Archive for April, 2010

A different kind of web browser

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

runs on Mac
screenshot of OmniWeb

There are all kinds of Web browsers out there. We're all familiar with the big guys: IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari. There's even the next level, including such contenders as SeaMonkey and Camino. There's a whole world out there beyond those, but many of them come in under the label "best kept secret." One of those is OmniWeb.

Like most browsers worth their salt, you can use this app to visit web pages and all that. The difference comes in how they implement the various bits and pieces of what you see. Their version of tabs, for instance, doesn't involve real individual tabs; instead, when you open a page in a new tab, it actually loads a thumbnail version of the target page in a pop-out drawer. To view that page, just click on the thumbnail and your current page—which is also shown in that drawer as a thumbnail—goes away and the new one is swapped in. If you've got combinations of pages that you usually access together—maybe Google News, your Gmail screen, and so forth—you can save them all into a Workspace. This makes it easy to restore your various favorites and keep your surroundings familiar. It's also easy to block pop-ups and ads, and even to block Flash content from the pages you view, and that can be a great time and bandwidth saver.

OmniWeb is a Mac program. It runs under OS X 10.4.8 and later.

Download OmniWeb

Keep an eye on Windows with Kiwi

Monday, April 19th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of Kiwi

What do you think of when you hear the word "kiwi"? A small flightless bird from New Zealand. A fuzzy green fruit. Shoe polish. How about an application monitor.

Kiwi helps you keep track of what your Windows system is up to. You can use to to monitor the processes running on your machine, keeping an eye on such statistics as when a particular app started, how much memory it's taking, and even how much CPU time it's occupying. Do with that information what you want, or you can have Kiwi take actions based on what it learns; maybe shut an app down down after it's run for a set period of time, or start a new app depending on the behavior of an application that's already running.

If you like what you see and want more, there is a paid upgrade available, but you may well be able to take care of business with the free version of this Windows application.

Download Kiwi

Keep track of text clippings

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of OrangeNote

Little snippets of text. While it may look like just so many chicken scratchings to anybody else, you know you live your life through those words and phrases you jot on the back of an envelope or into a text file on your computer. Maybe it's the shopping list—you've got to pick up more milk—or it might be the Next New Thing. How are you going to make your first zillion dollars if you write your brainstorm down but then can't find it?

OrangeNote just might be your new best friend. Essentially it's a database of everything you ever cut or copied to your clipboard. Fully searchable, you can also insert your text into other apps via hotkeys. If you've got stock text you use over and over again, there's no need to keep re-typing it. And the age-old problem of needing to keep two things on the clipboard at once goes the way of the dodo; since everything is saved to OrangeNote, it's easy to go back and grab the next-to-last thing you clipped.

A free download, OrangeNote is a Windows app. It should run under XP or Vista and requires version 3.1 of the .NET Framework.

Download OrangeNote

Create and solve your own crossword puzzles

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of Crossword Creator

Crossword puzzles are an interesting thing. They are used by little kids in school to drill on spelling words, but they've also got their industrial-strength devotees—people who actually know who Will Shortz is and delight in doing the Times' Sunday puzzle in ink. But what about taking it to the next level? Have you ever thought about creating your own puzzles?

Crossword Creator might be the tool to use if you decide to go in this direction. You can use built-in word- and clue lists, or create your own. Heck, you might create for first free-software-blogging-centric crossword puzzle out there! Some of the lists that come with this app include words in English, Spanish, and German, as well as a list of SAT clues and answers—getting into college was never so much fun. You can print out your puzzles, or solve them on your computer.

A free download, Crossword Creator is a Windows application.

Download Crossword Creator

Free graph and chart editor

Friday, April 16th, 2010

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of yEd

There's nothing like a pile of indecipherable data. Whether it's a log of visitors to your website, or fluctuations in the price of tea in China, just having a bunch of numbers doesn't really help you to analyze and understand the world around you—or at least it doesn't without giving it some serious thought. Sometimes it's a lot more helpful if you can look at things graphically as a flowchart, bargraph, or in some other right-brain-friendly medium. It's easier to spot trends, for example, if you see a line sloping upward (hooray!) or downward (oops!), than just a jumble of digits.

If you're tying to gain mastery of your data, a tool like yEd might be your ticket home. It supports oodles of different layouts and and symbols, so there's bound to be a way you can make your data talk to you. It's easy to work with, as you can rearrange all the tools and palettes to make sense for your work style. And you can export your results into a bunch of different bitmap and vector formats, suitable for including in reports or posting on the web.

yEd is a Java application. If you've got the right JRE on your machine, it'll run anywhere, including Windows, Mac, Linux, and more. For some of these, it'll work even if you don't have the right runtime, since it's included with the download. Sweet!

Download yEd

Free personal inventory tool

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Know Your Stuff

Fire. Flood. Earthquake. It's all bad, whether for the people involved, or for their stuff. While we all do our best to avoid problems—strict building codes, careful safety practices, etc.—sometimes the outcomes are not good. Hopefully your friends, family, and neighbors come through it all in one piece, but what about your stuff? If you have to evacuate and leave your furniture and possessions at home, what will be there when you return? Can you afford that loss?

