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Virtual Offices - Expert Help from PC Magazine

Virtual Offices

By Matthew D. Sarrel
Whatever kind of business you're in, impressions are always important-and in attracting new business, they're absolutely crucial. What's a small business to do? Improvise, using technology to work around a small staff and paltry budget.

For example, if you work out of your den but occasionally need to meet with clients in person or bring together a far-flung team, consider renting an office space from a dedicated service such as Davinci (www.davincivirtual.com), Global Virtual Office Solutions (www.global-virtualoffice.com), Intelligent Office (www.intelligentoffice.com), Regus (www.regus.com), or Stark Business Solutions (www.starkbusinesssolutions.com).

First, decide which services you need: someone at the phones, mail forwarding, or just a quiet space? Get price quotes, go on tours, and see how the offices stack up. Are they dirty? Noisy? Would you want to bring a client here? Of course, you'll need secure Internet access. But think also about a projector, a conference bridge, video conferencing-and support for them in case things go wrong.

If what you really need is the resources of a larger company, not the space, technology can step in to fill the gap. Some of our favorite "big company, small price tag" apps follow.

Virtual Services

Perhaps you don't need a space, but need the technological resources of a large company: expensive collaboration applications, video conferencing, virtual meeting rooms. Why not set up a virtual office in cyberspace?

GoToMeeting 3.0

Physical meetings with distant workers waste time and money. By contrast, GoToMeeting ($49 monthly, or $588 yearly) is a very effective way to get things done without actually being in the same room. This release supports Mac attendees and integrates with Microsoft Office.

Screen sharing, the attendee list, chats, invitation options, meeting info, and an optional recording capability reside in separate panes. Any user with permission can annotate shared content in real time.-Robert P. Lipschutz

SightSpeed 6.0

The Basic SightSpeed service (free) gives anyone with at least a 128-Kbps connection and a webcam free, brilliantly clear computer-to--computer video and voice calls, chat sessions, 30-second video e-mails to other service -members, and more.

With the premium service ($4.95 monthly, or $49.95 yearly), you get unlimited voice mail, video mail, and video conferencing calls; group text messaging; lifetime video e-mail storage; a Web page; and more. Calls to and from landline and cell phones require SightSpeed In and SightSpeed Out services, respectively (SightSpeed In, $3.95 monthly; SightSpeed Out, $0.02 per minute and up).-Davis D. Janowski

Google Apps (Beta)

With Google Apps, small businesses can let -employees collaborate, manage information, and share resources.

Web-based Gmail integrates with Talk and Calendar and uses a label paradigm rather than folders to organize messages. Microsoft Outlook users will find Google Calendar familiar. Docs & Spreadsheets builds in a collaborative twist-sharing a document lets multiple users edit it in real time.

Web Pages let small businesses quickly set up a Web presence on their domains, while a Start Page creates a unique portal through which employees can access their Google services.-RPL