america’s fastest isps

MaRCh 2009

wiNdows 7
PC Labs Tests and Reviews Beta One TAx sofTwAre rouNdup Make This Tax Season Easier

> aPP LaunChERS > audiO/MuSiC > BaCkuP > BLOgging > BROwSERS > CaLEndaRS/PiMS > COMMuniCaTiOn/ E-MaiL > COnfEREnCing > fiLE TRanSfER/ dOwnLOad > fiLE ViEwERS/ COnVERTERS > finanCE > fun/hOME > gRaPhiCS > iMS > inTERfaCE EnhanCERS > LOCaL SEaRCh > OffiCE > OPERaTing SySTEMS > nETwORking > RSS REadERS > SynChROnizaTiOn > VidEO

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Which employees spend the most time working and which spend the most time goofing off. Which employees spend the most time surfing web sites and see EXACTLY what they do on them. What employees search for on Google, MSN, Yahoo and more. Which employees are posting resumes on Monster. Who is leaking company confidential information via chat, web mail or removable media.

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(a video surveillance-like recording tool with easy-to-use VCR-style playback) shows you in exact visual detail what an employee does every step of the way. More than 50 charts and reports allow you to quickly and easily identify your top achievers, productivity wasters, and anyone engaging in inappropriate or potentially damaging conduct.


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© 1999-2009 SpectorSoft® Corporation. All rights reserved. PC Magazine Editors' Choice Award Logo is a trademark of Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings Inc. Used under license. *Guidelines apply for this limited time offer. Contact your SpectorSoft Sales Professional for complete details.

September, 2008 Spector 360

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cove r s to ry

vol. 28 no. 3

march 2009


The Best Free Software
In times like these, the word “free” becomes particularly enticing. But you can’t just go downloading free apps and utilities willy-nilly—that’s a surefire way to put malware and other nasty stuff on your system. We’ve scoured the Internet for only the best free utilities and apps for networking, backup, entertainment, and more. Here you’ll find 173 ways to save a buck.

first Looks
9 software Windows 7 Beta 1 Tax Software Roundup Plus Quick Looks at Spore Origins, eReader 1.3, and more. 13 hardware Sony VAIO VGC-JS130J/P Canon Pixma MP980 Wireless Photo All-In-One Printer ViewSonic N2201w HDTV/monitor Gateway FX6800-01e Plus Quick Looks at the Dell Studio XPS 16, the Samsung P400, the Sony Lifestyle PC, and more 17 business Lenovo ThinkPad W700 ViewSonic PJ513DB Apple iWork ’09 20 consumer electronics RIM BlackBerry Curve 8900 (T-Mobile) HTC Touch Pro (Sprint) Creative Vado Pocket Video Cam HD Sony Reader Digital Book (PRS-700) Vizio VP505XVT Plus Quick Looks at the LG Incite, the Cowon O2, the Nikon Coolpix S60, and more

The Fastest ISPs in America

3 first Word: Lance Ulanoff 24 John c. dvorak i 25 nside track: John c. dvorak 26 sascha segan 27 dan costa


We enlisted thousands of PC Mag readers nationwide to test which ISPs are the fastest and friendliest. After months of crunching data, here’s what we found.

45 new Uses for old digicams hat can you do with your old W camera? Turn here to find out. 48 t Work a 0 ffice 5 o 52 security 53 tech tips 55 the best stUff

4 feedback

front side
5 ow the stimulus package will H affect tech; dealing with the “digital cliff”; the best of our blogs; handy Web sites; finding the right GPS.

PC Magazine Digital Edition, ISSN 0888-8507, is published monthly at $24.97 for one year. Ziff Davis media Inc., 28 East 28th Street, New York NY 006-7940.



Editor-in-ChiEf, pC magazinE nEtwork Editor

Lance Ulanoff

Stephanie Chang Vicki B. Jacobson Dan Costa (reviews), Jeremy A. Kaplan (features) art dirECtor Richard J. Demler EditoriaL prodUCtion dirECtor Nicholas Cosmo pC LabS dirECtor, SEnior Editor (hardwarE) Laarni Almendrala Ragaza SEnior EditorS Sean Carroll (software, Internet, networking), Wendy Sheehan Donnell (consumer electronics), Carol Mangis (blogs), Kyle Monson, Sarah Pike (Solutions), Erik Rhey (Digital Edition) SEnior writEr Eric Griffith rEViEwS EditorS Gary Berline (software, Internet, networking), Tony Hoffman (hardware), Matthew Murray (consumer electronics) Copy ChiEf Elizabeth A. Parry Copy EditorS Margaret McVeigh, Ann Ovodow pC LabS LEad anaLyStS Cisco Cheng (laptops), Tim Gideon (audio and video), Robert Heron (HDTV and home theater), Mario Morejon (networking and small business), Michael Muchmore (software), Neil J. Rubenking (security), Joel Santo Domingo (desktops), Sascha Segan (mobile devices), M. David Stone (printers and scanners) anaLySt Dan Evans (DIY, gaming) jUnior anaLySt PJ Jacobowitz (digital cameras and camcorders) prodUCt rEViEwS Coordinator Zachary Honig inVEntory ControL Coordinator Nicole Graham Staff photographEr Scott Schedivy pCmag.Com managEr, onLinE prodUCtion Yun-San Tsai prodUCErS Gregg Binder, Mark Lamorgese, Whitney A. Reynolds nEwS Editor Mark Hachman nEwS rEportEr Chloe Albanesius aSSoCiatE EditorS Jennifer L. DeLeo, Brian Heater (blogs) Staff EditorS Corinne Iozzio (reviews), Nicole Price Fasig (reviews) aSSiStant Editor Sean Ludwig rEViEwS prodUCEr Errol Pierre-Louis CommErCE prodUCErS Iman Edwards, Arielle Rochette UtiLity program managEr Tim Smith CommUnity managEr Jim Lynch CrEatiVE dirECtor Chris Phillips prodUCtion artiSt Guyang Chen VidEo EditoriaL dirECtor, VidEo and digitaL EVEntS Sebastian Rupley ContribUting EditorS Helen Bradley, John R. Delaney, Richard V. Dragan, John C. Dvorak, Craig Ellison, Galen Fott, Bill Howard, Don Labriola, Jamie Lendino, Jim Louderback, Bill Machrone, Edward Mendelson, Jan Ozer, Neil Randall, Matthew D. Sarrel, Larry Seltzer EXtrEmEtECh.Com Editor Loyd Case SEnior tEChnoLogy anaLyStS Jason Cross, Joel Durham prodUCEr Jeremy Atkinson jUnior prodUCEr Mike Nguyen

dirECtor of onLinE ContEnt, EXECUtiVE prodUCEr EXECUtiVE EditorS

ChiEf EXECUtiVE offiCEr
bUSinESS dirECtor

Jason Young

Christopher Urciuoli ViCE prESidEnt, digitaL SaLES Kenneth J. Detlet ViCE prESidEnt, markEting James Selden 212-503-4689 rESEarCh dirECtor Fred Doscher rEgionaL SaLES managEr Amy Loria 352-873-4288 aCCoUnt EXECUtiVES Susan Narta 949-459-2931; Kathy Pavlak 212-503-4847 SaLES aSSiStantS Angelique Soto (East Coast) 212-503-5255; Meggen Thorp (West Coast) 415-547-8131 aCCoUnt CoordinatorS Christine Blake (East Coast) 212-503-5241; Jamiel Hibbert (East Coast) 212-503-5491; Alycia Eakin (Central, Northwest, and West Coast) 415-547-8036; Angelica Ferrer (West Coast) 415-547-8045 adVErtiSing offiCE 28 E. 28th St., New York, NY 10016-7940; phone, 800-336-2423, 212-503-3500; fax, 212-503-5000 For advertising information go to ConSUmEr markEting ConSUmEr markEting dirECtor Todd Klyver

ziff daViS mEdia inC.
ChiEf EXECUtiVE offiCEr

Jason Young

Neil Glass Steve Sutton (General Manager, Interactive) SEnior ViCE prESidEnt Lance Ulanoff (Content, PC Magazine Network) ViCE prESidEntS Norris Boothe (Product Marketing, Game Group), Simon Cox (Content, Game Group), Beth Repeta (Human Resources), James Selden (Marketing and Sales Development, Consumer/Small-Business Group) EXECUtiVE dirECtorS Larry Chevres (Internet Technology), Olga Gonopolsky (Worldwide Licensing, Rights and Permissions), Christopher Urciuoli (Finance)
ChiEf finanCiaL offiCEr and SEnior ViCE prESidEnt EXECUtiVE ViCE prESidEnt
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FIRST WORD lance ulanOFF

Diary of a Slow PC
During the many times I’m called upon to provide tech support, there’s often a moment when my eyes are squeezed shut, my hands are pressed hard against my skull, and I’m muttering under my breath. It’s at such times that I’m this close to giving up. I had one of these moments recently, dealing with a system issue I had probably helped create. Let me rewind. Roughly four years ago, I bought my mother-in-law a new Dell PC. While this may seem like an extravagant gift, I must admit that the whole thing cost less than $500, including the display. These days, that’s not much of a bargain, but back then, netbooks and sub-$300 Eee PCs were pretty much nonexistent. Even so, I made some mistakes with that purchase—ones I would not make again. Take a look at the system’s specs and you can see where I went wrong: Dell Dimension 2400, 2.4GHz Celeron CPU, 128MB of RAM, Intel Extreme Graphics Controller Integrated (82845G/GL/GE/PE/GV/) 32MB VRAM, Microsoft Windows XP. Got it? Right. Even running Windows XP, this machine did not have enough memory or graphics power. In my defense, my mother-in-law did little more than use Microsoft Word and Excel, browse the Web, and access her America Online account. Within a month, I got a call from “Mom.” “The PC seems slow,” she complained. Sometime later, I was out for a visit, checked the system, and agreed: This thing was a dog. I spent some time clearing her Internet cache and defragging the hard drive. That seemed to help, somewhat. However, with those specs, this PC was never going to be even respectably fast. A couple of years later, I convinced my mother-in-law to buy additional RAM. Since she lives hours away, someone else installed the RAM. But it was still a dog. My in-laws explained that the PC had gotten to the point where it could take a minute or more between actions. This was unacceptable. And so, on a recent visit, I began my 4hour-plus troubleshooting odyssey. Windows’ Automatic Updates recommended an upgrade to IE7 and Service Pack 3. I ran these updates and retested the browser. With one tab open, things were okay. When I opened the second, the system started to slow down a bit. When I tried a third, I was back where I started. Soon I had a system message that virtual memory was running low and I needed to close some processes. Man, this thing was in bad shape. Since resources and processes seemed to be the issue, I began to look at system specs. The CPU seemed right, but the RAM made me question my sometimes faulty memory. It said 128MB of RAM. I asked my mother-in-law about the memory upgrade she purchased. She said it was in there, but she couldn’t recall how much was added. At the time, neither could I. It was time to take radical action. I powered the system down and unplugged every single cable from it. After vacuuming out unbelievable amounts of dust and dog hair from the back vents and an intake chamber on the front, I took a look at the motherboard and the two memory SIMM chips. It looked as if nei-

My failure to buy the right PC, a bad memory install, and looking for problems in all the wrong places had cost all of us countless wasted hours.
things that always ran and were resident at start-up. I uninstalled a bunch of unused AOL utilities and with those eradicated, I did another reboot. The results were the same. Looking for other possible causes, I noticed in the Task Manager that McAfee security software was eating up copious amounts of resources. So I uninstalled McAfee and went with Norton Internet Security 2009 instead. NIS 2009 installed on my home PCs like a dream, but things went a little less smoothly with Mom’s. Initially, the installation killed the Internet connection. I performed an uninstall and then a reinstall and the Internet miraculously returned. I wish I could tell you why. My first reboot after the successful NIS 2009 install took forever, but eventually, I was back online. With a few browser tabs open, however, the system was no better than it had been before. I even got the “virtual resources low” message. I think it was at this point that the head pressing and muttering began. I decided to check the ther one of them was fully seated. I used my thumbs to press one in—snap!—and then the other—snap! I put the PC back together, rebooted, and immediately the system found 384MB of memory. After this browsing was fast, easy, effortless. This was a zippy PC. In the end, my failure to buy the right PC in the first place, a bad memory install, and looking for problems in all the wrong places had cost all of us countless wasted hours. The lessons here are to buy the right PC with the right specs; don’t always assume your PC’s problem is with Windows, malware, or apps; and always seat memory properly (then make sure the system recognizes it). Now, whenever I call my mother-inlaw, I ask how the PC’s doing. Her reply: “It’s wonderful.”
Follow me on TwiTTer! Catch the chief’s comments on the latest tech developments at

Kudos to the Digital Edition
I’m really enjoying the digital form of the magazine. I can pick the story I’m interested in and enlarge it, making it much easier to read.—Lorraine Hall its product upgrades did not install properly. I look at security suites almost every year, since a new retail version is normally a better deal than a service contract extension.—Don Malchow

Security Thumbs Up
I just finished reading your security cover story (“Reclaim Your Online Privacy,” February, page 28). It is by far the most comprehensive and informative security suite review I have read. There are more features to evaluate and report on than ever, and you covered them in a well-organized and easy-to-read way. It takes skill, judgment and most importantly resolve to make any technical article readable without reliance on acronyms and terms unfamiliar to users that are not fluent in the particular geek speak dialect. I have relied on reviews of this type ever since I decided to no longer send money to an arrogant company that thought its customer should pay for tech support when

Where Art Thou, USB 3?
I am going to be purchasing a laptop in the next few months. I have recently been reading about USB 3.0 technology being developed. When are laptops going to be able to support USB 3.0? If I buy a laptop soon, I don’t think I can upgrade it to USB 3.0 from 2.0 without replacing the motherboard.—Steven Feldman At the CES 2009, we saw a few demos of USB 3.0 in action, meaning manufacturers are finally testing interoperability. But getting working ports into laptops takes longer. Look for manufacturers to finalize the PHYs—that’s industry slang for the physical layer device, or the port itself—late this summer. This means we’ll almost definitely

see discrete add-in cards at some point this year. But it won’t be until early 2010 that manufacturers will build the technology into chipsets, and therefore into laptops. Besides, by all accounts, Windows 7 won’t support USB 3.0 at first anyway—we’ll see what happens once it’s out of beta. So in light of that, I wouldn’t hold off your purchase based on this one factor. —Jeremy Kaplan
CORRECTIONS AND AMPLIFICATIONS In our Front Side piece “40 Years of the Mouse,” we mistakenly identified the codeveloper of the Logitech gyroscopic mouse. The correct company is Hillcrest Labs. In our December cover story, “The Best and Worst of 2008,” we mistakenly cited the price of the HP Photosmart Pro B8850. The correct price is $549.99 direct. HOW TO CONTACT US We welcome your comments and suggestions. When sending e-mail to Feedback, please state in the subject line which article or column prompted your response. E-mail All letters become the property of PC Magazine and are subject to editing. We regret that we cannot answer letters individually.

What’s New from the World of Tech

seNdiNg a message After much debate, President Obama finally signed a stimulus bill that ensures, among other things, money for technology so he can continue to use his BlackBerry.

Tech Gets a Cash Boot-Up
The economic stimulus act dedicates billions to technology development.
The economic stimulus package has dominated nightly newscasts and newspaper headlines for months. Democrats and Republicans disagree over whether the bill will actually boost the economy or simply give handouts to companies that help cause this mess. Despite the political pugilism, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has passed, and the final version includes some serious cash for techrelated projects. The money invested could have some significant long-term effects on
Photograph: Getty Images/Saul Loeb

the tech landscape—in both the public and private sectors. So what are your tax dollars buying tech-wise? Basically everything from broadband grants and a $650 million boost to the DTV program to an upgraded electric grid and millions of dollars worth of explosive-detection devices at airports. Here is a more in-depth breakdown of some of the technology projects and initiatives that will get funding. Access to broadband is increasingly considered essential to competing in our

21st-century economy. The package allocates $7.2 billion for broadband grants and loans, split between the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) within the Commerce Department. Agriculture must allocate at least 75 percent of its $2.5 billion to rural areas without sufficient access to broadband, and these grants must be open-access. The NTIA will also get $350 million to track


broadband availability and develop a Webbased broadband inventory map. Although the DTV transition has been delayed until June (see the story below), the stimulus act allocates an additional $650 million for the converter box coupon program. About $90 million of that total can be used for education and outreach efforts. Also, research funding for technology and other fields will get a nice boost (in an effort to keep math and science Ph.D graduates in the country), including $1 billion for NASA, $3 billion for the National Science Foundation, $2 billion for science research within the Department of Energy, and $220 million for research and grants at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) within Commerce. As for security technology, if you enjoy those machines at the airport that puff air at you to detect explosives, there are more on the way. The Homeland Security Department gets more than a billion

In addition to security and infrastructure, the stimulus act includes some serious cash for tech-related projects.
for border and airport security technologies, as well as for nonintrusive detection technology at seaports. There is also more money to repair and construct inspection facilities at land borders and to purchase explosive-detection systems. We at PCMag are always reminding readers of the importance of backing up your data. Well, Uncle Sam is also getting the message. At the State Department, the bill allocates $290 million for imme-

diate information technology security and upgrades to support mission-critical operations. Of that, about $38 million will go toward the creation of backup information-management facilities to protect the systems from mission failures, enhance cybersecurity, and secure immediate hardware and software upgrades Don’t forget about $4.5 billion to give our electrical grid a makeover. Digitizing health records is also a hotbutton issue these days. Well, the stimulus package will help make that a reality with about $2 billion for health information technology (HIT), including establishing a national HIT coordinator. And in case you think the government forgot about the children, the stimulus package also sets aside $650 million for the Enhancing Education through Technology program. In addition, $50 million has been divested to state-level Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) initiatives. —Chloe Albanesius

Falling Off the Digital Cliff
Even with a converter box, some will be left out in the cold after the DTV switchover.
As we know, the transition from analog to digital TV has been delayed from February 17 to June 12. The delay is meant to allow extra time for consumers to get their converter boxes and for the government to implement its transition programs, including the coupons for those boxes and the recycling of the thousands (and maybe even millions) of TVs that will be thrown away. One issue that is still unresolved is that of the “digital cliff.” In a nutshell, a digital cliff means no TV signal (regardless of whether you have a converter box) for those in rural areas or who live a great distance from a digital broadcast station. With analog, a weak signal means low quality, but a weak digital signal means a blank screen. The digital cliff has not been widely reported, and it’s an issue the FCC has not, according to many, addressed effectively. At DTV .gov, for example, you can find information about antenna adapters, but there are no diagrams or maps that explain how a DTV signal works or how far the signal travels. “At this point, our estimates are that 5.1 percent of U.S. TV households are unprepared, which is about 5.8 million households,” says Anne Elliot, a vice president at The Nielsen Company. Elliot says that a DTV signal travels in a different kind of contour from analog 

and either finds a receiver or doesn’t. Nielsen defines as “unprepared” a household that does not have any TVs capable of receiving a digital signal after the transition. Nielsen uses a representative sampling of 35,000 households to derive its estimates. The company issued a readiness alert in January stating that the elderly with more disposable income are more ready for DTV than those under 55 Nielsen also found that the top six least-prepared cities were Albuquerque, Houston, Tulsa, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin, and Memphis. The most prepared market is the Hartford-New Haven area of Connecticut, because of the proliferation of cable TV access in that region. Of course, Nielsen does not track small communities such as Ames, Iowa, or remote locations in Montana or Minnesota. Households in rural areas will likely not get digital reception after the transition even if they own a converter box, which could cause a problem for retailers trying to sell DTV antennas. “Our advice for people in rural areas is to buy an upgraded antenna and to test digital reception now, before the transition,” says Mary Diamond, an FCC spokesperson. She declined to elaborate.—John Brandon
Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer

Best of our Blogs
geArlog Csi stick: a Jealous Lover’s Best Friend The Paraben CSI Stick ($199) plugs into a cell phone and lets the user pull off all the phone’s “forensic data,” including the phone book, text messages, camera-phone images, call logs—everything. The Stick can even retrieve text messages that have been deleted by the phone’s owner. Terrifying! The CSI Stick comes with replaceable heads that can be used with a number of cell-phone models; it is available at Paraben’s site.—Brian Heater

seCurity WAtCh security Vendors Offer Windows 7 Protection Just because you’re running a beta operating system doesn’t mean you can go without security protection. In fact, Windows 7 will nag you to install security and point specifically to security providers AVG, Kaspersky, and Symantec. Kaspersky has announced a prototype of its antivirus app for Windows 7, and Symantec also offers a free beta of Norton 30 Version 3 to those running Windows 7 beta.—Larry Seltzer

goodCleAnteCh Recompute makes a Computer Out of Cardboard While most “green” computers focus on reduced energy consumption or using bioplastic, this one goes off the usual course and uses something else as a material for the desktop’s build. Recompute, as you can clearly see, utilizes layers of recyclable and renewable corrugated cardboard. According to its designer, there are four lowimpact steps in making this computer—die cutting, gluing parts with nontoxic glue, printing, and assembling the electronic parts. There’s no plastic or metal anywhere in the chassis besides what’s in the electronic components. And yes, it’s a real working computer.—Mariella Moon

@Work Polycom Launches High-Res Videoconferencing Polycom recently introduced the QDX 000 ($3,999) widescreen videoconferencing system for enterprise-level businesses. The QDX 000 features DVD-quality video that can maintain high resolutions even when operating over low bandwidths. Its video signal operates at 30 frames per second, uses Polycom’s Lost Packet Recovery (LPR), and can take input from up to five video sources.—Mario Morejon


of the Internet


Co n n eC te d tr Av e l e r

Find the Right GPS for Your Travels
Here’s the quickest route to the best GPS device.

myFOLiO MyFolio is an online community of artists in which you can easily upload and share media, create your own blog, and create galleries to showcase your talent. The free account offers 1GB of storage space and imposes a limit of 100MB per file uploaded.—Alan Henry geT THeRe iN sTyLe GPS models like the Navigon 2200T and Garmin nüvi 755T have big screens and millions of maps.

