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     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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March 2003, Week 4 -- Okay: Zip It Up

 

 

BitZipper

   This is an industrial strength file compression utility. It's BitZipper, version 3.3, and it's only $20 from BitBerry Software www.bitberry.com.

   We tried BitZipper on some big files and we loved it. A 98MB (98 megabytes) folder of more than 340 color photographs was reduced to 25 MB in two minutes. We're going to email it. That's a big file to email but not nearly as much of a problem as the original one of nearly a hundred megabytes.

 

   To compress or decompress files, simply use the mouse to drag them to the appropriate spot on the BitZipper window. BitZipper also adds itself to the Windows Explorer context menu. That's the menu that appears when you right-click on an icon or file name. One of the items on the menu now lets you choose to compress or decompress the item. This is a nice, quick way to create archives.

 

   BitZipper can handle virtually any compression format around, including UNIX and Linux files as well as dead formats from decades ago. The program's search function lets you define a few words or a title and look for that within a single compressed archive or search through many archives. We were very impressed with this program.

 

Picture this!

  Photoshop Album

 

   Good news, good news. We have found two new programs for organizing your digital photos and they are both winners.

   Getting the nod as best of show is "Adobe Photoshop Album," $50 for Windows. Despite the word "Photoshop" in the title, this program does not require and has nothing to do with Adobe's very expensive image editor of that name. Photoshop Album stands on its own and is great.

   First off was the program's global hard drive/any-drive search for any and all kinds of photos. It quickly found and created thumbnails for 1,904 photos. Now we need to emphasize right here that about 1,000 of these were photos we didn't even know we had. They were buried in misnamed files or just hanging loose there in the drive and what a surprise to see them all.

 

   Next step was the creation of albums. It was easy to lump the photos into subject areas and give them album names. It took about 45 minutes to select 354 photos to keep and organize them into six subject albums. Now if we want to see family photos we just click on that album and select from the thumbnail sheets. These can be emailed, made into calendars, greeting cards, slide shows, photo books, etc. You can export albums to another drive or folder.

 

   We could also have created a slide show and emailed that to someone. Photoshop Album even provides background music for the slide show. Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" sounded good. You can burn these files to a CD or turn them into a PDF (Portable Document File). Anyone with a PDF reader can then view the album. PDF readers can be downloaded for free from Adobe www.adobe.com.

 

   Basic editing tools are provided for removing "red eye," increasing brightness or contrast and cropping photos. As a practical matter these are the only features most people use, and certainly the most used features by any photo editor.

 

   Maybe the most impressive thing about this program was that we never once consulted the manual or the help file, or felt any need to do so. This is one of the best designed programs we've ever reviewed.

 

 Photo Album

   In second place but definitely a contender, is "Paint Shop Photo Album 4" from Jasc Software, $49 for Windows.

   We would have gone nuts over this program if we hadn't seen Adobe first. In other words we have almost all of the same features here, plus some extra editing tools. For instance, you can splice individual shots together to create panoramic views and you can do color corrections. If you want to email an album to anyone, the program connects to the address list in Windows' Outlook Express, whereas the Adobe program requires you to type out each address.

 

   So what's the problem. Actually, there aren't any problems. The only significant difference between these two programs is ease of use, and that was what gave Adobe the nod for us. It should be pointed out, though, that some users preferred this program to Adobe's because it had more editing tools and controls.

 

   Paint Shop Photo Album comes packaged with two blank CDs from Imation. The company promises unlimited free technical support, a rare commodity these days. More info at www.jasc.com.

 

High Space Adventure

 

   "Freelancer" from Microsoft follows the classic adventure game scenario of a lone-wolf freelance seeking his fortune among the stars. The story outline is nearly identical to computer games that came out 20 and 30 years ago. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The situation is timeless and better graphics and CD storage greatly enhance the play. You can choose to be a fighter, trader, smuggler, pirate, space pilot, etc. Follow the story line or break off to follow your own interests. There are 40 star systems, 3,000 trade routes, and 150 places to land. The program reacts to your actions. Freelancer is $55, for Windows. One of the best space adventure games of all time. Free sample version available at www.microsoft.com/games.

 

NOTE: Readers can search through past columns by going to our web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.

 

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