Archive for November, 2009

Encrypt your documents with this free tool

Monday, November 30th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Signature995

No doubt about it: email is a handy way to move documents around. Attach a file, press SEND and your doc is headed where it needs to go. Unfortunately, anybody along the way can look at what you've sent, and that may not be what you had in mind. Upload your file to a website or some other online repository and you've got a similar problem. If somebody can find it, they can look at it.

Signature995 is a free tool that lets you encrypt your PDF files to hide their contents from prying eyes. Sure, you can do this with Adobe Acrobat as well, but it's going to cost you plenty, and if you're not cranking out PDFs for a living, it may be overkill. With Signature995, it's easy to password-protect your PDFs, as well as Microsoft Office files (DOC, XLS, and PPT), and even ZIP archive files. Encrypting your files is easy, and it's done non-destructively: it leaves the original in place as it creates the new encrypted version. Once everything's nicely tucked away, you can send your file without worrying who else is going to get their hands on it.

A free download, Signature995 is a Windows application. You'll also need to have Internet Explorer 6 or later installed on your system.

Download Signature995

A better Windows command terminal

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Console

At its core, Windows lives and dies by its GUI. Back in the day, when everything ran in text-based terminal windows, there were no such things as buttons, and pictures were something that you didn't deal with on your computer. Under Windows, most applications are pretty, make use of a mouse, and otherwise behave very non-console-y. From time to time, however, you need to get in there and thrash around with a command prompt.

Every version of Windows has included the ability for you to get to the C: prompt. And every version might as well be using the exact same terminal app for that. If you're doing things that require that you interact with your system on that level, it would be nice to have a few options to work with.

Console is an enhanced terminal app. Among other things, it features a tabbed interface, so you can have multiple terminals open at once, letting you easily jump back and forth between them. It also supports enhanced text selection, so you can copy-and-paste into and out of your terminal, saving oodles of time if you're working way down in the guts of your system and having to type in file paths that are dozens of characters long.

Console is a free Windows application.

Download Console

Become a published author (maybe) with yWriter

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of yWriter

One of the interesting things about software is the wide variety of applications and tools available. They run the gamut from simple text editors to truly complicated programs. Some are general purpose, like word processing apps and spreadsheet tools, while others are much more task specific. A bookkeeper could run her entire operation in Excel if she wanted to, but apps like Quicken and its brethren might be a better bet.

Writers have to make choices as well. You could write your screenplay or book in Word if you wanted to, but that might not be your best choice. If you need to re-arrange things and move chunks around, it's not hard to see that things could get pretty complicated in short order. Task-specific tools like yWriter might work better.

yWriter is designed specifically for writers. It uses "scenes" as the fundamental building block. This approach makes it easier to re-arrange things and keep track of how your work is going. It helps you keep track of characters and keeps an eye on your work—number of words or chapters completed in a day, and so forth.

yWriter is a free Windows download. It should run on just about any Win32 system, from Windows 95 on up.

Download yWriter

Speed up boot up with StartUpLite

Friday, November 27th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of StartUpLite

Everything in life seems to be all about "hurry up." Overnight package delivery; instant funds availability; get your pizza in 30 minutes or less. Clearly there's no room for slow in any of this. How come, then, your computer always takes forever to start up?

When you boot up your computer, you set in motion a whole series of events. Your machine goes through a process of hardware- and software-related procedures to get you from just a dead box sitting on your desk up to a fully-function digital brain. And the more you use your system, the longer this takes. Add a scanner or printer and you've got extra drivers to load. Got an app that reminds you of your next appointment? There's probably a memory-resident portion of it that has to load at boot time. Got a bunch of extra fonts on your system? That adds more time, too. But what if you you really do need things to get started faster?

StartUpLite is a tool that can help you to speed up the process. You can look at all this start up stuff, and decide which ones are really necessary for you. As a temporary fix, you can disable apps or services. For a more permanent solution, you can remove items as well—get rid of all the stuff for those old peripherals that you don't have any more.

StartUpLite is a free download. It's a Windows app and is compatible with systems running Win2k and later.

Download StartUpLite

Does that EULA let them install spyware on your system?

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of EULAlyzer

In this litigious world, nothing is simple. There are rules for everything and warnings for everything else. "Be careful" the coffee cup warns us, "this cup of hot coffee is hot." Ya' think?

If you've ever bought shrinkwrapped software, or downloaded an app from a website, or even joined an online service, then you're familiar with the acronym "EULA", the dreaded End User License Agreement. It's that thing that you're supposed to read, but usually just blast on by on the way to using your new acquisition. Many of them are just a formality, reminding you that if the app blows up and eats your data (or your system) that it's not their fault. Others have a lot more meat. The ones that allow their publishers to put spyware on your system, for example, or to trap user info and data that you generate in conjunction with their use. Bet you wished you'd read that one, huh?

You know you really should read these things, but you just can't stand the thought. Maybe EULAlyzer can give you a hand. Run the agreement past this tool and it will point out items and conditions that are likely to be of interest to you. While they're not giving legal advice, what they are doing is looking for key terms and phrases that you probably want to pay attention to. Additionally, you can save your license agreements for future reference, if you ever want to double-check on specific terms.

