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The spy on your desktop

HERE IS a gizmo for the school that has everything. It is a video camera that's half the size of a matchbox and gazes at you from the monitor.

Unlike other "cams", it comes with some groundbreaking software. A program called Gotcha can do time-lapse photography and record a flower opening over time. It doubles as a surveillance tool - monitoring who visits your desk or comes into the office. When it detects any movement, it starts recording and stores the video on disc. You choose what it does next: it can e-mail you the video file or it might play a message to say when you will be back. It can also call a pager number, or if you are playing a game instead of working, it can smartly put the game away and open your word processor.

Schools will enjoy the video-phone software which offers a first, cheap foray into video-conferencing. You can call others with similar gizmos and see as well as hear them - I used Microsoft freebie software to make calls to Australia over the Internet. Those with partner schools abroad will appreciate this, but the image is fuzzy, jerky and "bad lines" are commonplace. However, at this price and at local call rates I would not complain.

Spookiest of all is FaceIt, which can distinguish one person from another. It finds your face and tells you to move as it takes shots to "learn" it. Your face then works like a password to gain access to the computer - there is no fooling it with a photo as it insists on a blink or smile. If strangers come along, it invites them to type or leave a video message. This it can e-mail to you miles away or post the pictures on a Web page.

Other bits let you capture images or record video messages to e-mail to pals. While the image quality of Viewmate Camera will disappoint, for some this can be a serious administration tool or a mind-boggling curriculum curiosity.

Viewmate camera

PC colour video camera for computers, under Pounds 150, from computer dealers or Agur Industries, Clay House, 5 Horninglow Street, Burton on Trent DE14.

Tel: 01283 510888; fax: 01283 510434

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