Glad Tidings For Techies

Computer makers are hoping their products fly off retailers' shelves in unprecedented numbers this holiday season. But you may be looking for something just a bit less pricey in the high-tech gift line, whether software or elec-tronics accessories. Here are a few new items that would make fine presents for technology-minded children, spouses, relatives, or friends.

For parents, one of the season's hot topics has been protecting youngsters from some of the raunchier material on TV and online services. While technologies still are being developed for the task, Tele-Communications Inc. (800 934-1111), the big cable operator, has come up with a novel idea: a Kid Control remote that can only select the channels that you program in. The $30 device comes in two styles, a purple puppy and a blue dinosaur, and is easily programmed for your TV or cable box. You can activate up to eight channels of your choice. While kids older than 7 can probably figure out how to reprogram the device for MTV and the Dirty Movie Channel, the clicker can keep the littlest ones out of trouble--and spare you from being a nag.

For children who have not yet become total couch potatoes, 3D Movie Maker from Microsoft Corp. promises to be one of this holiday season's more interesting software titles. The $50 program, which requires Windows 95, is aimed at children 8 and up. It allows the "director" to create complicated animated movies, complete with multiple camera angles, sound effects, and dialog, simply by using clicks of the mouse. Although not billed as an educational program, 3D Movie Maker encourages more creativity than most software does. The package should be in stores by the end of November. (For software gift possibilities for younger children, take a look at "CD-ROMs for the Preschool Set," in the Nov. 13 BUSINESS WEEK.)

As part of its aggressive push into consumer markets, Microsoft also has a treat for game players. The $60 SideWinder 3D Pro joystick, designed for use with DOS or Windows 95 games, uses opto-electric motion sensors in place of the mechanical variable resistors used in most game controllers. The result is more accurate control and greater reliability. The device also is designed to take maximum advantage of the new 3-D games that will be appearing next year. A stripped-down version, the SideWinder, costs $30.

Holidays are for adults, too, though the gifts we get tend to be less fun. Personally, I can't think of anything that would make financial record-keeping a pleasure, but lots of people seem to enjoy using Intuit Inc.'s Quicken to do just that. Now it's easier--and cheaper--than ever to keep Quicken with you wherever you go with Pocket Quicken on Bookman from Franklin Electronic Publishers Inc. (800 266-5626). The $99 device includes a link to exchange entries with a desktop version of Quicken. It also accepts more than a dozen other Bookman cartridges that give users a variety of reference materials. For the seriously gadget-minded, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s new OmniGo 100 offers a good bet. The OmniGo, which costs $350, is somewhere between a pocket organizer and a personal digital assistant. Small enough to fit in a purse or suit pocket, its software includes phone, address, and appointment books, a simple spreadsheet, an excellent financial calculator and, yes, Pocket Quicken. Data entry is through a diminutive but usable keyboard. You can also enter data with a pen, using the special, but easy-to-learn, shorthand of Palm Computing's Grafitti.

But all Quicken and no play could make anyone dull. If there's a Web-surfing sports fan on your holiday shopping list, Starwave Corp. and ESPN may have the ideal present. ESPN SportsZone (, following an accelerating trend on the Internet, has greatly expanded its offering of services--and moved the best information, including advanced statistics and fantasy leagues, to a subscription-only service. The service costs $4.95 a month, or $40 for an annual subscription.

Whether your gift-giving inclinations favor fun or the electronic equivalent of a warm sweater, you can find high-tech goodies for every budget. Happy shopping.

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