Archive for August, 2008

Fluid creates site specific browsers

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

screenshot of Fluid

Way back when, it used to be that you used your web browser to look at web pages. Okay, so you still do that now, but that browser is called on to be a lot more than just a way to surf the web. Your browser also serves as the platform for a number of applications that you run—think about all the Flash goodies you use, or even things like Gmail and Google Docs. Once you really start taking advantage of all the online tools that are available to you, you realize that you can have many windows open at once.

This is all fine, until the app that you're running in one of your windows decides to die. If it does it spectacularly enough, it can bring your browser to its knees. Working on a big spreadsheet? You'd better hope you saved it recently, because your session is now toast. You need a site-specific browser to insulate any given task from the others.

Fluid is a tool that will help you out here. Once you find a web app you want to run, just tell Fluid, and it'll open as a separate Mac application. Now your spreadsheet is isolated from the latest viral YouTube video.

Fluid is a Mac application. It runs under OS X 10.5 or later.

Download Fluid

QuickPHP local web server for debugging PHP code

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

screenshot of QuickPHP

PHP is a handy scripting language for putting websites together. While the sites you build can be pretty spectacular, it's not so easy to just bang out a few pages and make sure they behave as expected.

For PHP pages to really do their thing, they need to live on a web server. If you're creating a big, elaborate site, no doubt you've already got a server set up to use. If you're just putting together a couple of pages in a one-off project, or for a site you're not going to host, it's not so easy to test and debug your code, short of installing a copy of Apache or IIS on your local machine. If you really don't want to go through all that, QuickPHP may be the tool for you.

QuickPHP is a very lightweight PHP web server that you can install locally without worrying about using up all your hard drive space or creating an administrative nightmare on your system. It has a small 500KB footprint and doesn't hog all your system RAM either. It can handle GET, POST, and HEAD requests, so you can really see what your scripts are doing, and can feel confident that they are going to be well behaved when you upload them to your production server.

QuickPHP is a free Windows application. It runs under Windows 2000 or later. A word of caution: QuickPHP is not designed as a production server. Since it runs under your user credentials, if you're running as Administrator, then it is as well—and you don't want the world hitting a server with those kinds of rights!

Download QuickPHP

Sandy — your free personal email assistant

Friday, August 29th, 2008

screenshot of Sandy

The world is full of tools that help remind you of what you need to do. From Outlook and other desktop apps, to Google Calendar and a plethora of online tools, to dedicated PDAs and cell phones, there is no lack of ways to be reminded of what you need to do and when you need to do it. Unfortunately, these all require that you take some proactive step—create a reminder, enter information—to get this done. The funny thing is, one of the most often used "to do" reminders doesn't fit into this whole scheme.

Do you ever email yourself a reminder? You figure that if that message sits in your inbox long enough, that you'll take care of it. It's easy to do that, since we all live in our email program anyway. Maybe there's a way to take the ease of use of the email self-reminder and make serious use of it.

Sandy is a free service that does just that. Sign up for a free account, and then when you need to set a reminder for something that you need to do, you just send an email and it's done. Whether it's a reminder for your anniversary (you'd never forget that, right?), a report you need to complete, a web page you want to hang on to, you just send an email to Sandy and it's done. With an easy-to-use (and easy-to-remember) syntax, it's really like you're emailing yourself, but with the added bonus that you can have messages come in hours or days later on schedule-something that your inbox can't do on its own.

Sandy should be compatible with most email clients.

Download Sandy

Free editor for CSV files

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

screenshot of CSVed

CSV (comma separated values) files are one of our favorite little tricks. If you're keeping track of a few little pieces of data and don't need to do anything very fancy with it, they're the perfect solution. Unfortunately, they aren't always the easiest thing to work with.

Because records in a CSV file are often not of a fixed length, when you open the file up in a text editor, you may have one row that's 50 characters long, right next to another one that has 500 characters in it. That makes it pretty tough to compare one record with the next. Sure, you can open CSV files in Excel or another spreadsheet app to look at them in a tabular layout, but that may be overkill. What you need is a tool that's designed specifically to view and edit these files.

CSVed is one such tool. It doesn't care what you use a a field delimiter—you don't need to have comma-delimited CSV files, you can use TABs, pipes ("|"), or any other character. Open your file, and you're now looking at your data in a spreadsheet-like table. Not only is it easy to see what's in your file, but you can now easily make changes to it as well. Add a record, edit, insert, or reorder columns (fields), and more. Now you have all the power of a high-end GUI for your lowly CSV text file.

CSVed is a Windows application, and runs under Win2k or later. Free to download, technically it's "cardware", so if you find it useful, send the authors a postcard, and tell 'em "thanks."

Download CSVed

Create thumbnail icons for your image files

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

screenshot of Xentient Thumbnails

How many image files do you have on your computer? Zillions? With various pieces of clipart, digital photos, and more, you've got a huge pile of GIFs, JPEGs, PNGs, and more all over your hard drive. They've probably all got just plain old generic file icons, making it a little challenging to figure out which file is which. It'd be nice if you could assign custom icons to your images.

Xentient Thumbnails is a tool that lets you do just that. Instead of every file looking just the same, it helps you to make thumbnail images of your graphics files. Now instead of a generic JPEG icon, the photo of your vacation in Yosemite has a thumbnail image of Half Dome, so you don't have to scratch your head, trying to figure out what in the world HPIM0418.JPG could be a picture of.