LasT FReeWaRe VeRsiON With Last Freeware Version, you can find older versions of some of your favorite applications when they were free and roll back to when the app didn’t cost money to use. In addition to some popular programs, Last Freeware Version keeps a number of smaller, lesser-known applications.—AH

Now that gas prices have come back down to earth, it’s a lot easier to get behind the wheel again. So, whether that means you’re commuting to work again or you’re finally taking that road trip, a GPS device can help keep you on track. Today’s navigators, though, can do a lot more than just get you from point A to point B. There are units on the market that will help you sidestep traffic, find a great new restaurant, or even make hands-free cell-phone calls. The nuts and bolts of picking the right GPS are fairly straightforward. Start by selecting your screen size and onboard maps, and tack on the additional features that you need (or want) from there. As far as screens go, you can find ones with big displays (like the 5-inch magellan maestro 5310, $599 street, l l l h m ) or small (like the 3.5inch Navigon 2200T, $229 list, l l l l m ), but most devices these days feature 4.3-inch displays (like

CLeRkdOgs Clerkdogs is a Web service that contains hundreds of thousands of movie recommendations from video-store clerks. Enter the name of a movie you like and the service will return a list of other movies you might also enjoy.—AH
For more cool Web sites and handy utilities and apps, visit PC Magazine’s blog AppScout (www

CHeaP TRiP The V7 NAV740 is our Editors’ Choice for budget GPSs.

the inexpensive, entry-level Nextar Q4 ($249.99 list, l l l h m ), which are perfect for most people. Every GPS will also have a points-of-interest (POI) database to help locate landmarks, hotels, restaurants, and other attractions along your route, in a particular city, or at your destination. On average, you can expect a GPS to pack a few million POIs. The magellan maestro 4350 ($500 street, l l l l m ) has six million, for example. On top of that, several systems tack on extra goodies: Navigon’s high-end 7200T includes onboard Zagat guides and 3D landmark views, and Magellan’s Maestro devices include AAA Tourbook listings. A vital part of getting where you’re going is avoiding obstacles, like traffic jams and tickets, along the way. Some systems have speed-limit alerts and traffic-camera detectors in addition to live traffic updates, which can help you sidestep congestion. The garmin nüvi 755T($499.99 list, l l l l h ) for example, includes subscription-free live traffic updates provided by Navteq. Many models, like the sony NV-U94T nav-u ($299.99 list, l l h m m ) include built-in traffic receivers and come with trial subscriptions that let you test the service for free. Aside from navigation tools and other extras, you can find a host of multimedia features in many GPS units. Our budget Editors’ Choice model, the V7 NaV740 ($299.99 list, l l l l m ) has a media player that supports most common music, photo, and video formats. A few other, typically higherend devices, including the Magellan 4350 and the Navigon 8100T ($599.99 list, l l l h m ), can also connect to your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone so that you can make hands-free calls through the GPS.—Corinne Iozzio 


our ratIngs kEy:

eXceLLent l l l l l m VerY Good l l l l m m Good l l l m m m fair l l m m m m Poor

Microsoft Windows 7 Beta 1
free not rated Pros smaller disk and memory footprint. faster startup/shutdown. stable. Less intrusive. taskbar icons more flexible. Working with external hardware is easier. Multitouch support. nice-looking new eye candy. Cons Maintains registry and some other Windows baggage. start-up times not faster than Vista’s in this beta. Click here for more.

Microsoft WindoWs 7 Beta 1

The Beta Debut of Windows 7
Let’s get something straight: The just-released Microsoft Windows 7 Beta 1 retains much of Vista’s kernel architecture, as will the final version. But the new OS is more compact than Vista, has an updated interface, and builds in better networking capability. It also includes some cool advances, such as multitouch support and a redesigned taskbar with movable buttons. You can put the beta on as many machines as you like, but you can’t use it for real business purposes, and it expires in August 2009. Though the interface has its own new look, Vista users won’t have much to learn. Even upgrading XP users will have little trouble, but neither will they be able to cling to the past. There’s no XP emulation theme in Windows 7, as there is in Vista. The taskbar has the most noticeable changes, with taller buttons and the choice to combine multiple docs/windows in one app or keep separate. The buttons glow when you hover the mouse over them and show a preview thumbnail of open docs. Also, the Libraries folder-arrangement system let you group related files—regardless of their location. Windows 7 is also optimized for touch-screen systems. Some other noteworthy features in Windows 7 relate to hardware and networking. Device Stage is a feature that, when you plug in a cell phone or other device, pops up a screen specific to that device with options, including syncing. (However, this feature relies heavily on the device manufacturers providing Microsoft with the necessary data.) When you join a wireless network with Windows 7, you can choose to set it as home, work, or public. When you choose the first, you can create a HomeGroup. That way, you can specify libraries and devices to share, as well as migrate settings to your home environment. Although the licensing agreement for Windows 7 beta prevents me from publishing benchmark test results, I can say informally that in a couple of months of running the pre-beta and a short period of heavy-duty testing on beta 1, I have yet to see anything remotely resembling a crash. I have, however, encountered occasional error dialogs. As far as recommending Windows 7, we’ll have to wait to see how the pricing and final code bears out. But for those who like to tinker, I definitely recommend taking a look at the future of Windows.—Michael Muchmore

InsIDE 9 Software 13 Hardware 17 Business 20 Consumer Electronics


first looks softWArE

The Best Tax Tools of 2009

This year, more than any other, you want to save every penny you can on taxes. One of these top-notch tax packages can help. By Kathy Yakal

TAkE yOuR PiCk As you enter information in TaxACT’s main working screen, you can select from guidance options on the horizontal tab.

TaxACT 2008 Deluxe Edition
Deluxe Federal, $12.95 direct; State, $13.95; Ultimate Bundle (Federal and State), $19.95
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PROS Very affordable. Simple, understandable interface. Screen toggles for help options. Free support. Good up-front preparation. CONS Help language could be simplified and more context-sensitive. Could use FAQs and less white space. Click here for more.

Although doing your taxes is never an enjoyable experience, the good news is that the 2008 tax code includes changes that may save you money. Some new perks include a new first-time homebuyer credit, an increase in the standard mileage rate, and lowered taxes for many investors, to name a few. The better news is that the new editions of the top tax-preparation packages include these changes. To save you even more money, it turns out that choosing one of these suites may not cost you a dime. A partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance LLC (an organization of several private-sector tax software companies) provides free access to online versions—minus some of the more advanced capabilities—of the companies’ tax software. If you meet the criteria outlined at, you’ll be able to prepare and file your taxes online at no charge through the IRS Free File program. If you don’t qualify, or want the extra features, you have a lot of options. Overall, the three tax packages we review have not changed drastically. Those new to tax-prep programs will find what veterans already know: These programs are easier to navigate than most software. All the products reviewed here use a question-and-answer interview approach to collect the necessary personal and financial information

from you. They also break the 1040 down into manageable bits and take you through them in a pretty natural order. They have you provide personal information, and then launch into sections where you enter your income and deductions. And though you can often file federal taxes for free, you usually have to pay for a state filing (typically less than $20). In the long run, the money is well spent to get the highest refund (or lowest payout) and avoid an audit. TaxACT 2008 Deluxe Edition For years, TaxACT has been the tax program of choice for the budget-conscious. It lacks some of the bells and whistles of the premium services but is significantly cheaper than TurboTax and TaxCut. In the areas it covers, it’s a strong competitor. The biggest change this year is the addition of a tool to help you determine the fair market value of noncash charitable contributions. There’s also a new customer import report, and overview screens for income, deductions, and credits. The average filer will probably want more help, but if you can handle 1040s and other forms without the additional support, this is the app for you. On pages that require data entry, TaxACT uses a split screen. The question-and-answer fields are


iNvESTmENTS iNCluDED TaxCut also asks you questions about stock market–related transactions and calculates your tax obligation.

BEST Of BOTH wORlDS TurboTax lets you see your answers as a split screen with the Step-byStep questions above.

positioned above, with several help options in a tabbed window that can be toggled below. Neither TurboTax nor TaxCut employs a split screen; they position help tools elsewhere. With TaxACT, the tax interview questions are thorough and clear, but the program lacks some of the navigational guides that make TurboTax and TaxCut superior. Nonetheless, TaxACT’s interface is simple, fast, attractive—and works in much the same way as those of its competitors. For the cashstrapped, TaxACT is certainly an acceptable option. H&R Block TaxCut Premium Year after year, H&R Block continues to publish an exceptional personal tax-preparation program with excellent help tools and audit support. This year, the big news is a $20 price drop from last year (with the package I reviewed, Premium Federal + State + E-File). With TaxCut you get one help session with an H&R Block tax professional covering one topic, audit support, and the additional programs WILLPower and Deduction Pro. Not even TurboTax can match H&R Block in terms of sheer bang for the buck this year. But is the core TaxCut program the best personal tax-preparation program for 2008? Not quite. Given that the old paper and snail-mail system still works just fine, the most important thing a software and e-filing approach can offer (besides a faster refund) is ease of use, and that means a better UI and better help. TaxCut trails TurboTax a bit on both counts. For example, TaxCut’s interface has too much white space, which means extra pages and tedious extra mouse clicks to go from page to page. Also, TurboTax puts more help resources within reach during the process. However, TaxCut oversees the review of your return just as well as the competition. Though TaxCut is an excellent bargain and a solid package, TurboTax is still the best choice if you want the most thorough, well-guided, elegant taxpreparation experience available for the desktop.

TurboTax Premier 2008 TurboTax and H&R Block’s TaxCut wage a mighty battle in the premium personal tax-preparation software market every year, with TaxACT mopping up the more budget-conscious and knowledgeable filers. This year, the outcome is the same as in recent years: TurboTax is our Editors’ Choice. Though TaxCut wins points for its more reasonable pricing and remains a formidable foe in terms of functionality, it hasn’t evolved as skillfully as TurboTax has. Both premium apps continue to do a commendable job of exploding the 1040 into palatable chunks that can be more easily digested and processed, but TurboTax—the more versatile of the two, especially in the Premier version—takes apart complex topics and eases you through them with a greater variety of at-the-ready guidance. TurboTax’s designers have put together an application that’s—arguably—as elegant and deft as any in the universe of desktop productivity applications, though it runs a bit more slowly than the competition. Granted, a program’s interface is just window dressing if it isn’t backed up with solid innards, but TurboTax has that in spades, too. TaxCut’s look is old in comparison, and that detracts from what is a very capable program. TurboTax does a better job of using screen space, whereas TaxCut displays too much empty real estate, which leads to more clicking. TaxACT’s UI falls somewhere in the middle— better overall than TaxCut’s, but not in the same league as TurboTax’s. This package saves time by letting you import W-2 info directly from employers who use ADP, Paychex, and ProBusiness, as well as import tax-related income and expenses directly from Quicken 2007–2009 and major financial institutions. In a nutshell, TurboTax Premier 2008 provides the most cohesive, intuitive, well-designed tax-preparation experience out there, with more understandable and accessible help than the competition offers.

H&R Block TaxCut Premium
$49.95 direct

PROS Deep search tool. Excellent walk-through of 1040. Expanded explanations within questions. Good help and audit support. CONS Too many screens displaying too little information. Help is not always context-sensitive. Dull interface. Click here for more.

TurboTax Premier 2008
Premier, $89.95 direct; Deluxe, $59.95

PROS Direct import from Quicken. Elegant interface. Good breakdown of complex topics. Best combination of help tools, some contentsensitive. Thorough coverage of tax topics. CONS Price of state e-file ($34.95). Slow. Click here for more.


first looks software

Quick looks
Visit for the full reviews of these and scores of other software products.
RED indicates Editors’ Choice.




MOBILE APPS (iPHONE) Spore Origins $6.99 direct

• Easy for casual gamers to pick up • Fun creature editor

• Game play is repetitive on most levels • Evolutionary stages are limited to undersea adaptation

Spore Origins gives you a taste of the PC version of this evolution game, including the ability to add new elements to your creatures. Unfortunately, the repetitive levels of play that this iPhone title offers could stand a little more diversity. Business iPhone users will welcome the ability to edit Excel spreadsheets and easily transfer them over Wi-Fi to and from desktop systems. But if you’re a serious spreadsheet jockey, you should stick with Mobile Excel. The eReader does a decent job of presenting books on your iPhone, and the dictionary option is handy, but acquiring reading matter needs to be easier, and the software should support more file formats.

MobileFiles Pro $9.99 direct

• Full editing of Excel 2003 docs • Transfers files to and from desktops via Wi-Fi • Allows access to MobileMe files

• No Word document editing • No cut-and-paste

eReader 1.3 Free

• Free • Flexible text formatting • Good interface defaults • Easy bookmarking

• Getting new books is harder than it should be

Stanza Free

• Free • Flexible text formatting • Large free library available • All major e-book file formats accepted • Converts text, Web, and PDF documents • Good range of editing tools • Pleasant interface • Responsive controls • Many features • Scales to the iPhone’s full resolution • Converts images to any of nine classic or creative photo styles • Easy to preview images and save them in multiple styles • Four image resolutions

• No undo • Highlighting text for cutting and copying is a bit awkward • Can’t edit Office docs

With support for a broad range of content, Stanza is the most versatile e-book application for the iPhone.

Photogene $2.99 direct

• Can’t shoot photos from within app • Tiny, crowded mode buttons • Effects are strictly photographic

The scope of Photogene’s editing tools—which include many that other iPhone photo-editing apps lack—makes this a very appealing app.

CameraBag 1.4 $2.99 direct

• Can’t tweak images beyond setting the basic style • Somewhat crash-prone

Whether you’re a nostalgia buff, a photography student, or just someone who wants to spruce up your iPhone photos, the easy-to-use CameraBag lets you remake your images in various photographic styles.

SECURITY DigitalPersona Personal 4.0 With U.are.U fingerprint reader, $69.95 direct; without, $29.95; fingerprint-based file encryption, $14.95 additional

• Effective touch-style fingerprint reader • Fingerprint log-in to Windows • Manages username/password credentials for Web sites and programs • Checks for strong passwords • Blocked every malware sample from launching • Warns of malware-like behaviors • Community-based alert reduction limits pop-up queries

• Must save account credentials manually • No user-defined names for accounts • No automatic generation of strong passwords • Lacks sharing and true reporting features

DigitalPersona Personal 4.0 stores, applies, and rates your passwords. Both the password manager and its associated fingerprint reader are attractive and easy to use. DigitalPersona offers fingerprint-based Windows log-in and an extra-cost file encryption module. a-squared’s near-perfect malware blocking performance is tainted by its erroneous identification of valid programs as malware. In testing, it did a poor job of cleaning up infested systems. You can get better protection for the same price with Webroot or Spyware Doctor. The Avira engine that powers Lavasoft’s stand-alone antivirus is surprisingly effective against non-virus malware types, but it still needs to work alongside an antispyware solution for comprehensive protection.

a-squared Anti-Malware 4.0 $39.95 direct

• Identified several perfectly valid programs as malware • Did a poor job of cleaning up malware • Disabled two test systems by quarantining Windows Explorer • Rootkit protection is turned off by default • Needs to work alongside an antispyware product for comprehensive protection • Full scan is interrupted by pop-up queries by default • Advanced program control damages valid programs • Big performance drag • Antivirus not highly rated by independent labs • Poor malware removal and blocking • Backup very rudimentary

Lavasoft Anti-Virus Helix $23.95 direct

• Antivirus engine is highly praised by independent labs • Very effective at preventing installation of non-virus malware • Successfully removed many non-virus malware infestations • Advanced program control blocks “leak tests” • Browser-independent parental control • Firewall stealths all ports • Prevents accidental transmission of userdefined private data • Includes system migration tool

CA Internet Security Suite Plus 2009 $79.99 direct

There’s little to love in this Frankenstein’s monster of a suite. Patched together from many separate mediocre tools, it put the biggest drag on system performance of any suite tested. Save ten bucks and get Norton’s suite (or Trend Micro’s) instead.

MUSIC Slacker for BlackBerry Basic, free; Slacker Premium Radio, $7.50 monthly

• Streaming Internet Radio • Station caching • All the functionality of • Free

• Slow to load streaming stations • Requires BlackBerry OS 4.3 or later

With easy, free, customizable Internet radio, this app delivers on the multimedia promises that so often are made in BlackBerry’s television commercials.


first looks hardware

$1,099.99 list
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PROS Compact all-in-one PC. Vista Premium. Cheaper and better equipped than the base iMac and other all-in-one PCs. Range of colors to choose from. 4GB of memory. 500GB hard drive. CONS Wired keyboard and mouse spoil sleek lines. Some crapware. no back button on the mouse. Weak integrated graphics. Short (91-day) trial Internet security subscription. Click here for more.

Sony VAIo VGC-JS130J/P

An iMac Killer—At Last
As netbooks are doing to the laptop markets, all-inone PCs are causing rapid evolution among desktops. This new VAIO all-in-one is a prime example of that progression. It’s better equipped for the real world than the bare-bones iMac—and costs $99 less. The JS130J/P (like its JS190J/B sibling) has a cutting-edge design that would look right at home on the set of a science-fiction film. The screen is bright and clear, suitable for both browsing photos and watching online and DVD videos. The keyboard is comfortable to use, but the mouse feels a bit flimsy and lacks a back button. Also, a wireless keyboard and mouse would have been nice here. This VAIO is $400 cheaper than (the JS190J/B) because it lacks a Blu-ray drive and has a slightly slower processor. That said, the JS130J/P’s dual-core Pentium E5200 is still plenty for day-to-day tasks, and its 4GB of RAM and 500GB hard drive is the same as the JS190J/B’s. The JS130J/P’s performance is akin to that of its more expensive brother: It’s very good at multimedia tasks like photo editing and video encoding, but abysmal at 3D. The JS130J/P finished the Windows Media Encoder test in a decent 1 minute 13 seconds (slower than the JS190J/B, which took 52 seconds) and a speedy 32 seconds on the Photoshop CS3 test (only 6 seconds slower than the JS190J/B). While the JS190J is faster, it’s not a lot faster. Apart from being loaded down with crapware, the JS130J/ P tops its competition by a slim margin, achieving our Editors’ Choice award.—Joel Santo Domingo
Spec data: 2.5-GHz Intel Pentium E5200 processor; 4GB, 800-MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 500GB, 7,200-rpm SATA hard drive; integrated Mobile Intel GMAX4500HD graphics; dual-layer DVD±RW drive; integrated 20.1-inch widescreen LCD monitor; five USB 2.0 ports; one FireWire/ i.Link port; integrated stereo speakers; Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit.

L High scores are best. M Low scores are best.



3DMArk06 L
1,920 x 1,200*

Bold type denotes first place.



Sony VAIO VGC-JS130J/P Sony VAIO VGC-JS190J/B Apple iMac (24-inch Penryn)

n/A n/A 1,859

4,974 6,221 5,842

1:13 0:52 1:03

0:32 0:26 0:30

RED denotes Editors’ Choice. n/A—not applicable: The product could not complete this test. *Anti-aliasing/anisotropic filtering was set to 4X.


first looks HArDWArE

CAnon PixMA MP980 WiReless PHoto All-in-one PRinteR

Wireless Home Photo Lab Supreme
As Canon’s replacement for the Editors’ Choice Pixma MP970, the Pixma MP980 has a lot to live up to. The MP970 had the distinction of printing great-looking photos while being far less expensive than any of its competition. The MP980 carries on in that tradition, earning an Editors’ Choice of its own. In some ways, the MP980 is a straightforward update to the MP970, sharing most of the same features. It can print, scan, copy, and e-mail. It can both scan and print directly from 35mm slides and strips of film, and print directly from PictBridge cameras and memory cards (but not USB keys). The two models even share the same lack of office-centric features, with no automatic document feeder (ADF) or fax support. Despite all these similarities, however, the MP980 also differs from the MP970 in important ways, most notably in its ink system. The MP970 used seven inks, and the MP980 uses six. The result is slightly slower speeds for the MP980 and impressively betterlooking monochrome photos. For example, the MP980 scored 16 minutes 25 seconds on our business application suite, compared with the MP970’s 15:58. But photos printed on the MP980 are near professional photo labs output, with pictures that are suitable for framing. So, like its predecessor, the MP980 has some room for improvement, but its flaws are forgivable.— M. David Stone

Canon Pixma MP980 Wireless Photo All-In-One Printer
$299.99 direct
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Pros High-quality photos. scans and prints from 35mm film. network and Wi-Fi support. Built-in duplexer. Cons no fax support. Clumsy network installation. Can’t set network support to accept both wired and wireless connections. Click here for more.

