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Off the beaten track

A trio of useful and fun software apps for Windows.

Sure, your Windows PC is chock-full of all the big mainstream programs–Office, Internet Explorer, PhotoShop, ICQ, Easy CD Creator, and the like. But did you know that there is a multitude of free and low-cost programs available via the Web, just waiting for you to download them? In this edition of Windows Advisor we take a look at three such programs, one fun and two extremely useful, all of which offer free or trial versions of their software and can be registered for less than Microsoft’s least-expensive software suite.

Incredimail

Have you ever wondered why your e-mail looks nothing like the typical e-mail you see at the movies or on television? You know–when you delete mail, it crumples or shreds, and when you receive it the computer in question practically does handstands announcing it. And, of course, there’s a reason for that. In Hollywood, everything is visual. It would make for a pretty boring movie to depict e-mail the way it actually looks–black text on a white screen, with very few bells and whistles.

Incredimail changes all that. The nifty little shareware e-mail program, which runs on Windows 98/Me/NT/2000/XP and requires Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 or higher, allows you to view, send, and delete e-mail just like the folks in the movies. When you receive an e-mail, for example, one of many characters (a butler, dog, clown, scantily clad woman, frog, etc.) will announce the new arrival to your inbox. And when you send mail, the program will fold it up like a paper airplane or break apart like a puzzle (depending on which style template you’re using) and launch it off to your intended recipient.

The program has literally hundreds of animations, letter styles, and graphics to choose from, allowing you to customize just about every aspect of the software. Everything here is easy to use and intuitive as well; even the most novice of users should be up and e-mailing inside of five minutes. The basic edition of the program is free, but if you choose to pay $30 for the premium version you’ll even be able to change the program’s skin and obtain several bonus graphics and animations only available to premium customers.

If you’re a power user who uses a lot of filters or needs to keep a strictly professional look and feel to your missives, you probably won’t get a lot of use out of Incredimail. If, on the other hand, you’re a casual user and just want to have fun with your e-mail and exchange notes with your friends, Incredimail will up your fun quotient to the nth degree.

Detagger

If you’ve ever tried to convert an HTML document to text you know just how difficult it can be. Sure, the conversion is a snap, but keeping the file formatting is often a lost cause. Enter Detagger, a clever little shareware program from JafSoft. This utility will remove some or all of the tags from an HTML file, enabling you to extract text from Web pages while keeping the original format, or just clean up extraneous code from HTML files you’ve edited and re-edited one time too many.

Using the program to create straight text files from a Web site is amazingly easy; with just a few mouse clicks, your perfectly formatted text file will be saved to the hard drive and ready for you to edit or send to a friend. Advanced features such as changing or removing specific tags, however, have a bit of a learning curve. Fortunately, documentation is plentiful, and everything is fairly intuitive. Having never used the program before, I was able to pick up enough to convert all of the tags in an HTML file from upper to lower case, remove all the font tags, and change the header and footer in less than 10 minutes.

The program also comes in a console version, for use when batch editing files. This can be very useful if, for example, you’ve captured a directory full of recipes from the Web and want to convert everything into text. Just load up the program, specify the directory in which to run it, and presto–instant text files.

If you do a lot of HTML editing or just like to save interesting Web sites to text to read later, you’ll get a lot of use out of this program. You can download a 30-day trial version of Detagger for free, and, if you decide you like it, a single-user license costs $20.

UltimaShell Pro

FlashPeak’s UltimaShell Pro auto-completes words and phrases and auto-expands shorthand in any Microsoft Windows application. In fact, I’m using it right now and have only had to type about one-fourth as much as I normally would to complete these last two sentences. If you code HTML by hand, do medical transcription, translate languages, take notes, or anything else that requires a lot of typing, this handy little program can be a life saver.

After installation, a movable and hideable tool bar appears on your desktop. Through the tool bar, you can control every aspect of UltimaShell Pro, including setting up hot keys, importing words into the program’s dictionary, inserting photos and textboxes, and customizing the toolbar. You can even set up filters that tell the program which software to work with and which suites to avoid. When you’re typing, a little box will hover on the screen with several choices to complete your word or phrase. The most obvious choice is always on top and requires just a click of the mouse or the tap of the Enter key to finish the word you were typing.

I tested UltimaShell Pro with Word, Excel, Mozilla, Internet Explorer, and Netscape, and the program worked without a hitch every time. Moreover, the software’s dictionary comes packed with all sorts of arcane programming and medical language, so it’ll automatically recognize and complete just about any word you might think to type. The program will also automatically add words that you use often (such as the name of my son, Fletcher) to the dictionary, enabling you to save even more time not having to edit wordlists.

UltimaShell Pro offers a huge online library of dictionary add-ons that you can download and install. Choices include 17 different languages, law terminology, six different programming languages, and 2,000 frequently used phrases. (Download only what you really need, though, because otherwise the program might auto-complete words in a different language.) The program is free for a 30-day trial and costs $50 to register.

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