Readers respond to "12 gadgets" column

Frank Hayes looks at the feedback

Indestructible mobile phones and a two-minute warning for email are a reality. A truly smart credit card? Not so much. Recently in this column, I listed a dozen user-level tools I want — and, I suspect, that many users do too. As usual, you readers didn't hesitate to jump in with ideas, suggestions and, in some cases, the products themselves.

I said I want a USB key that unlocks my PC and handles all security. Sure, I know RSA, Aladdin and other vendors have had versions of this for years, but I want it to be simpler, more complete and more transparent. "What a bad idea," one reader replied. "Anyone remember those stupid dongles that were required to run certain software, that users always used to lose?"

Others disagreed. "A smart card driver's licence reliably saying who I am that could be used both at home and at work by dropping it into a reader built into a keyboard or laptop would be nice, but I'd be happy with a USB key, especially if it could sign email," one said.

Said another, "What if I lose or don't have my token? Seems people always want a back door that would become the new weak link, negating a lot of the built-in security. But what happens when you lose your car key? You don't drive. As a result, you keep good track of your keys, as you should your USB token."

How about an email filter that blacklists foreign characters, so it could filter out Russian spam? "A tool does exist that deletes based on languages — Symantec Mail Security for SMTP," a reader told me. "We don't utilise the feature, so I cannot comment on its effectiveness."

It turns out Microsoft Outlook already has another thing I want: the ability to set an automatic delay before an email is sent. "I did set up a rule in Outlook 2007 that did this, no problem," said a reader. "However, it then forgot to automatically spell check. I deleted the rule. I'd rather look like a hothead that can spell."

I asked for a usable virtual screen and full-size, full-stroke keyboard for laptops. A few readers suggested LCD glasses that connect via VGA, but they had no help on a really good mobile keyboard.

I also asked for personal version control for documents. And automatic background local backup. And one-click cleanup that returns a hard disk to a known state. And un­delete that really works.

A pair of readers claimed, respectively, that Leopard and Vista have exactly what I want. Another said he thought Open­Office already has the document management features I'm looking for.

Yet another reader suggested the beta of Windows Home Server for automatic backups, and Norton Ghost for both backups and one-click cleanup at home. "At work, we use Deep Freeze from Faronics," he wrote. "It might not be as useful, though, as it resets the hard drive to a known state every time you reboot."

I want voice recognition that halts a mistaken PC process when I scream "Stop!". One reader noted "Voice recognition is completely useless — learn to touch type." Oh, I can type just fine. But which key saves me from that massive delete I just launched?

What about a credit card smart enough to remember my travel expenses as soon as I need them? Countered a reader, "How about the credit card companies integrate with banks a little better? I can currently get my details, but it's delayed three to four days. I would like it to be immediate."

And a waterproof, virtually indestructible mobile phone? Your consensus was a military-grade, ruggedised phone like the Casio G'zOne. "I bought one for my Dad, and he loves it," a reader said.

But others told stories of more conventional phones that survived dunkings in ice water and even beer. And one proposed a different approach: "I'd be happy to settle for a washing machine that would detect and prevent starting when a cellphone was accidentally placed inside."

Hey, if you never ask, you'll never get it.

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