Applications for express-shipping-cost management, which used to be almost exclusively the province of big computers, are now spilling over onto desktops. Now even a single-person operation can automate rate calculation, label printing, and bookkeeping for overnight package and letter deliveries. Two recently introduced products that perform those tasks vary broadly both in cost and in performance:

At $129.95, modestly priced Quickup (904-795-0667; runs on IBM compatibles and requires 390 RAM and hard disk) consists of a single disk and deals only with shipping through United Parcel Service. When a ship-to address is entered, the program taps a zone-rate data file (which the user keeps current) to figure out the cost and then generates a label via a desktop printer. Computer-stored records facilitate end-of-period reconciling and tracing of lost shipments.

The second program, ProShip (408-452-7800) is more expansive. And more expensive, in that it comes with a complement of dedicated electronics -- an 80386-CPU computer, a dot-matrix printer, a bar-code printer, a bar-code scanner, and a scale. Complete systems cost upwards of $7,000 and can tie into multiuser environments. The customizable software (which, like Quick-up, also taps user-updated rate data) juggles a mix of next-day a.m., next-day p.m., and second-day carriers, and comes up with the best available deal for the weight and time considerations of a given shipment. It generates internal and external paperwork for virtually any domestic or international carrier, including very fussy Federal Express. -- Robert A. Mamis

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