Monday, August 28, 2006

Writely Open For Business

Google have finally opened up their free, online word processor Writely to user registrations.

WritelyThe service is still in beta testing but I've signed up and first impressions are very good indeed. All you need is a compatible Javascript capable browser and you're off and writing. Basically it's an online WYSIWYG editor but it's a lot more than just that. You can…

  • Upload Word documents, OpenOffice, RTF, HTML or text (or create documents from scratch).
  • Format your documents with a WYSIWYG editor, spell-check them, etc.
  • Invite others to share your documents (by e-mail address).
  • Collaborate and edit documents online with whoever you choose.
  • View your documents' revision history and roll back to any version.
  • Publish documents online to the world, or to just who you choose.
  • Download documents to your desktop as Word, OpenOffice, RTF, PDF, HTML or zip.
  • Post your documents to your blog.
The editor, aside from allowing you do all the usual WYSIWYG actions like change font, sizes, styles, colours, alignment, etc., can do indents; insert images, tables, links, bookmarks, comments and use numbered and bulleted lists. If that's not enough, you can get into raw HTML editing if you want.

The collaboration aspects may appeal to those working on a shared project and I can even see a use as a means of reading or converting documents you've been sent. e.g. If you don't have Microsoft Office and someone sends you a Word document, then you could easily upload it to Writely to read it, edit it or even convert it.

You can also publish a document to a select group of your choosing or just make it public and let the world see what you've been writing. Also, you can configure it to publish to your Blog so it's yet another way to get some deathly prose online.

I have to admit though that I tried to publish this post straight from Writely but, while it said it had done it, nothing got here. Still, it's in beta so I expect it has a little way to go before all the wrinkles are ironed out. As for compatible browsers, there are a few notable ones that aren't supported like Apple's Safari, Opera and SeaMonkey (you can get the full list of compatible browsers here ) but since most of the world uses Internet Explorer or Firefox, then you should be able to use one of those.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Online Image Editors

If you need to do some image editing but are at a computer without any decent editing software installed and you can't easily get hold of and install one of the many free image editors out there, then these sites might be of some interest…

Snipshot - Snipshot is a free, online image editor. Some of the image adjustment features (contrast, brightness, red-eye removal, etc.) are still in the beta stage, but most of the basic editing necessities are there already. Here's the feature list…

  • Edit big images—up to 10 MB, or 5000 x 5000 pixels
  • Import PDF (first page only), EPS, and SVG files
  • Import pictures from any web site (including Flickr)
  • Export to Flickr or save as GIF, JPG, PDF, PNG, or TIF.
  • Basic editing tools like crop, rotate, resize—many more are in the works.
  • Unlimited undo and redo.
  • Nondestructive scaling, rotating, and cropping.
  • Image adjustments (in development).

pix-en-ate - PXN8 or pix-en-ate, is another good web based image editor. You can upload and image or import it from web page and it comes with a range of basic editing options such as resize, crop, straighten and rotate. It's also got enhancement tools like enhance, fill light, whiten, sepia, and red-eye reduction as well as adjustments for brightness, saturation, hue and contrast.

Once you're done editing, you can save the image off to disk or upload it to image hosting services Flickr or All You Can Upload.

Preloadr - Preloadr is free service providing image manipulation functions linked with your Flickr account. It's designed to pre-process photos uploaded to Flickr.

The idea is to extend the fantastic capabilities of the Flickr platform with state-of-the-art image editing functions and make all that accessible from any computer connected to the internet. You can crop, scale, rotate or flip and apply a load of transform filters like blur, sharpen, brightness, contrast, colour correction, graduation curve, auto-contrast, greyscale, inverse, swirl and granulation. You can also work in layers and even add text.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Blogger Update

I've migrated this blog over to the new Blogger update, which is still in beta, so please excuse any unusual behaviour (of the blog not me).

The new interface is very nice as it allows for very quick modification of the page layout and all without having to republish the whole thing as we had to do before. On top of that blogs can now be restricted to user groups or can even be private.

For the viewer experience, each post can be tagged with labels for easier searching and the archive display section has changed a little too.

I've still got to tag, sorry, label all the posts and move a few sections around but it certainly look like an improvement from my end. The only things not working yet that I can see is JavaScript, so AdSense isn't displaying anything, and raw HTML/CSS editing.

Blogger is great and all for free.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

To Widget Or Not To Widget!

When Apple introduced Mac OS X 10.4 we got a fancy new thing called the Dashboard, which allows you to run small javascript based applications called widgets in a hidden layer on the Mac, thus saving on valuable desktop real estate. Pressing F12 switches between the standard Mac OS X and Dashboard layers and vice versa.

