Tag Archives | Utilities

StuffIt Deluxe's New One-Step Toolbar

For years, I was serious about my compression software. (Anyone else remember a wonderful utility from the 1990s called ZipMagic?) In recent years, however, I’ve pretty much slipped into using the rudimentary compression and decompression features built into both Windows and OS X.

But I like Smith Micro’s StuffIt Deluxe 2011, the latest version of one of the most venerable Mac compression utilities. The new version includes a toolbar called StuffIt Destinations that automates the normally two-step process of compressing a file and then doing something useful with it–such as e-mailing it, uploading it to an FTP server, burning it to DVD, or using Smith Micro’s SendStuffNow (a YouSendIt competitor) to let other folks download large files which would choke their e-mail.

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BumpTop Arrives on the Mac

When the file-management utility known as BumpTop arrived on Windows last year, I somehow missed it. Today the company released a Mac version, and I’ve been playing with it and enjoying it.

BumpTop substitutes its own desktop for the standard one you get in OS X or Windows, and the most instantly striking thing about it is that it’s in 3D: You can drag (or just toss) icons off the “floor” in the center of the screen onto a wall, or even knock them into each other like pool balls. I’m instinctively skeptical about 3D interfaces–software companies have tried them for years without proving they’re more than a gimmick that saps resources. BumpTop’s version isn’t bad, though–at worst, it’s inoffensive, and at best it’s a cool effect that might help you tidy up your desktop by letting you place different sorts of files on each wall.

More important, the 3D stuff is only part of what makes BumpTop interesting. It also lets you auto-stack similar files (such as JPG images) to clear up desktop space. You can shrink and grow icons individually, letting you make important items humongous and minor ones teeny-tiny. BumpTop Pro, which goes for $29 also lets you flip through stacks of items, use multitouch gestures to perform tasks such as resizing icons, create unlimited sticky notes, and find files by typing their names.

The basic version of BumpTop is a free download–and if it sounds at all intriguing, it’s worth your time. The desktops of my computers tend to be appalling messes–a trait they share with my real desks. So I’m attracted to anything that might help me keep them in some semblance of order, and I’m keeping BumpTop on my Mac and planning to try out the Windows version.

If you give either or both of ’em a try, let us know what you think.

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Five Free Tools to Tickle Your PC’s Fancy

Steve Bass's TechBiteI know you like new tools to try (I do too), so here are a stack for Windows. Play with them, see if they fit your working style, and maybe you’ll find a couple of keepers.

Geek Alert: Tune Up Your LCD

Listen, you know why the subtitle is geek alert? It’s because you need to like to take computing risks and you need some semblance of knowledge about LCDs. So before you read about Nicomsoft’s free Display Tuner, I want you to know that you can’t write me to complain the tool turned your LCD into one side of a 21-inch bookstand. (Or formatted your drive, or caused your spouse to leave you, for that matter.) Monitors are weird and even the program’s author has a stern warning for you. Got it? Okay, cool, carry on.

I never seem to get either of my ViewSonic LCDs tuned just right. And I really don’t like fiddling with those silly, hard-to-use buttons on the front of the monitor. Display Tuner lets you do those adjustments — such as geometry, color, and brightness — from within Windows. You can also set profiles for different viewing situations, say, watching videos, or reading text. That’s terrific. There are two limitations: If you have a dual monitor display, Display Tuner will support just one monitor and ignore the second one. And the tool works only with monitors that can be managed by software (they must support DDC commands). That leaves my ViewSonic LCDs out in the cold.

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How’s Your Hard Drive Doing?

Steve Bass's TechBiteHard drives are about as dependable as a teenager promising to come home by midnight. The more you know about your drive–the brand-specific idiosyncrasies and the diagnostic sounds that drives produce–the better prepared you are for the inevitable crash.

* Hard Drive Inspector is a handy tool to monitor your drives for spin rate, seek time, and almost 20 other potential problem spots. The program also supplies specs–including drive model, firmware version, and serial number, all perfect when calling for warranty support.

The drive’s temperature is displayed in the system tray; if the drive gets too toasty (I have mine set for 120 degrees Fahrenheit), you can get an e-mail alert, or better, automatically put the computer in Standby mode. You can view a summary health report that’s enough for most of us; the S.M.A.R.T. report has the details. Hard Drive Inspector costs $30, but you can download a 15-day trial version to give you a feel for the tool; the trial is fully functional, though limited to one drive. Nonetheless, it’ll tell you everything you’ll need to know about your drive.

Note: At press time (an antiquated phrase if I ever heard one), the Hard Drive Inspector’s site is temporarily down. You can read about the product by looking at a Google cache.

* It’s not as comprehensive as Hard Drive Inspector, but if you’d prefer a freebie (of course you would!), download CrystalDiskInfo. The tool will show you the number of hours logged on your hard drive and give you its health status. If you see caution or bad, cancel all your appointments and replace the drive, like, immediately, even if you don’t hear any weird sounds from the drive.

* If you listen to your hard drive, all you should hear is a soothing, comforting hum. Yet drives often make weird sounds–thuds, screeches, knocking, or whining — and determining if a sound means trouble can be, well, troubling.