VieWsoniC n2201W

A Versatile 22-Inch HDTV/Monitor
Designed for use in tight spaces, the N2201w is ideal for a dorm room, studio apartment, or home office. This versatile 22-inch HDTV/monitor hybrid sports a variety of entertainment features, including a built-in DVD player and a digital TV tuner, but its dark grayscale performance is lacking. The 1,680-by-1,050-resolution panel is perched atop a sturdy oval base. The 3-watt speakers embedded in the lower bezel are a cut above the usual underpowered speakers found on displays. A slot-loading DVD player with five control buttons is integrated into the left-hand side of the cabinet. While in PC mode, you can adjust contrast, brightness, and sharpness, as well as toggle among four Picture modes (though I recommend sticking with the Standard setting). In general, I was impressed with the N2201w’s performance as a PC monitor. It did a very good job of reproducing the lightest shades of gray on the DisplayMate 64-Step Grayscale test. Colors were bold and uniform at the high end of the scale. The panel had a difficult time displaying the darkest shades of gray, however, making the deepest reds and blues darker than they should be. For video, the L2201w showed a sharp picture, with no apparent jaggies or artifacts. Despite a couple of flaws, this LCD is a good deal for a display that pulls double duty as a PC monitor and an HDTV/DVD player combo.—John R. Delaney

ViewSonic N2201w
$430 street
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Pros Built-in DVD player and tV tuner. solid light grayscale reproduction. Good audio output. Cons Very weak dark-gray performance. stiff stand with limited adjustability. some backlight bleed. Click here for more.

first looks HArDWArE

Gateway FX6800-01e
$1,249.99 list
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PROS Good expandability. external hard drive bays work with off-the-shelf SAtA drives. Plays Crysis yet costs less than $1,300. CrossFirecapable motherboard. CONS expansion limited by the included 500w power supply. Crapware. Plastics could be better. 64-bit OS doesn’t make sense with only 3GB. Only a 60-day trial of Norton 360. Click here for more.

GAtewAy FX6800-01e

Power-Packed Budget Gaming Rig
The Gateway FX6800-01e is clearly going after the gamer on a budget. It’s a bit more expensive than sub-$800 gaming boxes like the Cyberpower Gamer Ultra SLI Basic, but this Gateway system can play today’s games a whole lot better. The FX6800-01e is equipped with the quad-core Intel i7-920, a Hyper-Threading chip that is capable of processing up to eight streams simultaneously. This system is also equipped with a single 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics card. The FX680001e’s chassis includes a pair of externally accessible hard-drive sleds, so you can easily add up to two SATA hard drives without opening the side door. If you do open the case, you can also fit another hard drive, optical drive, a PCIe x4 card, another PCIe x16 graphics card, and three more RAM sticks. You can also configure this system for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 1+0 with multiple hard drives. One complaint: Why install 64-bit Vista when the system comes with only 3GB of memory? Like other Gateway computers, the FX6800-01e has some crapware on it. There’s the usual 60-day trial of Microsoft Office and the 60-day trial of Norton 360. There’s other stuff, too, like ads for eBay, Napster, and ISPs. All this junk can make a system unstable, so for optimum results, you may want to reinstall the OS fresh. In terms of performance, this system turned in a respectable 58 frames per second (fps) on Crysis at 1,280-by-1,024, and a very smooth 70 fps on World in Conflict (WiC) at the same resolution. These numbers are similar to those of gaming rigs that cost over $700 more. The FX6800-01e is also very speedy on multimedia tasks: 37 seconds for Windows Media Encoder and 26 seconds for Photoshop are impressive even for a quad-core system. All this makes FX6800-01e a performance bargain—and an Editors’ Choice.—Joel Santo Domingo
Spec data: 2.66-GHz Intel Core i7-920 processor, 3GB 1066-MHz DDR3 SDRAM, 750GB 7,200-rpm SATA hard drive, 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics card, duallayer DVD±RW drive, eight USB 2.0 ports, two FireWire ports, two eSATA ports, Gateway stereo speakers, Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit.

L High scores are best. M Low scores are best.



Bold type denotes first place.

1,280 x 1,024*

3DMark06 L


1,280 x 1,024*

crySIS L

1,280 x 1,024*

Gateway FX6800-01e Acer Aspire Predator G7700 Cyberpower Gamer Ultra SLI Basic

12,521 13,497 4,260

0:37 0:41 1:07

0:26 0:25 0:46

58 57 9

70 67 10

rED denotes Editors’ choice. * anti-aliasing/anisotropic filtering was set to 0X.


first looks hardware

Quick looks
Visit for the full reviews of these and scores of other hardware products.
RED indicates Editors’ Choice.





DESKTOPS Velocity Micro Edge Z55 $3,834 direct, $4,133 with 22-inch widescreen LCD monitor
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• Speedy gaming and multimedia performance • Expandability • Attractive styling and neat interior • No crapware • Blu-ray reader

• At lower resolutions, it performs not much better than a $1,200 gaming system • A little loud • Nearly $4,000 is a lot of money

The Z55 brings Intel’s Core i7 to a high-performance gaming system. Though not quite as expensive as the systems in the $5K club, its performance is certainly competitive with those in the upper strata.

2.93-GHz Intel Core i7-940; 6GB 1,333-MHz DDR3 SDRAM; two 150GB, 10,000-rpm SATA hard drives (RAID 0); two 1GB ATI Radeon graphics cards; duallayer DVD±RW drive; Vista Home Premium.

LAPTOPS Acer Aspire 6930G-6723 $1,020 street
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• Blu-ray reader included • Unbeatable price • Good performance scores • Good graphics card • Terrific typing experience • Generous feature set • Gunmetal casing • Included overclocking software • 92 percent keyboard • Excellent battery life • Bright 10-inch widescreen • Under $500 • Strikingly gorgeous design • Blu-ray reader included • Vibrant 16-inch widescreen • Illuminated keyboard • HDMI and DisplayPort • High-capacity battery is available • Incredibly light • 8-inch widescreen LED is first of its kind 3G wireless is standard • Two memory card slots • Pre-boot Linux environment is a nice addition

• A bit bulky

Equipped with a Blu-ray drive and generous performance parts for under $1,000, the 6930G has regained the Editors’ Choice accolade for best value media center laptop that its predecessor lost. Its metallic finish makes the 1002HA the most attractive netbook to date, and its performance doesn’t disappoint. However, it could use some help in the features department. The XPS 16 delivers a lavish media center experience with a unique design, home-theater features, and a vibrant RGB LED widescreen.

2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5800; 4GB DDR2 SDRAM; 320GB, 5,400rpm hard drive; 256MB nVidia GeForce 9600M GS graphics; 16-inch display; 7.2 pounds (8.3 pounds travel); 71-Wh battery; Vista Home Premium. 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270; 1GB DDR2 SDRAM; 160GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive; 128MB Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950; 10.2-inch display; 2.7 pounds (3.2 pounds travel); 31-Wh battery; XP Home Edition. 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM; 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3670; 16-inch widescreen; 6.9 pounds (7.8 pounds travel); 85-Wh battery; Vista Home Premium. 1.33-GHz Intel Atom Z520; 2GB DDR2 SDRAM; 64GB SSD; 128MB Intel graphics; 8-inch, 1,600-by768 widescreen LED display; 1.4 pounds (1.7 pounds travel); two USB ports; 16-Wh lithium ion battery; Windows Vista Home Basic.

ASUS EeePC 1002HA $499 list
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• Lacks a six-cell battery • Could use more features

Dell Studio XPS 16 $1,804 direct
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• Could be lighter

Sony Lifestyle PC (VGN-588EQ) $1,199 direct
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• Mouse buttons are adjacent to the touchpad

The Sony Lifestyle PC is a magnificently designed device with a solid set of features, but performance can be limiting if you’re using it as a primary laptop.

DISPLAYS ASUS LS221H $349 list
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• Slim cabinet • Good motion performance • Good text readability

• Poor dark grayscale performance • Lacks multimedia features • Tilt-only stand

The LS221H is an attractive 22-inch display with a slim profile and a fast pixel response. But its flaws include the inability to reproduce dark shades of gray.

22-inch LCD; 1,680-by-1,050 native resolution; HDMI and analog VGA inputs; 16:10 aspect ratio.

STORAGE OWC Mercury On-The-Go (320GB) $179.99 direct
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• Bus-powered • Speedy FireWire 800 interface • Comes HFS+ formatted (good for Macs) • Comes with all cables and a carrying case

• Comes HFS+ formatted (bad for PCs) • Backup software on CD • Physically a bit larger than the competition • Pricey per GB

The Mercury is a speedy (7,200rpm) SATA notebook-class hard drive that works with USB or FireWire power (for a Mac or a PC) and doesn’t require a power adapter.

External hard drive; 350GB capacity; 7,200 rpm.

PROJECTORS Samsung P400 $550 street
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• Highly portable • Unexpectedly bright • Surprisingly high audio volume • LED light source with 20,000hour lifetime

• Doesn’t handle video well—loses details in dark areas • Relatively noticeable rainbow effect

The P400 isn’t the lightest projector, or the smallest, but it delivers a surprisingly bright image and high-volume audio in a highly portable package.

DLP engine; 4:3 aspect ratio; rated brightness, 150 ANSI lumens; analog VGA and composite inputs, 2.5 by 5.8 by 5.7 inches (HWD); 2 pounds.

DATA TRANSFER Clickfree Transformer Cable $60 list
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• No configuration necessary • No installation needed • One of the most user-friendly backup methods we’ve tested • Works with any USB hard drive or USB key • Can support multiple computers

• No Mac compatibility • You need to buy storage separately • File backups only • May not work with some USB hubs

With the Clickfree cable, making Windows-based document backups is finally as easy as plugging in a power cord.

10 inches.


first looks BUsiNEss

Lenovo ThinkPad W700
$4,240 direct

Lenovo THinkPAd W700

The Photography Pro’s Mobile Workstation
The ThinkPad W700 is monstrous, and its looks may not strike a chord with fashion photographers, but some unheard-of built-in features will instantly make style moot. The Pantone color sensor, for instance, eliminates the need to carry a separate color calibration device; a Wacom digitizer that’s traditionally part of the screen is cleverly positioned on the palm rest; and an option for a 10-inch secondary display that slides out from the back of the primary one is an industry first. These features, along with the builtin Intel quad-core technology, earn the W700 an Editors’ Choice in the workstation category. With the W700, you also get a CompactFlash and SD slot and connections for DisplayPort, DVI-D, five USB slots, one FireWire port, a webcam, and a fingerprint reader. Although the dual-layer DVD burner sounds ordinary at this juncture, you can upgrade to a Blu-ray burner. The dual 160GB, 7,200-rpm hard drives (320GB total) not only spin fast but are arranged in RAID 0, which comes in handy for performance testing. The W700 runs a 2.53-GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9300 processor—fitting for a machine of this caliber. Add to the quad-core the 4GB of DDR3 memory and we have performance scores that are beyond anything I’ve seen on a laptop. The W700’s video-encoding and CineBench 10 scores completely dominated the competition’s. Its 44-second score on Windows Media Encoder 9 is 15 seconds less (roughly 35 percent faster) than the Lenovo Thinkpad T400’s. And its CineBench score was nearly double that of other machines in its class. Obviously, at this price, the W700 isn’t for everyone. But if time is money in your field, the W700 will save you tons of it.—Cisco Cheng
Spec data: 2.53-GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9300; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM; 320GB (two 160GB, 7,200-rpm hard drives); 1GB Nvidia Quadro FX 3700M graphics; 17-inch, 1,920-by-1,200 widescreen; 9.4 pounds (12.3 pounds travel); five USB ports; one FireWire port; 96-Wh, 6.45-Ah lithium ion battery; Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit.

PROS internal Pantone color calibrator. Palmrest digitizer. option for a cool secondary display. Quad-core processor delivered amazing results. dual hard drives. iSv certified graphics. outstanding graphics for gamers and professionals. WUXGA widescreen. Adobe RGB–compatible screen. CONS Butt-ugly and bulky. Click here for more.

L High scores are best. M Low scores are best. Bold type denotes first place.

MULTiMeDia MoBiLeMark 2007 L 2:31 n/a 4:12 3DMark06*


1,024 x 768

WinDoWs MeDia encoDer M

cineBencH r10 L


PHoTosHoP cs3 M

Lenovo ThinkPad W700 Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Dual Graphics) - Boot Camp Lenovo ThinkPad T400

12,678 6,453 2,904

0:44 1:09 0:59

10,809 5,187 5,838

0:30 0:32 0:26

reD denotes editors’ choice. n/a—not applicable: The product could not complete the test, or the test was not compatible. * The test was configured at the default setting.


first looks BUsiNEss

ViewSoniC PJ513DB

A No-Frills, High-Quality SVGA Projector
The ViewSonic PJ513DB is the kind of projector that anyone on a tight budget should love—and not just because of its low price. What makes this unit appealing is that it gets the basics right, starting with a suitably high-quality image and surprisingly good audio. Designed for typical business presentations, the PJ513DB is a basic, no-frills projector built around an SVGA (800-by-600) DLP engine. Although it’s not the lightest or smallest projector available by any means, it’s fairly portable, at 5.7 pounds and 4.3 by 10.4 by 8.6 inches (HWD). It doesn’t come with a carrying case, however, so if you need one, you’ll have to buy it separately. The same goes for most cables you might want; you get only a power cord and VGA cable for plugging into a computer. Moreover, there’s no USB port or zoom control. The PJ513DB has a respectable contrast ratio of 330:1 and a brightness of 1,717 lumens, about 78 percent of its 2,200 lumen rating. It is also bright enough

ViewSonic PJ513DB
$450 street

to throw a reasonably large image with typical office lighting. In testing, the projector showed some minor DLP rainbow effects but handled images from a computer and DVDs (played over S-Video) pretty well. However, it was less effective for TV input. Despite oversights like the lack of a remote mouse control and the nearly pointless zoom, the ViewSonic PJ513DB is a good choice for the cash-strapped, and certainly one of the best projectors in its category. —M. David Stone


Pros Low cost. Reasonably light. easy setup, with well-designed, easy-to-use menus. Cons no remote mouse control. optical zoom is too meager to be useful. Click here for more.

LexMARk T650n

Workhorse Monochrome Laser Printer
For small offices and workgroups with heavy-duty printing needs, workhorse monochrome lasers like the Lexmark T650n are indispensable. As a rule, Lexmark printers are among the best in the category, and the T650n is no exception. Its fast speed and plentiful paper-handling options are enough to make it a new Editors’ Choice. At 13.7 by 16.7 by 19.4 inches (HWD), this printer is small enough for your desk, but you’ll probably need help moving this 40.6-pound unit into place. The T650n’s paper-handling options include a duplexer ($275), a 250-sheet drawer ($199), a 550-sheet drawer ($249), a 2,000-sheet drawer ($499), and an output expander with additional 550-sheet bin ($149). This printer’s 45-ppm engine helped it score 5 minutes 7 seconds on our business applications suite, which is fast, but not as fast as the 4:57 achieved by the T640n, the printer it is replacing.

Lexmark T650n
$699 direct

Output quality was typical for a monochrome laser on graphics and photos, but text quality was a bit below par—though still more than good enough for most business use. One last issue is running cost, a critical factor for a printer designed to print lots of pages. Lexmark claims a reasonably low 1.6 cents per page. That, along with fast speed, capable paper handling, and reasonably high-quality output makes the T650n an impressive package indeed, altogether worthy of the Editors’ Choice.—MDS

Pros Fast. Full set of paper-handling options, with up to 4,000-sheet input capacity. Low cost per page. Cons Slightly subpar text for a mono laser. Click here for more.

first looks business

PiCK a PaGe in pages, you can pick and choose which page layouts you want to use from any template.

Presentation Pizzazz in keynote, a neat little pop-up menu lets you resize images.

Apple iWoRk ’09

Apple Gets to Work
Apple iWork '09
$79 direct; five-license family pack, $99
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Pros innovative, graphically dazzling suite. Highly compatible with Microsoft office documents. Canvas-style page holds multiple tables. presentation software outclasses competitors. Great bang for the buck. Cons Not as featurerich as Microsoft office. Sample templates too elaborate for most users. No view that hides top, bottom page margins. Click here for more.

Apple has a lot to boast about in iWork ’09, the latest version of its productivity application suite and still the only one written from the ground up for OS X. The result is a suite that gives home users and students a huge bang for a small number of bucks— and it feels far more at home on the Mac platform than Microsoft’s pricier, professional-oriented Office for the Mac. Pages is both a word processor and what used to be called a desktop publishing app (for creating graphics-rich leaflets, posters, and greeting cards). You choose between two editing modes when creating a document: Word Processing or Page Layout. The first creates a conventional document, and Page Layout treats each page as a canvas on which to create text and graphics boxes. Pages’ documents look terrific, but the program is clearly designed for the more casual user. Those working on a college thesis or lengthy report may end up gnashing their teeth. Numbers, iWork’s spreadsheet program, on the other hand, continues to one-up Microsoft Excel in many ways. It is the only app out there to support multiple tables on a single page. And a Numbers worksheet is a canvas that can include multiple charts, each with its own layout, plus graphics and text boxes. Also, Numbers finally has a feature akin to a pivot table.

iWork’s PowerPoint rival is Keynote, still the most dazzling presentation program on any platform. The app now offers spectacular, animated slide transitions. PowerPoint still has one advantage over Keynote: PowerPoint has the ability to create good-looking diagrams based on text-based data like lists and outlines. But otherwise, Keynote outclasses it everywhere else. Unless you need the tight integration with Excel and Word that you get with Presentations, Keynote is the presentation program for Mac users. Apple has also put a toe into the online document world by launching, a sparsely featured sharing and viewing service that lets iWork users share documents with users on any platform, including Windows and Linux. Unfortunately, you need a $99-per-year MobileMe account before you can upload anything to the site, although coworkers can view, download, and comment on files without an account. For home, school, and very-small-business users, iWork is the best office suite on the market. For advanced users, however, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel remain indispensable; furthermore, the Windows version of Microsoft’s Office suite remains far more powerful than the Mac version. —Edward Mendelson

first looks CoNsUMEr ElECtroNiCs

RiM BlACkBERRY CuRvE 8900 (T-MoBilE)

T-Mobile’s Best BlackBerry Yet
After its last release, the buggy BlackBerry Storm 9530, RIM’s got its groove back. The new BlackBerry Curve 8900 juices up the already-excellent Curve form factor with a sharper screen, faster processor, and better camera, letting it jump through new multimedia hoops while still helping you get your work done. If you need to stay connected, this Curve is the simplest and most stylish way to do it for T-Mobile customers. The Curve 8900 is mostly black with an insanely high-res screen: 360 by 480 pixels on a 2.4-inch panel (even higher res than the iPhone’s). Like the original Curve, the 8900 features a full QWERTY keyboard of slightly separated keys that are a breeze to use. Despite its just-average signal strength, the 8900 is an excellent voice phone, with calls sounding especially loud and clear on T-Mobile’s 2G EDGE network. The beefy 528-MHz processor lets the phone multitask comfortably and perform well on audio and video. But since the 8900 doesn’t hit T-Mobile’s 3G network, you can’t stream video without Wi-Fi coverage. Within Wi-Fi range, streaming worked well. The 3.2-megapixel camera takes sharp photos, even in low light. I experienced delays of up to 2 seconds while the camera focused, however, and I couldn’t find any way to disable autofocus. The only big problem with this phone is the Web browser, which choked on pages with JavaScript. But this wasn’t enough to outweigh its many benefits, which earn it an Editors’ Choice.—Sascha Segan

RIM BlackBerry Curve 8900 (T-Mobile)
$349 direct; $199 and up with a two-year contract
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Pros Gorgeous, ultra-high-res screen. Sublime keyboard. Smooth and elegant operation. Terrific messaging, solid music and video players. Makes free calls over Wi-Fi. Cons no 3G. Subpar Web browser. Click here for more.


