K-C-P.com Product Reviews

By: K-c-p.com  09-12-2011
Keywords: Windows, Pencil, Sudoku

  • Review © 2006 K-C-P.com and Karl Strieby

Warning..Addictive!

A few years ago, my wife started enjoying solving the Sudoku puzzles that started appearing in our local daily newspaper. Intrigued by her new-found interest, I took one look at the tasks involved in solving one of these things, and concluded that there must be a better way than paper and pencil.

Well <duh!> of course there is! No surprises here, but it's a computer program. The one I'm writing about here is for Windows 9x/NT/XP, but there are many other variants available. Competing Sudoko programs exist for Linux, OS-X, Palm-OS, Windows CE, etc. (I haven't seen an OS/2 version yet, but somehow that does not surprise me..)

Here's a screenshot of Pappocom Sudoku:

  • Did I warn you that this thing is addictive yet? OK, just checking..

If you want to spend your free time doing things like washing your car, doing yard work, or watching back episodes of 24 or Sex in the City, do not buy this program.

But if you like getting mental exercise, Sudoku will make you flex your brain like few other types of puzzles can. Without spoiling the experience for you, I'll just mention a few of the features of the Pappocom Sudoku program that I like:

  • It can generate a nearly infinite number of Sudoku puzzles for you to solve. You can make it generate as many new Very Easy to Very Difficult puzzles as you want.
  • You can enter "pencil marks" to show where numbers might go with a right click, and use a left click to show where you think a number does go. (This feature alone beats the heck out of pencil and paper.)
  • You can customize the program's behaviour. By default, it will warn you if you enter a “wrong” number somewhere. But you can turn that off as you gain confidence and experience in Soduku-solving.
  • You can also "dub" puzzles that you find in your local newspaper, or in a huge variety of other sources. (Last time I was in a big box book store, there were dozens of volumes of Sudoku puzzle books available. Online retailer Amazon.ca has fifty or so such volumes..)

I'm leaving lots of nifty program features out here, but the above are my favourites.

So, should you spend $14.95 for a computer program that will build a nearly infinite number of new puzzles for you to solve, or should you buy “dead tree” puzzles that you use pencil and paper (how quaint!) to solve? Seems like a no-brainer to me..but then I'm a long-time techie and a Sudoku newbie.

Some of my wife's younger work colleagues sneer at people who make “pencil marks” on their Sudoku puzzles..they say they just remember where numbers can or can not go, and write their solutions in ink. Okay..fine, be that way!

People like that also think it is “cheating” to use software tools like Dreamweaver or TopStyle Pro to help one develop web pages and CSS stylesheets, when a simple text editor and raw brain power will suffice.

  • To such people, I humbly suggest that I might have better uses for my brain power than to force myself to memorize transient and trivial information!
  • In simpler words, Get a Life (geeze!) <grin>

I have to admit, though, that Pappocom Sudoku has been a mixed blessing here. It may have motivated my wife to learn some useful computer skills, but it has also made me waste hours that I might have otherwise put to more productive uses.

  • Have I warned you adequately that Sudoku can be addictive?
  • OK, cool, that is no longer my problem, but yours! <grin>
  • Review © 2005 K-C-P.com and Karl Strieby

Do you have one or more laptop or desktop computers on your LAN? Have you ever wished you could do the following things with them?

  • Display your Windows desktop across more than one screen?
  • Remote-control another computer on your network with your keyboard and mouse?

I first heard about MaxiVista in an online web designer's forum that I frequent. Early last summer, one of that forum's participants had been gushing about how cool his new dual-monitor setup is to work on.

This became a topic of banter among forum members for several weeks. Then another member piped up that he's been running multi-display for a long time, just using his laptop display as an extension of his main machine's desktop, using MaxiVista.

Hmm..

Intrigued, I followed the link in the forum post to MaxiVista's home page, and downloaded the free demo version. About fifteen minutes later, I had my desktop system running its desktop extended onto the displays of two laptops: a three-year old Windows XP Home box, and a seven-year-old Windows 98 box.

Ten of the fifteen minutes this task took was finding the closet where I had stored that old Win98 boat anchor three years ago..

Demo results

After a few minutes of playing with the setup you see in the picture at right, I decided I had to have MaxiVista.

For a web designer (or any other "power user" for that matter), this is one sweet setup!

In the photo, you are seeing TopStyle Pro on the left laptop display, Dreamweaver on the desktop display, and Firefox on the right laptop display, all controlled from my desktop PC. The water bottle and Microsoft Digital Media Pro keyboard you see are not included with MaxiVista.

Make a change to the style sheet (left) or the html (middle), save both, and the results of the code changes are instantly obvious. No more constant use of ALT+Tab -- just glance at the other screen. Way cool..

How does it work?

My local area network connects the MaxiVista "client" systems (the laptops) to the MaxiVista "server" (my desktop pc), and lets me use them in two different ways:

  • In the extended desktop mode, the MaxiVista "server" runs a virtual display device driver that changes a single monitor setup to a multiple monitor setup. (The screen shot shows my main system's display properties while MaxiVista is running.)
  • In the other MaxiVista server mode, the laptops become remote-controlable computers for running programs installed on their hard drives.

The first mode is great when you want to run three different programs, and see them all at once without having to hit ALT+Tab all the time.

The second mode is useful when the main machine is tied up burning a dvd or some other task that requires its full attention, and you want to get other work done while that happens.

One small "gotcha"

MaxiVista does not like firewalls. Initially, I had to disable ZoneAlarm Pro on both my desktop and XP laptop systems before it would work at all. No real surprise there.

I say "(sort of) solved" because I still can't just fire up my two laptops and connect to them with MaxiVista without first disabling ZoneAlarm on my main system. Once the connection to my laptops is working, I can restart ZoneAlarm on my main system, and MaxiVista just keeps on working.

Now here's the weird part: my newer XP Home laptop also runs ZoneAlarm Pro (yes, that's a paid for second license of ZAP). It allows incoming MaxiVista connections from my "server" to its "client" with no issues. The issue must be with my "server" ZAP configuration, because I can not connect with MaxiVista on either laptop (even the old old "bare bones" Win98 box) until I disable ZAP.

  • Neither ZoneAlarm nor MaxiVista tech support folks have replied to my e-mails asking for clarification on how to get this all to work 100% painlessly.

I guess I am getting used to this kind of thundering tech support silence nowadays. Tech support for so many products from so many companies just plain sucks today. Don't get me started on that topic..please!

K-C-P.com rating for MaxiVista v2 Professional

 Four and a half out of five.

  • MaxiVista v2 - Professional Edition costs approximately $60 (Canadian).
  • Not meaning to overstate the obvious, but $60 is a lot cheaper than buying additional monitor(s) and a multi-display-capable graphics controller. Heck, I'm not even sure you can get a good KVM switch for that kind of money.
The information in this article was current at 06 Dec 2011

Keywords: Pencil, Sudoku, Sudoku Puzzles, Windows,

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