December 2002, Week 5 --
Software that blocks the release of sensitive information in PDF files, thus
saving you from having to answer reporters' embarrassing questions about
what you knew and when did you know it. Then comes a look at the easiest
photo editing and album program we've ever seen. A site that converts your
picture or anyone else's to a moderately realistic talking head; very funny.
Games: Microsoft's best selling "Age of Mythology," and JoWood's "Arx
Fatalis," a mysterious and complex new world for D&D players..
December 2002, Week 4 -- We
start this holiday column with a backward glance at a few of the most
interesting products we looked at this year. Because let's face it: who can
remember all this stuff if you don't do a memory jog or something like that.
So there's the Cruzer, Pyro, Speak-With-A-Geek, etc. Then we turn to one
more spam killer: MailWasher, which is free and has been downloaded by more
than a million users. Games: Up in the air about what to get for a holiday
present? Well, there's Combat Flight Simulator 3, from Microsoft, and
Airport 2002, an add-on that puts you at the controls of a Boeing 747.
December 2002, Week 3 --
AskSam, a golden oldie from the early days of desktop computers, still
lives, and still works well. A very nice new email organizer for people who
get a lot of email. The most promoted online game of the year is largely
just an advanced shoot-em-up. Books: Windows XP Annoyances. (You mean
Windows XP has annoyances?)
December 2002, Week 2 -- Grab
the pictures from any web site. This may sounds like a big yawn but it's
actually pretty interesting; think British Museum, The Metropolitan, etc.
Books: Windows Professional and Windows XP Home. Some day they will produce
an operating system that never locks up. Sure they will, and I have some
desert property to sell you. Games: The Zoombinis are back! Not as good as
the first one, but still good. And then there's a shoot-em-up for the kids,
and finally this week, Barbie the Explorer (watch that long hair).
Week 1 --
Symantec tackles spam in its way, I tackle it in mine. Got computer
problems? Call this number and speak with a geek. National Geographic puts
every issue up till the end of the year 2,000 on 32 CDs, and then miscounts
the number of years. A file transfer program for moving form PC to Mac.
Internuts: The world policy site links to hundreds of publications. Games:
You can go for Butt Ugly Martians or Nancy Drew, and they're both fun so you
can't lose. Books: Build a wireless network for your town.
November 2002, Week 4--
Everything you always wanted to know about small networks but were afraid to
ask. (This could get boring.) From out of nowhere comes a great program for
artists (this could mean you!). Word menu is a combination dictionary and
thesaurus, providing a new and interesting way to get the writing right. My
CPU is a free program that tells you what your CPU is doing when nobody's
looking (which is all the time). Two books tell you how to play DVD movies
and music CDs on your PlayStation 2 or Xbox game machine.
November 2002, Week 3 --
My favorite database program is updated, modernized and otherwise looking
spiffy and sexy; why knock your head against the wall of Microsoft Access
when you could be livin' easy? Meanwhile, elsewhere in the universe ... we
examine a plastic owl that collects your e-mail. (You were expecting
something else?) Internuts: "itools" limits your search to categories or
just newspapers and magazines. A parents site has lots of info about home
schooling, and, along the way, a ton of other stuff. Sign up any school on
this web site and every time you buy something from one of their linked
merchants, the school gets some of the money. Books: The best web sites for
November 2002, Week 2 -- They
say that money talks, but with this program everything talks. And there's a
new version of Microsoft's PictureIt, adding many of the features found in
Adobe's PhotoShop Elements; we like the "add flash" feature, which lightens
the foreground. Visioneer's new scanner for businesses puts the scanned
documents directly into PDF format for e-mailing. KVM boxes let you
run two or more computers from one keyboard. Internuts: Oriental rugs with a
war time theme. Games: Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 follows a runaway hit.
