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Original Article

Hi, tech, good-bye time-wasters. Futuristic tools make today's office more productive.

Somewhere between the invention of the remote control and the cell phone, we crossed the Rubicon, and everything from refrigerators to desk phones became multi-functional, multi-featured and multi-media. We’ve highlighted a few new tools designed to make work, well, less laborious. And if some sound a little futuristic, remember the idea of sending pictures through cell phones once seemed far-fetched, too.

Address labels in a snap

Let’s be honest about address labels: They’re often much easier to spit out on that manual typewriter gathering cobwebs in the office storage room. But a tiny desktop printer called Dymo could change this. It’s about the same size as an electric pencil sharpener, which hooks up to a PC using a standard USB cable. The software lodges an icon on most applications. When you’re ready to print an address, you simply highlight the address and click on the Dymo icon. Labels are standard size and print in high resolution. The good part: There is no print cartridge.

Nationwide printing

Many of us already use FedEx Kinko’s for copying needs, but few are aware of a feature called “File, Save, Print Fedex Kinko’s,” which works right from your PC. It allows you to print, bind and deliver a PowerPoint presentation to hundreds of cities across the U.S. wherever there is a FedEx Kinko’s store. You can also remotely print a three-foot poster, or a last-minute, 20-foot, four-color banner for a trade show. No hardware required. Turnaround times are as good as if you physically took the file to a location down the street. No extra charges apply. (Note: It’s a good idea to visit www.FedexKinkos.com to learn how to navigate the site before you need to use it.)

Tapeless voice recorders

Micro-cassettes are so yesterday. Today’s recorders are digital and tapeless and have evolved to become super discreet and versatile. They’re slimmer than a stick of gum, and can pack as much memory as a MP3 player. The Olympus 960 PC, for instance, allows you to record up to 16 hours of audio, which equates to about a month’s worth of interviews, memos and meetings. Because the recordings are saved as digital files, they can be easily e-mailed, and opened up and listened to in a standard audio player such as Windows Media or RealAudio.

Free phone calls, to go.

Everyone’s talking about (and talking on) Skype (www.skype.com), the application that allows you to make free phone calls on a laptop or PC to anywhere in the world. It uses a feature called Voice-over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. Using Gizmo, a small downloadable application, you can carry Internet phone software with you on a USB flash drive, and then launch it on any PC. With Gizmo, PC-to-PC phone calls are free anywhere in the world; PC-to-phone calls as low as 1.8 cents a minute. The catch: VoIP calls need a DSL or other broadband connection. Find free software at www.gizmoproject.com.

Page me, text me

Remember how “push-to-talk” revolutionized the way business people on the field use cell phones? The next technology that could really shake things up is text-to-speech short message service (SMS), which gives users the ability to speak into their phone and have it deliver a text message to someone in their address book. For those of us who are pathetic thumb typists, this could open up many opportunities.

Phone systems go virtual

Much has been written about the “death of distance”—our ability to work out of a home office, and seamlessly collaborate with someone eight time zones away. High-speed Internet connections have set in motion a whole new way to telecommute. But if you’re running a virtual office, how about plugging it into a virtual phone system (called a private branch exchange-or PBX-by those in the business)?

GotVMail is one of many companies offering PBX systems, which go way beyond multiple mailboxes and call forwarding. These systems also offer music-on-hold and a dial-by-name directory that can be updated through a Web portal. One feature that’s worth the price of entry is the ability to tell your voicemail box to convert incoming messages to audio files and e-mail them to you as an attachment. If you cannot receive attachments on your Blackberry, or other mobile device, you can configure your voicemail box to convert the audio file to a text message and send it to you as an e-mail.

E-paper?

This idea may not be ready for prime time, but what would you say about using a PC you could roll up like a newspaper?
Philips Polymer Vision is working on an idea called the Concept Readius that delivers a screen in a format called e-paper. That’s right; we’re talking about electric paper that displays electronic ink. More specifically, the unit is a 320-pixels-by-24-pixels, active matrix display that is about 5 inches across, when extended. When not in use, it rolls up into a scroll about the size of a tube of toothpaste.
If it works, who knows? You may someday be reading e-mail, not on PCs or phones, but on e-paper.