Torch Browser: An All-In One Browser with Video Downloader and Torrent Client

Web browsers have come a long way over the past decade. They’ve morphed from being applications that displayed static content to being applications which enable other applications to run. Whether it is TweetDeck or Gmail or Aviary, the web apps of today are as powerful as many of its desktop counterparts. However, even as browsers have become more capable than ever before, they’ve also been trimmed down. In keeping with the trend of minimalism, web browsers have focused on becoming lighter and faster and cleaner than ever before. Even Opera, which once aimed to be the complete web productivity suite, changed tactics and killed of several features – IRC client, RSS client, Mail client, Torrent client Unite, and Widgets to name a few. Modern day browsers aim to include only what they believe is essential, and offer the rest through third-party extensions. However, if you want a browser, which does a little bit more out of the box, you’re not entirely out of options. Among the most promising new options is a little-known browser from Israel called Torch Browser.

Torch-Browser
Torch Browser

Torch Browser is based on Chromium, and looks and feels like pretty much Google Chrome. Once you login with your Google account, it will sync all of your Chrome settings, including your extensions. At the time of writing, the latest version of Torch is based on Chromium 29, while the latest stable channel release is Chromium 34. This difference might leave the Torch Browser vulnerable to security and performance issues that Google might have already patched. So, this is definitely something you should weight before opting for Torch.

Unlike Opera, Torch doesn’t try to cater to the power users by adding niche features like IRC clients and web servers. Instead, all of the stuff that it adds are stuff that almost everyone will find useful. Chances are, you already have a dedicated, third-party app or extension for doing the same.

Easy Sharing

Torch provides out of the box sharing through a button that allows you to push content to Facebook and Twitter. There’s also another less-obvious, but way more useful way to share links, images, text, or and other content on the page. Just grab hold of the object you want to share, and drag left. It will display buckets where you can just drop the object. If you drag to the right, something similar happens. However, instead of getting options to share, you’ll be provided options to search for the selected content on Wikipedia, Google, Google Images, and YouTube.

Torch-Browser-Sharing-Button
Torch Browser: Sharing Button
Torch-Browser-Drag-Drop-Share
Torch Browser: Drag and Drop Share
Torch-Browser-Drag-Drop-Search
Torch Browser: Drag and Drop Search

Media Grabber

The media grabber allows you to download embedded videos from YouTube, Dailymotion, and other websites. Torch also ships with an audio extractor, which can just extract the audio from a video.

Torch-Browser-Media-Grabber
Torch Browser: Media Grabber

Download Accelerator

The download manager in Torch seems to be exactly the same as that in Chrome, but it claims to speed up the download rate of your media files with a powerful download accelerator. I didn’t find any noticeable difference during my testing, but your mileage might vary.

Torrent Client

Torch comes with a fully featured torrent downloader, that’s tightly integrated with the browser. Explaining torrents to your grandparents is never easy, but having it integrated with the browser does help things.

Torch-Browser-Torrent-Downloader
Torch Browser: Torrent Dowloader

TorchMusic

Torch even has built a Spotify-like online music streaming service called TorchMusic. It seems to be using videos available on YouTube to power its service. All the basic features including music discovery, tending section, music library, and playlists are available. And, it works everywhere in the world.

Torch-Browser-Music-Client
Torch Browser: Music Client

Facelift

This tool basically allows you to apply user styles to Facebook. You can chose from several existing themes, or create your own yourself by changing colours, editing fonts, and adding a background image. The theme that you apply, will only be visible to you, and other people who visit your profile using Torch browser.

Torch-Browser-Facebook-Skin
Torch Browser: FaceLift

Hola for Torch

This is essentially the Hola Unblocker extension, which allows you to access region restricted websites like Hulu.

Torch Browser promises to respect your privacy, and has been certified as 100% safe by Softpedia. However, I did find it installing an extension called Torch Shopping without explicitly asking me. I’m not sure what it does, but I’d recommend removing it before using Torch Browser. There’s also a malware named Torch Toolbar, but Torch Browser seems to have no connection with it. The only other annoyance that I’ve discovered while using Torch is that the omnibar (the address bar), is not resizable. This means that most of the extensions I’ve are hidden behind a drop-down list.

