There's a ton of great freeware and open-source software in the online world today. That statement should be a no-brainer, especially if you're been reading these application roundups over the past year and a half or thereabouts.
However, that's not to say that every single application that you install on your PC--including your operating system itself--is immediately minted in gold just because it passed your personal, "do I need this?" test. That's no fault of your own; In fact, it's half the point of the open-source movement to begin with. Industrious users think of new ways to use a piece of software or, rather, new add-ons that they can build into a particular application. This transforms the common application into a forked project, which itself can become the source of inspiration for future spin-offs from an even wider range of users.
Seriously, it's open-source 101.
However, you don‘t have to be a coder, or even a visionary, to reap the benefits of new transformations that run on top of the applications you use day-in and day-out. That's why I'm profiling add-ons in this week's Freeware Files: By now, you should have a pretty healthy laundry-list of common apps that you're always fiddling around with. I'm going to show you how to make them just that much better.
Let's face it--the iTunes mini player is pretty lame. When you shrink this application down to a bite-sized version of itself via the View menu, you strip just as much of iTunes' functionality out of the program as you do size. You're basically given three buttons and a slider to play around with: one forwards your music to the next track, one rewinds, one play/pauses, and the slider runs your volume. That's it.
iTuner is a freeware add-on that replaces iTunes' mini player with a souped-up, smaller version of iTunes itself. You get all the basic aforementioned functionality provided by the default mini player, as well as features like instant access to a song's star ratings, the ability to quickly pull up a song's lyrics, cleaning options for deleting items like duplicate music files in your library, and a synchronization function that slaps your playlist on any USB-based MP3 player. And, of course, that's just the start...
Here's an add-on for Windows--specifically, Windows on laptops--that might very well save you from an embarrassing, full-volume playback of the Imperial March the next time you go to fire up your laptop at a business meeting. Of course, even if you're using the default Windows sounds, it can be quite jarring to receive a hefty blast of audio when you fire up your laptop after a hard evening of rocking out (or whatever it is you do that causes you to crank your volume to mad extremes).
Auto Mute runs on your system startup and allows you to automatically mute your audio whenever your system logs off, suspends, or shuts down. As you would expect, your operating system will subsequently start up in a fresh, silent state the next time you fire up your PC. Rinse, wash, repeat.
You can also have Auto Mute nuke your sounds whenever your screensaver fires up. If you prefer to have manual control over your system (and don't have a mute button on your keyboard), Auto Mute will give you the opportunity to flip your volume on and off using whatever key combination you prefer.
Looking to bundle encryption onto your USB key? That's easy. However, good luck accessing volumes created via programs like TrueCrypt if you don't have administrator access to the system in question--kind of defeats the point of a portable, encrypted volume, eh?
SecurStick is a crafty little workaround that allows you to get the best of both of these worlds. Portable, transportable encryption comes in the form of a WebDAV server that doesn't require administrator access to grant you access to your files on a Windows, Apple, or Linux-based machine. The sticking point is that, on Windows 7 at least, your file transfers via the "Web"-based tool will be a bit slower than the norm. However, it's a small price to pay for powerful encryption that you can stash in your pocket. Just don't forget to flush the local operating system's WebDAV cache (via the Web-based utility) before you leave!
Tired of watching your Windows 7 friends gloat about all the neat display-based features their brand-new operating system can do? Don't kick your poor copy of Windows XP or Vista to the curb just yet. A little add-on called AquaSnap will give you the opportunity to make use of Windows 7's Aero Snap and Aero Shake features in your more antiquated operating systems, making you just one step closer (or one theme away?) from faking Windows 7 with the best of ‘em.
For those unaware, Aero Snap is a simple Windows 7 feature that gives you a magnet-like lock between your windows and the edge of your display. When you drag a window over the edge of the screen, Windows 7 will often just automatically resize your window to a vertical, rectangular format that fills one-half of your available display. Similarly, dragging a window beyond your screen's top border will automatically maximize the window for easy readability. Aero Shake, as the name suggests, lets you minimize all of your open windows merely by clicking and dragging any given window back and forth super-fast.
And now, thanks to AquaSnap, you can do all of these little tricks--and then some--on Windows XP and Vista!
This one's for Windows 7 users only--sorry, other operating systems. One of the neater features of the OS is its visual indicators that come in the form of little icons in the lower-left portion of the taskbar. If you have any sort of file transfer running in Windows Explorer, for example, you'll be able to quickly see just how much data has copied (or conversely, how much data remains) simply by looking at the size of the green fill overtop the standard explorer icon.
SuperbarMonitor takes this concept to a new level by giving you permanent "icons" that you can stick to your taskbar to show you valuable system information. Want to know how much memory you've used up? Check the icon. Need to quickly see the available space on a partition of your choosing? Icon. Do you think your system is freezing up from CPU overuse? I-c-o-n.
In all seriousness, if you're a rabid devourer of system information, you'll want to install the various icons that come offered as separate SuperbarMonitor packages: CPU, Volume, Memory, Battery, and Disk.
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!