Software: PaperMaster Pro – worth the wait?

 It’s been nearly five years some folk have been waiting, but it looks like PaperMaster, a great program for scanning and organizing your paperwork, is back.
 
PaperMaster is back
PaperMaster — the last full version was 98, to give you some idea how long this software’s been hibernating — was pretty good. It look liked a filing cabinet, and let you scan and store more or less anything you could squeeze through your scanner. The company was sold to j2, which is basically an Internet faxing service and which were very, very quiet about the software until last year, when in response to public interest (well me, and a couple of other people) they released PaperMaster2002, an upgrade for existing licensed users of PaperMaster98 “who have migrated or are planning to migrate to the Microsoft┬« Windows 2000, XP, or ME operating system”.
 
That version wasn’t cheap — $150 — and didn’t do much apart from resolve a few of the features of PaperMaster98 that wouldn’t work under XP (unless you happened to stumble across some tweaks that fans had posted to websites). Earlier this year, when I complained about the cost of what was basically a minor upgrade, j2 told me “the PaperMaster upgrade was completed primarily for a few select users who were figuratively beating down j2 Global’s door to get the new product. The cost of the upgrade was a result of j2 Global investing significant resources to complete an upgrade designed for limited distribution. Based on customer response, j2 Global’s PaperMaster users seem to be fine with the price”. Not what I heard, but there you go.
 
Anyway, Pro is here. Nearly. You can pre-order and get 15% off the retail price of $199 (once again, not cheap). Still, it sounds as if it has some serious features
  •    Create PDFs from any office application or scan
  •    Organize fast and easy
  •    Find anything in seconds
  •    Get powerful OCR – Never re-type any document
  •    Fax easier via the Internet with built-in eFax┬«
All of which sound useful. I’ll review it once I’ve got hold of a copy. Earlier release date was set for today, so that could be soon. If you’re in a hurry, see my recent review of PaperPort, which does much the same thing.
 

Update: Aliencamel gets another hump

 
 Newly arrived anti-spam service Aliencamel, which I mentioned in an earlier column, tell me they’ve beefed up their service by ‘double scanning’ every email with virus engines from RAV and Kapersky. Aliencamel’s spam technology uses server-based whitelists — allowing email from such addresses to get through — and blacklists — blocking out ‘bad’ email senders — and a spam-filter ranking system from SpamAssassin, letting you select what emails actually reach your inbox. It’s definitely worth a try. I’m still using POP File which adopts a different approach and is free, but some users have found it fiddly to set up with some email accounts. Aliencamel cost $16 for a half-year subscription.
 

Box: New to Newsfeeds

 New to Newsfeeds? RSS for beginners
 
How do I get started reading newsfeeds? Newzcrawler and Feedreader, both mentioned in the main article, are the best programs to start with. Feedreader is still in development, but felt pretty stable to me. To add a Really Simple Syndication, or RSS feed, just paste in the link [more on this in a bit] and it should start showing up immediately. Newzcrawler even lets you send stuff from other people’s feeds to your own blog, or on-line journal, or RSS feed. Each program adds the feeds in a slightly different way, but in most cases you’ll be asked to copy a link [the Web site address that appears at the top of your browser] into the newsreader. These links usually end in a full stop, then three letters: RSS, RDF or XML (don’t worry which; they all do the same thing).

This sounds scary. If all this is a bit daunting, try Serence’s KlipFolio (www.serence.com), which is a bit more polished — though still free to the end-user. Now into its second version, it supports Korean and Chinese language Klips. Download the software and then browse the various Klips on offer. An Outlook user? Try NewsGator (www.newsgator.com) which folds all your RSS feeds into an Outlook folder. Or if you’re brave, check out clevercactus (www.clevercactus.com), which is an Outlook-style personal organizer with RSS built in. Here’s a provisional list of newsreaders: www.hebig.org/blogs/archives/main/000877.php

How do I find interesting feeds? A couple of places to start: Feedster (www.feedster.com) is the Google of the RSS/blog world. Another option is Syndic8 (http://www.syndic8.com/), a more select, and searchable, list of feeds. You’ll notice a lot of sites offer their own feeds so you don’t have to go hunting for them. Can’t find a feed for a site you’re interested in? Check out MyRSS (http://myrss.com/) which allows you to build a custom feed for any site, even if it doesn’t have a feed. It’s pretty straightforward, too.

