Monday, March 31, 2008

Swift To-Do List Lite Review - A free to-do list manager that doesn't try to be a PIM

Swift To-Do List Lite screenshot

Shortly after I started this blog, I realized I needed something better than Notepad to manage my list of things to do with it. So I started searching for an application that would allow me to do just one thing - manage a simple list of to-do items. All I wanted to do was to be able to prioritize the to-do items and check them off when they were completed, and possibly set a due-date for each item.

Most of the applications I found were far from simple - many of them tried to be full-blown Personal Information Managers. But luckily, I came across Swift To-Do List Lite. This is a simplified version of it's full-featured cousin, Swift To-Do List, published by a company called Dextronet.

This handy little app installs easily, has a relatively small footprint (about 17MB), and sits out of the way in the task tray when minimized. A single-click on the task tray icon brings up the program. It can handle multiple to-do lists, with a handy tree-view of all the lists in the left-hand part of the program window. Highlight one of the to-do lists and a list of all the items in it is shown in the right side of the window.

There are convenient toolbar buttons for adding a new item or a new list. When you click on add item, a dialogue pops up prompting you for the title of the item, an optional priority, type (personal, work, etc.) and due-date. This dialogue also allows you to set a reminder for the item. You can also enter more detailed notes for each item. I liked the fact that when an item is highlighted in the list view, the notes are conveniently shown at the bottom of the program window, and you can edit them directly - you don't have to open an item by double-clicking on it.

You can sort the items in each to-do list by name, priority, type or due-date. When an item is checked off as completed, it goes to the bottom of the list, where it is greyed-out. It is still visible for future reference, but out of the way.

The options menu allows you to choose a hot-key combination to bring up the program, set the program to run at startup and choose fonts and colors for the various program items. The program has an excellent help file, and there is a support contact form on the Dextronet web site.

The Bottom Line...

If you just need to manage a simple to-do list, I would definitely recommend Swift To-Do List Lite. It's relatively lightweight, easy and intuitive to use, and performed flawlessly during testing for this review. You can download the program here > Swift To-Do List Lite.

Author's note - If you need help downloading, installing or using this software (or software from any review on this site), just post a comment. I would be glad to help - If I don't know the answer to your question, I can probably find out.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Weather Watcher Review - Add the local weather to your desktop with this free utility

Weather Watcher

I like to check the weather often, but sites like bother me because they have more advertisements than weather information. You can get a free desktop utility from some of these weather sites, but guess what, you get ads with these, too. So I went off to find a good, free desktop weather app with no ads. The best one I found is Weather Watcher.

This handy little utility allows you to view the current weather conditions, forecast, radar and satellite images from the desktop, without loading a browser window. Setup only takes a second - you select your city from a list or just enter your zip code. Then click on Update Weather, and your latest weather information is downloaded to the program.

You can view weather information by Current Conditions, Hourly Forecast, Daily Forecast or Detailed Forecast. In addition, a handy Map Manager allows you to select from a variety of different satellite and radar maps for your area. The program minimizes to the task tray.  While minimized, the task tray icon shows the current temperature. If you hover your mouse over the task tray icon, a small window pops up showing the current conditions (cloudy, 58, feels like 54).

The program has a wealth of settings and features, which you can access via the Options menu. You can choose from 4 available skins, set the program to run at startup, to pop-up if there is a severe weather alert in your area, and to automatically retrieve updates. These are just a few of the available settings - you can even set the program up to change your desktop wallpaper to a radar or satellite image in the event of a severe weather alert.

I only found one minor thing not to like about this program. Clicking on the task tray icon requires a double-click to bring up the program window, and it's a bit tricky - you have to get the double-click just right. This was bothersome, but certainly not a showstopper.  Author's note - Someone posted a comment informing me that the default double-click can be changed to a single-click. Go to Options, select the Tray Icon tab, next to Left Single-Click Action select Open Weather Watcher.

The Bottom Line...

If you don't like all of the ads at the major weather sites, or if you are on dialup and tired of waiting for them to load, then I would recommend this excellent utility. It's been around for quite a while (I had an earlier version several years ago), and therefore is well-tested and bug-free.

Weather Watcher works with Windows 98, 2000, XP or Vista. There is also a Mobile version available. You can download Weather Watcher here > Weather Watcher Download.

Author's Note - If you have problems downloading, installing, setting up or using this program, I would be glad to help. Just post a comment with your problem or question.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Locate32 - A lightning fast, free alternative to Windows search

Locate32 Desktop File Search

Frustrated waiting for the Windows search utility to find that document that you wrote last year? You know it's there, but can't remember where you saved it.  Well, there is a solution. Locate32 can find any file on your hard drive (or network drive for that matter) almost instantaneously.  It does this by scanning your drive(s) and indexing all of your files into a database.  When you search for a file, Locate32 just has to locate the file you are looking for in its database.  This will take less than a second on most systems.

