million in sales, easily rivaling the box office receipts for a hit movie.

   But unlike a hit movie, Halo II was being offered for rental within a couple of days of its release. The $50-$60 price for the game must have discouraged some buyers, but they can rent it for much less for an indefinite period. Game companies will receive a portion of those rental fees, you can be sure.

   In October, PC Magazine reviewed eight rental services and settled on "GameFly" www.gamefly.com as their "editor's choice." We wrote about this service a year ago, by the way. It may be the most expensive of the rental services (prices keep changing), but it has been reliable. In any event, there is only a dollar or two difference between any of them. The number of available titles is astonishing: GameFly offers more than 2,000, and most of the other services have more than 1,000, for all brands of boxes.