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Jewish World Review May 22, 2000 /17 Iyar, 5760

Jim Bray's TechnoFILE

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Consumer Reports


XIRCOM helps take the "bored" out of board rooms --
IF YOU HATE MEETINGS, you may want to tell your boss about a new gadget from Xircom.

It's called the NetStation, and while it isn't a real technological breakthrough, it's a nifty little gadget that can help make the meetings you attend more rewarding and productive.

Xircom, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., came to prominence as a maker of PC-card peripherals like modems and network cards. It also markets "Rex," a PC-card-based Personal Information Manager (more on that little gem in a subsequent column).

NetStation is really just a portable network hub, but that's OK. It lets you and your peers bring your notebook or hand-held computers to a meeting, plug them into the network, and compute away to your heart's content. As long as your conference room has a network connection, of course -- and if your portable PC has a network card.

Who cares? If you have to ask, you don't attend many meetings!

According to Xircom, the National Statistics Council estimates that nearly 40 percent of a worker's sentence -- I mean time -- is served in meetings, and while I can't vouch for that figure, it sure feels as if you can spend that much time in "officially mandated chin-wags." To me, meetings are like black holes that suck the light out of your workday.

Talk about "meeting" out punishment!

Wouldn't it be great if you could do some real work during a session -- even crank out a few ideas and run them up the flagpole right there and then?

That's the rationale behind the NetStation.

Available in two versions, the model 8100 (which has eight ports) or the 4100 (with four connections), you can daisy-chain up to three NetStations together to network up to 24 PCs at once.

Xircom claims the NetStation's fully compliant with today's major network operating systems, and compatible with all standard Ethernet and Fast Ethernet devices. It automatically negotiates 10 or 100 Mbps (Megabit per second) network speeds, and gives each user dedicated bandwidth.

The NetStation's built-in Ethernet cables are retractable, which makes for a cleaner desktop, and also facilitates picking up the unit and moving it from one meeting room to another. Since the unit is small and light enough to pack around painlessly, this is a nice bit of extra flexibility.

Maybe I'm a soft touch for gadgets (OK, there's no maybe about it), but this NetStation seems like it could turn out to be a real hit in boardrooms everywhere.

After all, while many meetings are important, many of them aren't nearly as important as the person who calls them thinks they are. The really productive time is after the meeting, when you're chained back in your cage, and doing the actual work talked about at the gabfest.

So, picture the extra productivity you can get if, while discussing the look of a logo, the tone of a press release, the design of a publication or the staging of an event, you could crank out a few ideas there and then, and share them with the rest of the participants at the meeting, or over the network -- or thanks to the Internet -- wherever around the world they may happen to be.

Then, instead of needing to call a second meeting later to go over the ideas you've generated since the first meeting, you'd already be a step ahead, and the subsequent meeting would be either unnecessary or could concentrate on other, more advanced, issues.

Besides, thanks to NetStation, you and your cronies can hit the conference room, plug in, and kick back with the network version of your favorite shoot 'em up game until the boss arrives!

Maybe that'll help ensure that people show up on time!

You could also use this "instant networking" to show PowerPoint presentations at the meeting, without needing to buy or rent an expensive video or LCD projector. Likewise, those electronic (and expensive) "white boards" that allow a presentation to be made remotely could also be eliminated.

So, the NetStation can not only save time, it should be cost effective -- and that's likely to appeal to your boss's bottom-line mentality.

Stay tuned. Xircom says an upcoming NetStation model will be wireless, a nifty addition that could turn virtually any location into a conference room.

The beach, perhaps?

JWR contributor Jim Bray publishes TechnoFILE magazine, "the consumer's non-technical guide to today's technology." You may comment by clicking here.

05/18/00: FRONTX offers friendly ports of entry


© 2000 Jim Bray.