NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, February 2008
New and Improved Technology Shown in Las Vegas
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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I recently had the pleasure of attending the annual convention of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG) in Las Vegas. I have attended almost all of the APCUG events since 1991, and in terms of full disclosure, I am on the Board of Directors of the APCUG. Some of the highlights of the convention were the several events sponsored by software and hardware companies where they displayed and demonstrated their newest software and hardware to the hundreds of attendees.

One of the first presentations we saw with “wow” factor was a presentation by Pinnacle Systems of their newly released Pinnacle Studio Ultimate Version 11 (http://www.pinnaclesys.com). This is a comprehensive utility designed for the average computer user that allows him to create professional quality movies from recordings made on his digital camcorder. Studio Ultimate 11 can import video from almost any source, and allow it to be edited and improved, and then burned to CD or DVD, or exported to handheld video devices. Special effects, audio soundtracks with audio cleaning, titles, transitions, “PIP” (picture in a picture), and other effects and enhancements can be easily manipulated by the average user to create an interesting video presentation in either standard resolution, or the newer “HD” formats. Videos can be merged and transitioned with the ease of drag and drop. While its video editing and transitions were quite impressive, I was especially enthralled by the countless selection and variations of coordinated sounds that can be easily integrated with the video. Called “Scorefitter Music Generator”, this feature offers a selection of audio genres, including classical, electronic, ethnic, film and TV, inspirational, jazz and blues, novelty, and world types. Once a genre of audio is selected, a variety of music and songs of that genre is displayed. Once a song is selected, several versions of that song are displayed, each providing for a different sound that can be previewed. The sound fitter then coordinates the tempo and beat of the sound with the video and changing of the images, providing for a very entertaining rendition of the video thus created. I found Pinnacle Studio Ultimate Version 11 a very powerful and useful movie production utility that gives the individual the ability to rival Hollywood’s finest movie editors with a home utility.

I get a lot of spam email, and personally find it very irritating. One of the APCUG “tech sessions” was on how to fight spam email. Presented was a product I have used for several years now, a utility called Mailwasher Pro. I use this to screen and filter my email for spam before I download it to my computer. Published by Firetrust (http://www.firetrust.com), Mailwasher Pro is one of the leading anti-spam utilities on the market with a very large installed user base of over 8 million users. It is exceptionally easy to use and configure, and provides the user with a great amount of flexibility in dealing with spam. I have found Mailwasher Pro to be a great time saver, as well as a useful security tool. It works with most ISPs and email providers, and can be used within 5 minutes of downloading and installing, and provides some protection from email born viruses as well as spam. Reasonably priced (around $37), with discounts available, Mailwasher Pro included free support and upgrades for life. I use it on a daily basis and find it indispensable.

Corel, the publisher of WordPerfect, also publishes some excellent graphics programs that are ideal for owners of digital cameras. Utilities like Corel’s Paint Shop Pro X2, and Painter X make the editing and improvement of digital snapshots a snap itself, including a one click automated improvement of digital photos. Corel (http://www.corel.com) photo editing products are among the most powerful on the market yet intuitive enough for the casual user who wants the finest in photo editing. I was very impressed during the Corel presentation by the one click photo enhancement where dark photos, or photos with shadows or poor color were instantly corrected to near perfect color and brightness, without the need of even knowing what “hue” and “intensity” mean. The most impressive part of the Corel presentation to me was the ability of the photo software to automatically take two slightly different photos of the same general subject, take the best features of each, and then spectacularly produce a seamless third image consisting of the best parts of each photo with near ideal brightness and color. Corel produces some fine software and deserves serious consideration when deciding on photo editing utilities. We often gripe and grumble as it seems that our computers slow down as performance degrades. One common reason why performance deteriorates is that the data on our hard drives gets jumbled and placed on disparate parts of our hard drive, causing the hard drive to work harder and slower to read and write data; this is often referred to as “hard drive fragmentation”. When this happens, it is necessary to defragment the hard drive, where pieces of data and programs are combined together on the hard drive in adjacent sectors and tracks, saving space, and making it faster for data to be read and written. Frequently used programs can be optimized to be opened faster, as well as startup components placed and organized to speed up the boot process. There are many utilities on the market that can perform this task, and one of the best is PerfectDisk 8 from Raxco Software (http://www.raxco.com). My opinion has been corroborated by many of the leading computer magazines which have tested defragmentation software, and top-rated PerfectDisk 8. Widely used in industry, government, and education (an impressive but abbreviated list of clients is online), PerfectDisk optimizes all aspects of hard disk management to maximize drive performance, which in turn improves computer performance. PerfectDisk 8 would be a wise choice for anyone who wants an efficient hard drive and improved performance.

