Archive for February, 2011

Online prototype and mockup builder

Friday, February 18th, 2011

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Mockingbird

Some of the best ideas ever were first drawn out on a cocktail napkin or the back of an old envelope. While this design methodology may appeal to our sense of rugged individualism and the elusive search for that "ah-ha" moment of insight and genius, it's probably not the most efficient way to do things. For that you probably want to be a bit more deliberate, and for that, you'll want a better mockup and prototyping tool.

Mockingbird is a tool that lets you design websites, desktop apps, or just about anything else where the layout and look is important. Starting with a blank canvas, you drag widgets from a palette that includes controls (buttons, textboxes), forms, graphs, and more. Add your own text and take your site for a test drive, visually at least.

Mockingbird is an online service. The free version lets you work on one project with a total of ten pages.

Download Mockingbird

Rename files and folders

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Parent Rename

Life with a computer can be complicated. Keeping your operating system up to date, making sure your antivirus software is current, remembering to run backups, the list goes on. That's some of the big picture stuff. But there are plenty of little annoyances to keep you going as well. Like the fact that you can't have a file and a directory with the same name in the same place.

In the real world, a folder and a document aren't the same thing, and certainly aren't likely to be mistaken for one another, but that's not the case on computer world. There a folder is just a special type of file, and because you can't have two files with the same name in the same place, you can't have a directory and a file with the same name sitting next to one another. That's probably not a big deal until you find out you've created a folder, maybe it's called Widgets, and inside that directory you have a file named Widgets. Now let's assume that for some reason you decided that since there's only one file in that folder, it makes more sense to just get rid of the folder and move that file up one level in the overall hierarchy—in other words, replace the folder with the file. We've already established that you can't just move the file into the same directory as the folder—the names collide—but if you delete the folder, you're going to clobber the file as well. That means you're going to have to play a complicated shell game, moving the file to some third location, do the deletion, and them move the document back to where you really want it to be. Unless you use Parent Rename.

This little app has but a single purpose in life: it takes a file and renames it to the name of its parent folder, and then moves that file into the parent's location, in effect replacing the directory with the file. Problem solved. Now you can get back to worrying about the next exploit that's going to try to attack your system.

Parent Rename is a Windows application. It requires version 2 of the .NET Framework.

Download Parent Rename

Take your Windows clipboard with you

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of ClipCube

We all love the System Clipboard. If not for its ability to help you copy and paste information between documents or applications, we would all use our pet's name as our password (don't try this at home kids) instead of those forty-character long gibberish passwords we all know we're supposed to use. Of course the clipboard has its limitations, handling only one item at a time, and it all goes away the next time you restart your system. That is, unless you have a good clipboard enhancement tool like ClipCube.

With ClipCube you can copy and paste more than just one item. In fact, it keeps track of everything you copy to the clipboard. Now if you need to get back to that thing you copied ten minutes ago—or maybe ten days ago—it's still there for you. Install it on a USB thumb drive, and you can actually carry your clipboard with you from machine to machine.

ClipCube sits unobtrusively in the System Tray, just waiting for you to call it into action. You get to decide how long you want to keep your clipboard history, whether it's just for the current session, for a week, a month, or forever.

A Windows application, ClipCube is a free download.

Download ClipCube

Java based web page builder

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Arachnophilia

If you're going to build a website from scratch, or write most any other code, you're going to need a text editor. While you may think that you and Microsoft Word are joined at the hip, using your favorite word processor just won't get you where you need to be in the world of coding. The stuff that makes that Word DOC look all pretty is the same thing that will keep your web page or C++ source file from doing what it needs to do. For that kind of thing, you need to drop the pretty formatting and get straight to the text itself.

Arachnophilia is a web page development tool as well as an editor for general programming use. It's got syntax highlighting, so it's easier to see what's going on in your code, and it's smart enough to know how to deal with HTML as well as PHP, JavaScript, Python, Perl, and all the rest. Various toolbars make it easy to insert HTML elements into your web page, and for those items not included, it also features a robust macro language that lets you define your own shortcuts and helps speed you along on your way to web page nirvana.

Written in Java, Arachnophilia should run on any system that has the appropriate version of the Java runtime. The version targeted for Windows has an installer, but putting it on your Mac or Linux system shouldn't cause you too much trouble.

Download Arachnophilia

Windows PDF creation tool

Monday, February 14th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of PDF reDirect

Portable Document Format (PDF) files are a handy way to exchange information. Since Adobe Reader and other compatible PDF interpreters are available on a bunch of different platforms, it's easy to exchange information with others, whether they're running a Mac, a Windows machine, or a Linux box. When it comes to creating PDFs of the document you want to share, things can get interesting. On a Mac, that ability is built in. On other systems, you may be tempted to buy some high-priced solution to create those portable files, although a look at the price may lead you to believe that there must be a better way to go. And as luck would have it, there is.

