Archive for June, 2011

Free file compare and synchronize tool

Friday, June 10th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of FreeFileSync

If you're doing anything even the least bit complicated on your computer, chances are you're generating anywhere from several- to a whole bunch of files. Source code files, word processing documents, images, and everything else may be scattered across your hard drive. If you're really disciplined and tidy, then you know where all that stuff is and can keep track of it all. But if your organizational skills leave something to be desired, or if you're trying to keep track of multiple versions of a project—today's work, last Tuesday's work, the version from last month—your life can get exponentially more complicated. What you need is a tool that can help you keep track of all these files to make sure you've got what you want but aren't keeping unnecessary copies of old work.

FreeFileSync may be able to give you a hand with this. To use it, all you need to do is drag and drop the two directories you want to compare and then press the magic button. Then if you want to continue and synchronize the contents of those two folders, click the Synchronize button and FreeFileSnc takes care of the rest. There are oodles of settings you can tweak to give you the behavior you're looking for, including an option to stick files into the Recycle Bin instead of just deleting or overwriting them. You can also build filters to exempt certain files (maybe configuration info?) from being synchronized.

FreeFileSync is a free download. It runs under both Linux and Windows.

Download FreeFileSync

Software USB write blocker

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Thumbscrew

USB thumb drives are handy little critters. Using something no bigger than a Pink Pearl pencil eraser, you can store anywhere from a couple gigabytes up to a ton of data, and then just as easily take it and stick it in your pocket. It's a long way from floppies, ZIP disks, and even CDs and DVDs. The fact that they're usable for both reading and writing data is a handy feature, unless you want to keep that from happening.

Thumbscrew is a simple app that lets you disable the ability to write to USB devices, whether they be flash drives or full-featured external drives. If you want to preserve the contents of your drive and keep it from being changed, disabling the ability to write should do the deed. It could come in handy as well if you don't want anybody nosing around your system to have the ability to stick their own drive into a USB port and start grabbing your stuff. Either way, you're not going to be able to write to that device—or any other piece of USB hardware—once it's been disabled. The publisher warns that this tool will probably do a pretty good job here, but if you've got super-secret extra-sensitive mission-critical stuff out there, you may want to opt for a more robust solution.

Thumbscrew is a free download. It's a Windows application.

Download Thumbscrew

Tool makes it easy to tweak hosts file

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of HostsXpert

Even though the other machines on your network, as well as all the sites out on the Web, may have names (e.g., down underneath they're really just a bunch of numbers. Since human beings have a harder time keeping track of a more-or-less random series of numbers, but a much easier time remembering words and names, we use those names and rely on the infrastructure of the Internet Protocol to do the translating back and forth for us. There are a couple of different places where that translation can take place, including DNS nameservers and the hosts file found on each individual computer.

HostsXpert is a tool you can use to help tweak your local hosts file. Even though by definition this file is just a plain old text file, if you've heavily customized the one on your machine, it can be a bit tricky to keep it updated. With this app, it's easy to add or remove entries, as well as merge files, back them up, or if worse comes to worse, to just restore the default hosts file and start over again.

HostsXpert is a Windows application. It runs under any flavor of Windows from Win98 up through at least Vista.

Download HostsXpert

Mac terminal emulator

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

runs on Mac
screenshot of iTerm2

While every new version of OS X has more and more cool stuff with a GUI front end, there will always be some things that you have to do at a command prompt through Terminal. Unfortunately, in moving into that world, you lose a lot of the features you have come to rely on in working with your Mac.

iTerm2 (successor to iTerm) is a terminal emulator program that, while giving you that all-important command prompt, also brings with it a host of other features. It features split panes, so you can look at multiple windows at the same time. Autocomplete helps you avoid the tedium of having to type the same commands over and over. Choose color combinations that make your text the most readable, as well as allowing you to keep your mouse cursor easily visible against a busy background. And it features Growl support, so if you have it running complicated commands in the background, like creating backups, uploading huge files, or compiling your latest app, it will let you know when it's done, so you can get on with the rest of your life, rather than babysitting your terminal.

You will need to be running Leopard (OS X 10.5) or Snow Leopard (10.6) to use iTerm2.

Download iTerm2

Onscreen magnifying glass tool

Monday, June 6th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of DesktopZoom

As computer displays get bigger and bigger, you can display more and more stuff on your screen at any given time. Crank the resolution up high enough and you can get several full-sized windows on the screen with room for more. Unfortunately, if you are of a certain age, or have other sight-related limitations, you may not be able to take full advantage of all that visual information simply because you can't read it all. Pulling out a magnifying glass as you look at your monitor might be one possible solution. Using a tool like DesktopZoom may be a better option.

DesktopZoom is an application that lets you take a closer look at what's happening on your display. There are options that let you magnify the area around your mouse, or zoom the entire desktop. You can use the mouse scroll wheel to adjust the magnification, and there are other features, like the ability to change colors to grayscale, allowing for less-distracting viewing. And once you get things tweaked to your liking, all your preferences can be saved to a settings file, so they're be loaded right away next time you use the tool.

