We’ve probably all done it – copied something useful that we needed to paste elsewhere, and then forgotten and copied something else. This’ll result in losing the first thing that you have copied, and unless you can find the original source again, it’s destined to float in the abyss forever. However, Windows clipboard is capable for holding more than one item at a time; you just need a bit of software to bring out the full potential. This exists in the form of 101 Clips.
After installing, the first thing I noted was the simple and fairly dated interface. I soon discovered however, that it’s enough to get the job done that it’s intended for. There are a number of small rectangles, each of which can become filled with an item which is on your clipboard. It’ll place the most recent in the first space, and the others will get pushed backwards. It would be nice to be able to customise the number of rows and columns provided. A minor issue, but being able to alter this may be a useful addition.
101 Clips will reside in your system tray – down by the clock. It’ll then store up all the items that you copy without making a fuss. These copied items can then be seen by clicking the icon to open up the software. Hovering over one of the listed items will bring up a small preview window which shows the copied text, image, or file link. Clicking on the item will then place it back at the front of the clipboard, allowing you to paste it to another location. One limitation I found was that if you copy a file or shortcut, clicking it in 101 Clips won’t allow you to paste it into Windows explorer as you would expect. Instead, it saves the location of the file as text.
If you find that there are items on the clipboard that you no longer need, they can be right-clicked to delete them. Doing this will prevent the number of items getting cluttered, and clips should be easier to find. There are also a few options as to which buttons are displayed in the software, which can be accessed from the menus at the top of the window. Something to be aware of is that closing the window will close the software completely, including the system tray icon. If you want to keep using it without having the window on the screen, minimizing the window will zip it back into the tray, patiently waiting for you to call on it again.
Being the fool that I am, I shut my computer down before realising that I hadn’t taken a screenshot of the 101 Clips software showing the functionality. Duty-bound, I switched it back on expecting to have to begin my copying frenzy again, but was pleasantly surprised to see that it had remembered the copied items from before it was shut down. This meant that everything stored there could be clicked to allow me to paste it if I needed to; a helpful feature that could prove very useful if your PC crashes.
Whilst the software has a simple purpose and an uninviting interface, it’s incredibly useful and likely to leave you wondering how you survived without it. 101 Clips can be downloaded from http://101clips.com/freeclip.htm.
Whilst there’s a plethora of dictionaries available online, software can still surpass them in terms of ease-of-use and the speed of access. WordWeb is a smashing little application which combines a dictionary, thesaurus, and more into one small application. It’s almost always faster than using a dictionary website, and includes additional functions which you’re not likely to find elsewhere.
During or just after the installation, you may be struck by something a bit queer. The license agreement includes a clause which states that you can use the software provided you don’t make more than four flights in a 12-month period. Obviously this is the developer’s way of trying to reduce carbon emissions and therefore save the poor little polar bears from supposed impending doom. I don’t take flights, and therefore am free to use this software as much as I like. It’s also quite quaint that you receive a message after a year asking you how many flights you’ve taken – it won’t let you continue to use it if you answer more than four, and will perhaps lecture you about how you’re murdering the environment.
Attempted diktats about how you travel aside, the software is useful and zippy. It loads very quickly and it’s easy to get started by searching a word in the text field. WordWeb will then quickly do some soul-searching to find the word you’re looking for and provide definitions. Below this are a few tabs which offer different features. The first of these is ‘Nearest’, which will take you to a list of words which are above and below it alphabetically, clicking one of these will take you to its definition. Whilst this isn’t as obviously useful, it’s handy if you’re using alliteration in puns, or you just want to kill some time. ‘Synonyms’ is the second tab, and this lists words which mean the same thing. I’d like to see that improved, since there weren’t many suggested synonyms for each word. Thirdly we have the ‘Antonyms’ tab, which presents words which mean the opposite of the word you’ve looked up – just in case you’re feeling fickle.
There’s also the ability to carry over information from the Internet. After clicking ‘Web References’ you’ll be asked to confirm that you’re willing to download content from the Web. After this initial shuffling about, you additional features will be added: a Wikipedia article panel for the word, a Wictionary panel, and a WordWeb online panel. These all add additional information which can be useful to your in your research.
I think my only suggestion for improvement would be the ability to have different tabs for different words. This would help with multitasking or when checking the finer points of the definitions when choosing between two similar words. WordWeb can be downloaded from http://wordweb.info/free/ or download.com.
