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Links to postings on OPCUG's web site with reviews of specific freeware and open-source packages are provided below, with the articles listed in alphabetical order. So, read on. There is a lot of interesting stuff to dig through.
But, if you don't find exactly what you are looking for on this page, did you know that OPCUG also has a guide to free software? This series of newsletter articles contains brief listings of free programs that, for the most part, have not been reviewed by club members. The application that you need may just be listed in the OPCUG Free Software Guide.
A Picture Gallery for your Android Smartphone
I have been struggling for some time with various digital image management systems on my Android smartphone. The default app bundled with the phone didn’t want to let me flip through the available images, seemingly preferring to open one at once, which was completely unacceptable. A second package that I downloaded wouldn’t let me tag multiple images for deletion. Again, another show-stopper. Other apps came, and rapidly went, with similar deficiencies. Finally, I checked the fount of all freeware knowledge – gizmo’s freeware – and identified QuickPic Gallery as the editor’s choice for an Android image viewer.
A Practical PDF Reader for Android
The ability to easily read PDF files on a smartphone is somewhat restricted by the small size of the display screen. Practically, only a portion of a page can be displayed at any one time. The problem often comes when it is necessary to move to the next page. Some apps move from the bottom of one page to the bottom the next page when thye really need to go to the top of the next page. The solution is to use MuPDF, a free, cross-platform app for Android, Linux, Windows and IOS.
If you own a Nikon camera with built-in or plug-in WiFi, you may be somewhat disappointed with the level of WiFi support. Nikon has a somewhat anemic Wireless Mobile Utility that allows limited remote control for taking photos and transferring them from the camera to Android or iOS devices. But what if you have a laptop computer and want to transfer your photos from the camera to the laptop? Or a Windows tablet? Or a Linux computer? Nikon’s utility won’t help you.
Airnef is a free, open-source utility for Windows, Linux and Mac OS. It allows you to connect to your camera and transfer photos and videos over a WiFi connection.
Another Day at the Office - A review of OpenOffice 2.0
With the release of OpenOffice.org 2.0, I decided that it was time to break free of the bonds of Word, Excel and PowerPoint and move to an open-source office suite. Now, I should say that Excel has always worked well for me, but Word (that frequently decided it should change the font on paragraphs being cut and pasted) and PowerPoint (that has a mind of its own when it comes to automatically assigning fonts to lines of text) have always been a different story. So, does the OpenOffice suite provide a reasonable replacement?
Another View of PDF Files
I have been using Foxit Reader since 2005. Well, that is until recently when Foxit, in its wisdom, decided that I also needed Foxit Cloud – whether I asked for it or not. Time to find a new PDF reader! One possibility that gets good reviews is PDF-XChange Viewer which hails from Tracker Software Products (Canada) Ltd of Chemainus, BC. Wow! - a home-grown, freeware, PDF reader – we just have to give this one a whirl!
PDF-XChange Viewer, a further review - Part 1, How to Search an Image PDF
A more detailed review of this free PDF viewer from another perspective
PDF-XChange Viewer, a further review - Part 2
Part 2 of a more detailed review of this free PDF viewer
Ashampoo Burning Studio 6 Free
The publisher of this software says: "Ashampoo Burning Studio 6 FREE focuses on what you want: To burn discs quickly, easily, with maximum quality and minimum hassle. It includes everything you need to be able to do that. And it excludes everything that could get in the way." Can it really be this good - and free? Well, yes it can. Ashampoo lets you burn files to a CD in literally just a few mouse clicks.
Basic File Renaming (File Renamer Basic)
Are you looking for a simple way to rename batches of digital image files? If so, you may wish to try File Renamer Basic from Sherrod Computers. This program is freeware and is the little brother of regular and deluxe versions of the package that are available for purchase. While the basic program handles straightforward renaming of one or more files in a given folder, the regular version of the software adds features like drag-and-drop, while the deluxe version provides even more functionality, such as an undo for file renames. For most users, File Renamer Basic is likely to provide all the necessary features that such a package might offer. In fact, the renaming capabilities of this version are very powerful, yet extremely simple to use.
Batch File Renaming (Bulk Rename Utility)
I am amazed at how often I can find a piece of free software to accomplish precisely the task I wish - seemingly no matter how obscure the requirements. Suppose, for example, I wanted to remove all the hyphens from the names of multiple files and, at the same time, standardize the file names to use just the first eight characters. No doubt, that with sufficient time and effort, I could write some sort of script to undertake this task, but is there an existing utility program that can do the job? As it happens, I did need precisely this capability - with the additional requirement to have the renaming process work for both file and folder names. I tried a number of batch file renaming programs before I found Bulk Rename Utility which could
handle my specific tasks - and much more!
Better Disk Defragging – Upside Down?
Microsoft's Vista looks pretty and has some useful new features, but a change in the user interface for an old friend just doesn't cut it. I'm talking about Accessories – System Tools - Disk Defragmenter. The new version of Disk Defragmenter that comes with Vista is evidently designed to work on an assigned schedule. Gone are the brightly-coloured displays. And, running a manual disk defrag under Vista yields only the soul-less message: “This may take from a few minutes to a few hours”. There must be a better way! We might want to turn to a company from down-under for a solution. Auslogics Disk Defrag comes from a company based in Sydney, Australia.
Blocking those Da*n Telemarketers (Call Control)
It’s 6:05 pm; now who is that calling? You’re right, it’s the duct cleaning company from India, or it’s the Captain wanting to give me that free cruise. I don’t get that many telemarketing calls on my cellphone, but the ones that do arrive are really annoying. So, currently, I am trying Call Control, a call-blocking app from the Kedlin Company.
