New software packages help you relocate, negotiate, and cogitate. Our CEO reviewers put them to the test
ReloSmart from Right Choice Inc., Hamilton, MA (800-872-2294, http://magnet.mwci.net/mall/relosmrt; $79.99), a program that calculates the financial impact of moving to a different city
Jordan E. Ayan (firstname.lastname@example.org), president of Create-It! Inc., a technology-consulting firm based in Naperville, IL
286 or higher IBM-compatible with DOS 3.0, 640 K RAM, and 2 MB hard-disk space; or Mac 7.1 or later with 4 MB RAM and 2 MB hard-disk space
If you've ever been offered a job that would require you to move to another city, you know the decision can be agonizing. For example, with the cost of living varying so much from one place to another, how do you know whether the salary you're being offered is enough? A new software program called ReloSmart can help reduce the stress of relocation decisions by providing the data and calculation tools to do an apples-to-apples comparison between your current situation and the option you're considering.
ReloSmart begins with a series of questions about your finances and where you're planning to move from and to. The program then accesses its database of local and state income taxes, real estate sales and tax information, energy costs, and other statistics for both the new and old locations to calculate the impact of a move. The results are presented on the Analysis screen, which leads you to four categories: Salary (how much you need to maintain the same standard of living in the new city), Detail (the financial effects of the move projected into the future), Quality of Life (how the weather, crime, median income, and average level of education differ in the new location), and Future (future cash-flow calculations). With those data you're in a much better position to determine your financial health after the move -- and you have the ammunition you need to negotiate your new salary.
For example, suppose a family living in the Chicago suburbs is considering relocating to Darien, Conn. Into the program goes basic financial information -- the family's annual gross income (say, $120,000), number of dependents (four), and tax filing status (married filing jointly). The family lives in a 2,500-square-foot home worth $180,000; the balance on the mortgage is $150,000. The software also asks questions about car insurance, real estate taxes, and monthly electricity costs.
ReloSmart analyzes the information and, on the Analysis screen, points out that if the family earns the same annual income and buys a comparable house in Darien, it's going to lose $35,886 in the first year in housing, energy, auto insurance, sales tax, and miscellaneous expenses. State and local taxes would increase the shortfall to $55,684. The Quality of Life category shows that the median income in Darien is $89,395 and that there's about a foot more precipitation each year there than in the Chicago suburbs.
One drawback to ReloSmart is that it can tell you only about a city or town as a whole, not about a specific neighborhood. Another is the somewhat clunky design -- it's not easy to jump from one topic to another. ReloSmart is currently available only in DOS and Mac versions, although the company says a Windows version is in the works for release this fall.
The real value of this nicheware, however, lies in its database and algorithms. The statistics on nearly 600 U.S. cities are updated annually. The calculations, formulated by James Angelini, a Right Choice co-owner who's also a CPA with a Ph.D. in tax accounting, are complex. For example, you can examine the relative costs of living in one city or state and working in another, or of renting versus buying a home.
Deciding whether to move to a new city can cause stress and sleepless nights. With ReloSmart, at least you'll have some hard data to clarify your choices and ease your insomnia.* * *
Negotiator Pro from Negotiator Pro Co., Brookline, MA (800-448-3308, http://www.getnet.com/mba/npro; $189, special pricing for networks and training), a how-to guide for negotiating
Pamela Kelley (email@example.com), president of $5-million Rue de France, a 30-employee manufacturer and mail-order-catalog distributor of home furnishings, and a lawyer in the firm of Miller, Scott, Howe & Kelley, both in Newport, RI
386 or higher IBM-compatible with Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 and 4 MB RAM and 5.5 MB hard-disk space; or Mac OS 6.7 or later with 2 MB RAM and 1.6 MB hard-disk space
Negotiator Pro bills itself as a "software mentor to help you become a more powerful negotiator." Because my usual approach to negotiating is to blurt out exactly what I want and then either cave in or stomp off in a huff, it promised to be just the mentor I needed.