How do I set up my own newsfeed? First you need material, which means setting up a blog. That’s easy enough: my favourites are Weblogger (www.weblogger.com) or Blogger (www.blogger.com). Once you’ve set up a blog, both sites offer simple options to add an RSS feed automatically. That’s it. If you’re a company thinking of setting up a feed, you may want to talk to the pros. The coding is quite simple, but there are ways to add your logo, and other corporate stuff, to ensure some quality control.

Tell me more? Can’t, sorry, I’ve run out of space. Here’s where you can find out more about the whole thing, however:www.faganfinder.com/search/rss.shtml

Column: No More Information Overload

Loose Wire — No More Information Overload
 
 Now, the news you choose to read can be delivered in a friendly format that won’t clog your inbox
By Jeremy Wagstaff
 
from the 3 July 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

This is not another column about spam, but that’s where I have to start. Spam, or junk e-mail is, we’re all agreed, the bane of our lives. But what if the problem is not so much spam, as e-mail itself?

Look at it like this: E-mail is our default window on the Internet. It’s where pretty much everything ends up. I have received more than 1,000 e-mails in the past week. The vast bulk of that is automated — newsletters, newsgroup messages, despatches from databases, press releases and whatnot. The rest is personal e-mail [a pathetically small amount, I admit], readers’ mail [which I love, keep sending it] and junk. While it makes some sense to have all this stuff in one place, it’s hard to find what I need, and it makes my inbox a honey pot for spammers. And when I go on holiday, it all piles up. Now, what if all that automated stuff was somewhere else, delivered through a different mechanism you could tweak, search through easily, and which wasn’t laced with spam? Your inbox would just be what is e-mail, from your boss or Auntie Lola.

Enter the RSS feed. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, Rich Site Summary or variations of the two, depending on who you talk to. It’s a format that allows folk to feed globs of information — updates to a Web site, an on-line journal [a Weblog, or blog], news — to others. These feeds appear in programs called news readers, which look a bit like e-mail programs.

This also makes sense for those folk who may not subscribe to e-mail alerts, but who regularly visit any number of Web sites for news, weather, movies, village jamborees, books, garden furniture, or whatever. Instead of having to trawl through those Web sites each morning, or each week, or whenever you remember, you can add their RSS feeds to your list and monitor them all from one place.

RSS feeds aren’t just another way to deliver traditional information. RSS feeds have become popular in part because of blogs — on-line journals, usually run by an individual chronicling their experiences, thoughts and journeys around the Web. While many blogs are more like personal diaries, others are written by people who know what they’re talking about, and have become a credible source of information and opinion for industry insiders. Many of these bloggers now offer updates of their Web sites via RSS feed. “There’s an awful lot being created by individuals who are key figures in their markets,” says Bill Kearney, who runs a Web site, www.syndic8.com, that lists more than 20,000 such newsfeeds.

Blogs and RSS have, despite their unwieldy names, helped to level a playing field between traditional news suppliers — news agencies, newspapers, news Web sites like CNN — and those in or monitoring a particular industry. Some call it “nanomedia”: An often-cited example is New York’s Gawker (www.gawker.com) which collects gossip and news from the Big Apple, many times scooping the local dailies. Indeed, blogs themselves came of age this year, first during the Iraq War when a young Iraqi translator calling himself Salam Pax ran a massively popular blog (dearraed.blogspot.com) from Baghdad, offering a compelling perspective on the conflict. Later The New York Times felt the growing power of blogs when the plagiarism crisis prompted by reporter Jayson Blair was fuelled by blogs and other Internet sites, all in real time.

We don’t want to go too far. There’s a lot of dross in blogs, and therefore a lot of dross in RSS feeds. And while the software has improved in recent months — check out news readers such as Newzcrawler (www.newzcrawler.com) or Feedreader (www.feedreader.com) — it still feels slightly experimental. But as the format matures, I think our once-bright hopes for the Internet as a democratic, intelligent medium might be realized.

Part of it means throwing away what we traditionally think of as “news.” Corporations are beginning to sense that blogs make an excellent in-house forum for employees. Small companies have found that running a blog for their customers — say a real-estate agent sharing news and opinions about the neighbourhood property market — pays better than any newspaper ad. Individuals — consultants, columnists, one-man bands — have, through well-designed, well-maintained blogs, built a critical mass of readers, some of whom become paying customers or subscribers. Teachers are finding RSS feeds useful for channelling subject matter to classrooms and sharing material with other teachers.

Is there money in it? One Canadian company, Serence (www.serence.com), targets its form of RSS feed, called Klips, to companies automating specific tasks — monitoring competitors, prospects or industry news, accessing critical internal data. There is, of course, a danger that what ailed earlier formats ends up ailing RSS feeds: This month, one company started carrying ads in an RSS feed, with mixed results. In the end, I think, some of this data will be good enough to pay for, some will be supported by ads, and some will continue to be done out of love.

