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Recommended Products

The products you'll discover below have all received the coveted Mr. Modem "Squeal of Approval" award, based on my personal experience with the product. If you know of a product that you believe might be a worthy candidate for this prestigious, life-altering honor, please tell me all about it!"

PlurID
A product of Plurilock Security Solutions, developers of network authentication and digital identification solutions, PluriID ($35) is designed for individuals and small businesses. PluriID is a first-of-its-kind OTP (One Time Password) token that protects users against data and identity theft by securing the laptop or PC itself, rather than a network or Virtual Private Network. Visit the Web site for complete information.

RevoUninstaller

Revo Uninstaller helps you uninstall software, including the ones that are far too clingy and just don't want to go. Even if you can't uninstall using Windows Add.Remove Programs, Revo Uninstaller is a much faster and more powerful alternative to Windows' Add/Remove Programs.

Revo analyzes an application's data before uninstalling, and scans for remnants after the removal of a program. After the program's regular uninstaller runs, you can remove additional unnecessary files, folders and registry keys that usually remain. Think of it in terms of the dance being over, but the melody lingering on.

To install Revo, simply download it to your Desktop, then double-click its icon to launch. It will display an inventory of every application found on your system. Select the program(s) you want to remove and click the Remove button. It's very easy to use and quite effective in getting rid of programs that are reluctant to vacate the premises.

You can try Revo for free for 30 days, after which you'll need to purchase one or more licenses. Check the site for current pricing.

SUPERAntiSpyware

Excellent anti-spyware, anti-malware, anti-bad stuff program.

Unlike other security programs, SUPERAntiSpyware plays well with others and won't conflict with your anti-virus program or other anti-malware applications.

If you're interested, spend some time on the SUPERAntiSpyware Web site and read all about it. On the site you will find a number of screen shots so you can see what it looks like and read how it functions, what it protects against, etc.

A chart is also provided on the site to compare the features of the free versus Professional versions.

NEO Find

If you use Outlook (not Outlook Express), NEO Find is a program that is truly reflective of its name: It organizes email so you can find anything quickly. It was not designed to replace Outlook, nor does it store Outlook messages. Instead, it organizes email so sent and received mail is always together. No matter where your messages are located within Outlook, NEO Find indexes your email automatically so searches are lightning fast. It also permits you to quickly review all the messages that you exchanged with a particular contact and search among those emails, exclusively.

With NEO Find, you'll stop spending time filing email in folders and then trying to remember where you saved which messages. Instead, you can rely on NEO Find to remember where messages are and present whatever you're looking for almost instantaneously.

At first glance, NEO Find may appear a bit daunting, but the interface is actually quite intuitive -- IF you invest the time to learn it. To assist you, there are some excellent tutorials located on the Neo Find Web site. I would not recommend installing it and then just trying to figure it out as you go. That will undoubtedly lead to frustration and an unfair assessment of the program.

NEO Find is compatible with Outlook 98, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007, and works on Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000 XP and Vista. You can try it free for 90 days and it's only $19.95 to purchase.

Also available is NEO Pro, which includes many advanced features, for $49.95. Most Outlook users will do just fine with NEO Find, as opposed to NEO Pro. If it sounds interesting to you, read more about it on the Web site, then install the 90-day free trial. You can decide at the end of that period whether to register Neo Find, or if you think you will use some of the more advanced features of Neo Pro, you can give that a try at that time.

I don't use Outlook, but I did test NEO Find for a few weeks with Outlook 2003 that I had on one of my systems. If I did use Outlook, however, I would use Neo Find in a heartbeat. It's a first-class product suitable for all Outlook users, from novice to email pro.


PhraseExpress

If you do a lot of typing -- something my ten worn-to-the-nub fingers can relate to -- the free PhraseExpress is a "must-have" application.

Unlike dime-a-dozen macro-based programs that regurgitate saved text on demand, PhraseExpress can also insert text, .JPG, .PNG, .BMP and .TIFF images. I particularly like its text suggestion feature that recognizes repetitive text and offers to auto-complete those phrases. Could it be any
easier? I think not.

To really get a hand-le (har-har) on this extraordinary program, watch the demonstration video on the Web site, then install the program. You can use PhraseExpress without additional instructions (the trial-and-terror method)
or my best suggestion is to review the excellent manual, which you'll find under Support on the PhraseExpress Web site. What makes the manual so valuable is the integrated assortment of video tutorials. Well done,
PhraseExpress!

I enjoy reading software manuals -- Mrs. Modem is hopeful that my new medication will resolve that personality disorder -- but the video tutorials provide demonstrable assistance for what might otherwise be difficult
concepts to comprehend through text descriptions alone. For example, the whole nesting-macro function is demonstrated in the manual as (#rnd {input Max value?]]. When I first saw that, I thought I was having a stroke and my neural synapses were misfiring, but by clicking the accompanying video tutorial, it all made perfect sense. Excellent use of video tutorials!

PhraseExpress has far more features than I will ever use, but it does everything I need a program of this type to do. Rather than printing out the entire 61-page manual and thus living with the guilt of having personally destroyed a rain forest, I printed the first 30 pages which covers everything I could possibly want to do with this program initially, though there's a lot more to it that I'll be exploring as time permits.

Using PhraseExpress in its basic configuration is a no-brainer. Just keep typing as you normally would and let PhraseExpress work its magic. In short order, as you continue to type, PhraseExpress will present frequently typed phrases that you can quickly select, thus saving yourself lots of time, typos, and phalangeal stress.

It is my great pleasure to award PhraseExpress the coveted Mr. Modem "Squeal of Approval." It is well deserved.


Foxit PDF Reader

For years, the Adobe Reader was the standard application to use for viewing PDF documents. It still is used by many individuals, but as the years have passed, it's become a bit bloated (who among us hasn't?) and a bit more problematic than it once was. Today, the Adobe Reader weighs in at more than 20MB, where the svelte and nimble Foxit Reader is one-tenth the size, a mere wisp at 2.5MB.

If you're experiencing any problems with the Adobe Reader or you're just in the market for a new, slimmer, trimmer PDF reader, download and install the free Foxit Reader. I use it exclusively and don't even have the Adobe Reader installed on any of my systems anymore.

If you haven't heard of the Foxit reader, or you would like more information about it, just visit its Web site and give it a try. I think you'll be impressed.


PC Decrapifier
This enchantingly named program is designed to remove most of the gratuitous software that computer manufacturers install on new systems.

The PC Decrapifier was created with Dell in mind because of all the junk and trial programs (aka crapware) Dell inflicts upon purchasers, but it can be installed on any computer, new or used, running Windows XP or Vista.

The list of programs in its crapository is vast so it identifies most frequently installed programs. Can there be any greater feeling than to sit back and watch PCD zap such annoyances as the eternally cloying AOL, a plethora of Norton nuisances, Wild Tangent games, and MusicMatch, among many others? (Of course there is, but work with me here.)

After running the program, a list of installed software will appear from which you can select the ones to vaporize. Nothing will be removed without your permission.

The PC Decrapifier is free for personal use, though a $5 donation is suggested if you decide to keep it. (Well worth it!) A commercial version is available ($20 per license, not per computer), but home users will do just fine with the freebie version.


Seagate FreeAgent External Drives

For backing up my data, I use a 250GB Seagate FreeAgent drive. This small drive (7.5 x 1.6 x 6.4) plugs into a USB port, its AC adapter plugs into a power strip and that's all there is to it. No software is required and there are no drivers to download or update. You simply plug the device into a USB port, a message pops up telling you that new hardware has been found, and that's it. The new drive will automatically be assigned a drive letter ("F" in my case), and you simply use it as you would any other drive: Create a Desktop shortcut to it, or access it through My Computer, or use Windows Explorer. Using an external drive in this manner makes backing up a snap. It truly could not be any easier.

Copying or dragging and dropping files and folders -- even huge files -- to the FreeAgent drive occurs with blistering speed. I paid $79 for my 250GB drive at NewEgg.com, with a limited five-year warranty. 320GB and 500GB models are also available.

Thunderbird for Email
Long-time readers know that for many years, Eudora was my email program of choice. It is still an excellent program, but as is the nature of the technology beast, change is always lurking just around the corner. In December of 2005, I made the switch to Thunderbird. Like anything new, there was a brief period of adjustment, occasional bouts of immobilizing depression, episodic screaming, hair-pulling, and paramedics were called once or twice to minister to my Eudora withdrawals. But things quickly settled down and today, I couldn't be more pleased with Thunderbird.

This free, full-featured program provides all the tools you'll need to manage your email efficiently and effectively. Its search feature is unparalleled: Search for any word or phrase in any message, in any mail folder. Mail filters are easy to create on the fly and address-book maintenance is a snap. Best of all, since most email borne viruses and worms target Outlook Express, what better way to get out of the line of fire?

For additional support beyond Thunderbird's Help, check out Thunderbird the Message Board.

Backpackit

Recipient of Business Week's 2005 "Best of the Web" award, this organizational tool lets you gather up your to-do lists, notes, photos, online files, random and/or disturbingly intrusive thoughts, reminders, and just about anything else you need to keep tabs on. You can store up
to five pages online and send up to 10 reminders per month for free, or pay a maximum of $14/month for 1000 pages and 300 reminders per month.

In testing Backpack, I found it to be a very handy way to create a to-do list and then have it accessible from any computer during the course of my travels. Realistically, I never go anywhere, so I could tape a to-do list to my refrigerator and pretty much accomplish the same thing. If
you're looking for a higher-tech approach, or if you need to share a list or other items with friends or family members, create your Backpack list, then give your password to others so you can view the same document, work from the same list, etc.

Microsoft Research Group Shot

Microsoft Research Group Shot allows you to create a composite image using your favorite parts of other photos. This is a beta product, so while it's not perfected, it does work quite well.

You begin by importing a set of images, then selecting an area within an image by dragging a little rectangle over it. Once you select that area (called a "region"), it appears on a little holding area or "filmstrip" located to the right. You then select an image from the filmstrip and click "Add to Composite" or you can simply double-click your selection.
You can continue selecting from the filmstrip or return to your original photos and isolate additional regions. Group Shot also allows you to remove unwanted background features, though that was a little too advanced for me. It was fun creating simple, primitive, composite images, though.

Group Shot is free for the download, but be sure to click the "Screen Shots & Help File" link before downloading to get a bit more familiar with it and to ensure that it's something you want to take for a test spin.


Diskeeper

Diskeeper (yes, only one "k") is a utility for defragmenting your hard drive. It replaces the built-in version of Disk Defragmenter that comes with Windows.

Using Diskeeper requires a noticeably shorter time to defragment hard drives than the Windows integrated utility, plus the computer can be used normally while defragmentation occurs. The "Set-It-And-Forget-It" option allows the whole process to be automated, with defragging occurring either when needed or on a schedule set by the user. I found the default settings to be adequate for my purposes, but the ability
does exist to tweak Diskeeper's settings to one's personal preferences. You can try Diskeeper for 15 days and it's $29.95 to register.


