Thursday, April 30, 2009

Windows Seven Transformation Pack for Windows XP

I knew it was coming, it had to. We had no less than half a dozen different Vista transformation packs, didn’t we? Well, the first Windows Seven transformation pack for Windows XP has hit the shelves. No, the Seven Remix XP I wrote about earlier isn’t a transformation pack, it was a visual style. The transformation pack, on the other hand, is a complete pack that will change Windows XP’s icons, explorer windows, taskbar, boot screen and everything to resemble that of Windows Seven… at least partially.

Win7-transformation-pack

It seems that the Windows Seven Transformation Pack 1.0 was made by making minor updates to the Vista Transformation Pack 9.0 by the same developers. Smart guys. After all, there isn’t much difference between the two except the taskbar which became the Superbar, some new sounds schemes, new icons and a few changes here and there.

Win7TP_logon

Actually, you can make some of these changes by using standalone tools. For instance, the previously mentioned ViSplore to get Vista’s or Seven’s explorer. Superbar can be achieved by using another tool called ViGlance without making any other changes to the system. In fact, the Windows Seven Transformation Pack uses this same ViGlance to get the Superbar. Try it. It actually looks pretty good.

viglance

Superbar in Windows XP using ViGlance. OMG!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

DickensURL converts any URL to Charles Dickens’ quotes

URL shortening services are supposed to shorten long winded web addresses into small, easy to share and remember URLs. But not DickensURL. DickensURL is not intended to shorten links, rather it has a weird purpose. It converts URLs into passages from the works of the 19th century novelist Charles Dickens. Just enter the URL, hit Convert, and get a link made out of an inspiring quote from Dickens.

dickensurl

How do people come up with such whacky ideas? It all started with a comment on Reddit. On a certain thread, some users were discussing how computers baffle grownups such as their parents.

reddit-comment

Inspired by the last comment, a user named ‘highwind’ bought the domain and 7 hours later produced DickensURL.com. Brilliant!

highwind says that the his service is currently using only about 50 quotes from Charles Dickens’s novels. You can catch the discussion here, leave comments or submit bug reports.

Here is one sample: http://dickensurl.com/2462/Money_and_goods_are_certainly_the_best_of_references.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

PostBox, a promising new email client

PostBox is a new email client for Windows and Mac with a rich set of features that makes it stand apart from existing email clients. PostBox borrows it’s looks as well as the code from open source Thunderbird, and then adds a slew features on top. The most notable improvements of PostBox over thunderbird are faster search, better message organization, message tagging and integration with online services.

PostBox’s powerful search features enables you to quickly search your messages using various search operators such as "from" or "subject". Postbox is even said to understands search terms such as after "last Monday" or before "June 2008."

postbox

PostBox uses tabs to open messages just like web browsers do, and you will all agree that tabs are the best way to manage multiple open windows. You can open almost anything in a tab, including messages, folders, searches, or content such as attachments and images. Click on the attachment tab to quickly view all attached files or view all images in the image tab.

Another useful feature in PostBox is the conversation view that enables you to view and process messages by conversation. Simply select a summary row in your message list to see a roll-up of all messages within a conversation.

For organizing messages, you can use the traditional approach of using folders to sort messages or just assign tags to them. Using tags is advantageous as you can assign multiple tags to the same message.

Do you love Gmail’s Archive feature? PostBox has one too. Just click on the archive button to move messages into a dedicated Archive folder. You’ll still be able to find those messages using it’s powerful search features.

Postbox can also integrate your email content to the various online services. You can upload images to Picasa or documents to Google Docs without leaving the email client. Select any text from a message and post it on Twitter, Facebook or Friendfeed or make a simple search on Google, Wikipedia and such.

postbox-webservices

PostBox supports both POP3 and IMAP, and automatically configures email account of popular service providers like Gmail, Windows Live, Yahoo and AOL. It also functions as a basic RSS reader.

