Archive for May, 2011

Full screen web browser

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

runs on Mac
screenshot of Plainview

Sometimes bigger is just better. Bigger car, bigger house, bigger paycheck—we want it all. The same can be said of computer stuff as well. Bigger, faster processors, more storage, huge monitors, the list goes on. Sometimes, however, bigger just isn't big enough. When you visit a website with your high powered cinema display, you still aren't able to take full advantage of that monitor. What you need is a web browser that isn't going to get in the way.

Plainview is a full-screen Web browser. Rather than having to deal with all the various menus, toolbars, and status bars of most browsers, Plainview lets you spread your web page out over the entire display, making full use of that high-powered monitor of yours. While it's nice to look at web pages, from time to time you're going to need some kind of control—maybe to look at another page, or to save an interesting page to a bookmark, or all that other browser-y stuff. Well have no fear; each of these can be easily handled by a quick keystroke combination, or even more easily be just moving your mouse to the top of the screen. As if by magic, your Mac's menubar will appear and you'll be able to drive this app the old fashioned way. But once you're done with this stuff, move the mouse back into the middle of the page, and you're back in full screen mode. In addition, Plainview also features a presentation mode, that lets you pre-program pages you want to display, kind of like a PowerPoint presentation, as well as a kiosk mode, that lets you access pages but nothing else.

Plainview is a free download. It's a Mac application, and runs under Tiger (OS X 10.4) and later.

Download Plainview

Flash Cards

Monday, May 30th, 2011

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Printable Flash Cards

Sometimes the latest and greatest bleeding-edge technology is what's needed to get the job done. If you're a trailblazer and boldly going where nobody has gone before, this may be the approach for you. If, however, your goals are a bit more modest, the tried-and-true approach may be more your style.

Flash cards as a learning aid have been around since forever, or at least as long as there have been index cards. It's easy to write a question on the front of a card and the answer on the back. Or if you'd like to modernize the process, maybe you can enlist your computer to give you a hand, along with the folks at Printable Flash Cards. This site has dozens of sets of ready-made printable flash cards covering a wide variety of topics, including geography, science, literature, and more. Or if you don't see the set you need, they've got a free flash card maker you can use to generate your own custom flash cards. Choose from four- or six cards to a page, or you can add additional pages to your flash card set. Print 'em out, use them to study, and next thing you know you'll be a Rhodes Scholar (well, maybe not, but why not aim high?).

Printable Flash Cards is a free service. Any flash cards you download will be in PDF format, so you'll need a copy of Adobe Reader to print them out.

Download Printable Flash Cards

Free file sharing and preview service

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Dropdo

Sharing files is a necessity. Whether you're collaborating on your latest project, or you've got those killer vacation photos you need to share, you want to be able to get those files from here to there without too much of a headache. Email is okay for small, single files, but once you go beyond the simple stuff, your life can get complex rapidly.

Dropdo is an online service that lets you share your files without the limitations of email, while at the same time avoiding the hassles of big-time file sharing services or, heaven forbid, the need to set up and administer an FTP server or the like. Just point your browser at their site and upload a file or enter the URL to a file that's already online, and you're golden. The site features a built-in file viewer, so you can see your document, text file, image, or what have you immediately after you upload it. And then you can share it with whoever you want, sending the file's new URL via email, Facebook, Twitter, and more.

Dropdo is a free service.

Download Dropdo

Distraction-free word processor

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

runs on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of FocusWriter

It's easy to get distracted. Email, telephone, co-workers, and more—everything is vying for your attention, but you've got work to do. Sure, you can take the phone off the hook, and if you're lucky you can close the office door (or move into the conference room to hide from everybody), but there's always the problem of the computer itself. Email, Twitter, and the latest viral video will always try to distract you. That's where you need a tool to help keep them all out of the way.

FocusWriter is one such application. When you start it up, it fills the display, effectively hiding all that other stuff on your desktop. While it's a full-featured text editor, supporting rich text as well, by default is has a minimal user interface—as in none. Move your mouse to the top of the screen to get toolbar and menubar functionality, go to the bottom to see status updates, or to the right edge to get a scrollbar. At all other times, it's just you, your thoughts, and that little flashing cursor. With all that other stuff out of the way, your productivity is sure to soar. Or at least maybe you'll finally get that report finished.

You can download FocusWriter for free. It's available as source code (for the adventurous), as well as Mac and Windows binaries and several Linux packages.

Download FocusWriter

Add a border to your digital images

Friday, May 27th, 2011

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of BorderMaker

Sometimes what a picture really needs to set it off is a nice frame. Look at all the framing shops that have spring up over the past several years to see how important that can be. So if you've got a Picasso sitting in the corner collecting dust, it's easy to grab it and head off to get it framed. But what about the digital images on your computer? While they may not be the next Matisse, they might look better wrapped in a nice frame. Unfortunately, you're probably going to have a problem jamming that picture frame into your computer.

BorderMaker might be the alternative you're looking for. Rather than shoving a bunch of fancy molding into your hard drive, this app will help you craft the just-right border your digital images need. You decide the size and shape you want, and before you know it, your pictures are all fancied up. If you like, you can also add text and titles ("How I Spent My Summer Vacation"), or watermark them with your copyright information, or even all the vital info regarding camera settings when you took that great shot.

