Monday, December 25, 2006

More Online File Conversion Services

Having featured some free media and file conversion tools and services in a few earlier posts…

…this is a round up of a few more that I've come across lately…

Zamzar Online  Service

A free file convertion service that will handle files up to 100Mb in size. It can convert a fairly large range of document, image, music and video formats.

All you do is pick the files you want converted, select a format to convert them to, enter your email address and hit the Convert button. Within a few minutes you'll receive an email containing a download link for your converted file(s). You can convert up to five files at a time and Zamzar will hold the converted files for 24 hours before deleting them.

I tried it out with a 4.8Mb PDF and it converted it to an MS Word .doc file very quickly. Okay, it wasn't exactly spot on with the page layout but all the elements were there and I could edit them all easily. I also converted a Flash movie (FLV) to a QuickTime MOV file and it did it perfectly.

ConceptDraw Visio File Converter Online  Service

This is a free web service that is available to anyone who uses diagramming software and has a requirement to open Microsoft Visio (VSD) documents. This service was been created because Visio users often don't save their drawing into Visio XML (VDX) file format, which is more portable. They typically send files as VSD documents, often making it difficult to read them by other diagramming software packages such as ConceptDraw, which is quite popular with Macintosh users as Visio isn't available to them.

Xconv Online  Service

Converts a small range of audio, video, MS Office, image and text file formats. Not an all-encompassing service but there are a few useful converters in there. For example, you can convert AVI or WMV files to an animated GIF.

A maximum file size of only eight megabytes makes it a bit limited though.

Vixy FLV Converter Online  Service

This one can convert Flash movies (FLV), like those you'll find embedded on video sites like Youtube, to another MPEG4 format - AVI (DIVX + MP3), MOV (MPEG4 + MP3), MP4 (MPEG4 + AAC), 3GP (MPEG4 + AAC) and MP3.

All you do is submit the URL of the web page with the embedded movie and it'll convert it for you and then offer you a link to download the converted file.

iConv Online  Service

A mixed bunch this one. There's a collection of various converters for text file end-of-line characters (Unix2DOS, DOS2Unix, Mac2Unix), PDF text and info extractors and some data file format converters (.xls to CSV, fixed record length to delimited and vice versa and CSV to delimited).

So, to sum up, I'd definitely recommend Zamzar and Media-Convert for general file conversion services. The others listed are more niche or specialist focused but could be useful if the need arose.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Free PDF Creation

PDF logoPDF or Portable Document Format is the recognized industry standard file format for distributing or sharing documents of almost any kind across mixed operating systems. It's actually an open standard format and you'd think it'd be easy to get hold of PDF creation utilities without it costing an arm and leg, but it isn't. Well, actually Apple built PDF output facilities into Mac OS X so it comes as standard on a Macintosh but if you're a Windows or Linux user, then it's not as straightforward.

Microsoft had initially wanted to include PDF creation into Windows Vista but withdrew it after a complaint from Adobe, who make a great deal of money selling Acrobat. Owners of Microsoft Office 2007 can download a Save as PDF add-in but everyone else has to find an alternate solution.

There are quite a few free or low cost utilities that'll install a virtual PDF printer out there but they mostly rely on Postscript to PDF converters like Ghostscript to do the job and these are pretty large installs. Still, if you want an installed solution that lets you output to PDF from any Windows application, then here's a a few free ones to check out…
Online productivity applications like Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Zoho, ThinkFree and gOffice and some of the bigger free office suites like OpenOffice and KOffice come with PDF output capabilites too so I'm not sure why Adobe jumped on Microsoft at this stage of the game.

Linux users might want to check out CUPS-PDF, It installs a GPL virtual printer and, although a bit on the basic side, it provides basic PDF output.

On top of these there are a few free, online PDF convertion services…
  • PDF Online - converts MS Word, MS PowerPoint, MS Publisher, MS Excel, HTML, Text, JPG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, PNG, EMF and WMF files.
  • ExpressPDF - converts MS Word, MS Excel and HTML files.
  • PDF Converter - converts 58 file formats, including MS Office, MS Works, HTML, Lotus 123, JPG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, PNG, EMF, WMF, SVG, Photoshop, AutoCAD and many more. There are some limitations ot the free service like a 30 minute delay between convertions and you can only convert up to seven files a month but it handles many file formats and can even reverse convert from PDF to MS Word or MS Excel.
  • Document Converter eXPress - converts an enormous range of file formats to PDF, PostScript, EPS, BMP, JPEG, TIFF, PCX, PNG and GIF. However, it only converts files up to 1Mb in size.
  • Another useful site that I've mentioned before is Media-Convert, a free service to convert web pages or files up to 50Mb in size. It can handle a vast range of formats and PDF is listed in both input and output so you can even reverse convert from PDF back to lots of other formats.
As you can see from the lists above, if your PDF needs are fairly basic, then there's no need to buy Microsoft Office 2007 or Adobe Acrobat.

PS Adobe Acrobat Reader 8.0 is now available.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Easy GPS Tracking

If you've got GPS capabilities on your phone or PDA, then you might be interested in having a look at 3dTracking.