Update: Postbox now supports addon

Use KVM switches to connect multiple computers to a single display, keyboard and mouse

There could be many reasons why you might want to connect more than one computer to a single monitor:

  1. Your desk space is cramped and doesn’t accommodate more than one monitor.
  2. Your computers are spaced physically wide apart, and working on both of them is difficult because it requires you to move around.
  3. In most cases, working on one monitor is more productive then working on several.
  4. You might not even have a second (or third) monitor, but you have several computer cabinets fully loaded with required hardware.

The last argument is particularly true if you have upgraded your computer. When we upgrade our computers, we usually buy only the hardware that requires upgrade like a new motherboard, processor, memories, and probably a new hard disk. We don’t buy new monitors with every upgrade unless it requires an upgrade too. So your old computer cabinet is probably lying somewhere accumulating dust. Why not plug it in to your existing monitor and use both at the same time?

KVM

KVM Switch (KVM stands for Keyboard, Video or Visual Display Unit, Mouse) is a hardware device which is designed for such purposes. A KVM switch allows you to connect two or more computers to a single display, and input devices, and quickly switch between them with the flip of a switch.

The device has several branches of input ports to connect monitor, keyboard, and mouse cables from multiple machines to the KVM device, and a single set of output ports that connect to the display, keyboard and mouse. The control can be switched from one computer to another by the use of a switch or buttons on the KVM device. Most KVM devices also come with USB and audio connectivity.

You can buy KVM switches from any hardware store or various online shopping sites. A 2-port KVM switch allows you to connect 2 computers while other KVM switches allow you to connect up to 12 different machines.

KVM-ATEN

Here is one: ATEN CS52A: 2-Port Hybrid KVM Switch – comes at a reasonable $37, has a remote controlled switch and other features. It’s a passive device, i.e. no extra power is required to run it, has USB and audio (microphone and speakers) ports and supports Windows, Linux and FreeBSD. You can also checkout several low cost solutions at NewEgg.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Public Fox – User access control in Firefox

Just like a computer with multiple users require restriction and rules on what each user can do on the shared computer, a browser, which is the gateway to the world wide web, requires user access restrictions too.

Public Fox is an addon for Firefox that allows the computer administrator to lock down various areas of the browser on a shared PC. Public Fox password protects the following sections in Firefox:

publicfox

# Lock downloads: Users can’t download files with specified extensions using Firefox, like EXE, BAT and anything that would like to add. You can also add XPI to prevent installation of new addons.

# Lock addons window: Users can’t uninstall addons from Firefox

# Lock Options and about:config.

# Lock History sidebar, Bookmarks addition and Clear Private data option.

# Blacklist certain websites from opening 

Trying to access these areas prompt for a password.

publicfox-password

There are a few issues with this addon though, like the bookmark block didn’t work on my Firefox (version 3.0.1) and one user said that the addon blocking didn’t work in version 3.0.8. Every new update of Firefox is most likely breaking the security restrictions of this addon. Either the developer has to keep up with the fixes or users who want to use this tool will need to downgrade a couple of versions.

Blue Task Manager for Windows XP and Vista

Sick of the green Windows task manager? A change in color will be good for you. How about blue? Yeah, blue it shall be.

So download the specially prepared Blue task manager and replace it with the original file. Easier said than done, because as you know there is something called Windows File Protection (WFP) built into Windows that resists any changes you make to the system files for the greater good and stability of the system. To make the file swapping easier, the download task manager includes a small application called ‘Replacer’.

blue-task-manager

Run Replacer from anywhere on your pc and drag the original file you are going to replace into it’s window and hit yes. It will next ask you to drag the replacement file into it and hit yes. Finally it will ask if you really want to replace the file. Give the green flag and watch the task manager go blue.

TestDisk, a cross platform data recovery software

testdisklogo TestDisk is not the usual kind of data recovery software you come across everyday. It’s lack of a graphical interface and pretty previews of ‘found’ files might shun users away, but those who know better will find that TestDisk is a seriously powerful data recovery tool that is capable of recovering lost data from any partition under any operating system.

