I don't mean to get personal, but just how effective is your contact management software? Can it prioritize your activities? Can it act as a task manager and forward incomplete tasks to those involved? Can it retrieve and send e-mail?

I found two products that do all of that and more: Goldmine 4.0 ($295 for a single user version and $795 for a five-user network license) and Ascend 97 ($99.95) from Franklin-Covey Co. Goldmine is definitely the heavyweight of the two and is more ''work group oriented.'' Although it's available in a single user version, it's really meant for organizations where several people need quick access to the same information and can update it quickly and efficiently.

This isn't your father's personal information manager (PIM). The days of using a program just to track names, address, appointments and birthdays are gone. Now we need something that can show what progress has been made with each client, organize faxes and e-mail and give us access to information contained in other databases on our computer systems.

Unlike its competitors, Goldmine is highly customizable. You can add an unlimited number of phone numbers and addresses to each contact and attach an unlimited number of files to each contact simply by selecting the files with your mouse and dragging them to the contact's record.

This program can even be used for sales forecasting, lead retrieval, sales performance reporting and graphing and will generate other data relevant to the success of your business.

If that isn't enough, Goldmine can also be used to send and retrieve e-mail, retrieve data from Web pages, and generate reports using its built-in word processor.

This may be overkill for someone who just needs a computerized Rolodex, but it's invaluable for a sales force that needs quick access to information on each client.

Ascend 97 is geared more to the single user.

More like a conventional PIM, it allows you to store unlimited phone numbers and addresses; schedule activities for a week, month or a year; organize tasks and activities using a new ''quick prioritize'' feature; and dial phone numbers directly from your contact list.

So what makes this any different from other PIMs such as Lotus Organizer or ACT?

Admittedly all of these features can be found in any PIM of the market today, but the folks at Franklin Covey have developed a way for you to scan information into your computer using the Visioneer Paperport Strobe scanner and drag and drop it to your Ascend files.

It also integrates with 3Com's PalmPilot so you can carry your contact list and project schedules with you.

Also, because it's a Franklin Covey product, you can print out contact information on sheets designed to fit into their popular Franklin Day Planner binders.



Who said optical drives are dead? Apparently whoever it was forgot to invite the folks at Fujitsu Computer Products of America to the funeral.

I've been playing with their new DynaMO 640 ($425) optical drive and find that, although it's limited in capacity when compared with the 1 and 1.5 gigabyte cartridge drives from Iomega and Syquest, it can hold its own against the ever popular 100 megabyte Iomega Zip drive.

It can handle optical disks, which are actually 3.5-inch CDs, ranging from 128 megabytes to 640 megabytes and is about a zillion times faster than the Zip drive.

Also, with 640 megabyte optical disks costing about $45 and Zip disks costing about $15 each ($90 for 600 megabytes), it can save you some big bucks if you store a lot of data.

It boasts a seek time of 35 milliseconds, which means it can store and retrieve data at close to hard drive speeds, which average 10 or 11 milliseconds.

As a point of comparison, the new 32X CD-ROM drives have a seek time of 80 milliseconds, which is blazingly fast when compared with their predecessors, which were as slow as 320 milliseconds.

Take it from me, optical technology is far from dead. It just needs someone to shake it and wake it up once in a while.



Our Microsoft Press Computer dictionary defines seek time as ''the time required to move a disk drive's read/write head to a specific location on a disk.'' This is not to be confused with ''access time,'' which is the time it takes to retrieve that information.

Both are measured in milliseconds, with the smaller number equaling the faster times, i.e.: a 35 millisecond drive is faster than a 350 millisecond drive.