-- John Gaudiosi
Win 95 or newer, $40; PlayStation 2, Xbox, $50
EPROMPTER 2.0, Tiburon Technology
Multiple e-mail accounts went from a luxury to a burden a long time ago -- between home, work and Web-mail accounts, you can spend a significant chunk of your time just managing all these separate inboxes. This program provides a simple, if ugly, front-end to up to 16 accounts, including those hosted at AOL and such popular Web-mail sites as Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail, as well as any Internet-standard Post Office Protocol mailbox. (EPrompter doesn't support the less widely used IMAP option.)
Once you set up each account in ePrompter, storing your user name and password, this program will notify you of new messages in each with a rotating series of colored balls in the Windows system tray (actual icons would be easier to decipher) or its customizable screensavers. EPrompter's regular window offers a more detailed look at what's in each mailbox -- first each message's sender and subject, then the contents of messages themselves. Note, however, that messages appear in plain text, which will scramble some Web-formatted mail and any attachments.
You can delete selected messages off their mail servers with a click -- handy for managing spam or virus-laden messages without sullying your hard drive -- and even reply, compose or forward e-mail from within ePrompter. Any outgoing mail will be sent through your own Internet provider's servers; a backup, built-in message-sending function comes with restrictions on its use and will be blocked by many Internet providers (spammers routinely abuse this technique).
-- Michael Tedeschi
Win 95 or newer, free at www.eprompter.com
EASYCLEANER 2.0, Toni Helenius
Cleaning the Windows registry -- the system-wide database of settings that regulates much of a PC's workings -- is a task too vital to skip, but too tricky for most to undertake on their own. Most registry utilities come bundled in such complex, pricey packages as Symantec's Norton SystemWorks, but EasyCleaner is different. Finnish author Helenius's free, compact download focuses on keeping this inscrutable Windows component in good health, although it also provides a few other options (for instance, removing duplicate files and setting start-up features).
Like its commercial cousins, EasyCleaner can analyze a registry file and remove invalid or unneeded items automatically, providing a quick speed-up in the process. On an old Windows 98 test system, for example, EasyCleaner took about two minutes to scan the registry, finding 181 invalid entries (along with hundreds of unneeded, temporary or duplicate files that had eaten dozens of megabytes of disk space). EasyCleaner's fixes for those problems yielded a visibly faster system, cutting this PC's start-up time from almost a minute to just 25 seconds.
Sensibly enough, EasyCleaner saves the changes it makes for a later undo, should things not go right. -- John Breeden II
Win 95 or newer, free at personal.inet.fi/business/toniarts/ecleane.htm