Google's Picasa
An outstanding, free digital photo organizer that enables users to locate all photos on their computer, arrange them into albums, perform basic editing, and share photos with friends and family. Hey, it's from Google? How can it be bad?

OpenOffice
Once referred to as "the poor man's Office," OpenOffice has blossomed into a "no apologies necessary" full-featured office suite of software that rivals Microsoft Office in every area, except price. OpenOffice is absolutely free, but it will open and permit you to work with all MS Office documents. Try OpenOffice's Writer, Calc, Base, and Impress, and you'll quickly forget about Microsoft's Access, Excel, Word and PowerPoint. OpenOffice is a honored recipient of the coveted Mr. Modem "Squeal of Approval" award. Need I say more? And if you're new to OO, don't miss InPics' free OpenOffice tutorials.


Grip-it Strips
If you've ever had the dubious pleasure of sitting in an airport with your notebook computer on your lap, you probably know that sinking feeling, tinged with sheer terror, as your computer starts to slip. If you're like me, you make an awkward lunge for it, as your Slurpy/chili-dog airport Health-E-Meal flies into the air, accompanied by a surge of adrenaline and a combination scream/expletive. I've never had a notebook hit the floor yet, but until I discovered Grip-it Strips, it was only a matter of time.

This product is one of those smack-your-forehead creations, usually accompanied by the words, "Why didn't I think of that?" Grip-it-Strips are self-adhering, slip-resistant strips that you can attach to the top and bottom of your computer (or other items) to ensure a secure grip. The strips are decorative, available in several colors, and easily cut to size. I've placed Grip-it-Strips on my laptop computers, my camera, PDA, and my cell phone. They're only $8.95, so you really can't afford NOT to attach them to objects you treasure, though my cat still isn't speaking to me. A tip of the Mr. Modem fedora to the good folks at Better Hold Products for this ingenious and very useful product.


Cards Right Now

I've often fantasized about using my computer to create fabulous greeting cards that would dazzle my friends and sweep Mrs. Modem off her feet. But every time I begin the process, I lose interest somewhere along the way and
wind up buying a card at the grocery store because it's easier. Hallmark has nothing to fear from Mr. Modem.

In the course of my do-it-yourself card adventures, I did discover the Cards Right Now Web site which features quality greeting and note cards that are formatted and ready to print. Graphics and text (verses) are already included. The only thing that's missing is your assertion that you created it yourself.

Card collections are available for immediate download after purchase. The 1st Edition Collection has more than 200 greeting cards, with lots of nature photographs, and costs $9.99. The Shakespeare and Bible Collections are $12.99 each. Also included are blank cards and cards with quotations that can be used for any occasion, holiday or personal message.


Spoofstick

Spoofing occurs when an email arrives that pretends to be something it's not. For example, an email that appears to be from Earthlink, Bank of America, or other reputable entity that asks you to click an enclosed link and confirm your personal information. If you fall for it, you'll be taken to a Web site that is not the legitimate Earthlink or Bank of America site. If you then provide your personal information as requested, you'll be giving it to a scammer. Remember, legitimate organizations will never ask you to confirm your personal information by email.

Spoofstick displays the real name of the Web site you're visiting, so you know if you've been transported to a location other than where you think you are. (Huh?) In other words, Spoofstick provides a toolbar that displays a Web site's real identity.

Noisy Keyboard

If you yearn for the halcyon days of yesteryear, when manual typewriters ruled the land, welcome to the club. I loved the old clickety-clack of the keys as they struck the platen, and the massive bicep I developed in my right arm from slapping the carriage-return lever hundreds of times each day. If the wimpy, muted, clicky-clicky of your fancy-shmancy, ergonomically correct, wrist-supported, illuminated, OSHA-approved, Birkenstock reverse-tilt keyboard just doesn't do it for you, download the free Noisy Keyboard. Once installed, you can choose from seven distinct keystroke sounds. It's a little slice of Olivetti heaven.

WhoLockMe

When attempting to delete a file, it's not uncommon to encounter an error message advising that the file cannot be deleted because it's in use or there is a "sharing violation." My typical response when confronted with that message is a dazed and confused, "Huh?"

WhoLockMe is a small (and free) program that will tell you what application is using a given file so you can close the program in order to delete the file. WhoLockMe is not compatible with Windows 95, 98 or ME; it's only for Windows 2000, XP, and Vista.

EULA Analyzer

Adware and spyware are incredibly annoying, but a lot of it can be avoided by reading the EULA (End User License Agreement) of software you install. Most of us never read these license agreements and instead just click the "I Agree" button. Unfortunately, with some software, that agreement contains information that places the user on notice that they're also agreeing to the installation of additional, potentially malicious, third-party software. For that reason, heed my words of wisdom and don't be a foola; read the EULA!

The EULAlyzer can advise you if the software you're about to install will display pop-up ads,transmit personally identifiable information, track your online meanderings, or do anything else that falls within the technical category of "hinky."

With the EULAlyzer, simply copy and paste any license agreement and EULAlyze it. The software also allows you to maintain a saved database of license agreements. I'm not sure why you would want to save them, but you can, if you wish.

FxFoto
FxFoto automatically imports photographs from your digital camera and arranges them in chronological folders. You can annotate photographs and arrange them into impressive collages and slide shows, touch them up with red eye and blemish removers, crop, frame, add text, and accents. You can print, email, or upload your results, make scrapbook pages,

CapsUnLock
This free utility allows you to disable the Caps Lock and INSert Keys, both of which can be minor annoyances if you accidentally press either one while typing. This small program resides in the System Tray so you can conveniently enable or disable the Caps Lock and INS keys at any time.

As an alternative, to help avoid accidentally pressing either the Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, or Num Lock keys, turn on your Windows Toggle Keys. With your Toggle Keys turned on, whenever you press either of those keys, whether intentionally or accidentally, it will beep in one of two tones: A high pitched beep will let you know that you turned the Caps Lock or other keys on, and a low pitched beep will sound when you turn them off.

To turn on Toggle Keys, click Control Panel > Accessibility Options > Keyboard tab, and place a check mark in the "Use Toggle Keys" check box.

If you click the Settings button, you can select the "Use shortcut" check box, which will allow you to turn the Toggle Keys on or off by holding down the Num Lock key for five seconds.

XP Users: If you're using Windows XP, press the Shift key five (5) times. That will open the "Sticky Keys" menu. There you can activate a sound that will be triggered every time you press the Caps Lock key.

BDV Notepad
The free BDV (no, it's not BVD) Notepad is a lot like the standard Windows NotePad, but it includes features such as autosave, character filters, shortcuts, undo/redo, and find-and-replace options.

Unless you're particularly unhappy with the standard Windows Notepad, I wouldn't bother downloading or installing the BDV Notepad. But if you use the Windows Notepad frequently and are not pleased with it for any reason, the BDV Notepad presents an option for your consideration.


CPU Radar

Clock speed, which is also called clock rate, is the speed at which a microprocessor can execute instructions. Every computer contains an internal clock that regulates the rate at which instructions are performed and synchronizes all the various computer components accordingly. The CPU requires a fixed number of clock ticks or cycles to execute each
instruction. The faster the clock, the more instructions the CPU can execute each second.

Though clock speed is more important to techie-type people for diagnostic purposes, CPU Radar is easy to use, so if you're curious, you can determine precisely what your system's clock speed is at any given time. After
installing CPU Rader, you'll see a small window with a "Clock It" button. Click the "Clock It" button and your CPU's clock rate will be displayed. CPU Radar is free for the download.

Behind the Asterisks
This handy utility allows you to reveal passwords hiding behind the asterisk **** characters. This works with all versions of Windows. Unfortunately, it's $24.95, but if you desperately need to know what password lurks behind the asterisks, it's a small price to pay.

To Do List
To-Do List is a simple, straightforward, everydaym Web-based to-do list organizer. This isn't a program that is likely to change your life, but it is convenient and easy to use. Personally, I create my to-do lists in Word, so I'm not convinced there's a huge need for to-do list software, but this program is free so if you're interested or intrigued, give it a try. Because the lists are Web-based, you can access them at any time, from any computer with Internet access. Lists can be private or you can make your list public to share with others.

WiFi Signal Locator

If you have occasion to hit the road with your laptop, you know that finding a good WiFi signal for Internet access can be a challenge. There are, however, a number of small, keychain-size gizmos that can detect a signal and save you the trouble of setting up your computer only to discover there is no signal. One such device is the $29.95 Mobile Edge WiFi Signal Locator. It detects 802.11B and G networks within 300 feet and eliminates pesky false readings that can be generated by microwaves and portable phones.

Google Earth

Fresh from the Google Labs comes a spectacular program called Google Earth. It's free, but before you download it, be aware that it's a very high-tech, cutting-edge program that requires Windows 2000 or XP, a 500Mhz or faster processor, 128MB of RAM (memory), 200MB free hard-drive space, 1024 x 768 resolution, and a high-speed Internet connection.

If your PC has those minimum requirements, this is something worth experiencing. Once the program is installed, type in an address and Google Earth will transport you to that address with mind-boggling 3-D satellite imagery.

Even if you don't have the necessary system requirements to witness Google Earth in action, take the Sightseeing Tour to view the Grand Canyon, Lincoln Memorial, Cabo San Lucas, The Eiffel Tower, Venice, and The Golden Gate Bridge to get a sense of what this is all about.

Be sure to read Google Earth's Frequently Asked Questions and How To Use Google Earth instructions.

Speedometer

This is a free program that can function as a typing test or typing tutor, as it runs in the background while you're doing your daily computing work. It's actually kind of fun, in an obsessive, compulsive, dysfunctional way -- and I wouldn't want it any other way, of course.

Run Speedometer while you're composing an email, typing a letter, or doing anything else that involves a lot of typing. Speedometer will let you know how fast you're typing (interesting!), how often you correct mistakes (humbling!), and if your speed is improving (annoying!)

Speedometer works with Windows 98, ME, 2000, and XP. I found it to be a harmless, little program that contains no spyware, adware, or other uninvited guests. It installs (and uninstalls) easily, without changing any system settings.

Collmate

"Collmate" is shorthand for "Collector's Mate," which is a database program designed for collectors. CollMate allows collectors to catalog their hobbies, show what items are on loan, generate reports, and export data. It is not collection-specific and can be used to catalog and organize just about anything from CDs to salt shakers, to coins, stamps, matchbook covers, vases, and swizzle sticks. You can try this award-winning program for free and it costs $24.95 to purchase.

WordSlinger

If you like word games, think of combining a crossword puzzle, Scrabble, and an egg timer, and you'll get the idea behind Word Slinger. The game challenges you to arrange a fixed number of words before you either run out of time, fail to add words to the screen quickly enough, or lose consciousness due to all the excitement.

