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Lost in Cyberspace

Three utilities: One critical, one useful and one fun

This article was originally published on February 15, 2000 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

While everybody's trying to figure out what the next great IPO offering for an online company will be, here are three utilities that might not make you rich but will make your life simpler:

ConversionsPlus is now out in version 5.0, and reportedly ready for Windows 2000. Whether it's Windows 2000 compliant or not I can't swear, but what is certain is that for those with Windows 95 or 98, ConversionsPlus is as close to an indispensable program as you'll find.

It's a bit on the pricey side for your average home user, but when you look at what it gives you it's apparent that it remains a bargain even at close to $100.

ConversionsPlus 5.0
DataViz: 1999

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Modem Booster 1.0
InKline Global: 1999

Your Handwriting
Your Handwriting
DataBecker: 1999

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Buy it now

ConversionsPlus allows you to open, view and print just about any file you're likely to run across. Uncle Fred send you an attached file in ClarisWorks off his new iMac? Not a problem. You have Microsoft Works, but use Word97 at work? You can still bring stuff home from the office. Use WordPerfect at home but a Mac at work? We can handle that.

Nearly every major office application is supported. And, not only can you read anything you get or send yourself in e-mail, but Windows users can use ConversionsPlus to read Mac discs – floppies, Zips, CD-ROMs, flopticals; anything you have a physical disk drive for. The included MacOpener will also read any Mac SCSI hard drives (assuming you have a SCSI card on your PC) or external SCSI Zip drives.

If you do any file swapping at all, it's hard to imagine getting by without ConversionsPlus.

Not all of us are fortunate enough to live in an area served by DSL or where cable TV offers high-speed Internet access. And others either can't afford or choose not to spend the additional money that those faster options cost. And so we're stuck at 56k.

But there's 56k and there's 56k. Modem Booster 1.0 helps get the most of your 56k modem.

What it does is make sure that your modem settings are optimized. During the install (or you can manually launch a modem checkup later), the program goes through your settings and even dials your primary ISP to make sure that your modem and the one on the other end are communicating as efficiently as possible. It fiddles with stuff like your cache (kind of a short-term storage area in your modem) and compression settings and who knows what else because I'm not a techie and a lot of what it told me it was doing went right past me.

But when it was done, it said it had improved my modem throughput by 7 percent – and even if it hadn't told me, I still would have noticed that Web pages load faster when I run it. If you download a lot of files, you'll notice even more.

By the way, if your dial-up Internet connection keeps dropping the carrier on you, the makers of Modem Booster (inKline Software) also offer another product called Stay Connected that keeps pinging various Web sites just so your ISP doesn't hang up on you.

On the down side, I've noticed since installing Modem Booster and Stay Connected that when I do disconnect from the Internet, my computer has frozen a couple times the past few weeks and had to be rebooted.

There are seemingly limitless ways of personalizing your own Web site, and seemingly unlimited software programs available to help you do just that. One application that does stand out is Data Becker's Your Handwriting.

As the name implies, Your Handwriting takes your handwriting and puts it into your computer – as a TrueType font in this case. You need a printer (so you can print out the entry forms) and a scanner (to input said forms) for this program, but it's pretty darn easy to use. Takes maybe an hour to finish, depending on how much you want to fiddle with aligning and spacing your letters and all, but when you're finished you'll have a TrueType font that looks like your scribbling.

From there, you can put it on your Web site either through Dynamic html> (embedding the font in your Web pages so that visitors can download it) or use it in graphics. Of course, you can use it for anything you want, from printing out letters that look kind of like you wrote them by hand (although far too regular and consistent) to making it your system font (not recommended unless you're one of the perfect people whose handwriting looks like a third-grade cursive textbook.)

Only caveat here is I was unable to get the software to work right with my Plustek scanner at home, but it worked fine with the H-P at work.