Monday, April 28, 2008

How to add Adobe Flash Player to Firefox in Ubuntu 8.04 "Hardy Heron"

Ubuntu 8.04 Adobe Flash Player installation
If you've installed the latest release of Ubuntu, version 8.04 - codenamed "Hardy Heron", you've probably discovered by now that the Firefox browser does not include the Flash plugin from Adobe. You may have been prompted to download the plugin, but left wondering how to install it. The easiest way to install Flash Player 9 is to use Ubuntu's built-in Synaptic Package Manager. Just follow these steps:

1. From the System menu, choose System>Administration>Synaptic Package Manager.

2. You will be prompted for your Administative password - Don't panic, this is the same as the password you chose for logging onto Ubuntu - it's the same as what you enter when your Ubuntu system starts up. Enter the password, and the Synaptic Package Manager program will run.

3. Click on Settings>Repositories. This brings up a dialogue that tells the Package Manager where it can download and install software from.

4. Make sure that the box is checked beside "Software restricted by copyright or legal issues (multiverse)". Then click Close.

5. Click on the Reload icon.

6. When Reloading has finished, click on the Search icon and enter "flashplugin" (without the quotes) as the search term.

7. You should get 1 result "flashplugin-nonfree". Click on the check box to the left and choose "Mark for installation".

8. Now click on Apply, and the Adobe Flash Player will be downloaded and installed.

9. Restart your Firefox browser to enable the plugin.

Questions, problems? Leave a comment, I'll be glad to help.
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Thursday, April 24, 2008

First Looks - Ubuntu 8.04 Beta Review (part 3)




I'm feeling much better about Ubuntu today. As a matter of fact, I think I'm ready to jump the Windows XP ship for Ubuntu. Everything I need to work is working. And when I consider all the hours I have spent in the past installing software and configuring Windows XP, the amount of time I've spent on Ubuntu to get to this point is not that bad. It's ironic that I've arrived at this point on the same day that Ubuntu 8.04 is officially released. The built-in update manager reports that no updates are available (I downloaded and applied 128 updates last night), so I am running the released version of 8.04 at this point.

Tracker search tool revisited, DVDs, Rhythmbox and printing

I've caught the included Tracker search tool hogging the CPU a couple of times since installing all the updates. But the good news is that it does release the CPU after a bit, so I guess I can live with this until I find out what's causing it. At any rate, a few test searches prove that it did a good job of indexing all the directories I specified, and it's lightning fast. It didn't index my Thunderbird emails, though - I think this is probably a configuration setting - it will take a little time to learn to use this useful application. Google Desktop Search is available for Linux, but if you're concerned about Google knowing what's on your hard drive there's no need to get it.



There's good news to report on viewing DVDs and playing media files in general. After reading this thread on the Ubuntu support forum, I resorted to the command line for the first and only time to solve this. The support forum thread gives detailed info on the commands to enter (you can just copy and paste them from the forum thread) using the built-in terminal (command line) - Applications>Accessories>Terminal. These commands downloaded and installed all of the codecs I needed, along with MPlayer, another media player. Since doing this, I can view DVDs in either Totem or MPlayer, can view web videos in Firefox, and play wma, wmv, avi, mp3 and wav files using either Rhythmbox or one of the media players. So if you plan on installing Ubuntu, hang on to the link to this thread.

The problem with the HP Deskjet D4160 not printing using the black print cartridge turned out to be a problem with the cartridge itself (oops!). The Ubuntu driver works just fine - the only problem is that I had to resort to installing the printer software in Windows XP to find out what the problem was - the Ubuntu driver does not support print head cleaning or diagnostics. I may have to hang on to a Windows XP partition just to do printer maintenance.

What software comes with Ubuntu and what's available to install?



Here's a quick rundown on all of the apps that come with a default installation of Ubuntu 8.04 - In the Accessories category - Calculator, Character Map, Dictionary (excellent), Disk Usage Analyzer, Print Manager, a screenshot utility, Terminal (GUI for the command line), a text editor , the Tracker search tool.

The Games category includes 17 games, including a decent chess partner, several solitaire variants, mahjong, a tetris clone, minesweeper and Sudoku.

In the Graphics category - F-Spot Photo Manager (has improved integration with today's currently available digital cameras), the Gimp image editor, Open Office Drawing and the X-Sane image scanner.

In the Internet category - Ekiga Softphone, Evolution Mail, Firefox 3 Beta 5 browser, OpenJDK java, Pidgin internet messenger, Remote Desktop Viewer, Terminal Server Client, and the Transmission bit-torrent client.

