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Once each year we move to holiday mode to examine computer-related products that a lawyer or lawyer’s family might like to give or get, to improve the mind or spirit or for just plain fun. It is a dirty job, and we love it. This is not a comprehensive listing, but just a few of the categories and items that recently caught our eye. FEEL-BETTER STUFF We repeat our annual advice that a comfortable chair, keyboard, wristpad, mouse, large video monitor and specially tuned reading glasses can make a big difference for any lawyer or secretary spending many hours per day at the computer. We still like the Microsoft Natural Keyboard and IntelliMouse and even try to use a real mouse instead of the uncomfortable pointing devices built in to most laptops. A wireless (unconnected) mouse is great if you sometimes get tangled with the cords. Lawyers or secretaries who use reading glasses should get a pair focused at about 16 inches — for computer use only. It is difficult to work with tired eyes, and the modest cost could pay off in increased efficiency, particularly at the end of the day. A decent 17-inch monitor costs $200 or less and is also well worth the money. THE WEB Faithful readers know all about using the World Wide Web for work; we seldom mention that the Web is great for play. The Web has sites for sports scores, play-by-play descriptions, gossip about just-released movies, political gossip, ballet, murder mysteries, bridge, television, archeology, high-end audio and interactive information about any other activity that you might imagine. Between portals, search engines and hyperlinked advertising banners, just about anything is easy to find. If you’re not accessing the Internet through your office local area network (LAN) you probably should have DSL (digital subscriber line) through your telephone line or a cable modem through your TV cable provider. In the meantime, a dial-up internet service provider (ISP) should cost less than $15 per month if you want to pay for it, although AltaVista, NetZero and FreeInet don’t cost anything if you don’t mind keeping a small advertising window on screen. WHERE TO BUY We now shop the Web — for books, for electronics, for software, for coffee — several times a month and have had fewer problems than with purchases from the physical mall. Credit cards work and have been safe, thus far. We’ve had good luck with computers — mostly Hewlett Packard refurbished or closeouts — at Egghead, books and such at Barnes & Noble, miscellaneous hardware and software with free next-day shipping at Outpost, and miscellaneous goodies at Cyberrate. There are a number of sites that purport to search other sites for the best prices on specific items and certainly give the user an idea of a decent price range. There are differences such as shipping charges that may not be clear, but searching for your product or product category on MySimon, BizRate, PriceScanor StreetPricesdoesn’t cost anything and might save some money. HOT HARDWARE The PDA (personal digital assistant) market seems to have resolved down to Palm-alikes (from Palm, Handspring and, although we haven’t seen them, folks like Sony) and WindowsCE Pocket PCs from Compaq, Hewlett Packard and others. We haven’t gotten into Pocket PCs yet but have been impressed by the versatility of the Palm-alikes. Monochrome, eight-megabyte Palm IIIxe or Handspring Visor DeLuxe each list at $250 and, we suspect, may be heavily discounted in a month or two. The $150 Palm 100m with two megabytes of memory may be a good solution for the kids, but we recommend eight megabytes for lawyers who will want to install time-recording software, e-book readers and law-related and non-law-related e-books. We consider a color display, at almost double the monochrome price, to be a luxury. We’re currently testing the wireless Palm VIIxe at almost double the price, which may be much more than a luxury if you suffer e-mail withdrawal when you leave your office. Whichever Palm OS device you buy, you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands, of programs available inexpensively or without charge, downloadable from the Web. They don’t have other capabilities of the Palms and Pocket PCs, but two-way pagers from Motorola, RIM (Research in Motion) and others do work, with unlimited service falling slightly to about $45 per month, although we’ve seen 400 messages per month for the $200 Motorola T900 at a cost of about $20 per month. Quality digital cameras with three MPx (Megapixel) or more (for blowups to 16 x 20 and greater) are out of the stocking-stuffer price range, but you can find older technology for less than $100. Tiny, handheld MP3 players are available in the $75 to $150 price range — great for portable music, spoken word books and, if there is enough demand, perhaps CLE lectures. COMPUTER ENHANCEMENTS The least expensive way to make your computer seem faster is to add memory. Installation should be a snap — literally — if you’ve done it once before. Just $150 for a second hard drive should buy you 20 gigabytes or more. Installation shouldn’t be more than a few minutes’ work for a professional. As long as you’ve opened the machine, you might consider a Read/Write CDRW CD-burner for your picture or music collection, or just for backup. (You can also use it to support a large group of produced documents.) We bought our last brand-name color inkjet printer at a local discounter for $80 (before $70 worth of rebates), but name brands are regularly closed out at $50 to $100, and do a wonderful job with everything from plain and fancy text to charts to digitized photographs. Last year’s flat-bed, 30-bit color scanners, which are just the thing for putting your photographs on the Web if you don’t have a digital camera, now cost about $50. GAMES In prior years we’ve stressed computer-based golf games, baseball games, party games, flight simulators, card games and billiards simulations. Microsoft somehow manages to make old standbys like Flight Simulator and the Links golf game even more realistic than they were. (We regularly crash our 1995 virtual Cessna taking off over Lake Michigan, so won’t go for the 2001 virtual fighter jets.) A trip to the local discounter or a visit to one of the many Web-based shopping sites will get them to you, many in the $25-to-$50 range. For not much more, get or give a set of disk and system utilities, or anti-virus software, always useful when the computer crashes. A $50 upgrade to Windows ME (for Millennium Edition) might also be appreciated. Napster may not be as popular once downloads cost money, but try e-music, which is currently offering 100 copyright-respecting downloads to music lovers whom they hope to suck into their $10-per-month, unlimited-download subscriber base. If you didn’t get it last year, Jerry Goldman’s “Supreme Court’s Greatest Hits” CD-ROM. including some 70 hours of Supreme Court audio, is now available at a discount at Barnes & Noble and the other usual book-selling suspects. Last year we recommended “The Simpsons: Virtual Springfield,” but the game of this year may be “The Sims,” (no relation to the Simpsons unless you want them to be), a spinoff of the interactive SimCity series that deals with the development of people and their lives. A visit to the Sims Web siteshows an amazing culture that has grown around the product. If you’d like a try at virtual urban planning or have just lost that election for mayor or president, look for an anthology of the old SimCity games at a greatly reduced price. Finally, a word about e-books. Download them from the Web. Read them on your Palm or CE PDAs, on specialized RocketBook hardware, or by using RocketBook Microsoft Reader or NetLibrary software for your desktop or laptop machine. You probably won’t find them quite as easy to read as a printed book, but we think they’ll grow on you, particularly for legal reference material. Barry D. Bayer practices law and writes about computers from his office in Homewood, Ill. You may send comments or questions to his new e-mail addressor write c/o Law Office Technology Review, P.O. Box 2577, Homewood, IL 60430.

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