Using Locate32 is almost identical to the Windows search feature, with one exception.  After installing the program, you first need to update the database that the program uses.  The update process took only 1 min 10 secs on my PC, which has about 50 gigabytes of files on it.  Why the Windows search feature can't do this is beyond me.  Once the update was done, I launched a search for all of the html files on my computer by typing "*.html" in the search bar of Locate32. The search came back with a list of 1678 files in less than a second.

I tried the same search using the Windows search utility, and I cancelled it after 5 minutes - I'm not sure how long it would have taken to complete.  And during the Windows search, my cpu usage went to 100%, meaning I couldn't do anything else while waiting for the search to complete.

Locate32 can search for files by name, size, extension and date. You can choose to include or not include folder names in the search, and can search for text strings within files. The program includes a built-in scheduler, so you can schedule the database updates to run when you are not using the computer.  The program can be set to minimize to the task-tray, so it's always handy (this requires about 17K of memory, though).

The Bottom Line...

Definitely, give this program a try.  It's a much better replacement for the default Windows app, and even has a few features not found in the Windows utility.  Once you've set it up to automatically update the database, which only takes a few minutes, you'll never use the Windows file search utility again.  

Locate32 is compatible with Windows 98/ME/NT4/2000/XP/Vista, and can be dowloaded at Locate32 website (Click on "Downloads" in the left sidebar, and choose the top download from the list for the latest version).

Author's Note - If you need help downloading, installing or using this program (or any program reviewed on this site), just post a comment.  If I don't know the answer, I can probably find out for you.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

AVS DVD Player 2.4 - A free, full-featured DVD player

AVS DVD Player 2.4

Frustrated trying to find a free DVD player that works without searching for, dowloading and installing extra codecs?  I was, until I found the AVS DVD player from AVS Media.  This full-featured DVD player played every DVD I threw at it, straight out of the box - no additional codec(s) required.  

The program installtion was straightforward, and operation was intuitive, with several different "skins" that mimic the familiar controls from physical DVD players. My favorite feature - You can click directly on the DVD menus with the mouse - no need to use the included navigation panel unless you want to.

Windows recognizes the AVS DVD player, and if desired, you can set it to be your default media player.  It supports all of the major video and audio formats. Navigation is easy, with one-click movement between chapters and support for playlists and bookmarks.  And unlike some of the other free DVD players I've tried, multi-language support for DVDs is included.  

A few other notable features - Built-in stereo to surround sound transformation, one-click switch to full-screen mode and back, and selection of the view angle.  All features are available from a convenient right-click menu, whether you are in windowed or full-screen mode.

The Bottom Line...

If you are looking for a straight-out-of-the-box solution to playing DVDs on your PC, this program is a definite must-get.  It's free software, with no restrictions or limitations, and is better than many commercial DVD players. AVS DVD player is compatible with Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista, and can be downloaded here - AVS DVD Player 2.4 .

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Free tools and resources for Bloggers

Since starting this blog, I've come across quite a few good free blogging tools and resources.  I've benefited a lot from other's sharing these, so I decided to write a post every now and then including a few of these with a short desription.

Free Blogging Tools

Apollofind Website Counter

Apollofind counter

This little counter widget is from .  You can register for a free account there, and pick up the code for this widget.  You'll not only get an accurate count of the number of visitors to your site, but they track all kinds of traffic data for you on their site.  Just log into your account and click on All-In-One Report, and you can see number of visits, page views, number of returning visitors, which pages visitors viewed, where the visitors came from (gives the url or search engine that referred them to your site), and a host of other information.  Definitely a bargain for the price.

BlogRush Widget

BlogRush widget

BlogRush is a new service that can help you increase traffic to your blog.  You can see their widget in action on the right-hand side of this blog.  Here's how it works - You get a credit each time someone visits your blog and the BlogRush widget is displayed. For each credit that you have, a link to your latest blog post is displayed in the BlogRush widget on another BlogRush users blog. You can get BlogRush here.

Free Blogging Resources is an excellent resource for Bloggers.  They have articles, tutorials, downloads and a a blogging forum with an active user base.  I would highly recommend this site to new (or not-so-new) Bloggers.  Join the site and then start participating in the friendly forums, you'll be surprised at what you learn in a short time. is another excellent site with an active user community.  You can add your blog to their directory, and then jump over to the forums to learn about blogging or help others with questions.