Sixty minutes of game time are free prior to registration, which is $19.95. If you like games, both online and downloadable, be sure to check out the rest of the offerings at Gamehouse.com.

Desktop Logo

This is a small, free program that can add your favorite pictures or your company logo to your Windows Desktop. You can designate their position and level of transparency, so the image appears like a watermark, floating in the background. Desktop Logo supports most popular graphic formats.

FreeSnap

Allows you to instantly stretch any window edge to the edge of your screen. In other words, if you want a window to touch the right edge of the screen, just press and hold the Windows Key and press the right-arrow key. The number-pad keys work in a similar manner, regardless of the NumLock status, on or off. The "5" key on the number pad centers any window on the screen without resizing it. FreeSnap is only 429K in size, and as the name implies, it's free for the download.

Mechanical Clock 3D Screensaver

I'm not a big fan of screensavers, but if you enjoy them, this one is a must-see. The Mechanical Clock 3D Screensaver displays the internal mechanism of an 18th Century Swiss clock that works in sync with your computer's time. The clock's internal movements are fascinating to watch, and the huge clock face makes it easy to see the time from across the room or across the street, for that matter. You can try the Mechanical Clock screensaver for free or it's $12.95 to purchase.

Moffsoft FreeCalc

Moffsoft FreeCalc is a no-frills calculator that can serve as an excellent replacement for Windows built-in calculator, which you can reach by clicking Start > Programs > Accessories > Calculator.

What I particularly like about FreeCalc is its simulated paper calculations 'tape' that you can print or save. You can also change and save the size of FreeCalc's display window, change its color scheme so it doesn't clash with your office décor, configure it so it's always on top of other windows, or access it from its icon in the System Tray.

FreeCalc works with all versions of Windows and, as the name implies, it is free.

AbsoluteShield File Shredder

This free program helps you permanently remove files and folders from your computer, eliminating the possibility of data recovery. Once installed, all you have to do is right-click a file or folder and select AbsoluteShield File Shredder from the menu that appears. The program allows you to choose between a quick two-pass removal or the standard seven-pass file "wipe-out-forever" method.


ContentProtect

ContentProtect Web Filtering is a program designed to do just what the name implies: Protect you from unwanted Web content. Whether used for the kids, for the whole family, or for yourself, ContentProtect allows you to determine what Internet content is displayed on your monitor.

An integrated timing feature permits you to set the times of day when Internet access is permitted, plus parents can elect to be notified by email when one of their knowledge-seeking children or grandchildren attempts to access an inappropriate Web site. Different filtering profiles can be created for each family member or future felon.

ContentProtect Web Filtering works with all versions of Windows, Internet Explorer, Netscape, and all ISPs, including "most versions" of AOL. You can download a free 14-day trial version, or it's $29.99 to purchase, which includes 12-months of updates, upgrades, and technical support.

FileAmigo LE

FileAmigo LE is a free database management program. With it you can design databases and reports for just about anything you need to organize, such as collections, membership lists, address books, schedules, etc.

If you're looking for a free, no-frills, easy-to-use database program, download FileAmigo LE and give it a try. It's not the most feature-laden database program (I know Access, and FileAmigo is no Access), but for relatively simple data organization and reporting needs, it's not bad at all, and you can't beat the price. FileAmigo LE works with all versions of Windows.

LapWorks Products

If you use a laptop computer, take a look at these three accessories. I use them on a daily basis: The first is the Laptop Desk UltraLite, which provides a stable working surface on your lap, and it dissipates the heat generated by your computer. Only 5/16" thick, the Laptop Desk UltraLite is 22" long (unfolded), weighs a scant 14.6 ounces, has five incline positions, and costs $29.95. Hint: It provides an excellent portable working surface with or without a computer.

Next up is are Laptop Legs. I wouldn't own a laptop without adding a set of Laptop Legs, if the device didn't have its own pop-up legs. These sturdy, easy-to-attach feet provide two levels of elevation to the back of a laptop that result in improved typing ergonomics and increased cooling and ventilation. A pair of Laptop Legs costs just $9.95.

Last, but not least, is the Aluminum Desktop Stand ($59.95), which raises your laptop screen up to 6.75 inches! There are six adjustable angles, plus 360-degree rotation, which makes it invaluable when sharing the screen with several individuals. Elevating the laptop also provides for greater ventilation, which results in a cooler-running computer, and the angle improves typing ergonomics. The stand folds flat, weighs 1.5 lbs, and comes with its own travel bag that doubles as a mouse pad.

Documents-To-Go

This is the number one-selling office-suite software for handheld (Palm-type) computers. With Documents to Go, you can use your Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files on your handheld anywhere, anytime. In addition, you can synchronize email with attachments, password-protect files, PDF documents, pictures, Excel charts, and even spell-check your word-processing files. Full screen support allows you to see more of your documents and pictures; Support for PowerPoint files (viewing only, no editing); Web links and email addresses in word processing files are fully integrated. Several versions of Documents to Go are available, starting at $29.99. The Premium Edition is $49.99 and the Total Office Suite is $89.99.

ePreserver

Are you migrating from AOL to another Internet service provider? If so, congratulations! If you're thinking about leaving AOL, but you're concerned about AOL holding your messages, address book and Favorite Places hostage, while that was true in the past, be concerned no more!

Thanks to the good folks at Connected Software, all you need is ePreserver to help you make the transition. With ePreserver, it takes five clicks to bring your AOL email, address book and Favorite Places with you when you leave.

ePreserver is a small program that's easy to install and very easy use. I've recommended it to more than 100 former AOL users and I'm not aware of a single person (or married, for that matter) who didn't have success using the program. Even if you run into a problem, there's excellent tech support available through Connected Software. If all else fails, there's an unconditional money-back guarantee. As it states on the Web site, "If it doesn't work, you don't pay." So what's not to like?

ePreserver works with all versions of Windows and costs $24.95.

Your Uninstaller

Finally, a way to uninstall programs as completely as possible with a program that's as easy to use as the Recycle Bin. Its drag-and-drop interface means that you drag an icon to Your Uninstaller and it will begin to uninstall. This program, available through PC World, takes the place of Windows Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs. If you're not having any problems with Windows' Add/Remove Programs, you won't need this software, but just be aware of its existence should you run into a pesky program that you cannot remove with Windows.

A free trial version is available, and it's $29.95 to register. Your Uninstaller works with all versions of Windows.

YouSendIt

If you have a large file (up to 1GB or gigabyte) to send, but don't want to tie up your recipient's connection, overwhelm their inbox, or are concerned about getting past overly aggressive spam filters or firewalls, YouSendIt is the perfect solution.

This service is free, fast and requires just three steps. Instead of mailing a huge attachment, you simply upload it. Enter the recipient's email address, use the "Browse" button to navigate to the file on your computer that you want to transmit, then click the "Send It" button. You'll also have the option to include your own email address and a brief message. You can also specify multiple addresses, as long as they're separated by commas.

You can send photos, audio files, documents or anything else. Your file will be stored by YouSendIt, and your recipient will receive an email link to your file stored on the YouSendIt server. Your file will be automatically deleted after seven days. No passwords or registration is required and there is no software to install.

CopyMessageBox

As annoying as occasional error messages are, they can be invaluable for identifying the source of a problem. For that reason, it's important to provide to your computer repair technician, or if you call for technical support, the precise text of an error message. It doesn't help to tell a technician, "I get an error message that says something about a corrupt something or other."

With CopyMessageBox, using a hotkey (you decide what key to use) you can quickly copy error messages or other dialog boxes to the Windows Clipboard. Once an image is captured to the clipboard, compose an email, right-click and select Paste to insert the saved error message into the body of your outgoing email, then send it off to tech support.

The good news is that CopyMessageBox is free; the bad news is there is no support for the program. It's not difficult to use, but the only help available is that which is provided within the program itself.

New Window Maximizer

The New Window Maximizer automatically maximizes Internet Explorer and Outlook Express windows. It includes a function for hiding/closing all IE windows with a user-defined hotkey, and it will automatically close pop-up windows. This program is particularly handy if your IE or OE windows repeatedly fail to open to full-screen size.

WebSwoon

WebSwoon is particularly useful if you want to provide information about a Web site and display a small image of its contents. For example, if you're writing to others about a Web site, you can easily include a small image of the site.

Inksaver 2.0

It's no secret that printers are less expensive than ever, to the point that they have become disposable. It's rarely cost-effective to repair a printer these days, assuming you can even find somebody who would be willing to repair it. But as printer costs plummet, the ink printers use continues to increase in price. Most printer manufacturers use printers as loss leaders and make their profit on ink-cartridge sales, which explains, in part, why you're probably replacing cartridges faster than ever.

Inksaver 2.0 offers some relief from the sinking inking situation by allowing you to control the amount of ink used by your inkjet printer. InkSaver optimizes printer data so that your printer uses less ink, even when printing at your inkjet's highest resolution. Unlike printing in Draft mode, InkSaver allows you to adjust the amount of savings you would like to receive on a sliding scale from 0% (no savings) up to a maximum of 75% savings.

This award-winning program is available for 15 days on a free trial basis, and it's $34.99 to purchase. It works with all inkjet printers, including HP, Epson, Canon, Lexmark, and others.

If you're tired of throwing new ink cartridge$ at your printer, take InkSaver 2.0 for a test drive and see what you think.

WordToys

As the name implies, these are toys for Microsoft Word. WordToys provides more than 40 utilities that make Word a lot of fun and provide a number of enhancements to existing Word features, as well. You'll know which ones are enhanced because the standard Word icons are replaced with colorful ones. With WordToys, you can copy and paste in any format, adjust formatting to fit text within a certain limited space, sort paragraphs in any order, and more. You can try WordToys for 30 days free, and it's $20 to register. It works with Word 2000, 2002 and 2003 and Windows 2000 and XP, but not Windows 98 or ME.

International Type Index

The stated objective here is to "build a searchable database of all fonts." Currently there are more than 800 fonts in the database, searchable by keyword, or you can use the Random Search button. Search results include the name of the font and a sample.

Click a font search-result name and you'll be face to face with a more extensive sample, along with creation information, ratings, formats, and platforms. You'll also learn whether the font is free or commercial and you'll receive links to purchase or download the font.

The Advanced Search feature provides 13 criteria to use in searching for fonts, including genre, age, tone, condition, shape -- or maybe they're asking about me. I'll have to take another look at that.

Registration is required, but you are only asked to provide your email address and a name that will become your username. I selected "Tyrone." I don't know why, but it seemed like a nice name to choose. You will receive your password by return email.

If you're really into unique or unusual fonts, the International Type Index is worth a visit.

