SEMA News - September 2010

By Joe Dysart

La Crème de la Crème

  SEMA News-September 2010-Internet 

Arkview offers a number of external, portable adapters that make easy work of adding a second or more monitors to a desktop or laptop system.  

While hundreds of hardware and software solutions emerge on the market each year angling for your PC productivity dollar, only a small percentage offer significant gains. Here’s a sampling of la crème de la crème—PC productivity tools that will leave you wondering how you ever got along without them.

Arkview Display Adapter, from Arkview, for two-monitor systems, $80:

Once you’ve grown accustomed to using a PC with two monitors, going back to a one-monitor system feels like losing an arm. The solution? This external hook-up, cigarette-pack-sized device, which allows you to quickly add a second monitor via your PC’s USB port. It’s especially handy when you’re traveling with a laptop and want to easily add a second monitor.

The solution comes complete with all the cables and connectors you need to handle virtually any two-monitor combination. Plus, installation of Arkview is as easy as loading the software and plugging the second monitor in to any USB port. When I tested it, the software configured a two-display system the second I plugged in the second monitor, automatically. Effortless.

Switchman Combo, from Raritan, $150:   

This is an extremely useful interface that allows you to control up to four PCs and four peripherals with the same keyboard, monitor and mouse. With a one-button click, you can jump from one PC or peripheral to the next. For me, Switchman is a great insurance policy. I use it to keep a spare PC handy, loaded with all the programs I use, just in case my newest system suddenly crashes. Instead of being bogged down in crisis repair mode, I click to the next PC and handle the repairs at a more convenient time.

Overall, the Combo brings a whole new meaning to the concept of multitasking. Set-up is easy—simply cable-in your PCs and peripherals to the interface. Plus, if you’re having any trouble, tech support is very helpful and is based in the United States.

ABF Outlook Express Backup, from ABF Software, $30:

This e-mail backup program has saved my bacon more times than I can remember. With one click, ABF backs up all my e-mails to a single file, which can be easily copied to an external hard drive or keychain flash drive. Restoring that e-mail to the same computer—or a different one, if I prefer—also requires only one click. I’ve used the program in its various iterations for nearly a decade with no problems.

  • Two tips: If you’re using ABF on a freshly formatted PC, be sure to open Outlook Express and view an e-mail in that program before running ABF. Doing so creates a store folder for your e-mail, which ABF needs to operate. Also, when restoring your e-mail to a different PC, re-create any special folders you’ve created for yourself in Outlook Express. If you have a folder named “Old.Mail,” for example, you need to recreate this folder in Outlook Express before restoring your e-mail with ABF.

Free E-mail Back-Up in the Cloud, from Google, free: For data back-up professionals, the overriding mantra is “redundant systems.”  Toward that end, you can also back-up your e-mail in the cloud by signing up for a free Google e-mail account and routing all your messages through Google’s servers. Since the service allows you to rename your Google account e-mail address with an address featuring the name of your company, no one will be the wiser. Plus, you can send and receive Google e-mail from your favorite mail program, such as Outlook or Outlook Express.

  • Why I’m a believer: After losing two years’ worth of e-mail in a system crash recently, I restored my PC and watched somewhat amazedly as Google automatically re-downloaded all those lost e-mails to my PC. Essentially, if my office is hit by a meteor (hopefully, while I’m absent), I, or my next of kin, can still can recover all my e-mails, thanks
    to Google.

Cobian Backup 10, from Cobian Soft, free:

The problem with most data backup programs is that you’re forced to store your backup in a compressed form. That may sound eminently efficient in principle, until your PC suddenly goes kabloey, and you discover that your handy-dandy backup program doesn’t restore your compressed data properly. (Been there, done that, ranting for hours.) Cobian eliminates this post-nuclear possibility by offering the option of non-compressed backups. Essentially, it will copy a file as is to another place or external drive (which I prefer). I’ve been using this program in its various iterations for years and have never had a problem. There’s something to be said for switching over to your external backup drive and being able to open any backup file in real time, sans shenanigans. Overall, Cobian Backup is very easy to use and very reliable.

