Archive for October, 2009

File backup tool that thinks it's a version control app

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of DocShield

If you're using your computer to do real work, then you know that your files are constantly changing. Sure, there are bunches of cached files that your web browser uses to keep track of where you've been, but we're talking here about word processing documents, spreadsheets, projects you're coding, that sort of thing. Backing up is important to make sure that none of your brilliance, to say nothing of the sheer number of hours involved, goes the way of the dodo. Backups create a snapshot of your files at the time you backed them up, and for most purposes, that's probably good. If, however, you realize that something dramatic changed between two backups, there's no way to go back and capture that intermediate state. After all, you didn't back it up, right?

DocShield may be able to give you a hand here. While it can function as a full-blown backup tool, it also serves as a bit of a configuration manager. since it can take snapshots of your files when they change, and in real time, it is now possible to go back and re-capture the state of the world immediately before that boneheaded error that caused your system to crash and ate your last six hours' worth of work. And that's a good thing, right?

DocShield is free for personal, non-commercial use. It's a Windows app and runs under Win98/WinNT and later. It also requires version 2 of the .NET Framework.

Download DocShield

Write the Great American Novel with Character Keeper

Friday, October 30th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Character Keeper

Are you writing the next Great American Novel? How about the next award winning play or movie? You've got so many ideas in your mind about character, location, plot, and more, that your head is about to explode. You know you've got to write it all down, but how will you ever find it all once you've created a stack of paper or a hard drive full of word processing docs?

Character Keeper is a tool that lets you keep track of all these important bits and pieces in one location. Keep your notes in here, and you'll always be able to find them. There's no limit to the number of characters you can keep track of, or the amount of information you track for each one. Add all your other ideas as well, including timelines, family history, titles, and more. With Character Keeper tracking the minutiae, you can spend your time writing and being creative, instead of serving as an unpaid file clerk.

Character Keeper is a free application. It's available for Windows (XP and Vista), as well as a couple flavors of Linux.

Download Character Keeper

Structured integrated note taking system

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of eNoteFile

It's all about the information. Every day we've got tons and tons of it that comes our way. Trying to survive the deluge is no small task. If you're taking lots of notes on what's going on around you, then you need a good way to organize it—after all, data's not information until you can find it and use it.

eNoteFile is an integrated note taking system. Rather than having a bunch of separate text files littering your desktop, enter everything into this free tool. Now you can organize your thoughts and observations in such a way that you can keep track of them all, and most importantly, get them back out when you need them. As well as textual information, this tool lets you keep track of images as well—just try that in Notepad. The tool was originally built by- and for physical therapists, and you can well imagine the types of information they might need to keep track of, as well as the importance of being able to call up information from a patient's last visit.

eNoteFile is a free download. It runs on Windows XP and Vista using .NET Framework 3.5.

Download eNoteFile

Put your desktop to work with Rainmeter

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Rainmeter

Think about your computer's desktop. Mostly it just sits there. Sure, you can add some wallpaper to it, but now you've got a wallpaper-enhanced desktop that mostly just sits there. It might be nice to make it do something useful.

One way to put your desktop to work is with a tool like Rainmeter. This app lets you add a bunch of useful tools to your desktop and finally make it work for a living. As you might expect, Rainmeter does include a—wait for it—rain meter, so you can check on last night's precipitation. In addition to that, though, it's got a bunch of other tools you can use, including note taking apps, application launchers, various newsfeeds, system status info, and more. It's fully skinnable, so you can make it look pretty, and there are oodles of apps you can choose to use with it.

Rainmeter is a Windows app. It runs under XP, Vista, and Windows 7.

Download Rainmeter

Open source diagram drawing tool

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

runs on Linuxruns on Windows
screenshot of Dia

There are lots of drawing programs out there. If your graphical needs run to something for the kids to play with, or the occasional sketch you need to run to the hardware store with, then your operating system's default image editor may be just fine. If you plan to appeal to a wider—and perhaps more professional—audience, you may want to upgrade from this. If your illustrations require more precision, you might use a tool like Visio to draw illustrations of process flow or the next revision of the corporate organization chart. You might also want to go take out a loan to afford it.

Dia is a tool which, like Visio, is used to draw structured diagrams. Network layouts, flowcharts, etc., are right up its alley. It's got all the standard shapes you might need, and they're fully customizable in terms of color, size, aspect ratio, and all. Draw connecting lines between shapes and anchor them, so that as you drag shapes around the workspace, your connections go with them. Add text to the workspace to help explain what's going on, you start to believe that is picture really is worth at least a thousand words.

Dia is a free download. It's available for Ubuntu and openSUSE Linux, as well as Windows (Win2k or later).

Download Dia

Online data storage for backups and collaboration

Monday, October 26th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Humyo

Collaboration is a good thing. They say two heads are better than one, and presumably it goes up geometrically from there. Getting all those heads together in one place isn't something that's likely to happen, with our current business model of creating virtual teams of people around the block and around the world. That can create some real challenges when it comes to sharing and exchanging information. If you're not sitting across the conference table from me, it's not going to be too easy for me to just slide the status report on the Johnson Project across the desktop to you. We'll have to figure out a way to do some virtual sharing among our virtual team.

Humyo is an online service that helps facilitate the exchange of information. At its base, it's an online data storage system. What you do with it from there is up to you. Use it to store backups of your system; upload documents that others can then download; share photos and more.

You can open a Humyo account for free. It comes with 10GB of storage, split evenly between media- and non-media files. It uses a web interface and doesn't include any support. And of course they'd love for you to upgrade to a paid account with all the bells and whistles, but there's not requirement that you do so.

Download Humyo

Free real-time backup tool

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Yadis! Backup

Even when you're a good boy (or girl) and do your backups regularly, sometimes it's not enough. Back up your system every Friday? What happens when your hard drive decides to take a vacation on Thursday? You're out almost a week's worth of blood, sweat, and tears, that's what. Back up daily? Same story: back up at 5:00 pm, and you can bet your system's gonna' die, when it does, at 4:00 pm. You just can't win. So how about backing up continuously?

Yadis! Backup is a free tool that does just that. It watches over your shoulder, and when it sees that files are changing, it backs them up in real time. Now you're only vulnerable between saves, and you can't get much safer than that. If Word crashes and you haven't saved for the last half hour, you're on your own.

You can direct your backups to wherever you want them to go. Choose a separate partition or even a remote volume, it's up to you. And if you need to get something back that you've saved, it's easy. If your normal backup space isn't available—maybe you're not logged onto the network—Yadis! Backup will keep track of your changes and when your destination is available again, it will complete your backup. Yadis! Backup doesn't use some proprietary file format requiring you to use it to get your data back.

Yadis! Backup is a Windows application.

Download Yadis! Backup

Free project management tool

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of ToDoList

If you live anything but the most simple of lives, you've got more stuff to keep track of than anybody really should have to. Whether it's projects at work, stuff at home, kids' schedules, volunteer work, or any of a zillion other things, there's just no way you can hold all that stuff in your head. All those little scraps of paper just don't cut it any more. You know that some day, it's ll just going to blow up and you're going to miss that important deadline, or the kids will be at soccer but you'll be looking for them at ice skating, or worse. Now what are you gonna' do?

ToDoList is aimed at helping you keep track of projects you're working on. Defining what a "project" is is up to you. There's no limit to the number of items or sub-items (or sub-sub-items) you can enter here, so you can probably get just as granular as you need to. Keep track of your estimates of how long each piece is going to take, and compare them with the actual amount of time you've invested in your work. You can expand and contract items, so you can expose or hide lower-level items while still looking at the big picture. And it automatically saves your work when you shut down, and remembers where you were when you start up again.

ToDoList is a free Windows application.

Download ToDoList

Cometdocs online file conversion

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Cometdocs

How many different file formats do you imagine there are out there? There are oodles of proprietary formats—Word's DOC files, Excel's XLS, to name a few—as well as bunches of special-purpose formats. And then there's the joy of the incompatibility of DOS, UNIX, and Mac file formats (darn those end-of-line characters!). So how do you get them all to play nice?

Cometdocs is a free online service that helps you convert files from one format to another. Whether it's PDF-ing a Word DOC, or turning that PDF file into a Word DOC, if you can imagine it, these guys can probably accomplish it. They can also work with many legacy file formats, turning your old word processing docs into something that you can use today.

They've also got some special tricks up there sleeves. Run a directory listing of your website and they can spit-out a Google XML sitemap file. Submit a scanned PDF or TIFF file and their OCR tools will give your content back to you in electronic format.

Cometdocs is free, and you don't even have to sign up to use it. You'll need a web browser, and that's about it, so it doesn't make any difference which platform you're running.

Download Cometdocs

Sticky notes without the clutter

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of CintaNotes

How many little bits and pieces of information do you come across over the course of a day or week? Whether it's little reminders to return a phone call, a note to grab a quart of milk on the way home, a web address to visit, a pithy little quote to add to your blog, you've got tons of little things to keep track of. Sticky notes might be your current solution, but you know how quickly the walls around your cubicle gets filled with those, and sticking them to the bezel of your monitor isn't a real answer either. There are electronic sticky note-like tools you can use too, but those virtual notes can take up a lot of screen real estate before long.

CintaNotes is the electronic sticky note done one better. Instead of a bunch of separate little rectangles on your screen, these notes all live together as a list in the CintaNotes interface. It's got a super fast search system built in, so as you type your words or phrase, the notes that don't match go away (just hidden, not deleted), so that you're left with the information you want and not what you don't. You can add text directly to the app, or with it running in the background (minimized to the System Tray), just highlight the text you're interested in on a web page or in a document, hit the hotkeys, and that text is automatically inserted into CintaNotes. It doesn't get much easier than that.

CintaNotes is a free Windows application. It runs under Windows 2000 and later.

Download CintaNotes