Microsoft Releases New XP PowerToys
This week, Microsoft issued a new set of beta PowerToys for Windows XP to testers, significantly overhauling the set with new toys and new capabilities. New toys in this release include the Virtual Desktop Manager, which lets you switch among four views of running applications: Background Switcher, which makes the background automatically change periodically; Slide Show Generator, which generates a slide show for CD-ROMs; HTML Slide Show Generator, which generates HTML slide shows for the Web; and Magnifier, which magnifies part of the screen. A few toys have been renamed: Faster User Switcher is now called Super-Fast User Switcher, and Open Command Window Here is now Command Windows on Folder. Meanwhile, Shell Player, PowerToy Calculator, PhotoToys, and TweakUI are unchanged. This release doesn't include the new Task Switcher, which I thought was garbage anyway, or the IE Find Toolbar, which I found to be of negligible value. Overall, the new PowerToys look great. They'll be generally available for free download by the time XP ships October 25.

Microsoft Reader 2.0 Now Available
Microsoft released the latest version of its eBook reader, sending shivers of joy through the hearts of the seven people who actually use this technology. Microsoft Reader 2.0 is available now, free, for Windows-based PCs and laptops and Pocket PC 2002 devices. Note that Reader 2.0 doesn't support previous Pocket PC devices, bringing the total number of possible users down to two. But those two people will find a bevy of new features, including multiple activations, a better UI, and a new Web interface.

Email Celebrates 30th Birthday
Email turned 30 this week, so it's younger than me, but older than most people who use it. I don't mean to get off on a rant here, but email is the bane of my existence and is the epitome of lost promises in the digital age, something that makes the "paperless office" pale in comparison. Of course, email has its compatriots in crime these days, with applications such as instant messaging and wireless email pagers that make us even less productive--ironically, as we work more and more. I think the best way we can celebrate this little beast's anniversary is to curl up into a ball, mumble unintelligibly, and pretend it never happened. Oh, by the way, happy birthday.

Ricochet to the Rescue
To aid in recovery efforts in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks, Ricochet has temporarily resuscitated its recently shut down service in New York. Generally speaking, there aren't very many good-news technology stories these days, but this story is a nice one; the service gave nearly 1000 rescue workers access to online conferences and other important data.

Sun Issues Solaris 9 Beta
This week, Sun Microsystems issued the first beta of its upcoming Solaris 9 OS, which offers new manageability features, core kernel improvements, and better security. But Solaris 9 won't include GNOME 2.0 because the Linux desktop replacement won't ship in time to make the mid-2002 Solaris 9 release. Sun says it intends to replace its Common Desktop Environment (CDE) interface with GNOME eventually, but it looks as if we'll have to wait for 10.0. If you're interested in living on the edge, you can download the beta now from the Sun Web site . Someone has to do it.
  
Star Office 6 Beta Ships
And speaking of useless software you can download from the Sun Web site, Sun is also offering the first beta of its upcoming Star Office 6 suite, which includes support for XML file formats, Office XP file compatibility, and numerous ease-of-use improvements, specifically the absence of the annoying "desktop" interface found in previous versions. Most Windows fans won't have much interest in Star Office 6, but I bet it will find a home on many a Linux desktop (assuming there is such a thing). You can find more information, as always, on the Sun Web site .
  
Samsung Joins Pocket PC Lovefest
Samsung is an unexpected new player in the Pocket PC arena. The company announced this week that it will release a range of Pocket PC 2002 devices to the US market next year. Samsung, which already has a big presence in the Asian handheld market, said it chose Pocket PC 2002 over the Palm OS "to get the chicks."

Surprise: Dell Financials on Track This Quarter
I've been following several Apple Macintosh news sites lately so I can keep up with information about Mac OS X, which is good stuff. But one annoying trend I've seen lately is that the news sites love to print negative information about PC companies. So you'll see a lot of stories such as, "AMD announces lower earnings," and "Dell expected to lower earnings estimates." But when the second of those two stories mentioned above didn't gel, and Dell announced that it would meet its previous earnings estimate for this quarter, the Mac news sites were silent. Shame! For the record, Dell is still the only PC company that's making a profit on its PC business, and the company reports that sales have rebounded--after the terrorist attacks--more quickly than expected.

Xbox Parental Controls
Microsoft's upcoming Xbox will include an option to restrict violence in games through a parental control, the first such feature for a video-game console. Based on the standard game-ratings system, which apparently classifies violence into categories such as "excessive, ultra-excessive, and cartoonishly excessive," the parental controls are easy to set up and will block games that exceed the desired setting. Because most kids could probably hack into the system and get it to work anyway, I'm not sure what good these controls will do, but I think it's a smart idea on Microsoft's part.

In Its Constant Efforts to Be Just Like Apple...
....Compaq has issued a recall for certain of its laptop batteries, which apparently catch fire when used for too long. The recall affects 1.4 million laptops made between September 1998 and September 2001. If you're worried that your machine might be on the list, check the Compaq Web site and then charge those batteries. It's going to be a while before you have a power source.

Relive the Original Adventure!
And finally, ancient computer geeks like me will be happy to hear that the original "Adventure" game is available for free on the Web in a variety of formats. For you IM-types, Adventure was one of the prototypical text-based fantasy games in which you typed simple text commands and responded to onscreen narrative such as, "You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building. Around you is a forest. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully." Ah, memories. For more information, visit Rick Adam's Colossal Cave Web site.