Archive for September, 2009

Check your system out with PC Wizard

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of PC Wizard

Your computer's a complicated place. With all the various bits and pieces of hardware and software working together, there's a whole lot going on. If you ever wonder what's up inside that box, you might want to take a look at PC Wizard.

Whether you're troubleshooting your system, or need to know what type of video card you've got installed, this free tool can give you a pretty good sense of what's going on in there. You can grab information about your processor, installed memory, storage devices, peripherals, and more. Benchmark tests let you see how your system stacks up; maybe it's time to upgrade to a newer system, or you might just need to see which app has that huge memory leak that has turned your roaring tiger into a docile pussycat.

PC Wizard is a free Windows application. It's compatible with all Win32 platforms, from the lowliest Windows 95 up through Windows 7.

Download PC Wizard

File association tool for Windows

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Default Programs Editor

File associations are a handy thing. If you want to open a Word DOC, chances are you want to open it with Word. Seems clear enough. What file associations allow you to do is to double-click on that DOC file to fire-off the application associated with it (Microsoft Word) and open that file in that program. That's a real time saver when it works. But what if you've got some new type of file that doesn't have an app associated with it? Double-click on that, and nothing happens. Or what if you want to open that DOC in OpenOffice's Writer tool? You've got to go in and tell Windows to make this change.

Of course you can accomplish this change using Windows itself, but it can get a little complicated. A third party tool like Default Programs Editor can make this change quick and easy. It's easy to add, change, or delete file associations based on filename extensions. You can even go in and un-check default programs settings, the ones Windows doesn't let you undo when you go in through the front door.

Default Programs Editor is a free Windows tool. It's designed to run under Windows XP and later.

Download Default Programs Editor

Convert YouTube videos to MP3

Friday, September 18th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Free YouTube to MP3 Converter

When you visit YouTube, it's safe to say you're generally looking for a clip to watch. Whether it's a "how to" demo, or the latest dancing cat video, there's no end of stuff to look at. Sometimes you like what you see enough to save it locally, to watch again and again. There are some situations though where you're more interested in the audio than in the pictures.

It would be nice to have a tool that would let you grab just the sound. Maybe you want to bring your clip along, but you're going to be in the car. With all the bad press about driving while texting, there's no doubt that driving while watching a video is probably even worse. But hey, people have been listening to the radio, tapes, and CDs since forever. And sometimes, the best part of the clip you're looking at is just the sound anyway.

Free YouTube to MP3 Converter is a tool that lets you convert the sound from your favorite clips into MP3 files, suitable for loading on your iPod or adding to an iTunes playlist. Choose to save as low-quality files to save space, or as higher-quality MP3s, or go whole hog and save them off as WAV files and preserve as much sound quality as possible. It'll even integrate into your browser, letting you download and convert right from the YouTube page.

Free YouTube to MP3 Converter is a Windows app.

Download Free YouTube to MP3 Converter

Cut List makes efficient use of materials

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Cut List

Have you ever made cookies? Not the drop kind—the kind that you use a cookie cutter to make. No matter how closely you space them to each other, there's always a lot of waste in between. With cookies, you can just smush the dough all together and roll it out again. Now imagine instead of cookies, you're cutting shapes out of cloth, wood, Plexiglas, or some other material that doesn't lend itself to "smushing" to re-use the waste. Is there some way you can better use your material to minimize the leftovers?

Cut List is one possible solution here. Tell it the size board you're working with and the sizes of the pieces you need to cut it into, and it'll figure out the most efficient way to lay out your pattern on the available stock. Since it deals with rectangular regions, you're not going to be able to use it to make your cookie cutting escapades go any more smoothly, but that's probably okay.

Cut List is a free Windows application.

Download Cut List

Mount drive images as virtual drives

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Virtual CloneDrive

If you've got a bunch of "stuff" to move around, whether it's to share with somebody else, move to another machine, or just squirrel away in an archive, there are several possible solutions. Stick them all in a ZIP file; roll 'em into a tarball, or go ahead and save them off as a disk image. This latter option is especially useful if you're working with an entire drive at once. Why grab individual pieces when you can grab the whole thing in one fell swoop?

Once you've got this drive image, what are you going to do with it? Sure, you can burn it to physical media—a CD or DVD—but maybe that's not the direction you want to head.

Virtual CloneDrive lets you mount image files as if they were actual drives. Now instead of burning them on your optical drive, you can mount that image file directly as a "virtual" drive. You can see everything that's in there, but without that intermediate step of burning to disc, storing it away, and figuring out what to do with it. It's compatible with most garden variety image formats, including ISO, BIN, and CCD.