TestDisk can help recover lost partitions and make non-booting disks bootable again when these symptoms are caused by faulty software, certain types of viruses or human error such as accidentally deleting a Partition Table. It’s most powerful feature is it’s cross platform support. TestDisk can run under:

  • DOS
  • Windows (NT4, 2000, XP, 2003, Vista)
  • Linux
  • FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD
  • SunOS
  • MacOS

What TestDisk can do?

  • Fix partition table, recover deleted partition
  • Recover FAT32 boot sector from its backup
  • Rebuild FAT12/FAT16/FAT32 boot sector
  • Fix FAT tables
  • Rebuild NTFS boot sector
  • Recover NTFS boot sector from its backup
  • Fix MFT using MFT mirror
  • Locate ext2/ext3 Backup SuperBlock
  • Undelete files from FAT, NTFS and ext2 filesystem
  • Copy files from deleted FAT, NTFS and ext2/ext3 partitions.

TestDisk can find lost partitions for all of these file systems

  • BeFS ( BeOS )
  • BSD disklabel ( FreeBSD/OpenBSD/NetBSD )
  • CramFS, Compressed File System
  • DOS/Windows FAT12, FAT16 and FAT32
  • Windows exFAT
  • HFS, HFS+ and HFSX, Hierarchical File System
  • JFS, IBM's Journaled File System
  • Linux ext2 and ext3
  • Linux LUKS encrypted partition
  • Linux RAID md 0.9/1.0/1.1/1.2 (RAID 1,4,5,6)
  • Linux Swap (versions 1 and 2)
  • LVM and LVM2, Linux Logical Volume Manager
  • Mac partition map
  • Novell Storage Services NSS
  • NTFS ( Windows NT/2000/XP/2003/Vista/2008 )
  • ReiserFS 3.5, 3.6 and 4
  • Sun Solaris i386 disklabel
  • Unix File System UFS and UFS2 (Sun/BSD/...)
  • XFS, SGI's Journaled File System

Did it miss anything? I guess not. And if it did, just ask them to include support or help yourself because it’s open source.

testdisk

As I mentioned, TestDisk doesn’t have a GUI, it’s all command line based. But you don’t have to type commands. Simply select the various options using the arrow keys and press Enter to execute them. So yes, it does have an interface, it’s just not graphical.

Unlike most other data recovery tools, you can’t preview the files recovered or selectively recover files. It will extract all files recovered and save it in a directory. TestDisk comes bundled with another tool called Photorec which is essentially the same tool but designed to recover only images. So if you want to recover only image files, you will use Photorec and not TestDisk and save time.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

RunMe, a useful, good looking application launcher

Applications launchers are a dime a dozen. We have covered a number of these in the past (Appetizer, AcceleRun, Launchy, Orbit, Toolbox, ScreenTabs, Free Launch Bar). RunMe is another very sleek application launchers that looks a bit like the Windows Start Menu.

RunMe docks to the sides of the screen and pops open on mouse hover. You can place it on any edge of the screen and drag it to your preferred location. Shortcuts can be added to RunMe by simple drag and drop and their positions re-ordered by dragging them around while pressing the Shift key. You can also drag them out of the launcher while pressing Shift.

RunMe

My favorite RunMe skin from DeviantArt

RunMe is very pleasing to the eye. It has a good number skins and supports transparency and different animation (zoom, glow, bounce etc) which can be adjusted from the settings window.

It supports grouping of shortcuts into folders up to 3 levels deep. These folders behave like menus similar to the way folders in Start Menu behave. In fact, it’s very much possible to use RunMe as an alternative to the Start Menu or Quick launch bar.

It’s portable too.

[via Freeware Genius]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stunning procedurally generated landscape under 4KB

How much can you save in 4 KB? An image? No. A word document? No. A high definition 3 minute long animated 3D scene? Yes! This is the magic of procedural graphics.

