With this phone, you can tap your PC's database

With this phone, you can tap your PC's database

Want to store and track incoming calls directly with your PC? Try out the Meridian 9617 USB

By Mark A. Kellner

The Meridian 9617 USB on my desk has all the bells and whistles of any office phone and one extra feature: It has a Universal Serial Bus cable that connects to my PC.

The phone is made by Nortel Networks Corp., formerly Northern Telecom, of Brampton, Ontario.

With the USB cable connection and some accompanying software, the phone becomes almost magical. If I used Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Applied Computer Telephony information manager, I could link that database to the phone book software supplied with the unit so that, when the phone rings, a window would pop up on my screen and tell me who's calling.

I don't use ACT, however, and I didn't import the 850 or so names in my database into the proprietary format used by the Nortel software. Thus, my Caller ID is limited to the information that pops up on the three-line display screen built into the phone. My reluctance also keeps me from using a software feature that places calls when I say someone's name, but that's my loss.

Keep in touch

Software aside, there is still value to the telephone-computer link. I can download the list of incoming calls stored in the phone to my PC and add numbers to my calling directory. I can also use these records to track and verify long-distance charges on calls I dial manually.

I use Microsoft Outlook 2000 and have succeeded in connecting the program's contact list to the phone. When I click on an icon, the program dials the phone number for me and I can pick up the receiver and talk. The integration isn't as good as if I were using the Nortel software, but it's good enough.

Another benefit is to be able to set up functions on the telephone from my monitor. With previous phones of this type, you had to scroll through long menus and sit through tedious editing of phone directory numbers stored in the unit. If, for example, you were to call your best friend, Hepplewhite, you would have quite a number of buttons to press.

No more. Now, such data can be entered on the screen and transferred with the click of a mouse button. You are doing, in essence, what big businesses have long done with their phone systems: programming the unit from a computer keyboard. It's also possible to program the phone's dedicated function keys for speed dialing and other features that can be activated from the keyboard.

This also makes updating functions much easier. Recently, my little corner of the world was blessed with an overlay area code, meaning that new customers on my block could get a different area code than mine. It also now requires 11-digit dialing for all numbers, whether I'm phoning my next door neighbor or my parents in New York City.

The reaction of the local press has been: Yuck. But the California public utilities regulators insist the overlay is here to stay, and reprogramming the phone from the keyboard was a lot less painful than pushing a bunch of phone buttons.

If the telephone is an important part of your day, having a device like this one can be a great help.

More details on the phone, which sells for just under $360, can be found online at www1.nortelnetworks.com/entprods/phones/us/Pm9617USB.html.

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