FlashGet

FlashGet is a free, award-winning, program that is best thought of as a download manager. If you've ever waited forever for files to download from a slow connection or if you've been cut off half-way through a download, let me introduce you to FlashGet. It splits downloading files into sections and downloads each section simultaneously, which makes more efficient use of bandwidth. It can also schedule downloads and even shut down your computer after a download has been completed. Additional information about the program and its capabilities is available on its Web site. FlashGet works with all versions of Windows and is a recipient of the ZDNet "Editor's Pick" award, so it's well worth taking a look at if you have a slower connection and want to put some zip in your downloads.

WinGuides Email Saver

This is a program that will allow you to back up your email data and settings from a variety of email programs including Microsoft Outlook (97, 98, 2000, XP), Outlook Express (5, 6), Eudora (5, 6), Netscape Messenger (6, 7) and Opera (6, 7).

The main screen is very simple. There are four buttons to choose from, and all are self-explanatory: Backup, Restore, Schedule, Options.

When you click the Backup button, you're presented with a list of supported programs. You can then choose what to backup, a backup folder location, and you can choose to protect your backup file with a password, if you wish. The software backs up the specified data into an .EBK file, which is a format that is unique to the Email Saver Xe 2.0 program. Double-click any .EBK file and the program will open and display the Restore screen.

Note: You can only restore to the same version of email software used to create the backup. In other words, if you backup Outlook 5, you can't restore it into Outlook 6.

When you press the Schedule button, you can choose the frequency, time of day, whether to overwrite the last backup, or to always keep a certain number of backups.

Email Saver Xe is not compatible with Hotmail, MSN, or AOL. The program works with all versions of Windows and sells for $39.95, with unlimited free upgrades and email technical support for one year. A free 15-day trial is also available.

DriveSavers

Arguably the finest emergency data-recovery service in the world, these folks are the best of the best. While not inexpensive, if disaster strikes and you absolutely, positively have to recover data from your hard drive, these are the people to contact. Even celebrities like Jimmy Buffet, Keith Richards, and Sean Connery have used DriveSavers -- and if DriveSavers is good enough for James Bond, it's good enough for me. If nothing else, stop by the Drivesavers Web site and visit their Museum of Disk-asters and the Hall of Fame. I hope you never need to call them, but DriveSavers.com is standing by, just in case you do.

MacroWorx Filing Cabinets

Clear up cluttered Desktops, store frequently used shortcuts and folders in individual "cabinets" that slide (graphically) in and out from the sides of your monitor. This is a very clever product, though certainly not a life-and-death "must have." Click HERE to view some Filing Cabinets screen shots. You can try it for free for 30 days and if you decide to keep it, it's $19.95 to purchase. File Cabinets works with all versions of Windows.

ScreenPrint 32

Have you ever wanted to capture an entire screen, such as your complete Desktop, or a dialog box, or perhaps just a portion of what appears on screen? With ScreenPrint32, you can do just that and save the image to disk or paste the saved image directly into a document or email. This can come in handy when you're attempting to communicate with any tech support personnel to share exactly what you're seeing on screen. You can also print the saved image and add your own headers and footers to provide additional information. Runs under all versions of Windows from 98 to XP, and registration is free for home users. Special thanks to R.W. of Colorado for mentioning this excellent program.

PowerToys for Windows

PowerToys are free, add-on programs that extend the functionality of Windows. One very popular PowerToy is TweakUI.

Be advised, however, that even though PowerToys are available through the Microsoft Web site, they are not part of Windows, nor are they supported by Microsoft, so if you have questions about PowerToys, Microsoft won't be able to help you. In fact, Microsoft can be so aloof if you choose to use TweakUI, that if you ever cross paths with Bill Gates, don't be surprised if he pretends not to know you. MicroSnubs notwithstanding, PowerToys have been used by millions of users without any problems.

Click HERE for information about PowerToys (Tweak UI) for Windows 95, 98, ME, NT and 2000.

Click HERE to learn more about TweakUI for Windows XP.

Textalyser: Improve Your Writing

Textalyser is an online text analysis tool that provides detailed statistics about text pasted into its Web-based form. It will also analyze Web sites if the URL is provided. Statistical information provided includes the total word count, number of different words, readability factor, number of characters, average syllables per word, number of sentences, average sentence length (in words); maximum sentence length, as well as a word frequency chart so you can determine if you're using any words too frequently.

I ran an issue of my weekly newsletter through the Textalyser and it revealed 1,863 different words, 251 sentences, 1.55 average syllables per word, with an average sentence length of 12.99 words. (I feel so much better knowing that.)

Clocx

If you're tired of the old, hum-drum, Windows digital time display, with ClocX you can install an analog clock, complete with minute and second hands. Using Clocx's options, you can even determine the level of transparency you prefer, so you can see what's underneath the clock, on your Windows Desktop. Support for the clock is primarily provided on the Clocx Web site by clicking the Forum link and posting your question. If you do decide to try Clocx, plan to spend some time in the Forum reading other users' questions, problems they may have encountered, and how those problems were resolved. Clocx is free, though donations are appreciated.

WinKey

The Windows Key is the key with the little Windows "flag" logo, usually located between the CTRL and ALT keys on the keyboard. From time to time in my newsletter I've shared a number of Windows Key shortcuts, such as Windows Key + R to open the Run dialog box or Windows Key + F to launch a Windows Find or Search.

WinKey lets you create up to 200 different keystroke combinations you can use to open your favorite programs, folders, files, and even Web pages. Unfortunately, there is no support for this free program, so if you decide to give it a try, you're pretty much on your own. During the period that I tested WinKey, however, I found that it worked very well and was easy to use.

AZZ Cardfile

AZZ Cardfile provides a convenient way to save all sorts of random information and permits fast retrieval in a format similar to a card file. You can also save anything copied from the Internet, including active links.

Here's how it works: Start the program and choose a card title, using as many descriptive words as you like, then type in your own comments and notes as needed. The basic screen is the text of the currently highlighted title, with a column of all card titles appearing on the left, alphabetically arranged like -- well, like cards.

To retrieve information, type in a sequence of letters that are likely to appear somewhere in your title. The column of cards will instantly shrink and display just those cards that have that combination of letters. Scrolling down the title column displays the full content of each card.

More than one Cardfile of information can be created, such as one for recipes, one for phone numbers, one for lottery numbers, etc. But like InfoSelect, the real strength of this program is to be able to enter data into one file -- like a big virtual junk drawer -- and then easily retrieve anything from that file.

You can try AZZ Cardfile for free and if you decide to keep it, it's only $19. (Are you listening, InfoSelect?)

InfoSelect

Is your data life in disorder? If so, take a look at InfoSelect, which is formally known as a PIM or Personal Information Manager, designed to make random information instantly retrievable. Whatever tidbits of information you have -- whether it's a random telephone number, an email address, computer tip, recipe, family trivia -- just toss it into InfoSelect and you'll always be able to find it. InfoSelect uses three commands, Note, Create Topic, and Search, so it couldn't be easier.

Two versions of InfoSelect are available. The Purchase version is a whopping $250. Eek! Yes, it's a great program, but $250? I don't think so. The Purchase version provides you with the current version only and includes no additional major upgrades. Such a deal -- not! The Subscription version is more reasaonable $49.95 each year, plus it provides you with the current version and any major upgrades that occur during the year.

If you're considering InfoSelect, I'd recommend the Subscription version as the best value, plus you'll always have the most current version available.

Computer Security Tests

Are you concerned about computer security, but aren't sure if you have the right programs to test what you should be testing? If so, visit these free Security and related tests, courtesy of AuditMyPC.com. Test your firewall, or determine your Internet connection speed, or find out what information you're leaving behind when you visit Web sites. Other popular Web utilities are accessible on this site, as well.


Multi-Clipboard

A handy, free utility that can hold an unlimited number of text clippings which you can then paste in any Windows application. It can accommodate plain ASCII text, formatted text, and pictures, with an Undo and Clear feature for each clipboard.

PrintAsia Photo Printer Paper

Printasia photo paper by Ilford, produces the same look, weight, and feel of real photographs, direct from your inkjet printer. This quality paper is also available in photo greeting cards and CD/DVD labels, but my experience is limited to Printasia's Glossy and Satin papers. The packaging states, "Genuine look and feel of a real photograph." Being the skeptic that I am, I thought to myself, "Yeah, right; and I'm Ansel Adams." The truth is, Printasia paper made me feel a lot like Ansel Adams, particularly during the little-known "finger-in-front-of-the-lens" phase of his career.

My photos on Printasia paper, as they emerged from my printer, weren't just ho-hum pictures printed on flimsy paper (my usual method). Printasia paper made my ho-hum photos look great. I particularly like the satin paper, which reduces fingerprints and glare, though both papers are fast drying and fade resistant.

Printasia Photo Glossy and Photo Satin finishes are available in various sizes and can be purchased at CompUSA. There's even a money-back guarantee if you're not satisfied with the product.

ePreserver

Are you migrating from AOL to another Internet Service Provider? If so, congratulations on a wise decision! If you're thinking about leaving AOL, but you're worried about AOL holding your messages, address book and Favorite Places hostage, worry no more! Thanks to the good folks at Connected Software, all you need is ePreserver to help you make the transition. With ePreserver, all it takes is five clicks -- that's right, FIVE CLICKS -- to bring your AOL email, address book and Favorite Places with you when you leave.

ePreserver is a first-class program that I've recommended hundreds of times to my subscribers. It's a small program that's easy to download and install. It will automatically locate your AOL information -- even if you've already cancelled your AOL account -- and it's so easy to use, if you can download it, you can use it. Having recommended it hundreds of times, I'm not aware of a single person (or married, for that matter) who didn't have success using the program. But even if you ran into a problem, there's great Tech Support available through Connected Software and if all else fails, there's an unconditional money-back guarantee. "If it doesn't work, you don't pay." So what's not to like?

ePreserver works with Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, and XP, and costs just $24.95 for a single license.

Soople

Think of Soople as Google for Beginners. Soople offers direct access to Google's advanced search features in a straight-forward, easy-to-understand manner, combining them in one easy-to-use interface.

MemVideo For Video Lovers

Have you ever rented or taped a movie, only to realize a few minutes into it that you ve seen it before. I hate it when that happens! If you're a movie buff, MemVideo invites you to be your own movie reviewer and track what you've seen, or what tapes or DVDs you own, and provide your own ratings and commentary. You can access your privately stored information on the Internet or by mobile phone any time, from any location. If you love movies, this easy-to-use service is free of cost and advertisements, and its large database of videos is continually updated with user contributions.

Registry Mechanic

For cleaning and repairing the Windows Registry. The Registry is a database used by Windows to store configuration information. It's a complex, volatile area that should not be edited without great care and an understanding of how the Registry functions. As you use your computer and as you install and remove programs, the Registry can become muddied with missing and invalid entries, corrupted hardware drivers, or disabled start-up programs. With Registry Mechanic, you can clean and repair Registry problems that are a frequent cause of Windows crashes, freeze-ups, and error messages. Tidying up the Registry can make Windows more stable and even help it run faster.