A typical 3D scene we see in games and animations consist of dozens of textures, meshes and models. These components are created in advance and saved as files, which are loaded by the computer and assembled to create a scene on the monitor. This is how conventional graphics work. Procedural graphics, in contrast, do not employ previously created and saved textures but generates them in real time as you run those animations. The result is that the file size is reduced drastically since you don't have to store textures and other information.

procedural-graphics-scene

A still from a procedurally generated demoscene

Although procedural graphics isn’t a new technology it has been used sparingly in video games. It was only during the early part of this decade that procedural graphics saw a new beginning through the famous work of a German group called “Farbrausch”. The team has a special talent in creating procedurally generated 3D demoscenes composed of intricate models, structures and textures and at the same time keeping the file size under 64 KB or less. Later they even released a 3D shooter game .kkrieger created entirely using procedural graphics and only 96 KB in size.

This is a standard definition YouTube video. Make sure you watch it in HD

Recently I read about another team of developers who has been constantly pushing the limits of 3D graphics with their work on procedural graphics. Their latest release is “elevated”, a demoscene which takes you on a flyby over a landscape of realistically rendered mountains and lakes. It was achieved in 4KB, breaking all previous records.

Elevated is available for download. You will require a powerful graphics card and lots of free RAM in order to run it in it’s full glory. If your PCs aren’t powerful enough, you can watch the high definition videos. I, for one, had to be content with the videos.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

WirelessGet – Copy files over wireless

Transferring files using Windows explorer copy-paste function over a wireless network doesn’t always end in success because of the unreliability of a wireless connection – drop in signal strength, bandwidth restriction by ISP etc. When the file to be copied is large and the network is unstable, it often stops in the middle of transfer and you have to start all over again.

A better and reliable method is to use a software called WirelessGet.

wireless-get

WirelessGet is a free application that lets you copy and transfer shared files and folders quickly over networks such as Wi-Fi and Wireless LAN without the fear of losing data due to a break in the connection. This is because WirelessGet supports stop and resume. Even if you lose signal during file transfer, WirelessGet will pickup from where it left once the connection is back.

To begin file transfer you have to create a new task from the programs’ interface and choose the files you want to transfer as well as the destination. Alternatively, you can drag and drop the files into the “drop zone” which is a small floating window that can be placed anywhere on the screen. You can also enable the clipboard monitor function and the application will automatically pop-up the “Add new task” dialog box whenever you copy files or folders from windows explorer.

WirelessGet also works great for copying files and folders from one location to another on the local drives, or removable drives such as USB drive.

Portable Windows Movie Maker

When I downloaded the new Windows Live Movie Maker beta I was disappointed to find that lots of essential editing features like timelines, text overlays on videos, audio editing, etc had been removed making it almost useless. The other Movie Maker – version 2.6 is pretty much the same, a stripped down version of the original Movie Maker. Besides, it works with only Windows Vista.

portable-movie-maker

But a portable Windows Movie Maker has surfaced which apart from being portable, adds a few dozen extra features to the movie editing tool. It’s still version 2.1.4026.0, the version that comes with Windows XP+SP2, but with news effects making it slightly better than the installed one. It has a total of 147 transitions effects and 76 video effects, more than double than what the original edition has. The portability is an added advantage. What’s more? It works on Windows XP, Vista and Seven.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

gui:config – A GUI for about:config Firefox options

The Firefox addon gui:config is one of the most useful addon I have ever come across. This addon makes available dozens of options, accessible only through “about:config”, to the common user by bringing these in a friendly graphical interface. So instead of tackling those cryptic lines in “about:config”, all you have to do is click buttons, checkboxes and drop down menus. You still can’t access a large number of “about:config” options through the GUI but the most common and important ones are included.

gui-config

After installing this addon, these advanced options can be reached from Tools> Advanced Settings. The best part is: this tool explains every option found on the settings window. Simply hover the mouse over a setting and read the information box at the bottom. gui:config is equally useful and helpful to both novice and seasoned users.

