Archive for May, 2008

Mouse Gesture Recognition Tool

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

screenshot of StrokeIt

Are you always looking to streamline your operation? With the pressure to get more done faster, we're always looking to make things more efficient. Some changes make a big difference—putting the phone on Do Not Disturb, for instance—but there are smaller things that you can do also.

Over the course of the day, how many times do you suppose you move your hand from you computer's mouse to its keyboard? A couple of times? A lot of times? Either way, you might be just a little more efficient if your didn't have to do that at all.

StrokeIt is a clever tool that can translate mouse movements into commands. By "drawing" a "C" on your desktop with the mouse, you can close the current window. That may be faster than moving to and clicking the Close button, and it's certainly faster than hitting [Control] + W on the keyboard.

While it comes with a bunch of pre-configured actions, you can create your own mouse gestures and train StrokeIt to work in ways that make the most sense to you.

StrokeIt is a Windows application. It's free for individuals and not-for-profits.

Download StrokeIt

Download YouTube Videos

Friday, May 30th, 2008

screenshot of Free YouTube Downloader

Can't get enough YouTube? Whether it's the latest viral video, some slick "how-to" program, or any of a zillion other types of content, we've all grown addicted to YouTube. Here's a tool that helps you download YouTube videos to your machine, so that you can enjoy them again and again.

Free YouTube Downloader does exactly what the name suggests: it enables you to grab those videos and save them locally. Just copy and paste the URL of the content you want, and press the button. It couldn't be easier. It supports multiple downloads as well—just type several addresses into the box, each on a separate line.

Free YouTube Downloader is a Java application, which means that it will run on Linux, Macintosh, Windows, or just about any other platform that has Java Runtime Environment Standard Edition, with Java version 1.5 or better.

Download Free YouTube Downloader

Free Online Drawing Tool

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

screenshot of ImaginationCubed

GE's slogan "Imagination At Work" gives a name to their little online tool ImaginationCubed. You can let your imagination run wild on their virtual whiteboard. Included are tools to draw, stamp, add text, and more. Change background and foreground colors and line width to make your little sketches your own. Clear and Undo functions make it easy to fine-tune your doodles. There's even a built-in recorder that allows you to replay the drawing that you just performed, so that you can watch your picture be re-created. You can save your handiwork for future reference, or email it to somebody else to share your inspiration.

ImaginationCubed is a free online application. It should run on most systems with a modern web browser. It requires that you have Flash installed on your machine, and you'll have better results with a broadband Internet connection.

Download ImaginationCubed

Fast and Easy FTP

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

screenshot of Tango DropBox

You've got to move files from here to there. Whether it's creating or updating your latest website, or just getting that report back to the guys at headquarters, you're going to have to use an FTP tool. Problem is, they're not always the friendliest applications out there. They don't always work intuitively, they're confusing, and just no fun to work with.

Tango DropBox does FTP, but in a way that makes sense. Yes, you do have to set up your transfer information, but having done that once (what is Port 21 anyway?), file transfers are now a simple drag-and-drop process. Configuration is easy, with a menu sitting in the System Tray. Once you're set up, you literally just drag your files onto the Tango DropBox icon on your desktop, and it does its magic in the background.

Tango DropBox is a free Windows tool, and runs on Windows 2000 or later. It also requires Version 2.0 of the .NET Framework. If you want to create multiple dropboxes, or do more advanced things like Secure FTP, you'll need to upgrade to their Professional version for $35.

Download Tango DropBox

See earthquake reports with QuakeBar

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

screenshot of QuakeBar

Out here in "earthquake country", we've got a vested interest in trying to figure out whether the shaking we just felt was a large truck driving past, or California falling into the ocean. The local media may be able to help you, but in many markets, there's no human being in the station. Looking online might help give you a clue about what's shaking, but even that isn't always definitive. Maybe there's something else we could use.

QuakeBar is a slick little MenuBar application for your Macintosh. It sits there until there's an earthquake, and then leaps into action. Whenever there's a temblor with a Richter reading of 2.5 or better somewhere in the world, the icon will blink at you. Drop down the list and see where it is. You can click on individual incidents and you'll be taken to the appropriate incident page on the US Geological Survey website to see what the latest information is that they have on the quake.

QuakeBar is a Mac application that runs under OS X. You can download it for free, although the author asks that if you use it that you send him a post card.

Download QuakeBar

Free Windows Productivity Suite

Monday, May 26th, 2008

screenshot of The Fifth Element

Office productivity suites are vital in getting things done on a computer. Documents, spreadsheets, email—they're the product of the things we do. You can use the High Priced Spread from Redmond to create and manage these things, or you can look for alternatives. There are free suites out there, but often they require extra "stuff" to make them work, like Java runtimes and such. So whether you're looking to save money, or cut down on clutter and resource requirements, it might be nice to find a tool that takes care of business, but doesn't require a whole set of new headaches.

