Platform: Windows XP/2000
If you have a laptop that runs on Windows, and you connect wirelessly to the Internet, Connection Manager Professional will help you organize those connections, complete with storing passwords and settings for each connection, so that when you move from your office network to a coffee shop, for example, you can connect simply and easily. It finds the best wireless connection and lets you know its speed and signal strength. Once you're connected, the software tells you whether the signal is strong enough to continue or whether a better, faster network is available. Of course, you can find all this out in your network connections utility in Windows, but Connection Manager remembers your connection and stores the password or encryption key in a profile. You can create and use as many profiles as there are wireless hot spots in your life. Your systems manager can form a group of profiles for folks who travel to the same spots or use the same coffee shops and distribute those profiles to you and your colleagues. If you can't find a wireless signal, the software will help you set up your cell phone as a modem. You'll need your own cable, if that's what it takes, or the software will help you set up a Bluetooth connection to the Internet. If you find yourself lugging your laptop from the office to home, and airports and other wireless hot spots in between, Connection Manager will, as its name promises, manage those connections reliably.
Spanish Advantage 2007
Platform: Windows 2000/98/Me/XP
Company: Encore Software
Through the years I've supplemented my basic Spanish with software programs, especially the Spanish Advantage series. The 2007 version, for Windows PCs, including those running Windows Vista, is a 12-CD set that offers excellent visual and audio lessons and includes a collection of CDs you can play in your car or on any CD player. For me, it's a winning combination. I get to see the words and phrases on my computer screen, then reinforce those lessons as I commute to work. I spent a Sunday brushing up on my basic Spanish by relearning words, phrases, sentence construction and basic grammar, then playing games that required me to insert the correct Spanish words or phrases. There are more than 140 lessons, 1,000 vocabulary words, 40 quizzes and enough games to keep me entertained. There's also a Spanish-to-English dictionary on a CD. The courses, which are geared for ages 14 and up, are produced by the U.S. Institute of Languages. The visuals are not fancy, to say the least. The lessons are geared for folks who want to progress at their own speed. You can repeat lessons over and over, and the pronunciation guide lets you hear sounds (such as the trilled rr in "perro") at slow or normal speed. If you need to go beyond the basics, you're directed to a Web site that offers programs to teach verb conjugation. I wish they had been included in this set, but when I'm ready to move beyond basics, I'll tackle those sets, as well.