Building a Better Image (Batch File Renamer and Image Resizer)
In today's world, digital cameras are all pervasive, and readily produce hundreds of images. The problem is that, straight out of the camera, the files have non-intuitive names, such as IMG_0671.JPG and IMG_0672.JPG. And, with multi-megapixel cameras, the file sizes can be huge (2MB and up) which makes sending several pictures by E-mail, or posting them to a web site, quite a challenge. This article reviews a freeware package (Batch File Renamer) and an open-source program (Image Resizer PowerToy Clone for Windows) that will rename and resize your pictures in batch mode.
Burn CD's and DVD's for free – with CDBurnerXP
Do you keep shelling out more cash for new versions of one or other of the industry's leading CD/DVD creation suites? Do these packages provide vastly more features than you need to burn a few files to a disk? If so, you should give CDBurnerXP a try. This freeware program will let you burn CD's and DVD's, including Blu-Ray disks, with special features for music files and ISO images. You can also copy disks and remove all of the contents of rewritable media.
Can we go to the next message? - Please! (Thunderbird)
In previous articles I have documented my gradual shift away from mainstream software packages to open-source offerings such as Filezilla, an FTP client, and OpenOffice.org, a suite of office applications. Having successfully discovered that OpenOffice provided an excellent substitute for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, I decided it was time to seek a replacement for Outlook, Microsoft's flagship E-mail client. Given my previous favourable experiences with Mozilla products, I decided to try Mozilla Thunderbird in its latest incarnation as Version 1.5.
I always try to keep my computer as clean as possible to avoid many problems such as filling up my hard drive too quickly, but it takes time and it's not always easy to know what is good and what is not. Obviously one can delete the Recycle Bin and the Temporary Internet Files without trouble, but there are lots of files I'm not sure about, and there are those that I know exist but not where they are. So when I heard at the IT Pro SIG that CCleaner was a nice cleanup program that was quite reliable and free, I was happy to give it a try.
Checking Hash Sums
Normally, I don't bother verifying files that I download to check that they are not corrupt. They are usually installation files for software or PDF files. My practice is to run the installation routine, or load the PDF file. If there's a problem, I will see an error message and then I just download the file again. However, when I decided to give the Windows 10 Technical Preview a try, the download was almost 4 GB, and I decided that it really would be prudent to check the file before trying to install it. The process was simple using the MD5 & SHA Checksum Utility.
Checking Out with Unchecky
This little utility loads as a terminate-and-stay-resident program and sits quietly in memory monitoring for software installations. If it finds that you are installing an application that tries to bundle other products, it will uncheck the relevant boxes – automatically – in the background! – and allow the main installation to proceed without any further action on your part.
Composing HTML with KompoZer
KompoZer is an open-source package that offers all of the features that I desire in an HTML editor. First and foremost, it has to edit and save HTML files without adding a whole raft of spaghetti code - as several "designer" programs are prone to do. Secondly, it has to provide easy-to-use buttons for things like formatting text (e.g. bold, centered), and also support "complex" page elements such as anchor tags and tables. Obviously, one can create all these HTML codes in a simple text editor such as Notepad++, but it's so much easier with a purpose-built editing package.
Let me say right up front that I do not own a digital camera so I don’t have a need for a heavy-duty photo manipulation program, but having said that, I do regularly handle images that I scan myself or receive via email. When Evelyn Watts of Corel demonstrated Snapfire Plus at our March meeting she hit on one feature that I knew would be incredibly useful: the ability to easily straighten up images. Anyone who has worked on a scanned image knows that it doesn’t always come out straight no matter how much care you take to position the original. In my experience, scanned images coming from other people only tend to be worse. Watching Evelyn’s demo I was intrigued, very intrigued. Snapfire, available as a free download from Corel, is a "reduced feature set" of Snapfire Plus and leaves out a number of the more desirable functions (like the straighten feature) but it does allow you to try out many of its features for free.
Cryptxt v3.21 -- Encryption Software
I recently decided that it would be useful to be able to encrypt a number of files to, hopefully, protect the data they contain from being read by any unauthorized individuals. One thought was that the data source might be stolen, and encrypting the files would make the actual data useless to the casual thief. No doubt there are many similar applications for data encryption that may be of interest to others. A search of the file library on PUB II identified a number of candidate programs and, after reading some of the associated documentation files, I settled on Cryptext v3.21, a freeware utility from Nick Payne of Australia.
Digital Image Editing with GIMP
Sure, you could go wild and buy Adobe Photoshop CS6 for around $750 (or perhaps the Extended edition for more like $1050). Or, maybe you would be satisfied with their baby brother, Adobe Photoshop Elements, at around $100. Then again, you could get most of the power, with none of the cost, by trying GIMP - the GNU Image Manipulation Program.
Directory Listings Made Easy (Directory Printer)
Have you ever wanted to print out a list of files in a Windows' directory, or needed to save such a list to a file for importing into a spreadsheet? If so, you may have found this to be a difficult task, since Windows doesn't provide a utility program to do the job. Sure, just like in the good old days of DOS, you could go to a command line and use a pipe to route the output of a directory command to the printer or to a file, but who remembers how to do this? For non-geeks, the simpler answer might be to use Directory Printer, one of Karen Kenworthy's Power Tools. This little utility program is tailor made for creating directory listings. And, it's free!
Do you have a need - or a desire - to run DOS programs? Perhaps you have some programs that you wrote many moons ago (like my Clipper-compiled, dBASE III, accounting program from 25 years ago!) Or, maybe you have some old games that you haven't played in a while. But, when you go to start these DOS programs on your new computer, running 64-bit Windows 7, you are presented with an error message that your program is an "Unsupported 16-Bit Application". In other words your version of Windows won't run DOS programs. Well, that's not strictly true. There is a simple solution - install and run DOSBox.
