Gratifying Gadgets

Ultrahigh-resolution monitors, super-small cameras and slick storage devices. See how these products rate for both coolness and value.

November 19, 2004

20 Min Read
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Once I configured network parameters, I set out to manage the device through its Web interface. Customizable features include video time-stamping, initial-view resolution and various aspects of the public Web page used to display the video. You also can change the mechanism for displaying video in specific browsers. The Axis 206 can feed video as ActiveX, a Java applet or a still image to Internet Explorer. Still-image and server push are offered for all other browsers.

I set the default resolution to 320x240. You can configure the compression, sharpness and adjustment to light and color. I noticed that bright light fuzzed out the image while the unit adjusted to the changes in light levels.

One capability lacking on the Axis 206 is automatic image capture. An admin can allow or disallow a Snapshot button, but this is the only available mechanism for obtaining still-image captures from the device. Still, with a list price of $299 and the included software, which let me manage multiple cameras, the Axis 206 is a great deal.

Axis 206 Network Camera, $299. Axis Communications, (978) 614-2000.

--Lori MacVittie

Coolness and Value FactorMaybe your personal data-loss nightmare is telecommuters who believe your mail server is the proper place to save backups ("I was worried about losing my work on the Smith account, so I mailed myself four PowerPoint presentations.") or consoling your sister-in-law who lost all her digital photos of little Sophie when the dear child reformatted the family hard drive. In either case, you need a compact, affordable and reliable backup device.Fortunately, Iomega Corp. has been cranking out a useful assortment of Rev backup drives. The product line has grown from a single USB drive to a family that includes autochangers and SCSI connections. These drives come with backup software, including Symantec's Ghost for disk imaging and Iomega's Automatic Backup Pro, which works well (see ID# 1512sp3 for a Sneak Preview of the Rev drive).

I tested the newest Iomega Rev drive in our Green Bay, Wis., Real-World Labs® and again at home and was impressed. The drive is a diminutive 1.5x4.5x6.25-inch device weighing just 14 ounces. The removable disks hold 35 GB (90 GB compressed).

Iomega REV 35GB/90GB USB 2.0 External DriveClick to Enlarge

Installation was simple--just plug it in and install the software. The default install does not include Ghost, which comes on a separate CD. The drive is presented as just another drive that you can treat the same as any built-in hard drive ... except that it's not built-in--though the technology is similar; the total cost is significantly less than buying and installing new drives.

This is great for the stray laptop user or typical home user, but what about your office? Iomega has you covered with a Rev changer that rotates disks just like a tape changer rotates tapes. At 35 GB per disk, a 10-disk changer gives you a third of a terabyte for backup purposes.The Rev's media is reasonably priced at $59.99 for a 35-GB cartridge that can hold as much as 90 GB of compressed data. The combination of portability with faster access speeds than tape and the ability to add media as needed makes the Iomega Rev drive a useful tool for single-machine applications. Adding a changer will make it suitable for server backups in the growing small-business data center. And as long as little Sophie keeps her crackers out of the disk slot, it would make a nice gift for the digital photo fiend in your life.

Iomega REV 35GB/90GB USB 2.0 External Drive, $399 for drive and one 35-GB disk. Iomega Corp., (888) 516-8467.

--Don MacVittie

Coolness and Value FactorHow many times has a user noticed that the document attached to his e-mail was not for public consumption just seconds after clicking "send"? At one time, users might have had a fighting chance to kill the app, unplug from the network or terminate the power to stop it. Now they can only kiss the document goodbye and hope the recipient doesn't mine the metadata for insight into your company's operations. Or maybe you've sent your boss--accidentally--an article in which you'd embedded some snarky comments. Not that we'd know about that.