Nowadays just about everyone has a digital camera. Whether you take the occasional fun snap with your mobile phone’s camera, or you’re a keen shutterbug with a top-of-the-range SLR which would make the paparazzi jealous, you could do with a good way of managing photos. Over a long period of time you’ll probably find that your photo files begin to build up in a chain of different folders. Whilst this system works, it’s certainly not the easiest to navigate, organise, and alter your images. Interestingly, Google Picasa is useful even if you don’t take photos yourself. It’s likely that you’ve been sent photos by friends and family; and you may be a habitual hoarder of interesting images from the Internet. Picasa isn’t limited to only photos – it will happily manage and edit any of the supported image file types. It’s got plenty of features, but it excels at organisation.
After installing Picasa and loading it up, it’ll either begin to automagically index your images, or it might prompt you and check what you want to index. Mine just goes scavenging around for any image files which exist on the hard drive. ‘Scavenging’ may be a misleading choice of word, however. It actually finds the files very quickly and shows them in their folders in the tidy sidebar. You can then scroll though these folders to see your images. This saves you navigating through different folders and their often confusing structures. It’ll also detect when any new images arrive and add them to its index. If you move or edit photos, it’ll notice that too and update itself. I was also impressed that it even saves screenshots – pressing the print screen button resulted in Picasa saving the screen capture. This could prove very useful if you need to take a number of shots, since it’ll bypass the usual gruelling process of pasting each shot into a picture editor and saving the file individually.
A feature which I really like is albums. Whilst you could (and probably do) organise your photos into folders which represent different events, places, or times, you may find that you’ve got a number of similar pictures in different folders. A recent example of this for me was the wedding I attended. I had photos from my camera’s memory card; photos from other people’s cameras; some I had downloaded from friends on Facebook; and a few folders containing images I used in the film I made of the day. Being able to save this mish-mash of images into one album made it much easier to find, view, and edit them in future. If you then want to keep a copy of your album or send it to a friend, you can have Picasa export the photos into a folder. It’s also worth noting that creating albums doesn’t affect the location of the photos – moving them into a Picasa album will not remove them from the original folder in which you saved them.
Importing photos was also a simple procedure. After popping a memory card into the slot it was just a matter of clicking the ‘Import’ button and telling Picasa where to look. It then automatically detected any duplicate photos so I wouldn’t end up with multiple copies of the same photos. If this was your intention, you can simply untick the ‘Exclude duplicates’ box, and then enjoy watching Picasa zip along as it copies the files to your PC and makes them nice and easy to access in future.
Of course Picasa will never match up to expensive software like Photoshop when it comes to editing your photos, but it works very well when it comes simple fixing and improvement. The red eye removal too was especially impressive; it automatically found the red eyes and turned them back to their usual, less demonic colours. If it can’t detect them alone, it’s a simple case of dragging the crosshairs to where the eyes are located. The other filters consist mainly of colour changes – things like shadows, brightness, and other effects. These fall under three editing tabs which become visible when a photo is double-clicked to view it larger. If you’re feeling even more creative you can create collages of chosen photos, folders, of albums. The collage I created of the wedding album looked very high-quality and would be well worth sending off to a friend or family member to briefly showcase your photographic skills or show them what a grand day they missed out on. Another smashing feature is the ability to create video slideshows of your photos. Music, titles, and captions can all be added to the stream of pictures before exporting the file in a video format that can be viewed in media players and potentially DVD players.
Yet another fantastic feature is the ability to upload your photos quickly and easily to Picasa Web Albums. Not content with providing photo software for you, Google also runs an online service where you can store your photos online to share with others. You just need to choose an album, folder, or image to sync to the web, set a couple of options, and then they’ll be safely stored on the Web. The privacy settings are simple but more than adequate – you can click the ‘settings’ button before syncing to choose who can see your album – everyone, those you give the link to, or allowed users who have a password. Picasa will then keep track of any changes that you make and keep the online photos updated as per your alterations. You an disable the auto-update of the online album if you wish by disabling the sync again. The photos uploaded can also be reordered or deleted by visiting your online albums page.
Having long avoided photo management software, I’m very impressed by Google’s offering, and therefore glad that I downloaded it and gave it a try. It’s got an intuitive interface, fantastic features, and it’s fully free. You can download it from picasa.google.com
I possess little to no musical talent – music lessons at school always left me stumped and longing for English or another subject where I could feel at home. However, this ineptitude doesn’t mean that I’m afraid of creating some utterly awful pieces of music on the PC if the opportunity arises. The opportunity did arise, and in the form of TuneAroundStudio. It’s a light-hearted application which can be used by amateurs (or more experienced fellows who like to show the rest of us up) to create tracks.
