This week's edition of the Freeware Files may seem a little unusual, but hear me out. A number of you faithful Freeware Files readers are going to be receiving (or have received) awesome gifts from Santa/your parents/Best Buy this holiday season. Trust me--I checked the list myself. Caught up in the frenzy of new toys, phones, and gaming devices to play with, you've probably neglected your poor ol' PC for the time being.
A number of the goodies you're playing with actually have unique little third-party tricks for interfacing directly with your desktop or laptop. Yes, that's right. You can actually use the non-computer components and devices from your living room or pocket to enhance your normal PC use. And these aren't just little remote desktop hacks that let you see your PC's screen on your phone or something. I'm talking about hacks that blur the line between your PC and your game controllers or phones, unlocking new usefulness for your desktop system with devices that are anything but.
Your Xbox 360 controller automatically works with Windows when you plug it in to an availiable USB port. But what if you do if your game isn't one of the titles that natively supports the controller? If you're crazy enough to want to try, say, World of Warcraft using a console controller, than the freeware program Xpadder is going to be your ticket to a handheld Azeroth. In short, Xpadder is one giant utility for mapping keyboard-based commands to Xbox controller buttons. Not only can you use the program to play games, but you can also control the various media programs on your computer as well--perfect for creating up your own wired (or wireless) remote control!
While new versions of Xpadder (5.6) cost money, older versions of the software (5.3) are completely free. Download it here!
Oh, the Wiimote. For the ultimate wireless pointing device for your PC, which you can use to run your mouse cursor or play games from afar, you'll need two things: a Bluetooth adapter (or embedded Bluetooth functionality) and a copy of the freeware program GlovePIE. Be sure to check out this link for the pre-GlovePIE setup process--you know, connecting your Wiimote to your system and all that. After that, you'll be happy to know that GlovePIE supports not only your Wiimote, but your accompanying Nunchuk and Sensor Bar accessories as well. Happy pointing!
While you can also use GlovePIE to manage your PlayStation 3 controller, it's just not as simple a task to get the controller itself recognized by your Windows operating system of choice. There just aren't any native drivers for said device. That said, your best bet for hooking your PS3 controller up to your PC is to check out these DualShock 3 drivers--they're third-party and unsigned, which will make for all sorts of havoc if you're running a 64-bit operating system. Otherwise, they're the best way to connect your controller to your system. An included DS3 tool utility handles key-mapping.
If you want to transform your PlayStation Portable into a second mini-monitor for your PC, look no further than the ever-awesome PSPdisp utility. You'll need to have a PSP that runs custom firmware or a homebrew enabler before starting--this isn't your everyday application. PSPdisp supports both wireless and USB connectivity, and this isn't just a one-way deal. You can open up context menus, type, and even stream audio from your system to your portable gaming device. Be sure to check out the included Slideshow feature as well--it turns your PSP into a miniature information screen for all sorts of data.
Next: Level up your day-to-day desktop activity using your iPhone or Android phone!
There are plenty of applications that mesh some kind of desktop-based activity with the portability of Apple's iPhone. That's the easy part. The hard part is finding an application that offers some kind of unique functionality beyond the standard, "control X program with your iPhone" or "VPN into your desktop with the iPhone" deal. At long last, I think I have found that application: NumberKey.
Coming in the form of a freeware utility for your PC and a downloadable App for your phone, NumberKey transforms the full face of your iPhone into a keyboard numberpad that synchronizes perfectly with your existing input device. This might not be the best application for your average desktop user unless your keyboard's number pad is organized all crazy-style. However, NumberKey is a lifesaver for a typical laptop or netbook keyboard layout. Just don't forget to plug your iPhone in, lest you drain the battery to oblivion!
I must confess, Android-based phones just don't have as cool of paired features (yet) as some of the applications you've read about above. So if you happen to stumble across an application that you can use on your Android phone to somehow extend the functionality of your desktop, I'm all ears. Other than that, there are a few programs that accomplish this goal somewhat, but not quite to the degree that I was hoping for:
If you want to replicate the features of the iPhone's Remote app on your Android phone--which you'd use to control a linked iTunes from afar--then check out TunesRemote.
To manage the BitTorrent downloads of a variety of desktop clients using your Android phone, be sure to grab Transdroid. And yes, due to Apple's App Store policies, no similar program exists for you poor iPhone users.
For good ol' fashioned, VPN-like remote control of your desktop from your Android phone, there's RemoteDroid
And to turn your Android Phone into a garage door opener, put on your Tinkerer's Hat of +5 Home Project and check out Brad Fitzpatrick's source code...
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. Befriend him on Twitter, especially if you have an awesome app or game you're dying to recommend!
Remember Topify, the little Web App of the Week I mentioned a bit ago? In short, it's a way to better control Twitter follower requests through your email account--in fact, you can use it to perform all your following and "checking to see if this person is lame or not" activity straight out of your inbox.
Anyway, I have some extra invite codes to this closed-door service that I'd love to share with you. If you want one, scroll your eyes up to my Twitter handle. Friend me and shoot me an @message, and I'll DM you an invite! I will keep this up until I run out and, when that happens, I'll post a note on my own account.