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In my search for software that will handle even the most mundane tasks, I have found one that will read my e-mail to me, read text files that I've written or received, verbalize help files and speak in either an American accent or a British accent.

I can choose whether I want a male voice or a female voice. And I could even order extra modules that would read a variety of foreign languages.

iSpeak, a four-CD set for most versions of Windows, will do all that and more. It will read your e-mail from your laptop as you commute to work. It will verbalize the latest news, books, and text of any length. You choose how fast you want iSpeak to speak to you, and whether you prefer a high-pitched voice or a more phlegmatic pitch. Long documents can be made into MP3 files that you can replay when you need them. It works with e-mail from AOL and Outlook, and if you cut and paste the text from other e-mail services, it will read those, too. In fact, any text that you copy to your clipboard can be made to speak to you. Microsoft Word text files can be dragged to the iSpeak icon, and faster than you can say, "Speak to me," it does just that.

For me, though, iSpeak's most useful feature is having help files from various programs read to me as I try to figure out how to make a program work. You can copy long help files to the clipboard, set playback for any speed, pause or stop playback and repeat any part of the file. A straightforward playback program handles it all. I'm always installing new hardware and software to my PC, and iSpeak eliminates having to juggle printouts of help files as I try to figure something out.

Installation from the three main CDs is easy enough; the fourth CD contains the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Just one thing: Promise me you'll use headphones when you use iSpeak in public. The world doesn't need to hear more personal chatter.

For the four-CD set, send $25, plus $5 for shipping to WashingtonCD, P.O. Box 17356, Long Beach, CA 90807. Or by credit card at or 800-395-7797.)

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