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Clicks: Software Reviews

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Friends through the years

DEAR AMERICA: FRIEND TO FRIEND
Maker: Knowledge Adventure
Rating: Four stars
System: Windows 95 or later/Macintosh
System requirements: Pentium 133 MHz or higher, 32MB RAM, 30MB free space for PC; Power PC 120 MHz, System 8.0 or higher, 32MB RAM, 30MB free space for Mac
Suggested price: $19.99
More information: 1-800-542-4240; www.KnowledgeAdventure.com

When girls open Dear America, a program based on the popular Scholastic book series, they won't want to put it down.

The six characters go back as far as Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower. Mem, who's 12, tells all about surviving that harsh winter. There's also Hattie, who traveled the Oregon trail; Zippy, a Jewish immigrant from the turn of the century; Abby from Revolutionary times; Clotee, a slave girl, and proper Margaret, a British orphan longing to be with her brother in Boston.

But it's not just the characters who make this work strong. It also is the clever ways girls get to interact with the characters in the software, taking youngsters way beyond the pages of the books. Girls will have the feeling they really know these characters and will form a circle of friends by game's end.

Using the diary as communicator, players can interact with different characters. A segment of the diary invites a visit from each girl. For example, a girl with writer's block selects Mem to brainstorm with her before she enters thoughts in her diary. Mem may ask her to write about how she would endure the hardships of the Mayflower. Or Clotee may ask her to name her favorite color. Select blue, and Clotee suggests that the player write about how the color blue reminds her of a summer day. What a clever way to nurture the creative writing process and learn history, too!

When girls tire of the writing exercises, they can turn to the software's Secret Self Activities area, a kind of games place where they can enjoy refreshingly different amusements. For example, they can play Picture It, where they choose from among icons of various sports and determine the one they see themselves playing.

Aesthetically, the program is dreamy. It opens with a sepia-tone animated vignette of a Revolutionary girl, possibly Hattie, writing with her quill pen about soldiers leaving for war. From there, girls go to the circle of friends for a brief introduction to each character. Once a character is chosen, an antique diary appears, tabbed and ready to be opened.

Finally, the program is linked to a free site – accessible only by password – so Dear America members can exchange ideas and journal entries with other girls using the program. This program, recommended for ages 8 to 12, is a model study in girls' software and will win gold stars from parents and classroom teachers.

Jean Nash Johnson is a Dallas Morning News staff writer.


Screen stealer

SILVER SCREEN V1.6
Maker: PocketSensei
Rating: Three and 1/2 stars
System: PalmOS
System requirements: PalmOS v3.0 or higher, 100KB of memory
Suggested price: $12.95
More information: www.pocketsensei.com

Movie directors control the camera angles on the silver screen. In Silver Screen v1.6, you are Mr. Spielberg and you have the ability to control and modify the appearance of your handheld interface.

You can now do a little cosmetic surgery by changing the icons and themes to jazz it up. Its Pop-up Toolbox makes it easy to change settings and themes. Additional themes and icons are available free at the company Web site. Open up the toolbox and just drag and drop an application into it to view all of the application's basic information, beam it to another palmtop, recategorize it or delete it. The delete screen is a superstar because it displays all databases associated with an application instead of only the application.

Silver Screen has "My Picks," a useful drop-down list of your favorite or most frequently used applications. Another shortcut are the two hot spots, or buttons, in the toolbox that you can configure to launch a specific application or even shut down the device.

I have one pan – loading the program slowed down everything even though my handheld organizer had plenty of memory. It's mostly an intuitive program, although I had trouble figuring out some of its features even after reading the help file. New users may struggle with this program, but those who are comfortable with the palmtop and wish to add a little chic should preview Silver Screen. I give it two thumbs up.

Meryl Kaplan Evans is a process analyst and Web design consultant/educator in Plano.

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