Downloading YouTube Videos
YouTube videos come, and YouTube videos go, or at least, YouTube videos can sometimes be hard to re-locate if you see something interesting but don’t bookmark the URL. An alternative is to download the video of interest to your hard drive for future viewing – but how? Enter YTD Video Downloader, a freeware package that makes downloading YouTube videos, and video files from several other web sites, a simple task.
EaseUS Todo Backup Free 6.5
When it comes to backing up my computers, I am a fan of "image" backups. I have been an Acronis True Image user for many years and am happy with the program and its full features. But I don't always need full features. All I really want is disaster recovery - the ability to quickly get back to a working operating system with a couple of dozen programs. A full image backup every month or two is sufficient for that. I considered using Macrium Reflect, but one of its big limitations is that it cannot do incremental images. However, before I got around to installing Macrium Reflect, I happened across EaseUS Todo Backup Free. One thing that caught my eye - Todo Backup Free can do incremental images! Even though I didn't really need it, I figured it was worth trying.
Electronic File Shredding
Recently, a friend wishing to dispose of an old lap top computer asked for my assistance. She wanted to give the machine to a good home, but needed to ensure that some personal files, E-mail messages and financial information, were permanently removed from the hard drive. Could I help?
Well, no. I couldn't. But, Google certainly could. The very first hit on a search for “file shredder” provided a link to – what else? – File Shredder.
See also: Wipe Out Old Data (File Shredder and HDShredder)
Quite often when you listen to the radio you tell yourself "Oh, I would like to get that song", and it's quite easy to go to any of the multitude of stores and get it for maybe $15. But there is nothing more convenient to get a song or other digital material than to start a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) program, type the title and/or the artist, wait a bit to get it downloaded and then be able to enjoy it as often as you want for free. No wonder that this type of activity is now one of the most popular uses of the internet. Let's talk about a P2P program that I find very well done called eMule.
FairStars CD Ripper
Many newer vehicle models have the capability of playing music files from a USB drive plugged into an accessory port. And, most of us have extensive collections of music CD's. What we need to make good use of both is a CD ripper - a program to extract the individual music tracks from a CD, convert them to MP3 format, and store them on a disk. Enter FairStars CD Ripper - a simple, yet powerful piece of software to do precisely that.
File Encryption Revisited - TrueCrypt
I recently obtained a new laptop computer which, of course, runs Windows Vista. One program that I use quite regularly, Cryptext, my tried-and-true file encryption utility, couldn't install itself under Vista. So, it was evidently time to seek out a new encryption program, one that is compatible with Vista. TrueCrypt is both free and open-source. Now, that's often my kind of utility program. And, the description made it seem like the ideal package for my purpose, an "encryption program that lets you place files and folders in 'safes' of any size."
File Encryption with AxCrypt
There is an enormous wealth of free software available from the open-source community so, when you are looking for a specific utility, it's not hard to find something that will readily do the job at hand. When it comes to file encryption, one of the simpler open-source programs you can use is AxCrypt from Axantum Software AB in Sweden.
|FileZilla - Open Source FTP
There's lots of buzz these days about open source software. The story goes that large numbers of dedicated programmers collaborate on a project and develop a robust, multi-featured application, which is made available for use by anyone at no charge. Because the underlying code is available for close scrutiny by so many knowledgeable individuals, any bugs are fixed in record time, and additional features are frequently added. This seems to be true for FileZilla, an open source FTP utility - the program appears to be bug free, and has superb functionality.
File and Folder Synchronization Revisited
FreeFileSync is an open-source offering from ZenJu on SourceForge. The utility can be used to maintain a mirror of specific files and folders. The power of the program is in the various optional features that can be harnessed to undertake the desired tasks. The beauty of the program is the simplicity of its operations once the appropriate options have been set.
Finding a Backup Program (Macrium Reflect, Paragon Backup & Recovery, EaseUS Todo Backup, AOMEI Backupper)
I’ve been a long-time user of Acronis True Image. However, I have found the user interface has become a mess over the past few versions and I don’t see it getting back to the simple interface I liked. When True Image 2013 told to me it isn’t Windows 10-compatible, I wasn’t offered a free upgrade to fix the problem. So I decided to go looking to see if there was a better backup option, preferably free!
Finding Duplicate Image Files (VisiPics)
You probably have lots of duplicate files scattered over your hard disk. However, today’s hard disks are huge and so retaining a number of duplicate files isn’t necessarily a major problem. The problem is more likely to be that, because your hard disk is so big, tracking down the duplicates in order to delete them is quite difficult. This can be especially true for digital image files (each of which can be several MB) since you may well have the same image stored in different folders and under different file names. Wouldn’t it be nice if a software utility would search the content of images rather than just the file names? Well, if this is what you want, give VisiPics a try.
FolderSync – File Comparison and Directory Synchronization
When I found the freeware package FolderSync listed on PC World's "101 Freebies" web page, I couldn't resist giving it a try. I'm always looking for a quick and easy way to make backups of projects in progress and usually this means copying new and updated files from my working directory to a USB memory key. And, that's precisely what FolderSync is designed to do.
FoxReader vs. Adobe Reader
To put an end to the slow response (and occasional system instability) associated with Adobe Reader, in both Internet Explorer and Firefox, I now use FoxReader (ver 1.3 Beta Build 0819, and of no relation to Firefox). FoxReader is free from Foxit Software. In comparison to Adobe Reader, FoxReader is also a fraction of the size, and displays documents much faster.