This Mobile Office Needs a Battery Boost
Hot on the heels of AT&T’s HTC Fuze, Sprint has busted out its own version, the Touch Pro, a virtual clone of the Fuze but with a few new pluses. These include improvements to the software bundle, form factor, and QWERTY keyboard arrangement, and the addition of CDMA and EV-DO radios for compatibility with Sprint’s network. But there are also some minuses, including dismal battery life. Depending on your viewpoint, the Touch Pro is either a loaded business smartphone for Windows power users or an iPhone competitor with an identity crisis. On Sprint, the Touch Pro is a dual-mode CDMA phone, featuring both EV-DO and Wi-Fi radios. Reception was a little weak: In a rural area, the Touch Pro vacillated between 1X and EV-DO modes. Calls also came through a bit choppy, with static. The handset’s speakerphone was too quiet and distorted for anything but close, indoor use. Even worse, battery life was miserable—just 3 hours 8 minutes on our talk-time run-down test. Overall, the Touch Pro is a bit more pleasant on Sprint than the Fuze is on AT&T, thanks to its lighter weight, improved software bundle, and better keyboard. However, its battery life and voice quality are lacking. Sprint smartphone buyers should also consider the Touch Diamond, which is less expensive but lacks a QWERTY keyboard. The BlackBerry Curve 8330 remains our Editors’ Choice–winning Sprint smartphone, for its excellent keyboard, stellar e-mail management, and long battery life.—Jamie Lendino

HTC Touch Pro (Sprint)
$299 with two-year Sprint contract

Pros Powerful feature set. Slick interface graphics. Five-row QWERTY keyboard. Better software bundle than AT&T’s version (the HTC Fuze). Cons Expensive. Poor battery life. Confusing “dual-oS” interface. Slow. no headphone jack. Click here for more.

first looks CoNsUMEr ElECtroNiCs

Creative Vado Pocket Video Cam HD
$229.99 direct
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CReAtive vAdo PoCKet video CAM Hd

Vado HD One-Ups the HD Flip
With the Vado HD, Creative decided against a complete overhaul of its original mini camcorder—and with good reason. The Vado has a sleeker body, a larger screen, and a lower price tag than Pure Digital’s Flip, plus a removable, rechargeable battery. In fact, the Vado was our favorite mini videocam until we gave an Editors’ Choice to the Kodak Zi6. But a few key changes in the Vado HD are enough to make it supplant the Zi6 as our new EC winner. On the outside, this Vado looks a lot like its predecessor. The USB arm is still located on the bottom of the camera on a flexible cord. Directly above the arm is a button that offers quick access to the camera’s removable lithium ion battery, which gives you about 2 hours and charges when the Vado is connected via USB. On the left-hand side of the camera is a mini HDMI port, making the Vado HD the only pocket camcorder with high-quality HD output. The camcorder’s bright 2-inch LCD remains, but the new aspect ratio means that HD shooting will bring up black bars on the top and bottom of the display. Even with a touch less real estate, the display is a vast improvement over the competition’s. Images are far clearer and smoother than the original Vado’s. Also, this device has 8GB of storage—double that of the same-price Flip Mino HD—letting you store about 2 hours of footage recorded at the highest quality. Though the Zi6 gets points for its expandable memory and still-image ability, the Vado HD has pulled ahead. —Brian Heater

Pros Records high-quality Hd video. Big, bright screen. Removable, rechargeable battery. 8GB of memory. HdMi-out. HdMi cable bundled. Cons only 2X digital zoom. Memory isn’t expandable. Click here for more.

Sony ReAdeR diGitAl BooK (PRS-700)

The Kindle Alternative
The Amazon Kindle may be one of Oprah’s favorite things, but Sony has been making e-book readers longer, and the sophisticated design of its latest, the Reader Digital Book (PRS-700), clearly displays this experience. With a touch-sensitive screen, a faster processor, and a streamlined interface, the new Sony Reader is a great way to get your literary fix. Sure it’s expensive, but unlike the hardto-get Kindle, it’s available without your going on a waiting list. The 10-ounce device measures approximately 6.9 by 5.1 by 0.5 inches (HWD), about the same size as a trade paperback (albeit a very short one). The top of the unit houses a power switch, as well as SD and Memory Stick Pro card slots. The bottom features volume controls, a headphone jack, and mini USB and AC-in jacks. Sony has also added side lighting, although these are a bit too dim. Although the PRS-700 has the same look and feel as the previous PRS-550 and the PRS-500, Sony has made a number of welcome enhancements, most notably a 6-inch (diagonal), 800-by-600pixel, touch-sensitive screen that lets you turn pages by drawing your finger across the screen. In testing, I downloaded a novel from the Sony store in 12 seconds, and I was able to sync it with my Reader in less than a minute. That’s pretty smooth, but it does require using the included USB cable. The Amazon Kindle lets you purchase books wirelessly, thanks to its built-in EV-DO modem—a convenience that the Sony Reader simply can’t match. Although this device is expensive and lacks a wireless download feature, it’s a good way to get in the e-book game—at least until Kindles are back in stock.—Dan Costa

Sony Reader Digital Book (PRS-700)
$399.99 direct
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Pros touch-sensitive screen. Streamlined interface. Attractive design. Cons Pricey. doesn’t provide wireless download of titles (unlike Amazon’s Kindle). led sidelights aren’t very strong. Click here for more.

first looks CoNsUMEr ElECtroNiCs

Vizio VP505XVT
$1,499.99 list
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Pros Standarddefinition video quality is excellent. Very good picture contrast. Good value. Cons Calibration required for accurate HD color. Click here for more.

Big Plasma, Small Price
As LCDs dominate the HDTV market, plasmas are becoming better values every day—great news, since no LCD can match a plasma’s wide viewing angles. Case in point: The affordable 50-inch Vizio VP505XVT plasma features full 1080p screen resolution and superb standard-definition video processing, all wrapped in a stylishly modern design. The set’s default color setup isn’t optimized for accurate HD viewing, but its picture controls can remedy that. Vizio is best known for affordability; its latest sets, however, don’t sacrifice style or features for their low sticker prices. For example, you get four HDMI ports; additional HD-compatible video ports include one component video input, a VGA, and an RF input. This Vizio plasma also has excellent overscan controls for every input type and video format, and accurate color reproduction (though slightly oversaturated primary and secondary colors). It also has a solid contrast ratio of 1,245:1. And thanks to HQV technology, this plasma upconverts standard-definition video to the TV’s native 1080p resolution with better clarity and fewer distracting artifacts than any other plasma we’ve tested. The VP505XVT’s estimated operating cost is $7.08 per month (356 watts average), which is in line with other 50-inch plasma screens. If you use the TV’s lessintense movie picture preset, the cost drops to $5.82 (292W) based on 5 hours of daily use at 13 cents per kilowatt hour (a San Francisco average). Despite the set’s being slightly too colorful in output and its not offering the energy efficiency of an LCD HDTV, its value factor offsets those relatively minor problems and makes it our newest Editors’ Choice in this category. —Robert Heron

CableCARD Component Composite DVI Ethernet FireWire HDMI RF RS-232C S-Video USB VGA 0 1 1 0 0 0 4 1 0 1 0 1


first looks Consumer eleCtroniCs

Quick looks
Visit for the full reviews of these and other consumer electronics products.
RED indicates Editors’ Choice.





SMARTPHONES Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 $799.99 list
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• Powerful processor • New Panel interface is the best Windows Mobile home-screen hack so far • Opera browser

• Insanely expensive • Buggy • Not a great voice phone

The super-luxe Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 would be a decent Windows Mobile smartphone choice if it were half the price.

Windows Mobile Professional; GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA data networks; 3.1-inch, 800-by-480 TFT LCD; 3.2MP camera; 4.4 by 2.1 by 0.7 inches (HWD), 5.1 ounces. Windows Mobile Pocket PC; GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA data networks; 3-inch, 240-by-400 TFT LCD; 3MP camera; 4.2 by 2.2 by 0.6 inches (HWD), 4.2 ounces.

LG Incite (AT&T) $199 (with two-year service agreement)
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• Sleek design • Good voice quality • Solid battery life • 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth radios

• Sluggish • Stubborn, dim touch screen • Poor camera • Buggy music playback • No place to stow the stylus—and you’ll need it

LG’s first smartphone, the Incite, is attractive and powerful, but it’s let down by its obstinate touch screen, sluggish performance, and sloppy software design.

DIGITAL CAMERAS Nikon Coolpix S60 $349.95 list
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• Sleek and good-looking • Big, responsive touch screen • Simple touch gestures make photo playback a snap

• No hardware zoom control • Captures fewer resolution lines than competitors • No HD video recording • Flash shots are underexposed • Poor battery life

Viewing your pictures on this camera is a blast, thanks to its iPhone-esque touch screen. Image quality, however, is lacking, so the fun of its flashy touch interface will likely fade quickly.

10MP resolution; 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD; accepts SDHC flash memory; 2.4 by 2.8 by 0.9 inches (HWD); 5.1 ounces.

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• Elegant design and interface • Wi-Fi • Strong Web-connected features • Opera Web browser

• Expensive • Browser freezes occasionally

The VGF-CP1 digital picture frame is pricey, but its high performance and extensive feature set justify the investment.

7-inch screen; 800-by-400 maximum resolution; accepts CompactFlash, Memory Stick, and Secure Digital flash memory; internal speakers; 6.9 by 5.2 by 1.4 inches (HWD).

PORTABLE MEDIA PLAYERS Cowon O2 8GB, $199.99 list; 16GB, $239.99; 32GB, $299.99
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• Excellent file support • Large display • Voice recorder • Comparatively affordable

• Despite its large size, the player has no hard drive, only flash memory • No Internet access • Few extra features

The O2’s file support is fantastic, and it is cheaper than its two main competitors, the iPod touch and the Archos 5—but it packs far fewer features into its inexplicably large frame.

16GB flash memory; 4.3-inch screen; 480-by-272 max resolution; supports AAC, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WMA audio formats; photo and video capability; 2.9 by 4.7 by 0.7 inches (HWD); 7.2 ounces.

HEADPHONES Apple In-Ear Headphones $79 direct
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• Secure fit • Built-in mic and remote control • Works with latest-generation iPod’s Voice Memos feature

• Audio output is decent—but could be stronger for the price • Short on bass response

Apple’s In-Ear Headphones feature extras like a built-in remote and mic, but they’re a bit overpriced given the audio quality you get.

In-canal; Bluetooth; passive noise canceling; 109-dB SPL per 1 mW sensitivity; 23-ohm impedance; 0.4 ounce.

BLUETOOTH HEADSETS Altec Lansing BackBeat Model 903, $99.99 list; 906, $129.99
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• Comfortable fit • Long battery life • Music doesn’t sound muddy

• Music sounds overly bright • Voice call quality isn’t great, especially outdoors

The most comfortable stereo Bluetooth headset we’ve seen has a lot going for it, but sound quality still doesn’t match that of wired or mono headsets.

Play/Pause, Volume, Fast Forward, Rewind, and Call Answer buttons.

GPS Magellan Maestro 4350 $499.99 list
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• User interface is improved from the Maestro 4250 • New OneTouch feature • Six-million-entry POI database • Can calculate up to three route profiles simultaneously

• Voice recognition found in previous models has been removed • Current speed not displayed in map view

The Maestro 4350 includes features that make it a worthy upgrade. But bargain hunters may prefer the older yet still solid 4250, which you can pick up online for $200 less.

6-million-entry POI database; real-time traffic; 3D view; supports MP3 playback; supports SD and MMC flash memory; 4.3-inch touch-screen display; 3.3 by 4.9 by 0.7 inches (HWD); 7.2 ounces.

MEDIA EXTENDERS Western Digital WD TV HD Media Player $129.99 list
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• Affordable • Excellent file support • Simple, intuitive user interface • Includes file-conversion software

• No wireless streaming • Doesn’t include a USB drive • Unremarkable physical design

What the WD TV HD Media Player does it does well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a useful or desirable device.

Remote control; RCA stereo audio, composite video, HDMI, and USB inputs; supports AVI, H.264, MKV, MOV, MPEG-1/2/4, and WMV 9 formats; 1.6 by 4.9 by 3.9 inches (HWD); 10.72 ounces.


john c. dvorak

Newspapers Still Befuddled
So now we hear that The New York Times is contemplating the notion of becoming a subscription-based Web site, where you only get to read it if you pay real money. What a quaint idea. Let me put it bluntly: This won’t work. It will completely sink the publication faster than it’s already sinking. The problem with the subscription model for today’s big newspapers is the fact that there is very little exclusive information of any real value. The New York Times syndicates much of its content to other papers, so there are alternative sources—not subscription-based—with the same information. Why buy a cow when milk is free? The Internet added comparison shopping to the mix. Want a story about the baby stuck down in the well? How about 3,000 stories about the baby in the well? Pretty soon the public began to notice that 2,975 of those 3,000 stories about the baby in the well were the exact same story, with the other 25 being rewrites of the exact same story. Then came the revelation. “Hey, these newspapers are all doing the exact same thing! Why do we need so many of them?” In hindsight, USA Today had the right idea. National newspapers do seem like the best idea, but that trend and the Internet cannot seem to line up correctly, and the Internet is becoming the national paper. papers carry notices like this in the financial pages, but most do not. And, as an aside, what is dumber than the stock quote listings in the newspaper? You can type a ticker symbol into Google and get a real-time quote with all sorts of other information. How do you compete with that? Individual sites and technologies simply do certain things better than old-fashioned newspapers can. So should the newspaper go the way of the buggy whip? No, it just needs to return to its roots, and focus on providing densely edited and directed information of importance as decided by a trustworthy source. And it should leave the fluff to the Internet. For too long newspapers have taken on the role of cultural arbiter and distribution channel for popular culture ideas. That is all over and can never return. That said, nobody has nailed the new model for the old newspaper. These publishers are out-and-out idiots. They see something online and immediately try to do the same thing in print. “We want color ink and more stories about celebrities!” I was doing research at the University of California Newspaper Library, which has a tremendous collection of microfilmed old newspapers from every era. If you want to see the heyday of the newspaper business and quickly see what would work today, look at a 1954 edition of The San Francisco Examiner. It’s so dense with news stories that today’s papers look as if there’s nothing in them. It is extremely compelling. The point is that there are good ideas already out there, and they just need to be rediscovered. But for now the panicstricken bosses seem to be heading down the same abyss in the same direction. It’s the direction that created the abyss in the first place.
Dvorak Live on the Web John’s

For too long newspapers have taken on the role of cultural arbiter and distribution channel for popular culture ideas. That is all over and can never return.
Starting back in the early seventies, most of the big newspapers around the country were lulled into a sense of security and easy money by eschewing in-house reporting in exchange for syndicated news from the likes of the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Reuters. Over time syndicated stories began to dominate the newspapers in major cities all over the country. This got so bad that you’d find a local story, for example, in a San Francisco paper covered by The New York Times. It was just cheaper to do that, so they did. This began to undermine the local papers; readers kept seeing all these New York Times stories and soon traded their local paper subscription for their regional edition of the Times. This marked a decline of interest in the local products. Then came the Internet.

Like most writers who have worked at newspapers, I have mixed feelings regarding their future as instruments of communication for something vaguely referred to as “news.” I’d advise people to take a good look at newspapers before 1850 and compare them with what we have today. Early newspapers consisted of local stories, summaries of events, and listings of items such as ship departures and other notices. There were no recipes, feature stories about dogs, or full-page advertisements for movies. Then somewhere along the way, newspapers became more entertaining than informative. The writing was often flowery and dramatic. Columns written by personalities joked around about the events of the day. There were cartoons and horoscopes. If I wanted to know what ships were coming in and out of port carrying a shipment of Honda cars, where would I find it? Some

Internet TV show airs every Wednesday at 3:30 ET on You can download back episodes whenever you like.

This should be the last year of the economic downturn, which has resulted in nothing good for the computer user except for machines that are cheaper than ever, lots of free programs, and the blossoming of a new platform: the smartphone computer. So I got my G-phone, G1, Android, whatever you want to call it. And I have to say that it has a few flaws here and there, but nothing that is a deal killer. And one of the cooler features is that it can actually read bar codes and call up a central location, and, bingo, you now can look up prices or details for an item on the fly. A friend of mine used this feature at a wedding; he determined the prices of all the gifts. Pretty funny. These phones are still a little weak for word processing and full docking capability. By that I mean the phone should be dockable, but not into another computer—into a simple dock that attaches a keyboard and screen. The smartphone should have enough power to run the software it has as full-blown application software. Combined with some nifty cloud applications and remote storage, these phones should give people enough to get by. In fact, the newer processor chips coming out for the smartphone will deliver a lot of computing power. The smartphone computer also needs a good PowerPoint-type program and the ability to drive a digital projector. While there is some chatter about pico projectors being built into smartphones, this is just a cute gimmick. What you want is an XGA or better I/O to drive a projector, even if you have to plug the phone into a wall to keep the batteries from draining. The Android phone and the iPhone should be the two final winners in the game. While I’ve never been a strong believer in the notion that most of the Internet action is going to be done on mobile devices like this, it is obvious that a lot of Internet activity will be done on these things. More and more people pull out these devices in normally circumspect places like restaurants and surf the Net together in search of some factoid about something or other. Genuinely Interesting Hardware Dept.: CES was a bit disappointing for many showgoers this year, mainly because there was a downbeat note to the event. And a lot of excellent products were completely overlooked, as usual. The most impressive idea I saw at the show (and what should have won Best of Show) are some children’s earbuds and headphones from a company called iHearSafe. Details are found at These are devices that will not allow a child, or an adult for that matter, to generate more than 85 dB from the headphones. Anything above that and you risk long-term hearing damage. Someday the earbud and the iPod are going to be recognized for creating a generation of deaf people. The classaction suits will be flying. Do not let this happen to your children—or you. These headsets cost only $19.95! And they come in cool colors and iPod white, so there is none of the teen humiliation you’d get from, heaven forbid, black earbuds. Whither the OLPC? The fabled $100 laptop that never was $100 from the OLPC team has got be to be hit hard by the announcement by Tata of India of a $20 laptop. First of all, the $100 laptop never got below $150 from what I can tell. And it had to compete with an Intel design that was adopted all over the world. I was in Portugal recently, where I played with a statesponsored version of the Intel machine sold to students there. I found it to be quite usable and very rugged. On top of all this are the netbooks coming out with a lot of power for prices around $250. Now this $20 clunker. I’m told the displays are now costing a buck or two. Memory is dirt cheap, and small hard drives are being sold as surplus. So I suppose $20 is possible. I’m now waiting for the $1.99 laptop. Everything Is a Fractal Dept.: Do we have to endure yet another Microsoft Windows campaign? Personally, I’m tired of it. It follows the exact same pattern time after time. Let’s deconstruct the entire process: Microsoft preannounces a new version of Windows and gives it some weird name that initiates discussion as people try to decipher its deeper meaning or what it references. Chicago, Longhorn, Blackcomb, 7. The specification is revealed, with the goal being to “fix the problems with . . . the previous version.” Beta code always leaks out, and people get a good look. A buzz ensues. Microsoft decides to ship the beta and let the public chime in, so the company opens the servers and lets everyone play with it. The product has no legacy hooks or real security, so it just rocks on a computer and people comment on how much better it is. The word is that it’s a winner. Naysayers and critics are shouted down. There are then a series of mixed messages regarding the ship date. The company claims it will be early, but it’s late. The release comes, and people are shown on the local news lined up at some store camping out overnight to buy the thing. The final product, it turns out, gets crammed with security fixes, stability code and built-in drivers, and soon becomes as slow as the products that came before. Critical reviews appear, and the complaining begins. The company then reports it’s working on the next “better than ever, made from scratch” OS, which will go through the same process.
WanT mOrE DvOrak? John writes a weekly column for our Web

site, too. Log on to You can also e-mail him at



Don’t Delay the DTV Transition
Sometimes you’ve just got to give people a hard deadline—it’s the only way to get things done. The Senate-approved delay in the transition from analog to digital television (DTV), from February 17 to June 12, won’t help the few people who still haven’t gotten the DTV transition memo, and it’ll hurt the much larger population of people who could benefit from new wireless technologies. Obama ran on the change platform. That change should start now. Let’s start with some numbers: The DTV transition has been publicized for two years now. Only 5.7 percent of Americans aren’t ready, according to Nielsen, and almost every one of them could become According to an April 2008 government report, 32 percent of digital channels are waiting until the transition to deliver full broadcast strength. Many grumpy people are outraged that they may have to buy a converter box. But this is the first major TV transition we’ve had in 50 years. That’s a long time for a technology to remain static. For the common good, TV stations should clear off some of the radio spectrum so other people can do more stuff with it. Five percent of the population shouldn’t hold that up. Switching to over-the-air digital TV is actually pretty awesome. I got rid of my cable TV and went to over-the-air digital Of course, some of those 5.7 percent just don’t understand what’s going on. The government has botched the education campaign around DTV and screwed up the associated converter-box coupon program. The coupons were confusing to order, expired too soon, and the program ran out of money. This is irritating, and the government should allocate more money for coupons immediately. I’ve also heard insanities like “DTV requires a special antenna” (wrong), “DTV will require you to get digital cable” (wrong), and “DTV is HDTV” (wrong). But three months more will not give us any magical explanations we didn’t have for the past two years. Implementing a much better idea, the FCC is taking a positive step by ordering stations to turn on “analog nightlights” throughout the country. This order requires some analog stations to stay on, broadcasting a fixed message about how to get a converter box. The FCC should extend the order by demanding at least one nightlight in each TV market. Broadcasters are complaining about the cost of keeping those nightlights on, but delaying the transition will cost even more. More delays will not help this problem. More bureaucracy, more confusing coupons, and more misleading ads from cable companies will not help this problem. Only one thing will help this problem: America must convert. A small percentage of people can’t get a TV signal. They go to their local electronics store. They get boxes. Problem solved. As long as there are deadlines, there will be procrastinators. My college roommate usually wrote his papers in marathon stretches leading up to the very last minute they were due. (He also always got A’s.) If you extend the deadline, procrastinators will just procrastinate further.
STAY PHONE-SMART Keep up with the latest on smartphones by reading Sascha’s column at

TV stations should clear off some of the radio spectrum so other people can do more stuff with it. Five percent of the population shouldn’t hold that up.
DTV-compliant in about 45 minutes with a trip to Radio Shack or Best Buy. Yes, 5.1 percent of the country is holding up the other 94.3 percent. The DTV-unready customer isn’t a frail, helpless elderly person, the Nielsen survey says. Under-35s are much more likely than over-55s to lack converter boxes or new TVs. The problem and solution are both pretty simple. The problem: Your TV is more than two years old, and you don’t have cable or satellite. The solution: A $45 converter box available online or at your local electronics store. There, done. Nobody needs to buy a new TV, though we got reviews of some under-$500 choices for you if you want one. As for the whole hysteria about needing new antennas, wait a little while. Some channels now broadcasting weakly will ramp up their signals after the transition, and some channels broadcasting on UHF will switch to VHF, which covers long distances better.

recently, supplemented by an AppleTV with Boxee for cable-TV content. I get many more channels than I did before digital, including five PBS channels instead of one. Some of them are even in high definition, for free. I think over-the-air digital TV is terrific. Complainers also don’t seem to understand why we’re doing this in the first place. For a while now, TV stations have been allowed to squat on two channels instead of one. When the transition occurs, they’ll have to give up one of their two channels, and most of that spectrum will go to new wireless networks. Some of it will go to TV for cell phones. Some of it will go to Internet connections. Some of it will go to public safety uses. Even if you’re not going to use that stuff, you have to agree that it’s a better use of the space than broadcasting the same thing twice to the same people. And it will serve much more than 5.7 percent of the population.


