Off the Shelf

With Netopia Virtual Office, friends and colleagues have access to you through your computer whenever they want

I have moved beyond the limits of E-mail and voice mail. With no special preparation or training, I used Netopia Virtual Office to set up my own mailbox on our Web site ( Anyone anywhere on earth who has a computer, a modem, and Web-browser software now has real-time access to me through my computer. Always.

And here's the real plus: I made it all happen without learning Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) or any other Internet arcana. Virtual Office's Setup Wizard directed the step-by-step installation. Responding to a straightforward sequence of questions, I entered everyday details such as my company's name and address. Then Virtual Office transformed that information into a graphics-rich Web page.

In effect, Virtual Office lets my computer act like a Web-site miniserver, and as long as I keep it active, other Internet users can access the files that I've designated. During the site-building process, I can set security levels--from no access to trusted access--that on-line visitors may have to my virtual office. This protects the integrity of my computer files.

My employees, colleagues, and customers know that whenever they visit my virtual office, they will find the up-to-date sales brochures, price lists, and other product information they need. And I look forward to receiving messages from customers and progress reports from employees. Virtual Office's on-line conference capability is another reason why the software gets my enthusiastic endorsement. It supports Microsoft NetMeeting, making it simple to converse, by voice and text, with groups of up to 10 people all over the globe.

Of course, being able to communicate in absentia is a plus for businesspeople who, like me, often find themselves away from their desks. Whereas E-mail requires me to know an address for every person with whom I'd like to communicate, now I simply convey messages from my own Web site. No matter where I am, I regularly check and revise my site. Consequently, the messages I exchange with people are more informed than E-mail or voice mail could ever be.

A virtual office is certainly a boon to the self-employed: it fills the role of a secretary much more effectively than a voice-mail system can. But a company with several hundred employees would also benefit from having each person set up his or her own virtual office.

The Product
Netopia Virtual Office, from Farallon Communications Inc., Alameda, CA (510-814-5300;; $49.95), Web-based communication and collaboration software

Brooks Mitchell (, president of Aspen Tree Software Inc., an 18-employee staff-recruitment and -selection company in Laramie, WY

486 or higher with Windows 3.1, Windows for Workgroups, or Windows 95, 8 MB RAM, 15 MB free hard-drive space, TCP/IP connection, version 3.0 of Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer