Friday, March 30, 2007

Google Pack Updated

Google Pack, a collection of useful and free Windows applications and utilities, has been upgraded to include free virus and spyware detection and removal tools.

The new members of the pack are Norton Security Scan and Spyware Doctor Starter Edition. Both utilities are fairly well-respected in their fields so they're worthwhile additions to the suite. The anti-virus software originally included was only free for six months, after which it turned into nag-ware while it tried to get you to pay for updates.

The rest of the pack contains…

  • Google Earth
  • Picasa
  • Google Photos Screensaver (updated to support photofeeds)
  • Google Desktop
  • Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer
  • Mozilla Firefox with Google Toolbar
  • Adobe Reader
and optionally…
  • Google Talk
  • RealPlayer
  • Skype
  • Google Video Player
  • GalleryPlayer HD Images
Mac OS X users can download from Google Software Downloads for the Mac, which contains…
  • Google Earth
  • Google Notifier
  • Google Toolbar
  • Google Widgets
  • Google Sketchup
  • Picasa Web Albums Uploader
Related Posts: Free Anti-Virus Tools

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Mobile Searching Updated

With the recent final release of Windows Live Search for Mobile, both Google and Yahoo! have updated their mobile search services.

Google has opted for a new mobile search interface that returns a list of results categorized by the various search types like images, web, business, local, etc. and you can customize the page by adding weather, stock reports. news and movies to the search.

They've also updated mobile access to Google Maps with support for Windows Mobile, Blackberry and Palm OS devices.

Yahoo! oneSearch follows much the same tack as Google inasmuch as it returns lists of results by category but these are optimized for the type of search being performed. If it knows where you are it'll also filter results for local services. e.g. cinema times, weather, traffic, etc.

It also gives mobile links to your other Yahoo! services such as Address Book, Calendar, Driving directions, Flickr, Mail, News. Weather, Messenger, etc.

Yahoo! Go, a device resident application, delivers email, search, news, photo-sharing, weather, sports, and other Internet services to mobile devices. It claims to support 75 Windows Mobile devices from major manufacturers, including more than 175 different device models. Doesn't support my iPaq yet though :-(

Related Posts: Windows Live Search For Mobile Goes Final

Yahoo! Mail Offers Unlimited Storage

Yahoo! have announced that it will begin offering unlimited storage for its free web-based e-mail in May and that the upgrade should be completed for most users in about a month.

Currently, Yahoo! Mail offers 1Gb of storage for its free mail service and 2Gb for its premium, fee-based service. In comparison, Google's free Gmail service offers more than 2.5Gb of storage and Windows Live Hotmail offers 2Gb for free.

With over 250 million users, Yahoo! is the largest e-mail provider but I suspect it's only a matter of time before Google and Microsoft follow this.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Picnik Now Supports Picasa Web Albums

Picnik, an excellent online photo editing and manipulation application, has been updated.

As well as being able to directly edit images held in Flickr! accounts, it can now also support Picasa Web Albums accounts.

On top of that, you can now add border effects or rounded edge effects to your photos and they've redesigned and rearchitected their special effects to include sepia, black and white, boost, soften, vignette and matte transformations.

Registered users can also try out some of the new premium effetcs such as tint, focal soften, focal black & white, infrared film and gooify free of charge while the system is still in beta phase. There more as well and you can read the full details on the Picnik Blog.

Related Posts: More online Image And Photo Editors, Picasa Web Albums Updated, Google Picasa Web Albums For Macintosh

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Getting Things Done

Thinking RockIf you're looking for a free project management application, then you might be interested in ThinkingRock Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible, a cross-platform, Java based personal organizer that allows you to collect your thoughts and process them into actions, projects, information or future possibilities.

Unlike heavyweight project management applications like Microsoft Project, ThinkingRock embodies a way to organize things according to David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology. GTD is about creating context-specific lists of tasks. These lists can then be organized into tasks, projects and actions as required.

Actions can be done by you, delegated to someone else or scheduled for a particular date. Projects can be organised with ordered actions and sub-projects. You can review all of your actions, projects and other information quickly and easily to see what you need to do or to choose what you want to do at a particular time.

I don't normally organize myself so rigidly but I quite like the idea of GTD and have started giving ThinkingRock a try as it might just suit the way my mind works (a bit random and non-linear). While the XML data file used is small and ideal for storing on a USB drive, it's a pity it's not a web-based application as that'd be ideal for people moving around a lot.

Other project management applications worth checking out are Basecamp, Zoho Projects and KOffice, all of which I've mentioned before in related posts. Added to those are some I haven't looked at yet but almost certainly will soon - Actiontastic, , iGTD, myLifeOrganized, Nozbe and Simple GTD.

Related Posts: Online Office Tools, Microsoft Free Word Processing

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Computer Privacy Options

If you're ever worried that someone will be able to access your PC or Mac data, then you might want to consider installing or configuring some privacy or encryption options. For example, if your laptop is lost or stolen would you be happy knowing that whoever it ends up with could trawl through your data and find whatever private information you may have stored in there - passwords, bank details, commercial information, etc.

Of course the best course of action is to never store such data on your machine but we all do it for convenience. There are a few things you can get to help keep things private and they're either free or included with the operating system…

Windows Encrypting File System (EFS) Windows Compatible - EFS is built into Windows XP Professional can encrypt files and folders on NTFS formatted drives up to AES standard with 256-bit keys. Encryption is transparent to the user that encrypted the file, which means that you don't have to manually decrypt the encrypted file before you can use it.

Adanced Attributes dialogMoving unencrypted files into an encrypted folder will automatically encrypt those files in the new folder. However, the reverse operation will not automatically decrypt files. Files must be explicitly decrypted. Encrypting a file or folder with EFS is fairly easy…
  1. Locate the file or folder and right-click on it.
  2. Select Properties from the contextual menu.
  3. Select the Advanced button.
  4. Set the Encrypt contents to secure data checkbox and click OK.
NB: You can't mix and match compression and encryption. It's either one or the other.

Security System Prefernce PanelFileVault Apple Compatible - This is built into Mac OS X and provides the user with a means of encrypting their home directory to AES standard with 128-bit keys. All encryption and decryption is done on the fly and is completely transparent to the user once it's configured.

FileVault is enabled via the Security System Preference panel and it's possible to enable a master password for the system to allow an adminstrator to recover the situation should you forget your account password.

The only downside is that when you log-off, it'll sometimes ask if you want to recover any space freed up by deleted files and that can take a bit longer than expected.

Security System Prefernce PanelTrueCrypt Linux CompatibleWindows Compatible - A free, open-source disk encryption package for Linux and Windows 2000, XP and Vista using encryption algorithms like AES-256, Serpent and TwoFish. It works by creating a virtual disk volume inside a file, which it can then mount as a device. A version for Mac OS X is planned for the future.

TrueCrypt can encrypt an entire disk partition or a removable storage device such as a USB drive and once installed, encryption/decryption happens on-the-fly and is transparent. You can even create a hidden TrueCrypt volume within another TrueCrypt volume for extra protection.

Apple Disk Utility Apple Compatible - Another useful application bundled as part of Mac OS X, Disk Utility can, among other things, create encrypted disk image files (.dmg) using AES 128-bit key encryption. That means that you can assign a password to a disk image file that will be required before it is mounted on the desktop.

With Disk Utility you can create a new, blank disk image file or you can create an image of an existing folder or device. Either way, you can specify whether the image is compressed and/or encrypted and whether it is read-only or read/write.

BitLocker Drive Encryption Windows Compatible - This is built into Windows Vista Enterprise and Ultimate editions and provides an encryption solution that covers the entire operating system volume. By default it uses AES 128-bit key encryption combined with the Elephant diffuser for additional security.

It can operate in either transparent or user-authentication modes or you can even require that an external key is provided via a USB volume before the system will accessible. Its primary function is to protect the system against unauthorised startups in the event of theft or loss and Microsoft recommends that EFS (see above) is used to protect confidential data on other volumes.

While Bitlocker is only supplied with the Enterprise and Utimate editions of Vista, it is supposed to be being made available as a free download for installation on other editions. BitLocker also requires certain a hardware setup and drive volume configuration before it can be implemented so it may not suit all PC systems.

CryptoExpert 2007 Lite Windows Compatible - Creates encrypted virtual disks, which can be amounted as normal disks with drive letters. You can do anything with a CryptoExpert virtual drive that you can do with a normal hard drive; only that with CryptoExpert, the encrypted volumes require password authentication before the files become accessible.

Encrypted volumes can be up to 20Mb in size and are encrypted with the CAST 128-bit algorithm. Stronger protection via AES 256-bit and larger encrypted volumes up to 256Gb are available in the commercial version.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Creating A Virtual PDF Printer On Mac OS X

If you do a lot of printing to PDF files on a Macintosh, then you might be interested in this post from Mac OS X Hints

Batch convert Word files to PDFs

The article is mainly focused on allowing you to run batch PDF creation jobs from Microsoft Word but it also introduces us to CUPS-PDF, a virtual PDF printer module for Mac OS X.

While Mac OS X has printing to PDF built-in, you have to select that option for each job you want done. However, the CUPS-PDF module adds a Virtual Printer entry into your printer list so, if you have a large amount of PDF file creation jobs to do, then you can easily set it as the default printer and just get on with it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Flickr! Gets Collections

One of the most user-requested features on online photo storage and sharing site Flickr! was a way to categorize photo sets or basically, nested sets or sub-sets. Well now we have it and they're calling it Collections.

Collections can contain sets or other collections, but not both, and can be nested up to five deep so you can create a pretty complicated hierarchy if you want to. Of course, sets can be in as many collections as you want.

Each collection is identified with a 4*3 icon mosaic to represent it (see pic on right) and you can either allow Flickr! to create this for you or you can cherry-pick images from your photostream or sets. You can even organize the layout of the images in the mosaic, if desired.

Once you've got a few collections you can then modify the layout of the Your Photos page to allow you to display your sets or collections in the right hand column. You can choose from displaying small images only (no sets), small images + sets, small images + collections, medium images only (no sets), medium images + sets or medium images + collections. The small image size gives you 18 photos per page and the medium size gives you five.

I had a bit of trouble modifying the mosaic the first time I tried it so it's not entirely glitch free yet but it's definitely a very nice added bonus for us flickr! users.

Microsoft HD Photo, A New Image Format

Microsoft have announced a new image file format called HD Photo (also known as Windows Media Photo), that promises higher image quality with greater preservation of data and advanced features. Microsoft intends to try and standardize the technology and will be submitting HD Photo to an appropriate standards organization shortly. Here's what they're saying…
HD Photo offers compression with up to twice the efficiency of JPEG, with fewer damaging artifacts, resulting in higher-quality images that are one-half the file size. In addition, HD Photo offers increased image fidelity, preserving the entire original image content and enabling higher-quality exposure and color adjustments in the image. This new format offers the ability to decode only the information needed for any resolution or region, or the option to manipulate the image as compressed data.

HD Photo fully preserves the original image fidelity with high dynamic range while still allowing for significant improvement in compression size. In addition, HD Photo offers both lossless and lossy image compression, and can retain the full dynamic range and color gamut data from a camera’s sensor. Also, because making adjustments to common color balance and exposure settings won’t discard or truncate data as other common bitmap formats typically do, it’s easier to “undo” those changes at a later time. As a result, significantly smaller files can be created while still retaining optimum picture quality.