Five Tech Companies to Watch
For the tech sector, just like the rest of the economy, 2009 is simply going to suck. Nonetheless, there are still pioneers to be found. The interesting thing is that it seems as though the old-school firms— often thought to be past their prime, or even headed toward demise—are the ones doing the innovating.
• Palm’s CEs slEight of hand

Undoubtedly the hottest product at CES was Palm’s Pre, an innovative and elegant smartphone that takes the best features of the iPhone and then adds a full, hardware QWERTY keyboard and a radical new operating system. “Hmmm,” you might say, “Didn’t you previously write a column

tually led to sacrifices in customer service and build quality. Today, the company has solid footholds in the consumer, business, and gaming PC space but also has a reputation for being a bit dull. That will change in 2009 as the company shifts its focus toward design and personalization. Dell has partnered with hundreds of artists and is allowing its customers to customize the look of many of its laptop and netbook lines. Dell is also letting users make a statement on the high end with Adamo, a slick, ultrathin, 4-pound, brushed-aluminum laptop that any wellheeled CEO would want to carry into a board meeting.

Through innovation—and more than a little opportunism—these old-school companies are doing well despite the economic crisis.
saying that no matter what the company announced, Palm was just a few screen taps away from death?” Yeah, well, turns out I was dead wrong. Sorry about that. The Palm Pre and the sophistication of the Nova OS surprised just about everyone. I played with the Pre at the show, and the form factor and interface are fantastic. Of course, we need to put the handset through its paces at PCMag Labs to see just how wonderful this brand-new, Linux-based operating system really is. Palm has a long history of building relationships with thirdparty developers. Look for Palm to be a serious player in the mobile space again. • dEll’s grand dEsigns Now 25 years old, Dell, in many ways, is the quintessential PC company. Its initial successes were founded on its unique, direct, buildto-order model that earned the company profits by simply being more efficient than the competition. Over time, though, those returns diminished, and cost-cutting even• miCrosoft’s luCky 7 Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of Vista may be, it’s pretty clear that Microsoft has lost this round of the OS wars. Microsoft has made the beta of Windows 7 available online, and the company seems intent on shipping the final version by the end of the year. Windows 7 isn’t going to blow anyone away with stunning innovation, but so far, it has a few cool new features and that “just works” appeal. One of the more interesting additions is Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) compliance, which essentially allows you to play a media file on any device in your house (including gaming consoles, HDTVs, and more) with the click of a button. While consumer electronics companies are scrambling to figure out seamless digital living solutions, Microsoft has one that’s already working. • amazon’s hEad is in thE Cloud

has a secondary gig as a high-end business services company, leasing out server time through its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) for more than a year. Now its Web services business includes everything from technical support, on-demand workforce management, and payroll services. Amazon is striving to provide the universal back end for just about any e-commerce business, whether it involves shipping books via postal mail or streaming Internet videos. This is the kind of diversification that will help Amazon weather 2009, and possibly even thrive in it. • ComPusa livEs! If you want to see the future of electronics retailing, take a drive down to CompUSA’s Dadeland, Florida, location. Yes, the company declared bankruptcy at the end of 2007, but in early 2008 it was snapped up by Systemax, the parent company of TigerDirect. This has given the venerable retailer not only a new lease on life but an entirely new way to sell electronics, dubbed “Retail 2.0,” by Gilbert J. Fiorentino, chief executive of the technology products group at Systemax and CompUSA stores. “Walk into any retail store and you’ll see a bunch of displays with the same movie playing or the Windows start-up screen— it’s a waste,” Fiorentino says. “Those screens can be used to sell.” You still have a retail space with a commission-based salesperson there to guide you through the process. But instead of a tiny paper card on the shelf with little product information, the system’s display shows the product page on the CompUSA Web site, with every spec. Bringing Internet connections to the retail shelf will also help with support. CompUSA’s renewal is indicative of the others discussed here. Through innovation—and more than a little opportunism—these old-school companies are doing well despite the economic crisis.
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Most people know Amazon as the most successful online retailer around. But it

App LAunCHeRs • 28 l Audio/MusiC • 28 l BACkup • 29 l BLogging • 29 l BRowseRs • 30 CALendAR/piMs • 30 l CoMMuniCAtion/e-MAiL • 31 l ConfeRenCing • 31 l fiLe tRAnsfeR/downLoAd • 32 fiLe VieweRs/ConVeRteRs • 32 l finAnCe • 32 l fun/HoMe • 32 l gRApHiCs • 33 l iMs • 34 inteRfACe enHAnCeRs • 34 l LoCAL seARCH • 35 l offiCe • 35 l opeRAting systeMs • 36 netwoRking • 36 l Rss ReAdeRs • 37 l synCHRonizAtion • 37 l Video • 37

The BestFree software
The best things in life often are free. Here, a list of 173 of them—free software for launching apps, networking, backup, entertainment, and more. By Eric Griffith
App LAunchers circle Dock Who says a dock has to actually dock? To the side of the screen, that is. Circle Dock brings up a spiraling launcher interface with all the icons you want to click. Rotate it with the wheel on your mouse and change the skin to suit your desktop.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Why pay? You’ve already shelled out money for a computer, so there’s no reason that what’s running on that pricey PC should cost a darn thing. Not in this day and age of amazing freebie software and Web apps. That’s why every year PCMag presents a look at the best programs you can download or access online at no cost. All are worthy replacements for your ancient and sometimes forgotten desktop applications, and they’ll save you thousands of dollars to boot. We’ve organized our list of 173 favorites by categories for easy searching, and also note the best of the best as our Hall of Fame winners—just look for the icon next to names like Audacity and Thunderbird. Of course, it’s impossible for us to find all of the free apps, much less try them all out. Did we miss one that you can’t live without? Share your favorites at a special posting site on our AppScout blog, Your Favorite Free Software.

launching—Launchy is the best choice available. Quicksilver Mac Os Quicksilver does more from the keyboard than just launch programs. It can act on any item you can find or drag on your Mac. Plug-ins add even more functions. AuDiO/Music

ObjectDock Windows Replace the Windows Taskbar and Quick Launch toolbar with this Maclike animated toolbar of icons for all your programs. It comes with a few “docklets” for displaying info like the time, weather, and a Web search form. Launchy Windows | Linux “Keystroke launcher” is a fancy way of saying “command line,” but if you like to type rather than click for control—a practice that goes well beyond app

Audacity FAME Windows | Mac Os | Linux On a par with any commercial audio editor, Audacity is the free sound editor of choice. The latest beta (1.3.6) even supports MPEG-4, Dolby Digital, and Windows Media. Banshee Linux iTunes is riffed upon again, this time in a Linux-only option that supports audio and video, Android phones, and older iPods (but not iPhones or iPod touch . . . for now).


ephpod Windows It does whatever iTunes does in Windows—syncing, playlists, iPod firmware updates, and more, including moving music from an iPod to your new PC. foobar2000 Windows Basic playback of just about any audio you can imagine is foobar2000’s calling card, complete with an iTunes-like interface. imeem (formerly Anywhere.FM)
Web If iTunes were entirely in the cloud, it would be pretty close to imeem (formerly Anywhere.FM). Upload your music collection and videos to stream from any device. Digital photos, too. You can share them with friends you make on the service.

iTunes Windows | Mac Os Do we have to explain iTunes as the (so far) ultimate media player coupled with online store, and the primary way to get media on an iPod or iPhone? Or say that it plays most files—from music to video to games to podcasts—save (unsurprisingly) Windows Media formats? Probably not. Mojo Windows | Mac Os When you and some friends install Mojo, you’re ready for a unique sharing experience. Browsing and downloading MP3s from each other’s iTunes music libraries is suddenly a very easy proposition. If it’s a DRM file from the iTunes store, Mojo highlights it in red so you won’t be bothered trying. screamer radio You can download an app or run it from the Web, but either way, Screamer Radio accesses and lets you record Internet radio in a number of streaming audio formats (Shoutcast, Icecast, Ogg Vorbis, WMA, and AAC). Wavepad sound editor
Windows | Mac Os | Linux

songbird Windows | Mac Os | Linux Mozilla’s knockoff of iTunes is free, is open-source, and supports just about every kind of music file you can imagine. You can even download MP3s that are embedded on Web sites to your permanent collection. Extensions add support for iPods and Web services.

is customizable (it heralded the age of “skins” on software) and also comes in multiple versions, including one that works with CDs. BAckup Driveimage XML Windows Make a replica—an image—of your entire hard drive for easy backup and restore later. MozBackup Windows If you’re a big user of Mozilla products—including Firefox, Thunderbird, and SeaMonkey, as well as Flock and Netscape—use MozBackup to store your hard-earned settings and data like bookmarks and e-mail messages. Mozyhome Free Windows | Mac Os Don’t even think about backing up: MozyHome will do it for you, in the background, for up to 2GB of data (you can pay to get unlimited space). Perfect for office docs, but you’ll want to pay for more storage to back up pictures, music, or videos. Soon it will sync between PCs, too. spiderOak It’s another 2GB of free online storage that backs up in the
Windows | Mac Os | Linux

background, but SpiderOak goes Mozy one better by supporting Linux. syncToy v2.0
Windows This so-called PowerToy from Microsoft has the power to make sure that the folders across your multiple drives or even your home network stay fully synchronized.

syncBack Freeware


Set all the parameters and SyncBack will handle synchronization or backup between folders, FTP sites, or ZIP archives. BLOgging

scribeFire This add-on for Firefox is a perfect tool for posting entries to just about any blogging software or service in existence.
Windows | Mac Os | Linux

WavePad puts all the usual bells and whistles of audio editing and effects at your fingertips.

Winamp Windows Still a primo MP3 player, Winamp

TweetDeck Windows | Mac Os | Linux Don’t restrict Twitter to just a column when this Adobe Air– based software can spread itself across your desktop with multiple columns. Each column can contain replies, direct mesMARCH 2009 PC MAGAZINE DIGITAL EDITION 29

sages, or whatever you specify. As with any tweet tool, the columns auto-update as new tweets arrive. And TweetDeck stores all tweets that arrive while the app is running so you don’t miss anything overnight. Twitteriffic

Flock 2 Windows | Mac Os | Linux Flock 2 stresses the social along with surfing, integrating features like RSS reading and Twitter and media access right into the browser. Since it’s based on Firefox, it can also use many of the same extensions.
For our full review, click here.

Windows Combine the portable version of Opera with the anonymizing service Tor (The Onion Router) and you get OperaTor, a bundle (including Polipo as a proxy) that keeps your surfing secret.

A small desktop footprint is the hallmark of this reverse-type Twitter app, which is great for reading and posting to the popular microblogging service. All the features you expect, and more, are there—even in the free version, which includes advertisements.
Mac Os| Mobile

Firefox Can’t wait for the free update to IE 8, which promises an enhanced address bar and upgraded privacy protections? In the meantime use our favorite browser. Firefox is beholden to no one and extensible to the nth degree. Upcoming versions will offer far more security and superfast JavaScript to make the browsing experience even better.
Windows | Mac Os | Linux | Mobile

safari Windows | Mac Os Fast page load times are a hallmark of this browser, the default for Mac installations and also available for Windows. Safari offered private browsing before it was cool.
For our full review, click here.

Zoundry raven Windows Finally, standalone software that gives Windows Live Writer some serious competition for the pro bloggers. It handles full WYSIWYG editing on multiple blogs and can run portably from a USB flash drive to use with any Windows PC. twhirl Windows | Mac Os A desktop interface for Twitter, twhirl requires Adobe AIR to run but makes it infinitely easier to keep up with tweets and/or twits. Web Still the best way to broadcast yourself, live, across the Web. All you need is the webcam. Web You could install WordPress on your servers, or go right to this commercial, hosted site and set up a professional-looking blog in no time.
For our full review, click here.

cALenDAr/piMs 30 Boxes Web An online calendar that actually looks like a calendar. The buddies feature makes sharing schedules and to-dos a breeze. calgoo calendar
Windows | Mac Os | Linux Think of Calgoo as one calendar app to rule them all: The software provides desktop access to Google Calendar and 30 Boxes, and syncs data with Outlook and Apple iCal.

For our full review, click here.


If you work in a lot of Web forms or Web apps like Google Docs, this Firefox add-on is a must-have. It can search and replace text in Web pages quickly and easily.
Windows | Mac Os | Linux

google chrome

Everyone pays attention to what Google does, so when the company made a Web browser, the world noticed. And for good reason: This streamlined, fast, secure software has true potential in the browser wars.

Doomi Windows This simple to-do list app requires Adobe Air to run, and floats on your screen or rests in the system tray—the very model of an unobtrusive application. Future plans include syncing with an online to-do list. google calendar
Web | Mobile

For our full review, click here.

internet explorer 8 Beta

Windows Live Writer
Windows This desktop software for blog posting is a favorite with the pros who want a WYSIWYG editor that also posts photos, maps, and other content.

This is a freebie you’re probably already using in some form, as IE is the most-used Web browser in the world. The latest beta adds fantastic (if overdue) features such as a stealth mode, better performance, and the ability to subscribe to “Web slices” that are just parts of a full Web page.

With multiple views, simple sharing, and seamless integration with other Google products, Google’s calendar, like most of its Web apps, stands a notch above the rest.

For our full review, click here.

Windows | Mac Os | Linux | solaris | Os2 Mozilla’s calendar add-on for Thunderbird gives the e-mail client all it needs to take on all the features of Microsoft Outlook.

BrOWsers camino Mac Os We know; you love Firefox but just wish it was a little more . . . Mac-ish. Camino solves that issue, offering “Mozilla power, Mac style.” It has full support of Mac OS’s Keychain, AppleScript, and all the typical Firefox goodies.

Windows | Mac Os | Linux | Mobile

Opera can claim many “firsts”—tabs, speed dial, and more—and some say it’s the best. At the least, it’s a fast browser with a presence available on just about any device in your digital arsenal.

For our full review, click here.

chandler An open-source, sharable desktop to-do master, Chandler looks vaguely Outlook-esque, but it doesn’t worry about communications—just tasks
Windows | Mac Os | Linux


for those embracing the “getting things done” lifestyle. remember The Milk
Web | Mobile This power to-do list site gives you many ways to get reminders (e-mail, SMS, IM) and even more ways to create them, from Google widgets to phone calls to IM bots.

remember The Task
Windows | Mac Os | Linux This Adobe Air–based app puts a small window on your desktop with one fantastic purpose: full-time access to your Remember The Milk task list.

Zenbe Web Zenbe is a multi-account, Internet-based interface to check Yahoo Mail, Gmail, AOL, Windows Live, and POP3 messages. It throws in a shareable calendar, an address book, and other tools to make it extra-useful.

TaskFive Web Just five tasks a day? Take it as a challenge, not a limitation. TaskFive sports an elegant calendar interface, and you can enter tasks via Web, e-mail, or text message. Team to-dos will cost you, however. Yahoo calendar An old-timer compared with many, Yahoo Calendar doesn’t innovate a lot but provides solid features, shareable calendars, and synchronization with Outlook.

google contacts

RSS feeds or plan your calendar.
For our full review, click here.

This extension for Thunderbird does one thing you need: It synchronizes contacts between Thunderbird and Google’s Gmail.

cOMMunicATiOn/e-MAiL Affixa Windows Usually, with webmail, you have to put attachments on a message after the fact. Affixa does it automatically when you select a file, or from within other apps like MS Word. Building on its predecessors, gAttach and yAttach, Affixa works with both Gmail and Yahoo Mail. eM client Windows Anyone familiar with Outlook or Thunderbird can master the basics of using eM Client freeware in no time. It already syncs with Google Calendar, and future developments will integrate social networks and IMs with your e-mail. gmail The current bellwether in Webbased e-mail is still in beta, but Google continues to innovate with additions via the Gmail Labs. The searchable and increasing storage (up to 7GB now, from 5.5GB last year) doesn’t hurt. New themes make it pretty. And you can use it to IM or send SMS text messages to friends’ phones.

icontact Accessing your Gmail contacts is all the easier with iContact. This app displays the normally browser-accessibleonly list on your desktop and integrates those contacts into other communications software, like Skype.

Yahoo Mail Web Our webmail Editors’ Choice embeds the Yahoo Messenger IM and RSS reader, works on the Web with any browser or operating system, and has more features than anyone could hope to master.
For our full review, click here.

cOnFerencing Dabbleboard As simple as any whiteboard in a conference room, Dabbleboard’s online app brings drawing and some real-time collaboration to your group.

simple Mail

If you already have Firefox open all the time, why not have one of those tabs just for mail? The Simple Mail add-on puts a POP3/IMAP client right inside the browser.
Windows | Mac Os | Linux

sightspeed Now owned by Logitech, SightSpeed provides one-on-one video chat with unparalleled video quality, but more than two users at a time will cost you.
Windows | Mac Os

Thunderbird Windows | Mac Os | Linux The Internet’s top

For our full review, click here.

Web | Mobile

e-mail client from Mozilla is (of course) extensible, but even without add-ons Thunderbird is simple-to-master software for anyone with a POP3 or IMAP e-mail account.
For our full review, click here.

skype Windows | Mac Os | Linux Easy to use for phone calls (free between Skype users, with a minimal charge to call other phones), Skype truly shines when paired with a high-end webcam so that you can see your friends and family.
For our full review, click here.

Windows Live Mail Windows Outlook Express has been transformed into the modern-day Live Mail, ready to check POP3, IMAP, and webmail accounts when you’re not using it to read

Tokbox Web The Tokbox service turns your AIM buddy list into a videoconferencing buddy list directly in your browser. Separate apps

make it work through Facebook or on your desktop. You provide the camera.
For our full review, click here.

FiLe VieWers/cOnVerTers

FinAnce Billeo Windows Install the Billeo toolbar on your Web browser and add your accounts and you’ll get fast access to assistance with online shopping, online bill payment, and reports on your spending.
For our full review, click here.

FiLe TrAnsFer/DOWnLOAD crossFTp Built on Java, CrossFTP works and looks the same, no matter which OS you run. It features tabs for each connection, support for archives, and drag-and-drop transfer, and it comes in a free server version, too.
Windows | Mac Os | Linux

Adobe reader Windows | Mac Os | Linux | Mobile Adobe’s PDF reader is far from basic, with a number of extra features including online collaboration tools. Foxit reader Windows | Linux | Mobile Frequently preferred over Adobe’s own reader for PDFs, Foxit has a reputation for speed. What’s more, it can annotate files. peaZip Windows | Linux It’ll create ZIPs, 7Zs, TARs, ARCs, and more; it’ll open those and many other archives too, including RAR. PeaZip can do so with AES encryption of your files and can even split or join extra-large files to make them easier to transport. sumatra pDF

DownThemAll Windows | Mac Os | Linux Don’t download just one item at a time from a Web page. As the name implies, this download manager for Firefox handles them all. Filezilla Windows | Mac Os | Linux Slick and simple FTP that does the job, complete with drag-anddrop from local to remote or vice versa. FireFTp Windows | Mac Os | Linux Because it’s a plug-in for Firefox, FireFTP behaves like any other tab in the browser, so you don’t have to launch another app to transfer files. halite
Windows Instead of downloading an entire file, apps using the super-popular BitTorrent protocol break files into chunks and distribute them among several users. Free, open-source application Halite is a BitTorrent client focused on using the smallest memory footprint as possible.