Torch-Browser-Shopping-Extension
Torch Browser: Shopping Extention

On the whole, Torch is a pretty interesting package. It retains almost all of the benefits of Chrome, and cleverly packages a few neat goodies of its own. A power user will probably have dedicated utilities or third-party extensions that they prefer for a lot of the stuff that Torch offers. However, I’m sure there are plenty of folks who would appreciate having all the essentials integrated within the browser itself.

[ Download Torch Browser ]

Xbox One Will Be Sold Without Kinect and Entertainment Apps Now Free to All

Microsoft made a bold decision to sell their new console, Xbox One, bundled with the new Kinect hardware. It was a bold decision because its rival Sony decided to make their motion sensing accessory optional with their own new console Playstation 4. As a somewhat direct result, Xbox One was $100 more expensive at retail compared to the Playstation 4.

Directly or indirectly related to the sales price, Microsoft took a beating against Sony when it came to sales in the months since both consoles launched. Despite having more exclusive games and content, the Xbox One was unable to beat the Playstation 4. Then came the most anticipated exclusive game for the Xbox One, Titanfall. Despite selling reasonably well as a game, it was unable to push Xbox console sales to a point which made Xbox a clear “winner”.

Here’s Xbox’s Yusuf Mehdi and Phil Spencer with the news:

Maybe that was the turning point for Microsoft officials to think about ways to juice the unit sales. A couple of direct cost cuts were announced on the Xbox Wire blog on May 13:

  • As of June 9, Kinect will not be bundled with the Xbox One, and the sale price of the console-only SKU will be $399 (the bundled price was $499 at launch, although there have been several promotions since then to make effective price lower).
  • Also as of June, Xbox LIVE Gold membership will not be required in order to enjoy all the entertainment apps that are part of the Xbox platform. Until now, in order to use Netflix on the Xbox, you not only paid Netflix for their service, you also had to pay Microsoft an annual fee of $60 in order to “unlock” that and all other entertainment and communication apps. The latter is no longer required to access services like Netflix, Hulu, NFL and utilities such as Skype and OneDrive.

The Kinect hardware will be available as a standalone SKU in the Fall in case someone wants to add it to the Xbox One after purchasing the console.

So, who would pay for the Gold membership if all the entertainment and communication features of the Xbox are now unlocked for everyone? Well, the blog post notes all the benefits of the Gold subscription:

  • Free games with the Games With Gold program: This is a continuation of the program launched for Xbox 360 and will now be applicable to Xbox One games.
  • Exclusive discounts with the Deals With Gold program: Promised savings for Gold members up to 50-75%.
  • Online multiplayer: Like now, if you want to play online multiplayer games you will need Gold.
  • Home Gold: Share the Gold membership with everyone in the household.
  • Smart Match: Algorithmic matching of players to make multiplayer less one-sided.
  • Parties and Party Chat: Enable viewing party and chat alongside parties.
  • Game DVR Cloud Storage: Your game recordings stay in the Microsoft cloud without storage limits. This feature will be a Gold-exclusive.
  • Xbox Fitness: A great “game” that tracks your fitness and provides guidance and follow ups.

Some may argue that the entertainment unlocking was long overdue and I am one of those doing so. I could not understand how Microsoft was able to get away with it, but am happy to see they have changed their ways, regardless of the reason to do so. However, in order to be a true entertainment option for most, the Xbox needs a “lite” version for those who like the entertainment options that Xbox provides and don’t care about the gaming aspects of the console. Could this and the unbundling of the Kinect hardware be a precursor to a potential XTV? Let’s hope so.

As for the Kinect, I don’t understand the move at all. One of the biggest deals for game and app makers with the Kinect bundled is that they are assured of the Kinect being present so there is no fragmentation (well, besides Xbox 360 vs Xbox One but that’s separate). Now with Kinect becoming optional, game makers have to take that extra step to handle Kinect’s presence as well as absence and adjust the interaction models accordingly. With development resources tight, I suspect most developers will go for the lowest common denominator and program with the assumption that Kinect is absent and only add voice and gesture controls as a bonus rather than making them the core interactions. That’s a pity.

It does look like Microsoft has made it a priority, much like their situation in Windows Phone and Windows 8.x tablets, to increase the installed base of the devices before thinking about “the right thing” or “the best thing”. I somewhat understand the point of view. It is no longer the huge tanker that needed years to change course. They hear the feedback, prioritize it internally, and make the changes necessary.

