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7/96 Reviews SW: FocalPoint 5.0

Listing of July 1996 Reviews

The Focus Is on the Phone

By Cynthia Morgan

Choice is the last thing most people want in communications software; connectivity itself is complicated enough. A good comm suite, such as Global Village's new FocalPoint, provides one-stop fax, e-mail and telephony communications without those confusing choices.

Kitchen-sink suites that appeal to five-for-the-price-of-one bargain hunters have taken over the software world. Most suites, including Delrina's popular CommSuite, tie together their individual applications with a common look and feel. FocalPoint, on the other hand, integrates nearly every function into a single application shell. Although it gets a bit cluttered, you see everything-e-mail, voice mail, fax, paging, speaker phone and the Web-from the same interface.

The program offers a universal inbox for phone messages, faxes and e-mail. Although its voice mail capabilities aren't as extensive as those of some network telephony apps, FocalPoint will give you multiple, password-protected voice mailboxes, add its own greetings and prompts, and provide Caller ID screening if you subscribe to that telco service. It even offers musical interludes-suitable for elevators-for callers on hold.

You'll do most of your work in the FocalPoint Tracker, a multi-windowed desktop that displays the universal inbox, message previewer and storage options. You can drag and drop messages to any mail folder or drive-floppy, hard disk and network. You can also open folders, play back voice messages and control most FocalPoint operations from this screen. Separate windows pop up to create a message or fax. The program has some nice touches, such as a row of customizable buttons for your most frequent phone, fax or e-mail correspondents. Most navigation is accomplished using the status bar buttons at the bottom of the screen.

FocalPoint's voice functions require a modem specifically enabled for these tasks. I tried the program with an external U.S. Robotics Sportster Vi 28.8 fax modem, a Reveal 14.4 Quad Office internal card and two 28.8Kbps modems without voice support. The program ran flawlessly with all. However, it didn't prevent me from setting up voice mailboxes with non-voice-enabled modems, which could be a source of confusion.

FocalPoint uses Quarterdeck's Mosaic tools for Internet access, although you can use a different Web browser. Quarterdeck's installation routine automatically adds its own Winsock, although it will recognize and coexist with others, including Win95's. FocalPoint drops your browser's logo onto its Web access button and keeps its status bar active at the bottom of the screen during Web surfing, so you can always find your way back to the Tracker.

With so many functions in a single application, setup is complex. Although FocalPoint uses a clever installation wizard (called a teacher), I did a good bit of data entry during the process. It's a good idea to gather all your account names, passwords, access numbers and IP addresses before you begin. The Quarterdeck components install separately, which can make changing things later confusing.

FocalPoint will appeal to traveling communicators, especially those who access the Internet via their LAN when they're in the office and through a dial-up service provider when on the road. You can maintain a different setup for each location, and change locations with a click on a status bar button. It contains most of the configuration files you'll need for CompuServe and America Online, and includes data from many national Internet service providers.

FocalPoint uses Caere's OCR utilities. It's one of the better packages around, but figuring out how to use it isn't easy. It's not likely that you'll carry a scanner on your next trip, but with FocalPoint and a fax machine, you can capture and OCR text from any paper document.

The program provides a full-duplex speakerphone and an elementary fax-on-demand system that lets you retrieve up to 10 documents per session. These features, too, require a modem with voice support. And setting up such a system, with its many possible branches and responses, isn't trivial.

FocalPoint was clearly designed for the novice, offering helpful new "teachers" with just about every feature. Global Village doesn't package floppy and CD-ROM versions in the same box, which is a nuisance. The CD-ROM offers an interactive tutorial which I found somewhat helpful.

FocalPoint won't satisfy die-hard lovers of any standalone comm app, and its niftiest features await widespread adoption of voice-enabled modems. But its all-in-one integration makes it a top choice for the rest of us.

Info File
FocalPoint 5.0
$99 (street)
Pros: Centralizes comm services
Cons: Separate CD-ROM and diskette versions
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x
Disk Space: 10MB-17MB
Global Village Communication
800-329-9675, 408-523-1000
WinMag Box Score: 4.0

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