Buxfer Web | Mobile Sign up (or use an existing AOL, Facebook, Google, OpenID, or Yahoo account) to get started with tracking shared expenses, so divvying up the bills at the end of the month becomes a breeze. Mint Web Mint manages your money by sucking in data from all your bank, credit card, and other accounts, providing you with regular reports on what you’re spending and how to save.
For our full review, click here.

The perfect PDF reader for the minimalist, with a super-simple interface and fast start-up time. Sumatra is perfect to carry on a USB thumb drive. Quick Media converter (QMc)
Windows If you frequently find yourself converting audio or video files to different formats, keep this tool handy for (as the name suggests) quick media conversion to an impressive range of potential formats and codecs.

Wesabe Windows | Mac Os | Web “Part money management tool, part community,” where info—your comments about your spending—is shared (anonymously) with the group so everyone can find value. Of course, Wesabe also helps track your spending and income. Fun/hOMe eBay Desktop This app, which requires Adobe Air, looks like eBay replicated on your desktop. But for power buyers it adds special functions, like not needing to refresh the page and a clock synchronized with eBay’s own.

Windows | Mac Os

net2ftp Web If you sit at a computer with no FTP software but need to upload a file, stat, this Web app comes to your rescue quickly as long as you have the server, username, and password information. rightload Send a file to preconfigured FTP servers anytime you want with a simple right click. Rightload adds just a single line to the context menu, with fly-out menus for each FTP server you want.

WinrAr Windows We all know about compressing files with ZIP, but RAR is also quite popular; WinRAR will compress or decompress files in both. YemuZip Mac Os Sometimes unzipping a compressed file on the Mac makes a mess. YemuZip makes archiving and decompressing a simple drag-and-drop procedure. Zamzar Web Upload just about any file (under 100MB) and you can convert it to just about any format that makes sense. This very cool tool even grabs online videos from YouTube and turns them into files you can use.

Windows There’s no easier place to plug in your family tree, and since it’s a Web app it’s easy to share such info with the rest of the family so that they can fill in the gaps.

uTorrent Still the best—and smallest—BitTorrent client in existence, uTorrent will have you downloading big files in no time.

google earth Windows | Mac Os | Linux If you like Google Maps online, welcome to that same kind of action on steroids. You can traverse the globe on its interlocking satellite images, or reverse it and look skyward, even travel to the past. Third-party add-ons continue to extend Google Earth’s capabilities


beyond what our puny terrestrial minds can imagine.
For our full review, click here.

home inventory Windows | Mac Os Insurance companies ask you to inventory your possessions prior to signing up for a homeowner’s or renter’s policy. Create a home inventory of everything you own on this site, a service of the Insurance Information Institute, and throw in digital pictures or even scanned purchase receipts to make sure what’s yours is yours. penzu Hard to believe that in the age of blogging, some people still want journals and diaries they keep to themselves. Penzu is all about making that happen, online, with privacy as the first priority.

springpad Manage your life tasks with online notebooks filled with lists, photos, notes, and maps/directions you can share with the whole family. Perfect for tracking receipts, planning meals or trips, and getting your house organized.

paint.neT Windows This student project turned freeware masterpiece puts the power of higher-end graphics editors in anyone’s hands.

images in ways specific to social networks and mobile handsets. Faststone image Viewer

latest IrfanView (version 4.20) received a nice cosmetic update. It also supports instant video and audio playback.
For our full review, click here.

Timetoast Web Ever wanted to create a timeline for your site or a presentation, but couldn’t decide what tool would best display the data? Wonder no more, as Timetoast adds this useful data with an attractive flair. grAphics Artweaver Windows If you want the freedom to paint, without the mess and without paying $359 for Corel Painter X, Artweaver is a good starter tool for artists. DestroyFlickr ?p=project&id=DestroyFlickr
Windows This Adobe Air app puts Flickr on your desktop, but with a completely different interface. Why “destroy”? In the words of app creator Jonnie Hallman, “To destroy today is to make the most of the day—destruction as a form of creation.”
Windows Another image browser and converter that handles almost any file type, FastStone also has companion programs, like the handy Photo Resizer, complete with a fast batch processor.

pencil Windows | Mac Os | Linux For the budding Chuck Jones at home, Pencil is a free way to get started in the world of traditional 2D animation—that is, draw each frame anew. picasa Windows | Linux Few free programs come close to handling photos with the skill of Picasa. Organize them, do quick edits (including red-eye reduction), and share pics online or e-mail them to friends.
For our full review, click here.

Windows | Mac Os | Linux

GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) has provided Photoshop-like tools at no charge for over a decade.
For our full review, click here.

Windows | Mac Os

google sketchup If you’re new to 3D but want to build worlds anyway, a free tool like SketchUp is a great place to start; the latest version includes “self-aware” 3D models so the app knows, for example, to resize a virtual staircase by adding more stairs and extend a virtual fence by adding more slats.

Mobaphoto Windows Portability is the key here. This lightweight photo editor (only 1.6MB) puts photographs into great-looking photo galleries. Naturally, it has all the usual tools you need to fix red-eye, crop, and resize. It will even batch-process images. photoshop express
Web It lacks the full power of Photoshop on the Web, but it does offer rudimentary editing, basic photo sharing, and 2GB of storage for your photos. Partnerships with MARCH 2009 PC MAGAZINE DIGITAL EDITION 33

flauntr Web This online photo editor integrates with just about any picture service you can imagine, including Facebook and Flickr, and offers a suite of tools to manipulate

For our full review, click here.

irfanView Windows Perhaps the ultimate image viewer (with some editing tools thrown in), the

sites like Picasa and Facebook make Photoshop Express fun as well as useful.
For our full review, click here.

photosynth Web Photosynth does so many unique things with photos that we gave it a Technical Excellence award. It takes multiple photos, finds where they overlap, and creates an almost 3D image; it can even make a 3D replica of an object from shots at multiple angles. picnik Picnik is the gold standard in online image editing these days: It fixes photos without confusing users and works with a number of photo-sharing sites. And best of all, you don’t have to register to get started using it—unless you want to save images online.

Dexrex This add-on records your IM conversation transcripts and stores them online for later reading and analysis. It works with AIM, Digsby, Yahoo Messenger, and many others.
Windows | Mac Os | Mobile

ting you output a PDF without the blank sheets. A tree somewhere out there will thank you.
For our full review, click here.

Windows | Mac Os | Linux | Mobile muCommander is unique: It’s a file manager that looks the same on all operating systems. A standard dual-pane, it also has support for archived files, FTPs, and previews files.

Meebo Web | Mobile When you want to avoid installing software but still want to chat on all the major IM networks, Meebo is your site of choice. Sign up for a Meebo account to access multiple IM networks all at once and log all conversations.
For our full review, click here.

placesBar Tweaker

inTerFAce enhAncers AccelMan File Manager

For our full review, click here.

pictomio Windows Handling all your photos with a simple but powerful interface, Pictomio browses in many styles—including a carousel mode similar to iTunes’ Cover Flow, which benefits from a good 3D video card. Pictomio organizes shots and creates instant slideshows. It will even handle audio and video. splashup You don’t even need to sign up to get instant access to this Flash-based image editor with all the features (and more) that you’d find in a downloadable app.

As much a file viewer as a file manager, AccelMan has multiple windows that offer info galore on each file and its contents. The app can even play back media files when you don’t want to launch another player.

Every time you open or save a file in Windows XP, the dialog box gives you a few select options, like Desktop or My Documents, to choose from in the Places bar. You can personalize that list with this tweaker, putting your most used folders in the lineup.

Desktops sysinternals/cc817881.aspx
Windows Desktops is a virtual desktop manager in a small package; the app is only a 62K download. Personalize hotkeys for quick switches between desktops.

rBTray RBTray does one thing and does it well: It enables you to minimize any application you like to the system tray as an icon rather than as a taskbar button, without even doing a full install (RBTray can run from a thumb drive).

Windows Mac OS X Leopard introduced cool towers of icons to the interface, with shortcuts to frequently accessed folders, called stacks. Now you can put those stacks in Windows as well. There’s even an add-on to help you put stacks on the RocketDock launcher.



suMO paint Not every Web-based image editor can claim to be high-end, but SUMO can, by carefully mimicking the look and feel of Photoshop—maybe a little too well. Try it before this free Flash app gets sued out of existence by Adobe. iMs

This app is a Windows clone of the Mac interface treat Exposé, which makes opening and closing apps and getting to the desktop a fast process. Windows XP and Vista users can also set up DExposE2 to work on multiple monitors.

start++ startplusplus.aspx
Windows A nice addition in Vista to the Windows environment was the Start Menu’s search box. Start++ turbocharges it with extras like online searches that post results in the menu, and its own set of widgets and plug-ins (one option, for example, is displaying the weather).

Windows | Mac Os | Linux | Web | Mobile AOL’s Instant Messenger is the most-used network in the U.S., and the software—only the Windows version gets regular updates these days—packs in as much as possible. You can access the AIM network with just about any multi-protocol IM software.

emerge Desktop So you think the Windows desktop looks too busy with that system tray, taskbar, and Start button? You’re not alone. EmergeDesktop does away with them all, replacing the Windows shell (the interface, that is) with its minuscule emergeTray. Launch apps with a right click, or couple Emerge Desktop with a launcher like ObjectDock.


For our full review, click here.

greenprint Windows | Mac Os Stop printing that extra blank page when you need a hard copy of a Web page, or for any printout for that matter. GreenPrint saves the paper, even let-

You’ve got a lot of applications open, but only so much space in your Taskbar . . . so why not minimize them directly to the system tray on the lower right-hand side of your screen? TrayEverything will do it for you.


Windows Another replacement for Windows Explorer, UltraExplorer stands out by sporting a command-line interface to go with the dual-pane view of files. And it offers a preview window, so you can quickly check the contents of a file before opening it.

Yahoo Widgets Windows | Mac Os The world’s biggest collection of widgets—more than 5,000 of the things—is yours through Yahoo. Some widgets, obviously, are more useful than others, but with the right combination, your desktop can be an information powerhouse. LOcAL seArch google Desktop Windows | Mac Os | Linux Put the power of Google’s search engine to work on finding your own files. The software indexes in the background, while in the foreground you get to put all the Google Gadgets (widgets) you like on your desktop.
For our full review, click here.

Digsby Windows Brand new this year, Digsby may be the ultimate way to stay in realtime touch with friends. It incorporates multiple IM networks, social networks (including Twitter), and e-mail and webmail notifications. You can even send mail through Digsby. Mac OS and Linux versions are promised soon.


everything Don’t need the extras? Everything really does just one thing in its small package: It indexes your PC in real time for lightning-fast search.

etherpad Web You don’t even have to sign up to create a new pad, a shareable text document stored online for you by EtherPad. Don’t expect fancy formatting, but do expect real-time, color-coded editing between all collaborators. evernote Windows | Mac Os | Mobile | Web Take a clipping of anything you see—online or off—for later reference. Built-in OCR makes text inside images searchable. gMDesk
Windows Bring Google’s Web apps to the desktop with this site-specific browser interface that requires Adobe Air. You’ll have access to Gmail, Google Reader, and Google Docs just as you would in a browser, but GMDesk stays alive when your browser crashes.

Windows | Linux

Note-taking doesn’t have to hog the whole desktop, or even the whole browser window. Incollector runs in the background, letting you call up a new note page from the system tray when you want, tag it, and easily find it later.

Locate32 Windows The Locate32 project is all about indexing the contents of your hard drives and other storage to run fast finds on local data. OFFice Adobe Buzzword Web This online-only word processor has one of the best-looking minimalist interfaces going, since it was built entirely with Adobe Flash, and each page looks as good as any formatted in Word.
For our full review, click here.

Jarte No one loves the Notepad included in Windows, and there are many replacements out there. Jarte does most of them one better, because it is completely self-contained and also portable—the best part of Jarte is that you can run it from a thumb drive!
Wi n d ows

kompoZer Windows | Mac Os | Linux This free WYSIWYG Web page authoring package builds on the abandoned Nvu project. It supports CSS, file management (including FTP), and tabs for multiple pages. Lotus symphony Windows | Mac Os | Linux IBM’s entry into the world of office suites is based on OpenOffice and is currently in beta for Mac and Linux. It covers the three big suite tools: word processing, presentations, and spreadsheets.
For our full review, click here.

blist Web Web lists (aka “blists”) are little databases for all your data needs. The Flash interface makes this fast for newbies and powerful enough for everyone else. You can even put your blists on your blog or social-network pages.

google Docs Web | Mobile If you’re ready to move your work life to the cloud, Google’s word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation suite is ready for you, and comes complete with storage for all of your docs. It also comes with forms you can fill out to gather data from outside.
For our full review, click here.

Lucidchart Web Why make flowcharts complicated? This Web app goes back to basics with simple, black-and-white charts that anyone can make—and better yet, anyone else can easily understand. neoOffice Mac Os NeoOffice comes with most of the same tools as the Mac version of OpenOffice but carries a more Apple-friendly look and feel.

in Excel? Visualize the same data through Widgenie and create a beautiful graph widget, even one with animation, that you can share online. Text clouds, artful presentations of the most popular words on a page, are always a favorite with bloggers. Zoho Web | Mobile If there’s a tool in the arsenal of office suites that Zoho doesn’t include, we can’t think of it. Not all the Web apps are free, but those that are—word processor, spreadsheet tool, presentation app, mail, wiki, and many more—all bring the goods.
For our full review, click here.

Axence netTools
Windows Want a quick look at everything that’s happening on your home network? NetTools scans the network and reports back on what ports are in use, and the inbound and outbound connections. You can use it to test your networking connections over TCP or UDP protocols.

Windows Notepad++ is the standard by which all replacements for Notepad—that weak little app that comes with Windows—are measured. It sports full text styles, tabs, drag-and-drop, and superspeed and is suitable for any coding or writing you can throw at it.

OperATing sYsTeMs gOs 3.0 gadgets With its emphasis on easy access to tools from Google, it’s easy to see why some think of this lightweight Linux— renowned for powering cheap PCs from Wal-Mart—as the Google OS.

gBridge Windows GBridge allows you to set up a relatively painless VPN between computers for sharing and syncing files and folders, using your Google account as the connection point (though Gbridge is not affiliated with Google). inssiDer

OpenOffice Windows | Mac Os | Linux | solaris Version 3 of the freebie office suite ups the ante against Microsoft’s hegemony, becoming fast and polished enough to warrant serious consideration by all, especially small businesses. It looks like MS Office 2003 (for those not in love with the Ribbon interface in Office 2007) and has all the tools— except e-mail—you’ll ever need.
For our full review, click here.


Taking up where the venerable NetStumbler left off, InSSIDer is a Wi-Fi network scanner that runs under Vista and XP—even the 64-bit versions. You can use it to find out what’s wrong with local 802.11 networks.

Consider this the creative Linux distro: Boot just about any Intel PC (even MacBooks) from a Live CD with pure: dyne, and you’ll get instant access to free tools for editing audio, video, and images (many already in this story).

LogMein hamachi Set up a secure tunnel between two PCs using a virtual private network (VPN), just like the ones the pros use to access the server at work. Only this one is free.
Windows | Mac Os | Linux

For our full review, click here.


sliderocket Web Promising more than PowerPoint and Keynote is bold, but this Web-only presentation tool seems to deliver, with amazing animations, support for embedded video, and 3D transitions between slides. softMaker Office 2006

ubuntu The easiest Linux to install, now in version 8.10 (aka “Intrepid Ibex”), not only is suitable for (somewhat knowledgeable) consumers but also comes with all the software you need to be productive.
For our full review, click here.

neTWOrking Airsnare

netsetMan Windows Stop using Vista’s convoluted interface to change network settings. NetSetMan takes over and creates profiles for different networks you might connect with, changing your need for static or dynamic IPs, or hostnames or workgroups, on the fly. If you’ve got multiple network cards, NetSetMan is a huge help. network notepad
Windows It’s more than a notepad: This software is specific to creating flowcharts of your network layout. Put in the IP address for each device and you can use the interface to quickly ping devices to confirm they’re online.

This free version is meant to entice you to upgrade to the 2008 version, but if all you need is basic text editing and a spreadsheet, you’re set.

springnote Whether you want a personal notebook or a shareable group notebook, this wiki-based note-taking site could give Microsoft’s OneNote a run for its money.
Web | Mobile

Turn your Wi-Fi–equipped laptop into an info sniffer. AirSnare pulls down info on computers and game consoles and just about any device on the network, even delivering devices’ MAC addresses.


Windows | Mac Os | Linux

Widgenie Web Sick of making meh-looking graphs

AirRadar goes beyond what the WiFi utility in Mac OS X can do by showing extras like signal strength and the 802.11 network’s channel.
Mac Os

Why print just to your printer? PrinterAnywhere lets you print to any printer on the Internet


(through another PC with PrinterAnywhere installed), or you can open your printer to others. rss reADers google reader Web | Mobile After three years, Google’s RSS feed reader is tops, not only mimicking the best of what desktop readers can do but also mashing up nicely with other Google services, like the iGoogle home page.
For our full review, click here.

netvibes Web A personalized start page with an emphasis on widgets and feed readers, Netvibes also aggregates podcasts for you.
For our full review, click here.

VLc media player Windows | Mac Os | Linux VideoLAN’s open-source software plays back—well, just about everything. It can also serve up streaming video and music to other PCs on your network.

FeedDemon individuals/FeedDemon

The preeminent desktop newsreader for Windows was recently overhauled to be faster and easier, while remaining extremely customizable to suit how you read feeds.

Windows Live sync The replacement for FolderShare continues to do one thing and do it well: sync folders (up to 20) across multiple PCs over the Internet.
Windows | Mac Os | Web

audio to go with it, into a movie, suitable for future demonstrations. handBrake Windows | Mac Os | Linux Want to back up all those DVDs you own before they get scratched? This open-source tool does full DVD-to-MPEG-4 conversion, which you can play back later on media centers, even the Apple TV. Miro Miro’s a video player that promises to play back just about any video media file, organize files in playlists, and incorporate BitTorrent downloading to become a de facto PC-based TiVo.
Windows | Mac Os | Linux

For our full review, click here.

netnewsWire individuals/netnewswire

Mac Os | Mobile FeedDemon’s sibling on the Macintosh platform has updated its interface and more. It now integrates with several other Mac apps like iCal and iPhoto to help you share as well as read.

Windows Live Mesh Windows | Mac Os | Mobile | Web Microsoft’s latest method for syncing folders on different PCs goes FolderShare one better by including 5GB of online storage accessible from any PC, plus the ability to mesh special collaborative applications (like a group crossword puzzle!). syncplicity Synchronize up to 10,000 files (or 2GB, whichever comes first) on up to two computers free. Sign up friends and you can add another 1GB per new user recruited.
Windows | Mobile | Web

rss Bandit Directly sync this reader with your online feeds at Google Reader or NewsGator Online. You’ll get fast browsing on the desktop but still have access to your feeds over the Web using other PCs.


snarfer It won’t win awards for visual innovation, but Snarfer does provide simplicity. It’s arguably the best way to handle straight-up RSS info gathering and reading, and it’s available in over 20 languages. sYnchrOniZATiOn

Mozilla Weave Windows | Mac Os | Linux A product of Mozilla Labs, Weave is meant to synchronize anything and everything related to Firefox among all the computers you use, plus extend some features to others for sharing. Registration is closed as of this writing but should be back soon. ViDeO camstudio Windows This open-source program for capturing videos of your screen turns what you do on your desktop, as well as the

Tipcam Windows Another cool tool for capturing videos of your desktop, TipCam lets you take big, beautiful videos (up to 800 by 600 pixels). You can even zoom in on specifics and upload the videos directly to YouTube. Frequent users can get an account to store and display up to 250MB of video. Want More? The festival of free software doesn’t have to end! Skim through last year’s compilation of free software, or take a look at these other app collections for various other platforms.
• The Best Free software ’08 • Free iphone apps • 16th Annual utility guide

Dropbox One of the few sync/backup tools to support Linux (Fedora and Ubuntu), Dropbox always gets kudos for its design and simple setup. Online backup space is free for up to 2GB.
Windows | Mac Os | Linux | Web

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® Windows VistaTM

© 2008 Cybernet Manufacturing, Inc. All rights reserved. The Cybernet logo is a trademark of Cybernet Manufacturing, Inc. Intel and Intel Core 2 Quad are trademarks of Intel Corporation, or its subsidiaries in the United States and other countries. Windows Vista is a trademark of Microsoft Corporation. All other registered trademarks are property of their respective owners.