I have included plenty of screenshots to show you some of the options that are available through this tool.

gui-config (6) gui-config (1)

gui-config (2)

gui-config (3) gui-config3 gui-config (4)

gui-config (5)

 gui-config2

Create bootable Ubuntu USB drives from Windows with uSbuntu Live Creator

Since version 8.10, Ubuntu began including a live USB creator that allows you to install Ubuntu on flash drives. The official live USB creator is made to be run only from Ubuntu. So if you are looking for a Windows tool, here is Live uSbuntu Creator.

Live uSbuntu Creator can do all that the official live USB creator does and more. However, unlike the official tool that has support from version 8.04, Live uSbuntu Creator only supports newer versions – 8.10 and above. Apart from Ubuntu, other supported variants include Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Linux Mint Edition 6 and CrunchBang Linux Standard Edition 8.10.02.

Creating a bootable live USB consist of 5 simple steps

usbuntu

Step 1: Start the program and choose a USB key in the list

Step 2: Select the ISO image or CD of Ubuntu 8.10 or 9.04

Step 3: Choose the size of the data and programs to be stored. Normally, on a Live CD or Live USB you lose all your data when you shut down the system. The persistence of data keeps the data and user preferences. These data are stored in a file from the system entirely transparent to the user.

Step 4: Check the options you want to use which includes an ability to hide files on your stick and "allow windows to launch" that allows you to launch Ubuntu directly under Windows without restarting, made possible by virtualization.

Step 5: Start the installation.

usbuntu-boot

[via Ubuntu Geek]

Automatically update setup packages with Ketarin

Almost every software vendor urges it’s users to keep their respective software up to date by enabling automatic online checks. There are also quite a few third party software like the previously mentioned UpdateStar that helps you keep your installed application up to date.

But like most users, I prefer to download the latest setup packages and install it myself than allow automatic installation of updates. I found that Ketarin, an open source utility, to be very useful in this regard. Unlike applications like UpdateStar that automatically recognizes all installed applications and offers update for the same, Ketarin does not scan your system for applications automatically. You have to configure the program for each application that you want to download the installer of.

Ketarin-overview

That involves a fair amount of work but it has at least 2 major advantages:

  1. It does not update the application online, rather downloads the latest available installer. This is good for users like me who like to keep their setup packages along with the application updated.
  2. Ketarin allows you to automatically download installer packages of applications NOT installed on your system. For instance, you might keep installers of two or more anti-virus applications updated even though you have only one of them installed.

Other features of Ketarin include

  • Group applications by user defined categories
  • Flexible methods to specify save paths
  • Regular expression support
  • XML based import/export of applications
  • Run custom commands after downloading

In my opinion, both Ketarin and UpdateStar are excellent applications. You just have to pick one depending on what you want.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How to use twitter at work and not get caught

If you are one of those helplessly addicted Twitter fans, who would rather risk getting fired than not tweet their every moves, here is one application that will help you bluff your way at work.

Spreadtweet is an Adobe AIR application that disguises Twitter as spreadsheets. Currently, there are 3 different skins – Office OSX, Office 2003 (Windows), and Office 2007 (Windows).

spreadtweet-2007

spreadtweet-2003 

spreadtweet-osx

It looks like the real thing! Of course it does, because the toolbars and borders are just images of the actual Microsoft Office interface. The buttons cannot be clicked, not even the close/minimize/maximize buttons work. The application cannot be resized too because of the same reason. And the only way to close the application is to right click on the taskbar and click Close or simply Alt+F4.

Using Spreadtweet you can post new tweets and check messages and replies. Clicking links opens it in the default browser.

In case you don’t want to install the application, there is also a web-based version in the Office OSX skin.

You can also checkout Quitter, a Twitter client disguised as Windows Command Prompt, GhostZilla, the browser that cleverly hides inside any application window. And there are always boss keys.

How to prevent file copying, deletion and renaming?

