I'm often surprised by what people find popular in the world of freeware and open-source applications, let alone Web apps. It's tough to use the comments on Maximum PC's website as an official barometer, as they don't take page views, click-throughs, or raw downloads of whatever apps I/we recommend into account. Nevertheless, judging by the wrath, boundless joy, and heavy presence of spam-filter-nose-thumbing-signatures attached to the various weekly software articles, I can sometimes get a general vibe for what's appreciated... and what's not.
But I'm not about to dedicate the next 700 words or toward tooting my own horn--not unless there's an app for that. I do find it interesting, and a little bit funny, that a relatively innocuous application like last week's "Instant Elevator Music" received such an exuberant amount of interest via the blog comments. Of course, that's after weeks can go by with nothing but tumbleweeds greeting other applications that, honestly, I find much more useful.
Oh woe are we, for yet another freeware application has grown its wings and left the nest of awesome, available software that we can all install on our desktop and laptop systems ad infinitum. In case you haven't heard, Google has picked up BumpTop--technically, Bump Technologies--leaving fans of three-dimensional displays but a scant week or so to download the company's freeware app before it all goes away.
Of course, BumpTop isn't gone for good--it remains to be seen just how Google plans to integrate its multitouch-friendly, three-dimensional desktop transformations into the company's own services. Rest assured that you'll likely see some incarnation of BumpTop emerge in the future. But whether it's coming back as a standalone download or as a part of a brand-new device is anyone's guess.
However, that doesn't mean that you're left with no way to break your two-dimensional desktop out of its existing constraints. I'm taking a look at five different 3D transformation tools in this week's Freeware Files. Don't let the (brief?) demise of BumpTop be the end of your experimentation with three-dimensional system desktops!
Some of my favorite kinds of freeware apps to find (and install) are the ones that build new functionality into the Windows operating system. I'm running Windows 7 right now, but even this latest version of Microsoft's OS has substantial room for third-party improvements.
It's not difficult to find free or open-source apps to boost the common interactions one has with one's operating system. The tough part is in the classification: I'm really not sure how to best lump this week's applications together, save for the fact that they're all awesome ways to enhance Windows with new and useful features. And I'm not talking about super-complex, command-line scripts or what-have-you. No, these apps are all super-easy to use-if you even see them at all, given that most will modify some form of your Windows OS without needing any further interaction past the installation screen.
Anyway, if you can think of a better way to classify this week's Freeware Files other than, "Apps that Make Windows Rock," I'm all ears. Otherwise, click the jump and get ready to take your operating system to new places!
It's hard to deny the power of Google Docs, especially if you don't have the cash (or the wherewithal) to shell out for Microsoft Office. Sure, you could grab OpenOffice.org, but you would trade away the ability to edit your documents from any Internet-equipped location-one of Google Doc's important, Cloud-based features... as well as its ability to allow multiple users to simultaneously edit a document. You just can't get this kind of stuff in an offline word processor!
Of course, that's not to say that you can't use Google Docs offline. Nor are applications like Microsoft Word completely removed from the Internet-there's Microsoft Office Live for that, if you're so inclined.
Anyway, the point of this Freeware Files is not to confuse you in feature-lists or semantics. I'm here to show you just how easy it is to set up your system to use both offline and online word processing tools. Provided you're ready to jump into the wide world of Google Docs, all of the freeware and open-source applications listed below will do much to help integrate online editing and storage into your traditional offline type-type-typing.
Alright, Adobe Creative Suite 5, here's the deal: I really, really want to put my hands on all the neat features and general awesomeness you offer. That's not an admission of a fanboy, it's a gentle acknowledgment that this is the industry-leading suite of software for those that dabble with multimedia across a variety of formats.
That said, not all of us have a stock portfolio to dump off in an effort to raise the funds to purchase said Creative Suite. And this is the weekly Freeware Files column after all. Which leads us to a grand proposition: Can one recreate the best of Adobe's CS5 with freeware and open-source applications?
