A few years ago, I found a new unzip utility program called Pentazip from Pentaware and it quickly become my favorite utility to uncompress zip files. It worked and it worked very well so while trolling the floor at Comdex I ran into the company’s president and he have me a copy of the latest version 5.0. What I really like about this program is how quietly it works. They have improved how it unzips files and for me, the only thing I want it to do is to unzip where I tell it. Windows XP users may not need this program because it comes bundled with an unzip module if you just get a few files now and then but if you really download a lot of files, I think you will find this a very useful utility. It allows you to easily see what is inside a compressed file and this includes zip files, cab files, and files compressed with many other utilities as well, over a dozen in total. It has a lot of options including emailing a file, checking for viruses, pulling individual files out and even printing a listing of the files in a zip folder. You can also specify the type of compression so that if you are sending a zipped file to an older DOS system, you can make sure it will be compatible with what they are using. Informative help files, self creating extractor files, and the like make this an excellent program to have around. If you are looking into a zipped folder, you can right click on any object and get a very feature rich choice of menu options. Tell it to view a file and it comes up with a rich text viewer again, with many options of handling the file. Want to archive an entire hard disk, it will do it in a single zip file. Finally, another feature that caught my eye was the viewer program built into Pentazip, which will allow you to quickly view text and graphics files. Recent winners of PC Magazine’s editor’s choice, you can find them at www.Pentazip.com
There seems to be a lot of choices these days in Firewall programs and from what I have seen, they are all doing a pretty good job of keeping prying eyes out of my computer. I have installed Black Ice from Network Ice, www.networkice.com in the past and we have had Fortres Grand come down for a program as well. My current Firewall of preference on the software side is Zone Alarm from Zone Labs, www.zonelabs.com and that was mostly from the recommendations that I have received from some of the email lists that I have been following. Zone Alarm comes in two flavors right now, a personal version and a pro version and to be honest, there isn’t much to differentiate them. It is a good solid and reliable program and it works very well. I have installed it on a number of my own computers as well as those of clients and can safely say (today that is) that it has not yet allowed any intrusion into any of them. It has a very good installation process where by it tells you a lot of useful information as you install it and then it truly becomes an install and forget about it program. The only time it has interrupted me while working was to install and recognize applications and to tell me that it is time to update it. The recognition part is probably the most critical part of the application setup but where it helps to have the pro version is that when you need to see who is accessing what, it does a great job of pointing you to the site. What happens after you install Zone Alarm is that say you now want to install Norton’s Anti Virus program. The first thing it will do is to monitor the installation and when it sees Norton wanting to go out to the internet, it will ask you whether you want it to allow this to take place. When you answer yes to the question of “Always allow” Norton to access the internet, it puts the program into an internal data base of permitted applications. Where this becomes most useful is where you can see what kinds of applications on your computer are accessing the internet and you will be surprised. On my test computer, there are now 19 different applications that have access to the internet and I really don’t have that much installed. No wonder that things seemed to run slow on the dial up connection with all these programs wanting to reach out somewhere and when I look, they all have a legitimate reason to do so. Some examples are Norton’s Live Update to automatically update my virus definitions, Avant Go to connect internet pages to my hand held PDA, the Office update program, the Intel screen saver I told you about earlier, Zone Alarm itself, my internet browser, email programs, and the list goes on. What does set the pro version apart and makes it worth the expense is that the pro version will allow you to easily find out the site that is asking for access and who it really belongs to. With the application tracker built into ZA, if you are not sure about an application that wants to access the internet, you can always let it do it once so you can see what it is up to. For instance, if you are just testing out a program, you can tell ZA to allow access only once and then if you uninstall the program and it still wants to go out to the internet, then you know that there was something left behind. Probably the only problems I have seen and heard about Zone Alarm is in uninstalling the software. To truly get rid of it, you need to go through some hoops and in fact, may have to go to their web site to get some special instructions. The other quibble I have is that every once in a while, I cannot access the internet. I shut down ZA, get online, restart ZA and it works just fine. Not sure about that one. While I was at Comdex in November, I saw a preview of a new version of ZA and it really looks good. Look for a release this spring.
If you have any sort of broadband connection to the internet, you must have a firewall. No question about it. Zone Alarm pro is a terrific program. The other alternative that you should definitely consider if you do have a broadband connection is a hardware firewall and I strongly recommend going that route as well. On my system at home, I am using the Netgear Firewall router and say that my Zone Alarm has yet to get a hit of anything that has made it through the firewall. A couple of clients of mine are using broadband with just the Zone Alarm and are getting hits constantly from everything from port scans to attempts to download Trojan Horse programs and worms.
