Microsoft's Kodu game-development tool is now no longer restricted to the Xbox 360. Kodu's journey to the PC was not entirely a walk in the park for its developers as they had to do some serious work to make it compatible with the keyboard-mouse combo. The tool is supposed to be ridiculously easy even for kids, allowing them the opportunity to channelize their creativity in an enjoyable manner. It is available as a technical preview at this point in time. Microsoft researcher Matt MacLaurin is credited with the development of Kodu. The former Apple employee is currently part of Microsoft's Fuse Labs. He got the idea of creating Kodu in 2006, when he sensed his three-year-old daughter's interest in computers.
Boo. That's exactly what the various advertising networks on the Internet are saying to one another as they possess your browsing experience without your knowledge. Okay, so the situation isn't that grim--it's not as if the various Web tracking services and advertising networks are typing strange messages into your search boxes or sending you off to arcane locations via your address bar. Still, nobody likes the feeling like their activities are being looked at.
And that's where the Firefox add-on Ghostery comes into the picture. Like Casper, this friendly little ghost-themed program does an excellent job of showing you exactly who's tuning in to your Web activity. But that's not all--this extension does a bit more than just notify you of the fellow spooks in the room.
Click the jump to check out the rest of Ghostery's feature-set!
Happy New Year! Well, almost. Before I can raise my glass and tip my columnist's hat to the one-year birthday of the Freeware Files (and Murphy's Law), it's time we get down to the time-honored tech tradition at this time of year: the awards list.
Unlike my brethren at Maximum PC, who have put together a fine list of general freeware applications that you should check out regardless of the time, I've sat down and gone through the hundreds of apps and utilities that I've covered throughout this year. Some, you might know. Some, you might have forgotten about. And some apps and utilities that I've used, but not covered, still deserve special mention in this general roundup of the year's best freeware.
So put on your party hat and get your downloading finger ready. For each winner, I'll give a little mention of why said app is worth its salt, why it differs from what you'll natively find in Windows, and whether it's a must-download or a maybe-consider. After all, it would be crazy to download 20 apps in any given setting, no? You just want the best. This list, friends, represents the best... and in some places, the unknown!
Say it with me now for one last time in 2009: Click the jump!
Were only every download as fun as Network Lights. Seriously. This week's download of the week isn't going to transform your computing experience, speed up your PC, or otherwise give you any additional details about your system's operations beyond that which you already have. Sort-of.
As I've mentioned in past posts, one of the critical omissions of the Windows 7 operating system is its brazen elimination of the useful network activity icon from the lower-right corner of your screen. This tiny bit of your Windows desktop, no larger than a little icon on your taskbar, provided you a wealth of information at a glance. Immediately, you could look at the icon and see if your network connection was sending or receiving information--a useful troubleshooting tool if, in fact, no light was blinking. Hovering your mouse over the icon would deliver a complete summary of all the bits and bytes of data you've sent or received since the last reset of your PC.
That's about it.
But still, useful features given that the exact same icon sits in the Windows 7 taskbar... without any of the blinking and without any of the summary features found on its predecessor. Although Network Lights doesn't do much to assist with the latter, its ability to transform your keyboard into a working version of the network activity icon is two parts fun, one part useful.
Awesome! That image rocks! Where did it come from? Can I get it a size bigger and make it my desktop wallpaper?
Such are the common questions you might ask yourself should you stumble across an awesome picture on the Internet. And until now, there's been no clear way to search for an identical version of an image across the Web. No, a Google search for the image's characteristics doesn't count--good luck trying to find the one shot of a red balloon you're looking for in a sea of thousands.
The Mozilla Firefox add-on TinEye Reverse Image Search uses a novel method for finding copies of said image across the Internet. Whenever you submit an image to be searched, the accompanying site--tineye.com--assigns a digital fingerprint to the picture. It then looks for similar fingerprints across its archive of collected images, allowing the site (or your add-on) to pull up partial or exact matches for the image you've searched for. In that sense, you're not just looking for images that are similar to your picture in terms of coloration or subject. You're looking for exact copies, crops, or scaled versions of the shot.