Friday, March 21, 2008

CamStudio 2.0 - A free, Open-Source AVI or SWF screen recorder

Cam Studion 2.0

I've been experimenting with adding video software reviews to this website, and in the process have tried several utilities for recording screen output to common video formats. The best free tool I've come across to this point is CamStudio. This handy little program allows you to quickly and easily record screen activity to either AVI or SWF format.

AVI format can be played in most any video player, including the YouTube site, while SWF requires a Flash player to view. The biggest difference between the two file formats is that AVI files can be quite large, while SWF files are much more compact with less quality.

I found CamStudio to be very straightforward to use. I was able to make a full-screen recording of a program in operation shortly after I installed the program. You can set the program to minimize to the task tray while it is recording, so it is not included in the video capture. AVI or SWF output mode is selected via a convenient toolbar button. The F8, F9 and F10 keys are used to start/pause, cancel or stop the recording.

CamStudio can record audio from the microphone, speakers, or not at all. It also allows you to add text or video annotations to your recording. A wealth of settings are available for more control over your videos, but I achieved good results with the program straight out of the box.

There is also an Open Source lossless codec package that was developed for this product available on the download site. (If you don't know what this means, you probably don't need it - I was able to use the program without downloading the codec.)

The installation archive also installs a lightweight AVI player, and a utility for converting AVI files to SWF. I especially liked the video player. It automatically sizes itself to the size of the video, and can be set to run as soon as you finish recording. This allows you to immediately see the results of your effort.

The Bottom Line...

As near as I can tell from browsing the CamStudio website, this was a finished, commercial product that was released as Open Source. The present author has picked up the project source files and development is continuing, with a version 2.5 beta available. Whether you are making software tutorials, demos or training materials, I would definitely recommend giving this little program a try. CamStudio 2.0 can be downloaded here - CamStudio 2.0 download. (You will find the download link for 2.0 about halfway down the page; there is a link to the new 2.5 beta near the top of the page.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

HTML Colors 1.10 - HTML color codes are just a click away

HTML Colors

If you have a website, and you've ever tried changing the color of the background, text, etc., then you know about those cryptic HTML color codes. They look like this : #80FFFF . That's Light Blue in HTML-speak. Now how are you going to remember that? Chances are you are not.

Enter HTML Colors. This handy little utility allows you to pick a color from the windows palette, copy its HTML color value to the clipboard, and paste it into your HTML code. It's quick and easy to use. You just click on the color bar, which brings up the familiar Windows color selector. Then you click on the color that you want and press the "Copy" button. The HTML color value for that color is now in your Clipboard. Just go back to your HTML document and Paste the value into it. That's it.

Because of its small size, it's easy to position the program window over a view of the web page you are modifying. This makes it possible to match colors easily. Also, you can save an extra mouse-click by checking the box next to "Auto copy hex value after selecting a color". This copies the value to the clipboard immediately after you select the color.

One other note about the program - If you click on the "Exit" button, the program closes completely. If you click on the "x" (top-right corner), it minimizes to the system tray, ready to be used when clicked on. It uses almost no memory (less than 1K), so this is a handy feature.

While you are at the author's website, look at some of the other cool free programs that he has been kind enough to write and make available. HTML Colors is free for personal use, and can be downloaded here - HTML Colors .

Author's note - While finishing up this review, a visit to the author's website revealed that this program has been updated to version 1.20. The biggest change seems to be that you can now change colors directly from the taskbar icon menu - this makes the program even more useful. I will post an update after trying out the new version.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

First Looks: DOSBox 0.72 - Run your favorite DOS games with this free utility

DOSBox Review

Do you miss one (or some) of your old DOS games? Wish you could play them on your XP or Vista (or even Linux) system and have everything, including sound, work? Well, you can if you use DOSBox, an Open Source DOS emulator. And if you need a copy of your old DOS game, chances are you will find it at Home of the Underdogs or Liberated Games.  

Even though this application is still in beta form, I had no problems running several older DOS games with it on my XP machine. Everything - sound, mouse, graphics worked fine. The application has been written specifically to run old games, but theoretically should work with any DOS program.

When you run DOSBox it opens a, well, a DOS box in a window (actually, 2 of them - a status window and a main window). This looks just like the Windows command prompt, except that the drive letter is Z: instead of the usual C: . The reason for this is that DOSBox sets up a virtual drive in memory, since it is just "pretending" to be DOS.

Once you've installed DOSBox, installing an older DOS game is simple. Copy the install files for the game into a directory on your hard drive. Then use the MOUNT command to create a virtual drive containing this directory:

MOUNT C: C:\MYDIR (where C:\MYDIR is the directory that contains the install files)

Now, type in C: to change to the C: drive. Run the install program for the game just as you would on a DOS machine. After the install completes, type in the command to run the game and you're off and playing, just like in the good old days.

