Tag Archives: Freeware

GlassWire is a Beautiful Network Monitor and Firewall for Windows

One trait that’s a rarity among Windows applications is beauty. However, every once in a while there comes an app that stands out and makes you take notice due to its well thought out design and interface. GlassWire is one such app.

Cracking

GlassWire is a free network and bandwidth monitor and firewall. There’s no shortage of similar apps for Windows; however, almost all of them are a confusing mess of complexity that would scare away anyone who is not tech-savvy. GlassWire on the other hand is brilliant in its simplicity.

There are only four tabs – Graph, Firewall, Usage, and Alerts. The Graph section shows a continuous stream of your network activity. You can see your total internet activity or drill down on type of traffic and application.

GlassWire - Graph
GlassWire – Graph

The Firewall tab allows you to quickly block an app from using your internet connection. It lists all apps that are connected or have connected to the internet, along with details about the host that it is connecting to. If you see something that you don’t like you can instantly bock that app by clicking on the fire icon next to it. GlassWire itself doesn’t have a Firewall engine. Instead, it sits on top of the Windows Firewall and provides an interface to control the Windows Firewall.

GlassWire - Firewall
GlassWire – Firewall

The Usage tab gives a detailed report on the internet usage pattern of every app. You will be able to see exactly who your app has been communicating with and how much data they are sending out. GlassWire also has an Incognito Mode for the times when you don’t want your activity to be recorded. It’s also pretty straight forward to delete reports, in case you want to keep some stuff off the books.

GlassWire - Usage
GlassWire – Usage

Finally, there’s a pretty versatile Alerts feature, which provides you a wide range of alert including first network activity, excessive bandwidth usage, host files modification, and suspicious host connection. There’s also an option to remotely observe another system’s activity.

It’s still early days for GlassWire, and there’s undoubtedly room for improvement. The Firewall tab simply lists all the processes that are transferring data over the internet. It will be a lot more useful it also integrated with something like ProcessLibrary to show more information about each app/process. There are also a few UI glitches that show up at various resolutions.

GlassWire - Alerts
GlassWire – Alerts

The absence of advanced features found in most third-party firewalls might put off power users, but GlassWire does just enough to be useful to a large section of users, who might get annoyed or confused by a full-fledged firewall. GlassWire does a good job at keeping things simple and exposing a lot of useful information without being confusing.

[ Download GlassWire ]
Image Credit: Crackers by elhombredenegro

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 ]

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]

Adobe Reader Released for iPod, iPhone, and iPad

 Adobe Systems announced the release of the Adobe Reader for the iOS-platform.  The Adobe Reader was released for Android way back in May, 2010.

The Adobe Reader is compatible on systems with iOS 4.2.5 or later. It is a relief to be able to view PDF documents with Adobe after all this time. I am unsure about what possible marketing strategies caused the delay between Adobe and Apple for the release of this product. The iTouch/iPhone and iPad versions are similar in all aspects, except the screen size.

A project manager at Adobe has been quoted saying the following about its features.

“Now you can quickly and efficiently view the widest range of PDF file type — including PDF Portfolios, password-protected PDF documents and Adobe LiveCycle rights-managed PDF files.”

Advantages:

  • It is linked to the mail client, Safari, and other similar apps (example, DropBox). This allows you to easily open PDF documents.
  • The interface is easy to use and perceptive.
  • There are three options to view pages; Continuous, Single Page, and Automatic.
  • It is easy to move to the page you want with the scrubber bar (that appears at the bottom of the page), which also displays a thumbnail of the page that you move it to.
  • It can handle encrypted and password-protected PDF documents.
  • You can copy text and place it on the clipboard.
  • It has “AirPrint” that allows you to print your PDF files wirelessly.
  • You can access your PDF files under “Documents” (aka the Library) or “Recently Viewed”.

  • It has the Bookmarks option.

Disadvantages:

  • You cannot arrange your PDF files into folders.
  • It does not support attachments.

Before the Adobe Reader was released, I usually used iBooks to read my PDF documents on the iTouch or iPad.

Some of the iBook features like the ability to manually adjust the brightness of the page and the large thumbnail preview of the pages are not present in the Adobe Reader interface, but I do not notice the absence of these features.

