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DIGITAL MANAGER

10.26.98  
Cutting the Cords
Our correspondent's home office happily goes wireless

Joe Krysztoforski embraces technology, but this summer he had had it with his equipment's cables, both at work and at home. "We have three PCs and a network. My wife and I have tripped over cables, our son's friends have tripped -- even the dog has tripped over them. I had to get rid of all those cables."

So Krysztoforski, managing director of PDS Research Assoc., a management advisory company in Phoenix, Md., installed wireless networks everywhere. His home system is slower than it was. But he got a double dividend: He's rid of an ugly hazard and "now I use the network at home while I'm sitting next to the pool with my notebook," Krysztoforski laughs.

Krysztoforski inspired Business Week Online's correspondent to remove the booby traps in his packed office. We tested an assortment of devices now available in computer stores. They all work using digital radio technology. However, they don't entirely cut the cords -- there are still links to the power system and phone network.

Here's what it took: We started with the No. 1 cable clutter culprit -- the network. In our reporter's home, there's a local-area network, or LAN, that links four computers. Wireless networks have long been available to corporations, but until recently they were prohibitively expensive and difficult to set up for home offices or small businesses. But several companies have come out with new products, making the technology worth a try.

We tested Proxim's new Symphony wireless products (www.proxim.com), which Krysztoforski and his company also use, because as of late September they were the first of the new generation of products and easy enough for even technical neophytes. We installed Symphony's network interface cards into a PC and a notebook, linking them up. That took about only five minutes per system. Next, we booted both computers and installed the support software, prompted by simple on-screen wizards. This process automatically connects each PC to the network and enables them to share modems and Internet connections, which can be a real money saver.

On the downside, a computer networked via Symphony or any other wireless product is slower than a typical cable-based network. A short, unobtrusive wire connects a small antennae to the PC's wireless network adapter and the so-called "wireless modem" does have cords to the phone system and electric outlet -- even though it connects remotely to the computer. Still, this system enabled us to lose coaxial network cabling and the serial cable between the PC and modem.

CLUTTER BUSTER. The printer cable was next on the hit list. We removed that 25-footer after installing AeroComm's GoPrint/One (www.aerocomm.com) on a notebook and a laser printer. It's among the best-known product of this sort. Included in the package are two devices -- one that serves as a transmitter and the other a receiver -- and each are roughly the size of a paperback book. There is no software to install. Instead, you connect the GoPrint receiver to the printer and the transmitter to the computer using short cables, which are included. The entire process took 10 minutes, and we were able to crank out documents with the computer 100 feet from the printer.

The clutter-killer patrol then went for the desktop. We installed Logitech's Cordless Desktop (www.logitech.com), a bundle that consists of a wireless mouse and keyboard. It's also a well-known product, widely available in retail outlets, and easy to install. You simply plug a receiver, which is about the size of a deck of cards, into your PC's mouse and keyboard ports. You then can use the mouse and keyboard without cables as long as you are standing within six feet of the receiver.

Here's the scorecard for our cordless initiative. The Symphony PC adapter costs $149 and the notebook adapter is $199 on the company's Web site. Each eliminated 15 feet of cable. The Symphony wireless modem costs $299, and we kissed 10 feet of serial cable goodbye. AeroComm's GoPrint/One costs $199 and 25 feet of unsightly parallel cable disappeared. The Logitech Cordless Desktop costs $99 and eliminated six feet of mouse cord and six feet of keyboard cable. Total cost: $945. Total cable eliminated: 77 feet.

Hey, nobody said reducing cable clutter would be cheap, and we didn't entirely eliminate wires. However, this exercise cleaned up one horrendously cluttered home office and will conceivably increase productivity. After all, like Krysztoforski, we can now connect to the Internet even when we're poolside. If only we had a pool.

By David Haskin in Madison, Wisc.

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