Ask Scott Cook how Quicken has succeeded, and he'll tell you he's listened to his customers. From the way he raves about Sony's minidisc player, it looks as if Sony has done the same

By Joshua D. Macht
"It's so small!" says Scott Cook of his ultraportable digital-sound minidisc player, the Sony MZ-E2, which retails for about $500 in most discount stores (from Sony, 800-342-5721). "It's CD-quality sound, perfect sound, in a package the size of a pack of cigarettes," says the CEO of Intuit, which makes Quicken. "If I'm going on a business trip, I just chuck it into my briefcase."

Cook was introduced to the minidisc player when a friend showed him one he'd brought back from Asia. He's effusive about the product's quality, touting its benefits as if his company had made it: "I cannot get it to skip," he brags. "I shake it. I hold it and bounce on my heels. I'm sure it's physically possible to make it skip somehow -- maybe if you drop the thing on a hard surface. But I dropped it once on a carpet and it didn't skip. It's never skipped. I get my friends to try to make it skip, and it never does."

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'The Technology of This Camera Is Absolutely Incredible.'

Steve Silverman rarely gets a moment to himself during his workday. It's no wonder he gravitates toward solitary hobbies in his free time

"I'm a hands-on manager," says Steve Silverman, CEO of Silverman's Clothing, in Grand Forks, N. Dak. "I basically don't sit down during the day." In his free time Silverman escapes to the solitary retreats of gardening and photography. "Photography and gardening give me a chance to reflect," he says. "I go out in the countryside and take landscape pictures. Probably better than 80% of my time out there is spent walking or looking; the rest of the time I spend setting up a shot and then releasing the shutter. It gives me a chance to think about what we're trying to do in the business. That kind of opportunity is just not possible in a retail environment.

"I had a single-lens-reflex camera that I'd been using since I began taking pictures, in 1970," recalls Silverman. "The only thing electronic about it was the light meter. Well, then I was given a Canon EOS 1 (from Canon, 800-828-4040; $2,420), a completely electronic camera, as a gift. It's just amazing.

"Canon has developed tremendous optics that produce extremely clear, accurate pictures," explains Silverman. "In most automatic cameras, the brain and the motorization of the autofocus are in the camera itself, but Canon designed all that into the lens of the EOS 1. The lens essentially reads the image and then moves the focusing to the exact point it should be at. It's not my talent or my experience but the technology that's enabled me to move up in skill level." -- J.D.M.

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'It's a Way to Explore . . . and to Get to My First Meeting.'

Can you avoid getting hopelessly lost in an unfamiliar city, fruitlessly searching for your next meeting? Talk to Mike Snetzer about Taxi

"When I travel out of town, there's always the question of what hotels to stay at: Where are they located? Are there good restaurants nearby? Are they convenient to the meetings I have to go to?" says Mike Snetzer, CEO of Medite, a wood-products company in Dallas. So Snetzer turned to Taxi (from Middlegate, 800-HEY-TAXI; a CD-ROM is $79.95; a diskette is $69.95; runs on Windows), which features the Zagat Restaurant Guide, covering Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., as well as digital maps that offer detailed information on streets, landmarks, hotels, and restaurants.

With Taxi, if you would like to know, say, the fastest route from the Empire State Building to Arizona 206, a popular southwestern-style cafÉ on the Upper East Side, you key in the two points and in moments a customized map with the best path appears. "It's particularly fun to use on an airplane," he continues. "I get tired of reading all the time.

"When I was in Manhattan for some meetings recently, I had my 15-year-old son fly up for the weekend to do the sight-seeing thing," recalls Snetzer. "Well, I hadn't done that in 20 years, so I looked up all the points of interest and mapped out a tour. I printed it out, which made a nice souvenir for him. It's a great way for the nontechnical person to explore some new technology." -- J.D.M.

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'The Best Home Machine I've Ever Had . . . '

Bob Orenstein searched and found, on his sixth try, what he claims is the best espresso machine on the market

"You won't believe this thing," says Bob Orenstein, owner of International Wine Accessories, a $5.5-million Dallas-based catalog company. "It is the coolest," he says of the Saeco Superautomatica Twin (from Saeco, 201-791-2244; $995), a top-of-the-line espresso machine that does everything but pick the beans off the tree.

"It holds 64 ounces of water," explains Orenstein. "You put the beans in, and then you push an on button. It warms up in three or four minutes. You want a cup of coffee? A cup of espresso? You push one button: the machine grinds the beans, puts them in the hopper, packs the hopper down, makes the coffee, and then ejects the beans into a self-contained disposal.

"I had the old-fashioned kind, where you pull the handle down, but that's a pain," says Orenstein. "And that kind holds only a little bit of water. So if you have friends over, you're out of water immediately."

Still, the Superautomatica has its hidden pitfalls. Says Orenstein: "When I first got the machine, I started drinking espresso morning, afternoon, and night. But then you get all wired up, like whoooo, and your heart starts beating fast. So now I'm down to a cup after dinner." -- J.D.M.