It's a novel (and free) way to use the Internet to either monitor the movements of a GPS receiver or to display a previous route that's been travelled. So, depending on where you put the receiver, you can follow the progress of a moving vehicle or person and watch the points appear on the map as the receiver moves. Alternatively you can view a previously recorded path that a vehicle or person moved along.

You'll need a GPS receiver, either integral or connected to a PDA or phone capable of running the application and an internet connection. The data can be transmitted live to the servers via any means available to the device so if it has GPRS, 3G, etc., then you'll get the data live but you could also wait until it syncs with your computer.

Once the data is on the server, you can monitor the route via Google Earth or Google Maps. Just select your starting date and time, as well as your end date and time, and the system will show you exactly where you travelled and your speeds along the way.

Currently the software only runs on devices running Windows Pocket PC or Windows Mobile 5.0, and there's a Java version for mobile phones running on Java, Symbian or Microsoft Smartphone operating systems.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Online Office Tools

Online productivity tools for such things as word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, project management and graphics are now getting to the stage where they are getting really useable. If you've got a broadband connection and only need basic features in these categories, then these are fast becoming a serious alternative to the more traditional installed applications.

On top of that, there are some real benefits in using online productivity tools…
  • Files are stored online so they don't take up any space on your hard drive.
  • Files can be accessed via any system capable of running a web browser and connected to the internet.
  • Documents can be shared with others or published online.
  • You can allow others to collaborate in your projects.

This is probably the highest profile online word processor and spreadsheet application suite at the moment, even if it is still in beta. The word processor was inherited when they took over Writely, the spreadsheet came from their own Google Labs and I've just read that they'll be taking over iRows, another online spreadsheet, in January next year. Here's what you can do with the Google offering…
  • Upload Word documents, OpenOffice, RTF, HTML or text (or create documents from scratch).
  • Use a simple WYSIWYG editor to format your documents, spell-check them, etc.
  • Invite others (by e-mail address) to edit or view your documents and spreadsheets .
  • Google Docs & SpreadsheetsEdit documents online with whomever you choose.
  • View your documents' revision history and roll back to any version.
  • Publish documents and spreadsheets online as Web pages or post documents to your blog.
  • Download documents to your desktop as Word, OpenOffice, RTF, PDF, HTML or zip.
  • Import and export of .xls, .csv, and .ods formatted data (and export functionality for .pdf and .html).
  • Use formatting and formula editing in spreadsheets so you can calculate results and make your data look the way you want it.
  • Chat in real time with others who are editing your spreadsheet.
Of course, Google isn't the only option and the following are all free as well…

This is a fantastic set of free, open-source, online office suite and productivity tools.
  • Zoho Writer - Online word processor with collaboration features.
  • Zoho Sheet - Online alternative to traditional spreadsheet applications with powerful features like charting, collaboration & more.
  • Zoho Show - Online presentation tool to create, edit, publish, and show presentations.
  • Zoho Projects - Project management software to create, manage & collaborate online.
  • Zoho Creator - Online database applications manager.
  • Zoho SheetZoho Planner - Online organizer to maintain your todo’s, reminders, notes, attachments etc.
  • Zoho Chat - Unique and intuitive way to make group decisions faster.
They also have a few extra free utilities such as web site monitoring, polls and candidate evaluation. On top of that there are plug-ins to allow you to view Office files available online directly and you can even edit documents online and offline with a plug-in for Microsoft Office.

thinkfreeAnother online office suite that gives you 1Gb of storage free and allows you to create Microsoft Office compatible word processing, spreadsheet and presentation files or edit existing documents. Basically…
  • Create, view, and edit Microsoft Office compatible files over the web.
  • Collaborate using group editing and file sharing. Share folders where others can post files for you to review and you can allow them to read or edit these too.
  • Publish documents to their Doc Exchange, your web pages, blogs, bulletin boards or Internet applications.
  • Tracks previous versions of a document and roll back through past versions to see how the file has been modified over time.

BasecampAn award-winning web applications suite with project collaboration, group chat, information management, collaborative writing and shareable to-do lists. It's aimed more at business users and for them there are commercial rates for more functionality but it's free for personal use.
  • Basecamp - a project management tool designed entirely around the concept of open, centralized two-way communication using simple tools such as message boards, to-do lists, painless file sharing, and flexible scheduling.

  • Campfire - a web-based group chat tool that lets you set up password-protected chat rooms in just seconds. Invite a client, colleague, or vendor to chat, collaborate, and make decisions. Set up a room on your intranet for internal communications.

  • Backpack - an organization tool with to-dos, notes and a calendar.

  • Writeboard - create shareable, web-based text documents that let you save every edit and roll back to any version and even compare different versions.

  • Ta-da List - keep track of all the little things you need to get done and then share them with anyone you like.
Obviously some of the above tools like the to-do list, group chat and writeboard are incorporated into some of the more complex ones like Basecamp and Backpack but if all you need is the simple stuff then it's nice to see them unbundled like this.