In the Office category - Evolution Calendar, Open Office Spreadsheet, Presentation and Word Processor.



In the Sound and Video category - Audio CD Extractor, Brasero CD Burner, Totem Movie Player, Rhythmbox music player, and Sound Recorder. If you install the extra codecs and apps mentioned above, VLC Player, MPlayer and SMPlayer are added to this list. That's a pretty complete list of included software.

In addition, using either Add/Remove Applications (easy) or the Synaptic Package Manager (requires a little time to find what you want), Ubuntu has essentially one-click install of the wide array of Open Source Linux applications that are out there on the web. And if you stick with the Canonical (Ubuntu's parent company) supported apps, you can count on support from the Ubuntu support forums, as well as their new technical support system which guarantees you an answer to your problem.

Summing Up

So you're an average computer user, somewhat conversant with installing and configuring programs for Windows or Mac - should you get Ubuntu? To me, this is the bottom line for an operating system. And my answer is - yes, if you have a real desire to move away from Microsoft or Apple. Installing and configuring Ubuntu will take some time and effort, and more than a little knowledge of computers, but I think the time has finally arrived when it's worth the effort based on the results achieved. I can only compare it to Windows XP, and it's faster, more efficient, gives you more control over your system and just as well-behaved.

If you're thinking about trying Ubuntu, or you already have, please feel free to leave a comment or question - I would be interested in your experience and feedback. Also, stay tuned, as I will be downloading and installing the released Ubuntu 8.04 to a dedicated partition today, and I will be keeping you posted on my experience. I plan to switch over to Ubuntu for most of my daily needs, but will keep Windows XP around for evaluating Windows software for review - there's still a great need for good reviews of good free software, no matter what the operating system.


What now?
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Ubuntu 8.04 was officially released today and is available for download here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

First Looks - Ubuntu 8.04 Beta Review (part 2)

Ubuntu 8.04 Control CenterUbuntu 8.04 Control Center


Read Part 1 of this review

Printer problem (sort of) solved, viewing DVDs (or not) and burning CDs

After investigating the reason why my Lexmark Z730 printer wasn't working, I found that Ubuntu had not installed a driver for it after all. It had merely recognized it by name over the USB port, but there is not a driver (that I have been able to find) available for it. I was able to get this question answered on the Ubuntu support forum within an hour of posting it - that's not bad tech support for a free operating system. During this process, I learned that printer configuration is accessed via System>Administration>Printing, or to be more Windows-like, System>Preferences>Control Center>Printing. The Control Center is the Ubuntu equivalent of the Windows Control Panel. Once inside the Printer configuration utility, you can click on Change beside Printer Make and Model to choose from a large list of available printer models. Ubuntu has indeed improved printer support, although work remains to be done here. The advice I was given in the Ubuntu support forum was to stick with an HP printer for Linux - and it sounds like good advice.

The good news (for me, anyway, not for other Lexmark Z730 owners ) is that I also have a HP Deskjet D4160 which installed itself and worked almost perfectly. I say almost because it won't print using the B&W cartridge, and the printer driver does not give me any information on ink levels. I'll have to go back into Windows to find out if I have an empty cartridge - I can't remember from the last time I used this printer. But the installation was a snap - I plugged the printer into the USB port, Ubuntu recognized and installed the driver for it without me having to do anything. I'll keep you posted on the B&W cartridge, though.

On to the DVD player. I knew from past experience with Ubuntu that I would have to install some codecs, etc. for DVD, MP3, Windows Media, etc. playback. After a few minutes of looking on the Ubuntu support site, I found a topic devoted to this subject. It turns out that Ubuntu makes an all-in-one package of codecs and other proprietary stuff available, it's just that they don't distribute them with Ubuntu - this is in keeping with their philosophy of keeping Ubuntu entirely free software.

So I downloaded and installed these via the Synaptic Package Manager. The Help topic on the Ubuntu site wrongly says to use Applications>Add-Remove, then search for "Ubuntu restricted extras". This search in Add/Remove Applications didn't find anything, so I performed the same search in the Synaptic Package Manager and it came up with a package to be installed. I installed it, then inserted a known-good DVD, the Totem Movie Player came up, recognized the disc title, but would not play the DVD. I got error messages ranging from "unable to read resource" to "you may not have permission to access this file". I know I was able to view DVDs with Ubuntu 7.10, so I'll keep you posted on this as well.