If you install Workshare Protect, you and your users can identify and remove sensitive metadata automatically from Microsoft Office files without slipping a disk.Metadata is everywhere: It's generated with every Office document you create and transmitted whenever you send documents through e-mail. It makes it easy to collaborate on documents using the Comment and Track Changes features, but it also can make it easy for others to find out about you and your organization. Information, such as file creation and last modification and access, can inform someone how long the document has been in existence. If a proposal predates a customer's query, for example, it may not be viewed as a custom fit. And if tracked changes and comments are included, a customer may even see how facts and figures have changed over time.

I installed Protect on a production laptop--an IBM ThinkPad T41--that had all the usual suspects for generating metadata from Office 10: Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Protect places a handy toolbar in Word to obtain a metadata report on the document and set protection automatically. To report on other applications, I had to scan them using the Protect application.

With a Word document open, I clicked the Discover Metadata button and received a report on the document's metadata. The report showed the changes tracked with the document, comments and built-in metadata.

In addition, I could protect the document from the toolbar. With one click, Workshare adds its own metadata entries to put some quick-and-dirty limits on document use. For example, after I placed an "External Restriction" on the document, I could e-mail it only to people in my contact list or address book, or to those with addresses associated with the Exchange, GroupWise or Notes system in use. When I tried to e-mail external customers, Protect informed me the e-mail contained a restricted attachment and removed all external recipients.

"Full Restriction" prohibits the document from being mailed to anyone. If I really needed to send it, I could apply a Protect password to the metadata so others could not view, edit or change it. I also could convert the Word document to PDF on the fly--Protect includes its own conversion technology.Protect scanned network and local file systems and mail folders for supported documents and their metadata. It also unpacked and checked nonpassword-protected zip files, but it didn't work on documents embedded in mail messages--it works only with mail attachments.

Workshare Protect 3.1 SR2, starts at $25 per seat. Workshare Technology, (888) 404-4246, (415) 975-3855.

--Sean Doherty

Coolness and Value FactorRemember when having a slim laptop was enough to inspire envy among your peers? You can evoke that same reaction with Samsung's MP line of SyncMaster displays, which range from a 15-inch desktop monitor to a conference-room-size 24 inches and provide connectivity options for everything from composite video to HDTV signals, plus built-in stereo speakers and TV tuners. The geek in you will love the fact that you can work on your latest coding project while watching that Star Trek episode in which Captain Kirk kisses the beautiful alien girl ... oh, wait, that's every episode.

I tested Samsung's SyncMaster 192MP, a 19-inch TFT LCD display with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Connectors along the back and side accept digital input via DVI as well as analog video input from VGA, component, S-video, composite video and COAX cable TV/antenna sources. Audio connectors include left and right RCA connectors or a single 3.5-mm stereo plug for input and 3.5-mm stereo jack for output, to a standard miniheadphone plug.I connected the 192MP to an HD (high-definition) source using a DVI-to-HDMI cable; a DVD player via component inputs; my portable computer using the standard VGA connector, a cable TV source; and a MiniDV camcorder via S-video. The DVI input accepted and displayed digital video signals ranging from 480i to 480p, 720p and 1080i. Switching among the different inputs was as simple as pushing the source button located on the side of the display or on the included remote control. The 192MP also supports PIP (picture-in-picture) using any video source except 480p, 720p and 1080i but, annoyingly, doesn't provide a swap button for switching video sources between the PIP and main display. Black bars are added when sending in 480i, but the monitor can't letterbox the display in 480p, 720p or 1080i--in these resolutions, it just flattens the image.

Colors from the DVI interface are rich and true, and the display provides wide viewing angles--I was comfortable with a 60-degree offset to either side. If you're mainly interested in wide-screen material, the SyncMaster 173MW, a 17-inch 16:9 display, would be a better fit because wide-screen material on the 192MP at resolutions other than 480i must be squished to fit--Oakland's ultrawidebody defensive tackle Ted Washington looks more like Kate Moss in pads in this mode.

