Archives

Post Calendar

September 2017
S M T W T F S
« Jul    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

RSSOwl: free RSS reader which can sync with Google Reader

imageI’ve been a fan of information inhalation via RSS feeds for a long time. Originally I used to read them on the PC using GreatNews, but since then I’ve taken to caching a stack of RSS news via Google Reader onto my iPod Touch and reading on-the-go using the Reeder app. Google Reader really comes into play when you have multiple devices connecting from disparate locations so you can sync info on what you’ve read, what you’ve marked as interesting etc. After recently getting a tablet and starting the whole RSS bollocks up on that as well, I decided to hunt once again for a Windows RSS app capable of syncing with Google Reader. GreatNews doesn’t, and FeedDemon annoys the hell out of me by being feature-crippled and having ads.

RSSOwl is a very nice, free RSS reader which is built on the Eclipse framework. It’s very configurable, isn’t too sluggish with loading and saving tens of thousands of articles, and quite frankly decisively wins over both GN and FD in terms of look and feel. You can find a full overview of its features here. After less than a week using it, I already feel it’s deserving of the coveted Dhryland Hot Download Award ranking.

RSSOwl

PicPick: freeware screen capture tool with annotation support

image So up until this point I had been despairing of a good free screen capture tool. There are several of them out there (including the infamous WinSnap – was free and then sadly went shareware), but what I really need is the ability to annotate your screen captures. When putting together technical how-to documents with screenshots, you want to be able to circle the button that should be clicked, or draw an arrow to a particular object of interest in the capture. Or add a border, or dropshadow, etc etc. Now, you can put your capture into Microsoft Word and then use its drawing tools. But that’s not great for quickly emailing something to someone. At work, we have licenses for SnagIt, but what about the poor masses out there? Best thing I’d see to this point was FastStone Capture, but it’s shareware and my thirty days of joy and delight with it were up all too quickly.

Then I discovered PicPick. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted in this type of tool. The amount of features it has blew me away when I first saw it – not only do you have the regular screencapture tools (including rectangular area, window [with vertical scroll support, so you can for example capture tall webpages etc], freehand area, full screen) and border/dropshadow frame effects, but you also have fantastic extended features such as “whiteboard” mode – allows you to draw on the screen so that you can make your presentations or tech sessions a lot cooler, a “protractor” mode so you can measure the angle of something on the screen, no idea why you’d want to do that but hey, it’s a free program! – and even a color picker and palette mode which helps when you’re coding eg. CSS and want to grab a color from the screen to match to a border or font or whatever. I was going to make a criticism about how it has those horrible Vista-style ribbon menus, but then I noticed that there’s an option in there to turn them off completely and go to classic menu mode. Hooray!

The only problem I’ve found with it that kept it from getting one of my esteemed “hot download awards” is the fact that the autoscrolling window capture mode doesn’t appear to work with Firefox. Works with Chrome, works with IE. Hopefully it’ll get fixed though, and it’s pretty far from a dealbreaker for me anyway.

Get this program. It’s terrific.

PicPick

Edit 20100725: Now warrants a Hot Download award!

MyDefrag: scriptable defragmenter

image Man. Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the water (after my defragmenter roundup) this new one comes out. It’s the next version of the JKDefrag program I previously mentioned, and it’s actually pretty good. The interface hasn’t been upgraded much since JKDefrag, and still looks like crap, but the wealth of delightful features it has more than make up for what it lacks in the looks department (kinda like me, actually).

The strength of the program lies in its flexibility. Other defragmenters organize your disk really well, and up until now UltimateDefrag has provided the most flexibility in terms of file placement. Not any more.. MyDefrag provides the user with a virtually limitless ability to choose where files are located on the disk. The main program is more accurately defined as a script interpreter. Each type of defrag exists as a .myd script, and when you run them the defragmenter parses and executes the script directives. Sounds clunky, and to tell the truth unless you’re a serious computer hacker (this means if you have an iPhone you can pretty much stop reading now) you should probably use one of the more straightforward, easier programs out there – but if you’re willing to get immersed in the scripting concept you can pull off some pretty neat stuff with this. Basically, your script will identify a target for defragmentation, exceptions, and a method by which to defragment it and any additional pieces such as leaving a small chunk of free space after that “zone” has been defragged. Then you tag other targets and have the program act on those in turn, and so on until the drive is done. My current script will optimize and sort all directories to the absolute fastest portion of the disk. Then it defrags and moves the MFT directly after that – one cannot do this with UltimateDefrag because the only option it gives you is to move the directories “close” to the MFT, which actually means after it. Next, the list of files from the prefetcher (layout.ini) feature of Windows, in order of import. Next, all other files EXCEPT those that match a certain criteria (Picasa database files, other large files) are defragged. Finally, everything else is done and the drive is complete. I actually slightly modified the SlowOptimize.myd provided standard with the program to do the above. You can edit and position file “zones” to your heart’s content – if you’re anal-retentive enough (adjusts tie and sips piña colada) you could make a different script for every drive on your system and have full control over how they are defragmented based on their contents. There are other subfeatures too, such as a “slowdown” command with which you can reduce the amount of system load placed by MyDefrag – great for regular scheduled background defrags of high-activity servers, for example. The UI is also kinda fun to look at, if you’re a quasi-autistic like me. My wife walked in on me staring at this thing defragmenting a drive, opened her mouth like she was going to say something, then shrugged and left. Which was entirely the correct thing to do. *8-)

