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Ask Shak:
MS Office Compatibility, Avoiding Data Loss


One of the most important relationships you’ll ever have is with your personal computer. There’s perhaps no other component of our business life that’s more vexing as that box that sits on most people’s desks. Everyone has computer questions and we’re here to assist you in that department. Below are a few questions I’ve received recently from readers. I hope the answers will be useful to you.

Dear Shak: Q. It seems like Microsoft Office is the industry standard when it comes to office software. It’s also pretty expensive. Frankly, I don’t necessarily need or want all the features of this product but I am concerned about file compatibility since virtually everybody else uses Office. Do I have an alternative when it comes to purchasing a less expensive software suite that’s compatible with Word, Excel and the PowerPoint formats? Also, I see all kinds of free "shareware" word processing programs on the Internet that cost a fraction of MS Office? Are these free programs worth looking into?

Frustrated in Kailua

Dear Frustrated: We have several issues here—cost, compatibility and features. If you are concerned about compatibility with Windows you have two options. Both of these alternatives--WordPerfect Office 2000, which runs about $100, and Lotus SmartSuite Millennium Edition 9.5, which costs as little as $149 (depending if you qualify for an upgrade) are less expensive than Office. They also provide very good (but not always seamless) compatibility with Office. Therein lies the rub.

Another option is to purchase Microsoft’s Works Suite 99 a "lite" version of Office that costs only $100. It features Word 97, which is fully backwards compatible with the new Word 2000. However, the other applications in the Works Suite may not be 100% compatible with the new Office 2000.

You should note also that even though the WordPerfect and Lotus programs are less expensive they are full-featured applications with similar bells and whistles to Microsoft’s. In other words they aren’t necessarily going to be simpler to use.

Finally you asked about the various shareware programs that are available free or close to it on the Net. I’m sure that many of these are great programs at great prices. The issue I’d be concerned about it compatibility. For example if you’re going to attach a document to an email there’s no way of knowing that the person you're sending it to is going be able to read it. That could be a problem.

Dear Shak:

A friend’s computer was stolen out of his home office in Makiki and I’m really concerned about losing the data on my machine. It’s got all my tax records, correspondence, etc. What if the hard drive dies? How would you suggest backing up the data?

Up Against the Wall in Kaneohe

Dear Up:

Glad that you’re taking a reality check, brah. You’ve really hit a nerve. Your data is everything! It is your business and you should be concerned. A lot of small business owners don’t ever back up their hard drives and this is bad news. After a hard drive crashes (or a machine is stolen) the time and effort it would take to reinstall your programs without a backup could be hours or days. Much of your data would have to be re-entered by hand and some might be irreplaceable.

I would seriously consider looking into a tape backup. Look at it as money in the bank or as a cheap insurance policy. We like the tape backup system for several reasons: The medium (the tape) is cheap and dependable. Your data can be backed up for as little as a penny a megabyte and it’s durable and easy to use. You can also set your machine to automatically back up your data on a daily basis. Internal units back up units are a bit of a hassle to install because you have to take the machine apart so we’d suggest looking at an external unit which you simply plug into your parallel port or USB in the back of your box. A lot of people manufacture great back up units (such as Hewlett Packard and Seagate) for under $200. Better start backing up your data now before you lose it all!

Shakil Ahmed is the founder of PDC Systems, a Honolulu computer and networking company established in 1991. Questions should be addressed to askshak@pdcsystems.com

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