Archive for January, 2009

Virtual Drive Creator is like SUBST with a GUI

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Virtual Drive Creator

Back in the day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and everybody used MS-DOS (kids, ask your parents), one of the most useful commands was SUBST. This "substitute" command allowed you to create a "virtual drive" that you could use as an alias for a folder or other path on a physical or logical drive. Take any unused drive letter—"Z:", for instance—and map your path to that letter. Now instead of having to type some path over and over, or having to type the full path of some target folder that was nested eleven directories deep, your SUBST'ed "Z" did all the heavy lifting.

Virtual Drive Creator brings this same functionality to your Windows GUI. Browse to—or type in—your target path, choose an available drive letter, click the button, and you've got an instant alias that has all the flexibility of the old SUBST command. If you want to un-assign a drive letter, it's easy to remove your virtual drive.

Virtual Drive Creator is a Windows application.

Download Virtual Drive Creator

miniTimer is a countdown timer on your desktop

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

runs on Mac
screenshot of miniTimer

You've got a meeting this afternoon, a phone call in an hour, and your tea has three minutes left to steep. How do you keep track of all these important events? You could create appointments in Outlook, or set up events in Google Calendar, but that's a bit like using an atomic bomb to swat a fly. How about something a little less imposing: how about a timer?

If you're sitting in your kitchen, you'd just set a timer to remember to pull the tea bag out of your mug. Well, your computer can afford you the same functionality, with miniTimer.

miniTimer is easy to use, and just sits there unobtrusively on your desktop until it's time for something to happen. Then it springs into action, alerting you that it's time to make your call or whatever else you're using it to remind you of. It can even fire off a Growl notification, if you're set up for that. It's scriptable, so you can use AppleScript to talk to miniTimer.

miniTimer is a Mac application. It's a Universal Binary, so it runs on both PowerPC and Intel boxes. It requires OS X version 10.4 or later.

Download miniTimer

Speak your email with Speak-A-Message

Monday, January 19th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Speak-A-Message

Email is certainly a simple way to communicate. Type a few characters—or a whole bunch if you prefer—and send your message on its way. One of its great benefits is that you can communicate asynchronously—you can send your message when there's nobody there to receive it. When you make a phone call, you need to be able to talk to your recipient, as well as remember what time it is on their end—nobody likes to get a phone call at 3:00 in the morning, unless it's very, very good news. Unfortunately, sometimes email can feel rather impersonal, and sometimes a message just doesn't lend itself to being expressed in writing.

Speak-A-Message adds the ability to communicate by voice to your email messages. Record a message in your own voice and send it along. Or if you prefer, you can just hit the high points in audio, while you still send your typed message. For sensitive messages, you can flag them so that you recipient will know that they ought to use headphones to listen to what you have to say.

Along with the Speak-A-Message software, all you need is a sound card with speaker or headphones, a microphone, and version 9 or later of Windows Media Player.

Speak-A-Message is a Windows app, and is compatible with systems running XP or Vista.

Download Speak-A-Message

MediaFire file sharing system

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of MediaFire

There are bunches of media sharing and file hosting sites out there, each with their own sets of advantages and limitations. Here's one that uses the word "unlimited" a lot in describing itself.

MediaFire allows you unlimited storage, with no limit to the number of uploads and downloads you can make. It supports files up to 100MB in size, so that's almost unlimited as well. It's a purely online tool so there's no software to download and install, as well as not having to worry whether your system is compatible with it. You don't even have to sign up, if you're afraid of commitment.

It's easy to upload documents, images, and so forth—just browse to your file, select it, and send it on its way. You get a specific link for your file that you can save or even email to a friend or colleague. If you do sign up, having an account lets you perform more file management tasks on your uploads.

MediaFire should be compatible with most systems running a recent web browser.

Download MediaFire

Windows drive imaging tool

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of DriveImage XML

Sometimes the best backup is an image of a partition or an entire drive. Whether you're doing a periodic backup of your system, or you're making a copy to clone a drive, you want to grab everything.

DriveImage XML may be the tool for you. Taking advantage of Microsoft's Volume Shadow Services (VSS) technology, you can create images of volumes that are even currently in use. That's going to save you a lot of time, since you don't have to walk away from your machine while it's being backed up.

As its name implies, DriveImage XML saves your data in XML files, so you aren't stuck with some obscure proprietary file format. Browse your images, extract individual files, and more. You can even schedule automatic backups with Task Scheduler to further automate the process.

