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We've narrowed down the best of the best to one or two products in each category, with a preference for free stuff.

[ animators | audio/video | browsing ]
[ chat | email | graphics ]
[ html authoring | paging | push technology ]
[ server side | telephony | utilities ]

Animators
Animagic GIF Animator (Mac + Win, Free Trial)
Optimises GIFs with compression up to 80%, and lets you build animated images from still frames or other animated GIFs.  You can also tweak the frames with fades, dissolves, and wipes...too cool!

Audio/Video
RealPlayer Plus (Win95 + NT + Mac, $29 US)
The most widely used multi-media push-me/pull-you delivery system around, RA Player Plus will let you listen to sound bytes and see video on web sites all over the 'net.   There's a channel setting system, and radio buttons you can assign to 'net broadcasters--rock while you surf.

Browsing
StartSurfing (Win95, Free)
This very handy program runs quietly in your system tray and delivers a medley of catagorised sites through pop-up menus you access from the icon.  Sites are changed several times a day, and a security feature blocks adult sites from small eyes.

Chat
PIRCH (Win95/98/NT, Shareware)
Simple, customizeable IRC client with good support for registered users, and loads of support and hint, trick, tip sites all over the web run by some of the many, many PIRCH users out there.

Email
Email 97 (Win95 + NT, Free Trial)
Brings power and flexibility to POP-3 mail. With support for multiple email accounts and dial-up locations, it allows you to receive mail from one account and reply from another. Supports the usual attachments, fonts, signature files, spam screening, etc., and the registered version comes with very cool multi-language translators.

Graphics
Paint Shop Pro 4.0 (Win + Mac, Free Trial)
This latest version of PSP brings many of the advanced features of more high-end products like Adobe PhotoShop down to the "any idiot can use this" level.  Even though the trial period (cough, cough) never expires, it is, of course, well worth the small registration fee.

HTML Authoring
Netscape Communicator 4.04 Page Composer (Win + NT, Free)
The bad news is, if you want to create advanced pages with a WYSIWYG editor, you're going to have to cough up some dosh. But for free, basic, and easy-to-learn, this is the very best available.

Paging
ICQ (Win95 + NT, Free)
ICQ ("I Seek You") is assigns each user a Universal Internet Number and lets you add friends and co-workers by their UIN.  It will then tell you who is online and lets you send instant messages, transfer files, send people directly to URLs, and even chat!

Push Technology
PointCast (Windows 3.x + 95, Free)
An intuitive interface and manageable options make PointCast the winner on your desktop. One neat option brings news headlines to your screen saver! You select the web sites you want to subscribe to, and breaking news and site update notices are delivered right to you.

Server Side
WhatsUp Network Monitor (Win NT, Free Trial)
Monitors anything with an IP address, from routers, hubs and networks to email and web servers. Provides a graphical display of monitored components with bells and whistles when anything falls over, plus remote notification via alpha-numeric pager, digital beeper, and/or email.

Telephony
VocalTec Internet Phone (Win 95 + NT, Free Trial)
IPhone lets you use your regular phone routed through your PC to connect to other Iphone users world-wide over an Internet connection.  The result? Talk long-distance to your heart's content for the cost of a local call. Supports conference calling, voice calls, and video conferencing as well.

Utilities
Tweak UI (Win95 + NT, Free)
Change the icons on your desktop, get rid of that annoying Network Neighborhood, institute truly paranoid security settings, and generally regain control of your Windows 95 PC from your Control Panel. Part of Microsoft's Power Toys suite, which has other advanced toys, too.

WS_FTP LE (Win95 + NT, Free)
This FTP client has a clean interface with lovely windows drag-and-drop functionality.   Free to non-commercial home users, students, and faculty.

Check Out...
CS&S Home Page
Every month, Cool Sites & Software reviews new software or shows you great places to go on the 'net. Visit for the latest.

Top Ten
LEO's picks for the best places to check out cool sites & software.

Library
Read past articles from the Cool Sites & Software forum.


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