Extending your reach

Just as old recipes often produce the best meals, so you can look back to the PC’s beginnings to cook up some tasty digital tricks.

We were prompted in this by a new book called “Windows XP for Starters” ($20 — all prices U.S.– at www.missingmanuals.com). Especially by page 130, which tells you how to restore extensions to file names.

Extensions are three letters following a period at the end of a filename. “Txt” means a text file, “doc” means a Word document, “wav” means a sound file, “exe” means it’s a program, and so on. These extensions trace back to DOS, which was one of the first operating systems for PCs.

The problem is, as Windows was developed and kept being “improved” to make things “easier,” it somehow got harder. What got lost was the simplicity of DOS. Old DOS commands, like typing “dir/w/o,” seemed arcane and extraordinarily difficult, though this command simply told the computer to list all the programs on the hard drive in alphabetical order. In fact, knowing fewer than 10 commands let you do almost anything on the PC. But this was far too techie, market researchers screamed, and the noise scared Microsoft.

So, among the things that were dropped were file extensions. Here’s how to recover them: Open any folder, like “My Documents.” Choose “Tools” and then “Folder Options” from the menu. Click the “View” tab and turn off “Hide extensions for known file types.” From then on you can tell at a glance if a file is a picture, PDF, Word document, program, etc.

You can create your own extensions. For instance, all of our columns are saved with the file extension “.col,” the “col” standing simply for column. They can all be called up simply by doing a “find files” search with the command “*.col.” That’s an old DOS command telling the computer to find anything that ends with “.col.” It’s fast.

We save all our letters by changing the standard MS Word extension, “.doc,” to “.ltr.” That makes them very easy to find. You could save documents related to taxes by giving them a “.tax” extension. Notes for your book can be saved as “.nts.” You can call any of these up as a group and save them to a folder. DOS is the ghost in the machine, and it can materialize some neat tricks.


For making videos or slide shows there’s nothing easier than muvee autoProducer, now out in Version 5.

Basically, there are just three steps: Click a button to add the video or still pictures you want from the folder you select, like “My Documents,” and add your own music or use theirs. Short clips work best for video. With still photos, the program produces the kind of zoom and pan effects made popular by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. The result is a kind of ersatz movie that’s quite interesting.

The best new feature in Version 5 is the so-called “magic spot,” which lets you select the sweet spot of each photo to make sure it’s centered. In Version 4, a subject’s head was sometimes missing when the camera zoomed and panned on the wrong elements of a scene, but we put up with that because the results were so fantastic otherwise. When you are satisfied, you can save your video to the computer, e-mail it, burn it to disk or stream it for the Web. Click on the TV tab to make a disk that can be played on a DVD player.

This is by no means the most comprehensive or professional video editor we’ve looked at, and it doesn’t try to be. The goal of muvee autoProducer is good results with little effort. It achieves this better than anything else we’ve tried. The list price is $99 from www.muvee.com.


After suffering through some business problems earlier this year, Lexmark has now come out with a new photo printer, and it certainly got this one right. The printer can read and print photos from a CD as well as burn them to a CD.

The Lexmark P450 prints 4-by-6-inch color photos from a CD, thumb drive, photo memory card or the computer. You can also print photos from a camera phone if you get a Bluetooth wireless adapter. Each photo is displayed on a small screen at the top of the printer and can be edited from there. Simple button controls in front of the display let you remove red eye, crop, zoom and brighten the photo you’re looking at. You can thus perform a few of the major editing functions you get in more comprehensive software dedicated to that purpose.

The prints were excellent quality, and after a little initial confusion we were able to use the editing tools with good results. Printing is slow and can take two to three minutes for a single photo. That’s long, but not too bad considering the price on this combination photo printer and CD burner is less than $200.

One problem we encountered was the printer being unable to read some of the photos stored on our thumb drive; it gave us messages saying “bad image” on nearly all the photos on the drive. When we plugged the same thumb drive into our computer, however, it had no trouble reading all the images.

Lexmark’s Web site: www.lexmark.com.

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Readers can search several years of columns at the “On Computers” Web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at [email protected] and Joy Schwabach at [email protected]

Copyright 2005 Universal Press Syndicate

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