Virtual CloneDrive is a Windows application. It should work fine on systems running Windows 98 or later.

Download Virtual CloneDrive

Keep track of passwords and more

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of LastPass

Everybody agrees that when it comes to passwords, bigger is better. After all, one of the best ways to frustrate a brute-force attack is to increase geometrically the number of combinations of characters that are necessary. Add to this all the other safeguards that are included in any robust password protection scheme—upper- and lower case alphabetic characters, numbers, and a few punctuation marks, no dictionary words, etc.—and you've gone a long way toward keeping your accounts secure. The flip side of that, of course, is the impossibility of remembering dozens of unique 40-character passwords for all of your financial- and other accounts.

LastPass is an online password manager. All you need to remember is your password to get into LastPass, and everything else can be as complicated—and safe—as you want. Along with passwords, it also remembers all that other fill-in-the-blank stuff you need to speed-up the process of entering your information into web forms: name, address, credit card numbers, the whole thing.

It's available as a desktop app for Windows, or as a plugin for your Windows, Mac, or Linux web browser.

Download LastPass

Automate your hardware- and software inventory process

Monday, September 14th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Lansweeper

Do you know the make and model of the computer sitting on your desk? What about any installed applications? That's probably pretty easy to figure. Add a few more machines, and it's still doable. by the time you get a network of a dozen—or several dozen—nodes, it starts to get pretty difficult. If you need to see what's running where, you've got to walk around and take a look. It might be nice if all those machines would just "phone home" to let you know what they're up to. That's the thought behind Lansweeper.

Just install this tool on your server—no client to install on workstations—and whenever your users log in, it can go take a look and verify the hardware sitting on your users' desks, and see which apps are installed. That makes it easy to stay on top of your hardware inventory, and to verify that you've got adequate software licenses for your users, as well as helping to keep unauthorized apps off your network.

Lansweeper is not a trivial app. To take full advantage of all its features, You'll need to be running a recent Microsoft server, with IIS and MS SQL Server (or the free SQLexpress) installed.

Download Lansweeper

Track changes to any web site

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Versionista

Like the man said, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Unless they really did change. Like a web page that has been tweaked, or a site where new content has been added. In those cases, it's not the same–it's different. If you want to see what changed, you may be up for a bit of a challenge.

Versionista can help you keep track of what's changing. This service will monitor pages you specify, and let you know when they change. This may be big changes, like changing the whole page, or a little selective editing here and there. It keeps a history of what it's looked at, so you can compare today's version with earlier iterations of your subject page.

While the full-blown version of this online tool is a paid service, you can sign up for a trial version that lets you track up to four changes on five individual URLs for free. You'll need a web browser to use it.

Download Versionista

Get the word out with EasyContact email marketing

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of EasyContact

Publicity is everything. You may have the greatest new app, the coolest new site, or be offering the best new service, but if nobody knows about you, it's all for naught. You've got to get the word out: make sure you're site is optimized SEO-wise, publish a blog, you know the drill. Another important way to keep in touch with your customers—and potential customers—is to publish an email newsletter.

If you've only got a couple of folks to stay in touch with, it's easy enough to just write an email, send it to yourself with blind copies to your mailing list, and call it good. Once you go beyond a few subscribers, though, this can get pretty cumbersome.

EasyContact is an email marketing outfit that will let you send your important message to up to 100 subscribers at absolutely no charge. It's offered by the folks at Deluxe, the people who print the checks you get from your bank. It uses a wizard to help you put your message together—just enter your contact information, pick a template to use, and add your content. You're on your way to fame and fortune, and it didn't cost you a cent.

EasyContact is a free service. You'll need a web browser to access it. If you decide that you need to send your message to a larger group, they've also got paid versions that let you pay per-mailing for low-volume use, or per-month for unlimited mailings.

Download EasyContact

Run everything from the numeric keypad

Friday, September 11th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of ControlPad

We're always looking for a way to shave a few seconds off of everything we do. After all, once you get done with work, you can go and play. Or conversely, once you get done what you set out to do, there's always more work to do. Either way, quicker is usually better.

ControlPad is a tool that can help speed things up for you on your Windows system. Once it's installed, just hit the asterisk key, and up comes the ControlPad execution menu. Assign a keystroke or three to a particular command, and now when you type "123" you'll open Word or launch Firefox, or you can even daisy chain commands together to accomplish a lot by only typing a little. If you can type it in a Run window or enter it via a series of keystrokes, then ControlPad can accomplish it for you.

ControlPad is a Windows application.

Download ControlPad