When you're making your gift-buying rounds this holiday season, you're sure to pass by a software retailer--whether it's a storefront, a catalog or a site on the Internet. Do yourself a favor and stop in; you'll be amazed at the number of software titles out there that make great holiday gifts . . . for co-workers, for family, for your kids and, of course, for yourself. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Cassandra Cavanah is a contributing editor of Portable Computing Direct Shopper magazine and has reported on the computer industry for eight years.
At Your Fingertips
After reading that Sheila Lowe's Handwriting Analyzer pegged Ted Bundy as "persuasive, charming, but also: restless, unpredictable, non-conforming, dominating, a retention-risk," we thought it might be worth a peek. The idea behind Lowe's software is that handwriting tells the truth about a person, making it easier to find the right fit for a job. The professional version ($395) gives you the tools to evaluate handwriting samples like a professional analyst. A personal version is available for $95. The program runs under Windows 95 or NT. Try a demo at www.writinganalysis.com or call (888) 426-2978.
The windows clipboard is a great tool, especially when cruising the Web. Cutting and pasting text and graphics from one program to another can increase your productivity, but not when you can only copy one item at a time.
Insight Software Solution's SmartBoard32 is designed to eliminate this problem, thus making your clipboard use quicker and easier. SmartBoard also keeps track of all your clippings, so you can go back days, weeks or months later to find an item you clipped. SmartBoard makes browsing the Web better by letting you clip items of interest to view later offline. This is a great gift for any Windows 95 or NT user at $29.95 plus $3 shipping. SmartBoard is available from Insight's Web page at www.wintools.com or by calling (801) 295-1890.
Know It All
In today's information-saturated world, there's virtually no excuse for, say, not being able to help your 12-year-old write a report on dinosaurs. If you have hours to spend cruising the Web for information, you're sure to find it. But if you want to give yourself, your kid or anyone else on your holiday gift list a researching break, check out Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia 1998.
This CD-ROM not only houses a ton of information, but it gives you convenient access to places you should visit on the Web. The Deluxe Edition comes with an "Ask the Librarian" feature, which lets users submit research topics to Compton's librarians, who will reply via e-mail within two business days with suggestions of additional online and offline research resources. If you're looking for local color, you can try your Neighborhood Resources--just by entering a zip code, users are directed to local museums, zoos, universities and more.
Don't forget that first and foremost, this is an encyclopedia. It includes a complete 26-volume encyclopedia set with more than 38,000 articles, a world atlas, a complete dictionary and thesaurus, and more. There are free monthly updates to keep the information current. The regular version costs $44.95; the deluxe version costs $64.95. For more information, visit www.learningco.com or call (800) 227-5609.
The latest version of Quarterdeck's CleanSweep Deluxe has new features targeted at Web cruisers. Its main purpose is to reclaim valuable hard-drive space by removing unwanted programs and unneeded files. Windows 95 has a utility for doing just this; it's extremely limited, however, and often doesn't remove all the components of an unwanted program. Computer manufacturers--in an effort to fill PCs with every bell and whistle, often stuff hard drives full of software that few people want or need. That's where CleanSweep comes in.
Making this new version more viable for today's Web-savvy user is its ability to identify Internet debris, including Internet cache, Web "cookies," ActiveX controls, browser plug-ins and more. The InternetSweep feature lets users know exactly what files were downloaded from the Net while surfing. As an added bonus, you get TuneUp AV, anti-virus software that alerts users of viruses and eliminates them automatically. Any Web surfer will appreciate this product. CleanSweep Deluxe costs $59. Visit www.quarterdeck.com for more information or call (800) 683-6696.
Get The Message
If your business relies on e-mail for interacting with customers, you might want to consider a gift for your company: Mustang Software's Internet Message Center (IMC). This program was designed to route your company's e-mail into the right hands so appropriate action can be taken--be it customer service, sales or support. IMC automatically assigns a tracking number to incoming messages and, at the same time, notifies your customers that their messages have been received. The system lets you track all correspondence with a particular customer, giving you an easy way to manage how your company is responding to customers' issues. And your customers will have recourse if their needs aren't met by keeping a record of their message-tracking numbers. This, in turn, should motivate your employees to respond to their e-mails in a timely fashion.
This is a sophisticated product ($1,500), but it's worth considering if your company receives large amounts of e-mail that are being routed to different people. If IMC sounds like something you and your company could benefit from, visit Mustang's Web site at www.mustang.com.
Everyone loves those yellow sticky notes. And that's the premise for Jot-It!, a clever little program from Jot-It! Software that lets you paste simulated sticky notes anywhere on a document--be it within a program on your computer or even on a Web page. The program's proprietary "concurrent technology" remembers where you left the note so it's there when you reopen the document later. Jot-It! also supports sound, so you can record and attach sounds to your notes. For those who love to post notes over every inch of their work area, this could be the perfect gift. It costs just $29.95 and is available for downloading from www.jot-it.com. Call (800) 667-4340 for more information.
Play It Again
Anyone who loves music will appreciate this affordable (just $99) music-creation program from Cakewalk Music Software. Cakewalk Home Studio lets any amateur music buff record, edit and play back CD-quality digital audio. You can even publish Cakewalk-created songs on the Internet. The program lets you record up to four tracks of real guitar, horns and sound effects--even your own voice--then play them all back with your MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) music tracks.
Aspiring pianists will appreciate Cakewalk's Virtual Piano, an on-screen instrument that can be played with a computer keyboard or mouse. You can record your own tracks or just play along with the included music files. Audio effects, such as reverb, chorus and fades, can also be added to your pieces. After all the elements of a musical arrangement have been recorded, Cakewalk can create printed sheet music--making it possible to play riffs recorded off the cuff whenever you want.
To get a music buff started, Cakewalk includes pre-recorded song files in styles ranging from orchestral and ska to acid jazz and techno. Also included are MIDI and audio files from L.A. film-scoring team Shawn Clement and Sean Murray, and Boston rocker Charlie Farren. This program is capable of running on a standard Windows 95 machine and requires a 486 DX-2 66 MHz or higher processor and 16MB RAM.