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7/96 Analysis: Start

Desktop Gems At Cut-Glass Prices

We all have a few small, unassuming applications
that become an essential part of our daily work.
Here are my low-cost favorites.

By Fred Langa, Editorial Director

I'LL BET YOUR Windows desktop contains a few unsung software heroes-small, unpretentious applications you use again and again. I know mine does. I use maybe a dozen of these small apps to solve nagging problems or overcome the frustrating limitations of a standard Windows desktop or application. Here are some of my favorites-all free or very inexpensive-along with information on where to get them. (For a point-and-click version of this column, visit http://www.winmag.com/flanga/gems.htm.)

The Microsoft Internet Mail and Newsreader 1.0.

Microsoft finally has a decent Internet mail reader. That's good, because Exchange-Windows 95's "universal inbox"-is a pain in the posterior for simple tasks like retrieving e-mail from a dial-up Internet service provider.

The mail reader is a small, sleek, focused and wonderfully functional little applet. It's very much like the "lite" mail client that came with the unauthorized "Nashville/Win96" prototype I wrote about in a recent column (see Start, March, or visit http://www.winmag.com/flanga/win96.htm). It lets you do just about everything-manage old mail, make attachments, embed or link graphics in new messages, use different fonts, auto-append your standard Internet signature file and spell-check. Best of all, it has a nice, easy-to-use interface-and it's free.

The new mail client is part of a combined release of two free products, the Internet Mail client and a separate Usenet newsgroup reader. Both are combined into one download called MAILNEWS.EXE ( http://www.microsoft.com/ie/).

If you're using your browser to read Usenet newsgroups, you may like Microsoft's free one. But if you're a serious habitue' of these newsgroups, try something more powerful:

News Express 2.0, a.k.a. NX2.0, is the long-awaited 32-bit successor to the popular 16-bit version of News Express. This freeware news reader lets you access, sort and manage your favorite Usenet groups with minimal fuss. The 32-bit version lets you download from multiple newsgroups simultaneously, decode UUencoded files automatically and-if they're graphics-display the images with a built-in .JPG viewer.

The current version calls itself Version 2, beta 0, but it's as solid as many released packages I've seen. (I've been using various versions of NX since its 0.7 stage with hardly a glitch.) You can download News Express (beta 1) from the WinMag Web site and our areas on AOL and CompuServe.

Lview Pro is a great tool for manipulating 32-bit images under Win95 and NT. It's great for building Web pages because you can do more than just view an existing graphic. Lview lets you brighten, darken, retouch or resize an image. You can also alter its colors, add text to it, preview it as a thumbnail or change its file format. It's not Photoshop, but it costs $30 and you can master it in minutes. You can download a copy from many online shareware collections, including http://world.std.com/~mmedia/lviewp.html.

Robodun (as in Robotic Dial-Up Networking) automates the process of logging onto a dial-up Internet service provider. Yes, Microsoft also offers a scripting utility, but Robodun is better. Its script language is clear, obvious and English-like. It's a breeze to set up, and it's utterly reliable. Best of all, it's free. If you're tired of typing your user name, password and PPP commands every time you start an Internet session, let Robodun automate it all for you. Grab a copy from http://www.windows95.com/apps/dialup.html.

ASAP Word Power 1.95 is a lifesaver if you need to pull together a presentation on short notice. It's an amazingly simple, compact (essentially, one disk!) app that lets you create nice-looking on-screen slide shows in record time. Its small size and simple operation make it easy to master. And when you're creating a presentation on your laptop, ASAP's small memory footprint means less thrashing of your hard disk, which results in longer battery life.

Despite its simplicity, ASAP Word Power can create presentations as compelling as those created using packages such as PowerPoint or Freelance. ASAP doesn't offer all the bells and whistles, but it may be all you need. And it's a handy life preserver for even the most experienced presentation jockeys. ASAP Word Power is a relative bargain at $99, and you can download a free 30-day trial from http://www.spco.com/asap/asapwp95.htm.

PowerToys is a set of misleadingly named utilities-tools, really; not toys-that extend and enhance Win95. With these utilities, you can easily change menu speed, mouse sensitivity, window animation and sound, the way shortcuts appear and the default names they get, and which icons appear on your Desktop. There's a .CAB file viewer and a utility to change screen resolution and color depth on the fly. Download it free from http://www.microsoft.com/windows/software/powertoy.htm.

WinZip makes handling compressed files (those with extensions such as .ZIP, .TAR and .ARJ) incredibly easy. Now a 32-bit application, WinZip for Win95 offers a "classic" mode for those familiar with file compression, and a "wizard" for the uninitiated. At $29, WinZip is indispensable shareware. Download a copy from http://www.winzip.com.

Password Master is a simple tool for safely storing and recalling all your account information and passwords in one centralized, DES-encrypted file. You can keep the file on your hard drive or on a floppy you can lock away. No more struggling to remember a dozen passwords, and you can use passwords that are longer, more obscure and thus harder to crack. And with Password Master ensuring you never forget a password again, you'll feel better about changing your passwords regularly-something security experts say we don't do often enough.

When you first fire up Password Master, you enter descriptions, user names, passwords and "hints" for each password you need to remember. It then stores the passwords on disk in a heavily encrypted file. You also make up a new master password (enter one that's long and difficult to crack) that lets you get back to everything you just entered. This is one of just two passwords you need to remember from now on.

Later, when you need a password, you run Password Master in a special view mode that displays your hints without showing you (or anyone else) your password on screen. You can use the hints to invent wilder and more obscure (and thus safer) passwords. For example, if you want to use an alphanumeric password based on your Aunt Betty's cat, Password Master can display an oblique hint like "Aunt B's Companion's Lives" to remind you of "Scratches9."

For safety, the view mode requires a password before you get to the hints. This is the only other password you need to remember. If the hints don't do the trick, you use the edit-level master password to see the password in plain text. Thus, with just the edit- and view-level passwords memorized, you can gain access to dozens of other passwords.

Password Master costs $29.95, and you can get additional information at

What are your unsung software heroes? Let me know, and I'll compile a list of all your favorites for a future column.

Fred Langa is Editorial Director of CMP's Personal Computing Group. Contact Fred via his home page at http://www.winmag.com/flanga/hotspots.htm, in the WINDOWS Magazine areas on America Online and CompuServe.To find his E-Mail ID Click Here

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