Registry Mechanic is easy to use. Its three main buttons are Scan, Backup, and Settings. Scan, not surprisingly, initiates a scan of the Registry; Backup provides the ability to make a backup copy (recommended) of your Registry. Should a problem arise, you can easily restore a previous version of the Registry. Settings permits you to instruct the Registry Mechanic to automatically repair errors. Why you would want to run it without repairing errors is beyond me, but if you want to run it for its questionable entertainment value alone, you have that ability, as well.

A trial version is available, but the trial version will only repair the first six errors detected. I'm not particularly enamored of the licensing of Registry Mechanic, however. It's $29.95 to purchase for use on one computer, it's $49.95 for two computers, $99.95 for five computers. Because so many home users have two computers today, a program of this type should be permitted to be installed on a minimum of two computers, with additional, reduced-cost licenses available for purchases. I'm not holding my breath.

MailWasher Pro for Spam Control

Because I receive approximately 1500 emails a day, with hundreds of them being spam, for several years I used a program called MailWasher Pro (MWP). It did an excellent job for me, though it does add a second step to the mail-checking process. Even though it adds a second step, one advantage of using it is that it keeps the junk mail your computer, thus virtually eliminating spyware and viruses in the process.

You may have noted that I said that I "used" MailWasher Pro, in the past tense. Due to the volume of email I receive, I switched my email system to an IMAP server system which uses a server-based anti-spam program (Spam Assassin) so I no longer use Mail Washer Pro, but for the years that I did use it, it was invaluable to me.

When I was using it, instead of checking mail as I did before I used MailWasher Pro, by connecting to my ISP's mail server and downloading mail, I would launch MailWasher Pro. MWP then connected to my ISP's mail server, and would let me preview all the messages waiting on the mail server. While previewing them, I could mark them for downloading to my computer or mark them for deletion, blacklist them, or ban them forever, all while they still resided on my ISP's mail server. So even if an email contained bad stuff (viruses, spyware, x-rated material) none of that would ever arrive on my computer. MWP also "learns" how you want mail handled, what mail is from "friends" and what's spam or possible spam.

Then, once I reviewed all the mail while it resided on my ISP's mail server, I would then click Process Mail and all the junk would be deleted from the server. At that point I would launch my regular email program and have it retrieve my email in the usual manner. The mail it would retrieve would be free of junk because all the spam had already been deleted.

It is important to understand that MailWasher Pro definitely requires the investment of time and energy to learn it. You can't just use MailWasher Pro without understanding it, so that's the down side. It does require considerable work and patience. But because spam is such a huge and growing problem today, I felt it was time well spent because it ultimately allowed me to be more productive and get rid of a tremendous amount of spam.

You can try MailWasher Pro for free for 30 days, and it's $37 to purchase.

Space-Hog Locator

If you're curious about what's taking up the most space on your hard drive, a program called Scanner creates a unique, multi-level pie chart so you can quickly see what folders or files are taking up the most space on your drive. When you click on one of the folders, Scanner creates a new pie chart with subfolders and files displayed.

Visit the Web site and click the thumbnail image of the scan result to see a larger version of the Scanner's concentric pie chart display.

This isn't a program everybody will need, but it can come in handy if you're running out of space on a huge drive and aren't sure what's gobbling up all the gigs.

Mozilla Firefox Browser

I made the switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox for one primary reason: I'm tired of the amount of spyware, adware, pop-ups and other nonsense that target the IE browser. Just as many email-borne viruses and worms target Outlook Express (one reason I use Thunderbird), it's equally easy to avoid spyware, adware, pop-ups -- at least for the time being -- by not using Internet Explorer.

Mozilla is available as a suite of software (similar to Internet Explorer and Netscape) that includes an email program (Thunderbird) and Web page editor (Composer). My use is limited to the stand-alone browser called Firefox.

Among my favorite features is Firefox's renowned tabbed browsing interface. This lets you open multiple Web pages so you can toggle between them, like flipping through pages of a magazine, rather than going from Web site to Web site with multiple open windows. Perhaps a better analogy is that it's like watching two or more channels at once or having multiple books open on a table and visually moving between them. Okay, enough with the analogies.

Last, but not least, I like the stability of Firefox: The browser doesn't crash or freeze up, and it's almost impossible to pick up spyware while surfing. Since switching to Firefox, though I'm still running Spyware Doctor as my anti-spyware program, it just doesn't find anything. When I was using Internet Explorer exclusively, Spyware Doctor was finding spyware almost daily.

Bottom line: Firefox is small, fast, and free, and that's a tough combination to beat.

TypeItIn

This is one of my favorite little utility programs that I use to type frequently used words and phrases. Once installed, it resides in the System Tray (below the time display). Click to launch it, then right-click to create a series of buttons, each one of which can contain words, phrases or numbers that you type frequently. All information resides on your computer, so it's safe and secure. Create buttons for your name, address, signature line, and even your credit card number. I use it to type in the first 12 digits of my credit card number, then I manually add the last four myself, just in case my PC is ever stolen or hacked. You can try TypeItIn free for 60 days and it's $19.95 to register.

StartupMonitor

Many programs today are much too aggressive and insert themselves in your StartUp folder without your knowledge, causing them to launch every time you restart your computer. Not only do these programs consume precious memory (RAM), but they can slow down your system's performance, and in the case of Trojans, spyware and adware, can keep those problematic pests alive long after you think you've removed them from your computer.

I found a program that is sensational in its simplicity and will stand as a sentry, protecting your system from programs that attempt to insert themselves in your StartUp folder. The program is called StartupMonitor, written by a brilliant, young programmer named Mike Lin.

StartupMonitor is easy to install and is invisible. It doesn't add any icons to your Desktop or System Tray. Its sole mission in life is to stand guard and notify you when any program attempts to register itself to run at system startup. When one is detected, a small pop-up appears, tells you what's trying to register itself, and you can then elect to permit it to be added to your system startup or not.

StarupMonitor works with all versions of Windows except Windows 95. It's only 60KB in size, so it's a tiny one. StartupMonitor is free, though donations to Mike's "Tip Jar" jar are encouarged.

Diary Defender

There are many programs available for online journalists -- individuals who enjoy keeping a journal or diary...or possible evidence. Diary Defender can be used by the whole family because each person can have their own password-protected diary within the one program. DD (as it's known to its friends) is free, though donations are cheerfully accepted.

ActiveWords

ActiveWords is a little program that you can use to automate just about anything you do with your computer, reducing the number of mouse clicks or keystrokes down to a few letters followed by the press of the F8 (or other) key. For example, you can launch Microsoft Word by typing in the word "Word" or launch Outlook Express by typing in "OE." You can also use it to insert text you type frequently or to navigate to a particular Web page.

You can try ActiveWords free for 15 days and purchase it for $49.95. Visit the Web site for complete information and interactive demonstrations.

Logo Generator

This ingenious site permits you to create your own logo by selecting format, image size, font size and style, alignment, background colors, textures, and a host of other characteristics. After designing your logo, click the "Submit" button, and within seconds your graphical logo appears. Right-click the logo, select "Save Image As," and save it to your computer to use as you deem appropriate.

WorkRave

If you sit in front of your computer for long periods of time, it's not healthy. Most experts recommend that you get up and move around at least once every 30 minutes. But keeping tabs on the time can be difficult. WorkRave is a free utility that allows you to create break prompts at regularly scheduled intervals. While testing the program, I had it prompt me every 30 minutes and it worked like a charm.

Rainbow Folders

Have we become so complacent in our everyday computing that we accept as a given the fact that all Windows' folder icons are manila-ish yellow? If you're as deeply troubled by that as I am, and you would like to change folder colors, here's a software program that can help. You can colorize an unlimited number of folders and color-code important files, for example, by making them red; work-related folders blue, financial folders green, etc. The effect of colorizing folders is not only visible in Windows Explorer but throughout your entire system. You can also create warnings to prevent somebody from accidentally deleting one of your colorized folders, and little text descriptions of folders that appear when you place your cursor over a colorized folder.

PIXresizer

PIXresizer is a free photo-resizing program that can be used to create email-friendly versions of your images in reduced file sizes. When an image is converted to a smaller size, the reduced-size files are saved in a separate folder, so original images are not mixed in with resized ones. Original images are not affected in any way by the resizing operation.

PIXresizer can also convert image formats, incluging .jpg, .gif, .bmp, .png, and .tiff. Images can be rotated, converted to grayscale, and resized in batch mode converting many images at one time. It can also be used to create thumbnail (small) images.

PDF File Converter

This program, by ScanSoft, quickly and easily converts Adobe PDF files into Microsoft Word documents, and keeps all formatting and graphics intact. PDF Converter is launched from within Word or other Microsoft program, and creates your PDF file as a formatted Word document. From within Word, you would click File > Open to instantly create a Word file from a PDF. The PDF File Converter is $49.99 (at publication), but worth every penny if you have occasion to work with or need to edit PDF documents.

Physicians Desk Reference

If you enjoy reading about medication contraindications or looking at pictures of pills, as I do, have I got great news for you! drugs.com added the Physicians Desk Reference (PDR) to their drugs database, so you can now locate information on more than 26,000 drugs and medications. Oh, happy day!

From the Drugs.com home page, you can browse alphabetically or search by keyword. A search for "migraine" found a total of 366 results, with 221 being from the PDR alone. It's enough to give you a headache. Additional categories include consumer information, PDR professional information, a conditions guide, and news and related articles.

Several unusual search options appear across the top of the Drugs.com home page that include an interactions checker, pill identifier, and an image search.

AutoSizer

In theory, a window should open to the same size it was at the time it was closed. In the real world, it doesn't always work that way. When Windows forgets and a program or document window opens to a smaller size than desired, you can give Windows' memory a nudge by manually resizing the uncooperative window. Simply drag its edges, stretching a diminutive window to as close to its maximized size as possible. Then close the window by clicking the "X" in the upper right-hand corner, and reopen it. It will remember its previous size and will open maximized thereafter -- or until it forgets again, which ever comes first.

If that doesn't work, however, and you're beginning to feel that life has no meaning without maximized windows, try this free utility that works with all versions of Windows and will automatically resize any window.

EmailStripper

Keep this handy-dandy free utility on your Desktop or minimized on your Taskbar. When you get ready to forward an email, maximize EmailStripper, copy the body of the email into it, click the "Strip It" button to remove the >>> marks, then copy and paste the cleaned-up text into a new email and send it. Presto cleano!

Spector

Spector secretly takes up to 60 snapshots of your computer screen every hour, just like a surveillance camera. The photos are then saved to a hidden location on the computer's hard drive. Spector can record chat room conversations, instant messages, email sent and received, Web sites visited, programs used, keystrokes typed, everything your little scamps or scoundrels do on the PC. You can check the computer a few hours or even weeks later and see what kind of monkey business - if, in fact, monkeys have business - has been going on. Normally $99.95, Spector is having a "Honey-of-course-I-trust-you" sale for $69.95. The program is available for immediate download so you can be snooping within minutes! Spector is compatible with all versions of Windows.