A free download, Xentient Thumbnails is a Windows application. It's at home on anything from Windows 98 up through Vista.

Download Xentient Thumbnails

Create and use multiple Docks on your Mac

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

screenshot of DockSwitch

One of our favorite features of OS X is the Dock. Not only is it easy to launch favorite applications, and to task-switch from one running app to another, but you can easily drag application icons onto the doc, making it simple to start them up next time you want to run that app. Once you get the icons arranged "just so," you can get things done quicker and easier.

It would be nice if you could create multiple Docks—maybe one that has your web developer tools on it, another that includes your financial management tools, and maybe another with games and other "fun" stuff. With DockSwitch, you can create multiple Docks and set each one up just the way you want.

DockSwitch is a little tool that lives in your OS X Menu bar, over on the side by your clock. Click on its icon and you can create additional Docks for your system, or choose between the Docks you have already created. You can have the tools you need right now, without having to keep dozens of icons sitting there that you aren't going to be using.

DockSwitch is a Mac application, and runs under OS X. The publisher warns that it's not compatible with Tiger (10.4), but it works fine with earlier versions.

Download DockSwitch

EjectUSB lets you eject removable drives when Windows won't

Monday, August 25th, 2008

screenshot of EjectUSB

Computers want to be helpful. They're designed to help us get things done, both by what they let us do, and by what they keep us from doing. Want to run an app? Great, open your word processor and get to work. Want to unplug that USB drive? Hey, you've still go open files there, and if you eject it, you're going to be in a world of pain.

Usually that's all good. We get in a hurry and forget that we're accessing a file on removable media, and we don't want to trash that report or spreadsheet just because we've gotten a little distracted. Sometimes, though, we are smarter than the machine.

As we all know, sometimes Windows gets confused. It slips a cog and thinks that there are still open files when there are none, or that an app that we launched from our USB drive is still running, when it isn't. The only way to help Windows come back to reality is to reboot the machine, and that's not always a desirable state of affairs.

EjectUSB is a tool that lets you force-eject your thumb drive. Yes, if you're not careful, you can now break that file and lose hours of work, but you're smarter than that, right? Once you're sure you know what you're up to, you can force eject the drive, as well as clean up all the leftovers, like flushing caches, closing windows, and cleaning up Registry entries and Recent Document shortcuts that point to your removable volume.

EjectUSB is a free Windows application.

Download EjectUSB

KallOut selection-based search tool

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

screenshot of KallOut

Search engines drive our online lives. If Google isn't your browser's home page, you probably spend as much time on it as if it were. We often can't get through a web page or a blog post without needing to run a search on something—a new term we've run across, a new site to go visit, that sort of thing. The biggest problem there is how disruptive that is. Whether you have to open a whole new browser window or just a new tab, you have to leave what you're involved in to go do your search.

KallOut is a tool that lets you do your search from the very page you're looking at right now. Rather than having to open a browser window, you just select text, a word or a phrase, hover over the KallOut target, and click on the menu item you want.

Not just a browser-based tool, KallOut can also be used while you're editing Word DOCs, reading through PDFs, and more, all without leaving the page you're working on. That helps you to stay focused and get more work done more quickly.

KallOut is a free Windows application. It runs under WinXP and Vista.

Download KallOut

Adeona theft recovery tool

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

screenshot of Adeona

Could there be anything more horrible than the loss of your laptop computer? Well, yes, I suppose so, but it's certainly pretty high up on the list. Whether you misplaced your machine, or somebody decided to acquire it via "five finger discount", now you're here and your baby's somewhere else. If you'd like to be reunited, it would be a good idea to have installed Adeona on your machine before it goes missing.

Adeona, named after the Roman goddess of "safe returns", is a free, open source tool that lets you track your laptop or any other computer. Unlike proprietary solutions, you don't have to rely on a server somewhere keeping track of the whereabouts of your machine—meaning they could keep track of where you go, as well as where any potential thief may go with your system. Adeona "phones home" about every half hour, but not on an exact schedule, making it a little tricker to detect its use. It reports back a wealth of information about your missing computer: IP address, nearby routers, wireless hotspots currently in use. The Mac version can even use your built-in camera to snap a photo of the thief.

It's important to remember that while Adeona can help you locate your missing computer, and perhaps even implicate the thief, that you should then report this information to law enforcement or other appropriate authorities and not try to effect a recovery yourself.

A free download, Adeona is available for Linux, OS X (10.4+), and Windows (XP+) users.

Download Adeona

PeekIt hex editor for Mac

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

screenshot of PeekIt

If you really want to get up close and personal with your computer, there's nothing that beats a hex editor. While Word can open DOC files, and Firefox can display HTML, a hex editor lets you open and look at anything on your system. It's not always going to be pretty in there, since the hexadecimal data you're looking at is designed for your computer's CPU rather than your eyes, but sometimes that's what you need.

Maybe you're got a data file that you don't have the application for. With a hex editor, you can open that old WordStar or VisiCalc file and see what's really in there. Since it's a native Mac application, it knows all about data-and resource forks, so you can really get in there and look around. It's safe for you to go in, since it won't write anything back to the file until you explicitly tell it to do so. You can even make annotations to your files that are kept in separate .pinotes files, so you can keep track of what you're seeing in there.

PeekIt is a free Mac application. This tool requires OS X ver 10.4 or later.

Download PeekIt