As a monitor, the 192MP supports resolutions up to 1280x1024 and adjusts the sync rate as needed. The one fumble I found is less-than-stellar performance when displaying analog video. The default settings for colors are too harsh. Through tinkering with the color, brightness, sharpness and tint controls, I tuned the display to a more pleasing palette but couldn't achieve the same faithful rendering through the spectrum as that provided by the digital source. The built-in TV/cable tuner and stereo speakers worked flawlessly.

Samsung's 15- and 19-inch SyncMaster MP models both have 4:3 ratio displays. Samsung also makes two 17-inch displays, one at 4:3 and the other at 16:9 for wide-screen material. The 24-inch model is also a 16:9 wide-screen device.

SyncMaster 192MP, ranges from $475 for the 15-inch display to $2,800 for the 24-inch model. Samsung. Anderson

Coolness and Value Factor

There's nothing better for the aspiring IT professional on the go than a decked-out laptop PC, with its whirring DVD burner, airport landing-light-capable TFT LCD display and microwave-defying 802.11b/g wireless card. And there's nothing worse than a decked-out machine with dead batteries. Let's face it: Today's top-of-the-line laptops are about as electrically efficient as a 9-volt powered submarine. Maybe that's exactly what we need--laptops powered by some good old-fashioned alkaline batteries.

That was my thinking, anyway, as I stumbled--literally--onto my HP OmniBook 300 in the attic, right next to my abandoned Tickle Me Elmo doll and Twister in a wooden game box. In the dark, the OmniBook's cool green 640x480 VGA monitor and red IRDA port beckoned, asking for active duty in ITdom.

When the OmniBook 300 was introduced in 1993, it was the lightest, smallest and most power-efficient notebook on the market, and the only computer sporting a flying mouse that literally jumped out of the side. Weighing a meager 2.9 pounds, the OmniBook came equipped with a 386 Intel processor, a cadre of Microsoft productivity apps, a 9-inch diagonal LCD with 16 shades of gray, a 10-MB Flash drive, a full-size keyboard and a whopping 12-plus hours of battery life from the nickel metal hydride batteries. Four AA batteries could keep you up and running for five to nine hours. Unlike any other machine of its time, the OmniBook came with all this plus four PCMCIA slots--yes, four!--all packed neatly inside a 6x11x1.4-inch package.

HP OmniBook 300Click to Enlarge

Of course, being out of production for 20 years has severely limited the OmniBook's availability. Still, I just couldn't resist putting my 40-MB HD-equipped monster through Network Computing's rigorous testing.

First, I put the OmniBook 300's vaunted battery life to the test by installing four AAs, booting up the ROM-based Windows OS and jumping into a DOS prompt, where I ran a loop batch command before going out for some Japanese cuisine.

When I returned, I could see that my little batch file had done its work. The OmniBook was as quiet as the grave. Of course, because the machine had powered down, I couldn't see exactly how much time had elapsed before the batteries went dead. I can safely say that the OmniBook outlasted a 30-minute car ride, six California rolls, a small bowl of rice, an order of soup and two cups of green tea.

I then tested the OmniBook's ability to connect. Here's the good news: If you have an infrared-ready printer, you can print out anything your fingers can type on the generously proportioned keyboard. Likewise, if you have an old 2,400-baud modem and an RS-232 cable lying around, you could easily hit CompuServe or Genie (if your membership hasn't expired). And with the included LapLink software, you could transfer files between the laptop and your workstation. The bad news: These processes are laborious and DOS-centric. An NE2000-compatible PCMCIA Ethernet card remains the best way to get your OmniBook on the LAN via IPX/SPX, IP or any network with the appropriate driver. I had the best luck with MsKermit.

To wrap up my test, I measured the machine's ability to function in the field. With a fresh set of batteries, I set out in a Jeep Liberty (passenger seat, of course) to see how well I could type while traversing a series of speed bumps at 10 mph. I was gratified to discover that even without backlighting, the 9-inch screen remained highly readable (OK, I set the font size to 84 points). Unfortunately, while I could type easily enough, the OmniBook's flying mouse failed completely. Apparently, without a flat surface upon which to move, the flying mouse actually flies, and our tests have shown that flying mice can't click.Despite its power, connectivity and mousing drawbacks, the HP OmniBook 300 is the best attic-based laptop our labs have ever seen.