Images used are from iTunes.  

Run Android Apps and Games in Windows with BlueStacks

The explosion of Android handsets across different price segments has made developers flock in hordes to the Android ecosystem. The Android Market already has amassed more than half a million apps, and given its growth rate, a million apps doesn’t look very far away. While many of the apps are silly and low quality, there are plenty of gems too. There are several awesome Android apps like Cut the Rope and Pulse that will be a joy to use even on the larger and clunkier form factors. Unfortunately, baring a few exceptions like the Angry Birds, none of the Android apps are available for Windows.

The good news is that a new application called BlueStacks is promising to make running Android apps on Windows really simple and intuitive. BlueStacks App Player supports embedded virtualization, and can emulate the Android platform on Windows running on x86 as well as ARM architecture. BlueStacks also claims to have the technology to emulate Android running on Chrome OS, or even Windows running on Android ARM hardware.

BlueStacks

BlueStacks App Player is essentially a desktop gadget that acts as an Android app launcher. Unlike the official emulator, BlueStacks feels breezy, and runs high-resolution applications in full screen mode. BlueStacks also emulates all the physical buttons including Home, Menu, and Back. Though some of the fun of running touch screen apps is lost while using a mouse and keyboard combo, apps like Pulse still feel useful.

Pulse-Windows

BlueStacks ships with 10 applications, and it should be able to support up to 26 apps. The official website also claims that you can sync apps through your Android handset using the BlueStacks Cloud Connect app. Unfortunately, I couldn’t manage to download any app from the BlueStacks Channel as well as Android sync. However, BlueStacks is currently only in alpha, and issues are to be expected. The exciting thing is that BlueStacks appears to be optimized enough to be capable of running Android apps fluidly in full screen mode. Undoubtedly, the real test for BlueStacks will be running graphics intensive games and applications; however, BlueStacks has already succeeded in grabbing our attention.

Install Windows 8 Themes and Unlock Hidden Features with BluePoison

The Windows 8 beta release is still a few months away, but that hasn’t stopped enthusiasts from developing nifty apps for it. Earlier, I looked at MetroController and MetroUITweaker, while Amit reviewed Windows 8 Start Tweaker that made it possible to use a custom background (wallpaper) in the Windows 8 Start screen. Today I will look at another tiny Windows 8 application called BluePoison.

BluePoison-Windows-8-Themes

BluePoison has four tabs – Downloads, Unlock Hidden Features, Themes, and Activation. The Activation tab is a vestige of earlier versions and is unnecessary for the Developer Preview. The Downloads tab houses download links for Windows 8 Developer Preview (32 bit and 64 bit), and leaked Office 15 build 2703. My favorite section is the themes section, which houses ten different themes or skins for Windows 8. As far as I have noticed, BluePoison Windows 8 themes change the Start Menu background along with the Logon screen background. Applying themes require a restart, but is otherwise a simple one-click affair. The Unlock Hidden Features tab can be used to toggle Windows 8 Start screen with Classic Start Menu, and enable the hidden Applications folder that houses all the shortcuts displayed on the Start Menu. It can also be used to enable Metro Snap on lower resolutions screens than normally permitted.

Future builds of Windows 8 will in all likelihood offer out of the box personalization options. Until then, BluePoison offers one of the simplest ways theme your Windows 8 desktop. BluePoison is a portable app that can be downloaded from Windows 8 Italia.

[via LifeHacker]

10 Must-Have Free iPad Apps

I have been bewitched by Apple products ever since I got my hands on my first iPod in college (a generous gift). My old friend, the iPod, has since been retired from my service, but still continues to bring music and entertainment to my dear ones. The time was ripe and on cue, I was bewitched by another Apple product. Enter the iPad. I moved from my initial skepticism (Oh, why do I even need something like that?) to pure delight when I got my iPad 2.

Having an iTouch may be enough for some folks,   but when you get used to it, suddenly, screen size does matter. On my iPad, I love reading e-books, watching videos, and even making notes on the larger, scrumptious 9.7-inch LED screen. The larger onscreen keyboard is a life saver for the days when my fingers feel especially pudgy. Having a front- and rear-facing camera is an added bonus for my many video chats. Still no flash though, sigh.