GParted - A little open-source "partition magic"
Historically, Windows hasn't provided a graphical tool for modifying hard disk partitions, and users have generally had to purchase third-party software for this purpose. Vista does offer such a tool, in the form of its Disk Management utility, but this disk partitioning program is rudimentary at best. So, if you want to resize or delete an existing partition, or create a new disk partition, what can the open-source movement offer to facilitate the process? One answer is GParted, the Gnome Partition Editor.
When writing articles for the newsletter, I often include screenshots which illustrate a particular operation or configuration on the computer. Windows includes a function for taking screen captures, but it is pretty rudimentary. You can press the Print Screen button on your keyboard to capture the full desktop, or Alt-Print Screen to capture just the active window. You can then paste the screenshot into any application that can handle a graphic. I went looking for a free program that would be a bit more capable and, a couple of years ago, I found Greenshot; a free and open source program. This review is based on Release Candidate 2 for Version 1.1.
Sometimes you get what you pay for... I wanted to use a free disk imaging program, and thought I would give HDClone a try. One and a half hours later, I had a 38 GB disk image of the 38 GB hard drive, that had only 8 GB being used. The free version of HDClone has a few small limitations. It doesn't ignore empty disk sectors, it runs slower than the paid version(s), and it will only restore the image to a bigger hard disk. Three strikes - it's out!
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a service that could efficiently scan all files on your computer using multiple anti-malware engines? herdProtect from Reason Software is a free anti-malware service that does exactly that. It can scan all the files on your computer using 68 different anti-malware engines. The big ones are represented; Avast!, AVG, BitDefender, eSet, McAfee, Microsoft, Panda, Sophos, Trend, etc.
Hide in plain sight
Steganography is taking one piece of information and hiding it within another. The container object continues to appear and act as the original, unaltered object. As such, it does not raise any suspicions to the casual observer. The objects that can be used as containers are almost endless, but there are some containers that lend themselves to the job better than others. Graphic and sound files seem to be the most commonly used containers. Due to their nature, the introduction of a small amount of “noise” spread throughout the image or sound is not likely to be detected, let alone interpreted. There are also steganographic tools available that will hide messages in plain text, unused space on floppy disks, slack space at the end of files, and more.
Sudoku is a game that plays on a 9-by-9 grid that requires putting the digits from 1 to 9 in every row, in every column and in every sub 3-by-3 grid. The rules are pretty simple but trying to solve some of those little puzzles can get terribly hard, making the game a good exercise for your mind, and a good way to pass some time. The easy levels can be solved all in your mind, but for the harder levels it becomes necessary to write down all the "candidates" that a cell can have in order to solve the puzzle, and anyone who has tried to use a pen and paper knows that it gets pretty tedious to keep track of all of them. Lots of programs exist to play Sudoku, but one that I find particularly good is called HoDoKu, a free and GPL program written in Java.
How to Create a Bootable CD with no CD! (TotalMounter and Rufus)
If you have a netbook (or similar computer) with no CD-drive, creating a System Repair Disk for Windows 7 might seem to be quite a challenge. Windows will happily provide you with the option to do so. Simply navigate to: Control Panel - System and Security - Backup and Restore - Create a system repair disc. The challenge will be in responding to the next prompt that indicates: "Select a CD/DVD drive and insert a blank disc into the drive". With no CD drive available this going to be tough! Furthermore, what you need is a bootable USB drive, not a bootable-CD. However, don't despair, two free utility programs - TotalMounter and Rufus - can come to your rescue.
Images to PDF (i2pdf)
Suppose you have a bunch of JPG files that you need to include in a single PDF file. You could import them one-by-one into a word processing document and save the resulting file as PDF. Or, perhaps you could write a macro to automate the page production process. But, wouldn’t it be easier if you could just drop the images into a program and have it create a PDF file? And, wouldn’t it be nice if that program were free? What you need is i2pdf (image to pdf).
Incredimail - an email experience
I’ve been looking for a better email program for years. But every email program I tried lacked the comfort factor I was looking for. Then one day my daughter-in-law suggested I check out a new email program called Incredimail. I decided to try yet another email program and downloaded the free version and installed it. Well within an hour I was convinced that I had at last found the email program that had eluded me for so many years.
Irfanview32 Graphics Utility
If, like me, you own a digital camera and/or scan pictures and save them on your computer, you need a graphics program to access and work with your pictures. One of the best and simplest graphics utilities I’ve ever come across, and my personal favorite, is a product called Irfanview32. And it’s also a freeware program for individual use. Irfanview32 supports multiple image formats. It also has many different functions for basic and advanced users.
Just Remind Me!
Do you need a simple calendar-alarm app for your smartphone? Would you like to just set a given event, on a specific date and time, and have your phone automatically fire off an alarm at the appointed moment? If so, then Just Reminder, from AppHouze Co., may be the app for you.
Keeping Passwords Safe (KeePass Password Safe)
The essence of password management systems is an encrypted database, opened by means of a master password, that contains listings of individual web sites and their associated login credentials. Even better, most of these programs offer a way to enter a userid and password for any given site more-or-less automatically, thus expediting the login process. My password manager of choice is KeePass, primarily as it is open-source software that garners good reviews, but also because the Windows version has a Linux equivalent (KeePassX) which means that I can use the same password database on both platforms.
Keeping Secure (Personal Software Inspector)
A few years ago, I had to tell people that they should visit the vendor web sites for all their other software, search for security updates for the version they used, and install those updates - and, that they should do this every month or two. Then, I ran across a wonderful, free program from Secunia called Personal Software Inspector (PSI). Secunia is tracking over 20,000 programs for security vulnerabilities, and PSI can apply security patches for you.
Keeping Your Icons Straight
Do you ever have a problem with on-screen icons shifting away from their familiar – and carefully arranged - locations? Moving all the icons back into their proper places can take considerable time – if you can remember what the screen originally looked like! Enter IconRestorer. This utility makes it easy to save and restore the layout of your desktop.