PDF reDirect is a tool that lets Windows users create PDF files just as easily as printing a document. Once it's installed, this app acts like a printer: just print your document using PDF reDirect as your printer, and go merrily on your way. There are plenty of other tools that let you do this, but this app lets you do more to your documents. It has built in tools that let you optimize your PDFs so that you can get the best compromise between quality and image size. It also lets you merge files, so you can create a big PDF instead of a bunch of little ones. And you can password-protect your creation as well, so that you control who can look at it and what they can do, like maybe allowing them to view the document's contents, but not copy them.

PDF reDirect is a free download. It's a Windows application and should run just fine on systems under WinXP and later.

Download PDF reDirect

Printable Page Borders

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Page Borders

Everything looks better when it's nicely wrapped. When you give a gift, you put it in fancy paper and stick a bow on top. When you hang a picture on the wall, you add a nice frame. It all just makes things look better. The same is true of many different types of documents you may create on your computer—wrapping a border around it can help it look more complete.

Page Borders offers a selection of dozens of borders that you can use to decorate cards, certificates, or anyplace else you'd like to add a fancy frame. Choose formal or informal page border designs, or pick a border for kids and school projects, sports and recreation, or even nature-themed borders—maybe perfect for the next garden club newsletter.

All of these page borders are available to download for free. They're available in Word DOC format, so you can add your own message or content, or as Adobe Reader PDF files, as well as PNG and JPG images. Or if you want to make some changes to the border itself, they're also available in a paid version as Adobe Illustrator AI files.

Download Printable Page Borders

Search as you type tool for text files

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Text Filter

When it comes to textual information, creating it is only half the battle. We've got text editors, word processors, and a bunch of other tools that let us write what's on our minds, either so we can remember it ourselves, or so that we can more easily share it with others. But once you've reduced your brilliant insights and observations to the written word, how do you go back and find what it is you had to say? Any text editor or word processor worthy of the name will have some kind of search functionality built in, but it isn't necessarily the most efficient tool for the job.

TextFilter is a free app that helps you to dig through your text, or that of others, and search for specific words and phrases, with highlighted results showing in real time. Once you've got your document loaded up, just start typing your search term, and this app will immediately start locating matches in your file. You can search for literal text, or for greater flexibility, it also supports regular expressions. Because after all, what's the point of being brilliant if you can't recall that brilliance?

Text Filter is a Windows application. It runs under Windows 2000 and later.

Download Text Filter

Reclaim your hard disk

Friday, February 11th, 2011

runs on Mac
screenshot of Sponge

If you've got a mess, one way to deal with it is to get out a bucket, some soap, and a big sponge. Wiping things down with that soapy sponge can take care of all kinds of problems. While that works great for the kitchen counter or the fender of your car, that's probably not a technique you want to use on your computer—especially not on the inside! For that, you need a different type of sponge.

Sponge is an application you can use to clean up your hard drive. While there's no water or detergent involved, you can still use it do quite a cleaning job on your system. This Sponge will help you to identify large but useless files that are eating up your disk space, and give you the option of getting rid of the worst offenders. It will also let you see which applications you have installed, and for the ones you want to delete, it will help you to remove all the pieces. It's also great for identifying duplicate files and helping you wipe them off your system. And it's gentle on your hands.

Sponge is a free Mac application. It runs under OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and later.

Download Sponge

Open source productivity suite

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of LibreOffice

While everybody uses email applications and web browsers, probably the most important tool to get real work done on your computer is an office productivity suite. Chatting back and forth is fine, and surfing the web can be interesting, but in terms of generating page after page of important reports, financial documents, and more, you can't beat those productivity tools. Of course the most popular suite of such tools comes from the fine folks at Microsoft. While it's popular, and the file formats are de facto industry standards, these guys certainly don't give it away. Contrast that with the folks who publish LibreOffice.

LibreOffice is a full-featured, cross-platform productivity suite that does most, if not all, of what Office does, but it does it for free. It includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation manager, graphics program, and even a database tool. It can read and write files using most popular formats, including the newer DOCX and XLSX formats from recent versions of Office, as well as the older DOC and XLS files. It's available in many different languages, and since it's open source, you know that there are no hidden gotcha's down in the code.

You can grab your copy of LibreOffice for free. It's compatible with systems running Linux, Mac OS X (10.4 and later), and Windows (Win 2000 and newer).

Download LibreOffice

High tech background noise

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Audio Chaos

We're basically visual people. While iTunes is a popular app, and MP3s are everywhere, we focus a lot on what we see. Just look at a standard model TV set. You've got a great big, super duper, colorful screen to look at, and a little two-inch speaker to listen to. It almost doesn't seem fair. While the visual stuff is important, it's not appropriate for all occasions. Like when you're driving somewhere, or working on the computer, or trying to snooze. In situations like that, it's the audio that's much more interesting.

AudioChaos is a tool that you can use to explore some of this audio world. It bills itself as a "soundscape generator", meaning that it can take music, noise, nature sounds and such, and weave them together into interesting aural backgrounds for your day. Whether it's wind and wave sounds, bird calls, or musical samples, you can create your own soundscapes that invigorate or relax. They've got links to free audio samples to help you get started.

You can run AudioChaos on your Windows machine.

Download Audio Chaos