DataCent, a data-recovery company, has an extraordinarily helpful site that plays the actual sounds of flaky hard drives: stuck spindles, bad or unstable heads, bad bearings, and bad media, to name a few. You can listen to your specific drive brand, too. Even better, the data recovery company lists typical drive failures by manufacturer. Listen to a Seagate drive with bad heads making a clicking and knocking sound.

[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]


Why I Dumped Windows System Restore for ERUNT

Steve Bass's TechBiteI gave up on Windows System Restore. Yep, I turned the feature off and replaced it with a freebie I like better.

System Restore is a recovery tool built into Windows that backs up and restores the Registry. System Restore takes a snapshot of your computer — called a restore point — once a day, as well as before you perform certain tasks, such as installing a new program. If all goes well, you can use a restore point later on to bring your PC back to the state it was in when the snapshot was taken. But remember, we’re talking about computers.

Sometimes System Restore doesn’t work. You click a restore point and Windows has a hearty, gleeful laugh. The problem is that each restore point is linked to previous points; if one is corrupt or missing, you’re out of luck: System Restore won’t work. (Learn more about the ins and outs of System Restore in Bert Kinney’s smart and thorough FAQ.)

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Five Web Services You've Got to Try

Steve Bass's TechBiteJunk and clutter: It’s the blaring banner ads and annoying boxes that slide across the screen that are ruining the Web. I avoid it all with a smart ad blocker–Ad Muncher, a miraculous tool.

But there’s still a problem.

Web pages aren’t designed for reading, and that’s one of my pleasures: Reading product and movie reviews, for instance, or devouring John McPhee’s lengthy pieces in The New Yorker, or James Fallows (read his old, but still valuable What Was I Thinking? in The Atlantic).

Up until now, I’d click the Print button if the site offered one. Then I discovered Readability, a site that reformats any page of text to conform to your reading style. Set up Readability by choosing a style, font size, and margin width, and then drag the Readability bookmarklet to your browser’s toolbar. The next time you’re on a Web page you want to read, click the Readability link and the transformation happens immediately. (You can get a better idea by watching the video.)

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Ten Super-Duper Free Tools

Steve Bass's TechBiteI’ve been bingeing on free tools for the last week. Here are a bunch of the best I found.

Greased Lightning Finds

I want you to download and try the Everything search tool. It installs in a minute, and indexes your drive in another minute — and the speed of its finds will blow you away. No, really, this is the fastest thing I’ve ever seen.

My friend Darryl said, “Everything’s search engine only searches file names and folders — it doesn’t index file contents like Windows Desktop Search does. Instead, it indexes the entire hard drive by using the hard disk’s existing USN Change Journal. The result is a tiny program that uses very little resources, is deadly simple to use, and is astonishingly fast. You can find any file virtually instantly.” The question is why Microsoft didn’t use the USN functionality in the Search function built into XP and Vista. (Don’t you love these rhetorical questions for Microsoft?)

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Seven Tools to Make Your PC Smile

Steve Bass's TechBiteYou have an insatiable need for free tools, I know, and there’s no reason to deprive you. I have seven gems for you, and all but one are freebies. Plus I have a quick follow-up about passwords and security.

Dump the Dupes

You think you might have a couple of duplicate files on your system? (Don’t be silly — of course you do.) Easy Duplicate File Finder (see image) is a handy freebie that will dig around and show you where they’re lurking. I like being able to choose specific folders, use a mask to find only certain files, and either rename or move dupes.

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Use Passwords? Read This Article. Now.

Steve Bass's TechBiteThe e-mail from PayPal said I’d sent $400 to a gaming firm in Germany. It’s a dopey phishing expedition, I thought, and authentic-looking, for sure, but nothing to worry about.

The trouble was that when I logged on to PayPal, I really did have a $400 withdrawal. It was clear that someone had my password.

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A Partial Cure for the No-MacBook-FireWire Blues

I’m thinking this is my final post on the lack of FireWire on Apple’s new MacBook, but it might help some of the folks who are in mourning. If what you’re sad about losing is Apple’s FireWire Target Disk Mode–which lets you copy files back and forth between two Macs via a FireWire cable–you can get a rough USB approximation in Targus’s Targus for Mac File Transfer Cable.

It’s a $50 cable that lets you connect two Macs–or a Mac and a Windows PC, or two Windows PCs–and shuttle files between them. One end of the cable has a lump (see above), and the lump contains Mac and Windows software that shows the folders on both computers and allows you to drag and drop folders and files:

Since the software’s in the cable, there’s no need to install anything (you just launch it directly from the cable). And unlike Target Disk Mode, you don’t need to reboot one computer and put it in a mode that doesn’t let you do anything else. If you’ve been using computers as long as I have, the whole experience will remind you of using Laplink.

I haven’t done any speed comparisons between this cable and Target Disk Mode–lemme know if you’re curious, and if there’s enough demand, I’ll try to do some.

Not everybody needs this cable–if your computers are both on a network, you can move files between them without any additional cost–but it does what it does nicely, and might be worth the investment–especially if you’ve got multiple Macs and Windows PCs.

I do think that Apple will eventually make Target Disk Mode work with USB connections; I make no predictions about when that may happen, though…