RSS’s strengths are simplicity and versatility: It can be added on to other programs — the browser, Outlook, or be delivered to your hand-phone, hand-held device, or even as audio on your MP3 player. It’s a lot more powerful than e-mail, and — we hope — will be guaranteed spam-free. Hurrah.

News: Logitech io to get even smarter

  Fresh in from Logitech, news that the company’s AGM saw the first public preview of a hugely improved version of the software for the io pen, which I reviewed some months back.
 
This new version of the software, apparently, allows you to search all of the text you have previously written, not just the headers. It also allows you to change the format of documents on screen, for example by putting key sections in a different colour, or making the writing thicker. Last, this new version will include handwriting conversion software, to turn your notes into text. The new software is completely compatible with existing versions of the pen, so there’s no need to change the hardware. All you’ll need to do is download the new software once it is ready, which should be September.
 
I’ll keep you posted. I found the first version to be a very useful product. This sounds pretty exciting.

Link: Friendster

 
  A new website, Friendster, run by a guy working out of his living room in Silicon Valley is getting plenty of coverage. Friendster works a lot like the dating services I’ve reviewed in the past, although it also talks like a networking service.
 
Tyler Hamilton, writing in The Toronto Star wrote this week, “Jonathan Abrams only opened Friendster.com to the public in March, and in less than four months, the online community claims more than 750,000 members consisting of his friends, their friends and their friends’ friends.”
 
The basic idea, and where it may wind up better off than dating sites, is that people connect through their friends. As someone once said of dating services, they’re obsolete to the user once he or she gets what they came for, namely a soul mate. Friendster goes further than that, in theory, by folding in both friendship and love.
 
Maybe that’s why it’s caught on quickly. An impressive example of word of mouth — even I heard of it, although I have to confess the kind of folk in my particular friendship niche don’t seem to be quite as interested in the things that I am.
 
I also noticed some teething problems, which prevented me from logging in to see how popular I was. Understandable, in a product that’s not yet out of beta. The site is free for now, but will probably charge those who want to contact people they don’t already know.

Software: New version of Fix-It Utilities released

 
 One of my favourite utilities, Fix-It, is available in a new version. The program — which does everything from cleaning up your hard drive to rescuing deleted files — has gone through many owners of the years, and is now part of V Communications. This is their first update of the software since V Comm acquired it from KrollOntrack in September 2002., and it’s not easy to tell what’s new from their press release. One feature sounds neat: Recovery Commander, “an advanced data recovery system that can correct for major system file damage that prevents your system from booting”. Fix-It Utilities 5 also “allows users at all levels to perform critical maintenance tasks on their own PC, thereby saving them hundreds of dollars”. Bundled with it is PowerDesk 5, an excellent file manager. Given PowerDesk itself costs $40, the $50 price tag for the whole thing seems pretty good value.
 
I’ll review the whole thing in a future column.

Software: MSGTAG’s free version is still available

 
 More on MessageTag, the program that lets you monitor whether your emails are being read. In fact, the free version does still exist, contrary to my earlier posting. Matthew Miller of MSGTAG says the free version of MSGTAG is no longer being promoted from the website but will stay on CNET’s download.com and is still being given to magazines to include on their cover CDs. 
 
I’m still using it, and have to say it’s a great tool. I can understand some people may have privacy issues, but I’ve had very few complaints so far.

Software: Google’s new Toolbar

 
 Google have just launched a new version of their toolbar for Internet Explorer. Toolbars are extra lines of buttons that add themselves to your browser, offering links, pull down menus and whatnot. In this case, Google’s toolbar allows you to do Google searches without actually going to Google’s search page. It’s actually a great tool, although arguably Opera’s built  in toolbar is even better.
 
Google’s new toolbar, 2.0, adds a couple of interesting features. One is designed to block pop-up windows, another helps you fill in online forms by storing your details for you; the third feature is for bloggers like me, adding whatever site your browser is looking at to be added to a blog (this only works for sites running Blogger software, which was recently bought by Google.) Another new feature they don’t mention very much, but which could be useful, is Search Country. Say you have Google Canada set as your search page in the toolbar’s options, then this feature would limit your searches to Canadian websites.
 
Me? I’ve long loved the toolbar, but mainly for its Page Info function, which lets you check out a list of sites similar to the one you’re looking at. Seems that Google aren’t really building on this great feature: in Toolbar 2.0 that button is switched off by default.