The Fastest ISPs in America
We polled tens of thousands of PC Mag readers across the country to find out which ISPs and connection types yield the blazingest speeds. By Jeremy A. Kaplan and Erik Rhey
in your area are as fast, affordable, and as customer-friendly as ISPs in other parts of your state and the rest of the country? If you have only advertising to go on, then you should believe that your provider is super fast, super cheap, super friendly, and generally much better than the competition. Of course, we know that in the real world, that’s not always the case. Price is typically one of the biggest considerations in choosing an Internet service provider (ISP). And obviously you can choose only what’s available in your area. For some, especially those living in the boonies, there is the painful reality of having only one option. But in order to be an informed consumer, shouldn’t you at least know whether the choices available
Illustration by Maria Rendon

How We Tested In this story, our goal was to compile an accurate, three-dimensional picture of the country’s ISPs, using two key metrics: customer feedback and speed numbers from user testing. To achieve this goal, we relied on an app we created called SurfSpeed, a utility that grabs pages (and page elements) from several popular Web sites to measure

your actual Internet surfing speed—not the bandwidth allocation your ISP quotes you. Most of the line tests the ISPs use measure speed by sending you large files and seeing how long it takes you to download them. Your ISP then cites numbers based on abstract mathematics—the number of users divided by the theoretical line speed. Our approach is different, and our results will differ, in some cases dramatically, from the number quoted by your ISP. Just like a real browser, SurfSpeed initiates multiple connections to get all of the elements of a

page. Each connection takes time, and that becomes a part of the SurfSpeed equation. This gives a unique measurement that more accurately reflects how you spend 90 percent of your time on the Web: surfing or waiting for a page to load. By default, the utility runs once per hour, “browsing” to top sites like AOL, eBay, Google, MySpace, Yahoo, and more. Note that the data came from PC Mag readers, not the population as a whole. Over a period of two months, we pored over data collected from more than 17,000 profiles (that is, unique IP

addresses)—over 200,000 individual tests. We also crunched the numbers for each state, because fast overall service doesn’t translate into fast local service. In all, we had over 2 million data points. The results from each user are compared with those of others in the same ZIP code, state, country, and the world. You can also see how your ISP compares with other ISPs around the country. And to complement our data, we took population figures from the U.S. government’s 2007 census estimates (the most recent data available).

No matter how fast your connection, occasionally sites won’t be available, pages won’t load properly, or downloads will take an inordinately long time to arrive. For that reason, our research department helped us to identify “outliers” and clean the data so we could proceed with our analysis. When analyzing within a state, we considered only those ISPs and connection types for which we had at least five users. The other part of the evaluation—customer satisfaction—is based on userreported information in the SurfSpeed

application, which includes a five-item satisfaction index. We aggregated people who rated themselves as “Extremely Satisfied” or “Very Satisfied” under the category of “satisfied” users. Dissatisfied users include those who rated themselves as either “Somewhat Satisfied” or “Not Satisfied.” To determine the penetration of broadband connections into households, and the average cost of those connections, we turned to Centris, which collects such data as part of its typical research.

Comparing Connection Speeds Our conclusion regarding speed is probably not surprising to many. We found that fiber-optic service is by far the fastest type available, with an average speed of 921 Kbps. This was 152 percent faster than satellite and over 20 percent faster than cable. Clearly, if you can switch up, you should. The fiber market will only grow, too, as companies install more and more lines. According to the Telecommunications Industry Association’s 2008 Market Review and Forecast, “During the next four

years, more fiber will be deployed than during the so-called overbuilding years of the late 1990s and early 2000s.” Some of the major fiber-optic carriers include the well-publicized Verizon FiOS and lesserknown regional carriers like Utah’s Mstar and New Mexico’s CityLink Fiber. At the other end of the spectrum is satellite. Although satellite providers such as the industry leader HughesNet and competitors like WildBlue have been a godsend for those in the farthest-flung regions

of the country (making service available where there previously was none), its customers nonetheless suffer the slowest speeds. With an average speed of 145 Kbps, satellite is still faster than dial-up but doesn’t come close to even the nextslowest, DSL. As for the connection types most of us use—cable and DSL—there is no longer any debate. Cable is clearly faster, with an average speed of 735 Kbps, compared with DSL’s 476. Among cable providers, our tests

found Optimum Online (Cablevision) and Cox to be the fastest, at 839 and 774 Kbps, respectively. For DSL, Connecticut-based FrontierNet (724 Kbps) and Louisiana’s CenturyTel (520 Kbps) topped the list. Who Puts Customers First? Just because a certain ISP is fast, doesn’t mean all of its customers are happy. SurfSpeed asked users to rate their feelings about their ISPs on a scale from “Extremely satisfied” to “Not satisfied.” ISPs could be

doing better in the eyes of customers. In only three states did more than 50 percent of users say they were satisfied with their Internet provider. Interestingly, the results closely coincided with those of our annual Reader Satisfaction Survey. Still, surfing speed is a major part of the user experience, so it makes sense that users gave some of the fastest ISPs the highest customer satisfaction ratings. For example, Verizon FiOS had the highest rating of all, with 71 percent of its custom-

ers rating themselves as satisfied with the service. The satellite provider HughesNet was at the bottom, with a lowly 6 percent of users saying they are satisfied. Among the cable providers, Optimum Online and WOW (Wide Open West) Internet topped the list. Cable customers tended to be satisfied with their service, more or less; most approval ratings hovered around 50 percent. It’s a different story with DSL. In that market, AT&T was the winner, with only 38 percent satisfied.

The Regional Picture Analyzing gigantic geographic regions is a difficult way to identify the fastest ISPs with any degree of scientific certainty. For example, states in the West get online faster than anywhere else in the country, at 565 Kbps, and the South proved the slowest part of the country, at 551 Kbps. But the difference between those numbers, just 14 Kbps, isn’t very meaningful. Analyzing results at the state level proves more interesting. As a rule, metMARCH 2009 PC MAGAZINE DIGITAL EDITION 43

To rate an ISP’s performance accurately, we based our results on two criteria: speed and customer satisfaction. As you can see, Verizon’s fiber service is the big winner on speed and customer satisfaction, with satellite ISP HughesNet the big loser on both.
Internet Service Provider CABLE Optimum Online (Cablevision) Cox Comcast Bright House Road Runner (Time Warner) Insight Broadband RCN Charter WOW Internet (Wide Open West) Mediacom Online Other cable Cable ONE EarthLink Average cable DSL FrontierNet CenturyTel AT&T (including SBC Yahoo!) Verizon Other DSL Qwest BellSouth EarthLink Alltel Average DSL FIBER OPTIC Verizon Other fiber optic Average fiber optic SATELLITE HughesNet Other satellite Average satellite 121 145 121 6% 13% 6% 931 582 582 71% 61% 61% 724 520 502 469 442 423 413 369 357 469 20% 16% 38% 29% 31% 32% 36% 12% 24% 27% 839 774 750 736 733 717 698 641 638 631 618 602 565 688 62% 48% 33% 45% 45% 51% 41% 29% 57% 38% 43% 52% 46% 45% SurfSpeed (Kbps) 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000 Percentage of satisfied users

ropolitan areas are better cared for by Internet service providers. More densely populated areas across the country reported better and faster service on our test. So determining the overall speed of a state means balancing data on how quickly city residents get online and how effectively more rural areas are served. Speed is only half the picture, however. If half a state’s residents can’t even get broadband access, how well served is the state as a whole? Availability of broadband services is a gigantic factor in how fast you get online, and the cost of that service also determines what percentage of area residents can afford it. If it’s too expensive and available in only half a state, the state’s overall speed rating will drop. To get the full picture of Internet access across the country, we turned to Centris, a research firm that collects information on the use of voice, video, data, and electronic products and services.

According to Centris, New Jersey has the highest percentage of broadband penetration, with a whopping 80.2 percent, and speedy Nevada comes in second with 75.3 percent. In fact, broadband penetration was over 50 percent in more than half the country. But cost tells a different story: Folks from New Jersey pay a very low $33 on average for monthly broadband access, but Nevadans pay nearly $40. Does a price bump represent more options, or is it simply a regional thing? According to David Klein, executive vice president at Centris, “These findings are consistent with our view that competition and market dynamics are driven by the ability to deploy the fastest technologies at the local level. We will likely see even higher penetration rates and more market-share changes as service providers locally deploy new faster technologies such as DOCSIS 3.0 and universal wireless broadband.”

Overall Results The top five states for speed are Nevada, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut. At the bottom are New Mexico, Hawaii, Wyoming, Vermont, and Iowa. The West proved to be the fastest region, followed by the Midwest, Northeast, and South. Some 24 states were above the national average for speed, with the Northeast having the most states in the top 10. Although a Western state won, the West had the most states in the bottom 10. Despite a significant rural population, Virginia was the fastest state below the Mason-Dixon. And in the Midwest, the Cornhusker state of Nebraska topped that region’s list, thanks to users reporting tremendous speeds with Cox cable service— 909 Kbps. If you want to test your Internet connection using SurfSpeed, you can download the utility at Registration is required.

problems solved this issue 48 At Work • Explore the benefits of accounting software 50 office • Create a TOC in Word 2007 52 security • Make console gaming safe 53 tips • Create meetings in Outlook easily • Clear print jobs without rebooting • Make earphones last longer • Get the right antenna for DTV • Get the right processor to play back HD programs • Keep camera lenses clean • Learn Blackberry, iPhone typing tricks • Eliminate inkjet printout smears • Find devices on your network easily • Dress up your GPS icons

Make Something New with Your Old Digital Camera
You’ve probably upgraded your digital camera once or twice over the past few years. But what have you done with your old ones? By David Cardinal
Older cameras are often not worth selling on eBay, and if you give one to a friend you’re likely to be answering questions about it for the next year. Your kids may well already have their own camera or a camera phone. And you can’t bring yourself to just toss your old cameras in the trash. So if your household is anything like my household, you have a couple of them in a closet, or in a box in the basement, or
Photograph: Thom O’Connor

somewhere in the garage. No more! In this article we’ve put together some fun and useful ideas for what you can do with your old digital camera. inexpensive Fish-eye lens I’ve always thought fish-eye photos were neat, but I was never willing to spend the $200 on a fish-eye adapter for my digital camera. Then I found a cool way to build

a fish-eye solution for less than $20. All it requires is a standard “peephole” door viewer from a home supply store and a way to attach it to your camera. For best results, you want to use as wide a peephole as possible. An ultrawide door viewer from a home supply store will cost you about $15, although if you want to scrimp further you can get narrower ones for even less.

solutions hardWarE

Fish-eye vieW Attach a $15 door peephole from a home supply
store to an old camera, and presto, you have a fish-eye lens.

To attach the peephole you need some type of permanent mount on the camera. This is where having an older camera can be better. If your camera doesn’t have a screw thread you’ll need to tape a piece of PVC tubing or a bottle cap of some kind onto your camera and then tape the peephole onto it. My Nikon Coolpix 880 has a screw thread, and for $5 I was able to buy a threaded adapter that worked nicely with my $15 ultrawide door viewer. Once the “fish-eye” is added, the camera will have a huge field of view—much wider than you can normally get with the camera itself—and it gains that unmistakable fish-eye effect. I found I needed to crop images a bit after taking them, as the door viewer didn’t cover the entirety of the 880’s lens. The key to getting reasonable fish-eye images is to buy as wide a door viewer as you can find. The $15 version I bought covered most of the field of view of the lens on my Coolpix 880. You need to keep the door viewer out of the way of the lens when it extends, either by using a screw-in tube like the Nikon extender I purchased for $5 or a short piece of PVC tubing attached with tape. (Now you can probably see why you’d want to use an older camera for this project.) You get a very wide field of view with your home-built fish-eye, but you’ll need to tinker with your camera’s settings to get

your subjects in focus. Experiment with zooming in and with the macro mode, if your camera has one. Remember to turn off your built-in flash, as it will be blocked by the door viewer. do-it-yourself Webcam Are you jealous of your friends’ new laptops with built-in webcams but reluctant to invest the extra money in yours to add one? The good news is that you can use

an old point-and-shoot digital camera as a webcam. All you need is a camera with video output and a way to get the video into your computer. Your old point-andshoot probably has an A/V-out port and a cable that lets you output to a TV. If your computer already has a video input—many do, particularly ones marketed as media PCs—then you’re all set: You can just plug the camera into your computer and turn on the camera.

A WebCAm in minutes An old Canon PowerShot serves as a more than able webcam.

If your computer doesn’t have a video input, you can buy an inexpensive USB capture device for $5 to $10 on eBay, or a brand-new EasyCap Video Capture Adapter for $15. The same device can let you watch TV on your computer, too, since the encoding hardware is the same—look for a TVtuner-plus-video-capture USB adapter for $30 to $50 instead. You’ll need to install the driver that comes with the device, but not the video-editing software. Simply run your favorite IM client; with the capture device’s driver installed the IM client should find your camera and let you use it as your webcam for videoconferences. I hooked up my old Canon PowerShot to a desktop PC using a $15 video-capture dongle and ran Microsoft Live Messenger, selecting the video device as my input. I was videoconferencing within minutes. With some cameras the audio will be sent along with the video. If that’s not the case with yours, set your computer’s audio input to its microphone. For convenience I also used a GorillaPod screwed into the base of my old PowerShot to let the camera perch nicely on my LCD for conferencing use. You’ll want to disable the auto-shutoff so that your camera will stay on during longer calls. The one I tested ran for several hours on its battery, but if you use it a lot, consider plugging your camera in to its power adapter. daredevil bicycle Camera Do you wish you could better impress your friends with death-defying tales of careening down your favorite hill on your mountain bike or around those S-curves on your motorcycle? Sure, we all do. What if you could illustrate your story with a video? Creating a bike camera is a perfect use for that old digital camera you have lying
bonus l TiMe-LAPSe “SPy” CAM One of the cool things about setting your digicam to operate as a webcam is the free software available online, which can turn it into a remotely operated or time-lapse camera to monitor any location where you can put a computer. i used yawcam and found it fully featured and simple to install. The software even includes a motiondetector capability that can trigger recording whenever the camera’s sensor detects motion.

instAnt thrill CAm you can easily capture video and stills of bike rides by attaching an
old camera (in this case, a Nikon Coolpix 880) to the handlebars.

around. It can probably capture video, and you won’t be as concerned about smashing it as you were before it was relegated to your closet. All you need is a simple handlebar mount, which you can make with about $3 worth of parts from any home supply store. The mount is built from a simple T-shaped piece of 3/4-inch PVC pipe, cut in half and attached to your handlebars with a pair of hose clamps. I also used some inexpensive compression fittings to help cushion the mount and absorb shock. (All can be found in the garden section of your home supply store.) The other piece of the mount is a PVC end cap with a hole drilled through it and a lengthy quarter-inch bolt fastened pointing up through the hole. You’ll want to make sure the bolt has 20 threads per inch to match the standard for tripod sockets. Once you have the T piece clamped to your handlebars, simply screw in the

end cap (with the bolt inserted) and then screw the camera to the mount using its tripod socket. I used two nuts so that one would hold the bolt to the bicycle while I could use the other to tighten the camera facing forward. And if you have large tube handlebars, use 1-inch PVC pipe instead of 3/4-inch. I mounted an old Nikon Coolpix 880 to my daughter’s bicycle, and it handily captures video and stills of her rides. Make sure not to crimp your gear or brake cables when you mount the camera on your handlebars. We had to trim our PVC T piece so that it would fit cleanly on the exposed area of the handlebar. The simplest way to use the camera is to shoot video, so you can simply start recording and riding. If you want to take still photos, you’ll need either to chance a quick press with your finger or to use a remote release, which you can wire to your hand grip.

solutions at work

Does Your Business Need Accounting Software?
If your bookkeeper spends Saturdays in the office trying to keep up with paychecks and taxes and tax code updates and outstanding invoices, specialized software can come to the rescue. By Kathy Yakal
Do you track purchase orders and client lists using Excel spreadsheets and Word documents? Produce invoices using a calculator, label printer, paper checkbook and envelopes? Use sticky notes on your monitor to remind you that, say, an employee needs to change her income tax withholding? If so, you’re not alone. Many small businesses begin this way and, before they know it, realize that the sticky notes and spreadsheets just aren’t cutting it anymore. Setting up and using small-business accounting software may be just what you need, and believe it or not, it’s much easier than it seems. A Place for Everything There are three major areas of benefit in using accounting software if you have a small business, and lots of little ones. Taken together, they mean you’re sure to save time and even money—and gain time to concentrate on growing your business. CustomErs. That list of customers you’re trying to maintain as a Word document or in Outlook or a Rolodex or—say it ain’t so—on paper? That list needs to be in a database designed for finances. Accounting software contains record formats that let you type in—or sometimes import— relevant details, things like contact information, credit terms and limits, credit card numbers, and price levels. You can usually set up custom fields to track any additional information you’d like to. And sometimes customer records can also contain descriptions of jobs you’re working on for that company; they may even display a history of your transactions with them. Try doing that on an index card. Now try keeping it updated. And add all your vendor records to that to-do list. Accounting software keeps you in the know about

whom you’re buying from, and to whom you owe money. EmPloyEEs. Does your bookkeeper spend his or her Saturdays in the office, trying to keep up with tax tables, paychecks, and taxes? Take the time to enter information about your employees and assorted taxes and deductions (and it will take some time up front, like any other setup task). Then payroll processing will involve little more than entering the hours everyone worked and printing paychecks (or authorizing direct deposit). When it’s time to make good on your government payroll tax obligations, the software will make those calculations, too. InvEntory. What do you do when a customer orders something? Does someone have to go into the back room to see if you have any to sell? By keeping inventory records, you’ll have detailed descriptions of everything you sell. When you sell something, your software will decrease the level you have on hand. Sell enough and it will remind you that you’re running low, so you won’t be caught short. Working together Financial transactions are the lifeblood of a business—they help you pay the people you owe and get paid yourself. Accounting software uses all of those nicely organized records you’ve created and makes transaction processing a snap. Built-in integration means that, unless you need to enter a new vendor or item, or update other information (and you can do this easily, on the fly, anytime), all the data you need is right there in one program. How are you creating invoices now? Typing them up in Word, or, worse, using a typewriter on preprinted stock? That probably means you have to look up things like addresses, item numbers, and so on—a major time waster.

Accounting software contains prebuilt forms for documents like invoices, purchase orders, and sales receipts. The forms can usually be customized—you can add your logo or other graphics and add or delete fields. When you need to fill one out, drop-down lists let you select data for fields such as Customer and Item, data from the records you’ve already created. The software is designed so that everything works together. When you’ve completed invoices or purchase orders, you don’t need to waste time printing, labeling, stamping, and mailing; you can simply e-mail the document. Saves time, and it may help you get paid faster. Some software will let you accept credit card payments or electronic checks, a function that may also improve your bottom line. This integration saves not only time but also embarrassment when a customer or vendor calls to check on something. Instead of rifling through paper files or promising to call back after you check with someone else, you can use your software’s search capabilities to pull up the appropriate documents or transaction. Instant Information All of the work you do in your accounting software culminates in a benefit that you would have to struggle to replicate in any other way, if you could manage it at all: reports. Yes, an Excel spreadsheet can track your income and expenses. But Excel doesn’t provide a view from which you can select from among dozens of customizable reports that can tell you, for example: • Your gross profit from each customer • How your net worth has changed over a specific period of time • Your company’s value, with the total balance for each type of account

four solId ACCountIng PACkAgEs
Convinced that your small business needs accounting software? Here are four packages to consider.—Gary Berline

Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2008
From $199.95 direct
ll l l m

MYOB Premier Accounting 2008
From $299 direct

Peachtree by Sage Complete Accounting 2009
From $269.99 direct

QuickBooks Accounting Pro Edition 2009
From $199.95 direct
l lllh

An Outlook-like interface, robust integration with other Microsoft Office apps, and a good help system make this one of the easiest-to-use accounting products you’ll find. The package is a good choice for small businesses that need integrated online-sales capabilities, want a familiar, Microsoft Office look and feel, and have simple inventory-tracking needs. Click here for more.

If you don’t need extensive online services, MYOB Premier Accounting 2008 will suit you well. It has a clean, exceptionally navigable interface and a solid set of accounting tools, including a very capable inventorytracking system. Click here for more.

This software offers exceptionally thorough modules, good overview tools, and three payroll levels. The application deals with accounting issues capably, excelling especially at inventory. With an interface overhaul and enhanced usability, Peachtree by Sage Complete Accounting 2008 could become a star. Click here for more.

Small businesses will find an excellent stable of features here. You get good management overviews, expansive payroll options, marketing tools, and more. QuickBooks Accounting Pro Edition 2009 may not be the strongest package in every area, but of all the small-business accounting programs available today, it offers the best combination of usability and accounting features. Click here for more.

• Your company’s total expenses, per transaction, for each vendor • What wage and withholding information you need for state taxes • Which transactions have affected the value of your inventory Of course, you can set up Excel spreadsheets to tell you just about anything, but that’s the point: You have to set them up— and update them constantly. Accounting software simply builds on the work you’ve already done, the transactions you’ve already entered, to give you a realtime, bird’s-eye view of your company’s finances. That’s a time-saver, but it can be more: a business-saver, if you stay on top of your reports and catch problems early. Auditing, Banking Benefits There are still other reasons why most businesses need accounting software: • Audit trail. If you have multiple employees working on a paper system, you may have a hard time knowing who’s done what to your records, and when. Most accounting software offers an audit trail, a lengthy list chronicling any addi-

tions and changes made to the system, and who made them. This is a critical security feature. • Multiuser access. Most accounting software can be set up on a network, which means you’re not constantly running back and forth to other offices to get the information you should all have. • Roles and permissions. If you’re on a network, you probably don’t want everyone to have access to everything. Accounting software lets you assign roles to users and define exactly where they can go and what they can do on the system. • Online banking. Most accounting software gives you easy access to your bank accounts online (if your financial institution allows it). This capability can save a lot of time, provide real-time banking information, and eliminate some duplicate data entry. • Dashboards. With so much going on in your financial system, how do you get a handle on what needs to be done each day? Accounting software can remind you when, for example, invoices are due or past due, payroll or other taxes must be paid, inventory is running low, and more.