Keyboard Layout Creator
In the March 1998 newsletter, Jean Vaumoron wrote an article on how to use the United States International keyboard to enter almost any French characters, but there was one missing character, the (the letter O and E attached together) used in words such as "cur", the heart. Now, there are many ways to enter special characters, such as with Character Map (>Start>Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Character Map), or with special keys in some programs (in Word Press Ctrl+Shift+&, O), but they are all a bit complicated. Fortunately you don't have to remain stuck with a particular keyboard layout. You can modify one, or even create one, by using a program such as the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator (MSKLC).
What do you do when you can’t safely remove an external USB drive because Windows indicates that some process has it locked? The problem usually occurs when there are no applications running so it is less than obvious which program is the culprit. Wouldn’t it be nice is someone had produced a utility that would (a) tell you about the problem, and (b) fix it for you? Enter Lockhunter – a free software tool designed specifically to resolve issues with locked files and folders.
Me and My Shadow
Are your important files backed up? Do you do this on a regular basis? If the answer to either of these questions is no, perhaps you should consider an automatic solution such as that provided by Quick Shadow Backup.
MenuMaid - Right-Clicks in a New Context
This little utility offers "a fast and easy way to clean up your Window Explorer and Internet Explorer right-click (context) menu." MenuMaid allows you to just uncheck any items you don't want to show up, and lets you restore them at any later time. The program will help clean up your system, without the need for you having to deal directly with registry settings.
Modifying PDF Documents (PDFTK Builder)
Many programs these days have the capability of saving original documents as PDF files but few applications are able to edit the contents of a PDF file. However, there are some programs that can modify an existing PDF file. One such piece of software is PDFTK Builder, which will let you re-arrange pages in a single PDF file, append pages from a second PDF file, split pages out of a PDF file, add background images to pages, rotate pages, and password protect a PDF file. Not a comprehensive content editor it's true, but still an impressive list of features by which an existing PDF file can be modified.
Multi-Boot for UEFI
In a previous article I discussed the creation of a bootable USB drive, using Yumi, that would provide a platform from which to boot multiple operating systems. This makes efficient use of today’s high capacity drives since several Linux distros and utilities can be loaded and run from a single USB flash drive. However, one problem with Yumi is that it doesn't support UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) so, if you have a relatively new computer, creating multi-boot USB drives may not be possible for you. At least, it won't be possible unless you are prepared to switch horses and use some different software. This is where Easy2Boot comes in!
I have gone through a couple of iterations of multiple boot systems for large-capacity USB memory sticks. The first piece of software that I used for this purpose was Yumi (see below - Yumi - A Workhorse of a Different Colour). This program worked fine - until I purchased a new laptop which used the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) to manage the boot process rather than the traditional Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). The good news is that there is now a new version of Yumi that supports UEFI. At the time of writing, it is in beta, but my testing has shown it to run almost flawlessly on my UEFI laptop. And, it has the simple user interface, operating procedures, and the straightforward final boot menu that I liked the first time I used the program.
For a number of years I used TrueCrypt, an open-source encryption utility, to store a number of individual files in an encrypted container (folder). However, in 2014, the program’s developers abruptly indicated that they would no longer support the software. One likely successor is actually a fork of the original TrueCrypt program. VeraCrypt has been produced, and is currently being maintained, by IDRIX, a French software encryption organization.
Netcraft Anti-Phishing Toolbar
You have probably received them - emails from eBay, PayPal, Citizens Bank, or whatever - that ask you to come to the web site to correct some problem. Maybe there was a security problem and they need you to verify activity on your account. Or maybe there were billing problems and they need your account information updated. The trouble is - the email didn't come from that company. And when you click the handy link in the email, you are taken to a web site that looks like the legit site, but is run by thieves out to steal your money. Netcraft, a company that provides network security services as well as some pretty extensive research data on the Internet, wrote an anti-phishing toolbar for Internet Explorer. It is a very cool, free download from their web site.
Office Suite Compatibility and Incompatibility?
In my experience, while trying to use an open-source office suite and exchanging files with users of MS Office, there have always been incompatibilities between files produced by the two products. I decided to explore how these stack up between recent versions of MS Office and LibreOffice: (a) to identify any real show-stoppers, or (b) to see if there are merely cosmetic differences that are inconsequential for most regular users.
Recently, a colleague asked if there was a way to use OCR software on text displayed on the computer screen. A little research on the Internet turned up several candidate programs, including one in my particular favourite category of free and open-source software. But, how well do such programs perform? The acid test was running Capture2Text - an open-source program from SourceForge - on a page from the March issue of OPCUG's newsletter.
OurGroceries is the simplest way to keep your grocery lists instantly synchronized on all the smartphones in your household - and it’s a free app! When you use OurGroceries, you will never leave home without your shopping list again (unless you leave your phone at home!) Moreover, shared shopping lists are synchronized in real time so it’s ideal for household use.
PC-Decrapifier was mentioned in Part 10 of the OPCUG Free Software Guide (Ottawa PC News; p.7; November 2009) and promises that it will "uninstall many of the common trialware software applications often installed on PC's by the big name OEM's, and will remove unnecessary items from the start-up menu." I tried it out on an old Compaq desktop machine that had been given to a friend. Much, if not all, of the original software installed on the machine was still present. The problem was that the machine was running really slowly. Removing all the bloatware, in order to clean up the hard drive, was one of the first steps taken to try to speed things up.
Picasa – Image Management by Google
Picasa is a free image management program available from Google. As might be expected, the package has a number of web-based components. These include the ability to order prints by E-mail from your favourite photo finisher, share photographs with friends and relatives using “Hello” (http://www.hello.com/), and even post images to a free blogging site (http://www.blogger.com/start). But, the software also has many of the desirable features of a stand-alone image manager, albeit with some novel twists in their operation.