DriveImage XML Private Edition is free for private home use. It's a Windows app and runs under Windows 2003, XP, and Vista, and is compatible with FAT and NTFS file systems.

Download DriveImage XML

Online and desktop PDF conversion service

Friday, January 16th, 2009

runs as Online Serviceruns on Windows
screenshot of PDF converter

There's a lot of information out there, and we're creating more with each passing day. Whether it's documents, web pages, email messages, or any of the dozens of types of media we use, we just keep cranking out the content.

It's easy enough for you to go back and capture the information you've generated—after all, you have the tools you used to create it, so you can probably use the same tool to retrieve your information. But what if you need to share that with somebody else? Not everybody has the same productivity suite as you, or your same operating system.

PDF files are something that's understood by virtually everyone. If you can get your file, document, or web page converted into a PDF file, it becomes pretty easy to share it with anybody else. But how to you effect this miraculous conversion? You might want to give PDF converter a try.

Available as a free online service, or a desktop app for Windows users, you can convert dozens of different file types into PDF files. Browse to your file, select a web page, or even grab a vector image file, push the button, and you've got an instant PDF file. And not only can you take your docs and PDF them, you can even take PDFs and turn them back into Word DOC files or Excel XLS spreadsheets.

Download PDF converter

Improve your typing speed and accuracy with Amphetype

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Amphetype

Are you a hunt-and-peck typist, or do you keep your hands on the home row at all times? Either way, I'll bet you could get more done if you could just type a little faster.

Amphetype is a free tool to help you improve the speed and accuracy of your typing. As you practice, it gives you feedback on your progress, not only telling you how fast you're going, and how accurately you type, but it even looks at your "viscosity"—the amount of time you spend hesitating between characters as you type.

You can make your practice sessions more interesting by choosing the text you want to practice on. Rather than just using some canned text for practice, go grab something you're interested in from Project Gutenberg and read a book by typing it.

Amphetype is a Windows application.

Download Amphetype

NetWorx bandwidth meter

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of NetWorx

How much bandwidth do you use? Whether you're limited by your ISP, or you want to keep track of what's coming and going to to see if your system is being hacked, you need a tool to let you see how much data you're moving.

NetWorx is a free tool that helps you see what's going on. Whether you're looking at how much data is moving in and out of your system, or you want to check your speed up and down, NetWorx can give you a hand. Monitor one network interface, or monitor them all. NetWorx works with dial-up, DSL, Cable, or any other type of connection. Set alerts to keep track of important usage thresholds. You can also crank out reports to let you see what kind of traffic you're responsible for.

NetWorx is a free Windows application. It's compatible with systems running Windows 2000 or later, and is equally at home in 32-bit and 64-bit environments.

Download NetWorx

Hide Dock icons

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

runs on Mac
screenshot of Dockless

If your favorite machine is a Mac, then you probably know all about The Dock. It's that little toolbar that sits at the bottom—or side—of your screen, and serves as a quick launch bar for your favorite apps, as well as an indicator of which applications are currently running on your machine.

While you're always going to want to have your favorites show up there, ready for you to click and bring to life, sometimes you don't care so much about which apps are currently running. Whether it's because your Dock is just too crowded with applications, or because you aren't going to need to click on an application icon to bring that particular app into the foreground, you may want to get rid of some of those guys. Dockless is a tool that lets you choose which icons to hide on your Dock.

When you fire it up, Dockless goes out and finds all the applications on your system. It brings up a list and lets you choose which ones you don't want to see in the Dock. It's pretty simple, but it does help to de-clutter your life.

Dockless is a Mac app. It runs under OS X, and there are versions compatible with 10.4 and later, 10.3, and even 10.2 and earlier.

Download Dockless

Keep track of everything with

Monday, January 12th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of

How many little pieces of information do you have to keep track of? There's big stuff—project deadlines, addresses, and the like—and little stuff—grab a quart of milk on the way home, finish that magazine article—and everything in between. There are lots of tools to help you keep track of the big stuff, but not so many for the little stuff. And what about the in-between stuff—do you use the big tool or the little tool?, the Latitudinal Information Scrap Trapper that Indexes Things, is a tool that doesn't require that you make that decision. You can enter big stuff or small stuff or any stuff. And best of all, it's easy to retrieve what you entered. A Firefox add-on, you can access it through a sidebar on your favorite browser, or you can just hit a hotkey to bring up a quick input box. Now instead of having to keep track of a zillion little bits and pieces of information, you can just enter it all in and let it do the remembering. is a combination of free online service and an add-on for Firefox 3. It is compatible with systems running Linux, OS X, and Windows.