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 The Brancatelli File

joe THE WEB IS
MY FRIEND


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

October 28, 1999 -- I say this without shame: The Web is my best friend on the road.

In the last year or two, when I travel, I have come to realize that the Internet is more valuable than a good hotel concierge, a quiet corner of an airport club, or a good cab driver. I don't know anything else that's as helpful to a business traveler on the fly. It not only makes mundane tasks like shopping and banking effortless, it has literally created a bundle of new products and services that makes my life on the road so much easier to bear.

I'd like to say the Internet fulfilled my business-travel wish list, but I'll be honest with you: I never wished for most of these products. I never even conceived of most of these products. This stuff is nothing short of a miracle.

Let me tell you about some of the amazing things I use on the web that makes my life on the road easier. I think you'll find them useful, too.

UNIFIED MESSAGING
A year or so ago, I realized I had fallen into a horrendous pattern whenever I checked into a hotel: Check my voice mail at home and the office; set up my laptop and check the E-mail waiting for me at two or three ISPs; call the front desk to see if any faxes arrived for me; call the office again to see if there were any important faxes on my desk. This onerous routine sometimes consumed an hour or more.

My life is simpler now because I have unified messaging. It funnels all my calls and all my faxes directly into my E-mail. When I check into a hotel now, all I do is check my E-mail. There, along with my text messages, are E-mails that have voice-mail and fax attachments. I download them and then listen to my voice mail and view images of my faxes.

Want to experience unified messaging in action? Call me at 212-214-0383. You get what sounds like a standard voice-mail greeting from me and you leave a message of your own. But I get your voice message as an E-mail attachment. Ditto faxes. If you send a fax to 212-214-0383, I get the fax as an E-mail attachment. When I check my E-mail, I download these attachments and hear your voice and see your fax.

This gift of simplicity is called Jfax.com, for which I pay $12.50 a month. I even get to choose a telephone number in any of several dozen area codes around the world. If you can't bring yourself to spend $12.50 a month, a service called Onebox will give you a free unified-messaging phone number. But you can't choose your area code and you must to go to a Web page to collect messages.

REMOTE FILE STORAGE
I work with two desktop computers and two portables. That means a lot of file swapping and, since my machines aren't networked, a lot of floppies and Zip drives. Or, at least it did. Now I'm using services like Xdrive.com. I upload files to Xdrive, then pull them off the Web from any remote location. This is especially helpful with my primary mobile computer, a sleek, 3-pound Sharp that doesn't have a built-in floppy. Best of all, Xdrive is free for the first 25Mb of file storage.

PORTABLE BOOKMARKS
I don't know about you, but my Web browsers are stuffed with bookmarks linking me to crucial Internet sites. Synchronizing the links is difficult, if not impossible. But a new website called Blink.com allows you to store all your links at their website. Enter a user name and password from any Web-enabled device you're using--including a computer in a business center or one of those airport Web-surfing kiosks--and your personal bookmarks are there at your fingertips. Blink is free.

RADIO AND TV ON THE WEB
I used to think it was charming to read the International Herald-Tribune on the road and get three-day-old sports scores and two-day-old news from home. Then came CNN International: day-old scores and news. But I don't bother with that stuff now. Thanks to the free RealPlayer software, my laptop is fully equipped to pull radio and television broadcasts off the web. I've listened to Cleveland Indians radio broadcasts in Hong Kong and watched local New York television news while sitting in front of my laptop in a London hotel room. Two web sites, Broadcast.com and Vtuner.com, offer voluminous links of all the radio and television available via the Web. Two of my favorites: the BBC World Service, for cricket scores and stories I don't really understand, and the Voice of Russia, an English-language audio window on life in Moscow and beyond.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.