Personal Firewalls Revisited (Zone Alarm)
In a recent edition of the Ottawa PC News, I wrote a review of BlackICE Defender. Since that review, a new product has come onto the market from ZoneLabs called Zone Alarm 2.0. I guess they took a page from the dBase book that debuted with dBase II. Steve Gibson, of SpinRite fame, says, "My fingers are crossed, the dust is still settling and the paint is still wet. It's too early to tell for sure, but it looks like Zone Alarm 2.0 (ZA) will be the perfect and ultimate personal firewall for the typical Internet user! And it's 100% free for the individual user!"
Photo Story - So, you want to be a movie director?
Do you have dozens of digital photographs from your recent vacation, or visit to your grandchildren, and need to package them in a novel way for viewing by friends or family? If so, the tool for you might be Photo Story from Microsoft and – gasp! – it’s a free download. But, a word of caution, the program only runs under XP, so users of earlier versions of Windows need not apply. The program is essentially a multi-function wizard that guides you through the various steps necessary to develop a fully-contained movie file with your chosen photographs, added titles, spoken commentary, and even a music soundtrack.
Have you ever wanted to keep the clock of your computer accurate? What about being reminded when somebody's birthday is approaching? Do you want to see a calendar? All those things have one thing in common; time. There are many programs out there that do just that, but I've never seen one that does it better than PTB Sync, and for that, all the author asks is to make a donation to any non-profit organization.
If your need is for remote assistance (as opposed to remote administration, where there is nobody at the console of the remote computer), and both you and the person you are assisting are running Windows 10, there is a new kid on the block: Quick Assist. This update to the Remote Assistance program which was included in previous versions of Windows is a little cleaner and easier to use. Quick Assist debuted with Windows 10, ver. 1607, (a.k.a. the Anniversary Update, released August 2, 2016)
Recording Directly from a Sound Card (Audacity)
Some years ago, I described a method for copying tracks from vinyl records (remember those?) to a CD (remember those too?) using a cable to connect a stereo system to a computer's sound card. Well, time and technology have marched along and now music is readily available through the Internet and we can save individual tracks to audio files. At least, we can if we can access the input from the sound card, and we have some suitable software. Audacity is an open-source software package that is available in versions for both Windows and Linux. The program is very powerful, both as a recorder and as a sound file editor, but can be quite simple to use.
Reflections on Disk Imaging Software (Macrium Reflect)
As OPCUG members will know, I'm a real fan of disk imaging software for backup purposes. I have had many successes with such programs, but I have also had my share of heartaches. In particular, I found that I really couldn't get along with the user interface in the most recent incarnation of Acronis True Image Home 2011. Consequently, I set my sights on finding (a) a suitable replacement, and (b) preferably one which could be categorized as free and/or open-source software. I came across the free edition of Macrium Reflect which seems to do everything that I want. As with many such programs, the basic operations of backup and recovery are handled by means of wizards that make it very easy to run either process. But, Macrium Reflect also has a couple of unusual tricks up its sleeve that make it worthy of consideration for prime time use.
"Restoring" a hard-disk image to an SSD (Macrium Reflect)
A friend was thinking of buying a new laptop and really wanted it to have a solid state drive; however, the manufacturer's pricing for this option was considerably more than it ought to have been, especially given today's prices for SSD's. My suggestion was to buy the off-the-shelf machine, with a 1 TB HDD, and simply replace the hard drive with an SSD. The trick was then to "clone" the 1 TB HDD to the much smaller 250 GB SSD.
Remote Computing with VNC
For years there have been remote control programs available on the market. Programs such as Symantec's PC Anywhere, Laplink.com's namesake product, and Microsoft's SMS Remote Control have helped people run computers from remote locations as if they were sitting at the console. But you don't need to spend any money to get one of the best remote control packages around - VNC v3.3.3r7. VNC (which stands for Virtual Network Computing) is available free of charge under the GNU General Public License.
Remote Control Software (Team Viewer)
On a recent trip to the UK, I assisted a friend to configure a few items on his home computer and the conversation came around to long-distance support, i.e. a Canada-UK “help line”. For some time I had been thinking about web-based support systems. Such a solution would certainly be useful for a European support operation! As always, a freeware or open-source package was the preferred option and, in this case, Team Viewer seemed to fit the bill.
Sizer is a tiny app that resizes a window so that it only occupies part of the screen. The utility runs as a terminate-and-stay-resident program so that right-clicking on any window pops-up a resizing menu. Several default window sizes are available but it is also possible to configure Sizer to use custom sizes.
Recently, I needed to copy a folder, with several hundred sub-folders, and many thousands of individual files, from one external USB drive to another. While I expected this process to take some time, even when using USB 3.0, what I didn't expect is that I wouldn't be able to get it started. It seemed simple enough; grab the source folder, drag and drop it onto the target drive. However, when I did this - nothing! That's right - no files being copied, no error messages - nothing! The solution was to use Rich Copy. This little-known program is one of those hidden gems, created by a Microsoft employee (Ken Tamaru in this case), released to the public with no support, and (seemingly) subsequently abandoned.
Saving JPG files in GIMP
One of my favourite public-domain software tools is the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). This free digital image editor is extremely powerful yet can be very simple to use. For some inexplicable reason, the developers of the Windows’ version chose to “update” the program’s features so that, by default, saving an image results in a .XCF file. This doesn’t work for me since, if I load and edit a JPG file, I generally want to save the result as a JPG file, and usually the same JPG file. But, all is not lost. One of the powerful features of GIMP is its ability to accept plug-ins. And, wouldn’t you know, a very kind user has created and made available a Python script that plugs into the File menu and provides a “Save as JPG” option.
