You've got your PC, you've fired up your browser, and you're ready to explore the frontiers of cyberspace. Before you go, intrepid traveler, beware: There's a lot of digital debris. Exploring the Web can be fun, but to smooth your journey, here's a sampling of some useful sites that BUSINESS WEEK has found.
The most compelling spots are often ones that let you do something--whether that's making travel plans or investing. Nowhere is that more true than in personal finance, where a crop of Web sites let you track your stock portfolio and manage your investments with ease.
Two good sites are Intuit Inc.'s Quicken.com and Microsoft Corp.'s Investor.com. Both offer services, including stock quotes and links to electronic trading sites such as E*Trade and eSchwab. Microsoft's site has a sleek design, but for the best stuff you'll have to pay $9.95 a month ($6.95 if you're a Microsoft Network member). That buys you business news from Reuters, earnings estimates from Zachs Investment Research, and the Investment Finder, which lets you search, say, for stocks with price-earnings ratios of less than 10. But when it comes to breadth, nothing beats Intuit's Quicken.com. On top of the usual fare, visitors can shop for a mortgage, plan for retirement, and secure insurance. Best of all, it's free.
The Web also is brimming with hot-off-the-keyboard news. Most major publications (including BUSINESS WEEK) have online sites, as do many TV and cable networks. They typically include the contents of the main property and add supplemental information and archives. If you find The Wall Street Journal indispensable, chances are you'll like its cybersite. You can look at an electronic version of the paper, plus get in-depth company and stock info. The Personal Journal feature lets you customize the front page, and organize articles into folders. The site, wsj.com, costs $49 a year, or $28 if you are a print subscriber.
A CINCH. Now that all of those Web tools have made you a fortune, you may want to splurge on a getaway. These days, you can check for available flights, compare fares, pick your seat, and book the reservation--all on the Web. Hotel and car-rental reservations also are a cinch. Many airlines and tourist spots (CapriOnline, for example) have their own sites. But your best bet is a full-service site, such as Travelocity.com, which culls travel data from a variety of sources.
My favorite travel site is Microsoft's Expedia.com. It neatly lists flights, fares, and, like others, lets you view maps and check weather forecasts. It also boasts a travel 'zine that spotlights different destinations, including panoramic views of exotic locales. Travel sites are big on using technology to make their sites more lifelike. At Vail.net/vailcam/index.html, a camera at the top of the slopes feeds live images to the Web site, where Net-savvy skiers can check conditions.
For busy executives, the Web can supply a battery of hard-to-find data. Many execs long ago figured out that their rivals' Web sites are a great source of competitive intelligence. But did you consider checking out the CIA? Its World Factbook, at www. odci.gov/cia/publications/nsolo/ wfb-all.htm, offers assessments of nations big and small, with details on population, infrastructure, and GDP breakdowns--valuable data for any expansion-minded business. At Smartbiz.com, professionals can find helpful info and advice--from how to do business on the Net to locating consultants.
Back at home, you might drop by Parentsoup.com, a popular site with advice on bringing up baby and discussion forums about in-laws or second marriages. Another home essential is the Mayo Clinic's site at mayo.ivi.com with the latest health findings and information about diseases and prescription drugs.
Finally, if all of this Web surfing has you feeling alienated, you might want to consult cyberpsych.com, where a licensed psychologist lets you lie on his virtual couch--for free. Just try and beat that on terra firma.