Every summer I eagerly await our annual World Class Awards. This year's winner in the Utility category is Novatix's ExplorerPlus, a productivity tool that I rely on daily. If Bill Gates used the $40 file manager just once, he'd never bother with Windows Explorer again. (See "Best of 2004" for more about ExplorerPlus and all of this year's other World Class winners.)
When it comes to file management, though, there are plenty of world-class contenders. TaskTracker, for example, offers a supercharged version of the Start menu's My Recent Documents folder. TaskTracker gives you split-second access to the files you opened yesterday, last week, three months ago, or even last year. The program lists more types of files than My Recent Documents, yet you can exclude specific file types from the list. I sort my files by most recent use, but you can sort them alphabetically or by how often you have opened them, if you prefer. Though TaskTracker is free for personal use if you renew it every 90 days, be a mensch and support the author by making a donation.
Some of you may remember Magellan, the indispensable DOS-search-tool-cum-file-manager-cum-file-viewer from a decade ago. Well, it's back as Idealab's X1, a program that offers the same instant search results that made Magellan famous. X1 indexes the data on your hard drive and searches in four categories: files, e-mail (Outlook, Outlook Express, Netscape, and Eudora), e-mail attachments, and Outlook contacts.
X1's interface is much like Windows Explorer's: As you scroll through the found files listed in one pane, the program's viewers show you the files' contents in another pane. The viewers can show any of 255 different file types; you can even watch videos or listen to audio files. One drawback of X1 is that it won't let you rummage around the entire drive at once; instead, you must search one of its four categories at a time. That rates a score of "Dumb" on the Bass Feature Meter. The company claims to be working on a tab that will search across all your data categories. (Hurry up, okay?) Useful though X1 is, the $99 price is steep--but I hope that this doesn't dissuade you from downloading the 15-day trial version.
One Sour Note
To me, last year's most disappointing product--and I'm glad it didn't receive a World Class award--was Microsoft's OneNote file manager. This $199 program was supposed to be a quick and nimble tool, and I was hoping I could use it to capture and organize random notes, images, to-do lists, and maybe URLs or photos. If I had a tablet PC (I don't), I'd be able to add handwritten notes, doodles, and other undecipherable scribblings.
Maybe it's my attention deficit disorder, but I never got comfortable with OneNote--it just wasn't intuitive for me. I found myself laboring to make the program work, rather than using it to be productive. For instance, figuring out how to use OneNote's pages, subpages, sections, and folders drove me batty--and even today I'm still unsure how everything works together.
A service pack update for OneNote should be available when you read this; check out "Microsoft Updates OneNote" for a review of the new features. (If you want to play around with OneNote yourself, download the 60-day trial version.)
Instead of supporting OneNote, my World Class vote in the note-taker category goes to TexNotes, a brilliantly simple (and dirt-cheap) text organizer. The $35 program is rich in features, yet I had it customized to my liking in only 20 minutes. And whereas OneNote saves files only as Word documents or in its own proprietary format, TexNotes supports .txt, .rtf, WordPerfect, and five other formats. For such an unstructured guy, I'm feeling amazingly organized these days. You can download a 60-day trial version of TexNotes from PC World's Downloads.
I'll describe more of my favorites--including a video-capture utility and worthwhile substitutes for the RealPlayer and QuickTime media players--in upcoming Home Office newsletters. Visit PC World's Free Newsletters to sign up.