Here are my Top 10 Must-Have Free iPad Apps

1. Kindle Cloud Reader

Being a big reader, I experimented with lots of free e-book readers from iBooks to Kobo to Stanza (to name a few). What really sold me the Kindle Cloud Reader was its beautiful interface and the constant fresh fodder (e-books) from the Kindle store. You have to use a very basic shopping concept here, good deals are only found if you regularly check what is on the clearance rack. Every day, the store provides fodder of a different genre. The magic is that I can pick some really good stuff for free! I also do not miss having a book spine on the screen (as is seen in iBooks).

2. Terra

The default mobile Safari browser is not bad. I like my browser tabstoo much to settle though. Terra is simple to use and I can open as many tabs as I want. It is strong on privacy; I can browse without saving anything in History, and I can set a pass code for my History and Bookmarks. (The following image is from technologytosoftware.com).

3. Instagram

I have cheated a bit here. As of now, its interface still looks like that of a stretched iPod app (the fit-to-screen type). But, I (and another 10 million users) love the simplicity and pure ingenuity of  Instagram’s many fun filters. It’s easy to link to Facebook and Twitter too. This app is good news considering there aren’t any good photo-editing social networking apps.

4. Flipboard

This app creates a magazine from my numerous networking-site feeds. My updates from Google Reader, Twitter, Facebook, and many other sites, are much easier to manage as a result. I mainly use Flipboard to save all my favorite stories to be savored at my leisure. Flipboard also won Apple’s iPad App of the Year award.

5. Evernote

This popular app is a lifesaver. I make about a dozen notes a day on the Evernote cloud. It is easy to get used to it.

 

6. Dropbox

This is another amazing cloud app that offers 2 GB of free space to its users. I can’t imagine how I lived without it. I can save and manipulate my data, as if on my local desktop, using Dropbox.

7. Skype

The beauty of having a camera on the iPad is that I can make a video call on a full screen with Skype while catching up with other friends. Who in the world is not on Skype?

8. NPR

This news app beats NY Times, WSJ, and many others because it does not have the painful limited (or paid) viewing of its content. Its articles are open to everyone. I enjoy the latest NPR news broadcast, or simply listen to its playlist of songs.

9. Twitterrific

There are numerous Twitter apps. An ideal app, in my opinion, is one that I get the hang of in less than 10 seconds. Twitterrific fits the bill. It is simple and intuitive. It has not failed me yet, so I see no reason to jump to TweetDeck.

10. AccuWeather

I believe that it’s good to have more than one source to check my weather forecast. AccuWeather is an American company that provides (reasonably) accurate weather forecasting services worldwide. The interface is clean and presentable. No overload of information here. The hourly update on multiple locations is a nice touch.

Bonus Free iPad App

11. Talking Larry the Bird

In a nut shell, Larry repeats what you say to him in his own ducelent tones. Its too much fun for a human.

Tweak Windows 8 Metro Start Screen With A Custom Background Image or Color

The default background color of Windows 8 logon screen is subtle green, which is pretty decent. However, most of us don’t like to see the same old background color or image on every other computer running Windows 8. You want your system to stand out from the crowd and one of the best ways to ensure this is to choose a custom background image for Windows 8 logon screen and set a custom image as Windows 8 Metro start screen background.

When you have installed Windows 8, your Metro start screen should look something like this

windows8-metro-screen

The above pixelated green background is cool but after using Windows 8 for a couple of weeks, you would surely want to change it to something you really love. Your family portrait, your beloved pet, your favorite sports team are some common examples.

To completely revamp your Windows 8 Metro screen background, try Windows 8 Start Tweaker. It’s a useful portable utility which can be used to change the background wallpaper of Windows 8 start screen and choose a custom color for Windows 8 logon screen as well.

All you have to do is extract the files from the package(122KB), run the program in administrator mode and browse to the location of the image file stored on your computer’s hard drive. (Note: the utility uses Chinese as default language, so Non-Chinese users will have to click the U.S flag option at the right bottom of the program window.)

choose-metro-background-color-image

 

When you are done choosing a custom background image for Windows 8 Metro background and a custom background color for Windows 8 logon screen, log off and log back in to see the changes.

