POWER USER

Software bundles needn't cost bundles

John McCormick

OK, I'm cheap, I won't deny it. Except for a good chair and up-to-date computer hardware, my office looks like a war surplus discard pile. Maybe your government office does, too.

Obviously, the enterprise software you use is a different matter. It costs a bundle. But if you're trying to stretch a tight IT budget or to improve staff skills, remember that not every good computer program costs four figures.

For example, staff members might need to spend a day or two in training to get the most out of Microsoft Windows XP or Office XP. If there's no time or budget for formal training, a cheap solution is Professor Teaches Windows XP Plus from Individual Software Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.

For $30, you get a five-CD-ROM set that runs on any computer with Win98 or later Microsoft Corp. operating systems, and it does not require XP. There's also a $10 version that might be all you need for basic and some advanced features.

Individual Software's Professor Teaches Office XP Plus costs $40 and also runs under new or older Windows OSes.

Need to make a quick slide show? You probably have a presentation program in your office suite. But if you give basic presentations only occasionally, I would be willing to bet you can learn Individual's $30 Screen Creator Deluxe and complete a slide show faster than you can even get started in Microsoft PowerPoint.

I'm not saying the $30 program is equivalent to the $479 PowerPoint, but I've worked with both and usually turn to the easier $30 program. Plus, its system requirements are low enough for the minimal hardware usually relegated to training stations.

Individual Software also sells skills assessment software and multimedia training programs. A few years ago there were lots of vendors developing useful, low-cost training programs and utilities but, like Expert Software Inc., many folded or got bought.

If you dig around you can still find inexpensive gems. After a bit of research I found store.activision.com, a site that still sells Expert Software titles including Premier Clip Art 10000, 2000 Fantastic Fonts, CAD 3D and others. They might be just what you need for occasional small tasks. Best of all, they run on low-end platforms and cost only about $13 each.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@yahoo.com.

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