OmniBook 300. Sold in 1993 for $2,000 with no storage, about $2,700 with a hard disk and around $3,200 with a flash card. Hewlett-Packard Co., (800) 752-0900.

--Bradley F. Shimmin

Coolness and Value FactorAre you still making do with basic MP3 players for cube-oriented entertainment? Or, sadder still, are you relying on conventional AM/FM CD players? Check out Linksys' Wireless-B Music System, a sexy unit that supports streaming audio through a variety of sources. Whether from an Internet radio station or your local PC, the Wireless-B smoothly plays both WMA and MP3 through its built-in 802.11b network interface. It handles DRM (Digital Rights Management)-protected files, but cannot work with online music downloads other than those playable via the MusicMatch server.

The Wireless-B comprises a thin, core receiver with a 5-line LCD. Both remote and manual controls make it a simple task to browse your music collection by artist, genre, title or a combination thereof. Most of the unit's real estate is taken up by its 4x6-inch wired, detachable, powered speakers. These are not required; the music system (don't call it a radio!) can be attached directly to your stereo system through conventional RCA connectors for two-channel output or via the built-in digital output. The unit is portable, despite the lack of a carrying handle, so if you take it back and forth you may want to leave the speakers at work and connect the device to your home stereo system. Ozzy sounded much better coming out of my stereo system than through the included speakers.The Wireless-B setup was a breeze. After I powered it up, the unit grabbed an address from my DHCP server. From there, it was easy to associate the device with my wireless network. The device also can be configured through your PC using a crossover cable and the system's Ethernet interface. The latter method uses a simple, wizard application that locates and assists you in configuring the device for your network. You must be careful here, as the device supports only WEP, not WPA, so getting the unit onto some networks might be problematic.

Linksys Wireless-B Music System

Click to Enlarge

Once the unit is powered up and on the network, it's ready to play. I started blasting out tunes from a number of preconfigured Internet radio stations while installing the included MusicMatch software required to locate and play my local stash of music. However, though installation is straightforward and the Wireless-B can find existing MusicMatch servers without a problem, this requirement is stifling for the true geek. I much prefer my AudioTron, which can locate and play music files directly from a network share. Although MusicMatch provides this functionality, it's separate from the unit--I'd prefer the device to handle all aspects of playing music, including locating and streaming. The biggest plus for the Wireless-B is that it is wireless--the AudioTron is not--giving the Linksys device a slight edge in terms of flexibility.

Even with 12 devices using the same AP as the Wireless-B, the unit buffered and streamed music with very few interruptions. The stream was pleasantly consistent, even when playing a remote stream from one of my favorite Internet radio stations.

There is room for improvement, but the Wireless-B does serve its purpose as a base unit for geeks who want flexibility and portability.Wireless-B Music System, $149. Linksys (a division of Cisco Systems), (800) 326-7114.

--Lori MacVittie

Coolness and Value FactorIf the only items on networks were refrigerators and toasters, life would be grand. There'd be no devices that boot a kernel OS to attain service levels, and there'd be no need to keep "reboot" in our vocabulary. But since I work with computers, switches and routers, the occasional reboot will right most wrongs and bring recalcitrant devices back to normalcy. Dataprobe's iBoot not only lets you perform that reboot from remote locations, it even automates the process. This is clearly a win for work; it's also great for not-so-gently reminding the video-game addict at home that it's time to get back to reality.

The iBoot is a Web-enabled remote power control designed to turn on, shut off or cycle the power supply to any device. It will not gracefully shut down and boot. The iBoot is for remote devices, such as kiosks or routers, which may not recognize distributed authority, and for those touchy servers that occasionally secede from network services. In either case, the resolution is to cycle the power and reboot.