Here is how I transformed the Metro start screen of my Windows 8 system. Cool right?

windows8-start-screen-example

If you are not so comfortable with the Metro style UI, you can always disable the metro interface and switch back to the classic Windows 7 style start menu. Until and unless a stable version of Windows 8 is released, I would prefer sticking to Windows 7 for heavy duty work, while navigating all the new features of Windows 8 in my spare time.

For best results with the custom Metro background, make sure the height of the image is double the height of your screen resolution. This will ensure that the image fills the entire screen background, width of the background image is not a factor though.

Also read: Metro UI Tweaker for Windows 8 disables unnecessary Windows 8 features.

Quench Your Thirst with 14 Free Oktoberfest Screensavers

[Windows Only]

These beer themed screensavers are perfect for getting into a thirsty mood for the upcoming October festivities. If you are hosting your own little Oktoberfest party, one of these on your computer screen is sure to be popular. Just be sure to  set a password on the screensaver. I don’t recommend letting drunk people operate your PC. There’s nothing worse than a PC with a spyware hangover.

• Screensaver Download Page

As many of you have learned by now, not all free screensavers are created equal. Many times, free  means that you have to install stupid toolbars, adware and other unwanted junk along with the screensaver. That’s not true of the ones at NewFreeScreensavers.com.

Once again, remember my warning about letting your buddies use the PC while drunk.  However, your crew may fall on the floor laughing, while watching what happens when a squirrel has too much to drink. (video: Drunk Squirrel)

Techie Buzz Verdict:

I’ve downloaded and installed several of the screensavers at this site and never had a problem with any of them. These screensavers are safe, totally free, and there are dozens more to check out once you visit.

Techie Buzz Rating: 3/5 (Good)

New Autumn Screensavers for 2011 [Freeware]

[Windows Only]

For all of you north of the equator, Fall is falling. The people at NewFreeScreensavers must have detected a chill in the air, and they’ve started adding new Autumn screensavers. Don’t be afraid to grab one or two. The screensavers there are always safe to install.

Autumn Screensavers 1

Autumn Screensavers 2

 

Here’s a video showing what these look like in motion.

Warning!

There are plenty of free screensavers and wallpapers on the net, but you have to be careful to visit only safe websites when you are looking for them. As many of you have learned by now, not all free screensavers are created equal. Many times, free means that you have to install stupid toolbars, adware and other unwanted junk along with the screensaver. That’s not true of the ones at NewFreeScreensavers.

arrow-down-double-3 Screensaver Download Page

W i n d o w s 7 t h e m e s?

Eerie Autumn ThemeIf you have Windows 7, be sure to check out this Eerie Autumn desktop theme. If you don’t have Windows 7, you can still snag the wallpapers by using this trick.

Techie Buzz Verdict:

I’ve downloaded and installed several of the screensavers at this site and never had a problem with any of them. These screensavers are safe, totally free, and there are dozens more to check out once you visit.

Techie Buzz Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Breathtaking Mandelbrot Videos – Now in Brilliant 3D

Yesterday, I saw the most amazing videos. These are called Mandelbulb videos, and half the fun of watching them is understanding the science and mathematics behind them. If you don’t want to learn how these are made, you can skip to the end of this article.

What is a Mandelbulb?

It’s a type of mathematical entity that’s based on ideas behind  Fractals  which were discovered in the 17th century. Fractal mathematics describe  geometric patterns that repeat at ever smaller scales to produce irregular shapes and surfaces that cannot be represented by classical geometry. Fractal patterns are often seen in nature, such as in snowflakes. Here’s an example of a Von Koch curve, which is one of the simplest forms of a fractal.

 

von koch curve

When a fractal shape is calculated, it is calculated in steps, or iterations. You can see the shape change, above, as it goes through each iteration.

Here’s another example of a complex fractal which was generated by the  GoogleLabs JuliaMap Generator.

Google Labs Juliamap web app

If you follow that link to Google Labs, your web browser will generate a fractal. One of the unique properties of fractals are that you can zoom in on the patterns and see even smaller but very similar patterns.