Using a question-and-answer format, the software takes you through the steps of a formal negotiation and provides advice from experts in the field. The user answers questions about his or her strengths, weaknesses, and objectives, and then profiles the person and the issues on the other side of the table. Then Negotiator Pro describes how you and your fellow negotiator are likely to interact, based on your negotiating personalities, and suggests strategies for reaching an agreement. Next you go to work. The software helps you write a negotiating plan -- templates for common situations, like letting an employee go, are included -- and update it as the negotiation proceeds.
The situation I used as an example was a lease that needed to be renegotiated. I described myself to Negotiator Pro and was pleased to discover that I am not deplorably weak but rather an "Analytic, Effective Cooperative Negotiator" who shows some "tendency to be an Ineffective Cooperative" -- capable of backsliding but apparently not hopeless. The software then described other negotiating personalities and showed how I could respond effectively to them.
Negotiator Pro draws from such negotiating bibles as Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton (Houghton Mifflin, 1992), and Getting Together: Building a Relationship That Gets to Yes, by Roger Fisher (Houghton Mifflin, 1988). The software's glossary explains some 500 terms specific to the field of negotiation, making it easy (and entertaining) to find out more about topics like Difficult People and Herding Cats.
The structure Negotiator Pro imposed on my usual seat-of-the pants approach was its most helpful feature. Using the software to help create a plan meant that I had a plan, for starters. And for people negotiating as a team, Negotiator Pro helps keep everyone on the same page throughout the process.
I'll be renegotiating my lease with an Analytic, Effective Competitive Negotiator, and that has Negotiator Pro a bit worried. My software mentor is urging me to "be sure that you have the internal fortitude to put up with the stonewalling." But this time I won't waver. This time I have Negotiator Pro on my team.* * *
PointCast Network from PointCast Inc., Cupertino, CA (408-253-0894, http:// www.pointcast.com, free with registration), a customized news and information service that also takes the place of a screen saver
Sam White (firstname.lastname@example.org), vice-president of the Treasury Resource Center of World Congress, in Burlington, MA, a research organization for corporate treasury managers
486/33 MHz or higher IBM-compatible; Windows 3.1 or Windows 95; 8 MB RAM; 10 MB hard-disk space; 256 or higher color screen
No more flying windows. No more toasters. No more scenic views, scanned-in pictures, or cartoon characters. Thanks to PointCast Network, a news and information service on the Internet, something useful is going to appear on your screen when you're not busy writing your next great business plan. There's only one problem: this superjazzy piece of free software may wind up costing you in on-line charges and slowdowns.
Setting up PointCast is a breeze. You download the program from, and register for the service on, the Web (http://www.pointcast.com) and then install it as you would any other piece of software. PointCast automatically finds your Internet connection, whether you dial in or have a dedicated line from your company's local area network, and also configures as your screen saver. After the software is installed, you can personalize news feeds in six categories: News, Companies, Weather, Sports, Industries, and Lifestyle.
The service is like an IV drip for news junkies. It offers four update options: automatic updates, manual updates (you have to hit a button), customized scheduled updates (you set the schedule), and limited scheduled updates during off-hours (good for large networks). With each update the program sweeps out the old news and then downloads information in the categories you've selected and flashes the headlines on your screen. During the course of a day you might look up and see that IBM has taken over a small software company or that President Clinton has signed a bill that directly affects your industry. To read the entire story, you click on the headline. If you want, sports scores and stock-market quotes can scroll across the bottom of your screen (you can choose just the sports and stocks you're interested in). You can even get your horoscope.
In the newest version of the software, you can choose the source of your news. Among those sources are the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Knight-Ridder News Service, CNN, and the Weather Channel.
Although it will certainly wow just about everyone in the office, PointCast has some problems. For starters, the program takes up a significant amount of memory (nearly 2 MB in the first version). It can take a long time to download updates in all the categories you select, leading to high on-line charges (still, a savings over the monthly cost -- in the thousands of dollars -- of most news-filtering services). Of course the time it takes to download an update is also a function of your hardware. According to PointCast, an update via a T1 line takes just seconds; but if you have a 28.8-Kb modem and connection and update only once a day, it might take as long as five minutes. And if you share an Internet connection with more than a few people, you may have to take the blame for slowing everyone else down.
Still, for businesspeople who want to stay in touch with the outside world even while they're sitting at their desks, PointCast is certainly worth a test-drive.