Associate This

When you click a .doc file and Windows launches Word to display the contents of that file or launches Paint to display a .jpg file, it does so through a process known as file association. Files of a particular type are associated with programs that are required to open them.

Sometimes it can be difficult to change file associations or undo file association changes that occur as a result of installing new software that takes it upon itself to change your pre-existing file associations. Associate This ($20), can help restore file associations. The program runs in the background like your virus-checking software. When file extensions are changed, Associate This records that information, notifies you, and thoughtfully provides the option of changing things back to the way they were.

Cable Digital Video Recording (DVR)

If you have cable television service, your cable provider may offer (or may soon offer) digital video recording (DVR) service. DVR allows you to save approximately 80 hours of television programming on a hard drive in the DVR set-top device. This device replaces your existing cable box.

The service offers more advanced recording and playback options than a VCR, including the ability to pause and rewind "live" TV at any time. You can also watch a recorded program while simultaneously recording two additional programs, thereby eliminating any sliver of free time not previously consumed by your computer.

With DVR, you can record a single episode of a program or all future episodes of a show, and even watch two programs at the same time with the integrated Picture in Picture (PIP) feature. My favorite feature is the three-speed fast-forward control. Commercials? What are commercials?

The cost for this service is $10 to $15 per month, per television, and includes the set-top box which contains the hard drive.

SnagIt

SnagIt is an award-winning screen-capture program that allows you to save screen content, such as images, text and video, to the Windows clipboard, email, printer, and even the Web. You can capture small portions of screen content as well as larger screens that require scrolling. This is a marked improvement over Windows' PrintScreen function that can only capture what appears on a single screen, but nothing outside the screen's borders. The integrated SnagIt Studio allows you to cut, crop, edit, or annotate captured images. Be sure to take the excellent and informative SnagIt Video Tour before purchasing.

Ask Mr. Modem!

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Google Toolbar

With the Google toolbar you can launch a Google search from any location, thus avoiding visits to the Google home page. Other features include PageRank, which reveals the ranking of any Web page displayed by Google, and the ability to highlight search terms as they appear on a search results page. The Pop-up Blocker works great and even keeps a running total of how many pop-ups it's blocked. The Google Toolbar is for use with Internet Explorer only.

iRider Web Browser

As long-time subscribers know, I road test hundreds of software programs each year in my never-ending quest to find the best applications that are the easiest to use - not necessarily in that order. Because I have the attention span of a comatose turnip, I like programs that are visually appealing, intuitive, and that permit me to click my brains out within seconds of installation.

One such program just rode into CyberTown is a new Web browser named iRider. iRider presents one of the most common-sense approaches to Web surfing that I have encountered. It uses your existing Internet Explorer Favorites folder, so right off the bat there's no need to import your bookmarked sites. Hot dog!

Take a look at the video tutorial on the iRider Web site for a visual overview of the program. Then, take it for a free 21-day trial run (it's $29.95 to register -- and worth every penny).

Dogpile

Dogpile ranks results from many search programs -- including Google, AlltheWeb, Yahoo, AltaVista, Teoma, and About -- using a formula that analyzes the popularity of each engine, the number of click-throughs a site receives from Dogpile, how many other engines a site is listed in, and its various rankings.

Alert BookMarks

I recently had the opportunity to test an unusual product called Alert Bookmarks, which installs a retractable bookmarks toolbar that stays hidden until you need it. Your favorite Web site addresses are then stored in convenient, drop-down menus within the toolbar. To add additional sites, visit a Web page, click the "Add" icon, and the Web page address is remembered. To revisit an added site, click its name as it appears in the drop-down menu, and the program will send the address to whatever browser you're using. Alert Bookmarks can hold up to 140,000 bookmarks, but if you've got that many bookmarks, you really need to get out more.

The name "Alert Bookmarks" is not quite accurate because this product isn't just for Web-site bookmarks. It can also catalog email addresses, sound files, graphics, video and other Web-based resources. Click HERE to view screen shots of the program.

While I wouldn't place Alert Bookmarks in the "must have" category of software utilities, it's an interesting product that provides an original and novel approach to cataloging favorite Web sites. Unfortunately, it's not available as free- or shareware. It costs $29.95.

Turbo 10 Search Engine

No, I'm not abandoning Google, which remains my favorite search engine, but Turbo 10 is an interesting alternative that works a bit differently than most search utilities. Turbo 10 scours the deepest recesses of the Internet that most traditional search engines do not explore.

When you enter keywords, Turbo looks up ten sites and highlights your search keywords. On the left side you'll see a list of topical clusters -- which any good dermatologist should be able to clear up in one or two visits.

If the search results displayed don't meet your expectations, you can click words contained in the topical cluster list and receive additional results. Beneath the TCL (topical cluster list) is the relevance and speed bar. Click the arrows to increase or decrease relevance and speed, which will narrow or expand the results list.

There are some very nice customization features, including "My Collections," that enable you to create your own collections of search engines. Each collection can contain up to 10 individual search engines. To learn more, click HERE and take the My Collections tour.

EasyOffice Premium

EasyOffice Premium is a viable alternative for users who either don't want or can't afford to use Microsoft Office. EasyOffice includes a number of Microsoft-equivalent programs, including SimpleWord, EasyWord, EasyPresentation, EasySpreadsheet, EasyBookkeeper, EasyCalculator, EasyContactManager, EasyZip, EasySpeaker, and EasyHelper.

At installation, you have a choice of a minimal, full, or custom install. The full installation is 84MB, which sounds large, but it's still smaller than any version of Microsoft Office.

EasyWord, the word processing part of the suite, can write both Microsoft Word and Adobe .PDF files. EasyWord Premium, contained in the paid version of EasyOffice, also includes mail merge, label and envelope printing, word count, automatic backup, and spell-check dictionaries in English and French. A full English dictionary and a thesaurus are also included with the program.

EasyOffice Premium is compatible with many other programs and formats. Click HERE to review a complete listing.

Several versions of EasyOffice are available, with the most full-featured being EasyOffice Premium. A freeware demo version is offered, and licensed versions start at $28. Click the Purchase link for complete purchasing information.

Behind-The-Asterisks

This is a small utility program that I do not recommend installing unless you need it to resolve a specific problem. The purpose of the program is to let you see passwords that are hidden by asterisks. I've used it to help recover software passwords that I've forgotten, but that's about the only purpose it serves. The original home page for Behind-The-Asterisks is no longer functional, so the above link will take you to the Free Downloads Center. There you can enter your email address and you'll be sent a link from which you can download the program. It's a bit of a circuitous route to get to the program, but it does work.

Alternatively, Asterisk Key is another password unmasker that translates ***** into the password you selected. The program is free and works with all versions of Windows.

My best suggestion is to simply be aware that these programs exist. If you ever need to recover your password, they will be invaluable to you. But short of that, I wouldn't invest any time downloading and installing either of them until you really need them.

Bookmark Wizard

This is a little program with a simple wizard-like interface that generates an HTML (Web-type) page that displays all or just selected links from your Internet Explorer Favorites folder. The links in the resulting page are grouped and sorted as they are in your Favorites folder.

You can specify colors for links and backgrounds, titles, captions, etc., for your page. If privacy is a concern, you can also prevent certain folders from being listed. If you really get into it - though I'd urge restraint -- advanced users can edit the entire page template to customize it further. The resulting Web page can be used as a links page on your Web site, if you have one, or you can send it to a friend, or use it as a start-up page for your browser.

Travelaxe for Best Hotel Prices

Travelaxe is a free, downloadable program that simultaneously searches up to 20 travel and hotel Web sites to find the best hotel pricing and availability. It isn't a Web-based travel agency so you can't book rooms, but once you locate a hotel you're interested in, Travelaxe will connect you with the appropriate booking page so you can make your reservations. Travelaxe currently searches hotel rates in more than 600 cities, in 38 countries.

Complete information, including a tour of the program, is available on the Web site. This is a handy utility, but only if you travel frequently or need to check and compare hotel rates often.

For a Web-based (no software to download) alternative, try Hotels.com, currently monitoring 8,000 hotels in 350 cities.

Outlook Express Assist

Allows you to view any message in the backup file without restoring it first - a big plus over other backup systems. It also allows you to search your backup file for specific messages, then retrieve them as text or Outlook Express (.EML) files. You can back up to disk or CD, and the integrated scheduler permits you to schedule backups at certain times of the day or on specific days of the week. A full-featured version of each program is available for a 15-day trial.


RoboForm Password Generator

Usernames and passwords are taking over the world. Despite advice to the contrary, most people tend to use one username and password because it's easier to remember than 74 different usernames and passwords. For security-minded individuals who do use multiple passwords, RoboForm is a secure form filler-outer and password-generator. If you need a password, RoboForm can generate a random string of characters such as "Ri#TkaBWoy%" with the click of a mouse. More importantly, the program will remember passwords for you -- which is a necessity if you're going to be using complex passwords.

RoboForm can generate alpha (letters only), or alphanumeric (letters and numbers), or alphanumeric-plus-punctuation passwords. Roboform receives rave reviews from such highly respected sources as The Wall St. Journal, PC Magazine, TechTV, and now Mr. Modem. Could Roboform's future be any brighter?

Lorem Ipsum Dummy Text Filler-Inner

In the past, I've mentioned using Microsoft Word's ability to provide filler text if you need to see what a document layout is going to look like when filled with content. Just to refresh your recollection, at the start of a line (in Word), type the command "=rand(p,s)" (without the quotes), where "p" is the number of paragraphs you want and "s" is the number of sentences per paragraph. When you've replaced the "p" and "s" with numeric values, press Enter and Word will fill the designated space with, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Catchy.

The Lorem Ipsum filler-inner is a bit more sophisticated in its filler text selection and offers a few additional capabilities. All you have to do is select the number of paragraphs, words, bytes, or lists needed, and Lorem does the rest. The site provides a bit of information about the Latin text itself and its history, so you can feel good about utilizing slightly more literate material than the banal "The quick brown fox..."

CyberScrub

CyberScrub is an excellent computer security utility that eliminates data so it is virtually impossible to recover. The only 100 percent, absolutely, positively effective method is physical destruction of the hard drive; however, if your neighbors see you in the garage, pummeling your hard drive with a hammer, it may raise suspicions. CyberScrub also destroys all evidence of online activity and it will go back in time (after installation) and erase "previously deleted" data and files.

I found CyberScrub easy to use, particularly because it integrates into Windows so you can drag files and folders using Windows Explorer and drop them into CyberScrub, or you can erase them directly from Explorer or My Computer, with a single mouse click.

CyberScrub Standard costs $39.95 and works with all versions of Windows. A "Professional" version is also available for $49.95, which provides a few additional settings. Most computer users will be fine with the Standard version.