Over the years, many mathematicians have tried to determine the formulas for true 3D fractals. Finally, in 2007,  an amateur fractal image maker,  Daniel White, came up with some formulas that seem to generate these 3D fractal shapes. Daniel started his work by using one of the most famous fractal types, called the  Mandelbrot set. The resulting shapes are called Mandelbulbs.

A couple of months later, some software hackers and fractal enthusiasts got together to work on software to render Mandelbulbs on computers. The Mandelbulber Project has been a success, and as you’ll see below, it’s also resulted in some very fantastic images and videos.

Here’s a screenshot of what the software looks like, running on a Linux PC. The software is Open Source, completely free to download  and also runs on Windows PCs.

Mandelbulb Interface

Here are a few screen-shots of Mandelbulber’s artificial worlds.

mandelbulb 45

 

mandelbulb 14a

 

mandelbulb image

 

mandelbulb 1

 

mandelbulb 2

 

mandelbulb 3

 

mandelbulb 4

Finally, we have reached the video. As you’ll see, Mandelbulber can create entire virtual worlds that can be explored. In fact, it can create an infinity of different worlds and some of them are almost scary in their complexity.

Video:  Trip to center of hybrid fractal

Here are more Mandelbulb videos from XLACE. It’s interesting to see how his videos have evolved over the years, and how Mandelbulber has suddenly changed the world of fractals forever. Someday, I expect to see these artificial worlds appear in movies. If you need an alien place for a Sci-Fi movie, it’s pretty easy to see where you could get one.

 

Use Microsoft Office Picture Manager for Quick Photo Edits

There are a lot of great photo editors on the market. Some are very robust and expensive, while others are free. To be honest, there are about as many photo editors out there as there are camera models. Today I would like to tell you about one that is probably sitting right under your nose and you’ve never used it. It is called “Microsoft Office Picture Manager” and it comes bundled with Microsoft Office.

I would like to show you an example of the photo editing power of Picture Manager. Let’s begin by opening a picture on our computer. Below you will see a lighthouse picture I took in Portland, Maine.

Lighthouse

Let’s say, for example, that I wanted to turn this photo black and white. This is very simple to do using Picture Manager. First, let’s open the picture in Picture Manager. Below, you will see where I right clicked the photo, then chose the “Open With” option, and then clicked “Microsoft Office Picture Manager”.

Open With Menu

Now we’ll need to click the button at the top of the window that says “Edit Pictures…” See the picture below to see what the button looks like.

Edit Button

Now, you will get a toolbar on the right side of the screen. You will notice a very large “Auto Correct” button. If you have a photo that may be a little too dark and grainy, sometimes clicking this button will help correct common color and lighting errors. In the picture below, you will notice an area highlighted under the heading “Edit using these tools”. Here are some commonly used photo editing tools. The one I would like to deal with in this tutorial is under the heading “Color”.

Toolbar Options

When you click the heading that says “Color”, you will get the menu options pictured below.

Color Menu

Using this menu, you can do some really cool things to your photo. You can also royally screw up the color balance so make sure you keep the “Undo” button handy. You will notice that there are three sliders that will allow you to use your mouse to click and drag to change the value in each box. Remember the goal of this particular tutorial is to make this photo black and white. To accomplish this we’ll need to desaturate the photo. Saturation basically is a term for how much color is in the photo. If we drag the “Saturation” slider all the way to the left, we are essentially saying we want to take all of the color out of the photo.  Now, our picture is black and white.  See the picture below.

Lighthouse Black and White

There are many other useful tools in Microsoft Office Picture Manager. You can easily fix red eye, flip and rotate pictures, and more. It may not be the most robust tool out there, but for the novice user, it is easy to use. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial.

Please feel free to comment or ask questions.

5 Must Have Back to School Apps for Mac

As I said in my roundup of iPad apps  on Tuesday, the back to school season is upon us once again. As many begin to gather their supplies, they are also shopping for a new computer for this next year. While the PC remains dominate in many circles, it is quickly losing ground among students. That means that there are thousands of students trying to find the essential apps for education to run on their Macs.