Of course other big players like Microsoft couldn't wait to jump on the bandwagon and copy Apple as they always do. Now you can get widgets for your PC in the form of Microsoft Gadgets, which run in the normal OS layer. Not to be left out of the hype, search engine giant Yahoo, bought out Konfabulator and turned it into Yahoo Widgets, the mighty Google have introduced Gadgets for their Google Desktop environment and then there's Opera Widgets, from the Opera browser folk. The Yahoo and Opera offerings are both Mac and Windows compatible and all but Apple's run in the normal OS layer.

Now all this sounds great and, if you go to Apple's widget download pages, Dashboard Widgets or any of the others, you'll find hundreds of useful little apps but there is a down side. Widgets, gadgets or whatever take up system memory and CPU cycles and, on a Mac, once you start them running they stay resident until you log out. What really annoys me is the fact that I often hit the F12 key instead of the backspace and then have to wait until the Dashboard initializes. I know I can assign a different hotkey to it but I'd much prefer to be able to run the one I want, when I want it and then close it down when I'm done with it. I've only got a 1GHz G4 iMac so CPU cycles and memory are precious so I've resorted to using a free preference pane called DashPrefs, which lets me disable it completely. I still run it at work but I've got a whumping great Powermac G5 Quad and a 20" Cinema Display there.

Something else I'm going to investigate is the ability to detach a widget from the Dashboard and run it in the normal application layer. Some of these apps are really useful and would be welcome additions to the tool library. Mac OS X Hints has published the means to do it so I'll give it a try soon.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Leopard Sneak Peek

Apple have released a sneek peek at their upcoming Mac OS X 10.5 release, codenamed Leopard.

As part of their seemingly annual goal of lightening our wallets, this system upgrade adds a few new features and revamps a few older ones. Here's what's new…

  • Time Machine is an automated backup system that regularly backs up everything on your Mac — music, photos, movies, documents, etc. You can even keep multiple snapshots so you can restore back to a particular point in time.
  • Spaces allows you to organise windows and applications into sessions or virtual desktops that you can easily move between at a click.
Stuff we've seen before in current and earlier versions of the OS that has been upgraded is…

  • Mail brings in lots of new and fun stationary templates and also gets Notes and system-level To-Dos that can be accessed from any Mac or PC.
  • iChat now lets you use video backdrops and iChat Theater lets you set up virtual slideshows or a Keynote presentation and you could use Photo Booth to create a video alter-ego.
  • Dashboard adds new web-oriented widgets that let you clip web pages onto your Dashboard and you can now build your own widgets using DashCode.
  • Spotlight gets a few new search options and also gets the ability to search across network mounted volumes.
  • iCal goes multi-user and gets intergrated with Mail's To Dos.
Some of the above does sound useful. An integrated backup solution is a major step forward and I'd like the ability to search mounted server volumes. As for Spaces, it's something Unix has had for a long time and, given that the Mac is built on a BSD subsystem, I'm surprised we haven't seen this earlier. You could try the excellent VirtueDesktops just now to get an idea of what's it's like. Of creating my own widgets I'm not that sure as I really don't use the ones I've got that much.

Of course it's all now 64-bit processor compatible, has some new accessibility features and should be on the shelves by next Spring so get your credit card ready.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mac OS X Backup Options

You know it's going to happen to you eventually and most of us toddle along, not thinking it'll be today, but someday it will be and unless you've done something about it you're going to be very, very upset. That iPhoto album you've been working on for years or that large iTunes library - all gone, vanished when your hard drive started making clunkety-clunk noises and then died.

Okay, the more astute of you will have uploaded your photographs, important files, bookmarks, etc. to some online services like Flickr and and will say "my iTunes music is on my iPod", I don't need to back it up. Yes, in some cases they're right and that data can be restored but it'd be a long and tedious process to do it all like that. It's much faster to restore from a local backup so if you've got an external or second hard drive and can't wait for Apple to release their new Mac OS x 10.5 (Leopard) with its integrated backup application, Time Machine, or stump up hard cash for a copy of Retrospect, then there are a few free or very low cost tools that will let you do just that.

Apple's Disk Utility comes with Mac OS X and the current version allows you to make basic clone images of any drive. It also comes with built-in Restore functionality that can restore from another hard drive, an image or even from a URL. You'll need to boot from the Mac OS X install CD/DVD, or another external bootable drive, and run Disk Utility from there to do it though and it's a pretty slow process. If you want something a little less drastic and more flexible then here you are…

BackityMac BackityMac is a useful looking, freeware backup utility that'll backup your application preferences, documents and home folder. Supported important files include Apple Mail, MS Entourage, iCal, Address Book, Safari, Firefox, Camino, iPhoto, iTunes and iWeb.