On a computer with multiple users some kind of access restriction and sharing permission is essential. The nature of the security permission can vary depending upon who has access to the computer and their experience level. Generally, system administrators or owners like to implement any of the 3 kinds of security restrictions – file copying, deletion and modification. The latter two types of protection is easy to enforce in NTFS formatted drives, but preventing copying can be a little tricky.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How to add background image or watermark to Word documents

You must have seen some documents carry a transparent watermark or background image, usually the logo of the organization. Watermarking a document gives it a sleek look and is often used in newsletters, advertisement leaflets, official documents, magazine pages and so on. This tutorial will show you how to add watermark to Microsoft Word documents.

Before you add an image it’s necessary to properly crop and scale the image according to the size of your document. This is because MS Word will align the left edge of the image to the left margin of the document. So if the image has a landscape orientation (width is greater than height) and the document has the usual vertical layout, the image will get resized and placed at the center of the document and not cover the entire background as desired.

So in order to perfectly fit the document, it’s necessary for the image to have the same width to height ratio as your document. All paper sizes have the width to height ratio of 1:1.41. Crop your image so that it has the same ratio.

Now, open the Word document, click on Format>Background>Printed Watermark.

 word-background  

word-watermark

Select the radio button Picture watermark and choose your prepared image. Keep the Scale to Auto and check the box Washout. The Washout gives the image a faded look. Click Apply.

word-washout-background

If you are not satisfied with the results, you can apply a few tweaks. Instead of setting it to auto, you can choose a scale level from the 5 given figures – 50%, 100%, 150%, 200% and 500%. Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow custom scale values. You can also uncheck the Washout option and examine the results.

word-nowashout

Microsoft Word also allows you to insert background texts but this feature is severely crippled. You can only choose from one of the premade texts like ASAP, SAMPLE, TOP SECRET and so on. The color, size, fonts and orientation (diagonal or horizontal) can be customized though.

So, the next time you print a document make sure it carries your logo.

Friday, April 17, 2009

XMPlay – A lightweight yet feature rich audio player

Who says we need a 10 MB software to run a few audio files? Take a look at XMPlay, it has everything you want in an audio player. It’s requires no installation, is portable and weights a massive … 300KB!

XMPlay supports all major audio formats, is capable of playing and recording streaming Internet radio, supports playlist, has a library, supports tagging of files, has dozens of skins and hundreds of plugins. Oh yes, it also supports some Winamp plugins. Installing them is very easy. Just copy downloaded skins and plugins to XMPlay folder and restart the player. What more can you ask for?

 xmplay-default

At the beginning you might find the interface a bit confusing, because the buttons are unfamiliar and they have crammed so many features into so tiny a GUI. But if you switch to a different skin like the mock iTunes, WMP and Winamp, things start to fall in place.

xmplay-winampxmplay-itunes

Here are some features that make XMPLay an exceptionally wonderful player.

  • Plays music files from within compressed files. So if you have your music files compressed in a zip file, no need to uncompress them. XMPlay will play directly them from.
  • Has a mini-player mode. Double-click on an empty space of the player to switch to the mini mode. Double-click again to exit mini mode.
  • Can stream any kind of music from FTP and HTTP servers, including Shoutcast, Icecast, Icecast2 and can even record the stream to the hard disk.
  • It can scan a remote FTP directory or HTML webpage for playable files
  • Displays track information right inside the player.
  • Edit track names
  • It has a library with directory monitoring, for quick and easy access to the tracks you want to play.
  • Save settings (DSP etc) to be automatically used each time specific tracks or file types are played.
  • Write 8/16/24/32-bit WAV files using external encoders (MP3,OGG etc), with optional level normalization, dithering & noise shaping, individual MOD instrument writing.
  • Has fully customizable shortcuts, including global hotkeys
  • Supports Unicode file
  • Supports visualization.