When you're serious about data destruction or covering your tracks -- without drawing attention from the neighbors -- take a look at CyberScrub.

Think Ink at InkSell

An excellent resource for printer supplies, including refilled or recharged ink cartridges and toner for ink jet printers, laser printers, fax machines, and photocopiers, as well as specialty products like photo and glossy ink jet papers. Inksell.com received the highest "Customer Certified" ranking for online ink suppliers by BizRate.com.

Spybot Search & Destroy

Spyware, adware, scumware and malware, are programs that hide on your computer and perform dastardly deeds without your knowledge. Spybot Search and Destroy will check out your system and even clear the history from many popular programs.

Once installed on your computer, you'll need to update Spybot so it can search for the most recently discovered spyware programs. Click Online > Search for Updates. Select the updates and click Download Updates. Once your updates are installed, click the Spybot S & D (Search and Destroy) tab, then click "Check for Problems." Spybot will search your system and list all potential spyware, as well as any other potentially incriminating information, such as your browsing history, and will let you back it up or remove it entirely.

If you do decide to try Spybot, be sure to read about it first. There is a wealth of information available about the program, how it functions, and how to interpret its reports, on the Spybot Web site. Pay particular attention to the "Getting Started" and "FAQ" sections. Spybot's default configuration will work fine, so there isn't any significant tweaking that needs to occur. It's very easy to use as there are only three buttons (with explanations) when you launch the program: Check for Problems, Recovery, Search for Updates.

Spybot is free, but a $10 donation is requested if you decide to use it. It's an excellent product, well worth the $10 donation.

Gadwin Print Screen

On most Windows computers, a full screen of data can be placed on the Windows clipboard by pressing the PrintScreen (PrntScrn) key. You then have to retrieve the image using Paint (Start > Programs > Accessories) or another graphics editing program. There are a number of limitations associated with this type of PrintScreen capture, not the least of which is the inability to capture only specific portions of a Web page.

The Gadwin PrintScreen allows you to capture an entire screen or a fraction thereof. The Destination tab lets you print out the capture instantly, save it to a file or e-mail it. There are six different image formats to choose from, and each one can be easily resized without the need for additional graphics editing software. The Gadwin PrintScreen is free and works with all versions of Windows. Try it. You'll be Gad you did.

AdsGone Pop-Up Stopper

Testing AdsGone on a few densely pop-upulated Web sites, this program gobbled up more than 200 pop-ups within a couple of hours. It not only stops pop-ups, it also addresses pop-unders, and those annoying, animated "Flash" ads. If there are any ads that you want to permit -- and I can't imagine why you would -- you can designate the ones you would prefer to let through. AdsGone logs and maintains statistics of its activity and works with any Internet connection. A free 21-day trial is available or it costs $19.95 to register, with a money-back guarantee if you're not satisfied.

Mr. Modem's tried-and-true, low-tech approach to pop-up stopping is to press ALT + F4 as soon as one appears. As fast as other pop-ups appear, just keeping pressing ALT + F4 and you can stop pop-ups dead in their tracks. If you prefer a software solution, give AdsGone a try.

PrintFolder

PrintFolder is a simple utility you can use to print a list of files and folders -- a feature sorely missing in Windows Explorer (in case Mr. Gates is reading). The pint-sized PrintFolder doesn't try to do too many things and works from a right-click context menu. The 525KB PrintFolder download includes a README.TXT file, Windows setup and uninstall. PrintFolder can print files, subfolders or both, and it includes several other adjustable options. This utility isn't fancy, but it does the job both locally and on networks.

Once installed, right-click any folder in Windows Explorer and choose "PrintFolder," or select a folder with the browse button on the toolbar menu. Click the Options tab to set various program preferences, like maximum filename length, left margin, font size, invert text area colors and more.

Clean Center

This program was developed to recover hard-drive space by deleting junk files that are no longer used. Though its support documentation is a bit on the skimpy side, this award-winning program is nevertheless user-friendly, and support is available via e-mail from the Web site. Select the drives you wish to clean, then scan your system for more than 50 types of junk files. When the list of suggested files is presented, if it meets with your approval, click the "Clean" button and stand back.

You can scan for the types of files you want to remove as well as the ones you want to leave alone. For example, using the built-in Cookies Manager, you can select the cookie files to be deleted or select the cookies you don't want to remove. You can create filters by choosing from a myriad of pre-configured file extensions to look for, or custom configure your own using the built-in wizard.

A free, limited-use trial version is available. The paid version is $29.95 and works with all versions of Windows.

Spamex

Fight spam with Spamex! Spamex permits you to create disposable e-mail addresses that forward mail to your primary e-mail address without revealing your actual e-mail address. If you receive any unwanted e-mail through a disposable e-mail address, just turn it off and the unwanted mail sent to that address will stop. And if you only disclose a disposable e-mail address to one person or Web site, you can easily determine the source of the unwanted e-mail. Spamex is a browser-based service that works with Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera, PC, Mac, Unix, AOL, Earthlink, Juno, Hotmail, Yahoo mail, Eudora, Outlook, Outlook Express, Pegasas, and more. You can try the service free for 30 days or subscribe for just $9.95 per year. For more information, visit the Spamex Web site and be sure to read the extensive FAQ.

Pop-Down

With this program, made for Internet Explorer, tell Pop-Down how many IE windows are permitted to be open at any one time. I generally use two, so configuring Pop-Down to limit IE windows to two prevents any additional windows from opening. For fun, you can have Pop-Down beep whenever it blocks a new window.

In-air Cordless Optical Mouse

Winner of PC Magazine's 5-Star Award, this gyroscopically controlled mouse allows you to control your computer from any comfortable position using natural hand movements. Whether you use it on your desk or in the air (like a remote-control television clicker) it will track the motion of your hand and move the cursor in unison. Works within a 25-foot range of the computer and comes with a rechargeable battery. It costs $79 and is available at Staples, Fry's, and finer mouse stores everywhere.


Microsoft Word Templates

When you need to complete invoices, expense requests, and other common forms, there's no need to create the forms from scratch. Instead, use any of the hundreds of professionally designed Word templates available for free at this Web site.

Igo!

iGo! specializes in products for the on-the-go computer user. I've been shopping with iGo! for years and have always found their products and service to be excellent. Whatever you're looking for, from extra notebook batteries, to mobile phone accessories, to portable hard drives, if it's related to mobile computing, you'll find it here.

My Way, Ad-Free Surfing

This Google-powered site's slogan says it all, "No banners. No pop-ups. No kidding." It also lists dozens of other no-no's including no e-mail solicitations. Signing up takes 30 seconds because My Way asks you virtually no questions. Even your name is optional. The only information it collects is your ZIP code. The home page is customizable, much like Yahoo!'s, with themes, personalized content, and a flexible layout where you can even add a personal photo.

Window Washer

Worried that someone is keeping tabs on your browsing activity? Cover your URL trail with a single click with the award-winning Window Washer program. Sweep up those loose bits of data that may be accessible by clicking on the Start menu's Find, Documents, and Run options. Window Washer can also empty the Recycle Bin, the Temporary Internet Files folder, and the Web browser cache (stored pages) in Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera, AOL, MSN, CompuServe and others. You can even set the program to run scheduled cleanings. Works with all versions of Windows from 95 through XP. Try it for free for 30 days; $30 to purchase.

SpinRite

SpinRite is a hard-drive utility that can prevent crashes by isolating defective areas of your hard disk. Think of SpinRite as ScanDisk on steroids. Even if SpinRite isn't used until after a hard drive crash, it will reassemble all the pieces, recover your data, and miraculously put everything back together again. No need to run right out and purchases this product, keep it in mind in case your hard drive ever decides to head south.

NoAds for Pop-Ups

There are no perfect pop-up solutions and no software that will absolutely, positively eliminate all pop-ups. In fact, my favorite anti pop-up technique is still to press ALT + F4 as soon as a pop-up appears. In a split second you can shut down anything that -- well, pops up. If you're looking for something more proactive and aggressive than to thwart pop-ups, NoAds is a free alternative that's well worth taking a look at.

Iomega Hard Drives

Iomega makes great products. I've been using their Zip drives and disks for many years. If you're filling up your hard drive and need additional storage -- assuming you can't part with some of the things you've got stored on your hard drive that you'll probably never access again -- check out Iomega's line of external hard drives, with 40, 80 and 120GB (gigabytes) of storage. A smaller, portable 750MB Zip drive is also available. All drives are pre-formatted for PC (Mac versions are also available), and all connect quickly and easily to a USB port.

Numion Speed Test

Internet speed tests abound, but Numion's "Your Speed" test is particularly noteworthy. It's fast and easy to use, and you don't have to download any software to try it out. Unlike other speed tests, Numion polls approximately 40 well-known Web sites (in your choice of geographical region), then presents an average surfing speed. This averaging provides a more accurate assessment of your data-transfer rate than a single, isolated test.

While visiting Numion, try their "Stopwatch" feature. Type in a Web address, and a stopwatch will calculate how long it takes for the site to completely load. Have races with your friends!

Collectorz.com

Here you'll find an assortment of software to help you organize your music, movie/DVD, MP3, book or comic book collection. I use the Music Collector for my CDs, LPs, and yes, even my beloved 45s. The software connects to the CDDB (CD Database) on the Internet, so all you have to do is put a CD in your CD-ROM drive and let Music Collector download complete information about tracks, artists, play times, etc. You don't have to type a thing! Try a demo version for 30 days and if you decide to keep it, it's $25 to purchase.

Restorer 2000

About two years ago I was finishing up a book I was writing when I lost a full day's work due to a hard drive problem on my Windows 2000 computer. When I regained consciousness and the paramedics departed, I started searching for software that would repair my hard drive enough to permit me to retrieve my precious manuscript.

I downloaded the free demo version of Restorer 2000 and within minutes I was presented with a directory tree of the contents of my hard drive. The free demo didn't provide the ability to actually recover the data. No, that would be too easy. It simply proved the data was accessible -- if I ponied up a few dollars. At that point, money was no object, so I paid $49 for the "pro" version, and an hour later my data was restored. Restorer 2000 only works with Windows 2000, NT and XP.

Anti-Theft Card for Notebook Computers

The heart and soul of this product is an ingenious motion detector embedded in an anti-theft device that slips into your notebook computer's PC card slot. Once activated, a voice shouting "Alert! Alert! Warning! Warning!" becomes progressively louder until one of two things happens. Either the thief abandons the notebook or the system breaks into an eardrum-splitting screech that is only slightly less disturbing than Yoko Ono's singing. The Caveo Anti-Theft System ($99) worked flawlessly in my tests, though if we ever meet, please be sure to speak loudly. Even though I wore earplugs while testing the system, this is one noisy little critter. And if you don't believe me, just ask my neighbors.