Ubuntu Brasero CD BurnerBrasero CD Burner


I was able to append a couple of files onto a multi-session CD with no problem using the included Brasero Disc Burner. Operation was straightforward (very much like DeepBurner, which is what I use in Windows XP) and fast. My DVD drive is read-only, so I was unable to test Brasero for burning DVDs.

Tracker desktop search tool, Rhythmbox music player, Firefox and Opera browsers

Ubuntu includes a desktop search utility (like Google desktop search) which I was looking forward to giving a try. I configured it last night by telling it what drives/directories to index (System>Control Center>Search and Indexing). I did not leave Ubuntu running overnight, but when I booted into Ubuntu this morning, my CPU usage went to near 100% (the fan on my CPU alerted me to this - I confirmed it by checking the System Monitor via System>Administration>System Monitor. System Monitor also showed me that Tracker was the culprit, using 95% CPU time, so I killed the Tracker process (you can do this directly via the System Monitor utility on the Processes tab). I added this to my list of things-to-ask-on-the-Ubuntu-forum; I'll let you know what I find out.

Rhythmbox Music PlayerRhythmbox Music Player


In search of SOMETHING that works, I turned to the included Rhythmbox music player. The overall look and feel of this application is similar to many Windows type media players, but it is music only, no video. It played MP3s flawlessly, and the included Visualizations were excellent, although there's only two themes to choose from. The bad news is that the player would not play .wma or .wmv files. Remember that I installed the "all-in-one" codec package that was supposed to add support for these formats. My Ubuntu forum list is getting longer by the minute.

I know there's some good news to be found somewhere - browsers. Both the Firefox 3 Beta 5 (included with Ubuntu - it looks like Ubuntu 8.04 will release with a beta Firefox) and Opera 9.50 Beta (I downloaded this from the Opera site) browsers were much snappier than in my Windows XP. Rendering was excellent with both and browsing with them was a real pleasure. The Opera beta includes a new bookmark sync feature (Opera bookmarks only) that synced my Windows bookmarks without a hitch. It didn't sync the little page icons that go with the original bookmarks, but I've come to expect this from bookmark sync utilities. Opera also closed unexpectedly a couple of times - I doubt if I would see this in the released version 9.27, which is available for Linux as well.

Well, with only 1 day left before Ubuntu 8.04 is set to release, it looks like this is turning into a 3-part review. Tomorrow, I'll sum up my experience and hopefully have an answer to some of the problems I've had. If you've been "experimenting" with Ubuntu (any version), or have just been thinking about it, I'd love to hear your comments or questions, you can click here to leave a comment for this post. I should note this though - as of this writing, Ubuntu's built-in automatic update program reports that 128 updates, totalling over 100MB in downloads, are currently available. Some of the problems I've had could be solved by applying these updates. I'll be downloading and applying those today. In addition, this tells me that development in preparation for the official release is "hot and heavy". Read part 3 of this review

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It's only1 day until the official release of Ubuntu 8.04 (according to the countdown clock on their site), but if you can't wait, you can download Ubuntu 8.04 Beta here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

First Looks - Ubuntu 8.04 Beta Review (part 1)

Ubuntu 8.04

Has the time finally arrived when I can trade Windows for a free operating system and use only free applications? Well, it may have. And that operating system is Linux, in the form of Ubuntu. I couldn't wait for the official release of Ubuntu 8.04, codenamed "Hardy Heron", so I downloaded the almost finished beta version a few days ago. This review details my experience with it so far.

Installation

A major new feature in this release of Ubuntu is "wubi", a windows installer that takes most of the guesswork out of installing Ubuntu. You can choose to install Ubuntu as a Windows application (sort of), which eases the process of "just checking it out". The Wubi installer also allows you to run Ubuntu directly from the live CD without installing anything, or to do a full install of Ubuntu onto a dedicated partition. I chose the Windows installation, as I plan to uninstall it and get the 8.04 official release as soon as it comes out.

The Wubi installer created a Ubuntu directory on my hard drive and copied the Linux filesystem to that directory. It also set up a boot manager which gives me a choice between Windows XP or Ubuntu (you still have to reboot to run Ubuntu even if you choose the Windows install option). The install went off without a hitch, and the only decisions I had to make were username, password and the "size" of the install - I left this at the default of 15GB, as I have plenty of hard disk space available.