A Windows application, DesktopZoom works on systems running WinXP and later.

Download DesktopZoom

Add tabs to Microsoft Office

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Office Tabs

You don't have to work in an office or academia too long before you realize that Microsoft Office is the de facto office productivity suite. Everybody uses Word and Excel, and their native file formats are the standard for word processing documents and spreadsheets. Even with a franchise this successful, however, there's always room for improvement.

Office Tabs is an add in that lets your Office application display multiple documents in separate tabs in a single window. No longer will you have to move document windows around, resizing them and trying to keep them all visible at once. It's easy to jump back and forth between documents, spreadsheets, or PowerPoint presentations by just clicking on the appropriate tab. In addition, it adds a bunch of other functionality, like a menu choice to save all open files at once, rather than requiring you to visit each individual document and save them one at a time, as well as choices that let you rename your documents on the fly.

Office Tabs is compatible with just about every flavor of Office from Office 2003 onward. Unfortunately, it's a Windows-only application, so Mac Office users will have to labor on without it.

Download Office Tabs

Simple application launcher

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of MadAppLauncher

How do you keep track of all those applications you've got loaded on your system? Even with Start menus, hotkey shortcuts, and all kinds of other schemes, it's easy to just get totally lost when trying to find that app you really need to use. MadAppLauncher might be a pain-free solution to your problem.

With MadAppLauncher, it's easy to configure the apps you want it to control: you just drag and drop files and folders into its window. It organizes programs into groups, with each group including dozens of individual apps. Groups and individual programs are each assigned a hotkey on your keyboard. When you want to fire up a particular application, all you need to do is bring up the MadAppLauncher window, type that keystroke to pick the group and choose the application, and you're off and running.

MadAppLauncher is a Windows application. It runs under WinXP, Vista, and 7.

Download MadAppLauncher

Qlock world clock

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Qlock

We live in an interconnected world. Whether it's breaking news or the people you're collaborating with on that big project, things are happening all around the world. But what time is it over there? If I send an email, it it going to hit during business hours, or are they all sound asleep? That's one of the questions you can answer with Qlock.

Qlock is a website that features an interactive map that shows you what time it is at various places around the globe. Type the name of the location you're curious about into the "Find a city" box, or just drag your mouse around on the map, and you'll get a little popup box that gives the city name and prevailing local time at that location, including whether they're on Standard Time there, or if they're observing some local version of Daylight Time, as well as the number of hours they are offset from GMT. Maybe you can finally get it—they're not snubbing you by not responding immediately to your frantic email: they're just not in the office. I'm sure they'll give your request the attention it deserves when they return.

Qlock is a free online service. All you need to access it is a web browser.

Download Qlock

Right-click files to encrypt them

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Lazar Crypter

When you were a kid and had a secret you wanted to keep, all you had to do was break out the Super Secret Decoder Ring you got for only three boxtops from Frosted Sugar Bombs, your favorite breakfast cereal, and go to town. Even though this was enough to keep your kid brother out of your business, anybody who was really determined to crack your code probably could do so. Back then, the consequences of that information being compromised weren't that big a deal. Fast forward to today. Now you've got stuff on your computer—financial information, trade secrets, stuff like that—where the impact of its being made public could be a bit more serious. That's where encryption software comes in.

Lazar Crypter is a tool that makes encrypting and decrypting files on the fly pretty easy. It integrates into Windows Explorer, so once you're installed, all you need to do is to right-click on a file, choose Encrypt (or Decrypt, as the case may be), and your secret stuff is secret. It's also got choices for Copy and Paste, making it easy to move your newly-encrypted files into other locations. The quick and easy part does have limitations, however; you can only encrypt or decrypt files one at a time (no bunch of files, no directory full of files), but if you're only looking at a document or three, that's probably not going to really get in your way.

Lazar Crypter is a free download. It's a Windows application and runs under XP, Vista, and Windows 7.

Download Lazar Crypter

Easy secure data deletion

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of EraserDrop Portable

While creating new documents is something that most applications can do, deleting old files is generally left to the operating system to take care of. You tell Word that you want to dump that DOC or tell Photoshop to kill that PNG, but it's Windows that does the dirty work. Generally speaking, that's okay—unless you are deleting something of a sensitive nature. In cases like that, you need a dedicated third-party app that can make sure your deleted file is really deleted, rather than just hidden from the operating system and other applications.

EraserDrop Portable is a tool you can use to help take care of that bit of work. Just drag and drop files or folders on the application icon, and those files are really gone. In addition to getting rid of those files, you can also wipe the Recycle Bin, to get rid of stuff you deleted the old-fashioned way, as well as wiping free space on the drive, which pretty much picks up the rest of the disk. Hopefully now you'll be able to sleep just a bit easier than before.

A free download, EraserDrop Portable is a Windows application.

Download EraserDrop Portable