Toss Your Cookies

If the name doesn't make you queasy, this is a handy utility that removes unwanted Internet cookies quickly and easily. You can delete cookies manually, of course, but Toss Your Cookies provides the ability to mark the cookies you don't want removed, as well. Using this feature, cookies that enhance your surfing experience at your favorite sites (greeting you by name, for example) can be retained. Toss Your Cookies will also remove your temporary Internet files and empty your Windows temporary file folder with just a click of a button. The program is free for the download, compliments of EasyCool Software.

Microsoft Fee-Based Support

One of the best-kept secrets in the often frustrating world of telephone technical support is Microsoft's fee-for-service support line at 800-936-5700. The cost is $35 per incident, but it's worth every penny if you really, REALLY get stuck. The folks manning the support line are the best in the business and will stay on the phone with you for hours in order to resolve your Microsoft-related problem. They will even walk you through a complete reinstallation of Windows, if necessary.

AeroMerge

AeroMerge (formerly TinyMerge) is a quasi-tiny program (300K) that allows you to combine multiple text files into a single document. Let's say you want to combine several files of personal or business notes or recipes. Merging each record into one file would normally require lots of copying and pasting. Using AeroMerge, you can select (by button or dragging) the names of the files you want to appear in a new merged file, arranged in your desired order of appearance. The program, which is free for the download, isn't something everybody will want or need, but it's nice to know it's available if you ever have a number of documents to combine.

Return Path Email Forwarding

Use this free service for change-of-address email forwarding. It's particularly handy if you're changing ISPs. Simply fill out their "Change-of-Address" card, and any email sent to your old address will be forwarded to your new address. This service works for most ISPs, including AOL. Complete information is available on the Web site. Where else?


Earthlink Dial-Up ISP

ZDNet recently conducted a review of national ISPs to determine which one provides the most cyber bang for the virtual buck. For the third year in a row, Earthlink's dial-up service won top honors based on reliability, ease of use, and customer support.

I use Earthlink to connect to the Internet while traveling. With hundreds of local U.S. and International dial-up numbers, long-distance charges are a rarity. Monthly fees range from $10 to $22 per month, which are slightly less than the national average.

QuickWiper

This easy-to-use utility is a virtual file shredder that securely deletes files from your computer. While I wouldn't recommend this for everyday use -- deleting files by emptying the Recycle Bin is generally sufficient for most of us -- there may be occasions when you want to be absolutely, positively sure your data is vaporized and unrecoverable. Reformatting your hard drive is one way to ensure data destruction, but that also wipes out Windows. This program allows you to select individual files via right-click or drag-and-drop. The "System Clear" feature permits users of Internet Explorer to delete cookies, history, cache, temporary files, and typed URLs in one click. $29.95 by download, at time of publication; available on CD for an additional $12.95, plus shipping.

Password Safe

If you're having trouble remembering passwords for the different Web sites you visit, try Password Safe. This free service is easy to use and permits you to store an unlimited number of usernames and passwords, with links to each particular site. So instead of navigating to a Web site and trying to remember your username and password, you can go to Password Safe first, select the site you would like to visit and review your username and password at the same time. There are certainly more secure programs available for keeping passwords, but for run-of-the-mill storage and ease of access, this free service is definitely worth taking a look at.

TickerMyMail

This is an unusual program that displays information about incoming e-mail in scrolling ticker-tape fashion, providing the sender, subject, date, and time of each e-mail. Click the ticker at any time to open your e-mail program and read your messages. Setting up this program is easy because it uses the information from your existing e-mail program. You can monitor up to six e-mail accounts.

TickerMyMail works with all versions of Windows, from 95 to XP and costs $9.90. You can download a free, fully-functional, 14-day trial version from the Web site.

Ebp-Lite Password Manager

This device, which is intended to be carried on a key chain, has five buttons and a tiny LCD screen. You access your passwords by pressing a secret combination of the device's five buttons, and then scroll through your passwords. The device itself cannot be hacked without destroying the data it contains. You can enter your own passwords similar to the way you enter text on a cell phone. Because it's a "stand-alone" device, it works instantly with any system and requires no software installation.

Originally developed for the U.S. military and national security applications, this is an excellent password manager, though at $69.95, it's a bit pricey. Still, if you do have need for a password management system that does a first-class job of generating and retaining passwords, is light-weight, mobile and easy to use, take a look at Ebp-Lite.

BikeBrain Bicycle Computer

VeloTrend's BikeBrain is a new class of bicycle computer that incorporates graphical displays, real-time directions, real-time speed graphs, an altitude profile of your route, and speed logging for post-ride upload and analysis, into a hand-held and handlebar mounted computer. It is designed for use with both Palm and Handspring Visor personal organizers. This $99 device is perfect for the environmentally friendly, geek on the go.

Paperless POBox

This isn't a service that will appeal to everybody, but with prices starting as low as $29.95 per month, this service is ideal for the traveler or anybody who would like to receive their U.S. Mail via e-mail. Every morning, a bonded (not to be confused with "out on bond") PaperlessPOBox courier picks up your mail from the post office, scanned and e-mailed to you.

The base rate of $29.95 per month includes 500 scanned, black and white images. Color is $39.95 per month. For an additional $4.95 per month, only First Class mail will be scanned, reducing the amount of scanned junk mail you'll receive.

This unusual service is one that the U.S. Postal Service is observing closely. Who knows, some day it may be an option offered by the USPS. "Neither rain, nor snow, nor heat, nor gloom of disconnected modem stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed e-rounds."

Stay Connected

Tired of being disconnected while reading an article, writing e-mail or downloading a program? This popular utility prevents "time-outs" and disconnects for dial-up Internet connections, including AOL. It can even resume broken connections by simulating the Internet activity of a "real" person -- which presumably involves ranting and cursing when a connection is dropped. Stay Connected is compatible with AOL, CompuServe, NetZero, MSN, Juno, Prodigy and AT&T WorldNet and others, and works with all versions of Windows, including XP. You can try it free for 30 days; $19.95 to register.

Tracking E-mail

Want to know when e-mail you send is opened and read or how long your e-mail was opened and whether or not it gets forwarded to someone else? Would you like to send "self-destructing" e-mail that will delete itself before or after it's been read by the recipient?

These are just a few of the many capabilties available to you once you register on the ReadNotify Web site.

Because ReadNofiy isn't a software program, it's a Web-based service, so it works with virtually every e-mail program and Web-based e-mail service. Using ReadNotify is simple: You just compose your email the same way you always do, then before you click Send, add ".readnotify.com" to the end of the recipient's e-mail address.

You can test drive ReadNotify for 10 e-mails or 14 days, whichever comes first. If you decide to continue with the service after trying it out, the Basic Subscription plan is $24 per year. James Bond would have loved this!


"Say-the-Time" Software

Have you ever been so consumed by surfing or reading e-mail that you lost track of the time? I do it constantly. Well, I should say I did it constantly. After a family intervention, it was decided that I needed help breaking away from the computer. I was advised to find a software program to help keep me aware of the time by announcing the hour, "It's 1:00 P.M." or "It's 2:00 A.M." Now that I think about it, I've never actually heard it say "It's 2:00 A.M," and hopefully, I'll never be at the computer at that hour. The last thing I need is another intervention.

The name of the program that says the time is cleverly named Say the Time.

In addition to keeping tabs on the time, this program will also announce the date, time, or both, at specified intervals, using a male or female voice. You can also customize your Taskbar's clock or change its look by using a variety of colors, textures and fonts, set multiple reminders with messages that appear on screen and much more.

Say-the-Time will run under Windows 98, Me, NT, 2000 or XP. Download the program and try it for 30-days free. If you decide to keep it, the cost is just $19.95.

Belarc Advisor

The free Belarc Advisor is program that builds a detailed profile of your installed software and hardware. It runs on Windows 95/98/Me, NT, Windows 2000 and XP, and creates a local (on your computer) Web page that contains a list of all the hardware in and attached to your system, plus information about all installed software including license and version numbers. It does not report its findings back to the Belarc Advisor folks.

Not only does the generated profile serve as a handy reference should you ever need to take your computer into a repair facility, but it's excellent for insurance purposes, as well. Print out your system's specs and put it in a safe place. If disaster in the form of a stolen or destroyed computer ever strikes, you'll have a comprehensive document memorializing your installed hardware and software.

BUSLink

USB File Transfer Cable
Don't let the high-tech sounding name of this product (BUSLink USB File Transfer Cable) intimidate you. If you need a simple way to connect (network) two computers, BUSlink Corporation sells this cable for $50. The process is nothing more than plugging each end of the cable into each computer's USB port, and installing the software -- which is a quickie installation. Once installed, launch the program and you'll see the hard drives of both computers displayed on a split-screen in what looks like a Windows Explorer view. You can then cut, copy, paste or drag files and folders. Transfer speeds are lightning fast.

Sneakemail

Pronounced "sneaky mail" or (sneak e-mail) you can use this free service to generate disposable e-mail addresses. Your "sneakemail" address is really just an alias of your real e-mail address. Using this service allows you to fill in e-mail-based forms, register on Web sites, respond to confirmation messages, etc., without revealing your real address. This is a great way to avoid spammers or track where spammers are obtaining your e-mail address.


Pop-Up Stopper

Tired of those pesky pop-up ads? Welcome to the club. This program is free and works with Netscape and Internet Explorer. A "Professional" version is also available ($29.95), that blocks pop-ups in AOL, MSN, Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera and Yahoo. Claiming 4.5 million users, this award-winning utility is one of the more popular pop-up blocking programs.

Message Cleaner

Have you ever received a joke or other email that has been forwarded from one person to another, to another, to another...? Chances are the message ends up with each line starting with lots of >>>>>>>> marks. Message Cleaner will strip these extraneous characters, adjust word-wrapping, remove carriage returns, extra spaces and perform a host of other actions, all in an effort to tidy up your email. This program receives the coveted Mr. Modem "Five Squeal" rating.

Message Cleaner can be downloaded and used for a 30-day free trial period, after which you are asked to register it. The cost? Under $10.

Photon Micro-Lights

The BRIGHTEST lights for their size in the WORLD! These little key chain lights offer reliable light for any situation.

Available in your choice of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Turquoise, Blue, and White. Each color light serves a different purpose, so click the link below and read up before you light up. Mr. Modem's Picks: I use the red light, with the short clip, on my shirt when running or bicycling in the dark, pre-dawn hours. The white light is extremely bright and comes in handy clipped to my keys. These little lights make great gifts, also.

Powell's Book Store

Yahoo! Internet Life magazine tested more than 100 e-tailers for its current Holiday Shopping Guide and Powell's was voted Best Book Site on the Web. Said Yahoo!: "For book browsing and buying, we'll stick with Powell's, which combines convenience and customer care with a passion for the written word."

It's Mr. Modem's favorite book site, so be sure to visit Powell's for your online book purchases. And tell 'em Mr. Modem sent you!