Xbox features with and without Gold membership
Xbox features with and without Gold membership

As a consumer, I am happy that I have a choice of buying the console with or without Kinect and am extremely delighted to have all those apps without an annual fee.

Are you more willing to buy the console now that it is $100 cheaper? Does Kinect with its voice controls appeal to you? Do you use Xbox One to control your cable box? Let me know in the comments!

PasswordDay.org helps consumers protect personal information online

As part of World Password Day earlier this week, McAfee and its partners started an effort to help educate consumers worldwide on the importance of password safety in the wake of the multiple global security breaches. Continue reading PasswordDay.org helps consumers protect personal information online

Save Ink, Paper, and Money by Cleaning-Up What You Print

Taking printouts of webpages can be an insanely wasteful exercise. Even though you might be only interested in a snippet of text, you can end up being forced to print everything including pictures and advertisements. Thankfully, there are a few nifty tools which can clean-up the content before you send it to the printer. By using these tools not only will you be able to cut down your printing costs, but you’ll also be responsible for fewer dead trees.

PrintWhatYouLike

This is my favourite tool since it allows me to manually select and retain the sections of the web page that I’m interested in. I can scroll through a page, delete elements I don’t want, and even tweak the appearance by changing color, width, and fonts. There’s also an AutoFormat option, but that can produce unexpected results. Thankfully, there’s also an Undo button to quickly revert any unwanted changes. Another handy option is the “Next Page” button, which leverages the PageZipper tool.

PrintWhatYouLike

[ Install PrintWhatYouLike ]

PrintFriendly and CleanPrint

If you prefer something more automated, you can use either PrintFriendly or CleanPrint. I prefer PrintWhatYouLike because automated tools can often go wrong. However, for most web pages, these tools will work well enough. CleanPrint is available as a browser extension for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. PrintFriendly is available as a web service, as a bookmarklet, and as Chrome and Firefox extensions.

PrintFriendly

CleanPrint


[ Download PrintFriendly and CleanPrint ]

priPrinter

This tool is likely to be an overkill for most people; however, if printing websites and documents is something that you do on a daily basis, then priPrinter might be worth exploring. This utility installs itself as a Printer driver, and allows you to preview and edit absolutely anything you print on your system. priPrinter has a strikingly feature packed document editor that allows you to reformat your data and remove unnecessary elements. It also comes with an ink saving mode, and can further save costs by printing multiple pages on a single sheet of paper. And if you are still not satisfied, this tool has its own scripting language, with which you can create buttons with custom actions, automate repetitive tasks, make custom layout or even automatically change pages before print preview.

priPrinter

[ Download priPrinter ]

Windows Phone Is Getting a File Manager App Soon

On Friday May 2, Joe Belfiore, VP in the Windows Phone team participated in a reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA). There were several good questions and more importantly, several good answers there. One of the revelations from the AMA was an upcoming File Manager app for Windows Phone 8.1.

The app’s existence, and the fact that it should hopefully land in the Store around the end of May, was revealed by Belfiore in response to a question about file management on the phone. In fact, in his response, he mentioned that it is a highly requested feature and that he was glad to announce that the app is coming.

WOO HOO! SOMEONE ASKED THIS QUESTION!! I’ve been waiting! in fact, I’ve avoided tweeting on this very topic just for all you redditors. Seriously.

in fact– you GET A CORTANA T-SHIRT FOR ASKING!! :) (PM me your size and we’ll get it to you.)

*** YES *** We are doing a File Manager for WP8.1! I know a LOT of you are looking for this (thanks for the tweets, I’ve read them all). In fact, I’ve been running a build of it on two of my phones for the last week or so and it’s getting to pretty good shape.

Here’s what it looks like: http://imgur.com/a/hvqGD#nRuOFXp

We are expecting to get it into the store HOPEFULLY by the end of May.

Some screenshots that he linked to:

Windows Phone 8.1 File Manager File Listing
Windows Phone 8.1 File Manager File Listing
Windows Phone 8.1 File Manager Folder View
Windows Phone 8.1 File Manager Folder View
Windows Phone 8.1 File Manager Create New Folder
Windows Phone 8.1 File Manager Create New Folder
Windows Phone 8.1 File Manager Locations
Windows Phone 8.1 File Manager Locations
Windows Phone 8.1 File Manager Folder Multi-select
Windows Phone 8.1 File Manager Folder Multi-select
Windows Phone 8.1 File Manager Transfer to SD Card
Windows Phone 8.1 File Manager Transfer to SD Card

The app by itself is nothing special. All the functionality that you expect from a file management application seems to exist. The design is quite consistent with the Windows Phone design language, with the large tiles for folders and the large names of files making them easy touch targets.

