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Zipadee doo dah

As I write this column, weather reports in the background remind me that some things in life are almost inevitable. Today is the first day of the Lord&#39s Test and, of course, rain is expected. In my experience, the equivalent situation with technology is that if it is going to let you down it is going to happen when you need it most.

Although it is impossible to avoid such frustrations, there are many things you can do to minimise them. This week I will share a few of the ways I use to keep such frustrations to a minimum.

Probably the worst possible scenario is to arrive at an event only to find that some essential part of your system simply will not work. I recently arrived in Manchester to do a presentation only to find that the main processor on my laptop had died. Fortunately I had already sent a copy of my presentation ahead but this is not always possible.

A couple of months ago, I picked up the perfect device to protect against this situation. A tiny hard drive that can be used to back up essential data and fits into a standard type II PC card slot which you should be able to find on any laptop. Because it works as a PC card there is no need for an external power supply, so there are no bulky boxes of cables to carry around.

The product is the Iomega Pocket Zip, formerly known as the Iomega Click, and I keep finding new uses for it. It is a great way of storing emergency back-up information and for passing bulky files to people you may be visiting on the road. Emailing files of anything over half a megabyte can be a time-consuming process, especially if you are travelling and using a dial-up connection.

Using Pocket Zip you can simply drag and drop the document on to the Pocket Zip drive, take the card out of your laptop and hand it to the other person – who should then be able to slot it into their laptop and copy the file across.

Always remember to ask for your Pocket Zip back, otherwise, at £99 a go, it gets expensive. For more information visit the Iomega website – www.iomega.com/europe.

Talking of emailing large files, it is important to remember that many companies, and indeed internet service providers, have limits on the size of attachments that they will happily accept.

In my experience the worst offender is Norwich Union. I find it virtually impossible to send any email attachments without its firewall stripping them off.

This problem can be much reduced by remembering to zip files of any size. This will compress the file so that it takes far less time to send. Some files can be compressed more than others – graphics files do not reduce much in size whereas word processing documents can become a fraction of their original size.

My preferred zip utility for some time has been WinZip. If you regularly send large files by email and are still using a dial-up internet connection, this is a product that can easily pay for itself in reduced phone charges. Even if you are not in this position, think about how the person on the other end will receive the file.

I have a vivid memory of the time a software company emailed me an unzipped 9.5Mb product specification file from a dial-up connection in a hotel room in the south of France that was working at an absolute snail&#39s pace. It took a couple of hours to complete.

Evaluation copies of WinZip can be downloaded for free from www.winzip.com or you can buy online from the same address. Single-user versions are available for $29 and site licences start from two users with the price for up to 10 copies being $22 per PC. This tiers down so that organisations with over 200 PCs can buy it for as little as $6.

Another really frustrating situation is where someone sends you a document you need to read urgently, only to find when it arrives that it is a file format that you don&#39t use.

Quick View Plus is a file reader application that will allow you to open a vast range of different formats on your PC without having the full application installed. This can be useful not only when reading documents sent by other people but also when you want to look at files you may have created years earlier.

In my own case I have archived files created in WordStar and Q&A, wordprocessing and database applications I used nearly a decade ago.

I certainly do not want to have to maintain installed versions of these packages for the very few times I might need to look at them. Apart from anything else, WordStar is an old DOS application and I doubt it would run too happily on Windows 2000.

With Quick View Plus, I am able to read almost any attachment that someone might send me without having a wide range of software packages I don&#39t use taking up valuable hard disk space.

Version 6.0 of Quick View Plus also includes a free zip tool, although I have not yet had a chance to try this. The product can be bought from Intranet Solutions on 01753 894 500. The single-user price is £39, £35 for two to nine copies, £30 for 10 to 50, £24 for 51 to 100 and £20 for 101 to 250.

Probably the most common occurrence of incompatible file formats is when your organisation is using an earlier version of Microsoft Office than the one the sender uses. This problem will undoubtedly become worse with the launch of Microsoft Office XP.

But this need not be a problem at all. Converters to enable people to read files from all versions of the Office suite from Office 95 to 2000 can be downloaded free from www.office.microsoft.com.

At the time of writing, the converters for Office XP are not currently on the site which – given that the product is due for commercial release next week – is a minor concern.

However, given the fact that Microsoft&#39s press office is proving completely incapable of getting me review copies of the new suite, I am beginning to wonder if there are not a few problems with this particular launch.

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