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Q: I have 1,300 music CDs, a computer with Windows XP and an external storage device that can store 250 gigs of memory. My CDs are set up in an Excel database. My goal is to play CDs in Windows Media Player by selecting an item from the incorporated database. How can I integrate the database into Windows Media Player?


A: I think your quest is fascinating, and while pursuing it I found free software from Microsoft called PowerToys for Media Player that comes mighty close to a near perfect answer.

This software, written by Microsoft for hobbyists, makes quick work of exporting Media Player playlists into extremely useful Excel spreadsheets. All the data that is imported when the CD is recorded (or ripped) into a computer gets displayed under column headings, and each tune is described in succeeding rows of the spreadsheet.

When you start that project to record your huge stack of CDs into computer files, you'll feed them into the CD player one by one. The Media Player first reaches out to an Internet database that includes information about each CD, such as album title, artist, song name, playing time, file size, genre and several other bits of data.

Music lovers enjoy these spreadsheet databases because they let owners sort their collections in various ways, such as artist name, playing time, etc. So when you have fed the last of those CDs into the computer, you can download the PowerToy that automatically exports the Media Player data into an Excel spreadsheet.

Excel users can then use copy and paste tools to add any special data -- like estimated monetary value of each album -- from earlier spreadsheets.

This is a great thing to have, but it's not what you want: to be able to fire up Excel and play tunes by clicking on them in their individual cells. With the export to the Excel PowerToy, users still must use the Media Player software to seek out tunes to click and play.

Here's where to download the software:

Unloading e-mail to a file

Q: We have a lot of America Online e-mail saved on our computer. We want to unload that e-mail to a file so that we can access it after we stop subscribing to AOL. Can you suggest a technique or product that will enable us to do that? We use AOL 9.0.

-- Jim Inns

A: After more than a decade of leaving its users unable to transfer their e-mail from its proprietary software, AOL switched gears a few months ago.

America Online now lets its customers read and send AOL e-mail using software like Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express and Eudora. For example, in Outlook you just click on Tools and E-mail Accounts and then set up an AOL account using IMAP, or Internet Message Access Protocol. AOL customers can get detailed instructions for making the switches by using the keyword Microsoft Outlook. Type Control K to call up the search box.

You may need to move your saved mail into different folders on AOL before you can use the software to retrieve archived messages, but this is a simple matter of dragging and dropping notes.

To drag and drop large numbers of messages, select the first one and then scroll down to the last one and then hold down the Shift key and click on it.

Contact Jim Coates via e-mail at

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