The iBoot comes in a box smaller than most MCSE textbooks, but it proved its value once on our network. I put it in control of the power supply to a 3Com NBX phone system in our Syracuse University Real-World Labs®. The NBX doesn't go south often, but when it does I'm usually in North Syracuse.The iBoot sports two 10/100 Ethernet ports with a built-in hub, and I could configure IP addresses manually. The ports autosense network media and uplink/downlink connections, and an LED let me know when the network was properly established. The hub design let me use only one switch port for both the iBoot and the NBX device.

I powered down the NBX, then used the supplied extension cord (IEC 320 receptacle to NEMA 515) to connect the NBX power supply to the iBoot. A standard IEC 320 cord connects the iBoot to an electrical outlet. Pointing a Web browser at the iBoot, I was presented with a challenge authentication. The default password got me in and gave me a simple, intuitive user interface. With a click of the mouse, I powered the NBX off. Then I recycled the power and configured a timed reboot. I even set up an automatic ping every 300 seconds from the iBoot to the NBX, then disconnected the network cable connecting the iBoot and the NBX. When the iBoot did not get a ping response, it cycled the power. I plugged the network back in, and when the NBX returned to service, the iBoot received a ping response and took no further action. If it did not get a ping after recycling the NBX, it would recycle power again and again until it received a ping response.

At $275 per unit, the device pays for itself by saving emergency trips to reset devices and by letting companies automatically power down equipment when necessary.

iBoot Web Power Switch 2.20, $275 per unit. Dataprobe, (800) 436-3284, (201) 967-9300.

--Sean DohertyHave you ever watched in awe as a manager suggested, with a straight face, that you upgrade the OSs on all 4,000 company desktop PCs over the weekend? Or offered an excuse like, "I couldn't possibly handle that assignment this week, I've been named our floor fire marshal"? If so, then we have just the full-function, out-of-the-box, diversionary solution (a.k.a. game) for you. "Management Material: Information Technology Edition" is one in a series of card games that poke fun at corporate America; MM:ITE takes on IT and IT middle managers, lampooning both sides of the fence and leaving you laughing.

I picked up MM:ITE at my friendly local gaming store (FLGS, in gamer terms). I started laughing as I read the instructions and didn't stop until the game was done.

MM:ITE comes with four types of cards:

• Projects that you give to your opponent as assignments;

• Excuses that you use to get out of doing projects;• Recognition that you use to get past your opponent's Excuses in your attempt to force him to finish the assigned project; and

• Events that occur during game play and affect all players.

Each project has a point value, and your goal is to make your opponent complete 30 points or more of projects, thus forcing him to become the dreaded middle management.

Game play is fast and simple. One player turns over a project card representing a certain number of points. Sample projects include "Provide Friendly Tech Support," "Reboot the Internet" and "Manually Virus Scan All Workstations." That player must lay down excuses that total more in points than the value of the project. Sample excuses include "can't find the 'Any' key," "unreasonable request" and "incompatible applications."

The other player may then lay down recognition cards that add points to the project, attempting to make the player with the project complete it. Recognition cards include "But ... the team needs you," "No problem, just come in over the weekend" and "You're my go-to guy!"When either player runs out of relevant cards, the turn ends. If the player who drew the project card ended up with more excuse points, that player wins the round, and the other player must take the project. If the player who drew the card didn't have enough excuses, or the other player had enough recognition cards to overcome the excuses of the player drawing the project, then the player who drew the project card keeps it.

Play proceeds with each player turning up project cards until one player has completed 30 points' worth of projects. The game moves quickly--you'll get through a round in 15 or 20 minutes. Of course, after 20 or 30 games you'll grow tired of rereading the Dilbert-esque cards, but for $15 you'll get quite a bit of enjoyment.

Our recommendation: This is a great game to toss into the break room at work so your co-workers can enjoy the fun. Of course, you should not admit that you're the one who put it there.

Management Material: Information Technology Edition, $14.95. Zipwhaa, (630) 226-5550.

--Don MacVittie0

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