Basically, I'm a technology minimalist. I don't care what goes on inside the computer, so long as it does what I need it to do, quickly and easily.
For those of us who grew up with personal computers since the early '80s, it has been a long wait to merely satisfy these few basic requirements.
Lately, however, the world of personal computing has changed considerably, for the first time offering the nonprofit office a sophisticated set of everyday tools that are nothing less than extraordinary.
In particular, I've just spent the last month using a vastly improved piece of software from Microsoft called Bookshelf '94, which I recommend unequivocally to nonprofits. It's guaranteed to make the lives of desk jockeys easier and more efficient. This impressive little CD-ROM package alone is worth an internal debate on upgrading office computers to take advantage of this (and other) CD-ROM software. Complete CD-ROM upgrade kits can cost as little as $200 and all the large superstores can install one for a modest additional charge.
What makes Bookshelf '94 so appealing is that all under one roof you will find nearly all reference tools you could possibly want. Betteryet, these tools are completely integrated, so that one "find" request can search all the reference works at once.
Included in Bookshelf '94 are: The American Heritage Dictionary. the Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, The Original Roget's Thesaurus, The People's Chronology, The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, The Hammond World Atlas, and The World Almanac and Book of Facts. Whew!
For the past month, I haven't had to get up from the computer in midsentence, find my dictionary somewhere under the third pile to the left of my desk, search for the word, then go back to the computer to finish whatever it is I started. By then, I've lost my train of thought.
Instead, with one click of a tiny icon that appears at the top of any program I am in, the dictionary immediately comes to life, definingthe highlighted word. If I am stuck for the exact word I need, I can as easily call up the thesaurus and, if I'm not sure of one of the suggestions, simply click on it to find its definition. For a writer, this is heaven.
Using the power of CD-ROM, Bookshelf '94 integrates all its tools, so that you can look up a word or phrase and retrieve zTC everything you'd ever want to know about it, from its definition to encyclopedia listings. For example, while referencing the term "YMHA," I looked it up in Bookshelf's encyclopedia. Lo and behold, I found out that the first Young Men's Hebrew Association in America was founded in 1854 in Baltimore. One click of a button, and I had printed this little factoid.
Similarly, needing a quote about charity, I clicked on the Columbia Dictionary of Quotations and found that "God loveth a cheerful giver" (Bible: New Testament. 2 Corinthians 9:7), among several dozen other quotes.
Another nice feature of the software is its pronunciation guide. Since CD-ROM has enormous storage capabilities, Microsoft embedded sound into Bookshelf '94. If you're stuck on how to pronounce a word, simply click on the speaker icon and the word is pronounced correctly.
The encyclopedia that is included with Bookshelf '94 offers enormous value to the office user, with concise entries on a wide variety of topics. There are more than 15,000 entries, according to Microsoft, with 55 animations, 40 musical examples, and more than 1,300 images.
Certainly this encyclopedia cannot compare to Microsoft's stand-alone CD-ROM encyclopedia called ENCARTA, which is a dazzling multimedia bonanza that I joyfully tend to indulge in for far too long every time I use it. But for the busy office, the Concise Columbia Encyclopedia included with Bookshelf '94 is more than adequate.
Two other features of Bookshelf are worth mentioning. I find The Hammond World Atlas useful, but not as powerful as other stand-alone atlases on the market. However, the atlas becomes more useful when it is combined with the World Almanac. The Almanac provides lots of information at your fingertips, quite literally, including data on the nonprofit sector (although you have to dig for it under a widely scattered variety of categories).
Microsoft Bookshelf '94 is available for less than $75 at local computer superstores.
Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at The Brokerage, 34 Market Place, Suite 331, Baltimore, Md. 21202; (410) 783-5100