Lacking from this program is the ability to do a boot-time defragment, and I can’t see the ability to shrink the MFT reserved area anywhere. Maybe that’s coming in a future version, so we’ll see. I’ve noticed a bug with this program too, which I have been discussing on their forum. But it’s definitely not a dealbreaker to using it.

MyDefrag is highly recommended – I’m pretty sure it’ll get better. And yes, there are already feature requests out there for a better UI. I personally don’t care – that’s the first step towards bloatware as far as I’m concerned.

MyDefrag (freeware)

Stickies: post-it notes for your desktop

image Stickies has to be one of my most-used applications over the last year or so. I have it installed at work and my wife and I have it at home too.  Essentially it works like an electronic post-it note pad. You can click on the systray icon and pop a blank “note” window on your screen. At this stage you can enter any text you like – hyperlinks are automatically recognised and the note also supports rich text and even working “checkboxes” so you can make a mini to-do list (I suggested this feature :). The underlying functionality is fantastic, too. It is network-aware, to the extent that I can write a note at work and then send it to pop up on the screen of my PC at home. The wife and I use it to “chat” with each other, usually to send links or “dinner’s ready” alerts, as her PC is downstairs and mine is upstairs. Stickies is visually customizable too – the colour of notes can be changed and you can also use “skins” – many skins are available from the author’s website.

Other features include a “manage stickies” mode – you can see all the stickies you’ve closed, search for text in a sticky, and store stickies permanently in one or more categories; you can “attach” a sticky to a window on your screen so that whenever that window opens the sticky will open as well (I have this at work so that whenever I open my electronic timecard a sticky containing a list of the timecard categories appears so I can remember which category to use for any given project); you can set an alarm on a sticky and then send it to sleep, so that when the time/date rolls round the sticky will appear and then madly jiggle about on the screen to attract your attention (I use this a LOT) and even more features that I haven’t even used yet.

Summing up, this is an absolutely indispensable tool that nobody should be without. Very small system resource footprint. Best of all, it’s completely free.

Stickies Homepage

Honourable mention: TurboNote – another great utility in the same vein, but slightly more bloated and not free.

NotePad++: excellent opensource text editor

NotePad++

There are two general kinds of editor that people use when writing. The first is a word processor, the other is a text processor. While word processors are great for organizing books or other documentation with rich text formatting, text editors have an alternate featureset for text manipulation and are typically geared towards programmers. Most text editors are far smaller than commercial word processing tools but have a surprisingly large range of features.

NotePad++ receives a Hot Download Award as one of the best text editors I’ve used recently. Previously, my favourite was NotePad2. Notepad2 is extremely small (loads in a flash) and has some very nice options if you’re just interested in editing non-rich-text files – readmes and the like. NotePad++, on the other hand, adds a huge range of features including syntax highlighting, tabbed document interface, macros, and plugins which allow a vast amount of text transformations and other functions. This editor does almost everything you could possibly want for straightforward programming or related work.

Notepad++ Homepage

Honourable mentions: NotePad2, of course. PSPad is another free editor with a giant range of features, but takes a second or two longer to load. In my world that counts as second best. Finally, for the absolute ULTIMATE text editor (shareware but worth it if you have the $) is UltraEdit. This latter editor really does do everything under the sun.

Avoid: TextPad. So many people use this tool, it boggles my mind. It’s shareware and far below par when compared to NotePad++. The default hotkey mappings don’t make any sense either. Don’t even bother.

What’s the best Windows Defragmenter? The age old question .. answered!

Okay. You’re looking for the ultimate drive defragmentation utility for Windows. You hit up Google and find a whole mess of results. You laboriously trawl through the results on Donn Edwards’ “Great Defrag Shootout” page, a most comprehensive (in fact, in my opinion, almost autistically obsessive) dive into defragmentation tools, you find countless forums where people ask the same question and everyone throws in with their opinions, most of which are uninformed, and perhaps you find a program you like after a few hours of reading and research. Great, you’re done.

However, it’s time for a post with the truth – no mess, no fuss, the answer you’re after without obsessing, bullcrapping or theorizing. You needn’t search any further. I’m going to answer the question right now, once and for all. Ready?

