Great Software for Your Home Office
Maybe your boss allows you to telecommute. Maybe you're your own boss. Or perhaps you work after hours from home or just take care of a lot of personal business on your PC. Whatever your scenario may be, here are ten programs to keep your home office humming. These gems will help you manage your money, your e-mail, your notes, and your time. And they'll also help you present a good image of yourself on screen and on paper. With one exception, all programs work in Windows 98 through Windows XP.
I'll skip the really common programs. After all, you don't need to know about Windows, office suites, or a good e-mail program. And you've already heard enough about antivirus software, personal firewalls, and tools to back up your data--even if you haven't actually gone out and bought them (yet).
What's your financial worth? What do you owe on your credit cards? How much do your clients owe you, and when do you expect to receive their payments? What are your biggest expenses? If you're looking for a tool to manage all aspects of your financial life, Intuit's
You can record transactions, balance your checking account, and track investments (if that isn't too depressing). You can also pay bills online and keep an inventory of the items in your home. If you've got a business, you might also track accounts payable and receivable. Speaking of accounts receivable, Quicken can become your invoicing system: Use its template to print out your bills or e-mail them to clients.
Got any files or folders you must protect from prying eyes? The best tool I've found for the job is
If you want more security tools, you can spring for
Jasc Software's $100
You can do all sorts of things to your photos with Paint Shop Pro. You can correct for barrel and pin cushion distortion--that is, when images appear to curve outward or look pinched. You can remove the dreaded red-eye effect. You can add arrows, circles, and text. And if you're looking for something unusual, you can make a photo look like an oil painting.
If you're the artistic type, you can forget about photos and make your own drawings in Paint Shop Pro. Or capture images from your computer screen--an important business chore in my profession; I used Paint Shop Pro for the screen shots in this article.
Touched-up photos are not enough. You also need great-looking brochures, newsletters, and business cards. You can create all of them in
Microsoft designed its $120 Publisher to be easy to use, and by and large, the company succeeded. It comes with a wide variety of document templates to help you get a project started. These include newsletters, catalogs, business cards, Web sites, greeting cards, and even paper airplanes (like Paint Shop Pro, this doesn't have to be an all-work program).
Once you select a template--or go with a blank page--you can arrange things as you please with plenty of drawing tools, text formatting, and clip art. And it's still user-friendly: Suggestions pop up from time to time about easier ways to do things.
So now you've got your brochure or newsletter looking absolutely great. In addition to printing it, you want to e-mail it to clients and maybe post it on your Web site. If you're thinking about formatting to HTML, forget it. HTML--the format used for Web pages and formatted e-mail--isn't capable of handling real precision formatting.
Luckily, Adobe invented the Acrobat PDF file format, which can reproduce a document's exact look, even on systems without the same fonts. Adobe made its Acrobat Reader free, and by now almost everyone with a computer has installed it. (If you haven't, download Adobe Acrobat Reader 6.0 from
However, Adobe didn't provide a free way to create PDFs. Neither has a company called eHelp, but it has created a cheap and easy way: the $50
Sometimes you have to forego e-mail or the Web and use a more arcane method of delivering information--you have to fax it. If you do a lot of faxing, and handling all those incoming and outgoing faxes has become a major hassle, consider investing $100 in Symantec's
True, a cheap fax machine costs less than $100, and Windows comes with its own basic Fax program (except Windows ME). But WinFax has some tricks up its sleeve for the frequent faxer that neither a basic fax program nor a physical fax machine can handle. You can drag and drop a file onto a desktop icon to fax it, and attach multiple files to a fax to have them all go out together. There's a junk-fax filter. If you'd rather have received an e-mail than a fax, there are OCR capabilities to turn the bitmapped image into editable text. Best of all is the signature feature that helps you "sign" a letter by stamping a bitmap of your own signature to it before faxing it out. (Note: You do need to have a fax-modem installed for WinFax to work. Check out Symantec's
Not all of WinFax's special features are really useful, though. The photo-quality faxes don't look noticeably different from the regular ones. Plus, WinFax hogs memory on some systems. But for heavy-duty PC faxing, WinFax is a good investment.
Why can't I find Edna's e-mail about the Entropy Project? Wait a minute--maybe Edwina sent that? Okay, where is it?
If you're overwhelmed by e-mail, and you use Microsoft Outlook, consider
Since NEO doesn't store the mail separately, but works with mail already stored in Outlook, there's no problem with the two programs getting out of sync. No, it doesn't work with Outlook Express.
Creo's Microsoft Outlook add-on, the $100
Six Degrees watches what you do in Outlook, then it finds relationships between different items, which it displays in its own window. Click an e-mail message or an appointment in Outlook (but not, alas, a task or a note), and Six Degrees will list anything it thinks might be related to it. And it doesn't just watch Outlook. If you click a file in Windows Explorer--say, your notes for an upcoming presentation--the resulting list may include e-mails about the presentation, the appointment itself, and other files containing similar keywords.
Of course, it's all guesswork, and Six Degrees doesn't always guess right. But it guesses right often enough to be useful if you have trouble keeping track of all your data relating to specific projects.
Now that I've shown you some better ways to organize your Outlook data, how about something to replace Outlook altogether?
Micro Logic's $150 personal information manager,
It's also handy for Web research. Highlight text in your browser (or any other program), click a system tray icon, and that text becomes a note beneath the highlighted topic in InfoSelect.
If you've got a Palm-based PDA, you can buy a separate $70 version,
Info Select is a bit intimidating at first--you should start at either the Easy or Basic level. But if you have to manage a wide range of disparate data types, it's a big help. Especially useful is its very fast search engine, which brings together your organized and disorganized info.
If you've got multiple clients and charge by the hour, you need a way to track what you do, how long you spend doing it, and for whom you're doing it. That's where Iambic's $150
Setting up TimeReporter can be time-consuming and a bit of a challenge. It uses either an SQL or Access database, and if you have neither you may have to download
To get started, you need to log on by name to set up TimeReporter. Then you have to enter some basic information--clients, tasks, categories, rates, and so on. But once your key information is entered, the program is pretty easy to use. You just click selections and enter a bit of text to record what you did and when. Or use the
Of course, you may not do all of your chores at your computer. That's why Iambic includes a Palm version of TimeReporter in the package. The desktop and the Palm versions, of course, sync together. (Sorry, nothing for Pocket PC operating systems.)