• Accountant access. If you’re working with an accountant who blesses your books periodically, you can give him or her access to your system—and keep working ahead while your past work is being checked. yes, you Can There are probably as many objections to accounting software as there are reasons to use it. It’s expensive (it’s not). I’ll need to have an accounting professional on my staff (nope; these programs are built for nonpros). I can track my finances just as well on my own (you can’t). I’ll lose all of my data (this is 2009, and there are many reliable backup options). My business is too small (do you spend money? make money?). If you need to know how much money you’re spending and taking in, where it’s going and coming from, what’s in stock and on time and what’s not, and you want to treat your employees, customers, and vendors as professionally as possible, you need accounting software.
full rEvIEWs At PCmAg.Com For a full roundup of accounting software programs, check out

solutions office

Create a Word 2007 Table of Contents
When your Word documents approach novel—or even novella—length, it may be time to give readers a table of contents. By Neil Randall
pick a style The Styles gallery gives easy access to the styles you can use or modify for your TOC.

Sometimes the ideas for my Solutions pieces come from readers; other times they’re the result of problems I’ve encountered and managed to solve on my own. Then there are those occasions when I decide a solution is needed simply because people around me keep asking for help on a certain point. I figure if a bunch of people I know are uncertain, it’s a good bet others some readers are as well. This solution, creating a table of contents (TOC) in Word, is a request that never seems to go away. As with many things in Microsoft Word 2007, such as indexing, the Table of Contents feature comes almost unchanged out of earlier versions of the software. One thing, though, that makes Word 2007’s

TOC feature more usable than earlier versions is the inclusion of the Styles gallery—that big thing that takes up the right half of the Home ribbon. The trick with Word TOCs is recognizing that they rely (for the most part) on styles. A basic TOC is essentially nothing more than Word grabbing text that has been assigned a specific style and placing it in a hierarchically arranged list. You tell Word which style you want to make up each step on the hierarchy, and Word formats it for you as a TOC. As you might expect, you can modify this arrangement (and we’ll get to that), but a quick-anddirty TOC is pretty easy to create. First, have a look at the following organization—it’s the standard one for TOCs.

TOC Level One TOC Level Two TOC Level Three TOC Level One TOC Level Two TOC Level Three And so on. The hierarchy here is, obviously, that Level One reflects the main TOC headings, Level Two reflects secondary TOC headings, and Level Three reflects tertiary TOC headings. Many TOCs stop at only two levels, of course, but more are possible. To create a TOC in Word, first determine which textual elements (we’ll call them “TOC headings” here) you want to appear in it. Often these are the same as the titles and subtitles in your document. Then assign a unique style to all instances of each TOC level. For example, assign one particular style to all the main TOC headings and another to all the secondary TOC headings. Make sure these styles aren’t used for anything else in the document (or else Word will think it’s part of the TOC). To assign a style to a text element, simply highlight the text and, in the Style gallery, click on the style you want it to have. By default, Word assumes you want to use the “Heading” styles for your TOC entries: Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, and so forth. (The first two are visible on the Styles gallery, as long as you haven’t modified it.) You may use whatever styles you want, however, including any you create yourself. But you might want to stick with the defaults, at least while you experiment with TOC creation: Word’s automatic TOC generator uses these by default.

automated options The TOC drop-down menu offers two automated TOCs along with other options.


choose the number of levels Among other things, the TOC dialog box lets you choose how many levels of headings you want to show in the table of contents.

style each level The TOC level fields dictate which Word style occupies which TOC heading level in the generated TOC. Headings 1, 2, and 3 are the defaults.

Once you’ve assigned styles to the headings that will be listed on your TOC, place the cursor where you want the TOC to appear in your document (typically at the very top, or right after a title page), and click References on the menu bar. Next, click the Table of Contents button at the far left of the References ribbon. The top two options in the resulting drop-down menu give you nearly identical automatic TOC options (the only difference being the title). A third option, the manual TOC, simply generates a set of placeholder text; you then change the headings and the page numbers yourself. It’s useful only in helping a bit with formatting. The important point to note here is that the automatic TOC options use standard Styles as the basis for TOC headings: Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, and so on. To assign other styles as TOC headings, first create those styles, and then choose Insert Table of Contents from the Table of Contents drop-down menu. After adjusting any items on this dialog that you want to change (Formats gives some basic layout themes, for example), click the Options button. Most of the Table of Contents Options dialog consists of the Styles section. Here you choose which styles represent which elements of the TOC. By default (and not shown in the graphic here), Heading 1 is given TOC level 1, Heading 2 is given TOC level 2, and so on. In the graphic, TOC level 1 has been assigned to the style

called Title, and level 2 to the style called Subtitle. To delete the level number from existing styles, highlight the number in the field and press the Delete key. When you’ve made your choices, click OK and Word will generate the TOC at the current cursor location. Note that there’s an option in the dialog box to use hyperlinks instead of page numbers. It’s selected by default, and it will, as you might guess, link the text in the TOC to the places in the document where the headings indicated appear. So anyone reading your document in Word rather than on a printout can simply Ctrl-

click on a hyperlink to be taken to the relevant page. While the TOC’s generation depends on your document’s styles, the formatting of the TOC itself (that is, how it looks in your document) does not. Adjusting the TOC format is easy: Just click the Modify button from the main TOC dialog. In the resulting Style dialog, select the TOC level you want to change (TOC 1 is heading level 1, and so on) and click Modify. This reveals Word’s standard Modify Style dialog, where you can specify precisely what you want each TOC level heading to look like.

preview styles The specifics for the style of each TOC heading level are displayed below the small Preview area.


solutions security watch

Making Console Gaming Safer for Kids
Many of us are aware of the trouble a child can get into while using a PC. But have you considered how to make the console gaming experience safer? By Matthew D. Sarrel
Now that you’ve unwrapped your kid’s brand new Wii, Xbox, or PlayStation, there are several things you should know about keeping the tyke safe. The best advice is that you should participate in their gaming activities. There’s no substitute for the watchful eye of a parent, someone who knows the different safety and content issues of gaming and can explain how to handle them as they come up. Just like physical games (you know, sports), video games can be fun and rewarding—as long as children play them in a safe arena. The right content makes for a positive gaming experience. Many parents allow their children to have only games with a certain rating, such as “E” or lower, but it’s also sensible to understand why a game carries a particular rating. Study these ratings so you’ll know whether a game is ageappropriate. In addition to the ratings, 30 content descriptors—such as alcohol references, violence, sexual themes, and even simulated gambling—provide further context for your decisions. Some content may be fine with you, even if it causes a game’s rating to bump up a level. The ESRB provides a full explanation of its ratings and descriptors. •Early Childhood (“EC”): Ages 3 and older •Everyone (“E”): Ages 6 and older •Everyone 10 Plus (“E10+”): Ages 10 and older •Teen (“T”): Ages 13 and older •Mature (“M”): Ages 17 and older •Adults Only (Adults Only): Ages 18 and older only The Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable (PSP) all offer parental controls you can use to set restrictions on factors such as game type or interactions with other players. Below are some settings to consider.

Microsoft Xbox 360 To control the type of games—by ESRB rating—your child will play, go to the System tab in the Xbox dashboard, then choose Family Settings, then Console Controls. Select Game Ratings. Select the maximum ESRB rating appropriate for your children. Go to Set Pass Code and enter a fourbutton pass code and a question and answer in case you forget your code or want to reset it. Select Done on both the Set Pass Code and the Console Controls screens to save your settings. Select Yes, Save Changes to enable the settings. You can also use Console Controls to: • Activate the Family Timer to limit the total amount of time the console can be used • Restrict use of Microsoft's Xbox Live online service • Restrict access to movies by MPAA rating • Prevent the display of restricted content (for example, downloadable games, trailers, and demos) in the Xbox Live Marketplace and Inside Xbox.

Nintendo Wii The Wii is the safest platform for children; that’s because Nintendo designed features that let parents totally lock down the console. 1. From the Wii Menu, select Wii Options followed by Wii Settings. Click on the blue arrow to the right until you reach the Wii System Settings 2 menu options. 2. Select Parental Controls, then select Yes. 3. Create a four-digit PIN and select OK. Then select a secret question to be used

if you forget the PIN number. Once done, select OK. 4. Select Game Settings and PIN, then Highest Game Rating Allowed. Once selected, press OK, Confirm, and Settings Complete. You can also use the Other Settings menu under Parental Controls to: • Prevent the use of Wii Points in the Wii Shop Channel • Restrict online communication • Prevent use of the Internet Channel and the News Channel.

Sony PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable (PSP) You can restrict games using the Parental Control menu. In the main menu, navigate to Settings, then Security Settings. In the Parental Control menu, a number indicates the level of restriction: The lower the number, the tighter the restrictions. In Security Settings, select Internet Browser Start Control and choose On to block access to the Internet. Like those on the other consoles, the PlayStation 3’s and PSP’s parental controls are enforced by a four-digit password. During installation, you can reset the default password, which is 0000, by navigating to

the Security Settings menu, then selecting Change Password. Enter the default password, and then enter a new one. From this menu, you can also block access to movies by MPAA rating. Here are also some tips about using the PlayStation Network. • The default settings block content and restrict chat with other players based on the age of the registered user. • Create accounts for each child such that each account can be administered separately.
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Useful tidbits from PCMag editorial staff, Labs analysts, and readers

Create Meetings in Outlook the Easy Way Most times when you need to set up a meeting in Outlook, the process starts with an e-mail you receive. I used to switch to the Calendar and add a new entry, with the date and time, and then paste the e-mail into the new appointment. But there’s an easier way: Simply right-click on the original e-mail and choose Move to Folder, select Calendar, and hit OK. This actually creates a new appointment entry, complete with the e-mail inserted in the main window. You still have to enter the date, time, and participants, but you get to that point faster.—Michael Muchmore

Clear a Print Job Without Rebooting If you’ve ever had a print job hang, you’re probably familiar with the Windows Print Spooler window. You get to this window simply by selecting the relevant printer from the Control Panel’s Printers and Faxes applet (simply Printers in Vista). In the somewhat unusual event of a printer queue jam, you can go to the Print Spooler and simply delete the job. Sometimes, though, the system won’t let you cut off print jobs that way: It marks the job “Deleting…” but never quite gets there, and you end up rebooting. Here’s a better way to do it. Open a command prompt (go to Start | Run, then type cmd) and enter the following:
net stop spooler del c:\windows\system32\spool\printers\*.shd del c:\windows\system32\spool\printers\*.spl net start spooler

COMPOsE APPOinTMEnTs ViA E-MAiL You can create appointments in Outlook directly from an e-mail. The appointment will even include the e-mail text in the main window.

files, use Notepad to save the four commands above as a batch file. I’ve named mine Killqueue.bat.—Craig Ellison

Make Your Earphones Last Are your earphones always breaking? If you wad them up and throw them in your bag every morning—or worse, play with them while you’re listening to music— stop! The best way to store earphone or earbuds is to wrap the cable—gently— around your fingers, then withdraw your hand, keeping the loop intact. Put the coiled-up earphones inside a small carrying case (not around your iPod), where the lack of tension on the earpieces and the protective outer layer will keep them in tip-top shape.—Tim Gideon The Right Antenna for DTV Our government implies that plain old rabbit-ear antennas should work with your DTV converter box, but usually this will not be the case. Your rabbit ears are

designed primarily to home in on VHF channels (2 to 13), while virtually every digital broadcast now resides on UHF channels (14 to 69). The solution is buying an indoor/outdoor HDTV antenna. They start at around ten bucks, and since they’re designed to focus on digital UHF broadcasts, they should improve your digital reception dramatically. After the transition, “high VHF” channels (7 to 13) will go digital, too—and this kind of antenna will receive them as well.—TG High-Def Video Capture I’ve fielded a couple of questions about what kind of processor power is required for capturing HD programs. Actually, the issue isn’t capturing shows as much as it is playing them back. Most TV tuner cards have integrated MPEG encoders that can offload that job from the CPU. But in playback, the MPEG decryption is usually performed by software, and that requires a fairly serious processor—a minimum of a 2.2-GHz P4 or so.—Jeremy A. Kaplan

In Vista you’ll need to open an elevated command prompt by right-clicking on cmd .exe and selecting Run as Administrator. For those of you who remember batch


simplify Typing URLs on the iPhone When you’re keying in Web addresses, the iPhone gives you a very useful .com button that lets you add the four characters in one press. But as with the desktop version of Safari, you can even leave that out: Safari will automatically add it for you. Bonus tip: hold down the .com button; you’ll be presented with a list of alternate domain endings, such as .net, .edu, and .org. Keep safari’s Address Bar Handy on the iPhone Ever scroll pretty far down a Web page, only to find that the address bar has disappeared? No need to scroll back up— instead, tap the top part of the screen. The address bar will reappear, regardless of where you are on the actual Web page.
PRInTERs TYPE URLs in A FLAsH No need to type “.com” when entering a URL on your iPhone; Safari will fill that in for you. CAMERAs

Clean Your Lens! This may seem obvious, but many people forget to keep their camera lenses clean. A fat smudge on your lens will make all of your pictures come out blurry. Depending on how dirty the lens is, there are many different options out there for cleaning it (brushes, fluid, and tissues being the most popular). At the very least, get something that’s quick and easy—say, a pack of lens tissue that can fit in your camera case—so you’ll always have something on hand. —PJ Jacobowitz

Eliminate smeared Printouts If you use an inkjet printer and see smearing on a page, that’s typically because something is sticking to the printhead. If you have a printer that includes the nozzles in the cartridges—as do most HP printers—and you see smearing immediately after changing a cartridge, remove the cartridge and check to make sure that the protective tape over the nozzles is completely removed. If some of the tape is still attached, remove it, but be careful not to touch the nozzle plate.—M. David Stone

GET THE BAR BACK Tap the top of your iPhone screen to access your address bar.

table shows all devices connected (physically or wirelessly) through the router. If a device doesn’t appear, make sure it’s powered on. Not sure about your router’s IP address? At the command prompt (Start | Run | cmd) type ipconfig and hit Enter. Note the router’s address on the line that reads Default Gateway.—Mario Morejon

BlackBerry Typing Tricks Here are a few of my favorite tips for using a BlackBerry keyboard: 1. To capitalize letters, don’t bother with the Shift key; instead, hold down the key for the letter you want to capitalize for one second. 2. While Web browsing, press K to bring up your bookmarks list at any time; press A to add a new one. 3. Scroll down a message or Web page quickly by pressing the spacebar. Scroll back up by pressing Shift-Spacebar. 4. Dial a phone number that contains letters (1-800-PICK-UPS) by pressing Alt and then typing the correct letter using the QWERTY keyboard.—Jamie Lendino

Find a Device on Your network There are a few reasons to know your connected devices’ IP addresses. For one, it’s invaluable in troubleshooting. After making sure your unresponsive device is actually plugged in, the next step will nearly always be to point your PC’s browser at its IP address and make sure that something having to do with the device appears, such as a configuration page, or at least the device name. This leads to another reason: Often, a device’s “home page”—what you see in your browser when you type in the device’s IP address—will give you easier access to device options, and in some cases, more settings and extras. How can you find the IP addresses of your devices? Through your router’s configuration screens. In your browser, type in your router’s IP address, then find the DHCP client table among the config screens (which vary by router brand). This

Dress Up Your Garmin icons Most GPS automotive devices use some variation of a triangle to represent the current position of your vehicle. With the introduction of the nüvis, Garmin started providing additional vehicle icons that you can use instead of the triangle. But did you know that you can expand your library of vehicle icons, free? Garmin provides a library of vehicle bundles on its site . Once you’ve downloaded and unzipped the files, simply copy them into the Garmin vehicle folder on your device (you’ll need to connect your nüvi to your computer with a USB cable). You can also customize vehicle icons on Garmin’s zumo motorcycle GPSs as well as the StreetPilot c500 series of devices.—CE
GREAT iDEA! Got a tip to share? Find a cool new trick in your favorite gadget or app? Send it to We’ll run it through the PCMag Labs wringer and print our favorites on this page.

editors’ Choices in key Categories
For the complete reviews of these products and more Editors’ Choices check out editorschoice

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samsung ml-2851nD
$150 street
Color laser

gps DeViCes NEW n garmin nüvi 885t
$799.99 list

adobe Creative suite 3
$999 direct
ViDeo-eDiting soFtWare

garmin oregon 400t $599 list Cell pHones

lexmark C544dn $499 direct
stanDarD inkJet

Canon pixma ip4300
$99.99 direct
all-in-one inkJet

Cyberlink powerDirector 7 ultra $119.95 direct
pHoto eDiting

rim BlackBerry Curve 8330
From $229.99 with contract


adobe photoshop Cs4
$1,150 list

Hp pavilion elite m9400t
$843 list

NEW n Canon pixma mp980

Wireless $299.99 direct

picasa 3 (beta) Free
Digital pHoto Frame

apple iphone 3g
From $199.99 with contract

pHoto printer

lenovo ideaCentre k210
$449 direct
gaming/ multimeDia

Hp photosmart a636 Compact photo printer
$149.99 direct

NEW n sony Vaio VgF-Cp1

$299 list

rim BlackBerry Curve 8330
$179.99 with contract

mp3 players
HarD Disk

Velocity micro raptor signature edition $6,999 direct NEW n gateway FX6800-01e $1,249.99 list

netWorking netgear powerline aV ethernet adapter kit (XaVB101)
$130 street

NEW n rim BlackBerry
Verizon Wireless

microsoft zune 120gB
$249.99 list

Curve 8900 $349 direct

samsung knack sCH-u310
$39.99 with contract

smC smCgs8p $300 street HDtVs

NEW n sony Vaio

apple ipod touch (2nd generation)
8GB, $229 direct

VgC-Js130J/p $1,099.99 list

apple ipod nano
16GB, $199 direct

nokia n82 $629 direct HeaDsets

Dell optiplex 755 $1,183 direct laptops & noteBooks

$1,499.99 list

NEW n Vizio Vp505XVt

samsung yp-u3 (2gB) $90 list speakers/DoCks Chestnut Hill sound george
$549 direct

aliph new Jawbone $129.99 list HeaDpHones ultimate ears ue 11 pro
$1,150 list

samsung ln52a750
$3,999.99 list

apple macBook pro 15-inch (penryn) $2,899 direct

sony Xel-1 oleD Digital tV
$2,499.99 list

alienware m17 $2,059 direct

Hercules Xps 2.1 lounge speakers $60 street logitech pure-Fi Dream
$200 direct

Hp HDX16t $1,790 direct
meDia Center/Desktop replaCement

Digital Cameras

lenovo thinkpad W700
$4,240 direct
NEW n acer aspire

Canon powershot a1000 is
$349.99 list
HigH-enD D-slr

meDia eXtenDers sonos Bundle 150 $999 direct slingbox pro-HD $299 list gaming Consoles sony playstation 3 (Fall 2008) $399 direct

oFFiCe & proDuCtiVity Windows live messenger (Wave 3) beta Free adobe acrobat 9 pro
$449 direct
speeCH reCognition

6930g-6723 $1,020 street NEW n Dell studio Xps 16
$1,804 direct

nikon D300 $1,800 street
(body only)
entry-leVel D-slr

Dragon naturally speaking 10
$99.99 direct
Desktop puBlisHing

Canon eos rebel Xsi $699 list
(body only)

adobe illustrator Cs4
$599 direct

msi Wind $480 street

lenovo thinkpad t400
$1,580 direct

panasonic lumix DmC-Fz18
$399.95 list

Hp pavilion dv2800t
$1,049 direct

Digital ViDeo Cameras

ipHone apps air sharing $6.99 direct NEW n stanza Free NEW n photogene $2.99 direct entertainment pandora (for iphone) Free rhapsody From $12.99/month NEW n slacker for BlackBerry


Creative Vado pocket Video Cam HD
$299.99 direct
stanDarD HD

maxtor onetouch 4 mini
$129.99 direct

NEW n sony HDr-sr11

$1,099.99 direct

NEW n Western Digital my


Book studio edition ii

$430 list
Shop wisely. Print this page and bring it with you.
netWork-attaCHeD storage

Webroot antiVirus with antispyware 6.0 $39.95 direct

Hp storageWorks aio400t
$3,799 list

lCD monitors lenovo thinkVision l200x
$499.99 list

norton internet security 2009 $69.99 yearly
parental Control

net nanny 6.0 $39.99 yearly BaCkup sos online Backup (beta)
$19.95 direct

Dell ultrasharp 2408WFp
$689 direct

HigH-enD Xga

Canon realis X700 $2,500 list
Consumer/Business Xga

neC Vt800 $1,000 street

Dell m109s $499 direct

Blasting on a BuDget The Gateway FX6800-01e offers big gaming performance for a small price.

FinanCial QuickBooks accounting pro edition 2009 $199.95 list NEW n turbotax premier 2008 Premier, $89.95 direct;

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