After a reboot, Ubuntu came up with a new desktop background, which I guess is a "Hardy Heron" (see screenshot, I didn't care for it much). But the good news is that EVERYTHING, except my printer, worked! Sound, video (LCD screen size, colors), network (Windows network with 2 PCs), Internet - all came up and played without my having to do anything. The bad news is that, even though Ubuntu recognized my Lexmark printer and installed a "text-mode" driver for it, it didn't work. Ubuntu 7.10 was the first Linux distribution that I ever installed and had everything, except printer, come up and play out of the box - I had high hopes that 8.04 would include better printer support, but I'm not giving up yet - stay tuned for more about printers.

Desktop and included apps

Ubuntu desktop 2

The Ubuntu install sized my desktop at the highest resolution supported - 1280x1024 (I'm using a 20-inch LCD monitor). This is about the same size that my Windows XP uses, but the desktop seemed much roomier due to the way Linux handles windows. (You can change the screensize by choosing System>Preferences>Screen Resolution). I had no trouble with navigation, as the taskbar and menu system used by Ubuntu's Gnome desktop is very similar to Windows. But I liked the fact that Gnome separates the task bar from the menu bar - by default it places the menu bar (which also contains quick-launch icons) at the top of the screen, and the task bar at the bottom. It "feels like" there is more room with this arrangement. If you don't like this arrangement, you can drag and drop either one where you want it.

Ubuntu 8.04 comes with the Linux equivalents of most of the applications that I use on a daily basis. These include the complete Open Office suite (Presentation, Word Processor, Spreadsheet and Drawing), the new Firefox 3 (Beta 5 version), the Gimp for graphics and photo editing, F-Spot Photo manager, XSane image scanner, Evolution suite (email, contacts, calendar), Pidgin for instant messaging, the Ekiga softphone for VOIP, the Transmission bit torrent client, Brasero CD/DVD burner, a Movie Player and a Music Player. I'll fill you in on the details of how well these applications worked in Part 2 of this review - one thing I know for sure is that I will have to install codecs for the DVD apps, as Ubuntu does not come with ANY proprietary software.

Performance

As advertised, this version of Ubuntu is speedy. I have a mediocre Pentium 4, 2.4MHz with 512MB of ram. I found Ubuntu to be a good bit faster in most aspects than Windows XP on this machine. This despite the fact that I chose the Windows install, which comes with a note saying that performance will be slightly reduced in this mode. I enabled "Normal video effects" (as opposed to "no video effects") for the window manager(choose System>Preferences>Control Center>Appearance), which required a download of the proprietary (free) driver for my Nvidia video card. The window effects were pleasing, but still blazing fast. (I didn't care for the "extra video effects, which made windows appear "drunk" when moving them). I have had no video "glitches" using this driver as of yet.

Most applications ran faster than than their equivalents on Windows XP. I downloaded and installed the Opera web browser, Thunderbird email client, and AbiWord word processor. All of these were available for one-click installation. Ubuntu really shines in this area - a large number of programs are available for one-click installation directly from either the Add/Remove programs applet, or the built-in Synaptic Package Manager (System>Administration>Synaptic Package Manager). And you don't have to search all over for a download like you do with Windows - if a package is contained in either of these applications it is automatically downloaded for you from the proper place and in the correct version for your system.

Performance on Ubuntu was faster than on XP for Opera, Thunderbird and AbiWord. I actually found the user-interface to be better on all three with Ubuntu. Overall my system just seemed to have more "available power" than XP, although it did suffer from some performance degradation after running for a long while and doing lots of browsing - Ubuntu still suffers from some of what I call the "memory creep" of Windows XP, but not nearly as bad. Overall I had much more "breathing room" out of my meager 512MB of ram. A system with 1GB or more of ram would definitely be faster and more powerful than XP or Vista using Ubuntu 8.04.

Ubuntu

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this review. I'll be delving into the printer problem a bit more, and sharing my feedback on some of the included apps. So far, though, I will say this - If I can get the printing situation solved this time, I am ready to dump Windows in favor of Ubuntu - I've been that impressed with it. And after only about two hours of installing and configuring, I'm using it to do nearly everything I normally do in Windows - as a matter of fact I'm using it to write this review. And it didn't cost me a cent (well, maybe 50 cents - for the CD I used to burn the intstall image :) Read part 2 of this review

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It's only 3 days until the official release of Ubuntu 8.04 (according to the countdown clock on their site), but if you can't wait, you can download Ubuntu 8.04 Beta here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

FeedDemon 2.6 Review - A free, full-featured RSS newsreader application

FeedDemon 2.6 RSS reader screenshot

Download FeedDemon 2.6

When I started this blog, I soon realized I needed a better way to keep abreast of the latest free software news. I had tried RSS feeds before, using Opera's built-in feed reader, but it just didn't "feel" right. Opera wasn't designed primarily as a RSS reader, and it showed. So I started a search for a dedicated RSS reader that I could live with. The result of my search was FeedDemon 2.6 from NewsGator, an intuitive, easy-to-use RSS feedreader and, in what may be the best-kept secret around, a built-in tabbed browser that is a joy to use.