The Fifth Element is a free office application suite that includes word processor, spreadsheet, email client, instant messaging, image editors, media players, and more. It's all compatible with Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, and Star Office. It doesn't require Java or .NET extensions, so it'll run on most 32-bit Windows platforms.

Along with the regular pieces, The Fifth Element adds a few extra goodies to sweeten the pot. They've got a Mac-style Dock to help you manage apps on your system, as well as a floating desktop clock, and even a floating Recent Documents Viewer. There's nothing like completing a Word doc, closing it, and shutting down Word, only to realize you need to take one last peek at your work. With the Viewer, you don't need to start everything up all over again.

Download The Fifth Element

Convert characters between English and other languages

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

screenshot of LangOver

It's a small world out there. While the world itself is the same size it ever was, you're more likely to interact with folks from just about anywhere on the planet than ever before. International business, websites that anybody can access, and such present to you the real possibility of having to write in languages for which your computer is not properly set up. Sure, you can use all kinds of sleight-of-hand to generate French-accented characters with your English-language keyboard, but that doesn't help you get things done quickly. Add to that the need to use non-Latin characters in Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Slavic languages, etc., and pretty quick you're going to just throw your hands up and hope that everybody can understand English.

LangOver is a tool that wants to help you leap over this hurdle. The publisher claims that it can convert text from any language to English, and vice versa. No longer will you need to remember complicated commands to get those special characters out there. In addition, it includes functionality to reverse text—turn "abc" into "cba"—and to capitalize passages as well.

LangOver is a Windows application. It requires Win2k or later, and needs the .NET Framework as well.

Download LangOver

Free personal finance software

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

screenshot of Mint

It's not all about the money, but money is certainly a big concern for us all. Budgeting, bill paying, cash flow, there's a lot to keep track of. You can sit at a high desk with a green eyeshade and a quill pen, or you can use automation to help make it all more manageable.

There are a bunch of programs out there to help you stay on top of your financial issues. Mint is a tool that may fit the bill for you in this regard.

Mint is a free online service that interacts with many banks, credit card companies, and investment accounts. It can automatically go out and grab the latest information for each of your accounts, so that you can look at your entire financial situation all at once, rather than having to spend half an hour logging on to a dozen different web sites to get your latest information. It's clever enough to categorize your spending, so that you'll know where you money is going without having to create a budget and spending hours trying to see how it all fits together. If you decide you do want to start budgeting, Mint will tell you what you've spent historically in different areas. It can notify you when you go over budget, or when other significant events happen, like low balances in your bank accounts, getting close to credit card limits, or even large transactions, like salary or tax refund deposits.

Mint should be compatible with most modern web browsers, so almost everybody should be able to use it.

Download Mint

Task scheduler

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

screenshot of Z-Cron Scheduler

Among its many useful features, UNIX allows users to easily set up and run tasks automatically using "cron", a tool that helps you to schedule and run programs at particular times. A cron job can automatically back-up your system, download your email, check to see if your web site is down, and a zillion other things.

Z-Cron Scheduler lets your Windows system mimic this behavior. You can set tasks to happen on whatever schedule you need, whether hourly, weekly, monthly, or on some other schedule. Virus scan your machine daily; back up your data weekly; download web access logs monthly. You don't have to remember to do any of these if your machine is keeping track of it all instead. You can even have it pop up messages to remind you of things that the computer can't do, like remember to pick up the dry cleaning on the way home.

A free download, Z-Cron Scheduler is a Windows app. It requires Windows 98 or later, including NT.

Download Z-Cron Scheduler

Compare text files

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

screenshot of WinMerge

Here you are, with a bunch of files that are almost identical, but not quite. Whether it's revisions of your letter to Santa, or several iterations of the source code for the Next Big Thing, you've got troubles. You don't really want all those files, but you're scared to death that if you delete any of them, you're going to lose something important. It sure would be nice to know what's in which file.

WinMerge can give you a hand with that task. You can compare the contents of different text files, and see what the differences are, as well as what content they have in common. Using distinctive color-coding and a side-by-side display, it's easy to see how your files stack up against each other. Along with file compares, you can compare directories against each other, showing once again which files are identical and which are different.

WinMerge is clever enough to be able to work with Mac, UNIX, and Windows line endings, so it's not going to show you that two files are totally out of sync just because they're formatted for different platforms. It understands Unicode, so non-Latin characters won't trip it up either.

WinMerge is a Windows application. It requires WinXP or later.

Download WinMerge