We found two programs that recover lost files to perfection, or something very close to it:

– Undelete 4.0, from Executive Software (www.executive.com), does exactly that for Windows PCs.

The program replaces Windows’ “”recycle bin”” with its own “”recovery bin.”” Here it deposits every

version of every document you’ve worked on in Microsoft Office. Every time you save there’s a copy of that version in the recovery bin. If you later think you liked an earlier saved version of a PowerPoint presentation better than the one you have now, just go back and get it.

Undelete will recover any file, not just text. It did fine recovering deleted pictures or sound files as well as spreadsheets and text. You can create a separate recovery bin for each drive, and you can conserve disk space by setting limits on the number of versions of any file that can be saved. When you finally do delete the files, the program lets you “”shred”” the data, so no one else can recover it.

Undelete Home Edition lists for $30; Undelete Professional Edition is $40 (all prices US)and requires Windows XP Professional or higher. The server version (for networks) costs $300.

The program worked beautifully except for one feature: When you first install it a message pops up offering to immediately recover any files you may have recently deleted. That was a nice offer, but we couldn’t find all the files we had deleted.

– At www.download.com we found VirtualLab Recovery 4.8.1. Despite its unwieldy title and $100 price tag, it drew user accounts normally reserved for deeply moving experiences.

We downloaded the free trial version and right off the bat it was able to read all the files contained on an external drive that was locked, supposedly with no access. That was a good sign, but nothing compared to the ringing testimony of a user who had reformatted a friend’s disk drive, inadvertently destroying her data files, but recovered all with his new VirtualLab disk. Attempts with other, similar products had failed. His advice: Don’t go cheap.

The initial price of the program does not limit your cost. You have to pay an additional fee for each megabyte of data recovered in each recovery session. There is a built-in “”chat”” feature that you can work with as you recover lost files, and a technician at the other end of the chat line helps you through the recovery process. How much data and how long this takes determines the cost. In practice, an extensive recovery might cost around $150. But as they say in the custom car shop: Do it right and don’t go cheap.

Unlike Undelete, VirtualLab works with all Windows file systems and Macintosh OS 9 and above. It can rescue data from any drive, including the flash drives of digital camera cards. The free trial version of the program will recover up to half a megabyte with no charge to the user. Lots more info at www.binarybiz.com.

READ ME A STORY

Programs that can read whatever text is on the screen have been around for 30 years. Most of them work pretty well, but you usually have to be content with a robotic reading voice.

If you go to www.download.com you can find lots of these programs by typing “”text aloud”” in the search box. As it happens, TextAloud is also the name of one of the best programs. Another we liked was Speakonia, which sounds like a mock European country, and it happens to be populated by robots. Speakonia is free from www.cfs-technologies.com.

TextAloud is free to try, $30 to buy, at www.nextup.com. You can record the reading voice as a WAV or MP3 file and listen to it later on your CD or MP3 player. The reading voice can be changed in pitch, volume (down to a whisper) and speed.

AT&T, which used to be the phone company, has something called Natural Voices (also available from www.nextup.com), which can be added to some of the text-reading programs. The voices cost $35 each and we tried several, finding they did indeed sound natural. These voices are much easier to listen to than computer-generated robotic voices and as a consequence it’s easier to pay attention.

Note: Because you can get newspapers and magazines online, these reading programs can be very useful for catching up on information without having to sit in front of a computer screen. Ecola (www.ecola.com) is one of the great Web sites, with links to an enormous selection of newspapers and magazines from all over the world.

THROW OUT THE CLONES

No Clones finds duplicate files. You can search by file name, content or partially matched text. You can examine each case or set the program to automatically delete the older matching files or move them to a folder for checking later. A preview window lets you see what you’re about to delete; this is especially handy for photos.

No Clones is free to try, $27 to buy, from www.noclone.net. We tried it and we liked it.

BOOKS

“”Fun With Photoshop Elements 3, Foto-Fakery for Everyone”” by Rhoda Grossman; $25 from Sams Publishing (www.samspublishing.com).

This is one of those books that completely lives up to its title. The author is a cartoonist and shows the reader some entertaining tricks with Adobe’s excellent Photoshop Elements program. The book is lavishly illustrated. If you have the program, you’ll like this book.

Readers can search three years of columns at the “”On Computers”” Web site: www.oncomp.com and can e-mail the Schwabachs at bobschwab(AT)oncomp.com or bobschwab(AT)aol.com.

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