November 2002, Week 1 --
Ontrack's System Suite saves our computer. Well, sort of, and for umpteenth
time. Hewlett Packard's new color laser printer is under $1,000 and half the
weight of another manufacturer's printer we tried out last year. Color is
better too. Internuts: 1.) A library in New York's Catskill Mountains puts
together one the best children's web sites we've ever seen. 2.) Everything
you ever wanted to know about bubbles but were afraid to ask. 3.) A guide to
travel and festivals in Great Britain. Not up to date, but still
interesting. 4.) A place to buy all kinds of boxes for moving. Games: New
ones from Humongous, the best kid's games maker in the known universe.
October 2002, Week 5 -- The
new Stuffit will compress your files for email and send you a note back when
the recipient got them. The new MovieShop provides ten layers of changes and
additions to make your video editing easier. Maple 8 is like Mathematica,
only cheaper. Internuts: 1.) Special site for public auctions of goods
seized by the Treasury Department. 2.) Optical illusions to baffle your
brain. 3.) A very, very funny site. 4.) Dumb warnings. 5.) A place to send
all those free time offers from AOL. Games: Law and Order is hard get and
hard to play. Books: Official Guide to Quicken 2003.
October 2002, Week 4 --
Tiny, easy wireless network; also slow.
Nice new version of Corel Draw; it uses symbols as stand-ins for large
graphics. VisiCalc lives! At least it still lives at the web site of Dan
Bricklin, one of the creators; you can download it for free. How to clear
Spam in AOL. Books: DVD Confidential tells you how to find the "Easter Eggs"
in lots of movies on DVD. Games: Unreal Tournament 2003. Internuts: Saves
those bookmarks! Go to any of these three web sites to store your bookmarks
and/or your e-mail lists. Call them back up from anywhere.
October 2002, Week 3 --
USB-1 is dead! Long live USB-2! Or something like that. Anyway, we look
at some nice new USB-2 hubs. Learn to play the blues guitar. Okay, how about
the regular guitar? Internuts: The government tells you how to put together
a healthy diet. We have two sites for videos, one for renting one for
vetting. Books: "Hack Attacks Revealed;" the title should be
October 2002, Week 2 -- A
small plug-in card for PCs lets you watch four video surveillance cameras at
once, live on the Internet. As of this year, a billion computers have been
sold, and some of them still work. Downloads: "show codes" for MS Word; a
digital color wheel for artists; a free utility prints lists of stuff
you've burned to your CDs; keep track of U.S. Savings Bonds. Internuts:
Government site keeps track of best routes for Fall colors; newspapers,
magazines and books you can download in MP3 format; places to donate old
computers and stuff. Books: Using Office XP. Games: A bad episode of Nancy
Drew mars an otherwise brilliant series.
October 2002, Week 1 --
Rock bottom computer comes complete with a Linux version of Windows for $200
or Windows XP for $300; can't beat that. Swift $1,500 machine copies
25 CDs or DVDs at once. "I Hate Spam" really works, but you have to work a
little to make it happen.
September 2002, Week 4 -- Is
someone spying on what you do at your computer, logging your every
keystroke? Find out, and take counter-measures. A new release of Mathematica,
expensive but lots of cut-rate deals for students, adapts readily to the
web. Internuts: 1.) Watch any baseball game you want, live on the Internet,
for far less than ticket prices. 2.) Good info and some great stories from
the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources site. 3.) Junk-Science looks
at, well ... junk science. 4.) A great site for the fine arts has links to
1,200 other sites for the fine arts. Books: Trouble-shooting networks.
September 2002, Week 3 -- PDF-Factory provides the power of Adobe Acrobat to produce portable
documents with formatting intact, but at only half the price. Beautiful new
"One Touch" scanner from Visioneer. Hewlett Packard's new photo printer
accepts photo cards directly and has fine output, but ink replacement is
expensive. "Medieval: Total War" is the war game of the year so far. New
book on upgrading PCs is aimed at beginner to intermediate users.