BorderMaker is a free download. It's available for Linux, Mac, and Windows machines.

Download BorderMaker

Free file archiving tool

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of jZip

If you've got a pile of files to work with, chances are your life will be easier with an archiving tool. Using an app that takes all those files and stuffs them into a Zip archive can help keep you sane. Now instead of having to deal with dozens (or hundreds) of individual files, you can move them around all at once. In addition, having the ability to compress those files can make all the difference in terms of the storage space they take up, as well as speeding up the process of sending them along as an email attachment or uploading them to a server out on the Web.

jZip is a tool of this sort. It lets you build industry-standard Zip files, as well as unzipping those files later. It's smart enough to work with other popular archive formats like TAR, GZip, and RAR, so if get a file from somebody else, you can probably open it and extract its contents. It's designed to be super fast, so you won't have to spend all day taking care of business, and its improved compression capabilities mean that your archives will be even smaller than ever. It also features an optional command line mode, great for adding this kind of functionality to batch files and scripts.

jZip is a free Windows application.

Download jZip

Open source backup and synchronization

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Synchronicity

Backups are—or certainly should be—an important part of the care and feeding of your computer. You never know when a system crash, or a poorly typed command, may take hours, days, or years worth of data and send them off to the big Bit Bucket in the Sky. If you're on top of things, you probably run your backups on some sort of regular schedule: daily, weekly, monthly, or something similar. That's all well and good, as long as your system is thoughtful enough to fail immediately after the last backup. But if you backup on Friday and you suffer a hard drive failure on Thursday, all of a sudden you've got six days worth of work that has all gone away. This, my friend, is no cause for celebration.

Synchronicity is a tool you can use to create backups. But in addition to the usual periodic process, it also supports synchronization, essentially a real-time mirroring of your hard drive so that you always have a current backup because it's constantly being updated. Now when your system decides to blow up on you, you're not going to lose anything, and that's a whole lot better than losing everything.

Synchronicity is a free download. It's a Windows application and runs under Windows 2000 and later. Version 2.0 of the .NET Framework is also required.

Download Synchronicity

Image converter and resizer

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of XnConvert

Some big jobs require a fully-packed toolbox and a highly-trained mechanic; other somewhat smaller undertakings can be completed with nothing more complicated than the screwdriver from the kitchen junk drawer and the neighbor kid. If you've got big image manipulation tasks to take care of, you probably want Photoshop, GIMP, or some other similar full-featured app; but if your needs are more modest, you might get away with something a bit smaller.

XnConvert is a tool you can use to tweak your digital images. Not a full-on image editor, you can use it to resize, rotate, and watermark your images, as well as playing with brightness, shadows, and more. It supports hundreds of image formats (I didn't know there were hundreds of image formats), so you probably can't find a file it won't handle. And it's cross-platform, running on Linux, Mac, and Windows machines, with both 32- and 64-bit flavors, and has been localized for over a dozen languages.

XnConvert is a free download.

Download XnConvert

Fast file search tool

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of UltraSearch

Information is great, and usually more information is better. This assumes, of course, that you can put your hands on that information. If you've got some big book packed with important critical info but no index, it's probably not going to do you a lot of good; you've got to be able to find what you're looking for to make it useful. Your computer has a ton of files on it, many of which are probably important to your business, hobby, or some other use. But if you can't find them when you need them, then they're really just taking up space.

UltraSearch may be just the kind of tool to give you a hand with locating those files. Rather than spending a lot of your computer's horsepower building its own indexes in the background, this tool taps into the Master File Table of your NTFS partitions. Since that table's already there, you may start to see the results of your search while you're still typing your search terms into the app. It's got filters to help you exclude the stuff you're not looking for—particular directories, documents, or file types—while speeding you along toward your goal of finding that piece of critical information you're looking for.

You can grab a copy of UltraSearch for free. It's a Windows application and runs under Win XP and later, including 64-bit versions.

Download UltraSearch

Free typing tutor

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Rapid Typing Tutor

Back in the day, you could take a dedicated typing class in your local high school or community college. Along with learning the various letter formats, you got to practice—a lot of practice—in the art of touch typing. Back then, it didn't seem very exciting, and not everybody took advantage of the opportunity.

Fast forward to today. Now everything we do requires that we interface with a keyboard of one type or another, yet actual dedicated typing—"keyboarding"—classes can be few and far between. You can only get so fast with the "hunt and peck" or "two finger" approaches to typing. If you think you might like to take advantage of learning a thing or two about good old fashioned two hands on the keyboard touch typing, you might want to check out the Rapid Typing Tutor.

This app includes several lessons designed to make you a whiz at the keyboard. You can also design your own lessons if you know areas you'd like to improve in. It automatically tracks your progress, so you can see how much better you're getting with repeated practice. It supports multiple users, tracking individual learning. And it's easy enough for kids (or non-tech savvy adults) to use.

Grab your copy of Rapid Typing Tutor for free. It runs on Windows systems.

Download Rapid Typing Tutor