FeedDemon is based around Internet Explorer, but it doesn't really show - it's a very well-done and responsive application. Since it only uses around 15MB of ram, it should be responsive on older systems as well. The user-interface is clean and uncluttered, with lots of real-estate left over for viewing feeds.

A list of all the feeds you are subscribed to is shown in the left-hand pane of the display. Clicking on one of the feed titles brings up its content in the right-hand pane. The feed can be viewed by feed order, date order or alphabetically. There is a convenient Next button on the toolbar which cycles through the available feeds. Toolbar buttons also allow you to select between a display of the full content for each post, just summaries, or just the titles.

There is a built-in search dialogue which allows you to search for content within feeds - just click on Tools>Search subscriptions. You can define Watches, which watch the feeds you specify for certain keywords and alert you when found. There is also a convenient Clippings folder, where you can drag and drop individual posts within a feed for future reference. One other feature of note is a Reports function, which lists feeds with popular topics, feeds that haven't updated recently or feeds that have errors. These reports simplify housekeeping considerably.

FeedDemon 2.6 browser view screeshot

As I mentioned before, the built-in browser is superb. Clicking on any feed title in feed view will take you to that feed's site - no need to open an external browser window. The browser is tabbed, so you can browse back and forth between feeds and sites with ease. It's just possible that FeedDemon could replace whatever other browser you're using - it's fast, renders well and has lots of screen space for content. It's also easy to subscribe to any site's feed from within the browser, just click on the site's RSS feed button and the Add New Feed dialogue opens - no copying/pasting links.

The Bottom Line...

If you need a dedicated RSS reader, then by all means download FeedDemon and give it a try. It's the best dedicated reader I've found, plus the built-in browser makes feedreading a much more natural experience. While you're at the NewsGator site, look at some of the other useful RSS tools that this company has to offer.

Download FeedDemon 2.6

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How to stop Spybot S&D from running at Windows startup

Spybot S&D advanced menu mode

I've noticed several people arriving here from a Google search on how to stop Spybot Search and Destroy from running at startup. When you install Spybot, by default it installs the resident protection to run at startup. Since this resident protection consumes quite a bit of resources, it can slow down older PCs quite a bit.

To turn off resident protection in Spybot S&D, you have to enable Advanced menu mode. Follow the steps below:

1. Run Spybot Search and Destroy.
2. From the top menu bar, choose Mode > Advanced.
3. This enables a small menu in the lower-left-hand corner of the screen - You'll miss it if you don't look closely (see the screenshot above).
4. From this new menu, click on the + sign beside Tools. This expands the Tools menu.
5. Now, from the expanded Tools menu, click on Resident.
6. Clear the check marks beside "Resident SDHelper" and "Resident TeaTimer".
7. Close the program and your changes will be saved.

Restart your PC, and the resident protection has been removed. If you have any questions or experience problems with this, just post a comment - I'll be glad to help if I can.

If you need to stop other programs from running at startup, see these posts:

How to stop programs from running at Windows startup

Startup Monitor 1.02 Review - Stop programs from setting themselves to run at startup

Monday, April 14, 2008

DeepBurner 1.9 Review - Free CD burning software

Deepburner free cd burner software menu            DeepBurner autorun menu


Deepuburner label menu            DeepBurner print case insert menu

Download Deepburner free CD burning software

QuickReview

Free CD burning software that's just as good as Nero, but without the $80 price tag. Deepburner has all the features that most people need for burning CDs, plus the added capability of burning data DVDs. And it's easy to use - all operations are performed thru a simple wizard interface. You can burn or erase single and multi-session CDs, append to mulit-session CDs, burn ISO images and write data DVDs. There are also convenient wizards for creating autorun menus for CDs and DVDs and for printing labels. You can even print booklets and case inserts to go with the CD/DVDs. And it's fast, too - in my testing it burned 200MB in under 1 minute.

The Bottom Line...