September 2002, Week 2 --
A device that provides tons of keyboard and mouse shortcuts; it's
especially useful for video and sound editing. Belkin's new memory card
reader reads and write to many different types. Get what the pros use to
write their music: Sonar XL. And then there's Music Match, the most popular
MP3 manager. Internuts: "Three men with nothing better to do." Special and
regular exhibits at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington. Poison-free
pest control. Books: Lots of ideas on what to do with Adobe's Photoshop
September 2002, Week 1 --
FileMaker Pro is great for small businesses and easy to learn; there's a
new version out. Special low student pricing on Microsoft Office XP, and
practically anyone can get it. TruSpace 6 offers the most graphics power you
can get for the money, but there's a lot to learn. Internuts: The Van Gogh
Museum in Amsterdam. A special site to teach kids about finances and the
market. Games: The new "Links," the best golf simulation you can get, has 13
courses to play.
August 2002, Week 4 -- The "Cruzer"
is like those flash-memory thumb drives but the memory part is replaceable.
Portable CD/RW is super fast, steel wrapped and heavy duty. Getting in touch
with you base computer from a remote location and monthly fee. Internuts: A
site that searches for your best price on books, and boy do they find good
buys. And a site of lovely abstract computer art from a physicist.
August 2002, Week 3 --
Another wireless networking kit but this one using the 802.11a protocol,
which is five times faster than the more common 802.11b. Yes, I know it's
confusing. Hewlett Packard and a few other companies are offering free
classes online; tons of subjects. ATI's new Radeon 9000is best in its class
and great card for gamers. Internuts: let's go textiles -- a weaving arts
museum, a London dealer, and rugs braided to your design. Game equipment: an
exact replica (except it's in green plastic) of the Israeli .50 caliber
handgun provides light beam shooting and recoil for action games. Books:
tricks of the trade for game programmers.
August 2002, Week 2 -- A nearly
universal file reader translates just about all of them, whether you open
the files or not. Find the Groove for creating shared spaces. Plain old dirt
brings down lots of computers. More teeny-weeny flash drives; they're hot.
Downloads: Birthday Chronicle brings up what happened on any date in the
last hundred years, as a newspaper front page. Calc program compares
mortgages and other financial data. Books: Incredible Universal Command
Guide lists all the commands for all operating systems.
August 2002, Week 1 -- DeLorme
has a new street map CD for the entire US that can be downloaded to handheld
computers and used for global positioning. Lots of travel information too.
One more spam blocker, this one sends spammers a permission-to-send form
they must fill out. Ipod opener is software that lets PC users connect an
Apple Ipod to their machines and download music. Smart Sound program lets
you add sound tracks to videos and presentations; you can move blocks and
pieces of sound around by dragging with the mouse. New heat conductive
greases helps in cooling hot processors. Internuts: Social Security benefits
calculator. Crime scene photos and discussion of how the case was solved.
Home theater handbook.
July 2002, Week 4 -- Feed
video into a small box and out comes DVD. Another tiny digital camera from
Benq, which has become the tiny digital camera company. Internuts: Tips and
tricks site for all versions of Windows and even some for DOS. Last minute
travel bargains. Gadgets and gizmos in Japan. And how to grow perfect roses.
Two new learning adventures for young children, from Disney.
July 2002, Week 3 --
Using your home or office's own electrical wiring to network computers
and printers. How to make a CAD or other machine drawing look like it was
drawn by hand. A new version of Web Ferret freshens one of the great
Internet search tools. Games: A new do-it-yourself dungeons and dragons game
from the makers of Baldur's Gate, one of the all-time great adventure
July 2002, Week 2--
Eighty percent of business users, and presumably home users as
well, are angered by the number of programs that are released with known
bugs. A tiny box prints digital photos straight from the camera, without a
computer in between. Small accessory reads and writes to flash memory.
Internuts: the National Safety Council provides safety tips (watch out for
those stairs). A site that provides links to 4,654 gardening sites. Employer
surveys and chats about jobs. Self-proclaimed experts answer questions on
anything. Kid stuff: Mia, the mouse from Montreal, teaches basic skills in
cute adventure games. Books: Creating forms in Adobe Acrobat.