Screen Capture in Windows 7
I always wondered what was left out of Windows 7 Home Premium in order to make it into the Starter Edition. Obtaining a netbook computer with Windows 7 Starter Edition installed gave me the chance to find out first hand. One of the things that became apparent was that the Windows Snipping Tool, used to capture full or partial screenshots, was nowhere to be found. This set me on a hunt - to locate a free screen grabber.
One program that I found really easy to use, but with considerable power, is PicPick. This little utility loads itself into the system tray and is then always ready to jump to the task of obtaining a screenshot.
Secunia PSI — Vulnerability management made easy
Secunia is a security firm founded in 2002 that focuses on vulnerability intelligence and management, tracking information about security vulnerabilities. And then they did a very nice thing for the health of the Internet and all the Windows computers attached to it; they released a wonderful program - Secunia Personal Software Inspector – free for home use – that keeps the software on your computer patched!
Sizing up the hard drive (TreeSize Free)
Is the number of files and folders on your hard drive out of control? Are you running short on usable disk space? If so, it's time for a major cleanup. But, where to begin? What you need is a disk space manager, and TreeSize Free from Jam Software may just be your best, no-cost option.
Smart Boot Manager
When playing around with various flavours of Linux, I ran into a problem trying to install the OS from a bootable CD-ROM onto my old desktop machine. Basically, the machine wouldn't boot from the CD. Since the BIOS was set up to go to either the floppy disk, or the CD-ROM, before booting from the hard drive, I figured that this old machine just didn't support booting from a CD. But, while researching the problem on the Internet, I came across a really neat little utility - Smart Boot Manager - that provided the solution.
I am almost to the point where I will delete the contents of the
Junk E-mail folder without reviewing to look for false positives.
From September to December, 2002, I wrote a series of articles and reviews on anti-spam programs. If you missed them, you can find them on the OPCUG web site in the Articles section at
http://opcug.ca/public/Articles/2002.htm. Since then spam has continued to increase at prodigious rates and anti-spam options continue to proliferate. Last February, when Microsoft released beta 2 of Office 2003, they finally added decent anti-spam filtering to Outlook. I found it to be at least as effective as my previous favourite - iHateSpam from Sunbelt Software - and it seemed to work more smoothly. So, what was it that made me stop using Outlook's built-in filters? A truly wonderful, free, open source program called SpamBayes
Speech to Text App
One of the problems with smartphones is their tiny keyboards - and their even tinier keys! For those of us who are getting a little older, just seeing the keys can be a problem, but actually pressing the one we want can simply be an exercise in frustration. I was complaining about this issue to a friend who said why don't I just use the speech to text feature by pressing the microphone button on the drop-down keyboard. Great idea - but, there was no microphone button on my phone's keyboard. The problem was quickly resolved. A Google search for speech to text applications for Android identified many candidate apps, including one from Google itself - Google Keyboard.
A Sticky Problem
Having effectively turned off updates in Windows 10 by denoting my Wi-Fi as a metered connection, I decided that I should ensure I have a reminder that Windows Update has to be run manually. My thought was to stick one those little yellow notes on my computer screen. But, rather than using a physical note, my preference was to use an electronic version. My choice for this was a freeware offering – Stickies – from Tom Revell at Zhorn Software in the UK. This package does basically the same job as its Microsoft equivalent but has far more flexibility.
I was a BlackBerry user for over 10 years at work and really liked having a physical keyboard. When I retired 2 years ago, Blackberry was already in decline, so I opted for a Samsung Galaxy S3. I knew having an on-screen keyboard was going to be a frustration for me, and Samsung delivered that in spades. I asked around for recommendations on replacement soft keyboards and a friend recommended SwiftKey.
Swiss File Knife
When it comes to searching for and manipulating files, there are a lot of utilities out there. I recently came across an interesting free program called Swiss File Knife (SFK). This utility has an incredible array of capabilities built into a single, compact, command-line program. There are versions for Windows, Linux and MacOS. While there is probably not a lot about SFK that is unique, it might be able to replace a couple of dozen or more separate programs.
SyncToy – File Synchronization from Microsoft
OK, so everyone knows that I'm a sucker for file synchronization utilities. So, when I found out that Microsoft was giving one away, I could resist taking a look. SyncToy follows in the fine tradition of PowerToys where useful utility programs developed by Microsoft’s in-house programmers are made available outside of the Windows' operating system. While SyncToy is dedicated to the specific task of file transfer between two directories, it does offer a useful range of intelligent transfer options.
While a graphical user interface like Windows can make things easier, sometimes it just gets in the way and makes life more difficult.
Consider if you want to send someone a list of the files in a particular folder. File Explorer doesn't provide a way to capture a file listing to the clipboard, where you can then paste it into an email. SysExporter to the rescue! This cool little free program allows you to capture data stored in standard list-views, tree-views, list boxes, combo boxes, text-boxes, and WebBrowser/HTML controls from most Windows applications.
System Information for Windows
SIW (System Information for Windows) is the top listing in the System Info category of Gizmo's Freeware Reviews, and the recipient of Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class. Gabriel Topala of Vaughan, Ontario, the program's author, says: "SIW is an advanced System Information for Windows tool that analyzes your computer and gathers detailed information about system properties and settings and displays it in an extremely comprehensible manner." Furthermore, PC World says of this program: "It's probably the most comprehensive free system analyzer you'll find anywhere." Time to give the program a whirl.
Tail Gun Charlie
As the tail gunner in a heavy bomber, you have a clear view to the rear of the aircraft – and of the enemy fighters that are closing rapidly. It’s time to swing those twin .50 cal machine guns into action! This is the scenario for Tail Gun Charlie, a World War II shoot-‘em-up game for an Android smartphone or tablet.
