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Putting It Together

Bit by bit, these sites gather investment data in one place

Barrons - reviewed by Kathy Yakal

The truth may or may not be out there on the Internet, but tons of investment-related information is. And the Websites themselves are getting easier to navigate, making it less difficult to find what you want quickly. But unless you use just one or two home bases and don't stray, you may waste a lot of time as you scramble for news and other data.

Applications that integrate Web information with a desktop software interface can help. There are lots of them, many free. Others are "shareware," programs you can download and try. If you want to keep using them, you pay only a small registration fee. You can find these on several aggregating sites, such as CNET's Download.com (www.download.com) and ZDNet (www.zdnet.com). Some are good, but some are dreck. Remember, too, that any time you add a layer to your system -- say a program that runs constantly in the background, checking prices or updating a ticker -- your computer's performance can suffer.

These programs do more than just help centralize research. They use what used to be called "push technology." In other words, they pop out alerts -- on screen or via e-mail -- when some event takes place, such as a stock hitting a target price or generating news. Many Websites do this, too.

None of the programs we looked at scored very highly. They were penalized because none of them offer original editorial content, and because they didn't offer much in the way of interactive tools like securities screeners or discussion forums. Rather, they provide a framework for automatically grabbing information available on investment-related Websites. More substantively, however, some were difficult to use.

Personal Stock Monitor Gold (www.dtlink.com) was the best of the group we looked at. A "Wizard" walks you through interface basics, and we recommend it. This program is not particularly intuitive, and requires some learning time. Once you've got it, however, you can build a personalized screen display that provides the data you want, when you want it. That's one advantage desktop software still holds over Web-based applications -- easy customization.

Personal Stock Monitor's portfolio manager is particularly well-organized, albeit complex. The display is divided into several views: Active Securities, Current Holdings, Transactions and News Headlines. You can divvy up your holdings into folders, and right-click on a security to access related activities, like alerts, graphs, and other research data like news and EDGAR filings. These data appear in a separate window. Quotes are updated at intervals you define, from a number of quote servers including PCQuote.com, DATEK, and E*Trade. Multiple toolbars and a ticker give you quick access to features and quotes. The bad news: After a 30-day evaluation period, Personal Stock Monitor Gold carries a hefty $49.95 registration fee.

In contrast, EntryPoint (www.entrypoint.com), a joint venture between the PointCast Network and Launchpad Technologies, is free. In PointCast's previous life, during the height of the push-technology push, it was more of a general news grabber that used the stock market as one of its information sources. The same is true of the current version, though the interface has changed. Rather than pulling information into its stand-alone software interface, PointCast resides on your desktop as a ticker. Clicking on links there opens your Web browser with the desired information.

Your portfolio pops open as a stylized window when you click on the Stocks link (and after you've gone through the Web-based setup process to enter your securities). This window displays quotes for your holdings, alerts (price- or volume-based), and links to more-detailed quotes, news and charts. You can also enter up to five keywords or phrases, and EntryPoint will alert you when it comes across a related article. EntryPoint is very well-built and easy to use, but the data it pulls from other sites are pretty lightweight.

An old-fashioned look is fine if a site is exceptionally easy to use or exceptionally feature rich. Neither applies to QuoteWatch (www.softecconsulting.com), however. Right-click on a security symbol, and you can select from numerous research options, like news and other research, message boards and alerts. Much of the data are supplied by Yahoo. Unusual features here: access to data from international exchanges, "wave analysis" that identifies price trends, and the ability to do "what-if" scenarios with your positions, all gratis.

Thirty bucks (after a 30-day evaluation period) will get you a registered copy of WinStock Pro (www.winstocksw.com). The program offers some unusual features, like a currency-conversion tool. Also interesting are its data-exchange capabilities: You can send prices to Quicken, and also in MetaStock, QuoteLine and Prodigy QuoteTrack. But it's about the ugliest program we looked at. Your portfolio sits in a very small, plain window. The stock menu (or right-click menu within the portfolio itself) lays out your research options, including news, charts, and EDGAR filings, from sources like Yahoo and BigCharts.com. Rather than opening these sources in your own browser, WinStock Pro comes with an abbreviated browser of its own. Don't ask us why; this design adds yet another open layer in your system.

New or notable: If figuring out your capital-gains liability on Schedule D is giving you fits, visit the GainsKeeper site (www.gainskeeper.com). This well-designed Web service automatically tracks all actions affecting the securities in your portfolio that have tax implications, and calculates them for you. This includes stock splits, mergers and other corporate actions. This automatic tally may be a one-of-a-kind service on the Web, especially at no charge ... InsiderScores.com (www.insiderscores.com) does insider trading reports one better. It not only reports on trades, but it tracks them and identifies whose purchases and sales consistently correlate to changes in a security's price ... If you're annoyed that Big Brother has joined forces with Madison Avenue, check out a free utility called AdSubtract (www.adsubtract.com). It prevents Web ads from appearing and selectively blocks cookies. There's even a setting specifically to block ads and cookies from DoubleClick ... ePredict.com (www.epredict.com) uses a methodology for stock picks similar to that used in predicting the outcome of political elections: The site's staff polls investors daily and pools the results. EPredict purports to have outpaced the S&P; 500 by more than 300% in its first four months of beta testing, and the Nasdaq by nearly 50% ... Coolest shareware we've run across recently is DragStrip, a desktop organizer that helped us move all those randomly placed shortcuts to application, folders, and URLs on our Windows 98 desktop into neatly tabbed little windows. Download it at Aladdin Systems (www.aladdinsys.com) for $20 registration fee... For definitions of investment terms you've forgotten or new buzzwords you haven't heard before, check out Investopedia (www.investopedia.com).




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