Diskeeper and DiskAlert are two programs from Executive Software, www.execsoft.com that look like they are hard to justify buying but certainly pay for themselves many times over if you have disk problems. Diskeeper is an automatic disk defragmenter program for Windows versions 98 and above. It has been around for years for WindowsNT and server systems but is now available for the rest of us. What it does is to run in the background and keep track of the fragmentation of your system. It runs quietly in the background and according to the independent studies, runs at about 200% faster than the one built in to windows and that is why you buy this program. For systems that are heavily used, if you add and delete a lot of software for testing and the like, then this program is for you. Installing it is quite simple and straightforward and with in a minute, you are back to work and with that, don’t have to worry or think about defragmenting your disk any longer. So how well does it work? To be honest, I don’t know. I installed it recently and so far; the computer has behaved quite normally with no hints of problems. Once you have run the defrag program to initially clean everything up, and to my pleasant surprise, it was pretty quick in doing it even though my system was quite fragmented because of installing and removing a bunch of test software. Now it is in maintenance mode and will monitor and clean itself going forward. Will have to see later if there are any conflicts, problems or the like. $49.95 for one license.
DiskAlert is another one of these early warning systems in that it watches the disk reads and writes and keeps track of any pending problems that might crop up with your hard drive. It runs only on WindowsNT, 2000 and XP systems and at the first sign of trouble, will give you an alert telling you of a pending problem. And it alerts you via either phone, pager, email, or pop up message on the computer. It does this by monitoring the errors reported on a hard drive, and the throughput so that if things start slowing down or not act right, it can then turn on the alarm for you. It will also monitor the usage of a drive to alert you if storage space falls below a critical point. Right now DiskAlert can be had for as little as $29.95 per drive.
Undelete version 3 from Executive Software is a product that most people shouldn’t really be without. In fact, it really serves two purposes that I like, first is that it gives you much more control over how to recover deleted files on the computer, and it gives you also a better level to make sure a file is truly deleted when you want to get rid of it.
Undelete installation works very straightforward and you can start using it immediately when you use the defaults. It changes your recycle bin into a recovery bin and gives you much more options when looking at recovering files. I mentioned using the defaults and probably you want to explore there to change some of them. For instance, It automatically made my new recovery bin 20 percent of my drives size which I think is a bit excessive. On a 40GB drive, it could grow to 7.6gb in size. There is also an exclusion list that you can use to tell it not to save certain file types. This certainly makes sense as who cares about things in the temp folders and the like but I was surprised to see .jpg files in this list. As someone who deals with a lot of photographs and scanned images, I think I would want to save most of these and to be able to recover them. Of course, who cares about all of the pictures that get downloaded whenever you visit web sites so there needs to be a solution and that would be to tell it to exclude .jpg files that come from the Temporary Internet Files folders and when I check, I see they already are excluded. So I can remove the .jpg files exclusion. If you work with a lot of odd file types from some of the older programs, you might want to take a close look at the exclusion list to make sure your application is not inadvertently skipped.
One of the powerful features of undelete is the ability to do searches by a number of different parameters including the date of deletion or name of the owner of the file which is great in a networking environment. It also will track files deleted by applications and via command prompts (DOS) as well and allow you to recover them.
If you have deleted something before installing the product, there is the emergency undelete module that you can run from the CD to recover a file that you deleted. There is also a program to search your computer and tell you what files that have been deleted are still recoverable.
Undelete comes in versions for Windows NT, 2000, and XP and is either a server, workstation, or home edition. I have been very impressed with the other products from Executive Software and find them to be really useful utilities. The home edition is only $29.95 and can be downloaded from www.executivesoftware.com. This like a lot of their other utilities are they types that you install and hopefully forget about them. They do work very seamlessly and are unobtrusive to the workings of your computer. For business users and home users that deal with a lot of documents and data files, I think this is a must have tool.
Now that I finally got my test system up and running, I was able to take a look at some products and software that had come in over the holiday. One of these was the QuickLink Pen. The purpose of this device is to allow you to capture printed text line by line as you would highlight a line of text with a highlighter. Simple as that. At first, I looked at the unit and waited because I really couldn't think of what I would be using it for but the more I pondered it, the more things I came up with so finally decided to start.
It comes boxed in a plastic case and is very well laid out when opening the package. I realize that it is a small detail but the small details usually point to a well packaged system and so I started just like everyone else does, and that was to tear everything apart and take a closer look at the unit. The first thing I notice besides the neat little carry case is that it is intended for the right hand user and naturally as would have it, I am left handed.
In my package, there was the pen and its case, two AAA alkaline batteries, a desktop application CD, and the various paperwork including the small operations manual, a nice heavy duty quick reference card, an irDA information sheet for transferring files between an ir (infra red) device like a Palm Pilot, a cheat sheet if things don't work right the first time, and a Read This getting started guide. The getting started guide makes a couple of rash assumptions on the part of the user and in fact, should be looked at after you start reading the Operations Manual as in the manual, they tell you what the buttons do and the fact that you need to install the batteries. The CD has a copy of the manual in Adobe PDF format (in several languages), a cute movie about using the pen, and a limited version of an OCR program that you can use with more traditionally scanned images of documents called “Character Eyes Limited” from Ligature, LTD, a company I am not familiar with.
It is an interesting looking device with just 7 buttons on the front; one power button, 4 cursor buttons, and one that says Ent for enter, and the other Esc. The ergonomics of the pen actually feel pretty good despite the fact that I haven't started to use it yet. There is also a LCD panel that is 2 1/4 inches by 3/4 inch in size and the entire unit is roughly 6 inches by 1 inch by 1/2 inch in size. In setting up the pen, I quickly found that it has an option for left handed use and as soon as I switched it over, the display flipped as well. I noticed that as I was typing this, the power on the unit went off so it looks like it shuts down automatically after 60 seconds.
My first scan was of a news article that I had clipped and wanted to send to a group of friends. It was about Shanghai applying to become the site of World Expo 2010. The clipping came out of the newspaper China Daily (English language edition) and while I had trouble getting started, once you get a feel for how fast you can go, and how to tell it to rescan, it seems to work pretty well. One difficulty that you will have is to keep in on a straight line, but really, that wasn't the problem too much as the pen tip has a set of tiny wheels to keep you going straight. The problem is getting it pointed in the right direction so you stay on the text and that will be a problem when you try to use the pen in not so ideal conditions like on an airplane, or a moving car, or at an angle. I also didn't really care too much for the LCD screen as you do need good lighting to see the text messages even after having adjusted the display settings.
So now that I have scanned my text, now comes the part of getting it into the computer. At this point, it got frustrating as neither the “Read This” quickstart guide nor the Operations manual did a good job of telling you how to get the stuff from the pen to the desktop. I finally found it through the help menu and did find it in the manual on Page 41 but that is a long way to go to quickly get started and scanning. Once figured out, it was pretty simple but you have to initiate the transfer from the pen and not the desktop. The first setting has you sending the text file directly to the Quicklink pen desktop application and to be honest, I really don't care for it much at all. So I went into the settings, and discovered that there are very few options for changing the applications that you send the scanned documents to. On my test system, it only allowed me to use either Outlook, or Word or none for document editing. Since it did not scan my system for applications, I was a bit disappointed in the very limited choices. I would have hoped that at least you could have selected notepad or WordPad for the documents. It also doesn’t allow you to change the location of the documents either. I have to be honest and the more I used the desktop application, the less I like it.
But despite these limitations, the reason you get a scanner is to scan and in the few examples that I have tried, it does a pretty good job when working with simple printed text.
One of the other features of the QuickLink is the ability to capture web links from various material and I had limited successes with this feature. Using it is pretty straight forward, you simply select the web links option from the pen, and start scanning. First you scan the link you want saved, and then you can scan a quick title to the link. What I couldn’t figure out is how to handle a link that is not continuous or goes from one line to another which is what you often see in a printed article or newspaper. What I ended up doing was to scan the two parts as two links and hopefully remember I need to merge them. One magazine I used, Digital Camera, was rather difficult as I nearly always had to rescan the link and on several occasions, had to do it many times and in fact, I gave up and accepted the mis-scanned link several times. I also tried this on several other publications with limited success. One thing I did notice is that sometimes, depending on the scanned text, the slower you go in scanning the image, the better but I still had quite a bit of difficulty. Of course, text size (and I am really amazed at how small the text is in magazines these days), and color will make a difference. Some links I had to give up on because the color match was wrong. It certainly is a bit frustrating to have to keep scanning the same thing over and over again and still not get it completely right. The pen had quite a bit of difficulty with small text and periods in the links. To get these links to your desktop, you have a couple of choices before you upload them. The first is to turn on the Internet Explorer connection so that the link is automatically updated and I would not recommend this approach as all the mis-scanned links will be sent directly to IE. If you don’t select Explorer as the host link program, they just go into the QuickLink desktop program and from there, you can edit them for corrections and then actually launch them as you need to.