Fast, easy-to-use and full-featured CD burning software. And considering the price, there's no reason not to download and try this program.

Download Deepburner 1.9 free CD burning software

Saturday, April 12, 2008

How to stop programs from running at Windows startup

I recently reviewed Startup Monitor 1.02, a program that allows you to stop programs from registering themselves to run at system startup. I've since had several questions concerning what to do about programs that have already installed themselves to run at system startup. So this review is about how to use several commonly available free software programs to control which programs run at system startup.

Spybot Search and Destroy

Spybot Search and Destroy Advanced Menu Mode

This excellent spyware detection and removal program comes with a built-in system startup utility. You just may not have found it yet - To run the system startup utility in Spybot Search and Destroy:

1. Run Spybot Search and Destroy
2. From the top menu bar, choose Mode > Advanced
3. This enables a small menu in the lower-left-hand corner of the screen - You'll miss it if you don't look closely (see the screenshot above).
4. From this new menu, click on the + sign beside Tools. This expands the Tools menu.
5. Now, from the expanded Tools menu, click on System Startup.
6. This brings up a list of all the programs on your PC that have ever been set to run at system startup. Any program which has a green check mark in the left-hand column is set to run at startup. To stop a program from running at startup, clear the green check mark by clicking on it. When you are through making changes, just close Spybot Search and Destroy and your changes will be saved.

What I like about using Spybot Search and Destroy for startup control, is that it keeps track of programs set to run at startup even after you disable them - you can go back later and re-enable a program to run at startup. This is very useful if you disable something that you needed. Another thing is that the resident portion of Spybot Search and Destroy, if enabled, will warn you when a program tries to set itself to run at startup, and allow you to deny it from doing so.

Full review and download link for Spybot Search and Destroy.

Ccleaner

Ccleaner startup control

Another good Windows cleanup utility that allows you to control system startup values. To use Ccleaner startup control:

1. Start Ccleaner.
2. Click on Tools in the left-hand column.
3. From the Tools menu, click on Startup.
4. This brings up a list which shows all the programs set to run at system startup.
5. To stop a program from running at startup, highlight the program by clicking on it's filename, then press the Delete button.
6. When through making changes, close Ccleaner and your changes will be saved.

Full review and download link for Ccleaner.

EasyCleaner 2.0

EasyCleaner Startup Control

I've just recently become aware of this excellent PC cleanup utility (thanks to Matthew for bringing it to my attention). One of the many utilities included with EasyCleaner is a startup manger. To use it to control which programs run at startup:

1. Start EasyCleaner.
2. Click on the Startup icon.
3. This brings up a window listing all programs set to run at startup. To remove an entry, highlight it and press the Delete button.
4. When through making changes, close the Startup program, close EasyCleaner, and your changes will be saved.

I've yet to do a full review of EasyCleaner - look for one soon. In the meantime, you can download EasyCleaner 2.0 here.

After using any one of these programs to make changes to system startup programs, restart your PC to see the changes reflected - hopefully you've gained back a whole bunch of system resources!

The Bottom Line...

As mentioned earlier, I prefer using Spybot Search and Destroy to manage startup items because it tracks changes. But it's also the most complicated to use. I would recommend it if you want more control over Windows startup programs, but I wouldn't download it just for this purpose - if you need more spyware protection, then by all means download it and use it for startup control as an added bonus. Ccleaner and EasyCleaner are equally easy to use for startup control, so if that's really all you need to do, I would download one of these. If one of them is already on your system, so much the better!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

First Looks - Firefox 3 Beta 5 Review

Firefox 3 Beta 5 screenshot
Firefox 3 Beta 5 download

Well, I resisted the urge to download the Firefox 3 Beta 5 release as long as I could. I downloaded it a few days ago, and have been using it since. Before you jump over to the download link to get it, read the rest of this review - a few things are missing and, despite the fact that the release notes stated that it would not overwrite my existing Firefox 2, it did - well, sort of, more on that later.

Most of the good stuff you've heard about this major update is true. It's very fast, handles memory well, and has a new interface look with lots of screen real estate left over for content. I found it to be considerably faster than Opera, which has been my primary browser for quite some time. The navigation toolbar has been redesigned, and they've left in the essentials while squeezing it down to a slender size.

Rendering was excellent. I saw only a few glitches, mainly some "jumpiness" while loading certain sites. But this only happened during loading, and the rendered pages looked fabulous. And did I mention that it's fast?

