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December 2001, Week 2 -- It's the Little Things

 

   We've been looking at a bunch of wonderfully useful Windows programs that can be downloaded for free or little cost. Let's get into it.

 

   A brief cautionary preamble: These small programs all fall into the category called utilities. It sometimes happens that utilities interfere with the operation of other programs; screen savers, for example, are notorious for this. Usually they don't interfere with anything. But since there are millions of system configurations out there, it does come up. I cannot provide technical support. If you have a problem, or think you do, call or send an e-mail to the maker of the program.

 

   Now let's start with some utilities that eliminate problems. Most of the ones below were taken from ZDNet www.zdnet.com. You can also get them from www.tucows.com, www.wugnet.com, www.programfiles.comwww.windowstracker.com, www.rudenko.com  and www.infinisource.com. These sites also usually cover Macintosh programs. To find any title you simply enter it as a search term.

 

The fix is in

 

   "BigFix" (free at zdnet.com) updates your programs, your virus protection software, operating system fixes, bugs in the operating system and conflicts caused by certain system configurations.

 

   Frankly, it's awesome. It starts working immediately on updating everything in your system. At first it would kick in two or three times a day to fix out computers, then it tapers off to once a week and then only once in a great while. Most of the fixes and updates concerned programs from Symantec or Microsoft.

 

   "CNET CatchUp" (free) performs much the same functions as BigFix but finds different fixes. They're not all different, but it's interesting and an oddity that these two update programs do not find exactly the same updates. Best to use both to be sure of getting everything. CatchUp can be found at http://catchup.cnet.com.

 

Run man, run

 

   "AutoRunMan" tackles one of the biggest sources of program conflicts and computer freeze-ups. It identifies programs that run automatically as soon as you start the computer. It can find these little devils even if they are hiding in the Windows registry files.

 

   A list of these automatic startups comes up on your screen with a check box next to each one. To prevent a program from automatically running, simply click on the box to uncheck it. Wait till you see the list that comes up. It is absolutely amazing how much junk starts running when you fire up the computer; eats up a lot of memory too.

 

AutoRunMan can be found at www.rudenko.com; free for 10 days, $10 to register.

 

Very form-filling

 

   "1ClickFormFiller" does just what the title says. You know all those sites that require you to fill out a form to register, join the club or buy a book? Fill out a form once in this little utility instead, and ever after simply click with the mouse to automatically fill out other forms with your name, address, phone number, age, sex, etc. What a time and aggravation saver.

 

FormFiller is $15 at zdnet.com  or $17 from rudenko.com.

 

Sure, delete it

 

   "SureDelete" and "File Shredder" definitively erase files that you want absolutely erased. Many people still don't understand that when you use the delete key or delete menu function to delete a file, that only the name of the file is deleted. Any smart computer user can recover that file. Use either of these programs and nobody can ever recover that file.

 

   SureDelete is free, File Shredder free for 30 days, $25 to register.

 

Fixing a snag

 

   "SnagIt," from TechSmith www.techsmith.com, is a golden oldie and one of the neatest utilities you can have. It allows users to capture any part or all of the screen display or a video. The program can capture menus, all or any part of scrolling displays, DOS screens and animation sequences, including game content.

 

   SnagIt screen captures can be viewed as thumbnails and pulled together into sequences for computer slide shows. The latest version of SnagIt is $40.

 

   This company also makes the utilities "DubIt" which lets you add voice and sound effects to any program, and "Camtasia," which captures any sequence of screens, cursor movements and mouse clicks in sequence to quickly create a presentation or training video.

 

Drawing on Aaron

 

   "Aaron" is an artificial intelligence drawing program. It acts as a screen saver and generates new drawings of people and room settings as you watch. The drawings are awkward but not at all bad, and particularly remarkable when you realize they are being done by a program. It's free for 30 days, $20 to register.

 

That's Entertainment

  Madden 2002

  There's still time to play the best professional football simulation ever made. It's "Madden NFL 2002," for Windows, from Electronic Arts. The best action and the best graphics. Has the full rosters of every team. Create your own dream team from existing players. Be unbeatable. Enough said.

  Don't like football? How about hockey or soccer? "NHL 2002" and "FIFA Soccer 2002" are also from Electronic Arts, with the same kind of impressive graphics and action. Feel what it's like waiting in the penalty box.

 

NOTE: Readers can search nearly four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com  or bobschwab@aol.com.

 

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