Driver Magician, from GoldSolution Software, $30:

This is a great fail-safe program for all those upgrading to Windows 7 from Vista and earlier versions of Windows. With this program, you can scan Vista or another version of Windows for all your hardware drivers and double-check to ensure that all those drivers work with Windows 7. If not, you’ll have the opportunity to find and store Windows 7-compatible drivers before you actually do the upgrade.

Driver Magician is also great for people who want to do a clean installation of Windows 7—or essentially, erase what’s on a hard drive and start fresh with the new operating system. In that case, you’ll absolutely need Driver Magician to identify all the drivers you’ll need before you do the fresh installation. Another very cool feature: Driver Magician allows you to store all of your hardware drivers in an executable file, which can be used to auto-install all your system’s drivers after a system reformat.

Batch DOC and DOCX Converter, from Batchwork, $80:

This is a very helpful utility for those looking to view new Microsoft Word files on older versions of Word. Simply click on a .DOCX file with this program, and you’ll be able to see and work with it in your older version of Word. Plus, the software also auto-converts large batches of new Word .DOCX files to older formats if you prefer.

The program also works in reverse, converting .DOC files to .DOCX. One note: Microsoft offers a free conversion utility that does the same thing—Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2007 file Formats ). However, adding such Microsoft updates sometimes slows down your PC’s overall performance.

Norton Internet Security, from Symantec , $70:

I’ve been using various iterations of this program for nearly a decade and have never had a virus, malware or spyware problem during that time. Granted, the program does slow down a PC’s performance somewhat, but Norton IS definitely has less of an impact than competitors McAffee and Kapersky, in my experience.

The secret to using this program is to buy the current year and simply renew your subscription each year at the Norton IS website—instead of installing Norton’s yearly “upgrades”—for as long as possible. The reason: More often than not, I’ve found that Symantec’s yearly upgrades to the software—including the upgrade from Norton IS 2009 to Norton IS 2010—run slower than the previous year’s version. Also, don’t despair if you have the 2009 version and see a great sale on the 2010 version. Simply buy the 2010 version and use its key code to extend your 2009 version subscription by another year.

Norton Utilities, from Symantec, $50:

This program is advertised to make your PC run markedly faster and certainly rang the bell in my tests. Another program that has been around for decades, Norton Utilities, is a collection of tools that tweak your PC for optimum performance. Once installed, it takes about 20 minutes for a complete run-through, and you always have the option to skip a tool you prefer not to use or “dial back” to a previous instance of your PC’s settings if you don’t like the results rendered by any particular tool. Worth it.

Roxio Creator Pro 2010, from Roxio, $110:

If your barebones PC didn’t come with disk-copying software, this is a reliable product to add. Around for years, Creator Pro soars through the basics—copying disks, ripping and organizing your audio, editing and burning video DVDs—with flying colors. Plus, there are plenty of specialty functions, such as authoring for Blu-ray disks, complete PC hard-disk backup and HD camera video to disk conversion. Roxio also offers a stripped-down version of Creator, but for a few dollars more, you get it all
with Pro.

ACT!, from Sage, $195:

Another stalwart that has been around for decades, ACT is one of the most fully featured, user-friendly programs I’ve come across. With this software, you’ll have fingertip access to all your contacts along with quick-click access to all your notes and history associated with each contact. You can also slice and dice your contacts database using dozens of variables with this program. Plus, any version of your ACT! database is easily exportable to other common programs, such as Microsoft Excel. (Database imports into ACT! are also a snap.) ACT! is extremely customizable, plus there are dozens of optional, specialized plug-ins you can buy for special needs. The newest version is designed to integrate with social media and comes with new dashboards and available reports. In a phrase: It’s a no-brainer purchase if you’re looking for a best-bet, easy-to-use contact manager with all the bells and whistles.  

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan, New York.
Voice: 646/233-4089

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