Microsoft also announced a set of free HD Photo plug-ins for Adobe Photoshop (CS2 and CS3), which will be available for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Mac OS X, sometime in May. Support for HD Photo will be built into Windows Vista and Windows Server 2003 via a Windows Imaging Component or via .NET Framework 3.0.

More information is available on Bill Crow's HD Photo Blog and the HD Photo Feature Specification page.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Picasa Web Albums Upgraded

Picasa Web Albums , Google's image and photo storage and sharing service, has been upgraded…

  • They've increased their free storage allocation from 250Mb to 1Gb. That's about enough to hold 4,000 standard-resolution photographs.
  • They've also added the facility to directly link to individual albums and photos, making it easier to share them via e-mail or IM. They even give you the HTML code to display an album or photo on a web page.
  • Finally, there's a new Community Search feature that lets you share and search public albums.
They've also integrated it with Blogger so if you've got a blog hosted by Blogger, log in to Picasa Web Albums and you'll find a new album containing uploaded images from your blog. This is useful as now you can see those uploaded images and even delete ones that you've managed to get orphaned from posts (it happens). On the downside, those blog images will eat into that 1Gb of free space so if you've got a particularly image rich blog, then you might need to consider paying for more storage or being more careful when uploading images.

Tip: I usually resize images to the size I'm posting them at as it saves space and should be faster at loading and rendering. If you need a utility to help crop and resize images, check out the related posts below.

Related Posts: Google Picasa Web Albums For Macintosh, Low Cost Macintosh Image and Photo Editing, Low Cost Windows Image and Photo Editing, Online Image Editors, More Online Image And Photo Editors, Paint.NET 3.0 Released

How To Change An iPod Battery

US based iPod parts and repair site has some excellent, free video tutorials on how to replace an iPod battery and other parts like the hard drive, logic board, etc.

They have videos covering the current model range all the way back to the 3rd generation iPods and they're working on producing videos for the 1st and 2nd generation models.

If you're wondering where to buy such bits and pieces in the UK, here's a couple of sites worth checking out.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Application-free Instant Messaging

meeboIf you're a fan of instant messaging systems like Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, Google Talk, Jabber, AIM and ICQ and don't have access to the client software, then you might find meebo worth checking out.

meebo Online  Service - connects you with your instant messaging buddies from absolutely anywhere for free. It supports Yahoo, MSN, Google, Jabber, AIM and ICQ so whether you’re at home, on campus, at work, or on holiday, just visit meebo on any computer to access all of your buddies and chat with them, no downloads or installs required!

eBuddy Online  Service - Another such online service is eBuddy and they allow you to connect to MSN, AIM and Yahoo messaging services. All you need is a Javascript capable browser and they even offer a mobile version to support xHTML or WAP based devices. This includes mobile phones, PDA's, Sony PSP and Nintendo DS so you can chat while you're on the move.

ILoveIM Online  Service - Lets you connect to MSN, AIM, Google and Yahoo messaging services.

…and then there there are some service specific online services like MSN Web Messenger, AIM Express, ICQ2GO! and JWChat.

Of course if you really want an installed cross-system client solution, then have a look at…

Adium Apple Compatible - A Mac OS X application that allows you to chat with AIM, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, Jabber, Bonjour, Google. .Mac, Lotus Sametime, Novell Groupwise, QQ, Gadu-Gadu and LiveJournal Talk messaging systems.

JBuddy Messenger Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible - a cross-platform solution that supports AIM, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, Lotus Sametime and Jabber messaging systems.

Trillian Basic Windows Compatible - a skinnable Windows client that supports AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo and IRC messaging systems.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Photoshop Going Online

Picked up from an article on c|net are plans for Adobe to take Photoshop, their flagship image editor, online as a hosted application.

In an interview with Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen, he stated that they intend to offer a hosted version of Photoshop within the next three to six months as part of a larger move to introduce online services to broaden the company's reach into the consumer market.

