Bob and Joy
                                      
 
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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October 2003, Week 3 -- Free Phone Calls

   
 

   You or your company can go to www.skype.com  or www.skype.net and download a program that lets you make phone calls for free anywhere in the world. Over a million people have already done it.

   It is perfectly legal and basically unstoppable. Is this good news or bad news for phone companies? You can work that one out for yourself. The software is free and cannot be blocked by any firewall or virus program. Anyone you want to talk to on this free network has to have their own copy of "Skype," and something attached to the computer that lets you talk and listen, like a headset, but that's all there is to it. Sound quality is the same as a regular phone call.

 

   Skype was developed by a couple of Swedish programmers who are famous in the business (or notorious, depending on your point of view) for writing "KaZaA," a file sharing program used primarily for downloading music for free. This gets performers and the recording industry in something of an uproar but has so far proven difficult to stop. The software is not restricted to swapping music files around the Internet, however, but can also be used to transfer games and even business software. Free is attractive; KaZaA has been downloaded by over 100 million users.

 

   The Skype web site is in Stockholm and seems to be something of a labor of love for the programmers, because they're certainly not making any money out of it. Skype uses a technology called "VOIP," which stands for "Voice Over Internet Protocol." Some corporations have already adopted the technology as an easy money saver over traditional phone service and a few phone companies have been forced to offer versions of it themselves. America Online also offers a VOIP service. Technology is doing what it has always done: creating new businesses and destroying old ones. Cries of joy and anguish will provide the usual background music.

 

The catcher on the fly

 Anti Spam

 

   Two new spam and virus catchers from Symantec:

   "Norton AntiSpam 2004," Symantec's long-awaited spam fighting program is out, and so far, so good. Web: www.symantec.com.

   We are not big fans of spam blockers but this is the first one that offers promise. It works on Windows systems using Outlook, Outlook Express or Eudora for email and does some things that other spam blockers have not.

 

   It looks at your address list and automatically considers that a list of "allowed" emails. You can add or subtract from that as you go along and of course you normally would. A big plus is the ability to highlight all incoming junk mail at once and let the program process it as spam in one block; nearly all other spam blockers force you to handle such emails one by one. If you've made a mistake and something valuable was automatically lumped with the junk, you can go into the junk file and recover it.

 

   The most valuable feature here is the filter. This is your screen against pornography, partnership pitches from Nigeria, and pills that will enhance various body parts. But this particular screen learns and changes, taking note of new mail that you delete unopened and adding that to its filter for next time. As a side benefit, Norton AntiSpam can also be set to block pop-up and banner ads.

 

   When we looked at user comments on the web there was criticism that the program stopped working periodically or even "disappeared" and had to be re-installed, a process that required shutting down the computer and starting over. The fact is, running Norton AntiSpam with Win 98 and XP, we encountered no problems. I don't completely dismiss user comments on the web but I am skeptical, since many of them can be from people who have some reason to be for or against a particular company.

 

  Norton AntiVirus 2004 has come out at the same time. It updates this market leader for virus protection and little more need be said. The most annoying thing about anti-virus software is the frequent messages telling you to log onto their web site to update the software. But, that's the way it is and what you have to do to keep it effective.

 

An elegant little drive

  EZQuest Slim Boa

  Let's finish off with a beautiful little DVD-RW drive from EZ Quest www.ezq.com.

   It's called the "Boa Slim DVD" and comes in a smooth matte-finish silver-gray case that can only be described as elegant. The dimensions are 5.5 x 6-inches and a slim three-quarters of an inch thick. The drive weighs less than one pound and can be connected to a Windows or Macintosh computer using either USB 2.0 or Firewire. A black simulated leather carrying pouch finishes off this impressive little number.

 

   The Boa Slim drive comes with USB and Firewire cables along with authoring and backup software that worked easily and smoothly. We tried it out and liked it very much. Street prices are running around $300.

 

   A note for users unfamiliar with DVD drives: DVD format can store 4.7 gigabytes on one side. A gigabyte is a thousand megabytes. Most DVD drives, including this one, can also create CDs, which hold close to 700 megabytes (more than half a million typed pages).

 

NOTE: Readers can search past columns on our web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob or Joy Schwabach at bobschwab@aol.com or joydee@oncomp.com.