Most computer software that I use is blandly functional, like Word and Outlook. Some of it is curse-worthy crap that I get rid of as soon as I can. And then there’s the sweet stuff: software that brings a smile.
Because it’s so beautifully designed. Because it does what it’s supposed to. Because it fixes a vexing problem caused by less praise-worthy software.
Here's what I’m currently in love with on my laptop.
Google. Lots to like here. I just downloaded Google Desktop after a lengthy absence. I had it on my old computer and decided to give it another try. Wise decision. The Desktop Sidebar is slick. And like most everything Googleish, works like a charm. My current gadgets are a clock, to-do list, email summary, scratch pad, and Wikipedia/Google quick search boxes.
The Desktop search functions seem much improved from the previous version. Now you have more control over what gets indexed. Deleted files can be omitted from search results if you like. When I just couldn’t remember where the heck some bit of info I wanted was—file, email, web site I’d visited?—Google Desktop has saved me from lots of fruitless searching.
Just as Google Page Creator has saved me from lots of frustration when I want to put up a simple web page. I’ve tried FrontPage. I’ve tried several supposedly “quick and easy” web site creation software packages. I’ve tried some other online services.
But this stealthy offering from Google Labs (it doesn’t yet appear in Google’s list of offerings) is the clear winner. If your web page/site needs aren’t complicated, Page Creator is the way to go. It’s intuitive and marvelously easy to use. I’m using it to put together a compendium of postings from my other blog (still under construction).
Lastly, Google’s Gmail was the solution to a vexing email problem. Our satellite Internet provider, WildBlue, has a ridiculously stingy policy on email storage and upload/download file sizes. I kept getting messages returned because an attachment was over 5 or 10 mb.
Now my wife and I forward our email addresses to separate Gmail accounts. Again, slick. No more worrying about Wild Blue’s stingy file size rules, because Gmail does the sending and receiving of messages. So far the Gmail service has never been down, something that, unfortunately, can’t be said of WildBlue.
RoboForm. Ah, what a beautiful piece of password-saving, form-filling software. If you’ve signed up with numerous password protected web sites, as I have, RoboForm is a must. I used to keep passwords written down in a Word file, which I’d print out for easy reference. But I had to worry about the security of the file (as well as the print out).
Now RoboForm is a trusted companion on my browser’s toolbar. It works equally well with Firefox and Explorer. RoboForm generates random passwords for you, saves them, and enters them on password-protected sites. All you have to do is remember a master password that opens the encrypted RoboForm file.
This program has never failed me. I wouldn’t know what to do without it now.
SystemSuite. The day I dumped Norton SystemWorks and embraced the SystemSuite collection of utilities (firewall, virus protection, optimization, recovery, etc.) was a happy moment. SystemWorks would screw up my computer almost as much as it protected it.
The last straw came when I upgraded to a new version and couldn’t install it because remnants of the old version were resisting being deleted. I asked for help from SystemWorks tech support and was directed to complicated instructions for going into the registry and manually deleting the recalcitrant files. Soon after I bought SystemSuite.
Another wise decision. It’s not flashy, but it does the job. I don’t hold my breath when I de-fragment my hard drive, like I used to with the Norton software. When I have a question I get an email response from the SystemSuite tech support people within a day. And the answer makes sense, unlike my experience with SystemWorks.
The SystemSuite 7 upgrade has been the only fly in my otherwise satisfied ointment. If you’re using version 7 and find that your computer has slowed to a crawl, hit ctrl-alt-delete and see if mxtask.exe is sucking up a prodigious amount of your CPU resources.
If it is, try shutting down the SystemSuite firewall and letting the Windows firewall protect you temporarily. When I did this, my computer went back to acting normal. SystemSuite has admitted to me that there is a problem and they hope to get it fixed soon.
Until they do, I’m using a trial version of the Sunbelt firewall and leaving the SystemSuite firewall off (I don’t trust the Windows firewall). I made the mistake of trying the free ZoneAlarm firewall for a few days. It worked for a while, then decided that it needed to protect me from my WildBlue internet connection that, until then, it had correctly identified as an approved firewall passer through.
In the course of researching this problem, I came across a disturbingly extensive ZoneAlarm Gripes page. This is a program that causes too many frowns rather than smiles. My advice is, don’t install the free version.