I know you do not download every audio player you read about, but give XMPlay a try. It’s only 300 KB and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Pencil – A simple 2D animation software

When I was young, I used to make simple flipbook animations making use of the empty margins on pages of text books to draw sketches. The figures differed slightly from each other and when flipped through the pages with the thumb, it created the illusion of motion. It was fun.

flipbook

Today, there are a number of sophisticated animation software with many advanced features that make animation easier but at the same time, they make the software harder to master. Most casual users do not want to or motivated enough to learn a complex animation software. They just want to have some fun.

If you are one of them, try Pencil - a free 2D animation software that brings back the traditional flip book technique of animation to the digital world.

Pencil doesn’t have a lot of tools, just a simple drawing toolbox with the usual tools like brush, pencil, coloring tool, eraser and the like. There is a color selection tool, pen width tool, a layer tool and simple timeline at the bottom.

pencil

Just like a flipbook, you have to draw each frame by hand. No keyframe animation, which is such a shame, but you can copy and paste your drawings to subsequent frames and make changes to it. Pencil supports both bitmap and vector drawing and you can make your sketch in either of the two. When you have completed drawing the first frame and move to the next, the previous frame is shown in semi-transparency to guide the drawing of the current frame.

The size and shape of the viewing window can be defined using the camera layer, and you can even add music to your animation using the sound layer. The final creation can be exported as a single image or sequence of images, depending on whether there is one frame or many, as a flash movie or in the .MOV format.

A simple animation movie made using Pencil

The limitations in Pencil make it impossible to use it in feature length animation movies. But Pencil isn’t trying to compete with professional tools. Rather, Pencil is trying to reach the masses and make creating animation an enjoyable task.

On the other hand if you looking for a better, free animation tool then you can try the previously mentioned Synfig and Liveswif.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

SyMenu – Customizable start menu and program manager for USB drives

Portable application suites like those provided by PortableApp,com or WinPenPack comes with nice start menus for easier access to the programs. Menus are also a great way to organize the contents of the suite. But if you don’t use an application suite and prefer to carry your own assortment of applications and files, the only way to access them is through the explorer. Not very intuitive. This is where SyMenu drops in.

SyMenu is a free, customizable start menu that you can add to your USB drives to quickly access everything that you carry on it – files, folders and programs without having to open Windows explorer. Not only files, you can create menu entries to run Windows commands, open URLs or even access programs installed on the local hard drive.

symenu

After you download the ZIP file containing the application, extract and copy the folder to the USB drive and execute from there. Upon completion of the small installation process, you can access the menu from a icon in the system tray. Initially, the menu will be blank except for the configuration settings and a search box. To add programs to the menu, open the Options>SyMenu and drag and drop files, folders and applications into the configuration window. SyMenu will automatically populate the correct path and name of the application, but you can edit that. You can organize your programs and files into virtual folders called Containers and choose a different colored folder icon for different containers.

symenu-main-cropped 

Once you have finished adding all your files and programs, save it. Now you can access this menu every time you plug in the device into a computer.

SyMenu has a useful search-as-you-type incremental search box that makes it easier to find your desired files. This search box can even integrate the searching result list with items configured on host PC Windows Start Menu. In this way you can access programs installed on the host PC as well as on your pen drive from a single location - the Search bar.

symenu-SearchItems

Similarly, using a feature called “universal unit identifier“, SyMenu allows you to create start menu entries for files present on the host PC.

SyMenu has a large number of advanced features that allows you to manipulate how the portable applications behave or run. For example, there is an option called Auto Execute that allows you to configure applications to be launched automatically when you insert the pen drive into a computer. Auto Execute can also be configured to launch programs with a custom interval from one to each others. How well thought of! Another option called “One Instance Only” allows certain programs to be launched only in single instances.

Another brilliant feature of SyMenu is the Extension manager. All Windows PCs have different programs associated with different file extensions. So when you try to open a file, say a PDF file, present on your pen drive on a host PC, the file will be opened by the application configured to open PDF files on the host PC. Suppose on this PC, the program is Adobe Reader. But you wish to open PDF files on say Foxit Reader. Using Extension manager you can override file association on a host PC to your custom ones so that on matter on which PC you are connected to, your PDF files will always open on Foxit. Isn’t that clever and awesome at the same time?