PERFECTDISK for commercial use, JKDEFRAG (which is free) for home users and ULTIMATEDEFRAG (shareware) for power users.

Want to know why? Read on.

PerfectDisk
This utility has been around forever. It’s extremely stable and perfect for servers in the workplace. It allows you to defragment system files at boot-time (such as the MFT). It supports optimization according to the contents of your layout.ini file (although both they and I don’t recommend that). It’s reasonably priced. You can schedule defragments. The new version has something called StealthPatrol which allows the defragmentation of your system while idle – I’m not comfortable with the idea of a permanent “on-switch” for defragmentation, and I suspect that Raxco included it in the product because there are a crapload of morons out there who falsely believe that the feature is a “good thing”. Anyway. My company runs an intranet server with systems that fragment the hard drive continuously and we have a weekly schedule which runs PD. Couple of things that I’ll ding this tool on are the fact that it’s defrag strategies are not really configurable, and the fact that it’s “SmartPlacement” mode pushes your boot files to the front of the disk so your system boots faster. Raxco needs to wake up to the fact that this is a LOW priority for most servers which DON’T GET REBOOTED all that often. I’d rather have the tool identify the most-accessed apps and move those as well as your directory data to the start of the disk (the fastest area) rather than wasting the area with boot files which only get accessed once a month or less. Still, a very robust tool. Stay away from Diskeeper – it doesn’t do a great job and they’re behind the curve for several reasons covered in dozens of other forums, including Donn Edwards’.

JKDefrag
This one surprised me. It’s an ugly little utility that’s gotten a heck of a lot of traction out there. I’ve been giving it a shot across my systems for a while now and I have to say I agree. While graphically it looks like it was programmed by Stephen Hawking using a rubber pencil in his mouth while being tasered, it has a jolly good defragmentation algorithm and it’s fast as hell. Because of it’s pissant interface, several people have written alternate GUIs for it. My favourite is by (bangs hands on keyboard a few times) and you can download it here. (bangs hands on keyboard a few times)’s GUI also features a “scheduler” option so that you run this guy every week, for example. It has a basic algorithm as well as a few slower sorting strategies, which makes the utility a little smarter than PerfectDisk. The default algorithm is slightly more intelligent than PerfectDisk’s because they get the fact that directories are usually the most frequently-accessed data and move your dir information to the fastest area of the disk. Then come the rest of the files (defragged but not sorted, which isn’t the best idea [but most people don’t care]) and then what they call SpaceHogs – large files, esssentially. During the basic defrag process a couple of gaps are strategically left in order to allow your computer’s junk files to accumulate in a reasonably fast area of the disk. You know, stuff like Internet Explorer temporary files and the like. A nice touch is that the program allows you to defragment individual files/directories instead of forcing you to select an entire drive. Summing up: JKDefrag is just a nice, small, decent utility to use when doing a set-and-forget on Grandma’s computer. Plus, it appears to be very stable as well.

UltimateDefrag
This program is small and does a lot. The version 1 series wasn’t particularly good, but they seem to have gotten it right with v2. It covers everything you need – metadata and boot-time defragmentation (typically you only do this once a year on your C: drive, if that), multiple defragmentation types, and a fascinatingly unique graphic display whilst working. You can choose the defrag method that corresponds to the type of data on your drive. The program has this concept where you can tell it a percentage of most recently-used files to move to the faster area of the disk, and then a percentage of least-used to “archive” to the slower areas. This is smart. For your digital photos or MP3 file mass-storage partitions you can choose file/folder defragmentation. It even supports individual file/folder defragmentation. It covers all the bases you need and isn’t bloated with crap you don’t need, such as realtime continuous defragmentation. Again I say: the entire concept of continuous defragmentation is stupid and I completely agree with Jeroen Kessels (author of JKDefrag) when he says, quote, “In my opinion continuous background defragmenting and optimization is marketing hype and a bad idea. There is considerable overhead (CPU, memory, disk) that may actually make your computer slower instead of faster, and it will wear out and shorten the life span of your harddisk.“ UltimateDefrag also has a scheduling system and actually allows you to move your metadata files such as MFT to different areas of the hard drive during boot-time, and you can even resize the MFT to free up a bit of room on your drive. This all coupled with the ability to move the directories to the fastest area of the drive means it wins Best Overall Defragmenter as far as I’m concerned. And a Hot Download Award, despite the fact that the software company loves to self-flagellate about how their program conforms to “Pareto’s Principle”, and have way too much kiddie-level enthusiasm and exclamation marks in their documentation and website.

That’s pretty much it. All the other defragmenters out there either have the same features or else have useless features. Or are bloatware. Or have crashed on my system – once this happens a program is out of the running, hands down, no appeals, fugedaboudit. Now, go forth and download.