July 2002, Week 1 --
A new version of Franklin Covey's appointment planner. If you
can't move without planning your day, you need this. Jasc's new web editor
is nice and one of the last of the breed, but there's no search function.
Think barley root or colloidal silver will fix your narcoleptic nephew?
Check some of this stuff our on quackwatch.com. We also look at a British
site with lots of free reference books. Three new books on how to understand
Windows XP -- that easy-to-use, never-need-another, operating system.
June 2002, Week 4 -- The new
FineReader is the best OCR software we've ever run. It not only reads text
with great accuracy, it preserves the page formatting better than anything
we've tried. Raritan's new KVM console lets two or more users work with the
same computer up to 1,000 feet apart. Nice noise canceling microphone from
Plantronics. Internuts: A site with 400 never-before recorded pieces by
Beethoven. Classical music archive site. News about classical orchestras and
performances. Free classical piano pieces for downloads. And a J.S.
Bach library. Kid Stuff: A new Curious George adventure. Two new books for
June 2002, Week 3 --
2B or not 2B, that is the USB. In other words, if you need high speed data
transfer between the computer and your peripherals, you'll be turning to the
new USB-2 standard; it's 40 times faster than the old USB connections. A
quick click device can switch you from computer speaker sound to headphones,
and that should quiet things down in the office. Quick photo albums nicely
done with 3D Album and Flip Album. Internuts finds three sites for people
interested in patent models, the beautifully made models that used to be
required by the U.S. Patent Office. And finally the sequel to Soldier of
Fortune adds more fire power and good graphics for action players.
June 2002, Week 2 --
A physical firewall to protect your system
or network against intruders. No matter what happens, it's always working.
Two-thirds of all consumers surveyed are not willing to pay for any
services on the Internet. And finally, a book that tells you what happens
when the folks in the big companies call for technical support.
June 2002, Week 1--
Positioning yourself, global-wise, with a handheld computer. Moving from one
PC to another and taking your programs with you, the Hawaiian way. Did you
know you can get new laser printer for less than $200? Samsung sings.
The world is getting connected: last year for the first time, Internet users
in the U.S. accounted for less than half the traffic. Internuts: Old classic
computer games online. Copyright your work online. Songfacts explains what
those singers are actually singing in those songs you can't figure out. And
finally, a new book about old arcade games.
May 2002, Week 4 --
PC Pinpoint is a new service that offers actual technical support for
Windows computers; it worked for us. Vox Proxy adds animated figures to
Power Point presentations, in hope that something can keep the audience
awake. AnyTime is a simple, easy to use, low cost address book with lots of
the functions of expensive so-called PIMs (personal information managers).
Quick PopUp sends instant screen messages to anyone on your selected email
list. It checks to see if their computer is on and logs responses too. We
loved it. Books: "Windows XP Headaches and How to Fix Them." You
mean there are sometimes headaches with Windows XP?
May 2002, Week 3 -- Camtasia acts
like a video camera inside your computer, taking pictures of everything you
want to save and copying videos within the computer as well. Our favorite
portable hard drive is back in larger storage capacities but still the same
physical size as a deck of cards; it can connect with the new USB-2
high-speed standard. A new enhanced version of Calculation Center from
Wolfram, the makers of Mathematica. It's Wolfram's thesis that you don't
need to understand mathematics to use mathematics. 3D Home Improvement is
back, with improvements. Internuts: Zero-Zero Fun is a ton of fun, with a
huge library of jokes and unintentionally funny quotes from President Bush
and many others. Free software for old operating systems. Free virus scan.
May 2002, Week 2 --
Ah, what if you can just enter whatever information you just collected or
whatever thoughts you had, in any order and any style. Well you can. Such
programs are called flat-file databases and they used to be popular but have
largely disappeared because they slow down a little as the files get large.
Note Wonder brings them back. DeLorme gets on top of topology with a new
program that lets you add your own tracks to the terrain. Web Highlighter
lets you highlight any text in yellow before saving or passing it on. A
great free dictionary and thesaurus is available. Internuts: sites devoted
to automobile hood ornaments, Victorian styles, American road and shop
signs, and police humor -- which turns out to be pretty funny. Finally, a
book of video tips.
