There's nothing wrong with the Windows 7 desktop per se. But for freeware developers, that's no excuse not to tweak, hack, and otherwise modify every possible piece of your screen. And it's not that difficult to add new functionality to your desktop that doesn't otherwise exist in the operating system. The hardest part is finding software that makes a substantive change to what you already have. After all, the last thing you want to do is install a ton of different freeware apps and find your desktop in even worse shape than it was before (if you do, take a quick trip to Revo Uninstaller).
Generalities aside, what exactly can you do with all these desktop add-ons? The choices are near-limitless. I won't spoil all of what's in store, but here are a few tidbits. With the apps featured in this week's freeware roundup, you can re-skin your entire Windows 7 desktop with a brand-new UI, transform normal desktop links into start menu-like item browsers, and build new functionality like middle-click focusing to standard taskbar icons.
It's time to take your desktop to the next level--join me after the jump!
There's one thing I think of when Daylight Savings Time hits: zombies. Seriously. All that extra time in the dark just fuels the undead flames for an eventual takeover by our semi-bulletproof, plant-hating masters. It only makes sense, then, that I use this weekly freeware roundup column to provide you with some kind of effective training for fending off the gruesome hordes. And beyond that, you'll also find a few more fun freeware games to busy yourself with as the angry, moaning masses slowly overwhelm your pitiful human defenses.
Now that we've established the plot, let's check out the titles. A hearty mix of retro throwbacks, MMOs, and crazy puzzle games await your attention after the jump!
Vectors marked the beginning of the evolution of graphics for the Web 2.0 generation. Almost every button and rendered image an Internet traveler sees on the web these days is a vector image drawn with expensive professional software like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw. For non-designers looking to venture into the vectorizing sphere of the World Wide Web, we suggest Inkscape, an open source vector graphics editor with the same tools and resources as other drawing applications.
I feel as if we just crossed this path the other day. But that's okay. On the grand scale of "pony-themed games" to "extremely useful freeware applications," automatic application installers--or package mangers--tend to fall toward the latter end of the spectrum.
I wouldn't be broaching this topic so close to a previous, similar roundup were it not critically important for you to check out some of the apps that I've recently found. Although a few package managers might slip into the mix, the freeware programs I'm about to profile today... aren't really programs at all. At least, they aren't installation packages in the way you're typically used to seeing them.
Unlike package managers, which require you to install a separate application that contains some fancy list of other applications to download, some of the apps I'm investigating today remove this extra step from the equation. When stumbling into the official Web site of said programs, you're given the opportunity to customize a list of programs you want to install before you have to download anything. Once you're ready, the site creates a single executable that--if all goes well--downloads and spits the applications onto your hard drive without so much as an extra mouse click of your time.
Of course, that's the best-case scenario. There are still a number of helpful "application packages" that are a wee less automated but still worth looking into. I'll be exploring a host of automated installation offerings below, so click the link to get started! And if you need any further encouragement, one such tool cut my typical post-installation software installation time from around 30-45 minutes to a grand total of five--five hassle-free minutes, mind you.
The recent release of Stardock's Fences tool (version 1.0) got me thinking about desktop organization. While Fences is certainly neat--the program lets you divide your desktop real estate into individual sections, surrounded by "fences," amongst other space-saving features--this freeware app isn't the only game in town by far. In fact, some of you expressed disgust at Stardock's latest release. Be it the fact that one needs to install Stardock's Impulse client just to access Fences, or your simple dislike of an application whose functionality is mirrored by other freeware apps, Fences was hardly a shot hit out of the park.
So, here we are. After the jump, I'll show you five different alternative desktop managers that will help you bring increased tidiness, prettier looks, and funer... er... more fun functionality to your typical workspace. Auto-arrange your icons one last time for nostalgia's sake, because I'm about to mix up your desktop crazy-style.
Although many graphics professionals turn to Windows or Mac OS to execute their designs, Linux is far from helpless in this area. While it helps that Adobe Photoshop, the undisputed gold-standard program that most professionals use for raster graphics, runs on Linux through Wine, there are several native Linux programs that offer some of the same functionality. Furthermore, there are many free vector graphics programs that can produce infinitely scalable graphics much like what Adobe Illustrator can do. Aside from the software situation, there is no reason why Linux could not be just as effective with graphics applications as OS X and Windows, since Linux supports many peripherals like tablets out of the box with full plug-and-play support.
Are the Linux programs drop-in replacements for Photoshop and Illustrator? The answer could be either yes and no, depending on the way you look at it and what your needs are. If you compare the Linux alternatives to Photoshop/Illustrator feature-by-feature, the free open source tools will come up short by a significant margin and there is simply no way to get around that fact. If you actually need those features on a day-to-day basis, then you should get your wallet out and purchase Photoshop and/or Illustrator. However, if you can get by with less, the free open source software tools may be enough to get the job done and save you considerable money in the process.