After downloading and installing the application will prompt you to log in. It’s mildly miffing that you can’t use the software without signing up for an account. This only use of an account appears to be if you’re planning on uploading your music to the TuneAround website, which if you’re as awful as I am, you won’t be. It’s apparently necessary since the software seems to save your data online rather than locally on your PC.
After signing up and logging in, you can then get down to business. You’ll be able to choose from a number of different pre-created tracks which fall into various categories varying from dance to classical. You can then load the pre-created items into your new creation, or start from scratch. I think the ability to start solely from scratch with a blank screen should be easier – it seems that you have to choose a pre-created track, but then opt not to import the music into it in order to start a blank creation. That struck me as little bit odd, but far from a catastrophe.
I was initially a little bit confused, but found that once I’d fiddled around for a few minutes, the basics were easy to pick up. Each instrument or noise which will play in your song is listed along the left. Clicking on one of those will open the interface where you can edit the current beats or add your own. You can right-click and drag to select areas to alter by right-clicking and selecting an area. You can then cut, copy, paste, or clear the area. Adding your own beats is a simple case of scrolling through the choices of different sounds and dragging them to a blank square. These squares are coloured to represent different sounds. Since I’m completely clueless when it comes to music, I just pick fairly randomly – pretty colours draw the eye of feeble minds like mine. Another useful feature is the ‘Autochoice’ button. There’s one of these under each instrument used in the current track, and after highlighting an area by dragging the right mouse button you can click it to have the software decide what will sound good there. That kind of takes away the fun, but it’s good for making a starting point which you can then edit.
Additional instruments can also be added by clicking the large ‘+’ button at the bottom right of the window. You can also add a microphone recording to your tracks. Since I won’t and can’t sing, I decided to add a recording of me clicking my fingers next to the microphone. It was a failure. Therefore it’s rather smashing that it’s very easy to delete or mute tracks – I can simply mute the track of my fingers snapping and cringe as the rest of the instruments create a cacophony of noise.
The usual controls that you’d expect in a media player are located on the bottom right of the window – stuff like play, rewind, and fast-forward. You can also save your creation to edit at another time, or export it as an MP3 which can be played in other media players. The final option is to upload your song to the TuneAround website, allowing others to hear it and vote upon it. If you make a masterpiece, it may end up being featured on the front page.
Overall a great light-hearted application. It’s a lot of fun and a great filler when you’ve got time to kill. The best way to learn how to use it is probably to have a fiddle around with it and try to create a few songs. Hopefully you should have some fun even if you create something which is liable to break glass and cause cats to howl. TuneAroundStudio can be downloaded from www.tunearound.com.
Love them or hate them, flashcards are useful for learning key vocabulary, concepts, or content. Whether you need to learn basic French or advanced political concepts, they’re helpful for cementing information in your mind. Writing them on bits of card or paper is all well and good, but like most things, there’s a computer equivalent which has the benefit of being easily accessible and editable, and far less likely to be lost or damaged. Both Anki and Quizlet provide online alternatives to risking damage to your dainty hands by using a pen and pair of scissors.
Anki is the downloadable software option, as opposed to Quizlet, which is housed online. Anki has a pretty large number of features, but this is also its downfall in some ways because it makes it confusing at times. It’s got a pretty advanced editing interface, but it’s not simple enough to create flashcards. Although the ability to add such things as sound or video clips, equations, and images to flashcards may prove very useful for learning or teaching concepts which go beyond text.
After creating a set of cards you can begin looking through them. Options appear after viewing each card which ask you how hard you found the card. Your answer to that will change how often the card comes back up. If you said you found it hard it will come back more often, whereas if you choose easy it will appear less often.
The software will also create graphs to show your progress and the amount of time you’ve spent on sets of cards. These seem awkward and clunky and of little use due to seeming like they’re going a bit over-the-top in trying to provide an in-depth analysis of your learning habits. Therefore the graphs looked out of place and confusing when I tried to get my feeble mind around them. There’s also an online section to Anki which allows you to view and edit your flashcards online, but this feature also seemed to be poorly implemented and awkward to use.
