Bob and Joy Schwabach
 

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Semptember 2006, Week 2

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THE KEYBOARD THAT ISN'T THERE

      There are few devices sexier than Itech's new virtual keyboard. When you plug in the small black unit, it projects a laser image of a standard keyboard. Touch a key and you just typed something.

   The device itself is about the size of a small candy bar. If you touch any of the virtual keys, the projector recognizes that as a keystroke. It even provides the option of sounding a key click if you want. The keystrokes can be transferred to any nearby computer, PDA or cell phone either through a cable or Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard wireless connection.      Users agree that this virtual keyboard works very well indeed, but plugging it in can be a problem. The device works on battery, but if you want to plug it in, you'll need an adapter for the European-style plug that comes with it. An adapter typically costs $5 or less. If you want to use the wireless capability, which really makes the most sense for a device like this, you can buy Bluetooth receivers for $20 at Amazon and $40 at Kensington.com.          The virtual keyboard itself sells for $180 at www.laser-keyboard.com. You can get more technical info at the company's Web site: www.itechdynamic.com.      

Small Networks
     

  Almost all small businesses and many homes have more than one computer now, and they usually want to link them together in some kind of network. In the Rangemax Wireless Router 854Told days, we used to transfer files between computers by copying them to a disk and then taking the disk over to the other computer. That was called a sneaker network. That was yesterday. Today we wirelessly stream video, music, games and Internet phone calls all over the house.

  Most wireless routers don't work well as the distance from the router approaches 100 feet. The range also depends on how many walls are between your computer and the router: more walls, less range. The rate of data transfer tends to degrade with data transfer as well.

   Netgear's new RangeMax Wireless Router WNR854T is the best so far at speed and distance. In tests, it performed well at distances of 130 to 150 feet between router and computer. The data transfer rate is a maximum 300 megabits per second if you're close to the router, about half that at the edge of its range. Translated into plain English, that's a stunning 7 million words a second.          Amazon.com  sells the router for about $145. You will also need a Netgear WN511T wireless notebook adapter, which sells for about $63. Note that any wireless router system will require you to have receivers for each computer in the network, so you can't get away from this extra cost. You can, however, also connect most wireless routers, including this one, directly by regular Ethernet cable and skip the wireless receivers. There's more info at www.netgear.com, and tech support is round the clock.      

To PDF or not to PDF
   

   Two new $99 programs from Nuance and ABBYY take dead aim at Adobe's $499 Acrobat Professional and offer to do nearly the same thing for much less. (Note: PDF stands for "portable document format" and means that any digital image saved in that format will look the same on a screen or in print regardlessPDF Converter 4 of the kind of computer you are using or the software it was created with.) The two programs create PDFs and convert existing PDFs into editable documents.
     Nuance's PDF Converter Professional 4 did a great job of duplicating a complex newsletter layout. Holding onto the formatting while making a PDF editable throws many PDF programs for a loop, so this was a big plus. On the minus side, we tried to convert an accounting PDF document into a Word or Excel file, and while it preserved the formatting and text perfectly, it left out the numbers. That was a pretty big minus.
     

   Next we turned to ABBYY, which has long been our favorite maker of OCR products, software that makes any scanned page of text editable. It can also convert a document to HTML code, which can be posted directly to the Web. ABBYY's PDF Transformer 2.0 Pro did a terrible job of preserving the layout and formatting of our test newsletter. But it did a fantastic job preserving everything in the accounting document.
    

     Often, people want a PDF document to be searchable by key words, using just the free Acrobat Reader. Both programs can handle this, but the ABBYY program is the first utility in its class that translates static, image-only PDF files into searchable PDFs in one step. Nuance can also convert text into speech, by the way, enabling PDFs to be published as podcasts.
      

      The Nuance program allows readers to collaborate on a document; ABBYY does not. You can send a PDF to colleagues and they can highlight passages, cross out words, stamp things "confidential" and type in comments that appear PDF Transformer 2in colored call-out boxes. This is similar to Adobe's Acrobat Professional 7. The recipient of a PDF from either program can view all of your comments, highlight passages, etc., and needs nothing more than the free Acrobat Reader, which can be downloaded from Adobe.
 

 
   What's a user to do? Well, all the programs discussed here have free trial versions, so you can try them out and see which is best for your purposes. YouAcrobat Pro can find out more and get those trial versions at www.abbyy.com, www.nuance.com and www.adobe.com.

 


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