The backing up process writes the data to a read-only disk image, then you can select this disk image within BackityMac and it functions as an auto-restore of your files. If you register it for a small fee, it'll be able to burn those images out to CD or DVD. It's well maintained and updated so is worth a look.

BackupList+ Backuplist+ is a freeware tool that uses rsync, an open-source utility that provides fast incremental file transfer, to do the job and it can automatically backup system and application preferences as well as files and folders. It basically builds up sets of files, from which you can exclude items.

It will automatically collect all the important system and application preferences for backup as well. There are many other options including single compressed archives or Burn folders ready for making CD or DVD hard copies and you can schedule daily or weekly backups.

iBackup iBackup is a fairly simple to use backup and restore utility and it's the one I'm currently using as the application and plug-ins (see below) are updated regularly.

It supports scheduled backups of files, folders and applications. Furthermore, it uses plug-ins to allow you to backup settings like the dock, desktop picture, time, firewall, Bluetooth and other system preferences. It's also able to backup application preferences via these plug-ins, which are really just file location descriptors and you can write them yourself if you can't find the one you need in the list provided.

SuperDuper SuperDuper is an excellent shareware tool that started life some years ago as a floppy disk duplication tool and very good it was too. Nowadays, with the demise of the floppy drive, it has evolved into a decent backup and restore solution.

You can run it unlicensed with the publishers consent and it'll do basic hard drive cloning and restoring operations but buy a license and it unlocks scheduling, Smart Update (which saves a lot of time), Sandboxes, scripting and more.

There are a couple of older backup tools still around and, while they may not have seen much in the way of recent development and aren't Universal Binaries, they may still have some value…

Carbon Copy Cloner is an old favourite and was often used to make images for later deployment to multiple systems using its sister utility NetRestore. The developer is still working on it and NetRestore has been upgraded to a Universal Binary but it's perhaps fallen slightly by the wayside as NetRestore can also use images created with Apple's Disk Utility.

RsyncX is a freeware implementation of rsync with HFS+ support and configuration through both command line and graphical user interface. It's a comprehensive suite of file management tools and not specifically a backup and restore tool but it can be used as one. It can copy or update files, folders or volumes from one location to another. It can push a copy or update of any volume (including the boot drive) to another location. It's scriptable and you can set up an event schedule. It even comes with some useful wizards to make things easier.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Free Microsoft Project Viewers

Ever wanted to view some Microsoft Project (.MPP) files without having to buy the application? No, neither have I but I got a phone call today from one of our team in the other office with just that question.

Strangely Microsoft don't provide a free viewer as they do for some of their other Office applications and a market has sprung up with third-party publishers selling that very thing. However, if all you want to do is occasionally view a Project file, then you really don't want to be paying for it do you? Besides you might have a Macintosh or are running Linux so the option to buy just isn't there anyway.

Having had a quick ferret around the net, I came up with this lot…

ILOG Project Viewer Windows Compatible is a free application for viewing Microsoft Project files. It reads Project files saved as XML data and supports Gantt, resource and calendar views.

Unfortunately that means that it won't open normal Project files directly but it could be useful in an environment where the file's creator can be asked to save the document as XML.

HD Projette Windows Compatible is a shareware application for viewing Microsoft Project 2000 and above .MPP files. Running unlicenced has the restriction that printing is disabled and it's reputed to have a few quirks accessing files on network drives but aside from that it looks like a reasonable utility.

Afinion Project Viewer Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible is a Java based Microsoft Project file viewer and it runs on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris and Unix which, if it works, would be a useful utility for giving to non Windows users in a project team. It comes in three versions - full, lite and free but there's no description of the differences in these versions.

It reads .MPP files directly and is compatible with Project 2000 and above. It can even open Microsoft Access files and SQL Server databases.

Smartworks Project Planner Reader Windows Compatible is another free application that claims to be able to view Microsoft Project .MPP files. However, you have to convert the files to their own proprietary Project Planner Reader format first but a free converter is provided.

Project Viewer Central Online Demo Online  Service is yet another way to let non Windows users view Microsoft project files. This is a demo of a web server product that provides an online viewing service to corporate customers. However, it's free and may well do the job if you want to view small (up to 400k) project files and/or are running non-Windows systems.

Net-It Windows Compatible isn't a Project file reader as such but it provides another route to disseminate Microsoft Project files to non Microsoft Project users. Basically Net-It Now is a print driver that converts output files to a proprietary CSF format and the brava! reader can read those CSF files. The brava! reader can also read TIFF and PDF files.