Fear not! I am here to help, and I have brought a list of 5 of the most essential apps for Back To School 2011. This is list is going to cover note taking, organization, paper writing, time management, and even relaxation. All of these apps come from my experience as a university student, and they are all amazing. Without further ado, let’s get to that list.

1. NeoOffice (Free)

I think that its important to start with something that everyone can understand. That’s why the first app on my list is NeoOffice. Neo is a branch of the OpenOffice.org project that was rethought specifically for the Mac. I have been a user of OpenOffice/LibreOffice for a number of years now, and NeoOffice is a great version. It offers all the usual programs, including a word processor, spreadsheet program, and presentation editor.

neooffice-mac.png

Neo is completely free for certain versions. You get a complete office suite, much like Microsoft Office, for no money at all. However, I have donated $10 to them, and have access to their latest beta release. That version comes with Lion support, including versions and full-screen mode. That makes NeoOffice a fantastic addition to my machine, which runs like a top on Lion.

Overall, I think that the need for an office suite is obvious for the aerate student. You will write papers, analyze data and even create presentations throughout your educational career. If you are looking for a cheap alternative to Microsoft or Apple’s offerings, or if you want to support a good open source project, I can’t recommend NeoOffice enough.

Alternatives: OpenOffice (Free), LibreOffice (Free), iWork ($60 – Mac App Store), Microsoft Office ($85)

2. Evernote (Free)

Many students buy a light weight laptop, like the MacBook Air, with the hope of using it to take notes in class. While there are arguments that this is best done with a word processor (see number 1 on this list), there are just as many reasons as to why you should use a dedicated note taking app. In my opinion, there is no better app for taking notes then Evernote, which is completely free.

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Evernote, for those who aren’t aware, is a note taking and organization application from Evernote Software. They offer one of the best Mac apps I have come across in my search. It is feature rich and includes the ability to record audio, record video, link documents to notes, and even share notes with friends. It is also cross platform, with apps available to iOS, Android, Windows, and the web.

I really like Evernote. As I said in my iPad roundup, I use it to sync my handwritten notes with my Mac, and it works wonderfully. I also keep track of assignments, manage my PDF notes, and even use it in class occasionally. It’s free to use, and is probably the best note taking app around. Download it here.

Alternatives: Word Processor, Growly (Free), Nevernote (Free)

3. Caffeine (Free)

This probably the strangest app on my list of 5. Its going to seem like something incredibly simple, but it really is a lifesaver sometimes. The app is called Caffeine, and it allows you to prevent your Mac’s screen from going to sleep. I suspect that most college students will have MacBooks of some kind, be they Pros, Airs, or White Plastics. That means that they have a power save option that is one by default. This will turn your screen off after a given amount of time spent inactive.

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While that may not sound like a big deal to many people, its a huge deal to students who are trying to take notes in class. Often, a professor will go off on a tangent, and you won’t type anything for 10 minutes. Then, they will tell you all the answers to the test in the next 2 minutes, and you don’t want to waste any time waking your machine back up. That’s where Caffeine comes in to play.

Caffeine will install a small coffee cup icon into your menu bar. You click it, and its activated. It’s that simple. It’s completely free, and you can pick it up in the Mac App Store.

Alternatives: None. It’s free. Go install it.

4. iProcrastinate (Free)

One of the biggest problems for the average student is time management and scheduling. I have tried multiple methods for handling this issue, and it was hard beat. I finally discovered iProcrastinate, which is a free Mac app that allows you to create a simple calendar with events and assignment due dates on it. While you can do that in iCal, iProcrastinate lets you take your organization to another level.

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iProcrastinate allows you to set up steps to a task, each with its own check mark. That way, you can set up a plan for researching your paper, writing the rough draft, proofreading it, and then writing your final draft. The calendar display is quite good, showing you all your tasks and their due dates for a given time period.

iProcrastinate is awesome for managing not only your school work, but all of your life. Be sure to use it to schedule some relaxation into your schedule. It will allow you to color code things, letting you see them easily in the calendar. It also gives you nice notifications reminding you of due dates. You can grab it for free in the Mac App Store.

