Jewish World Review Oct. 29, 2004 / 14 Mar-Cheshvan 5765

Second thoughts

By Mark Kellner | I've been through a bunch of products lately, and need some time to catch my breath. Thus, here are some "second thoughts" about some recent items, if you'll allow. (Also, there's often too-little reflection on products after an initial "rush" of interest, in my opinion.)

THE BROWSER KILLERS: Here, one speaks of Firefox and Thunderbird, both free products from The Firefox browser is almost indestructible, working with my bank's Web site, my Web-hosting firm's Web site, and almost everything else in between. About the only think Firefox "choked" on was District-based XM Radio's new online service, which must have Internet Explorer 6, and must have it on a PC. That leaves me a tad cold, but, it's their candy shop.

It is highly worth it, in my view, to add some extensions and themes to the Firefox palate, customizing the browser even more. The "zoom image" extension is highly useful, but so, too, is a "theme" for Firefox called Noia 2.0 Extreme. Developed by artist (and programmer) Kongkeat Kuatrakool of Thailand, the theme scrunches down the screen space taken by various tool and button bars, leaving more room for a Web page display. The tools and buttons are still highly visible, however, and the overall appearance is quite visually pleasing. You can find the theme at which also is a great place to check out other add-ins.

As with Firefox, Thunderbird is still performing like a champ, although I've had the occasional freeze-up at my office computer. Quitting and restarting the program, which its developers say is in its "0.8" version, i.e., not yet a "1.0" release candidate, solves the problem.

I wish some things were easier in Thunderbird, such as making e-mail signatures a bit fancier. But the hang-ups come because the program tries to easily, and equally, handle both HTML-style e-mail and plain text messages. It's a bit of a challenge, to be sure, but Thunderbird does a very good job.

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You can get a similar Noia-styled theme for Thunderbird, which also makes the display look better, in my view. But more important, for me as a daily user, are a little button that clears the "search" window and another that toggles display of your e-mail contact list in a left-side window. It's handy, for sure, particularly since Thunderbird will "collect" e-mail addresses from incoming messages and keep them on hand for your next note to Aunt Freida.

NISUSWRITER EXPRESS 2.0 is the latest incarnation of the Nisus Software word processor for Macs. It's a good, good program, and the new version adds footnotes and end notes. I particularly like the way its built-in thesaurus recommends words as you type. Not that I always want to substitute meretricious for "cheap" in each instance, but it's kind of classy to be able to do so at the drop of a semicolon. Also very nice is the sidebar window showing the word count as you progress in your project.

Those plusses noted, this isn't fully Microsoft Word — no fancy templates are supplied — and it's not meant to be. It's "save-to-text-file" feature can be refined; I still get "garbage" characters when doing such a save. But for a no-nonsense word processor, it's difficult to find something better, at a fraction of Word's pricetag. Details are at, along with a 30-day-trial version.

MAXTOR'S ONE TOUCH HARD DRIVE is another product I've written about here, and the 160 GB version I'm using is a rather nice one. Though a bit slower than I'd like, thanks to its USB interface (something mentioned the last time), one can still take about 31 Gigabytes of video and off-load I from one PC in about 30 minutes, moving it to a Mac in roughly the same period of time. Using a FireWire, or IEEE 1394, connection would be faster, of course.

But with a recent experience of having to move files, I was reminded of just how totally useful it is to have an external hard disk drive (or two) around the house; it can simplify your life and work.

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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

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