May 2002, Week 1 --
If your laptop is lost, stolen or strayed, how would you like it to make
a phone call and tell you where it's at? Can do. We look at three ways to
protect that much too expensive piece of portable hardware. Meanwhile, the
new System Mechanic for Windows has a wonderful set of tools to set your
system working right again. May not work every time, but it works a lot of
April 2002, Week 5-- What if
the building burns down? Past time for remote backups. System Commander is
great for running multiple operating systems. Why would you want to do that?
Well how about using those great DOS programs you hated having to lose to
Windows? How about a little Linux? Chart the corporate maze with OrgPlus
Pro. And above all ... what is a topic number one these days? How to get rid
of pop-up ads, that's what. AdSubtract does the job.
April 2002, Week 4 -- Quick
and easy ways to print single labels, but it will cost a bit. A very nice
pocket hub from Kensington that expands the number of USB ports on Window or
Mac computers. Internuts: a music composition site for children; plays too,
classical to rock. Acronym finder tells you what that weird group of letters
actually stands for. Then ... all about Windows annoyances, and how to get
rid of them. And where to find 58,000 printer drivers. Kid stuff: The guys
who did Putt Putt and Freddi Fish start their own company and come out with
two new efforts.
April 2002, Week 3 --
Microsoft Works works well, and if you don't need its big brother there's a
big savings. A new photo quality inkjet printer from Canon. A fast laser
printer from Brother for less than $300, a $199 color inkjet that fits in
briefcases, and a color laser printer for $3,200. Sharing photos online.
April 2002, Week 2 --
Two new digital cameras bracket the consumer market for high and low
resolutions, the low end one being about as cute as you can get. We spend a
lot of time on those and then a little bit on PrintMaster Platinum, our
favorite for greeting cards and all that other fun stuff.
April 2002, Week 1 --
SanDisk carries flash memory cards to the one-gigabyte level. Microsoft's
"Personal Collection" has 600 templates for common uses of Office and they
thrown in their photo editing PictureIt program. Internuts for browsing
fabric museums: the Cooper-Hewitt and a couple obscure but interesting ones.
The Virtual Stamp Club warns of frauds as well as providing "where to find"
information. A web site for the history of diseases named for researchers.
Downloads: Organize work schedules, or turn your pictures into wallpaper
March 2002, Week 4 --
Backups: the soft way and the hard way. The return of the trackball, and not
for games. Dell has an auction site where the bidding starts at $89, and
some of the computers are still under warranty. We found a great typing
instruction program for kids; it's good enough for adults. Meanwhile, work
out your aggressive fantasies by building a combat robot.
March 2002, Week 3 --
There are a dozen programs out there claiming and aiming to kill those
universally hated pop-up ads, but this one seems to be the best. There are
also dozens of programs that generate macros, those captured command
routines that can be executed with just a click or a couple of keystrokes.
We look at two. Internuts: the journalist's toolbox has links to 7000 useful
information sources, and you don't have to be a journalist to use them,
Check up on the latest science news at the science network; find a few bugs
at insects.org, and check the results of 5000 clinical trials at the
National Institutes of Health. We finish up with a couple of nice business
programs to download.
March 2002, Week 2 -- Jasc's
After Shot is the easiest photo cataloging program we've ever run. (And it
stitches pictures together for panoramic views as well.) Nice new firewall
product for wireless networks. New mouse knows how to curl its tail. School
Zone has best new children's program in a while; you don't always have to
have the computer on. Gateway drops its prices below $600.
March 2002, Week 1-- Microsoft's
MapPoint hits the spots where your offices and business contacts are, or are
going to be; beautiful maps, highly detailed. The company's Visio does the
same for organization charts and office floor plans; been around for ages
but still the leader. Sonifier can add thousands of sounds to your web site;
fly like a jet, land like a ton of bricks. Internuts: A portfolio monitor
and more. Word for word translations between dozens of languages.
