Software, games, cd-roms: Picture this: a musical photo album or your very own international space station

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Presto PhotoAlbum

NewSoft, pounds 19.95

This easy-to-use Windows 95 program is almost ideal for keeping children occupied for an hour or so. Using supplied pictures, or scans of your own, you design and fill an album using special frames and page backgrounds to show off the artwork. Text and captions can be placed on the page, and midi files set up to provide background music. The idea is that you can distribute the finished album or slide show as a file on disk complete with the software to play it or via the Internet. However, if the Net option is of interest, you might be better off using a Web page design package. The exported photo album would not load into my security conscious version (3.02) of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, although Netscape 2.02 had no problems with it.

Redneck Rampage

Interplay, pounds 49.99

"By Rednecks, fer Rednecks", it says here. If you like Doom overlaid with more good ol' boy Southern stereotypes than you can shake a shotgun at, this could be for you. Shoot scrawny hicks and their hefty cousins before they blast you, swing a crowbar at them when you're out of ammo, lob dynamite. Drink beer and moonshine until you can't see to shoot straight. Eat pork scratchings and suffer the gastric consequences as you sober up. Take pot shots at the farm animals and giant mosquitoes. Puzzle - but not too much - over how come there are alien babes out to do you harm. It's standard Doom-style action but insanely resource hungry: although it will play on a Pentium 90 with 16Mb of RAM, a P133 with 32Mb RAM and 150Mb free hard disk space is recommended. Some of the stomping rock-a- billy soundtracks courtesy of Mojo Nixon will probably have longer lasting appeal than the game and its sense of humour.

Music Machine

PNE, pounds 15.99

Aspirations to being a DJ can be enhanced or cruelly dashed in this virtual studio. As a way of creating unique dance music, it's intuitive and hassle free. The adventurous can record their own audio samples and use the arrangement room and mixing desk to produce their own crafted tracks. The more cautious can take an existing track and edit it into something brand new. On the disk are 54 tracks covering 20 dance styles from Ambient through Gabba to Jazz/Fusion and Trance as well as 1,200 samples to play around with. Mixing and editing are simple point and click affairs, but with enough parameters to ensure that creativity is not channelled too narrowly. The finished tracks can be saved on disk or through the sound card to a tape recorder. Music Machine is compatible with most major sound cards (not 8-bit) and most flavours of Windows.

Space Station Simulator

Maris Multimedia, pounds 49.99

Bored with Mir and too impatient to wait for a new space station to come online next century? This slick software will help you bridge the gap by allowing you to build your own version of the International Space Station. Starting out with the basic module you can pick and choose from American, European, Japanese and Russian technology to construct an operational station. The controls for building and managing the system and walking around it (internally as well as on a space walk) are simple, but the depth of available information is staggering. If you can master the technicalities, you probably could make your own real space station. To keep abreast of developments, there are Internet links to international space agencies where you can update the supplied technical data and drawings.

Presto PageManager Suite

NewSoft, pounds 89

A suite of integrated scanning programs which can use be used to scan, sort and organise paperwork ranging from photographs and business cards to assorted forms might sound like a good investment, especially if it is linked with fax and e-mail facilities. But, leaving aside the question of whether business cards are better filed in the bin, if you have a scanner you will almost certainly have software bundled with it that does all that this suite can, and do it just as well. In particular, if you have Photoshop or Corel Photo-Paint (even the Lite versions) you won't stop using them for a less featured and much slower image editor. The option to scan directly into word processors is neat, but only if you are using Word 2 or 6 - it does not work with other versions. Inability to access the desktop and lack of support for long file names in Windows 95 are serious drawbacks. On the other hand its optical character recognition is superb. Scanning a 680-word article clipped from Network+ using default settings resulted not in the hieroglyphics my usual OCR software manages but in a file with only 10 wrong characters, five spaces missed between words and three extraneous spaces.

Presto Multimedia Suite

NewSoft, pounds 59

Two parts of PageManager resurface in this suite. The scanning engine is the same and so is Kai's Power Goo - an interesting special-effects piece of software that lets you stretch, smear, smudge and generally twist images before saving them as bitmaps or animation files. There is a more fully featured image editing package than in PageManager, but it is still painfully slow when manipulating true-colour images. A functional media player that duplicates most of the software bundled as part of Windows 95 or with standard video and sound cards is included. Several hundred clips of stills, video and sound are fun as is VideoWorks, a basic audio/video capture, editing and playback module which can be used with existing video files or a video camera and extra hardware.

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