EULAlyzer is a Windows app. It 's free for personal or educational use, and runs on systems using Windows 2000 up through Windows 7.

Download EULAlyzer

Clipboard Help+Spell adds spell check and searchable history to clipboard

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Clipboard Help+Spell

Clipboard utilities are a handy way to extend the functionality of the Windows clipboard. With the standard setup, you get one clipboard, and once you copy or cut something new to it, the stuff that was there originally is replaced. Most of these tools, however, allow you to keep track of multiple clipboards at once. Many of them add additional features as well.

Clipboard Help+Spell is one such tool. As its name suggests, it adds a spell checking feature; after all, if you're going to go to the trouble of copying and pasting text from one document to another, you might as well make sure that what you're moving there is correct as well. Going beyond that, it also keeps track of all previous clipboard entries. Now if you need that thing you copied an hour ago—or a week ago—you should be able to call it up out of history. And to make sure you can find things, it's got built-in search as well.

Clipboard Help+Spell is a free download, although the author would be more than happy to receive your donation. Use it on systems running Windows 2000 through Windows 7.

Download Clipboard Help+Spell

Online time tracking solution

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of myHours

How do you spend your work time? How much time did you put in on the Smith Proposal or the Johnson Report? If you spend an entire day working on a particular project, it's pretty easy to track your hours—assuming you remember to track them at all. But if you work on several different things in a given week or day or hour, keeping it all straight can be much more complicated.

myHours is an online service that helps you keep track of what you've been doing. Enter your hours in real time, or stick them all in at the end of the day. Since you can track work on individual jobs or projects, you can figure out what they're costing you as well—was it really cheaper to build that new website yourself instead of farming the work out? It's easy to generate a bunch of different reports and charts to summarize what you're doing; print them out, export them to a spreadsheet, or email them. Since myHours is all online, you can access your data from any Internet-connected computer.

To use myHours, you'll need to register for a free account.

Download myHours

CacheMyWork helps you remember what you were doing

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of CacheMyWork

How complicated is your life? Pretty complex, I'll bet. Your computer is likely no less complicated. Once you get up and running on a project, you've got several apps running, a bunch of windows open, and things are just humming along. And then it comes: you have to shut your system down. Maybe it's time to go home and you're being dutiful about saving energy; maybe there's some new app that's been installed that requires a reboot. Either way, you know it's going to take you a fair amount of time to put things back to where they are now.

CacheMyWork can help you remember who's on first. When you fire it up, it gives you a list of your currently-running apps. Click the checkbox in front of each of the ones you want to re-open, and the next time you log in, it will do just that. No more worrying about having to invest ten minutes (or more) trying to remember just what it was you were doing.

A free download, CacheMyWork is a Windows app. It's been tested on XP and Vista, and probably will run under Win2k as well. You'll also need to have at least version 2.0 of the .NET Framework installed on your machine.

Download CacheMyWork

Hide your hard drive with NoDrives Manager

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of NoDrives Manager

Your hard drive is where all the "stuff" on your system lives. While the brains may arguably be the CPU and memory on your system—the places where the "thinking" happens—without the hard disk, it wouldn't have anything to think about.

When you're tooling around on your system, it's handy to have your hard drive, as well as any other permanent storage devices like USB sticks, network shares, optical media, and so on, show up in Windows Explorer. It's super easy to focus your attention on a particular drive by just clicking on its icon.

There may come a time, however, when you don't want this easy access. Suppose you share out one or more of your drives to other folks on the network. Or maybe your kids use the computer as well, and you'd just a soon have all your financial goodies hidden away, so nobody—accidentally or otherwise—gets into them or, heaven forbid, makes them go bye-bye. At times like this, it might be handy to just "disappear" your drives for a while.

NoDrives Manager lets you do just that. Basically it's a GUI front-end to some pretty gnarly manipulation of your system's Registry. Yeah, you could go in and tweak these all-important settings to hide- or reveal your hard drive, but you also run the real risk of lobotomizing your system. After all, what's Windows computer without an intact Registry? An expensive doorstop.

Pick a drive, hide it, log back in, and it's gone. Well, really it's still there, and you can even access it via the Run dialog, but it won't show to any casual passersby. And it's just as easy to un-hide it again as well.

NoDrives Manager is a free Windows application.

Download NoDrives Manager

Free onscreen ruler for Windows

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Pixel Ruler

Whether you're laying out a new web page, or writing a new desktop app, it's important that your screens be laid out just so. Or maybe you're tweaking an image file or two and want to get them just the right size. If you were doing this on your desktop in the real world with an X-acto and rubber cement, you'd be using a ruler. Well, you can do the same thing on your electronic desktop as well.

Pixel Ruler is a free tool that lets you measure precise sizes and placement on your screen. It's a floating ruler that you can drag around the screen to measure sizes of things or distances between objects. It works both horizontally and vertically, and can be stretched out to 1300 pixels in length.

A free download, Pixel Ruler is a Windows application. It's compatible with systems running Windows 98/NT and later.

Download Pixel Ruler