The service is set to be a free, entry-level version of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements with revenue coming from online advertising. This isn't a first for Adobe as they're already offering Adobe Remix, an online and cut down version of Adobe Premiere Elements, free to Photobucket customers. They have plans to extend this business model to include other Adobe applications like Adobe Lightroom and even hybrids if appropriate.

Chizen was also emphatic that these cut-down versions won't stint on quality and they intend to ensure that they are of a higher quality than competing free products like Google's Picasa.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Web-based Interactive Whiteboards

Whiteboards were being bandied around some years ago, well before the term Web 2.0 raised its head, as the answer to network collaboration. Trouble was you needed software installed on your PC or Mac to make them work and that came with all the limitations of such systems. They needed to be cross-platform applications and anyone you wanted to collaborate with had to have the same software, sometimes even the same version as well - sigh!

The term "interactive whiteboard" is more readily associated with those large touch sensitive boards used in classrooms and training courses but "electronic whiteboard" is a closer description as there's not that much interaction involved. These are really just simple input devices with some clever software running the show.

Now there are several useful looking and free implementations of web-based interactive whiteboards that'll run via your internet browser so no more compatibility issues and everyone has a web browser, don't they? These are truly interactive as they allow more than one user to update them at the same time. Here are a few that I've found that look worth investigating if you're looking for that kind of functionality…

scribbleskrbl Online  Service - With skrbl (scribble) you can write notes, sketch drawings, upload pictures and files. You can switch between freehand drawing and rich text entry modes easily and it saves and syncs your work automatically.

skrbl whiteboards are about real-time collaboration so, while you can work away in private if you want, you can also pass out your whiteboard URL to allow others to join in and add to the content.

There's an interactive trial mode if you want to try it out before signing up but it can get a bit erratic if there are more than one of you scribbling away simultaneously. Still, it gives you an idea of how it all works.

ThinkatureThinkature Online  Service - is about instant messaging inside a virtual workspace. With it you can set up a collaboration environment, a meeting room or a personal web-based whiteboard or even use it as a planning, brainstorming or outlining tool.

Thinkature is based on cards you design and place on the virtual workspace. These can be freehand drawing objects, text boxes or images copied from the web or uploaded from your own system and you can draw connecting lines between cards or use move them forward or back in the workspace.

There's also a voice chat facility so you can have a conversation with other users of your workspace while you're all together so there's not even a need for a separate phone conference to keep things fresh and productive.

Imagination CubedImagination Cubed Online  Service - This is a straightforward, collaborative whiteboard where you can invite others to join in by instant messenger or e-mail. There are no accounts required and you're up and running as soon as you load the page.

Imagination Cubed has more drawing tools than the systems mentioned above and you can choose from a pen with various brush styles, shapes, stamps, lines and text. You can select a colour for each tool, set the background colour or pattern of the workspace and there's even a grid you can overlay as well. The one downside is that text is limited to a single font and face, all you can change is size.

How storage of drawings is managed is unclear but you can send a link to your sketch to an e-mail address. Power boarders will appreciate the undo function and the ability to replay all the drawing actions taken to build the whiteboard as a movie.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Clean Install Vista For The Price Of An Upgrade

I've just read the excellent "Get Vista upgrade, never pay full price" article by Brian Livingstone on the Windows Secrets site about how to do a clean install of Microsoft Vista using the lower priced upgrade version so, if you're planning on installing Vista anytime soon, it's well worth reading.

When installing a new operating system, it's always better to do it on a clean, newly formatted drive. Upgrading from an older version almost always ends up with you having issues or niggles with installed software packages. It's more work to do a clean install but the end results are usually much more reliable.

While a few of you might think the ethics of doing this are a bit hazy, absolutely no "hacking" tricks are used here and the process is all done using the Microsoft installation tools. Of course, if you want to try and influence Microsoft's allegedly unfair UK pricing policies, then have a look at the e-petition on the No 10 website, urging Tony Blair to bring pressure on Microsoft about their alleged overcharging.