We buy insurance to protect against loss, but if you want to collect, you have to demonstrate that you've suffered a loss. That means you'd better have a home inventory to show what you had. Taking an inventory can be a long, tedious process. And even once you've collected all your information, you face the possibility that your inventory will disappear, destroyed by whatever messed up your house in the first place.

Know Your Stuff is an online service that makes it easy to put together an inventory of your home and possessions. Once you set up a free account, they'll walk you through the process of adding rooms and filling them with your stuff. Track the make and model of everything you own, as well as purchase dates and replacement costs. You can even add photos and other documentation to your inventory so you've got the most information possible when you really need it. And since every thing's stored online, you don't have to worry about your paper lists or computer being destroyed and losing your records as well.

You should be able to use Know Your Stuff with any system running a recent web browser.

Download Know Your Stuff

Quick and easy web page thumbnails

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of Web Page Thumbnails

Some people just love souvenirs. You may recognize them as the ones who can't go to the Grand Canyon without grabbing an official Grand Canyon ashtray or water bottle. On the other hand, it is nice to collect a little something and bring it home with you to help prompt all those happy memories of journeys past. That all works okay if you're traveling around in the real world, but where are the souvenir shops for the trips you take around the web? For those, you're going to need to create your own little bring-along goodies.

Web Page Thumbnails is a tool that can give you a hand. With its easy to use interface, you'll be grabbing web pages and turning them into thumbnail images in no time. It's got a built in web browser, so there's no messy cut-and-paste of URLs between IE or Firefox and this tool. Use your new thumbnails to catalog interesting pages you run across as you wander around the web, or maybe something more useful, like creating a graphical sitemap of your website, complete with pictures. It creates a gallery of images you've already grabbed, so you'll always know where you've been (keeping an eye on where you're going is up to you).

Web Page Thumbnails is a free download. It's a Windows application and will run under WinXP and later.

Download Web Page Thumbnails

Life and task management

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of TimeGT

Keeping track of what you need to do and how to prioritize it all is both a never-ending struggle, and a zillion dollar a year industry. With all the techniques and approaches out there—Getting Things Done, the important-urgent method, First Things First, and more—you could spend all your time trying to get organized and no time actually doing those things that you have organized. What you need is a system that will support whatever methodology you choose, and then just get out of the way, so that the tool doesn't become more of a burden than the underlying tasks.

TimeGT is a tool that could be the answer for you. You can organize your tasks and sub-tasks by project to look at them hierarchically, but it also supports tags, so you can search horizontally as well. After all, if you've got three things you need to do at the Post Office, you might as well do them all at the same time, rather than making a dedicated trip for each of the affected projects.

This free application is written in Java, so it'll run on any platform that has the appropriate runtime installed, including Windows, Mac, various flavors of Linux, and so forth. If you want some extras, including online storage and syncing between systems, you'll need to pop a few bucks (euros, actually) for the paid version, but may find that you're doing quite well with the freebie, thank you very much.

Download TimeGT

Free Flash Effect Generator

Monday, April 12th, 2010

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Effect Generator

Everywhere you go on the web today you run across sites that feature—or are built around—Flash movies. Have you ever built one? If you're curious to find out how to do that, well, the cost of entry just got a lot lower.

Effect Generator is a free online service that lets you build animated movies. While it doesn't exactly mimic the official tools used to create these guys, it's close enough to get the job done. Experienced users can build new movies from scratch, but if you prefer training wheels, they've got a bunch of examples you can remix and adapt to your purposes. All the goodies are drag and drop, so it shouldn't take too long to put your masterpiece—or at least you first attempt—together.

You'll need the Flash plugin installed your web browser to access this tool. And of course, a bit of artistic talent wouldn't hurt either.

Download Effect Generator

Keep your system humming along

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of Application Monitor

Most days your computer is hard at work. You're running all kinds of productivity apps: word processors, spreadsheet tools, maybe the occasional YouTube clip. There's a pretty good chance it's also running apps that you aren't directly involved in, like web servers, mail servers, database stuff, that sort of thing. When Word or Excel dies, you know about it, so you can start it up again. But if one of these other behind-the-scenes guys decides to go south, how are you going to know about it—and more importantly, how are you going to get it up and running again?

Application Monitor is a tool that, as you might expect, monitors applications. You tell it what to watch for, and it'll keep its unblinking eye focused on that application. If the target app should happen to stop, it'll fire it up again right away. It's easy to set up and run, and it just might save the day the next time some important service on your machine decides it's time to take the rest of the day off.

A free download for Windows computers, Application Monitor should run under everything from the lowly Win98 up to the latest and greatest from Microsoft. You'll also need to have the .NET Framework (version 1.1 or higher) installed on your machine.

Download Application Monitor