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ISSUE 411: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE--Alan Zisman

From PassKeeper to Eudora to WinMac,

free software often means great software - Sept 9 1997

There's a long tradition of free computer software. Most programmers were trained in a university environment where they were encouraged to putter, create and share freely. As a result, while you won't find free equivalents to major commercial programs such as word processors or spreadsheets, there is a surprising amount of high-quality free stuff available.

And since the Internet has only recently emerged from its academic roots, much of the software related to its use continues to be freely distributed, from programs like the popular Eudora Lite e-mail program, to heavy-duty software needed to run Web sites.

Of course, some free software is distributed with an ulterior motive. Qualcomm, distributor of Eudora Lite (www.eudora.com), hopes that many users will get hooked on the free version and decide to purchase the more powerful commercial equivalent, Eudora Pro.

And Microsoft, by releasing its Internet Explorer Web browser as free software, is hoping to take market share away from rival Netscape.

Here are a few freebies that I've found useful or amusing.

* Do you find yourself with too many log-on names and passwords? It seems like I'm always being asked to plug in my password, whether I'm logging onto a network, hooking up to one of several Internet Service Providers, or loading up one of several popular Web sites.

Maybe you even password-protect your screen saver or your spreadsheets?

All that security is great -- until you forget your passwords.

PassKeeper, from www.isys.hu/staff/brad/passkeeper.html (that's in Hungary!), is a simple little utility with a single function -- it lets you keep a list of your passwords. Of course, secret passwords are of no use if anyone can read them, so the PassKeeper's password list is encrypted. And that means you need to enter a password to get at your password, so you'd better not forget that one!

Still, it's easier to remember one password than a dozen.

* Speaking of security, if you're worried about having people read your mail, there's a new version of the free Pretty Good Privacy (www.pgp.com), for 32-bit Windows (Win95 and NT) and Mac users. Eudora users can get a version that integrates right into that program's toolbar, but it can work with other popular mail programs as well. In order for your recipients to read your encrypted mail, they need to get your "public key." Without it, even the CIA will have a hard time making sense of your messages. (PGP is free for personal use only. Commercial organizations are expected to purchase a $70 version.)

* Are any readers who are Mac users in their hearts forced to use a Windows 95 machine at work? Don't give up hope. With the free WinMac, you can transform your Windows desktop into a close clone of the Mac you wished you had, even getting the new look of the just-released OS-8 operating system. The program gives you a menu on top to replace the Win95 Taskbar, a Trash icon, and with a little fiddling you can get your applications to appear in the Apple menu. If you want, you can even get Mac-clone startup and shutdown screens to replace Microsoft's clouds. Author Richie Chow's Australian Web site is out of action, but you can get WinMac in Vancouver from The Computer Paper, at tcp.ca/gsb/Mac/wmac302b.zip.

That's a lot of careful typing, but if you've got the soul of a Mac user trapped in a Windows office, it may be worth it.

* You don't need a screen saver to protect your monitor any longer, but if you're a boxing fan, check out the Teethson screen saver from risoftsystems.com. -- an animated comment on a recent, well-publicized match, featuring a cartoon set of teeth against an ear. Good sound effects, too.

* * *

Let me know if there are any freebies that you just could not live without, or anything else you think I should know about. I do read your e-mail.

For example: A past column looked at using Internet search engines to find information, without being overloaded with hundreds or thousands of not-what-you're-looking-for responses.

Reader Joanna Piros wrote back: "Having read your recent column in BIV, I just wanted to let you know about a search [tool] I think is fantastic... in terms of utility, comprehensiveness and attitude. Since I came across it I haven't gone back to Metacrawler or any of the individual engines. See what you think: www.dogpile.com."

(Thanks Joanna. DogPile is one of a new second generation of search utilities that send your search to multiple search engines at once. You're right -- it can be a real time saver.)*



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan