Archive for October, 2009

Free CAD application

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of DoubleCAD XT

AutoCAD is an awesome product. The stuff you can do with it is unreal. The price is out of this world. It would be nice if you could do all that stuff without all those dollars. Well, as luck would have it, you can almost get there: most of the features with none of the cost.

DoubleCAD XT is a free application that functionally is very close to AutoCAD LT. Not only can you open and view .DWG files, but you can edit them as well. It comes with a full complement of drawing tools: line, arc, and circle, multiline, and bezier curves and more. Yet at the same time, it has a much smaller footprint than the high priced spread.

So what's their angle? Well, the publisher wants you to fall in love with it and ultimately upgrade to the paid "Pro" version, of course. But you may find that this version does everything you want. It's up to you.

DoubleCAD XT is a free Windows application. It runs under Win XP or Vista.

Download DoubleCAD XT

Optimize your web site with The Free Keyword Tool

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of The Free Keyword Tool

Putting up a website is easy. Getting people to find that website can be a real challenge. The whole field of search engine optimization is built around the notion that if you present your information and products in a way that gives the search engines what they're looking for, you're more likely to be found by the people who use them to find stuff. If you're in the business of selling widgets, you sure want people who search on "widgets" to find your site.

One important way that search engines use to figure out what your site is about is to look at the keywords you've used in putting the text on your site. If you're selling widgets, you'd better be sure to put the word "widgets" on your site a time or three. But when people search for widgets, what else do they type into the search box on Google, Bing, or Yahoo? You could try to guess, or you could use a tool like The Free Keyword Tool.

This tool—really a free online service—lets you know what other keywords you should be using on your pages to grab the all-import widget-searching crowd. Type your term or terms into their form, and it will return zillions of other keywords related to your terms. Now you can include even more terms on your site, and improve your chances of becoming the next Widget King.

The Free Keyword Tool is a free service. You can access it with just about any modern web browser. And good luck cornering the market on widgets!

Download The Free Keyword Tool

Strip formatting while copying and pasting text

Friday, October 9th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of PureText

Copying and pasting text is a quick and easy way to make your computing life more efficient. Rather than having to re-type text from one application to the next, it's easy to just bring it with you via the clipboard. Sometimes, though, you get more than you wanted.

As computers and the operating systems that make them run get more sophisticated, they do more and more of the heavy lifting for you. Usually that's a good thing, but sometimes what the computer wants to do can be at cross-purposes with what you, the human, really want to accomplish. The system clipboard can be one culprit in this.

When you copy text to the clipboard, you typically grab the text itself, but along with it comes all the formatting that appears with the text. There may be a bold word, some of the text is in red, that sort of thing. Often what you really want is just the text, without all the fancy stuff that the clipboard brings along. The old-fashioned way to work around this problem is to copy text, paste it into Notepad, and then copy that same text from Notepad and drop it into its final destination. Notepad doesn't support formatting, so all the formatting stuff goes away. What a pain to have to take that extra step.

PureText is a tool that lets you strip out the formatting and paste text into your destination in just one step. Now it's not going to spell-check the text, strip out newline characters, get rid of HTML tags, or anything like that, but it is going to get rid of all the formatting that may be getting in your way.

A free download, PureText is a Windows application. It should be at home on any Win32 system from Windows 95 up through Vista.

Download PureText

Create and share diagrams by writing sentences

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Diagrammr

We all know about pictures and their worth (about 1k words, at last count). But what kind of challenge is there in creating that picture? What if you could use just a few words to create that 1000-word-worth image? Check out Diagrammr.

Diagrammr (like Flickr—what is it about dropping that penultimate "e"?) lets you type in plain words what the relationship is between this entity and that, and translates it into a diagram. With as little as three words, you create a drawing with two entities and a relationship between them. Build from there, and you can crate flow charts, network diagrams, and more just by typing simple declarative sentences. It's not a full-blown diagramming tool, since you can't move objects around on-screen, but for quick and dirty drawings, it's tough to beat. You can even save your diagrams and link to them if you want to embed your artwork in a web page.

Diagrammr is a free online service. You'll need a recent web browser to use it.

Download Diagrammr

List the contents of directories with Directory Print

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Directory Print

Sometimes you want all the bells and whistles. Other times simplicity is the order of the day. Why buy a Cadillac when a skateboard will get the job done? Directory Print is a tool that falls into this latter category.

As you might expect from the name, Directory Print lets you print directories. Duh. Rather than just a list of files in that directory, though, you can tweak your list to capture the info you're interested in. Choose whether to include file extensions, print folder and document icons, and even whether to exclude hidden, system, or read-only files. Filter filenames so you can get lists of only applications, photos, or whatever. Send the listing to your printer, or save it all to a file, whichever makes more sense for your purposes.

Directory Print is a free Windows application.

Download Directory Print

jEdit programmers' text editor and magic decoder ring

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of jEdit

No matter what you do in life, everything always goes easier if you've got the right tools. If you're a carpenter, you need a hammer and a saw. An auto mechanic? You need your wrenches and screwdrivers. Sure, you could drive a nail with a rock or use a pair of pliers to loosen a bolt, but that makes your life harder than it needs to be. The same can be said for those who write computer code for a living.

While you could use a plain-vanilla text editor like Notepad, TextEdit, or emacs, in some ways that's like driving a nail with a rock—it gets the job done, but you may bang your fingers up in the process. A programmers text editor like jEdit has many of the features you'll need on your next project.

In addition to letting you enter plain-old text, it supports doing the things that programmers need to do: syntax highlighting (over 130 file types), unlimited clipboards, folding (to hide and reveal chunks of code), search and replace for literals and regular expressions, and more.

jEdit is written in Java, so it should run on just about any system that supports that technology, including Windows, Mac, and various flavors of *NIX. It's available for free under the GPL.

Download jEdit

Brush up on your spelling skills

Monday, October 5th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of SpellingCity

Could there possibly be a more maligned academic discipline than spelling? Think about it: in history, you learn about how we got to where we are today; in science, you come to understand how the world works; even math helps you to get the cobwebs out of your head and make your brain work for a living. But spelling? Just a bunch of rote memorization—nothing too fun there.

Of course, fun's not what it's all about. Without studying (and mastering) spelling, you'd be hard-pressed to get along in the world. Even with all the electronic gizmos we've come to depend on, including word processors with spell check, we'd be sunk without it. After all, "to", "two", and "too" are all spelled correctly, but without understanding how they're being used, you've got a 67% chance of guessing wrong about which one to use.

One way to help take the drudgery out of studying spelling is to use a tool like SpellingCity. An online service, it makes studying spelling almost manageable. Enter the words you're focusing on, and choose to have the site test you, teach you, or even play a game. Unfortunately, its behavior varies depending on whether it knows the words you've entered—it recognized "John", but not "Paul", "George", or "Ringo".

SpellingCity is a free service. You'll need a web browser to use it.

Download SpellingCity

Free drawing program for kids

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Drawing For Children

Kids and computers go together like peas and carrots. Whether it's because they're all closet geeks, or they just like getting in Mom and Dad's way, they're drawn to our machines. For them, typing a letter or writing a few lines of code holds no interest at all—mostly they like to draw pictures. Now I suppose you could turn them loose with Photoshop and let them figure out layers and masks and all that good stuff (when they've got that all figured out, they can explain them to you), but in all likelihood, that's not going to be what interests them. If you could show them something designed a little more for them, they just might be happy and let you get back to writing that report you need for tomorrow's meeting.

Drawing For Children is an app that your little ones can go nuts with. Choose a paint brush and do some free-form drawing. Add a couple of pre-fab shapes, maybe some text or a piece of clipart, and your little Picasso is good to go. Once they're up to speed, maybe they can give Photoshop another try.

Drawing For Children is a free Windows application. It'll run on anything from Win95 up through Vista.

Download Drawing For Children

Doodle makes scheduling easy

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Doodle

If you're planning a meeting, you know it can be a pain in the neck to pick a time where everybody is available. John's available mornings only, and Susie can't do Tuesday. A phone call here, an email there—it's a never-ending challenge. It'd be nice to get a little help here.

Doodle is an online service that makes it easy to schedule events and more. What they do is let you build a poll—a question to ask of your recipients—to get their feedback. For scheduling a meeting or other event, you set up a poll with a couple of suggested days and times, send a link to it to all your participants, and get their feedback. Now you can pick a time when everybody's available, because they told you when they could meet. It's handy for other types of questions as well: dinner or a movie? vacation on the coast or in the mountains? You can track the results online as they come in.

Doodle is a free service and should work for just about anybody on any platform. You and each of your participants will need a web browser and an email address.

Download Doodle

Blow up your screen—or at least the things on it—with HotBox

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

runs on Mac
screenshot of HotBox

Did you ever wish that something on your monitor were bigger? I don't mean the monitor itself—displays are getting HUGE and displaying massive amounts of information. But what about that little section over there? Whether it's because your eyes aren't quite as sharp as they used to be, or because you're looking at some video clip that doesn't have a "full screen" button on it, you'd like to make that thing you're focused on big enough to really see. Check out HotBox.

With this application, you can select a region on your display and blow it up to full-screen size. With a simple click-and-drag movement, you choose the area you're interested in and enlarge it to big (or huge). Now you can read that teeny-tiny print, or see that little thumbnail-sized image in all its glory.

HotBox is a Mac application. It runs under recent versions of OS X.

Download HotBox