However, my first reaction was of disbelief, that there were in fact many requests for such an app:

 

An interesting use case though, was brought up by Belfiore himself, on twitter (and the last screenshot above shows this use case in action):

 

Right, so normal users shouldn’t and wouldn’t care about managing files on the phone. However, Windows Phone supports external storage and with Windows Phone 8.1, even apps can be installed on the external storage. With microSD card storage capacities going up and the push to lower cost of phones making on-board storage minimal, it may very well be that most Windows Phone users will need a way to move files back and forth between the device storage and external storage.

Hence, this app deserves the attention it has apparently got. However, it is a good sign that Microsoft is pushing all such functionality to apps and making several things possible as a result: make it optional for customers to use this app or not; make it easy for Microsoft to update the app based on features and functionality requested by the customers; keep the OS size smaller so that phones will low on-board storage don’t end up using much of it for the OS itself, and not have to wait until the next version of OS to deliver this functionality.

I like the fact that Belfiore chose to reveal this app on reddit. I suspect most of the requests for such an app would have come from the “power users”, and those are the type of users who would be on reddit to hear what he may have to say.

My phone (Lumia 920) does not have external storage so this app is not for me yet. I may get one of the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 devices and if they have expandability, I will most surely get an external card and will need this app. Looking forward to it regardless.

Are you?

Smart Search on Windows 8.1 Gets Smarter

On April 30, Microsoft’s Bing Relevance Team announced on the Search Blog some of the updates they are making to Smart Search in Windows 8.1.

In essence, Smart Search is getting smarter. Today, Smart Search is called so because it searches everything and not just one domain like the computer’s file system or the web. Searching for something via the Search Charm enables search across files, emails, apps, web, etc.

Now, with the power of Bing, one can enter natural language queries as shown below (from the blog post), and get relevant suggestions for things like PC settings. This may seem like a small and obvious update but it is actually quite nifty that customers don’t need to know which exact setting to look for, to change screen brightness, for example. Settings like the Control Panel have always been confusing and to most customers, intimidating. Making it easy to “get things done” as opposed to finding the right place to change settings, will help in reducing the confusion.

Smart Search Printer
Smart Search Printer
Smart Search Brightness
Smart Search Brightness
Smart Search Store
Smart Search Store
Smart Search Uninstall
Smart Search Uninstall

As the blog post goes on to say, the beauty of these updates is that because it is powered by Bing, all the benefits gained by Bing across all the end points can be funneled back as features into all other end points. Hence, Bing has stopped being a “search engine” a long time ago and for Microsoft, it is a machine learning platform.

This update will be rolling out this week, so it does not look like it needs an OS or app update. Happy searching!

Firefox 29: New Features at a Glance

Earlier today, Mozilla officially released Firefox 29 for desktop as well as mobiles. Although the rapid release cycle has accustomed us to small incremental changes, this release contains several significant user-facing changes to make it interesting. Mozilla has made a determined effort to make Firefox more consistent, intuitive, and personal. This release is the culmination of more than two years of work on project Australis. Here are the most noticeable changes in Firefox 29 for desktop.

New Theme

The pillars of Australis are: consistency, precision and refinement. Mozilla has attempted to evolve and polish the existing user interface, while eliminating idiosyncrasies, and unifying various aspects of design including borders, colours, and spacing. With this re-skinning, Firefox now looks even more like Chrome, but that’s not really a bad thing. The Firefox button has been nixed in favour of a menu button in the address bar. The tab bar has been redesigned so that the active tab is now more prominent, while the others recede into the background. However, unlike Chrome and Opera, Firefox has retained the separate ‘Search Bar’.

Firefox-29

New Menu

The new menu bar houses all the commonly used options, but looks a lot cleaner and is undoubtedly a lot easier to use. It’s also entirely customizable, but I’ll discuss that a little later.

Firefox-Menu

New Bookmarks Manager

Once again, taking a leaf out of Chrome’s book, Firefox has simplified its bookmarks manager. Now you can open, delete, move and perform most of the stuff you want to do with your bookmarks without having to open the Bookmarks Library.

