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SIZABLE PC CURE-ALL AILS PLENTY ITSELF.

Byline: Eugenia C. Daniels Chicago Tribune

Corporate layoffs have been leaving survivors in two categories: the jobless worker who finances a home-based business venture with a severance package or the one who ends up with little or no support staff.

Source Innovations Inc. of Long Beach attempts to assist both these cutback survivors with an electronic desk pad that requires an initial investment of $3,250 (Windows only). Dubbed the Modula-Executive, this humongous (28-1/2 inches by 20 inches, and 1-inch deep), all-in-one peripheral attempts to provide the following:

A built-in microphone. Those with voice recognition software (not included) can use the verbal dictation function. The voice recognition program also can be used in lieu of clicking and keyboarding (again, software not included).

A built-in monitor with a touch screen that provides a handwriting recognition program a la Apple's Newton. This software is included.

A built-in mouse, keyboard and speakers to cut down on work-station clutter.

Alas, all this wonderful stuff does not work, unless you jump through several hoops. I don't recommend this product. It is definitely not a plug-and-play peripheral, and no user should have to do so much fooling around to get a device to work - especially one that costs thousands of dollars.

Let's start with the problems before the accompanying software was installed. None of the five computers I used recognized the keyboard or the mouse. Making matters more difficult was the fact that the keyboard plug was a 9-pin (round shape) and the mouse plug was a serial (rectangular shape).

Since most newer peripherals use 9-pins for both keyboard and mouse, the average user would need an adapter for the serial mouse port or a spare serial on the PC. In the cases in which a PC had a spare serial, the Modula-Executive did not recognize the mouse. As for the 9-pin keyboard plug, it wasn't a snug fit, which may explain why none of the computers acknowledged the keyboard.

This product is also not designed for durability. As two observers noted, the massive connector cable is not removable. Instead, it is permanently attached to the upper right side of the unit. Yes, the cable is flexible, but it is a matter of time before it wears out and snaps.

One real disadvantage of the unwieldy cable connector is that Modula-Executive doesn't have an infrared option, though a plug is provided. Infrared allows you to place the desk pad any where in the room, just like the other remote-control devices in your home/office: TV, VCR, stereo and today's fancy mice.

The much smaller predecessors of the Modula-Executive that range from $500 to $800 offer the infrared option minus Modula-Executive's built-in mic, speakers and mouse. Instead these models have a touch screen, eliminating the need for a mouse. But Modula-Executive's "extras" are not worth the inconvenience nor do they justify the $3,250 price tag.

So here we are stuck with a cable on the upper right side, which means you'll have reconfigure all your office furniture (or buy new stuff) so the cable connector reaches all the PC plugs. Your overhead office lighting would need to be downgraded to lessen the blinding screen glare. Source Innovations should have provided a set or two of legs that let you angle the unit to cut down on the glare.

Another design anomaly is that Source Innovations put the keyboard above the touch screen. Only the most high-ranking execs would do little keyboarding. Besides, this weird layout completely ignores the home office user who would do a lot of keyboarding. So why not split the keyboard on either side of the touch screen? It would also better serve ergonomics.

After I installed the touch screen drivers, the resolution plunged by 50 percent. I also was hoping the program would install drivers for the mouse, but I never got that to work. And it didn't help that the instruction manual is quite lacking and that none of the trouble-shooting suggestions worked.

For example, the manual suggested that I delete my mouse drivers so as not to conflict with the touch screen drivers. But when I went into my Config.sys file I notice the Modula-Executive software deleted my CD-ROM drivers! The software warned that it would change the Config.sys and the Autoexec.bat files, but it promised to make copies. They were nowhere to be found. The manual was also no help for the speakers and mic. Neither worked.

Price cuts: Motorola has not only fallen in line with modem price cuts, but it is throwing in freebies as well. Ranging from $99-$225 for 14.4 and 28.8 speed modems, the Surfr series comes bundled with games, edutainment titles, on-line and Internet software (and the book "The Complete Internet Guide") and caller ID. Call (800) 4-A-MODEM or dial up its Web site at http://www.mot.com/modems.

On the screen: In continuation of last month's column on smart CD-ROMs, I offer two history games: "Wyatt Earp's Old West" (Grolier Interactive, Mac and Windows; $29.95 each) and two-disc "American Heritage: The Civil War" (Simon & Schuster Interactive; $39.88).

What makes them smart is they're hybrids that offer game play and history lessons, so maybe you can get the kids to lay off the Mortal Kombat for a bit. I am seeing more of these history games on the market, so this should be of comfort to parents.

"Wyatt Earp" takes you through the era of this infamous character and exposes you to 44 topics that include culture, medicine, law and order, banking and an auction yard.

You can find your way around the town with the help of the scruffy but friendly George, the signposts or a nicely laid-out map. Parents note the shooting gallery has a tinge of blood. Before you exit each topic, George has a question fer ya. Each correct answer yields a gold coin for the saloon's slot machine.

"The Civil War" is not as involved as the Swfte title of a few years ago, so it shouldn't scare off non-Civil War buffs. While there is no blood, I recommend it for more mature kids because there is some strategy involved. Disc 1, which contains the strategy game, is bloodless. Disc 2 gives you facts on such great figures of the time as Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 15, 1996
Words:1060
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