Quizlet, on the other hand, struck me as being a bit more smashing. Flashcards are simple and easy to use – text is displayed, followed by the answer when the button is clicked to reveal it. I think Quizlet should consider implement a similar system the one which Anki uses – being able to choose how often the card shows up would be useful addition to prioritise your learning more efficiently. In addition to the basic flashcard feature that you’d expect, it’s also invents other ways for you to learn the items – including a test, and more interestingly, games. These are simple games which place the focus firmly upon the vocabulary rather than getting too caught up with creating masterpieces of Flash.
By far the most impressive feature of Quizlet is the ability to search through a plethora of sets of flashcards which other users have created. A search for just about anything will probably yield some cards which are related to the topic you want to study. When you create your own these are shared with other Quizlet users to help them with their learning. Whilst most public card sets can’t be edited by other people, you can use the ‘Reuse these terms’ feature to add the cards into your own deck which you can edit and add to. Another smashing little feature is the ability to export the cards as text. This could prove useful for printing out notes which you can read over when you’re doing revision or studying without the benefit of access to a computer.
Overall Quizlet seems like a much stronger contender, and I’d suggest it was a better option to Anki if you’re planning or learning using flashcards. You can access Quizlet from www.quizlet.com, and download Anki from www.ichi2.net/anki.
I love organising things. Anything that involves putting bits of paper in different trays according to content or importance; putting work into folders; or planning my day, is bound to cause me to get slightly heady with excitement at the prospect. You may have already read about my love affair with Soshiku when it comes to organising educational work, but I’ve stumbled upon a piece of software which aims to organise my entire life, rather than just my work. I’ve been putting the smashing application through its paces to see if it’ll become part of my regular rotation of organisation. It goes by the name of Chandler. “Could it be any more organised?”
First impressions weren’t too good. It’s written in a programming language called Python, which, whilst being extendible and apparently smashing for cross-platform software, seems to be a bit clunky and slow loading. I have to wait for what feels like too long for an out of place looking ‘loading’ splash window to finish shoving a bar across itself to show me how close it is to finished shuffling about. This is a bit of a let down since you’re likely to want your to-do list to pop up quickly so you can view and edit it in a short amount of time.
Putting this aside, the first thing which stood out was the ability to separate tasks and events into categories. I therefore set about creating one for each school subject, followed by a few others such as ‘Wedding’ and a category called ‘Revnews’. Within these categories tasks you can create tasks by typing a name for it in the text box at the top of the window, and then pressing enter. You can then edit and add extra details about the task and set when it must be completed by. This seemed a bit limited since I would like to be able to set specific dates, or even times, for when something must be completed by. It is possible to create calendar events which specify an end time, but this isn’t implemented for tasks. Therefore there’s no page which sorts your tasks in the order that they need to be completed, but simply shows them by whether you’ve selected – ‘now’, ‘later’, or ‘done’ for each task. This also needs to be manually updated by clicking the ‘Clean up’ button which will sort the tasks into the aforementioned completion categories; it won’t do it automagically when you change a task’s status, another example of how the software felt a bit clunky at times.
I was, however, happy with the different categories for the tasks. Whilst I would place each task in its relevant category, I am also able to see all currently outstanding tasks on the ‘Dashboard’ page, which sorts them by their completion categories. This is good for organising a whole day (or longer) by seeing all tasks which need to be completed that day, rather than just those in one category. If particularly important tasks aren’t standing out enough, you can put a star by them, and then choose the option to show only the starred items. This might be helpful for prioritising a multitude of tasks.
Chandler also has email functions which allow you to send notes or events to others – they can either view them in Chandler if they have it or add it to other calendar applications. I haven’t tested this feature because I have no intention of emailing my to-do list to other people, but at least the feature is there, ready and waiting to be set up in case you can make use of it.
Despite the negatives it’s still a very good bit of software. I think it’s going to become my standard organiser, though Soshiku still has a much simpler interface and is generally better for the purpose of organising work for school, so I’m likely to stick with Soshiku as my primary organiser for school work. You can download Chandler from www.chandlerproject.org.
I have obsessive-complusive organisational needs. If things are related to the same topic, surely they should be together? Window Tabs comes to the rescue by adding a tab to the top of every application. These tabs can then be dragged around to group them with other applications or documents which are of a similar content. This allows you to have a group for each different thing you’re working on or looking at.
The software is a very quick install, and as soon as it’s finished the tabs pop up on top of your currently running programs and files. They look quite like Chrome tabs, and they work in a similar way too. You can click and drag one to move it about, and let go when it’s sitting next to a similar tab. The provided screenshot provides an example of three grouped items which share the same subject. In addition, I’ve shown the options window.
