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Strikebound Lean On Technology

Despite the massive inconvenience that it is causing, the New York City mass transit strike does have a couple of silver linings so far as technology is concerned.

Although it's very bad news for shopkeepers whose customers and employees have a hard time getting to the store, it's very good for the online shopping industry which is expected to have its greenest Christmas ever, partially because New Yorkers are finding it easier to point and click than to hoof their way to the stores.

The strike is also a boon to telecommuting services, including companies like WebEx and GoToMyPC, which offer remote office solutions. Even is getting increased traffic as a result of NY commuters seeking rideshares and temporary in-town housing.

Even before the strike, the holiday online shopping season was off to a good start. ComScore Networks reported that non-travel online spending during the first 48 days of the holiday season (November 1 through Dec. 18) totaled $16.34 billion, representing up 24 percent increase over the $13.16 billion from the same period last year. The research firm projects total holiday season spending to exceed $19 billion, representing a 24 percent growth over last year.

Even though it's generally too late for standard shipping, online shoppers from New York and elsewhere can still have their purchases delivered in time for Christmas by taking advantage of expedited shipping offered by most online merchants, usually for an extra charge.

For an extra $13,, for example, is offering overnight express delivery for packages ordered today (Thursday). is also still accepting Christmas orders via its "One-Day Guaranteed Accelerated Delivery" option.

Many online merchants, including Amazon, and are encouraging super-last minute shoppers to send "e-Gift Cards" that can be sent via email as late as Christmas day. Some holiday shoppers have some extra time. Chanukah this year runs from sundown on December 25th through January 2nd. Kwanzaa is celebrated from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1st.

Most commuters didn't have home computers during the last New York transit strike in 1980 and fewer still had modems to connect to the office let alone bosses who knew anything about telecommuting. Today, the proliferation of PCs, high-speed home Internet access and wireless technology make it possible for many workers to work from almost anywhere without having to step foot on a bus or subway.

Click here for more on telecommuting,
in Larry Magid's podcast interview of
WebEx vice president Karen Leavitt.

Many New York area companies already allow some employees to work from home at least part of the time even when the buses and trains are running. Besides even when people are at an office, they tend to spend much of their day using email and the web.

Services like GoToMyPC and software like Symantec's pcAnywhere make it possible for workers to access their office computer from home, a coffee shop or wherever they have Internet access. With GoToMyPC, you can get complete control of your office computer, including access to specialized software and network resources like printers and network disks. Some companies have their own "virtual private networks" which allow employees to gain access to company software and files from remote PCs as well.

Some business phone systems can be programmed to automatically forward calls to an employee's home or mobile phone. Call forwarding is a standard feature with Vonage, Lingo and other Internet telephone services. Most employees can at least change their outgoing voice messages to tell callers they're working at home during the strike.

WebEx, best known for its virtual online remote meetings, offers services for remote access to company resources and collaborative tools that allow workers to remotely share applications and data files. The company's WebOffice suite includes tools such as document and calendar sharing, in addition to web meeting technology. Other services include document management, task manager, a web database, discussion forum, announcements and shared web links to co-workers, contact list management and expense reports

WebEx says that during the transit strike, it is offering New Yorkers free access to its WebOffice Suite, although anyone can get a 30-day free trial even if your local transportation system is working fine.

Finally, the web is helping New Yorkers do what they always do in an emergency: come together. Classified advertising service, which is based in San Francisco but has web sites serving New York and dozens of other cities, is helping New Yorkers arrange rides, find temporary housing near work, arrange child care and take care of other necessities of life.

The Craigslist rideshare board has hundreds of requests and offers from people looking to share rides to work during the strike. The "sublets and temporary" section of the site includes rooms and apartments in Manhattan starting at $40 a night.

A syndicated technology columnist for more than two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid