Editorial license. (Squeegee utility program, Makeup computer graphics software, Creative Labs' Multimedia Upgrade Kit, PC Karaoke) (Software Review) (Editorial) (Evaluation)
by Clifton Karnes
Cool products. That's what I live for. If you've been computing for any length of time, you know what I mean. Cool products are hardware or software marvels that make you smile and say "Yeah!"
Really cool products come along a few times a year, but this past month I've been lucky enough to find four of them. The first one's a utility, the second's a type manipulation tool, the third's a multimedia upgrade kit, and the last is, well. . . . I'll save that for last.
I use Windows and I like Program Manager. Its weakness is, however, that you often have to do a fair amount of double-clicking to get to the group you need and the program you want to run. I've partially solved this problem by putting all my most-used applications on one large group, which Program Manager always displays. But I can't put everything on this group. In the first place, you can only put 50 items on a Program Manager group (boo Microsoft!). And even if you could put more, most people still couldn't fit all their nifty utilities on one group. That's where Squeegee comes in (Icom Simulations, 800-877-4266, $79.95). This pop-up menu is ready at a mouse click to display all the programs you need to run quickly.
Squeegee can be customized to be called from a button on your title bar or by pressing almost any key combination or mouse button. I've set it up to spring to life when I make a single left mouse click on the desktop. If I want to run Windows' Setup, I don't have to hunt for the right group and icon; I simply click once on the desktop, slide the mouse pointer to Setup, and run the program. This is as fast as it gets running Windows programs.
Another really neat feature lets you display a directory of files. You can, for example, set up a Squeegee menu item to display all your Excel files. When you want to load an Excel file, you simply select that menu item, look for the file you want, and click on it, and both Excel and the file are loaded. This is much easier and faster than using Excel's Open dialog box or using File Manager.
That's a brief tour of Squeegee--but I'll tell you, this program has really improved my productivity in Windows. It's guaranteed to please.
If you work with documents in Windows, you'll want to try Makeup (Bitstream, 617-497-6222, $149). This dazzling program lets you turn your fonts into taffy and manipulate them in almost every imaginable way. You can create shadows, embossed effects, and fill patterns, and you can stretch and twist type in ways nature never intended.
Makeup is the key to high-impact logos, headlines, handbills, advertisements, and posters. Trust me--you won't be able to tear yourself away from this program.
The next cool product on my list is Creative Labs' Multimedia Upgrade Kit (Creative Labs, 408-428-6600, $799). This kit includes a Sound Blaster Pro card and a Panasonic-built CD-ROM drive. The kit installs as easily as any major hardware addition I've ever seen, and it performs flawlessly. After installing the Multimedia Upgrade Kit, your PC will be a real multimedia PC machine with synthesized and digital sound, and you'll have a fast CD-ROM drive. The Creative Labs Multimedia Upgrade Kit also comes with a slew of CD-ROM titles.
Not only is the Multimedia Upgrade Kit cool itself, but it lets you play the next really cool product--PC Karaoke.
If you've been stranded on a desert island for the last few years, you might not have heard of karaoke, but it's getting really big. A karaoke system plays music accompaniments that you can sing to. To make it possible to keep your place, the system displays words synchronized exactly with the music.
If you have a multimedia PC, however, you can have your own karaoke party with PC Karaoke (Sirius, 602-951-3288, $129). This innovative product comes with a high-quality microphone and an audio CD of hit songs (you can order additional CDs from Sirius). The software plays the CD through your system's audio, so the sound is full CD quality, and it synchronizes the words and displays them on the screen for you using Sirius's patented Compact Disc Synchronization technology, so you can keep your place. This thing is more fun than a barrel of Mr. Microphones.
That's it. Four cool products in one month. I just hope this isn't my cool allotment for the year.