Okay, you could do the same thing using Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader but that route costs money and this is free.

Well, question answered I think! It didn't take too long to find these six possible ways to read Microsoft Project files and all for free too.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Recovering Lost or Corrupt Camera Images

Have you ever deleted some pictures from your camera by mistake or erased your camera's memory card and regretted it later? Just imagine, you've been on the holiday of a lifetime and you've taken hundreds of photographs over that time. They're all stored on one of those little flash memory cards and before you can get them downloaded into your computer, the gremlins strike. You either hit the Delete All button on on the camera or pull the card out mid-write and all your images are gone!

Don't despair! Here's a couple of free tools that may prove useful in trying to recover those images you've spent hours or even days or weeks collecting before you fork out any hard cash for a commercial solution or just drop to the ground in tears, thinking about that once in a lifetime shot you've lost…

PC Inspctor Smart Recovery PC Inspector Smart Recovery Windows Compatible

This is a data recovery application for Windows users. It supports Flash Card™, Smart Media™, SONY Memory Stick™, IBM™ Micro Drive, Multimedia Card, Secure Digital Card or any other data carrier for digital cameras.

As well as image files, the publishers claim that it can also recover sound and video files as well. It supports recovery of .jpg, .amr, .tif, .bmp, .gif, Canon .crw, Fuji .raf, RICOH .raw, Olympus .orf (E-XX), Olympus .orf (C5050), Nokia 3gp, Kodak .dcr, Minolta .mrw, Nikon .nef (D1H/D1X), Nikon .nef (D2H/D2X), Nikon .nef (E5000/E5700), Sigma - Foveon .x3f, mp4, .avi, .mov, .wav and .dss.

It appears to be a tuned version of the pretty well rated and also free, data recovery program PC Inspector File Recovery. It looks straightforward - you choose the card/drive and file type to scan for, pick a place to store the recovered data and away you go. There's even an intensive scan mode if you're unsatified with the results of the default scan. It doesn't write to your media at all, thus preventing any further damage or changes to deleted data and it claims to be completely Spyware free.

Exif Untrasher Exif Untrasher Apple Compatible

This is a very useful, free Mac OS X application that can basically search through removable media drives (or any other mounted storage device) and it'll attempt to recover any deleted JPEG image files, even from reformatted media.

It will only work if the images are saved in way that complies with the Exchangeable Image File Format (Exif) standard. That shouldn't be a problem as I suspect all modern digital cameras support it as standard. Only JPEG images can be recovered in the current release and other common file types such as TIFF or proprietary RAW formats are not supported.

Zero Assumption Digital Image Recovery Zero Assumption Digital Image Recovery Windows Compatible

This is now part of the commercial ZAR Tools recovery package but in digital image recovery mode the program operates as freeware with no functional limitations. Just download and install the evaluation version, connect your camera or plug the card into a reader then select the Recover images from camera memory card option and it'll run in fully activated mode.

It supports the recovery of ,gif, .jpg, .tif, Canon .crw, .mov, .wav and Canon .cr2 file types.

All of the above utilities are pretty straightforward and designed to do one thing, recover image files from removable media, so there's not a great deal more that I can say about them other than I'd probably try using Smart Recovery first as it'll handle more file types but ZAR is a pretty close second. User testimonials for Exif Untrasher would suggest that it does the job too so it's worth trying if you don't have access to a PC.

Hopefully you'll never need to use any of them but I feel a bit more comfortable knowing that I've got some of them installed on my systems, should the need ever arise.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Google Picasa Web Albums For Macintosh

Those nice people at Google have released a set of tools to allow Macintosh users to upload digital photographs and images to Picasa Web Albums, their online image storage and sharing service.

Picasa web Albums ToolsWhat you get are an export plug-in for iPhoto and a stand-alone application that allows you to drag and drop images from the Finder and upload them directly.

Okay it's not Picasa for Macintosh, which would be a real bonus for us Mac users, but it makes it easier for us to upload images to their online storage service.

Picasa Web Albums offers a free 250Mb of online image storage, which they compare to approximately 1000 wallpaper-sized photos (at 1600 pixels each). Paying $25 a year will upgrade that to an extra 6GB of space, enough for 25,000 such images. I signed up for the free account a few weeks ago just to try it out but I already use Flickr and also pay $25 for a Pro account so I'm not really looking for another service at the moment. However, my initial experience with it was positive but it's just up there with Flickr just yet but they're still in a test phase so I expect they'll add some more functionality as they develop.

You can get the uploading tools here.

NB: You'll need Mac OS X 10.4 or later to run the tools and a GMail account to sign up for Picasa Web Albums.