With the imminent launch of Windows 7 and its much-hyped Windows XP mode, the word "virtualization" is going to be everyone's lips throughout the month of October. Never one to let a fad slide on by, I'm jumping on the bandwagon in this week's freeware and open-source application roundup. I'll be taking a look at five different programs that enrich your computing experience with some kind of virtual add-on.
What does that even mean? A number of things. Windows XP mode is a great example of the common definition of virtualization--running a second operating system inside your primary operating system in a way that typically allows you to quickly switch between the two and access the contents of your primary machine's hard drives from the virtualized environment. Virtual desktops are a lesser derivative of this concept. Instead of running a separate operating system, you're merely extending the size of your workspace by stacking on additional desktop layers that you can swap back-and-forth. You can also install a virtual keyboard that sits overtop your programs--analogous to what Windows offers for tablet PCs--if you're concerned about keyloggers somehow getting their hands on your mission-critical information.
I won't go on, as that might spoil some of the fun applications you'll find after the jump. The virtual world, er, world of virtualized software is vast and interesting, featuring many applications that can expand your computer's functionality without adding a crazy amount of complexity. The coolness of these apps is only rivaled by their ability to save you precious time and headaches from doing things the old-fashioned way.
A KVM switch sounds like it has the potential to be a complicated piece of hardware. It's not. Without this most charitable of devices, you wouldn't be able to make use of more than one computer with a single keyboard and mouse. Your desk would be cluttered with input devices of all shapes and sizes, your ambitions of multi-boxing your own 40-man World of Warcraft raid would be dashed, and you wouldn't be able to slack off at your place of business nearly as discretely. After all, the entire point of a KVM switch is that it requires some kind of physical response--like whacking a button on the device--to switch a set of input devices between different desktops connected to the switch.
Why does this matter? Well, I don't have a KVM switch, but I do use a piece of software that's just as good: Synergy. This little open-source app has been my virtual KVM switch of choice for awhile now, but its time is just as quickly fading into the limelight. A new sheriff is in town, and he goes by the name of Input Director. Both programs allow you to control multiple, independent desktops (or laptops) using a single keyboard and mouse sans any "switching over" whatsoever--it's as if you just have a giant, spanned desktop across your systems.
Since Synergy has been at the top of everyone's must-have lists for some time (including Will's!), I thought it might be prudent to walk through the additional benefits and heartwarming fixes that Input Director brings to the party. Click the jump and find out how this free application will transform your multi-computer life for the better.
What's the first I did upon hearing the numbers for ATI's new HD Radeon 5870 graphics card? I scrambled for benchmarks, because that's the one thing an announcement and subsequent review of a smokin' new piece of hardware can do for a rabid enthusiast: inspire.
It's been a while since I've actually sat down and crunched the numbers for my killer custom PC (that's killer as in legendary, not NICs). I'm not lazy. Rather, I don't have access to the expensive system benchmarks that magazines and Web sites typically use to analyze the all the new hardware that comes out. I don't have all-in-one benchmarks like PCMark Vantage, GPU-punishing titles like Crysis, and--worst of all--preconfigured demo runs for any number of titles that would help ensure the validity and repeatability of the delivered scores.
In short, I have nothing. You might not have nothing, but odds are good that you are similarly ill-equipped to benchmark your graphics card (and any tweaks or modifications you make) in the style of a professional review. Nothing... until now.
This week's freeware roundup will show you five different games that you can use to punish your poor graphics card into frames-per-second submission. They might cost a grand total of zero dollars, but these tests are repeatable and easy to use--the perfect combination of characteristics for aspiring benchmarkers who might not want to get their hands dirty, but still want some kind of way to determine exactly how powerful their graphics card really is.
Do you hate Adobe AIR? I sometimes do. While the applications based on Adobe's framework can be pretty neat to use, there's something about their similar look and shared frameworks, not to mention features, that just can just drive me up the wall. Plus, every new Adobe AIR-based application has to be installed and run through Adobe AIR itself. While it's a handy way to make sure that you're running the most up-to-date version of the application, the Adobe AIR platform isn't very conducive to portable use. Actually, you can't stick AIR-based applications on a USB key and run them at all--the host computer would still need Adobe AIR for these apps to function.
That's but one minor complaint about the AIR platform. There are more, but this week's freeware roundup isn't intended to be a slam on these Adobe apps. Rather, I'll be taking a look at some of Adobe AIR's more popular applications and offering up unique freeware alternatives that don't require use of the AIR platform to work. Not all of the listed applications will support portable use out-of-the-box, but you can use the popular Mojopac Free program to store and access all of these apps on any USB device of your choosing.
Put your trigger-finger on the uninstaller button for Adobe AIR, then click the jump!