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SOME OF THE MOST USEFUL PROGRAMS ARE HARDEST TO FIND

Every once in a while we come across a program that doesn't break the piggybank, takes up relatively little disk space and saves a lot of office time. Yet you probably won't find it by browsing in local stores.

Like ZipZapp. ZipZapp alphabetically lists every city and town (even a few with less than a hundred people!) in the U.S. Next to the city's name is its zip code or codes, telephone area code, time zone, and population figure.If you know a place name, area code or zip code, the program quickly shows the rest of the information about that place.

The program doesn't try to be fancy or add extraneous features. But our Windows version helps us speed our office's mail along - and uses less than a meg and a half of space on disk.

ZipZapp also comes in Macintosh and DOS versions. It costs $40 from True Basic Software, whose toll-free number is 800-436-2111.

Are you getting complaints about eye strain from the data processing pool even though they're using fancy multisync monitors and expensive color graphics cards? The problem may be that monitor controls are set for the installer's eyes, not for the users'.

Buy a copy of DisplayMate and circulate it around the office. It can be run from its floppy disk. And if it's used by several users in turn, instead of at once, you're not violating any copyright rules.

DisplayMate walks you through a bunch of onscreen test patterns: flashing type, color wheels, moires, and such. Onscreen instructions tell what to look for in each pattern. Based on what you see, you're given recommendations for fine-tuning your monitor's controls to get the brightness, contrast, display size, color balance, and pixel resolution your eyes like best.

The program doesn't claim to find or suggest the best settings. It leaves that up to the person moving the screen dials. And in our tests, what seemed best after one test series didn't seem best when we ran other tests. Nonetheless, the software did correct gross errors. And since we selected our favorite setting ourselves, any eyestrain we felt afterwards was our own fault, not someone else's.

DisplayMate also finds out and reports on the specifications of the monitor and video card it's testing, including the true screen resolution. For larger companies, there's a Professional version for network managers that tests multiple monitors on the net and prints several kinds of reports.

One test helps detect monitor glare and reflection, and suggests correction with an add-on screen filter. The best filter we've found is Glare/Guard, a sturdy line of tempered glass filters that come with anti-static attachments. Local computer stores stock models at from $110 to $230. They're made by OCLI (800-5456254).

If you buy DisplayMate's Windows version and install it in any subdirectory but the default, don't give it more than an eight-character name.

Someone in our office typed DISPLAYMA, which DOS truncated to DISPLAYM. But the program looked for its files in nonexistent DISPLAYMA.

DisplayMate lists at $149 for Windows or DOS. The Professional version is $249. For more information, phone Sonera Technologies at 800-9326323.