There are probably some applications which you don’t want to have tabs appearing at the top. Such as your web browser, because it already includes them, or other applications which you’ll probably never want to group with other files or programs. I’ve chosen to exclude Spotify as well, since I don’t see it fitting into a grouped category as its purpose is different.
Three is the magic number. This is the basic, free version, so it doesn’t let you have anything more than three items in each group. That means if you’re working on lots of documents, spreadsheets and other such jazz all related to the same thing, you won’t be able to group them all together. Unfortunate, but at least it’s free.
The application will work under XP and Vista, and it should be okay under the Windows 7 RC, too. Try it out and see what you think. I personally haven’t kept it, since I use multiple desktops for different areas (see the previous article about Virtuawin). In addition, I think the tabs look out-of-place when compared to the way Windows looks. I think they ought to blend in with the Windows’ themes, rather than looking like Google Chrome’s tabs. If you come to the same conclusion as me, it’s a very easy and quick uninstall, so no worries there. Grab it from www.windowtabs.com if you want to give it a go.
Try to contain your excitement as we take a brief tour of an application designed to let you compress your files, and extract archived files you download from the Internet. Never before has a more enthralling piece of software been written about than 7-Zip.
Okay, so it’s not exciting, but it is useful. Whilst most compressed files or sets of files come in Zip packages which can be opened by Windows’ built-in extractor, sometime they’ll be compressed in different formats, such as 7z, Tar, or RAR, which can’t be opened by Windows’ built-in tool. In addition, if you want to transfer large files or groups of files, compressing them would be a spiffing idea to make the transfer faster and prevent the person at the other end getting huffy about the wait. So, 7-Zip serves two purposes – unzipping most compressed files, and allowing you to zip up files in different ways.
Once downloaded and installed you’ll be able to do two new things. Don’t let the excitement get too much for you – contain yourself. The first will appear to you in some eerie black-magic style when you right-click on a compressed file. A new option will be available on the context menu which contains the options for extracting a file or files.
‘Extract files’ will allow you to choose the location, whilst ‘Extract here’ will plonk them in the folder you’re currently in. You can also compress files from this menu. However, if you’re looking to reduce the size of more than a few files, you might find loading up the full program more effective. Load it in the usual way – it should have plonked itself in the Start Menu under ’7-Zip’.
You then see an interface which lets you navigate around your folders. You can select folders and files that you want to compress and then click the ‘Add’ button to make the compression window pop up. You can also hold down the ctrl key to select multiple files. If you want to compress files into one package that are currently scattered around all over the place, your best bet would be to copy or move them to a single folder, and then select that and have 7-Zip compress it for you. You don’t have to worry about losing your original files, because it creates separate compressed copies of the selected items.
7-Zip is pretty nifty. It’s fast and light-weight and allows you to extract an array of different types of files. You can also compress your own files into a number of different filetypes. Considering you’d have to pay for alternatives such as Win-Zip and WinRAR, it’s worth it. You can grab it from www.7-zip.com.
The Internet now seems to have become the de-facto in entertainment: there’s various sources which use the masses of media available – some to better effect than others. You’ve probably got a fair bit of music stored on your computer, snatched from various CDs or swiped off the Internet. Spotify is a new way of listening to masses of music legally without having to store the files on your hard disk.
Installing the program was quick and painless, and when loading up the application it is clear that the devlopers’ inspiration for the GUI stemmed almost solely from Apple’s iTunes. However, its functionality is very different. A simple search in the box at the top left is enough to get you started on your discovery of both music you know and love, as well as introducing you to new artists. Type an artist name or track into the box and Spotify will dash off to find them for you. The tracks it then found for you will be organised into a sortable list, with a simple double click is enough to start it streaming. The audio is of a high quality – I’m not an audiophile, but I didn’t notice any loss in quality when compared to a CD or MP3 file.
If you’d rather not pick and choose tracks particular tracks all the time, right clicking on tracks will allow you to create a playlist of them for future use. Alternatively, in typical Last.fm style, radio stations for particular genres and artists are also available.
The application is funded by occasional advertisements that will assail your eyes and ears, but they are very rare and shouldn’t cause too much of a bother to you. The playback times are almost instant: you won’t be sitting around waiting for the track to download unless you are currently residing in the late 90s and still use dial-up. See what you think: www.spotify.com.