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A Web Hookup With Something Extra

Bits & Bytes


THOMSON CONSUMER ELECTRONICS INC., owner of the well-known RCA brand, thinks this is the year consumers will flock to those stripped-down personal computers known as network computers (NCs).

On July 17, Thomson introduced the RCA Network Computer--a set-top box that rivals the offerings from WebTV, Philips, and Sony. The device connects to any TV set and offers access to the World Wide Web using a built-in 33.6-kbps modem and a special Internet service provider called NetChannel. The NetChannel service will also offer E-mail, personal Web pages, and a daily electronic TV-program schedule for a flat $19.95 monthly fee.

The RCA NCs also can connect to most computer monitors and printers--since they are built around software maker Oracle Corp.'s network computer specifications. That's important, considering that Thomson might offer other models with PC-like functionality--a unit for the den that can track finances using a Java program, for example. In September, Thomson will offer two models: the $349 NC1020 (photo) with a wireless keyboard and the $299 NC1010 wired version.EDITED BY PAUL M. ENGReturn to top


IT SEEMS AS IF THERE'S NO end to the things you can buy on the Internet: computers, books, clothes, pizza. Well, how about groceries? NetGrocer Inc. in New York offers busy professionals, the housebound, and the truly Net-addicted a way to stock up on food and other household necessities without leaving the glow of their PC screens.

The site,, is set up much like a supermarket, with 2,077 nonperishable food items and other products arranged in 14 "aisles." Virtual shoppers can hunt for specific brands--Cheerios and Oreos, for example--or they can search for products on the basis of price, value, or even nutritional content. Orders are filled from a central warehouse in Dallas and shipped anywhere in the U.S. by Federal Express for $2.99 for the first 10 pounds, and 99 cents for each additional 10 pounds.

Daniel Nissan, NetGrocer president, says that the food prices are comparable to those in local markets, but Internet shoppers can save as much as 60% by buying NetGrocer's generic products. And while an average order incurs about $6 in shipping charges, Nissan says that sales tax (on nonfood items) is collected only for deliveries to New Jersey and New York.

Registration isn't required, but those who do can set up shopping lists of frequently bought items that can be reordered automatically.EDITED BY PAUL M. ENGReturn to top


ELECTRONIC DOCUMENTS with "hypertext" and "hot links" let readers jump around to different sections and subjects at random. While that may be great for those browsing for information, it's tough on authors, who are used to thinking and writing in a linear fashion. But help is on the way.

Trellix is a software program developed by Dan Bricklin, co-creator of VisiCalc, the seminal 1980s spreadsheet program that lofted the PC to stardom. Trellix uses pull-down menus that help authors construct a map that tracks the hot links in a document--for instance, all the links in an electronic guide to corporate time-off policies. Authors merely highlight a passage in the document--a section on sick leave, say--and drag it into the map window. A link is automatically created to the medical leave section. Authors repeat the process for every link and the map creates a "family tree," showing how the links are related to each other. Trellix will work on any PC equipped with Windows 95 or NT and should be available in October at $99 to $149.EDITED BY PAUL M. ENG By Paul JudgeReturn to top

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