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Software reviews

By DAVE GUSSOW, Times technology editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 20, 1999


Microsoft Money 2000 Deluxe
Microsoft
Quicken 2000 Deluxe
Intuit

The personal-finance software wars have invaded the Web big time, with both Money 2000 and Quicken 2000 offering users improved planning, budgeting, tracking and advice through Internet connections. Portfolio tracking is far better in both than a year ago, thanks to the Web, and both offer users a variety of services through their Web sites. For first-time buyers, the race is a virtual dead heat. Both programs are easy to set up and use. For those thinking of switching from Quicken to Money, be warned (again) that Microsoft has yet to master the conversion of Quicken data to its format. (On the other hand, a friend has been unable to convert his files from an older version of Quicken to a newer one. He gave up and stayed with the old version.) For those concerned about Y2K problems, both programs are Y2K ready. For those who are satisfied with older versions and who have downloaded Y2K fixes, there is no compelling reason to buy the update of either program.
Platforms: Money, Windows; and Quicken, Windows and Macintosh.

PC Stitch
M&T Technologies

Those who sew have a new way to create designs. PC Stitch allows users to make their own cross-stitch patterns, including importing photos from scanners and adding their own messages. A friend, accomplished at sewing, checked out PC Stitch. Her assessment: easy to use, easy on-screen directions and toolbar, good for both beginners and veterans, and patterns that print on one page. The only downside: the program created shadows around imported artwork. They can be eliminated manually, but it is slow, painstaking work.
Platform: Windows 95-98

Earsaver
Simon & Schuster Interactive

Phones ringing. Co-workers yakking. Machines clattering. What's a dedicated employee to do? Tune it out. Earsaver offers what it calls "musical textures" (think of it as elevator music lite) and natural sounds, such as a mountain stream and birds in a forest. You load the software onto your hard drive, and it plays in the background, claiming to help reduce stress and promote concentration. It is partly true. I did not feel stressed listening to it, but it did not help my concentration. I found myself listening and wondering why people would spend money on something like this when other options are available: They can put in their own music compact disc, even if it does use the CD-ROM to play. They can listen to Web radio. Or they can put on a telephone headset to block out noise (and give people tempted to interrupt the idea that you are on the phone).
Platforms: Windows, Macintosh

PowerDeck
Upper Deck

The promotional material for this CD-ROM asks the question: "Remember the ol' days when trading cards were just flat cardboard images that came in a wax pack with a stick of bubble gum?" Yes, I do. I also remember when the highest-tech element of collecting sports cards was sticking duplicates in your bike spokes to sound like a motorcycle. And I recall collecting cards to follow your favorite team and players, not as an investment. Ah, but I show my age. PowerDeck features nine NBA players, such as the retired Michael Jordan, on multimedia trading cards with action footage, sounds, photos and career highlights. I followed the directions ("Just pop PowerDeck into the CD-ROM tray of almost any computer"), called the tech department when the disk wouldn't play or eject, and took it home to try. It worked much better in a CD-ROM where the tray slides out. I thought it was okay, but my teenage son probably gave the best read for Upper Deck's market audience: "Cool."
Platform: Windows, Macintosh

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