The Best Software You're Not Using

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Around the Office

Illustration: Tomer Hanuka

Electronic Stickies

Is your monitor covered with little sticky notes? Forget the paper: Use virtual Post-its instead. Post-it Software Notes Lite by 3M works just like the real thing--and it's free. Click the program's small window to create an off-the-cuff reminder, then stick it to your desktop. Change the font and color of notes, print or e-mail notes, and trash them when you're done. Undeleted notes reappear after you reboot your PC. Set a Post-it alarm to go off at a specific time, and when it does, a tiny window displaying an alarm clock pops up and makes a ringing sound. The $20 Standard and $25 Office editions offer more-advanced features, such as the ability to send Post-its over a network, but the freebie should be fine for most users. (free)

Stay Organized

Why go through the hassle of installing Microsoft Outlook and keeping up with its peccadilloes when a simpler information manager will do? Golden Section Labs' WinOrganizer lets you store names and addresses along with anything else you want to keep handy, including wish lists, photos, to-do's, and even passwords (which you can protect with a master password). Navigating the intuitive tree structure is a snap. $40 (free trial)

Juggle E-Mail Accounts

Staying on top of several e-mail addresses can be a drag. By the time you hop from Outlook to Yahoo to Hotmail and back again, chances are you've got new messages in at least one account. EPrompter by Tiburon Technology cuts through the hassle of managing multiple in-boxes with a free client that can check up to 16 accounts simultaneously. E-mail messages are downloaded as plain text and assembled in one location, but you still maintain separate in-boxes and out-boxes for each account. The downside: EPrompter is bare-bones--you can't view embedded images or attachments. (free)

Certified E-Mail

Sometimes you need to know whether a particular e-mail message was read at its destination. Most e-mail clients allow you to attach a delivery or read receipt to your e-mail. At the other end, your recipients can confirm the e-mail's arrival, often by clicking a pop-up message; some recipients, however, might get ticked off and just ignore your receipt request. MSGTAG Status by Fisher Young Group won't let your recipients disregard your requests. This application rides alongside your regular client and watches for SMTP traffic. (It doesn't work when you send e-mail from Web-based accounts.) MSGTAG Status circumvents the normal receipt system in that it sends back receipts without the recipients' knowing it. Sure, the program is sneaky, so its modus operandi may not be everyone's cup of tea. You can also keep a running log of e-mail deliveries via the status dashboard. $60

Stamp Out Wordiness

WordDog, a Microsoft Word plug-in by Plain English Technologies, is designed to take out the linguistic detritus all too common in today's business and academic writing. For example, WordDog suggests many in lieu of large number of, and proposes chopping out all instances of really, certainly, and quite. You might still need to use Word's grammar and spelling checkers to catch all your mistakes, but WordDog helps by sniffing out the needless verbiage that would have made even James Joyce blush. $25

Less Taxing E-Faxing

Do you send faxes frequently? If you do, like most people you probably resort to printing out a hard copy and carrying it to the fax machine. Who can blame you? Microsoft's built-in fax utility is a shambles, and Symantec's $100 WinFax tends to hog memory. Enter RKS Software's MightyFax 3.0, a low-cost alternative that breezes you through sending and receiving a variety of file types in fax format (you need a standard fax modem and a phone line). The app lacks integration with Outlook's address book, one of WinFax's best features, but MightyFax covers the basics just fine. $20 (free trial)

Big Brainstorm

MindManager 2002 Business Edition gives you lots of export and syncing options after you've documented your meeting ideas.
MindManager 2002 Business Edition gives you lots of export and syncing options after you've documented your meeting ideas.
If you're the type of person who thinks best in front of a whiteboard--but your handwriting looks like chicken scratchings--Mindjet's MindManager 2002 Business Edition is the way to go. The $189 program gives structure to your brainstorming sessions by building nice-looking, easily tweakable decision trees and idea webs. When you're done planning a new project or generating meeting notes, you can export the document to most Microsoft Office programs (Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Project) or as an HTML file. MindManager is also available in other flavors; the $99 Standard Edition offers the HTML export option only. Handheld users might want to take advantage of the $49 Mobile Edition, which permits you to edit your creations on Palm OS and Pocket PCa??based devices. $189 (free trial)

Find All in Excel

This one's a no-brainer. Say you need to find the word depreciation in your last three years' worth of monthly financial reports. Using Excel's Find function, you'd be skipping lunch while you click the Find Next button for the rest of the day. Advanced Excel Find by Afalina plugs into Excel and lets you run a find command once, returning a listing of every result and its location on all open workbooks. Click a result, and you're instantly taken to that cell. Advanced Excel Find does have one drawback, and it's a doozy: no Replace feature. So if you must change all those depreciations to amortizations, you'd better bring a snack. $20 (free trial)

Drowning by Numbers

Financial novices and wizards alike might often feel stymied by the limitation of Excel's calculation engine and built-in formulas, which can sometimes feel too simplistic to tote up much more than your bar tab. Business Functions Pro by Business Functions is an Excel plug-in that adds 380 financial formulas and a new menu to the program, turning your spreadsheet into a far more advanced business tool. Whether you're projecting the outlay of irregular debt payments or simply figuring out a monthly rate's APR, Business Functions has a formula for you. At $239, this plug-in is pricey, but you can also get a watered-down version for $119 (and a light version for free).

Presentation Pizzazz

Microsoft's free add-on, Producer for PowerPoint, gives your presentations a multimedia makeover. Start with some static images and slides in PowerPoint, timed to run as long as you'd like, and Producer 2002 lets you enhance them with a narrative track of audio and/or video. The result is a unique side-by-side demonstration: a talking head or other video on one side and a standard presentation on the other. You can lay out this synchronization in dozens of ways, and you can capture audio or video on the fly, recording your own commentary without having to use another utility. Note that you must have PowerPoint 2002 or the forthcoming PowerPoint 2003. (At press time, Producer 2003 was in beta.) (free)

An Office Alternative

Once you get familiar with's slightly geeky interface, this free office suite can be a reasonable alternative to the old standbys of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The similarities are often uncanny, from spreadsheet currency formatting to autocorrecting typos; plus, you can build PowerPoint-like presentations just as you would with the real deal. You shouldn't run into compatibility problems with Microsoft Office apps: Opening Word and even complicated Excel files works fine--tables and formulas come through intact. Overall, you'll face a fairly steep learning curve to master OpenOffice's eccentricities, but you can't beat the price. (free)

Cut Checks, Not Profits

If your bookkeeping needs are simple, try PayWindow 2003 by Zpay Payroll Systems. The program lets you easily zip through payroll chores, and it provides just enough configurability for you to handle common cases such as overtime and 401(k) deductions. Federal, state, and even city tax withholding (in New York, for example) are taken care of via updatable tax tables. PayWindow is employee-friendly, too--its printed checks provide lots of historical detail. $70 (free trial)

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