The tax man cometh... and here comes the Taxman
It's that time of year. Once again, you have to dig out all those slips and receipts, spread out a raft of paper forms over the kitchen table, sharpen your pencil, and dig into the preparation of your tax return. Well, of course, nobody actually uses pencil and paper any more – do they? – everyone uses the computer. But, it still irks to have to pay out good money for a commercial tax package just so you can send even more of your hard earned cash to the Canada Revenue Agency. So, is there any help available in the form of freeware? Well, yes, there is. You need Taxman – a Canadian specific tax program – developed by G. Thompson of Victoria, BC.
TextExtract is a freeware program that will scan a file, or a batch of files, for letters, numerals and text strings. The default parameters can be user-defined. The source file could be a corrupted word processor file or any system file (for example, .COM, .EXE, .DLL, or .VXD). The results are saved in a user-specified file that you can examine at your leisure.
Two Pluses for a Notepad Alternative (Notepad++)
The Notepad utility in Windows has always provided a quick way to create and edit simple text files, but it also has some limitations, not the least of which are its inability to handle more than one file at a time, and the lack of a spell checker. Notepad++, an open-source program, released under the GNU General Public License (GPL), provides a ready alternative to Microsoft's old warhorse, and offers a vast array of additional features.
Another Plus for Notepad++
When I wrote about Notepad++ as an alternative to Windows' Notepad, I noted that one drawback of the latter was the lack of a spell checker. However, what I failed to mention was that, although Notepad++ has an icon for spell checking, and an associated menu item under Plugins, you have to install the spell checking add-on in order to make this function work.
VanBasco's Karaoke Player
I heard many times of people using karaoke and have even seen it a few times, but singing in front of a crowd is definitely not my idea of fun. But as I found out last year, using karaoke on my computer is a great way to learn and practice lots of songs, and that can be a lot of fun when singing with a group of friends, where everyone can follow the words and the music as it plays. I've tried a few karaoke programs, but the one I liked the most was VanBasco's Karaoke Player. Not only is the program ad-free freeware, but it has all the features I want and more.
VCW VicMan's Photo Editor
VCW Vicman's Photo Editor is fairly easy to use with some powerful features, but it still lacks some maturity to be a serious competitor to other well known programs, though for it's price, free for the regular version and $42.87 for the pro version, it is an interesting option.
Virtual CD Management
In order to be able to load topographical maps from a tablet computer onto a hand-held GPS unit, I needed to install Garmin's MapSource program, and the associated maps, onto the tablet. However, while the tablet had a USB port, it didn't have an optical drive and, of course, the software was available as a set of CD's. A Google search identified many users who had experienced the same issue, and one of the suggested workarounds was to create ISO files of the CD's, use software to load these files into a virtual CD drive, and then use this as the installation medium. Gizmo Central was the solution of choice.
VLC Media player
I've been using VLC for a long time basically because it can play every video and audio file I've tried, because it's fast, simple, and ad-free. In fact, it's free in every sense of the word. But lately I found out that it can do even more; it can play also material from the internet, and to my surprise, there are a lot of choices out there, of every style conceivable, and many of them are pretty good.
What's inside the box? (Everest Home Edition)
So, what processor is running in there? How much memory do you have? What graphics card do you use? What speed does your CD/DVD burner run at? After a while the answers to these questions from friends and relatives become obscure as the memory of your new computer purchase becomes - well - just a memory. You could use a Windows utility to find out about your hardware, if you could remember which Windows program it was! Or you could turn to a third-party product, such as Everest Home Edition, to obtain a detailed inventory of your computer's hardware components.
Win+X Menu Editor for Windows 8
This little app allows you to customize the Quick Link menu in Windows 8. It's a great way to make up for the missing Start button on the desktop and makes Windows 8 more useable.
Wubi is a Ubuntu Installer for Windows, although if you look at the letter order, you would probably say it as "Windows Ubuntu Installer". The first thing you are going to be asking yourself is whatever are they letting this guy tell us about an Ubuntu install when we already know the havoc he inflicts willingly on his own computer! Well, I do have an answer, and it's really pretty simple. Allow me to explain.
XnView – A Digital Photo Manager
If you need a small, fast, digital image manager, consider trying XnView, a freeware program from Pierre-Emmanuel Gougelet of Reims, France. The software is available in multiple versions, but the “minimal” variety has all the basic – and some not so basic – features that you will likely need.
You Want It - When?!! (Sunbird)
Do you have calendar-envy of your friends who run the full-blown blown version of Outlook rather than Outlook Express? If so, open-source technology can provide an answer. You need Sunbird - "a cross platform standalone calendar application based on Mozilla's XUL user interface language".
Yumi - A Workhorse of a Different Colour
Yumi is a really neat utility program, extremely useful for those who have need of its features, but a real oddity nonetheless. The program can create a multi-boot USB drive, capable of booting any one of a number of different operating systems or disk utilities. The odd thing is that, although the resulting drive will boot various Linux systems, Yumi itself is a Windows application.
My quest for quality open-source software and freeware has moved on to look at file compression utilities. The industry leaders, PKZIP and WinZIP, are not expensive (around US $30), and work extremely well. But, is there a free product out there that will give similar results? Well, give Zip Central a try. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
Zoner Photo Studio Free
This digital image management package features a three-panel main screen under the Manager tab, with windows for navigation, image preview, and thumbnail display. Two other main tabs are Viewer, with options that include zooming and slideshow creation, and Editor, where a wide range of tools allow images to be rotated or resized, colours to be modified, and so forth. A Settings menu allows many of the program's functions to be customized, while a help menu provides detailed on-screen information..