Excellent X-Portal

If I owned a newspaper, I would put a copy of this superb Internet-friendly research tool on the desk of every writer and editor. X-Portal is a mix of Web searching and its own huge CD-ROM database of dictionaries, an encyclopedia, an atlas, almanac and references in sports, arts and literature.

The software installs itself as an added option in the Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer browser versions 4 and above. When a user clicks an X-Portal icon that is added to the tool bar, a search window appears on the left-hand side of the browser screen. Queries can be specific words or sentences.

Almost instantly, the browser displays links to all the keyword hits in the X-Portal internal databases and then launches a Web search using a choice of dozens of search engines. Behind the scenes, the software attempts to weed out extraneous Web material based on how each site compares with its internal databases, thus sparing the user from the huge numbers of worthless hits.

The only caveat is that the software consumes a substantial 200 megabytes of hard drive space.

-- James Coates, Chicago Tribune

X-Portal

by Kaufman Consulting Services

1-877-367-5275

www.kcsl.ca.

$60

For Microsoft Internet Explorer 4 and higher

An Office Suite

Brother International's new MFC-7050c Multifunction Center offers seven office applications in one.

Four of the unit's features don't require the use of a computer: plain paper fax, copier, scanner and a voice message center that acts as a sophisticated answering machine. If you use a computer, you can take advantage of color printing, color PC fax and video capture features.

The downside I can see with these devices is if something breaks. One component that goes out of commission can knock out all functions until the unit is repaired. But given their reliability, the warranties and overnight turnaround options offered by these companies, this should be of little concern.

-- Craig Crossman -- Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service

MFC-7050c Multifunction Center

by Brother International

1-800-276-7746

www.brother.com

$299

For Windows