Now for the bad news (that's why this is still beta software). There's an import feature to import IE and Opera bookmarks, but it didn't work for me. Both import functions created folders, labeled "From IE" and "From Opera", but both were empty This feature never worked on my Firefox version 2, either. I really hope they fix this, as I would like to migrate from Opera to Firefox 3 when the finished version comes out. The other major bugaboo I found is that bookmark folders can only be created to a depth of one level.

As I mentioned earlier, the release notes state that the Beta will not overwrite your existing Firefox. The installation did install the Beta into a different folder than my existing Firefox 2. But it updated all of my shortcuts (start menu, desktop, task tray) to launch the Beta version. So I was left navigating to the Firefox 2 executable file to run it. In addition to this, if you launch the Firefox 2 executable while the Beta version is running, you get another window with the Beta version, not version 2. Browser schizophrenia!! Needless to say, writing this review was loads of fun, since I could not have both versions running at the same time for comparison.

The Bottom Line...

Not quite ready for Prime Time, but... If Firefox 2 is your primary browser, I would not recommend installing this yet. The missing features plus the hassle over which version is running would leave you worse off than when you started. However, if you just occasionally use Firefox 2, I would go ahead and try it out. It is fast - very fast. And the extra screen real estate is nice, too. You can download it here > Firefox 3 Beta 5 download.

Monday, April 7, 2008

ClipDiary 1.4 - A free,must-have copy/paste utility

Clip Diary Copy/Paste Utility

ClipDiary 1.4 Download

What with maintaining two sites, both in blog format, I do a LOT of copying and pasting. I've used several clipboard utilities over the years, but recently started a search for one that meets my current needs. The best one I've found to this point is ClipDiary (Clipboard Diary).

This handy little utility sits quietly in your system tray, keeping track of everything that you copy to the clipboard. To use ClipDiary, just position your cursor where you want to paste an item,single-click on the task-tray icon (or a press a hotkey combination that you can specify), and the ClipDiary program window pops-up. This window contains a list of all the items in the clipboard history - just double-click on an item to paste it into your document where you positioned the cursor before.

You can also use ClipDiary to copy an item back to the clipboard selecting by an item and pressing the copy button. This is useful if you're like me and the ctl-v keyboard combination has become second-nature from using it so much.

A number of settings are avaliable in the Main>Options window. You can specify hotkey combinations for the various operations, set the location of the database used to store the clipboard history, change the default database, and control the maximum number of items to be stored in the database. I set this down to a fairly low value, as most of my work involves values that change frequently.

A couple of suggestions to make this program even better. One would be to allow resizing of the program window - it's a little large for my taste. The other is the ability to delete individual items from the list in the clipboard history.
Author's update - You can delete individual items from the list in the clipboard history - just hightlight the item and press the delete key (duh..I thought you could not delete them because there's no right-click menu)

The Bottom Line...

If you do a lot of copying and pasting, whether while maintaining a website, writing documents or computer programming, then I would definitely recommend giving this utility a try. It's light on system resources (about 3.5MB of ram) and easy to use. After a while, you'll wonder how you ever did without it. ClipDiary is free software and can be downloaded here > ClipDiary 1.4 download site.

While you're on the author's site, check out FlashPaste, a more powerful, paid cousin to ClipDiary that allows you to specify the value of frequently-pasted text or images.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Free tools and resources for Bloggers 2

Here are a few more free blogging tools and resources that I've come across since starting my blog. Enjoy :)

Free Blogging Tools

What the heck is a Blidget, anyhow?

Blidget Screenshot

Well, it's a Blog in a Widget. Ok.... Why would I want one? So your friends can put YOUR blog on THEIR blog in a widget. And vice-versa. And if you have more than one blog, you could put the Blidget for blog #1 on blog #2, and vice versa.
What you see above is a screen shot of the blidget for this blog. You can see it live on the No Cost Software test site - just look over on the left-hand side of the blog.

You can get one for your blog over at Widgetbox.com.  Sign up for a free account, create a Blidget for your blog and publish it - They'll put it in their Blidget directory, and your friends (and maybe even some people you don't know) can pick up the Blidget for their site. You can fully customize the look and feel of your Blidget, and when others pick up the code to add it to their site, they can customize the layout and color theme to match their blog.