Ajax 13

These are a collection of online applications that work through the Firefox browser but they don't offer you any online storage or collaboration features.
  • Ajax WriteajaxWrite - a web-based word processor designed to look like Microsoft Word that can read and write Microsoft Word and other standard document formats.

  • ajaxSketch - a web-based drawing tool designed to look just like Illustrator or Inkscape that provides a familiar environment for diagramming, creating flow charts, free hand drawing and more. You can perform functions such as resize, rotate, change background or pen colors, and alter opacity.

    It and uses the SVG format natively, which is an illustration format that's both powerful and open — complex gradients, compound shapes, and dynamic content are all managed easily in ajaxSketch. Since SVG is an open standard, any files made with ajaxSketch can be brought directly into Microsoft Visio, Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, Macromedia Freehand, and other illustration programs.

  • ajaxPresents - a web-based presentation editor that lets you read, edit and save Microsoft PowerPoint files (.ppt) as well as Open Standard Presentation files (.odp).

    Also on offer is a facility to share your presentation with others. In addition to viewing your presentation, your visitors will be able to submit comments, edit the presentation and save a copy of the file on their local machine.

  • AjaxXLSajaxXLS - a web-based spreadsheet viewer designed to look like Microsoft Excel that allows you to easily open any .xls file within your Firefox browser. Compatibility with Microsoft Excel and OpenOffice allows ajaxXLS to preserve all your common cell formatting categories such as text styles, decimals, currencies, dates, and times as well as formulas, backgrounds and borders from the original documents.

    Currently this is still only capable of viewing XLS files and the editor version is still in development.
Another site worth considering, but not free, is gOFFICE. It's an office suite with word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and desktop publishing facilities. It used to be free but now costs just $0.99/month. Apparently, they were hoping to be picked up by Yahoo! but that fell through, hence the need to pay for themselves via subscriptions and ads.

It seems heavily weighted towards the publishing side as output is either high-quality PDF or HTML so if your needs lean in that direction it may well be worth considering for such a small outlay.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Which Earth?

Now that there are several options for viewing online global map data, which one is best? Well, I'm not going to answer that at the moment as it really depends on what you want out of the service as some are better at some things than others.

So, what's available? Well, the main players for online aerial data maps are Microsoft Virtual Earth and Google Maps but there are others such as Yahoo! Maps and Ask Maps & Directions. These are definitely the big four in the field at the moment with probably Virtual Earth leading by a nose.

If aerial data is what you're after then Flash Earth is well worth visiting as it allows you to view maps from Google Maps, Virtual Earth, Yahoo! Maps, and a few others and you can switch between those providers at the click of a button. This is great for comparing the services as each has its strengths and weaknesses and sometimes you'll find one has better map data for a particular location.

Flash Earth
Flash Earth also uses a consistent interface for all provider maps so you don't have to change how you use it. e.g. you move the map by clicking and dragging, pressing the arrow keys or clicking on the compass points. Zooming in and out is done by dragging a slider up or down, using the + or - keys or your mouse scroll wheel and rotating is as easy as dragging the compass edge around.

Still lurking on the sidelines are the more traditional mapping sites like Mulitimap, and Ordnance Survey Get-a-map. These are all fine for street maps in built up areas and they all use Ordnance Survey data for more detailed maps, which is invaluable if you're into a bit of hill walking like me. Of course there are loads more, especially if you're after driving directions or specialist weather conditions. Have a look at my map tagged links for loads more map related sites.

Snap Preview Anywhere

I've just added Snap Preview Anywhere to this site. It's a free service from internet search engine that can display a small preview of any site linked to from a page. Just hover the mouse over the link above and you'll see what I mean.

Just thought I'd try it as it looks like a good way to get a quick glimpse of where a link is going before you actually bite the bullet and click on it.

The preview window can be enabled for all external links on a page or you can pick which ones you want previewed (like here) and you can also enable or disable a search box to allow users to search the net using Snap.

Snap bills itself as "The other way to search" and offers an alternative to the more traditional text-in, text-out search engines as it shows a preview image of each found query. For example…

Snap Preview AnywhereThe previews aren't created on the fly but are held from previous search results on Snap's servers so all you get is a small image download. You can open a selected site directly in the preview pane (or in a new window) and they also offer an ActiveX plug-in to allow that to be the normal way to interact with your found sites.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Download Thousands Of eBooks

I came across the Open ebook site while hunting around the net for books on photography and was amazed to find it offered thousands of freely downloadable books in a wide variety of categories.

I'm not sure if it's all above board or not and the site is also a bit slow and clunky (the search didn't work) so the category listing is the best way to browse it. The categories on offer are ASP & ASP.Net, CGI & Perl, PHP, Jsp, Database, WebPage, Design, Server, Office, System, Network, Game, Magazine, Exam, Comic, Development, Communication, Society, Business, MultiMedia and Other. Okay, they're a bit weighted towards the technical side but there are magazines, comics and even some works of fiction in there too.

The files come in PDF or CHM format and Mac users should get hold of Chamonix, which is free, to read the CHM files.