Firefox-Bookmarks

Customization Mode

One of the many reasons, I used to love the old Opera was the flexibility of its user interface. While Opera ditched all of its strengths during the migration to the Chromium engine (Blink), Firefox is building on top of its solid foundation. Firefox always had a ‘Customize Toolbar’ option, but it was pretty limited. Firefox 29 replaces that with an extremely powerful and intuitive customization mode. Once in this mode you can easily add or remove buttons from the address bar as well as the menu. Buttons available include the ones that are bundled with Firefox, as well as the ones added by extensions.

Firefox-Customization-Mode

Sync with Firefox Account

The Firefox Sync option has passed through many iterations. With Firefox 29, you get the ability to set up Firefox Sync by creating a Firefox account. All you need to create a Firefox account is to enter your email address and set a password. This is a lot simpler than the previous mechanism which forced you to use a random sequence of characters as your identification.

Firefox-Account

Of course, these five are the biggest and the most visible changes in Firefox 29. There are a bunch of other changes including a new Gamepad API and multiple developer oriented enhancements. Firefox 29 is undoubtedly a major step forward for the browser, which was once dubbed as the ‘Internet Explorer killer’. However, it might have to move faster than it has in the recent past if it hopes to catch up with Chrome – the current market leader.

[ Download Firefox ]

3 Free Windows Utilities to Reclaim Disk Space and Boost System Performance

Hard disk prices have plummeted over the years, and within a remarkably short span of time we’ve progressed from talking about storage space in gigabytes to terabytes. Recovering every little megabyte of disk space from the operating system is no longer as crucial as it might have been a few years back. Nevertheless, it still makes sense from a performance point of view to give your system a little spring cleaning. Of course, if you have shelled out the big bucks to get a Solid State Disk, disk space might still be a scarce resource for you. SSDs are now more affordable than ever before, but still expensive enough for storage space to be a constraint. Here are three free utilities to help you remove junk from your system.

CCleaner

There are plenty of junk cleaners, but CCleaner is probably the most popular and trusted one. I’m not going to dwell a lot on this tool, because chances are that you already know about it. Piriform CCleaner cleans up temp files, junk files, log files, memory dumps, and other unnecessary system files as well as temporary files left behind by third party apps. It supports over a dozen third party applications including Adobe Acrobat, WinRAR, Nero, Microsoft Office, and all popular browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Flock, Rockmelt, Maxthon, Avant, and more).

CCleaner-Windows

[ Download CCleaner ]

DiskMax

DiskMax is another disk clean-up tool. I reserve this for the times when I’m really short on space. It cleans up stuff that CCleaner leaves behind. They say that with more power comes responsibility, and that’s definitely applicable for DiskMax. The Detailed Scan deletes unused hibernation and page files, Microsoft Office installer cache, logs, .sav files, memory dumps, windows update backups, and more. If you want to reclaim even more space, it even offers a Deep Scan mode which cleans up files based on extension from all folders. However, I would advise against employing Deep Scan unless absolutely necessary. Even without Deep Scan I often end up reclaiming several gigabytes of storage space with DiskMax. You can find an earlier review here.

DiskMax

[ Download DiskMax]

Should I Remove It

If the sheer number of installed apps overwhelm you, then this tool is for you. It identifies and highlights apps that you can and should remove from your system. It lists all installed apps along with an average user rating and the percent of users that have decided to remove it. This can be really handy in identifying crapware, malware, and even apps that are just not very good or necessary. There’s also a “What is it?” button which opens up a webpage with more detailed information about a program, including the features offered by it and the risks presented. Here’s a sample information page. ‘Should I Remove It’ also supports real time monitoring. Once enabled, it will quietly run in the background, and alert you as soon as you try to install an app with a low rating.

Should-I-Remove-It

[ Download Should I Remove It]

[Guest Post] 6 Tried and True Tips For Today’s Entrepreneurs

This guest post is authored by Lomesh Shah, President and Co-Founder of NonProfitEasy. Lomesh combines his entrepreneurial passion with more than 20 years of international corporate experience and has been a strong advocate for using the power of technology for the transformation of the nonprofit sector. Continue reading [Guest Post] 6 Tried and True Tips For Today’s Entrepreneurs

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