AddThis! bookmark button

AddThis! Screenshot

You've probably seen one of these neat little bookmark buttons on other blogs. What's neat about it is that it pops up a window (or drops down a list, depending on which style button you choose) of all the major bookmark sites. (Their's a live button at the bottom of this post). Your readers can choose their favorite bookmark site from the list, and are taken to that site to finish adding their bookmark. That way you don't have to go all over the net getting little bookmark buttons from each of the bookmarking sites. To say nothing about having to add the code for each one :)

You can sign up for a free account at the AddThis! web site, and get your button code. You don't have to sign up, but if you do they will track the number of times that someone bookmarks your posts. They track total number of bookmarks, plus a breakdown of the number for each bookmarking service. You can customize the button code to include only the services you want and the order they appear in the list.

The AddThis! site also offers the same type of button for your RSS (or Atom) feed. Your readers can choose to subscribe to your feed using several different feed readers, such as Google Reader, Yahoo, etc.


Free blogging resources

Templates on Jackbook.com

Jackbook Screenshot

Bored with the meager selection of default templates available from Blogger? You can pick up some cool 3-column Blogger templates that work with the Blogger Layout over at Jackbook.com. Be sure and look for the links to see each template on the demo site - they've set up test sites on Blogspot for each of the templates, so you can see them live. A couple of notes about using these templates:

1. If you use ANY custom template on Blogger that uses images, be AWARE that the links to images contained in these templates in many cases point to image hosts that are maintained elsewhere on the web - they could DISAPPEAR at any time. At the very least, copy these images to your hard drive, so if they disappear, you'll still be able to reconstruct your template using another image host.

2. Some of the custom templates were originally written in another language - I downloaded one from Jackbook.com that was written in Spanish to begin with. You may have to convert some of the text to English. In addition, when you are choosing options (such as fonts and colors) in Blogger Layout, some of the descriptions may be in another language.

3.  Be sure and back up your old template before uploading a new one: use Layout > Edit HTML > Download full template. Be sure to check the box for "expand widget code" before downloading the template. Then after you've uploaded the new template and made any necessary changes to it, be sure and back it up to your harddrive as well.

Widgetbox.com

Widgetbox Screenshot


I mentioned this site earlier when talking about Blidgets. Actually, you can get all kinds of cool widgets at Widgetbox.com. They have flash game widgets, hit-counter widgets, rss-feed widgets, tag-cloud widgets, you name it - they have a widget for it. If you are into making widgets, you can do it here and they will publish it for you. Many of the widgets they have work with Blogger,Wordpress, MySpace, Facebook, etc. and they make it easy to customize the widget for your site. Definitely worth a visit.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Startup Monitor 1.02 Review - Stop programs from setting themselves to run at startup

Startup Monitor 1.02 Screenshot

This review is about one of those handy little utilities that you just can't resist installing. I have been consistently bothered by a couple of programs lately, Yahoo Messenger in particular, that set themselves to run at startup whether I want them to or not. Yahoo Messenger has a setting for this - but it ignores the setting! Every time I run it, it sets itself to run at startup again. Enter Startup Monitor.

This little program sits quietly in the background (there's no system or task tray icon associated with the program) and monitors your PCs startup folder and registry for any changes to the programs that run at startup. If a program tries to set itself to run at startup, either when you install it or run it, Startup Monitor pops up a little window asking you if you want to allow the change.

Simply answer yes or no and Startup Monitor either allows or denies the change. That's about all there is to this neat little program. I guess the irony is in the fact that Startup Monitor has to install itself to run at startup, so it can do what it does! But this is no problem, as the program only occupies a paltry 176K of ram.

What to do about programs that are already set to run at startup? Well, there are a number of other programs available that list all of the startup entries on your PC and allow you to enable or disable them. One is by the author of this program, Mike Lin. While you're at the author's web site, look for Startup Control Panel - look at some of the other useful utilities he has written as well.

Also worth noting - Ccleaner and Spybot Search and Destroy both have built-in utilities that allow you to manage startup entries. Spybot Search and Destroy's resident protection also monitors the registry for startup entries, but uses too much ram for my taste.

The Bottom Line...

If you're bothered by too many programs in your task tray, eating away at your precious ram, then by all means get this little program. I had no problems with it on my XP machine (the author states on his web site that he has not tried the program with Vista yet). Startup Monitor is freeware, and can be downloaded here > Startup Monitor 1.02 .

Note about installation - The download for this program is a .zip file containing an .msi (Microsoft Installer) setup file. You'll need to unzip the file into a temporary directory - then double-click on the .msi file to start the installation.

Author's note - If you need help downloading, installing or using this program, just post a comment. I'll be glad to help if I can.

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