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Making your home more efficient at the flick of a switch

Navigator and several investment management software titles.

“My computer is actually my virtual office because I telecommute and travel a lot,” says his wife, Martina, an international relationship manager with Hewlett-Packard. Her primary computer has a host of software applications, including Lotus Suite and Microsoft Office and some proprietary HP software. In addition, HP has provided an ISDN link allowing her to access all servers in the office. She can also receive messages through a personal 800 number tied to her cellular phone, pager and PC.

The two older children, Dominique and Alexandria, use their computer to do homework and play video games, although their mother is looking into a musical instrument software program. “It wouldn’t replace the violin and saxophone lessons they take, but it would enhance the practice and make it more interesting,” she says. Meanwhile, three-year old Chelsea is learning her ABCs, numbers, colors and shapes from a JumpStart preschool program.

All of this new and improved functionality only further signals that the computer is becoming an unmatched productivity tool for the home. Like many techno-savvy individuals, the Harrises are considering automating their house for increased security and energy conservation.

If you are a first-time computer buyer or looking to buy a second PC, you’ll find that you can now get a lot of features for a few thousand dollars. Even if you aren’t in the market for a new computer, you can upgrade your PC with the right software and modules. New high-end features will provide you with a new level of usage, convenience and time and energy savings.

Manufacturers have responded to market demand, and most of the new generation of computers include easy, quick Internet access and Web browsers, such as Netscape Navigator. And they are bundled with a host of software programs for business, personal money management, educational and entertainment uses.

One of the biggest trends right now is Dual Simultaneous Voice/Data (DSVD). A 28.8Kbps (upgradeable to 33.6Kbps) voice/data/fax modem and communications software that controls integrated telephone/answering machine, e-mail, fax and paging functions has been added.

“If all you want is an answering machine, it’s much easier to walk over to the phone and press a button to get your messages,” says Elaine Lack, director of marketing operations and services for IBM’s Consumer Division. “But if you use a pager, e-mail and fax and want multiple mailboxes–one for every member of the family–it will be easier and more appealing to have it all in a single device. That’s where the enhanced productivity comes from.” IBM’s Ringcentral software ties in all communications functions, offering such features as “speechmail,” which enables the computer to read your e-mails back to you over the phone.

Another prime example is Toshiba’s Infinia line with its built-in FM stereo and CD player and speakers, as well as video card (offered by other manufacturers in the past) to allow you to watch television on your computer.

Last year, Compaq began offering a digital camera and videophone-send software as an upgrade for its Pressario 4000

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