Bargain-basement PCs make the perfect tools for training employees








Do you have an office or training room in need of year 2000-ready computers that
run Microsoft Windows 98 but lack the money to buy office-grade PCs?


Take a look at a $499 computer complete with monitor: a 266-MHz Cyrix-powered PC with
32M of RAM, a 2.1G hard drive, 56-Kbps V.90 modem, sound, 24X CD-ROM drive and Win98. It
can connect to the Internet, run training software, do word processing and hook up to the
office network via open ISA and PCI slots. It has a Universal Serial Bus port. It comes
from Emachines Inc. of Irvine, Calif.


If you have an office full of old 486 machines with decent monitors, you can knock $100
off the price by omitting Emachines’ basic 14-inch monitor and using an old one.


Emachines might represent the bottom of the PC barrel, but they would have been
considered powerful systems two years ago. They are not shoddily built, just low-powered
by today’s standards.


Office computers have a basic price point below which makers cannot go because of
built-in overhead costs. Industry leaders such as Compaq Computer Corp. and Dell Computer
Corp. have to make powerful systems for which they can charge more money.


Emachines is a new company that sells only sub-$1,000 units. It offers little in the
way of options and bundles only Win98 and Microsoft Works software. Visit its Web site at
www.e4me.com for details. For $599, you can get a 366-MHz Intel Celeron Etower minus
monitor but with a 4X DVD drive and a 4.3G hard drive.


I tried out a couple of Emachines and found them fast enough for average office tasks
when several applications were not open at once. The chassis has room to upgrade
components, but if you plan to tinker, you had better just buy a more powerful computer.


A bonus: Emachines’ included Restore CD tool can easily reinstall Windows and
Works from the CD-ROM if necessary.


How do you get your office faxes while on the road or working at home? Sign up for a
free fax number from eFax.com Inc. of Menlo Park, Calif., at www.efax.com. Faxes arrive as
e-mail, possibly with attachments.


You can give out your free fax number to anyone and ask your office to forward or refax
transmissions to it. EFax.com will send the compressed fax images to whatever e-mail
address you specify.


A free, 300K Microviewer lets you retrieve and view faxes at any PC that can access the
specified e-mail address. So far, this is a receive-only service, but the company plans
eventually to offer fax transmissions for a fee.


Let’s face it, there is no standout search engine for the Web. I keep dozens of
them in my bookmarks with notes to remind me what each does best. New engines appear every
month.


But take a look at www.google.com and see whether it doesn’t deserve a place in
your personal Internet search toolbox. What makes Google Inc.’s site different is the
way it ranks search hits. Most search engines rank Web page hits based on how closely they
fit the search words. But just because a Web page contains a lot of the search words does
not mean the page will do the searcher any good.


A Google search ranks not how well a hit matches the search terms, but how useful the
page is in general, based on how many other sites consider it important enough to link to
it.


This is a great concept that I have found useful in many searches. For example, I
entered the term “sba loan” and got the Small Business Administration’s
home page as the top hit with several linked pages as sub-hits. The same search at
Yahoo.com returned only an SBA loan center in Wichita, Kan., as the top hit followed by
other regional centers.


Although Google and Yahoo both produced lots of hits, the Google search gave me more
useful results. The site is undergoing beta tests, and it might not remain as clean as it
is now. But the idea of ranking hits based on page usefulness is a hit.  


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.



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