March 2003

Cyber News and Reviews is a monthly column published for parents, teachers & business owners featuring kids educational software reviews, business software reviews (small business & home business), games and entertainment articles, a free resource since 1995.


The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Game from Vivendi Universal Games, TurboTax Deluxe from Intuit and Smart Tools for QuickBooks Pro from Ballantine & Company, reviewed by Howard Berenbon

The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Game from Vivendi Universal Games

If you're a fan of The Lord of The Rings fantasy Trilogy by J.RR. Tolkien, you'll love this new PC adventure game of the same name from Vivendi International Games (developer: Surreal; publisher: Black Label Games).   You'll enter the surrealistic world of Middle-earth and meet the loveable fictional characters once only alive in the minds of fans of this classic, epic, fantasy adventure first published in 1954 (books 1 and 2) and 1955 (book 3).  It's everything you could have asked for including great graphics, great sound effects and great game play.

Installation takes about 5 minutes from 2 CDs included.  Your computer must have DirectX 8 or higher installed and supported by your graphics card.  Once installed, the graphics will astound you as you are transported into the world of the Hobbits. 

For people who have longed to visit the fictional Bag End and roam the city, this is your moment.  You will relive what you've read and it's phenomenal.   It's as exciting as our first visit to Bag End when the movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, was released in December of 2001. Peter Jackson's brilliant direction allowed us to follow Gandalf through the town of Hobbiton, previously only fixed in our imagination.  What a great gift we now have in the movies and the video game.

The game follows the direction of the book: your goal is to assist Frodo Baggins, Aragorn (Strider) and Gandalf the wizard in their journey to destroy the "one ring" and save Middle-earth from the rule of Sauron.  You'll start in the Shire as the character Frodo and then alternate from the perspective of Aragorn and Gandalf along the way.  You'll collect objects, solve puzzles, fight foes and even help heal Gandalf while you explore the fictional world of the Hobbits and advance toward Mordor and Mount Doom.  If you are a true fan of The Lord of the Rings, this is a must-have video game, and you won't regret the purchase, especially at only $9.99 after rebate.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring sells for  $9.99 (after a $20 mail in rebate) and will run on any multimedia PC, Pentium III 600 MHz or faster processor, 32 MB RAM with Windows 98/ME/2000/XP and an 8x CD-ROM drive.  DirectX 8 and compliant video card required. 

TurboTax Deluxe from Intuit, Inc.

If you need help with your federal, state and local tax preparation, then you should consider using Intuit's TurboTax for your year 2002 taxes.   This is a great product that will do most of the work, including printing your completed forms, while it figures out the best possible way for you to file your taxes.  .

If you haven't used a tax preparation program, you should.  It's a real time saver, especially if you made a few errors or forgot to enter some important tax data.  With TurboTax, you just correct the mistake on your computer, or add misplaced tax information and reprint.  If you're doing your taxes with paper and pen, you most likely will need to redo several forms to correct even a single error.  Any mistake on a tax return takes time to correct.  Not so using TurboTax.  You can correct, change and recalculate your taxes too your heart's content, and then print when you're ready.  It even allows you to file your return electronically.  And if you can't find time to complete your forms by April 15, it lets you file an extension.  For those of you who find mistakes in your return after filing, TurboTax will help you file that important amended return.

During the installation (from a single CD) you must activate TurboTax either via the Internet or by phone.  The activation process also allows you to register (and enter a contest to win $5,000).  Also, depending on the version of TurboTax you use, you may need to purchase an additional data CD for your state and local taxes.  The state data was not available in the version I evaluated, but may be purchased on CD or downloaded for $29.95.

Once TurboTax is installed, you'll begin the process of entering all your personal information.  This may seem tedious at first, but once completed, you're set for future tax years, unless you move or change your filing status. Next year you'll just transfer the data into your 2003 TurboTax and it's a breeze.  Even for 2002, it will save you tons of time typing your name and social security numbers on all the required forms.

Next you'll start entering your income information and go line by line through the required forms.  TurboTax will guide you every step of the way with questions and possibilities.  You choose what's best for your tax situation, but it's not written in stone because anything in your return may be modified or changed. You can stop anytime, "save as" to a different filename for backup (it automatically saves the file you're working on) and startup again later either from where you left off or at the beginning, but with all your data entered so far.

If you need help, it's just a click away either from the TurboTax explanations or through the Federal publications included on your CD.  And it has a very good search feature.  I had a few questions while entering some capital gains data and used both TurboTax help and the Federal publications.  However, I knew if I made a mistake, no big deal, because I could go back and correct it.  Also, if you're not sure what data goes where from certain forms (1099 or whatever) you can enter, add or modify the data later.  You can even makes changes directly to the tax forms.

Some of the forms you'll enter line by line and others TurboTax will ask for information and then pick and fill them from your answers. As you progress you can see a running tally of what you may owe.  This will obviously change as you head toward the finish. You also have the option to view the forms as they'll appear printed, including the work sheets TurboTax uses to determine what goes where and what forms to use.

Besides saving you typing or writing time and having forms print right from TurboTax, another plus is that you can do taxes for your friends or family members using your version of TurboTax.  Just start new form from the Files menu.  However, the software license does not allow you to charge for figuring taxes for others.

One criticism, which is minor, but worth mentioning, is the inability to print from a second copy of TurboTax installed on another computer. You are only allowed to print from the original computer installation, which can be an inconvenient for people who install the software on their laptop to work on at work, and then transfer to their desktop to print at home. You can install TurboTax on another computer, but if you want to print, you can't.

TurboTax Deluxe sells for  $29.99 (after a $10 mail-in rebate) and will run on any multimedia PC, Pentium 200 MHz or faster processor, 32 MB RAM with Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP/NT 4.0 and a 4x CD-ROM drive.

Smart Tools for QuickBooks Pro from Ballantine & Company, Inc.

If you use QuickBooks Pro for your small business and want to expand its capabilities then consider adding Smart Tools from Ballantine & Company to your list of useful business utilities.  The Smart Tools package, supplied on a single CD, includes two separate programs:  Smart Tools Project Manager (single PC user-$249) and Smart Tools Contact Manager (single PC user-$159), allowing exchange of data with QuickBooks Pro.

After quick installation from a single CD, you'll find that the two tools are separate programs running independently from QuickBooks Pro, but can use and modify files created by Intuit's excellent small business accounting software.  Simply put, Smart Tools makes QuickBooks Pro more versatile.

Smart Tools Project Manager

Similar to QuickBooks Pro, the Project Manager uses a worksheet where all project information is entered.  And files may be transferred between Smart Tools and QuickBooks Pro.  Features allow creating estimates and transferring to the QuickBooks estimate producer, directly access and update the QuickBooks item list and even add new projects in QuickBooks Pro.  You can also easily create presentation-quality Gantt charts from your project data.

Smart Tools Contact Manager

The Contact Manager allows you to create faxes, memos, e-mails, letters, mailing labels and more, using QuickBooks Pro data, shared by both programs. 

Howard Berenbon

Software Companies Mentioned

Ballantine & Company, Inc.
PO Box 805
Carlisle, MA 01741-0805
Phone:  1-800-536-6677

Intuit Inc.
2632 Marine Way
Mountain View, CA 94043
Phone: 1-800-446-8848

Vivendi Universal Games, Inc.
4247 S. Minnewawa Ave.
Fresno, CA 93725
Phone:  1-866-341-0879