February 2002, Week 4 -- Alternative
inking methods for inkjet printers; how to knock your color printing cost
down from $1 a page to six cents. Big savings for color laser printers and
regular black and white too. Tons of books on "dot net" coming around;
Microsoft is pushing their new web programming language.
February 2002, Week 3 --
Looks like something from a sci-fi movie, but it's really a
teleconferencing phone that makes it easy for three or more people to
participate in a phone call without always leaning in front of each other.
New version of Final Draft, the leading program for writing movie and TV
scripts. Studio 7 gets the huzzahs right now for making movies on PCs.
Internuts: A site full of stupid statements from people who may or may not
actually be stupid, but the evidence is mounting. The Comedy Zone has some
funny stuff (I should think so). The Environmental Working Group site will
get you all choked up (don't drink the water either). And finally ... an
archive of what web sites used to look like before they got gunked up with
Java applets. Books: The Macintosh Bible and a book on Mac movies.
February 2002, Week 2 --
EZmeeting makes those teleconference meetings, well ... easy. If it didn't,
they better look for a new name. A free address checking service from Dymo,
the label maker company, is sort of useful. If you ever wanted to be a game
designer, there's a good new starter kit here; it would sure help if you
know the C++ programming language. Internuts: a site for checking out
changes in the language; another for the history of paper dresses (much more
interesting than one would think); a site for half-baked invention ideas
(add your own); and last but not least ... a great site for facts for kids,
and adults too. Education: Typing Pal Jr. is an excellent teaching program
for kids. We end the book of WinZip, more than you ever wanted to know about
the popular Windows compression program.
February 2002, Week 1 --
The buzz word of the moment is wireless. Everybody's doin' it, as they
say, and it's getting cheaper every month. Meanwhile, you can go online and
test yourself to find out what kind of personality you really are, or likely
are. The results can be uncannily accurate. Disney Print Artist will keep
the kids happy, and busy, for some long afternoons. Two small books of
advice on handling junk mail and regular email.
January 2002, Week 4 --
Okay, we get off of our philosophizing kick and look at some new products;
everybody breathes a sigh of relief. ATI's new high-end video display card
for the PC rivals the displays from nVidia and offers some extras as well,
like bringing in TV stations. Lexmark's new 1200 dpi laser printer lists for
less than $300. Go laser. A new low-priced film scanner lets you slip in
single slides in one slot or run a whole roll of film through another and
have the frames scanned automatically. Internuts: Get some old lunch boxes
and other neat stuff from the Chicago Historical Society, and then go read
comments from professional writers on how they became professional writers.
January 2002, Week 3 --
There is no subject more guaranteed to draw angry letters from readers
than criticizing Apple and any of their products. You would think I had said
something rude in church. In short, we criticize the iMac here and point out
that Time magazine covers aside, the reality is that Apple's share of the
personal computer market has been declining steadily for close to 20 years.
Is it possible they're doing something wrong? Perish the thought.
January 2002, Week 2 -- A bit of
musing on this the start of the 20th year of writing the On Computers
column. Who do we cover the things we cover? And why do we not cover some
other things? And why do we tend to skip trade shows, and don't report on
every latest gizmo to come along. Most of them will never get any further
than a trade show booth, that's why.
January 2002, Week 1 -- This is a moving story. Not a soap opera, but the transfer of files and
programs from one PC to another, usually to the new one you just bought. We
look at LapLink and PCSync. And then we look at Microsoft's new version of
PictureIt combined with Microsoft Publisher. Come look and go nuts; this
thing is great. Some great screen savers next, some free and the rest for
not much money; very beautiful. Internuts: Two completely fun sites this
week. First is stupid.com, which lives up to its name, offering some of the
most tasteless gifts and knick-knacks you never want to own. We bought some.
Second is ifoundaduck.com, which just as it says is all about searching for
ducks -- rubber ones. We close with a new mystery from our favorite girl
sleuth: Nancy Drew.