On-line-service customers are discovering how easy it is to lose track of time in electronic "chat rooms," but entrepreneur Patrick Breen has come to their rescue. In 1994 Breen incorporated Atomic Dog Software, which distributes his Windows-based software clock. BarClock Plus has an on-screen timer that displays how long a user has been connected to an on-line service, keeping a running total of the time and its corresponding cost. The software will also track monthly times by phone number, making it easy, for example, to track billing.

Breen distributes the product as shareware on on-line services like Compu-Serve. With typical shareware distribution, users download a basic program and are asked to register for a fee. But 90% don't bother to register, according to industry lore. So Breen adds a twist to bring up the low numbers -- his downloadable clock is an early, simple version. The more advanced release of BarClock Plus is available only to those who register, at a cost of $20.

So far, demand has exceeded Breen's wildest expectations. "I figured we'd make around $400 to $500 a month," he says. "It's been 10-fold that." -- Phaedra Hise

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