Review: Office Extension

by Alan S. Kay

Rating 79

Even the best-conceived products can be weakened by poor documentation. Consider Xircom’s PortStation Office Communications Starter Kit. The kit includes a set of modular port extensions that plug into a PC’s USB port to provide additional USB, parallel, serial, and Ethernet connections. The product lets users add devices to their PC conveniently, without installing boards and taking up slots.

The ports snap together to form a stylish console, into which users plug in network lines, printers, modems, scanners, or whatever peripherals are needed. Just Connect the whole unit to your PC’s USB port and plug in the power adapter. It is as simple as that.

The concept is simple and sleek, but our installation was complicated by skimpy documentation. The package contains a small, tersely-worded software installation booklet that may lead the novice astray with imprecise language that doesn’t always match screen dialogs. The documentation on the CD-ROM is equally skimpy.

The drivers needed for the port modules (not the peripherals you may attach) are supplied on a CD-ROM that’s wrapped in a set of minimalist drawings intended to show how the modules snap together and apart.

There’s also a list of operating systems that explains where the installation program for each one can be found. Unfortunately, the installation and documentation directories all are listed as being on an E: drive. So if your CD-ROM drive happens to be assigned a drive letter other than E:, and you don’t know better, you’ll have a tough time.

Xircom promises ISDN, DSL, cable modem, and home phone-line networking connectors will be available in the future. They can be purchased as a standard or custom package. It’s a great idea, but it’s pricey. The Office Communications Starter Kit, consisting of parallel, serial PS/2, and 10Mbps Ethernet connectors, lists for $289, or roughly the price of a good inkjet printer.

The PortStation is a convenient way to add ports to a PC. If the person installing these modules is computer savvy, this port extender does the job. If not, send the message that small business owners who must be jacks of all trades deserve better documentation, and don’t buy it.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.
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