Download This: Tame devilish data

Are you missing some files? Stuck with more data than you can handle? Either extreme can make you break out in a cold sweat. This month, PC World covers two programs to keep your body temperature at a happy medium: a sharp synchronization tool and a tree-mapping program that makes sense of spreadsheets. Each is free for individuals or nonprofit organizations; more-powerful paid versions are available for businesses.

Sync Your Data--or It's Sunk

That cute little USB drive can't protect your files unless you actually put them there--and a synchronization program does that job faster and more thoroughly than dragging and dropping does. GoodSync is an attractive, easy-to-use utility for synchronizing files and folders--and if you synchronize a small number of files each month, the free version may meet your needs.

GoodSync's profile window shows the two folders or drives you choose to check against one another. When you click Analyze, GoodSync displays the contents of each folder with each file lined up across from its counterpart as neatly as contra dancers. New files are flagged in red; an arrow between two versions of the same file points toward the older one, which is presumed to need updating. You select a radio button to choose which file to update, or decline to change either. Clicking Synchronize starts the process.

I found GoodSync to be very easy to use with a portable USB drive. Vendor Siber Systems states that the program works with different forms of storage, such as flash drives and Zip drives, and it can also synchronize two computers over a network.

GoodSync uses a proprietary synchronization algorithm that doesn't rely on the PC's file system; Siber Systems says this enables GoodSync to identify the newest data even when a computer clock or file system isn't working properly.

GoodSync and its US$20 sibling, GoodSync Pro, work exactly the same way, but the free version restricts the number of file syncs to 20,000 per month. GoodSync offers free technical support through e-mail and online help tickets for both versions; GoodSync Pro adds toll-free telephone support.

Explore Your Data

Given time, you can coax all kinds of information out of a spreadsheet. Time is precious, though; you might wish for a faster and easier way. Panopticon Explorer .NET Learning Edition gives you a new window on your data. This tree-mapping application creates easy-to-understand graphical representations of data drawn from a spreadsheet, database, file system, or other source.

When you start Panopticon Explorer, shortcuts on the left-hand side of the screen lead to familiar locations on your PC, such as My Pictures. I tried My Documents first (see the screen shot). Panopticon Explorer displayed all the files in the folder as rectangles, assigning a different color to each file extension. The software conveys relative file size in an intuitive way: The largest file gets the biggest rectangle; smaller files appear as smaller rectangles, all to scale. The smallest ones can be tiny--in some cases, too small to bring up the file name--but mousing over a rectangle brings up the name as well as other information.

Panopticon Explorer really shines when you drag a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet into the program's main window. The program lists the column headers and first-row categories from the workbook page, letting you assign sizes and colors to the ones you want to analyze (this is done in the Visual Dimensions pane to the right of the application window).

Panopticon Explorer then presents the data according to your preferences. For example, a business owner could choose to view revenues by product, with the biggest money-maker as the biggest rectangle. Panopticon Explorer uses size to show one important attribute, such as revenue, and uses color to display a second attribute of your choosing--product price, for example.

The darker an item's color, the stronger it is in that attribute; for example, if you assigned red to sales figures, bright red would show higher sales than pale pink. It's a much faster way of making sense of the bottom line than reading a spreadsheet--or even reading this column.

Panopticon Explorer .NET Learning Edition is free for individuals and nonprofits. Business users must upgrade to other Panopticon products; see the company's Web site to find out which one best suits your business or institution.

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Laura Blackwell

PC World
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