Alternatives: Any To-Do App, Wunderlist (Free)

5. Steam (Free)

This last app is something that I think every Mac user who likes to play games should install. While the Mac isn’t known for having the best games on the market, that landscape is certainly changing. One driving force behind that is Steam, Valve’s digital distribution service, making its way over to the Mac. With that, they now offer a number of top notch titles.

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You may be wondering why this is on the my Back to School app list. That’s because the most important thing you can do as a student is relax. If you try to do nothing but study, you will drive yourself mad. Steam will give you access to a ton of games, many of them for next to nothing or completely free. One game I recommend is Team Fortress 2, which is a great free shooter.

Like I said, this is a must have for students. I think the best time I spend in college is the time I set aside for gaming. It helps me forget that I have a heavy course load that requires so much of my time. However, it’s important to remember that you still need to study some of the time. That’s why you should use Steam in combination with iProcrastinate. Seriously. Do it. You can download Steam for free here.

Alternatives: Mac App Store? Seriously, just get Steam.

Get Downloading and Get Studying

So there you have it. 5 apps that every college student who uses a Mac should use. I know that I use these apps all the time. If I could add one more, I would recommend Dropbox, just because it’s so much better than carrying a flash drive. It’s a lifesaver most of the time. Also, even with Dropbox, all the apps on this list are Free, which is awesome for poor students like me.

What apps would be on your list? Do you think I missed something major? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Fastpreview: Preview Images from Context Menu with All Embedded Information

fast-preview-iconThese days almost everything gets documented with images. Digital cameras, mobile phones and even screen capture applications deliver images with lots of info (geo tag, resolution to more detailed EXIF info, meta data) included within the file. These information is necessary for many purposes like studying the conditions for taking a similar snap. However, Windows explorer manages to reveal some of them while failing for most. FastPreview comes to your rescue.

FastPreview is a free tool that you can use to see all the embedded information within an image. The tool once installed, adds:

1. FastPreview tab in the file properties dialog box. This can be used to view/copy the values for the embedded info. You can copy a single attribute or copy the entire information with just one click. Adobe eXtensible Metadata Language (XMP) information, EXIF Camera/Image information, IPTC Media information can be obtained from the FastPreview tab.

2.   A nice image preview functionality within the context menu.

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The tool also comes with an image viewer utility. Whenever you open an image using this viewer the image is opened in a mode to fit the screen. You can rotate your images from the viewer without losing the image quality.

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The tool is compatible with Windows XP/Vista/7 32-bit and 64-bit versions. However, the 64-bit version needs SSE3 capable CPU.

Techie-Buzz Verdict:

For all who really wants to learn a bit of Photography studying examples, this tool is a lifesaver. The information provided for any image as I studied them really gets down to the most simplest detail like whether or not the flash was fired during taking the picture. The context menu preview proves helpful only if you have your explorer thumbnails disabled or else it seems a little waste of screen space. As a whole this a useful shell integration to know more about images.

[Download FastPreview]

Opera Releases First Snapshot of Opera 12, Codenamed Wahoo

In keeping with its tradition of fast paced development, Opera Software has released the first snapshot of the successor to Swordfish just eight days after its release. Swordfish or Opera 11.50, which was released last week, has so far been downloaded more than 32 million times, making it the most successful launch ever.

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The successor to Swordfish is being codenamed Wahoo, which is one of the fastest tropical fishes in the world. The first snapshot only features bug-fixes and minor enhancements. New features will be introduced at a later stage. Since Opera Software is numbering Wahoo as Opera 12, there should be a fairly meaty changelog by the time it reaches the beta phase. One feature which seems to be a no-brainer is the addition of cross-platform support for WebGL and hardware accelerated compositing. This is something Opera has been working on for quite some time, and was demoed earlier in the year in an Opera Labs build. Moreover, Opera recently began to work on a HTML5 port of Emberwind, a popular indie game. That could very well be something that Opera Software intends to use to highlight the performance benefits of hardware acceleration.

You can download the first snapshot of Opera 12 from the Desktop Team blog. A pre-alpha build can and probably will have usability issues. However, you can safely try it on your system since it will be installed separately from your main Opera installation.