From there, you can run the program in a windowed or full-screen mode (alt-enter switches to full-screen). You can also create screen captures, movies and sound recordings from the DOS program.

The Bottom Line...

This is a great utility if you have a need for it. The developers are obviously dedicated gamers who miss some of the classic DOS games, like Quake and Doom, that millions enjoyed. Development for this program is ongoing, and their is an active user community on the DOSBox website. If you miss one of your DOS games even a little bit, I would recommend giving this program a try. DOSBox works with all Windows, including Vista. You can download it here: DOSBox 0.72 .

Monday, March 17, 2008

Advance Windows Care 2 Personal - A free, no-fuss PC cleanup utility

Advanced Windows Care Personal

This program is consistently at or near the top of the list of downloads at CNET downloads. I believe one of the reasons for this is that it combines several PC maintenance utilities into one program. On launching the program, you are presented with a list of seven operations that the program can perform, and you can check or un-check each operation.

The seven operations are: Spyware Removal, Security Defense (prevents spyware from being installed on your PC, similar to the Immunize function in Spybot S&D), Registry Fix (fixes invalid or incorrect registry entries), System Optimization (optimizes system configuration), Startup Manage (allows you to control the programs set to run at startup), Privacy Sweep (erases browsing and MRU lists), and Junk File Clean (cleans junk files such as .tmp files).

After selecting which checks you want to run, you click the Scan button to start scanning your system. Running all these checks took about 1-1/2 minutes on my PC (P4, 2.4Ghz, WinXP). After the scan completes, you can click on Show Details for each item to see the types of problems found. The detail list allows you to check the items you want to fix, or un-check the ones you want to leave. After checking the details (you only need to do this once, the program remembers your selections), click on the Repair button to fix the problems found.

Advanced Windows Care first performs a backup of all changes before doing the repair operation, so you can restore any changes if you find something amiss. The repair operation (including the backup) took about 15 seconds on my PC. That's it - you are done with your tune-up.

This program might be considered adware by some, as it displays a separate window with an advertisement for another of the company's products. I found the ad to be unobtrusive - it did not get in the way of program operation (you can close the window without closing the program if you want). But if you have a problem with programs that display ads, you might want to look for something else; or consider the paid version, which includes more features and disables the advertising.

What I liked most about this program is the ease of use. There is no configuration necessary after installing, and you just have to take a look at the details the first time you use it. It runs fast enough to use it daily or weekly. The automatic backup is good for peace of mind, too. If you need a good all-in-one PC cleanup program, I would recommend giving this program a try. The program is free for personal use, and can be downloaded here - Advanced Windows Care 2 Personal.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

AbiWord 2.4 - A serious Open Source alternative to Microsoft Word or Open Office

Time to upgrade your Microsoft Office and the price has you reeling? Or maybe you've considered Open Office, but have a dial-up connection and can't tie up the phone line for the 2 days it would take to download? Well, there is a serious alternative out there, and it's called AbiWord. And you won't have to leave the rest of the world behind - AbiWord reads and writes the Microsoft doc format, as well as quite a few other formats.

The download weighs in at only 22mb, but the program contains all the features that most of us need in a word processor. MS Word and Open Office Writer are bloated with features that most of us will never use.

AbiWord comes with a very capable spell checker, multi-language support, mail-merge, and can handle tables, columns, headers/footers, page numbers, revisions, bookmarks, table of contents, and HTML links. You can also insert images, fields, text boxes, and symbols into documents.

The interface is very similar to MS Word, but without the extra clutter. The program launches quickly and movement within documents is fast as well. You can export documents directly in the default AbiWord format, MS doc or HTML/XHTML format. Available plug-ins allow you to read/write WordPerfect and OpenOffice files.

One thing missing from AbiWord is the auto-complete that I've grown used to in OpenOffice Writer. This feature completes commonly-typed words for you after you have typed the first few characters. I will be suggesting this feature to the folks at AbiWord. The only other downside to this program is the lack of an integrated help file - The help file is an HTML file stored in the program directory (or you can view the help file on the AbiWord website).

The Bottom Line...

If you've been looking for a cheaper alternative to MS Word or something more lightweight than OpenOffice, then I would definitely recommend giving AbiWord a try. It handles the tasks that most of us need on a daily basis and the price is hard to beat (free for any use). AbiWord is compatible with all Windows up to XP (no mention of Vista support on the author's website), Mac OS X and Linux. You can downloaded AbiWord here.

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