LETTERS FOR DUMMIES, Atari/Anuman Interactive

For years, the Dummies series of guides, with its trademark yellow and black covers, has stuffed the shelves of bookstores, offering advice on everything from juggling to taxes. Now, Anuman Interactive, a Paris developer, is taking the Dummies concept onto your computer, more or less.

Each of these new titles -- in addition to the four reviewed here, Greeting Cards for Dummies and Typing Tutor for Dummies are available -- comes with both a reference booklet and a CD-ROM. (So, alas, you probably won't be seeing the likes of Digital Photos for Dummies at the mall anytime soon.) Most of the time, the booklet is the more useful half of the bundle, while the bland, unremarkable programs offer less value -- especially since there is so little integration between paper and CD.

In Digital Photos for Dummies, for example, the booklet contains all the advice on digital photography and discusses shot composition, lighting and printing.

The companion software is a fairly simple photo-editing and managing tool. It lets users download new photos from cameras, do some basic manipulation (for example, adjusting a shot's contrast, brightness and color saturation, removing red eyes and rotating and cropping the picture) and create albums of selected photos. Photoshop-level control this is not, but it's probably enough for a novice.

It does include a handy before-and-after feature that lets you see how your alterations to a photo changed it from the original. Another nice touch: the ability to create self-executing slide shows, complete with musical soundtracks, that can be run on any Windows machine. There's also an easy, step-by-step process that walks users though creating online photo collections, using a variety of supplied templates.

Family Tree for Dummies is a similar case: It will help you create a detailed, searchable chart of your family's ancestry, featuring birth and death dates, military service, education and addresses, as well as scanned-in photos and documents. Once you've entered data on a sufficient number of people, you can view a U.S. map showing where these relatives live, sort through family statistics and display a calendar containing key dates in your family's history.

The simple interface allows you to whip up a family tree in a hurry -- if you know enough about your family to start entering data right away. If not, you'll have to set the program aside and leaf through the pages of the accompanying booklet for advice, a frustrating experience when the book points you to genealogical and government Web sites that go unmentioned in the software.

Home Budget for Dummies is worse. Given the wealth of financial advice available in books and online -- in addition to the fact that almost every new computer comes with at least a trial version of Microsoft Money or Intuit's Quicken -- this title would need to be something special to set itself apart from the pack.

It isn't. Although the booklet provides some useful tips on dealing with debt and setting a budget, the accompanying software is cumbersome and limited. It can't even track how much principal you've paid down on a mortgage -- all it lets you do is set up a recurring principal-and-interest payment.

Of the programs reviewed, only Resumes & Cover Letters for Dummies offers the right mix of hand-holding and utility. The program sensibly builds on the job-search strategies covered in the booklet; for instance, after you read up on what to include and what to omit from your resume, a worksheet feature in the program guides you through those decisions as you build your own resume.

An array of customizable templates can fine-tune your correspondence with a potential employer, while address-book and calendar modules track your ongoing quest for employment.

That sort of thoughtful integration, alas, is missing from the other titles. It doesn't take a dummy to figure out that Anuman, while offering some useful products in this bunch, missed an opportunity to do more with the Dummies brand. -- Anthony Zurcher

Win 98 or newer, $20

NCAA FOOTBALL 2005, Electronic Arts

This year's update to EA's popular series is all about atmosphere -- the reaction of the fans watching, the players' composure on the field and all the other intangibles that keep sports interesting. NCAA Football 2005's new Home Field Advantage System makes the crowd your team's 12th man in some creative, vivid ways.

Here's how it works: When you, as the home team, are on defense, tap the "home field advantage" button repeatedly to get the people in the stands pumped up. If you can get them rowdy enough -- and the other team is sufficiently unsteady -- your opponent will find that the controller begins to rumble, the image on the screen shakes and the players start to make mistakes, committing false starts and missing audibles.

A new matchup system helps you decide your lineup: Tap your controller's right analog stick to see how your players stack up against their opponents; it will also show what sort of effect home field advantage has on each of your players. This way, you can exploit unequal matchups -- for instance, you can send in an experienced senior against a nervous freshman.

A create-a-sign option, which lets you put the slogans of your choice in fans' hands, is a gimmick but fun anyway; new Division I-AA teams and a great TV booth add to the package. Perhaps most noteworthy, for the first time in an EA sports title, NCAA Football 2005 supports online gameplay on both PlayStation2 and Xbox. -- Tom Ham

GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, $50

Digital-photo, personal-finance, genealogy and job-search programs for, and sometimes by, dummies.EA's NCAA Football 2005 puts the crowd in the game.