How well does TinEye Reverse Image Search actually work in practice? Click the jump to find out!
It can be a real pain in the butt to go from browsing a Web page on your desktop or laptop to pulling up said page on your mobile phone. The process usually involves texting or emailing the URL to yourself or, if you're a real masochist, manually typing in the URL using your phone's built-in keyboard (or worse yet, T9-based keypad). Even converting the URL to a bit.ly or a goo.gl link still requires you to actually spend time fidgeting with your phone to get to the page. No matter what, this process just isn't very fun.
Not very fun, that is, until I stumbled across the Mobile Barcoder add-on for Firefox. With but the quick hit of a button, you can convert any Web page you're looking at into one of those neat cube QR codes. Depending on your phone, you can then use a built-in or downloaded application to scan said QR code directly from your monitor. Without a single press of a letter or number button, you'll have the page you were just looking at right in your phone's mobile browser.
Neat, eh? Click the jump to find out where to get this awesome add-on!
Downloading video isn't rocket science, but it sure can feel that way sometimes. First, you have to figure out what kind of video it is you're trying to snag from cyberspace. Then there's the question of what to do with it once you've downloaded the clip to your hard drive. And that's assuming you even got that far, fetching Flash-based content isn't as simple as mashing a 'download' button, nor will it play in Windows Media Player. In fact, there's' a good chance the video you downloaded won't play on your portable device, either.
The underlying problem with video playback is there isn't a single universal standard. There are as many file containers as there are handheld digital devices, and don't even get us started on codecs.
Is this all starting to sound foreign to you? Don't worry if it is, on the following the pages we're going to show you the ins and outs of video playback. We'll start with the basics, like explaining what a file container is and why it matters, and then move on to more advanced topics, such as how to convert just about any video clip into a format that's compatible with your mobile device. We'll also show you how to handle subtitles, enable GPU Flash acceleration, and a whole lot more.
While it would be nice to have unlimited access to a T1 connection for huge downloads (here's looking at you, World of Warcraft patches), that's just not the case for a majority of users today. We can't all download Linux builds at our work computers. Sometimes, one just has to grin and bear it--"it" being the act of leaving one's computer on overnight for a furious session of non-peak-hour downloading.
Here's the problem: When said download finishes sometime in the wee hours of the night, your computer stays on. That might not be the biggest deal in the world for a single session or two, but suppose you're a mega-downloader. Suppose you're the kind of guy or gal who's always grabbing new files, new updates, new builds of this and that--in short, you're the reason Comcast invented service limitations. Well, it wouldn't be in your best interest to leave your computer on all the time. Computers are noisy. Computers use power. Computers produce heat.
Thus enters this week's Firefox add-on of the week: Auto Shutdown. As the name implies, this quick little addition to your Firefox browser adds some critical functionality to your downloads, be they through Firefox's built-in download manager or the popular add-on DownThemAll.
Limiting the time it takes to reach the desktop from the moment the PC is turned on (no pun intended) may not be the holy grail of personal computing but it is something that merits attention. Google is just not chasing distant dreams in the “cloud” with its Chrome OS. It is also trying to address – or exploit - the growing mass resentment of slow boot times. In fact, the focal point of most reports about Google's operating system in the mainstream media has been its ability to boot in just 7 seconds. Not that tech-savvy people don't like quick boot times, but this is wonderful publicity as it is simple enough to stoke the curiosity of tech greenhorns, the majority.
But will it be worth the effort? If it’s something you really, really got to do, then yes, it will be worth the effort. For the rest of us, with episodes of The Colbert Report to catch up on, maybe not. Our colleagues over at Engadget have tried it out and report Chrome OS is “really a browser with an OS attached rather than vice versa.”
Chrome OS is browser-like in its construction, and Internet oriented. There are minimal app launcher options. And the more interesting apps, says Engadget, required a Google.com account to access. Without one you will be stuck playing with Gmail and Calendar (which Engadget reports suffer from “significant lag and choppiness”).