Now a work around I found that seems to work ok is to go ahead and turn on the Internet Explorer as the host application and let the QuickLink pen send the links over even if they are bad. What they do is go into a QuickLink folder on IE’s favorite list. What you can do is to just delete that folder and the next time the pen is synchronized with the desktop, it will reload the corrected links you changed on the QuickLink desktop application.
Another feature of the pen is the ability to scan data directly into a table application that will connect with an Excel spreadsheet. This I did not test.
The last feature I tested in the QuickLink pen was the ability to scan addresses from business cards and the like directly into a form that can be imported directly into Outlook. Again, like the other host software links available, there is only one and that one is Outlook. In setting it up for address scanning, you have the option to go in and tell it what fields that you want to scan for and if you are going to do a bunch, you can go set it up for the ones you need and then change it later for general address scanning. When scanning, you always have to remember the fact that many things are not suitable for scanning at all. Things like script writing, hand writing, really odd fonts, very tiny type, and anything with boxes, lines, bars, and the like through the text. I have discovered that with business cards, they often are not the clean text that you hope for. I selected five business cards at random and discovered that none of them were very conducive to scanning. One was a do it yourself card printed on an ink jet printer and it would not scan anything from this card upon closer inspection of the card, I could tell that the text was not clean, there were lots of bleed through on the ink, and while the card is read able to the naked eye, the text is terrible. Another problem I found was that with the small text type size, it is often very difficult to pinpoint where a word starts with the pen. One card had 12 lines of text on the card and enough white space to fit in probably 6 more the type was that small. I am not much on my type sizes but it seems to me that 2 millimeters is pretty small. None of the cards scanned in without multiple retrys on several fields and in fact, all the cards scanned in with errors that had to be corrected in Outlook. The cards that scanned in without too much trouble all had very simple text type face, no colors or odd fonts. You can actually make the changes when scanning each field by rescanning the field and in fact that is what I did over and over and over. Once a field is scanned, you also have the option of editing it character by character in the pen but I found that quite cumbersome and preferred to make the changes in Outlook. What I did see is that while you can “flush” or delete data from the pen after scanning, for addresses and web links, it doesn’t quite make sense as you can both synchronize the data between Outlook and the pen and “flush” it. I would prefer to just send the files to the desktop system and not keep them in the memory of the pen which is only 2 megabytes in size. You can check both the status of the battery and the memory from the pen’s information page.
Finally, to my burning reason to take a look at this scanner. I had recently gotten a book on Golf in Scotland and wanted to pull a number of the courses that the author had recommended to visit and play, put them in a document so I could print and take with me as a check list. For this, the scanner worked very well. I was able to select passages from the book and while each passage I selected in the book (rather, each line I scanned), had to have it either rescanned or edited, it still worked out pretty well and was much faster than having to type each passage. Ps, it is a great book on golf in Scotland. Blasted Heaths And Blessed Greens : A Golfer’s Pilgrimage To The Courses Of Scotland by James W. Finegan.
Once I had finished my real task for using the scanner, I decided to try one last thing and that was to scan something and beam it directly to my Palm device. The good news is that it works like a charm. The bad news is that the manual doesn’t tell you how to do it. I went to Wizcom’s web site, www.wizcomtech.com and was able to dig through their information in the support area which had a tiny reference to “PDA” and when you go there, will find out how it works and how to do it and basically, once you are sure beam receive is turned on, just do it. Unfortunately, it isn’t so easy for the Pocket PC Casio that I have and use all the time, you have to have third party software to enable it with the QuickLink pen. I think I will probably wait until I really need to scan and beam something to my Casio before buying it.
Despite all the negatives that I found with the QuickLink pen, I am impressed with the technology of the scanner (400dpi), the form factor, and the fact that it wasn’t really that much trouble to set up and start using. It is difficult to use as you really have to go slowly with the scanner so it can keep up with you and as I discovered, seems to scan and recognize text a whole lot better at the much slower speed. Definitely not as fast as using a highlighter as the box cover would have you believe. It is by no means a replacement for a true scanner and I would have preferred a much better OCR reader in the scanner. I also would have preferred a USB connection to serial and a software link for a Pocket PDA as well. But just like the Digi Pen camera I looked at a while ago, if you really need something very portable or had an application like mine, it certainly will do the job for you. Price is around $169.
(From the March 2002 Indy PC News)
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