PDFs. Why do we use PDFs? It's a question I've asked myself time and time again during the following scenarios: my default PDF reader crashing my browser whenever I erroneously click on a link to the blasted extension, an image- or page-packed PDF consuming all of the system resources on my work machine, and while I'm spending extra time to convert a perfectly likable file (.doc) into a new format that's compatible with even more people. At least, I think that's the reason.
But really, though, why do we use PDFs? Perhaps it's the wrong question I should be asking, however. Sad to say, PDFs are here to stay. And I must confess, filling out a PDF form has a certain elegance to it (and built-in digital signature support) that you just can't find in a standard text file or Word document (or OpenOffice.org document).
So instead of asking ourselves how we can rid the world of PDFs, we should really be thinking about the various ways we can improve our interactions with PDF files. That's where this week's Freeware Files comes into play. I'm going to show you five freeware or open-source apps that'll hopefully ease the burden you face when you're trying to manipulate this quirky file format. As well, I'll show you a few more features and tricks you can use to turn your own PDF routines into nothing short of a master class.
Not a thing wrong with making some money. Right? Well, that's the great contradiction in both the open-source and freeware worlds. Everyone loves software that performs a unique task (or replicates the unique tasks of paid-for applications), but the second an aspiring developer attempts to tack a moneymaking scheme to an otherwise free program, said developer might as well call up the fire department and Internet police--there are going to be torches, pitchforks, and angry blog posts knocking on the front door within short order.
It's almost too easy to blame the developer. And for good reason: There's a definitive lack of add-ons, advertisements, and other such cash-generating schemes that actually deliver a valuable service to the user. But, to be fair, users share the fault--if you don't want to read the instructions, you only have yourself to blame for the various toolbars that have been installed on your machine as a result of your super-fast clicking on the "next" button in any given app's installer.
So what do we do? Is it fair of the open-source and freeware world to scorn any developer that tries to make a quick buck? Is it similarly fair for developers to pack their software to the gills with crapware in the hopes that you forget to uncheck a box or two whilst installing? How do we merge the capitalistic ideals of making money with the altruistic aspirations of consumer freeware and open-source development?
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 in. I'm going to show you how to make them just that much better.
In February, Blizzard opened the Starcraft II battlenet for beta-testing. Hooray for Blizzard!
There are many good reasons for beta-testing. It’s not always about bug-stomping. In this case, it’s just as important to have the playability of the game tested under actual user conditions. This is the same kind of beta-testing Blizzard did with Warcraft III before it was released. Throughout the beta-test, they continued to tweak the balance of Warcraft III units. At the time of this writing, Blizzard has already made several changes in Starcraft II unit abilities, build times, and strength.
Starcraft II looks spectacular, of course. It has marvelous 3D graphics, terrific sound effects, great music, and the game-play is very exciting. (If I have a complaint, it’s not about the game, but about the tactics of some players — the ones who are so eager to annihilate the other guy right from the git-go that neither side gets a chance to experience some of the advanced tactical possibilities. The game is over before you’ve built your first Thor. I had this same complaint about some players in Warcraft III.)
But this isn’t a review, it can’t be because the game isn’t officially released yet, and when it is officially released, there will be so many other people writing reviews that anything I might say here would be redundant. That disclaimer aside, I will say that so far Starcraft II is everything I hoped it would be. I’m sure that one of the benefits Blizzard enjoys from an open-beta like this is that it gets the fan-base so excited and enthusiastic that they’ll be lining up at the stores the day the boxes hit the shelves.
Type "screensaver" into a Web search box - go ahead, I dare you. What you'll come across is a number of scamming, ad-filled, useless sites that care more about lining their own pockets with revenue than actually delivering you the goodies you want for sprucing up the look of your system's display. I can't help you much there. The appeal of a particular screensaver is, after all, in the eyes of its beholder. You might like flying toasters; I might like ports of OSX screensavers. There's little point in me trying to push my tastes on you via some freeware roundup.
That said, there are a number of interesting applications that can help you better manage your display. Regardless of whichever screensaver you choose to use--including none--the freeware tools listed below will let you best manipulate your screen to your liking. Enhance your daily computer use with increased energy-savings or prevent annoying interruptions to your media-watching, amongst other tricks. And, yes, you'll even be able to turn your screensaver on and off at a whim...