Admittedly one of my favorite products, which I have installed on all of my family computers, is Trend Micro’s Internet Security Pro (2008 version). Formerly known as “PC-Cillin”, Internet Security Pro is a comprehensive package of cyber security products including antivirus, anti-spyware, firewall, anti-spam, anti-phishing, and protection from most other online threats. A license for three computers is standard, allowing one copy to be installed on three computers. Last September (2007), one of the leading consumer magazines top-rated Trend Micro’s 2007 version of its antivirus, anti-spyware, anti-spam, and overall suite of products as the best available in its testing and evaluation of many such products. Spyware is the major threat we now face, far outnumbering contemporary virus attacks, and Trend Micro’s Internet Security Pro provides effective protection and safety when surfing the web, reading email, instant messaging, and engaging in other online activities. This is precisely the protective software I have on this computer that I am using to type this column. I trust it enough that I also put it on my daughters’ computers.

Microsoft is the one software company that many of us can not function without, as they have over a 90% share of the operating system market. Microsoft demonstrated the latest versions of two of its consumer products, Windows Live OneCare, and Windows Home Server. The Windows Live OneCare version 2 is a transparent, easy to use, easy solution to computer security that can implement and control security on up to three computers interactively. It provides interactive antivirus, anti-spyware, protection from online ID theft, a firewall, printer sharing, backup and restore, and wireless configuration and security for up to three computers. The security settings for the three computers can be monitored from one of the computers, offering an alert and protection from unauthorized modifications or disabling of security features on the other networked computers with OneCare installed. For the family who wants simple protection for up to three computers, with totally automated updating and minimal configuration and effort, OneCare may be a viable choice.

Many of us have home networks, and are all too well aware of the aggravations of setting up and configuring a home network; Microsoft has eased the burden by automating the networking functions with its Windows Home Server. This is software that works seamlessly with server hardware to create a home network with all of the necessary security features; sharing of printers and other peripherals; access to selected folders that may contain images, video, or audio files, and secured remote access to the network. The key to Home Server is the easy and quick setup, and the large amount of proven third party applications that can add dozens of additional features. For those considering a sophisticated home network, but do not want the hassle of a lot of the setup and configuration tasks, Windows Home Server would be a good choice.

The last vendor event at the APCUG event was sponsored by the CPU manufacturer, AMD. The presentation opened with a persuasive demonstration that notebook and laptop computers can now have the same power and speed as comparable desktop computers. The holy grail of performance has been the ability to do advanced gaming, which requires extreme processing and graphics power; AMD demonstrated that this goal has now been reached with its new line of microprocessors and video chip sets. Watch for new chip names from AMD such as “Phenom”, and “Spider” which will denote some of the most powerful processors and chipsets available. Dual-core and quad-core have joined the popular vernacular, denoting the number of distinct cores or processors in each chip, which allow for faster and more powerful processing of data, and AMD is leading the charge. AMD also introduced to the group its set of new free software utilities under the AMD LIVE! label (http://www.amdlive.com), which provides an integrated audio, video, and image experience to the user, as well as a variety of other entertainment and communication tasks. I will admit that almost all of the computers that I have built included AMD CPU chips, and I have been quite satisfied with both their performance and their price; it is likely that the next computer that I build will have both an AMD CPU chip, and AMD’s ATI video chipsets. At present AMD provides the best balance of price and performance, which is why I tend to choose AMD for my computers.

By my count I have attended about 15 major APCUG annual meetings and conventions in the past 17 years. With sponsors like AMD, Raxco, Pinnacle, Corel, Microsoft, Trend Micro, Firetrust, and many others, which enable APCUG to perform such stellar service, I eagerly look forward to future APCUG events wherever they are held.

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