SyMenu is a great, great program which is much more than a start menu. A truly must have for any pen drives.

SnapAct – A sleek image viewer, manager and editor

Snapact Photo Manager is a free, stylish photo viewer and manager that offers a wide range of photo manipulation functions, and at the same time acting as an interface to Snapact’s online photo sharing service for easier uploading and sharing of photos with the community and friends.

The first thing that I noticed about SnapAct is it’s cool factor – a black skinned GUI, with stylish folder icons and pop-up file information boxes. The image manager has an extremely minimal set of tools but don’t read that as lack of features. The tools are cleverly hidden and show up only when needed. For example, when you hover the mouse over an image in the thumbnail view, it will pop-up a box with information about the file – size, metadata, tags , rating etc. But only when you click on the image, a horizontal bar at the bottom will give you access to edit the tags, description, comments and rating of the image.

snapact-main 

A very useful feature in SnapAct is the “Mini Basket” which allows you to create virtual albums. Simply drag and drop a collection of images into the basket and it will behave as a new album which you can view as a slideshow or simply scroll through at your own pace.

The bulk of the image manipulation options are available in the image viewer. These options include rotate, crop, adjust tint and color blur, brightness and contrast, sharpness, remove redeye, add effects like negative or turn into black and white image. What I liked about the image viewer is that it makes the proper use of the mouse wheel. Unlike Windows default image viewer where the mouse wheel controls the zoom level, in SnapAct the mouse wheel cycles through the images in the folder which is exactly why we use the wheel for – scrolling.

snapact-viewer

When viewing a single image in the viewer the rest of the image in the same folder are available in a carousel styled thumbnail strip at the bottom. Moving the mouse over this strip enlarges the thumbnails.

Snapact Photo Manager can be used as desktop image application without signing up with their online photo sharing service. But if you do use their service you will be able to upload images directly to their free online account from SnapAct and keep your online albums synchronized with those on your local disk.

I have been using SnapAct for sometime and I’m defiantly going to keep it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Firefox Samfind Bookmarks Bar

If you think the Firefox bookmark bar isn’t making the best use of the toolbar real estate, take a look at Samfind Bookmarks Bar. This addon will allow you to cram more bookmarks and offer you additional services and features in the same amount of space occupied by your regular bookmark bar.

samfind1

The approach Samfind Bookmarks Bar takes to save space is to display only the favicon of the site (though can make it display both the favicon and text). At first the toolbar may appear a little crowded but you will soon notice that the favicon is the only item you need to see to recognize your favorite site, so it really makes no sense to display the name of the site when that precious space can be used for other bookmarks.

The toolbar comes pre-loaded with bookmarks to several social networking and news sites like Facebook, Digg and Reddit. These icons serve more than a static link to a site, they dynamically change to display the total number of votes the currently viewing page has received on Digg, Reddit or Delicious. There is also an email button to quickly send a page to someone.

samfind2

The toolbar also comes loaded with tons of sites grouped under different categories like news, blogs, video, search, email, web applications etc. Each group consist of several sites on that topic. If you want to get driving directions, then there is a group called map. Simply enter the start and end location and you will instantly get it on Google Maps or Yahoo Maps.

samfind3

Like Firefox LIve bookmarks, Samfind Bookmarks Bar also lets you keep track of RSS updates by displaying them directly on the toolbar in a drop down menu. Another useful feature of Samfind is that it lets you search on a website using their own search engine right from the Bar.

Samfind also synchronizes your bookmarks between computers, so you don't need to use a separate addon or tool to do it. Besides, Samfind Bookmarks Bar need not stay where the regular bookmarks bar do. It can be placed anywhere you want – below the address bar, above it, at the top, bottom or even inline next to the URL.