Ding! If you're still using AOL's default instant messenger (or Google Talk, or Yahoo! Messenger, or...), then you're missing out on a wide range of alternative features--more than you perhaps though possible in a common messaging application. Or, worse, you're trying to converse with your friends across the various networks by using three or more individual applications at once. While this might have been the only way to bridge the gap between these services before, you can plead ignorance no longer. Start the uninstaller--and this article--and by the time you're finished with both, you'll never go back to the antiquated world of official messaging applications. Third-party is where the real party's at.
What can you expect to find in these open-source and freeware apps? For starters, an interface that combines a number of common messaging networks into a single program. In some cases, you can even lump your friends' various online names across the separate chat networks into a single, unifying alias--click a drop-down box to specify which network you want to reach them on. Beyond that, these programs can bring a number of plugins and external connections to the table. Combine your Facebook and Twitter feeds into your friends list, find out when people are about to message you before they do so, and call your buddies through your messenger interface akin to Skype. And that's just the tip of the IM iceberg.
Get a list of your favorite emoticons ready to go and hit the jump. The competitive world of instant messaging applications awaits!
Distributed computing is one of the wonderful ways that you can use your PC to contribute to more thoughtful, worldly causes than keeping your room warm during a cloudy summer day. These projects, made up of members from all corners of the world (even Maximum PC's own forums), make use of your computer during its idle periods. Whether they're come as a screensaver that launches after a set period of time, or a background application that launches after a certain period of CPU inactivity, these free applications divvy out the tasks of a large, complicated project to a number of people at once.
Why should you care? Because distributed computing is a nice way to use a minimal amount of your system's resources--resources that you wouldn't be using anyway--to contribute to something greater than yourself. It's entirely altruistic in its purpose. Very, very few distributed computing projects have some kind of monetary award attached to the work, and you'd have to score a major knock-out in your individual contribution to the project to see the result. That is, your computer would have to be the one that finds the next huge prime number, or major breakthrough in protein analysis, or something to that effect. If you're in it for a reward, you might as well develop a program that estimates lottery odds.
You'll find that entities like Maximum PC, amongst others, have teams of people contributing to these distributed computing projects. It's a great way to make friends and fellow geeks--in fact, I'd probably be strung up by this site's forum folk if I didn't include a shout-out to their work on the Folding@Home project. Click the jump to find out how you can get involved in this and other awesome distributed computing efforts. +10 Light Side points for you.
If you're like me, your USB key should come with its own flame retardant coating. That's because I tend to use my little four-gigabyte device to great excess on a near-daily basis. It's an easy fix for transferring files from a desktop PC to a laptop, and it's great for carrying batches of files I need to access (especially if I'm without an Internet connection, making Dropbox useless). If I'm heading over to a friend's house, I can slap a movie on the drive for us to watch on an attached PC or home theater device. I can throw down a game or two if I'm going to be travelling and don't feel like reading about overpriced devices that will pet my cat for me. USB keys are more than just a geek's trusty friends. They're uber-tools in their own right.
Application suites for USB keys are another popular way of extending the functionality of your desktop into the portable realm. Install these batches of software and you can take your favorite programs along with you wherever you go--perfect for when you're using a computer that isn't yours, yet you would prefer to be able to access to a better range of apps than Windows' default programs. Better still, you can stick these batches of applications on smaller USB keys to extend the life of these sub-gigabyte devices. The storage might stink, but the functionality will rule.
Click the jump to check out five, freeware application suites that will dazzle up your USB key faster than you can say, "universal serial bus."
Brrzap! Not all hardware failures start that way, but there's a good chance they'll end up sounding like that as a result of you chucking an unruly piece of hardware through the nearest exit of your dwelling. Before you hulk up next time, know that there are ways to get a little bit more information about the status of your components. Applications that assess the health of your system's various parts serve a twofold purpose. You can deduce that equipment on your system might be going kaput or is otherwise screwed up in some fashion. Armed with that knowledge, you can then attempt to make an effective repair. If there is no way to repair your parts, you'll at least get an advanced notice that disaster is about to strike and that a trip to the electronics store might be in your soon-to-immediate future.
In this week's freeware roundup, I'm going to give you a list of applications that will help you assess your system's CPU, hard drives, optical drives, network connections, and memory. Don't delay in installing these applications--every second wasted puts you but one step closer to a catastrophic meltdown--or, at the very least, an unexpected failure in a critical piece of your PC. And nobody wants to be left hanging on the one day you really, really, really need to access the Internet, for example.
Click the jump, put on your medic's coat, and let's run some diagnostics!
Dealing with your data is a critical part of the Windows experience. "No, really," you ask? I know, I know. But the kinds of file operations you perform on any given day represent the bread and butter of your operating system. You drag your pictures around, copy and paste your documents to other places, maybe send a file or two over email. It's simple stuff. That's not a value judgment, just a comment about the basic functionality that everyone uses on a modern OS.
When you're ready to step out of this minor league of file management and head into the majors, you'll find a host of freeware applications waiting to hit a pitch or two. These applications take the common elements of your Windows file operations and inject them with a dose of raw energy. For example, you can customize and jack up the very process of copying files from one directory to another. You can also beat back Windows' default system for batch file renaming and instead transform a large number of files with very specific titles and extensions. You can even map out just how much space your files take up on your drive, giving you the perfect opportunity to catch up on some spring cleaning across your battered hard drive.
While these kinds of processes are a mainstay of this week's roundup, I'm also taking a look at two additional programs that pack additional functionality into your operating system as a whole. So what are you waiting for? Quit your file transfers, click the jump, and get ready for a brand new world.
If you've been following my articles as of late, you'll notice that I've been exploring (obsessing over) the world of Windows-based package managers. It's an interesting concept that the Linux world gets to enjoy to great success--the ability to download and install applications via a single program, much like how you would grab a song on iTunes or an application off its App Store.
In last week's Murphy's Law, I postulated that this exact combination of one-button glam plus a functional, community-driven application repository would be a surefire way to increase open-source awareness amongst average computer users. That, and it would offer power users a better way to grab, install, and manage large bundles of applications on any number of individual or networked PCs.
A number of you seemed to agree. That's great. But as we all saw in this week's freeware roundup, the state of the package manager market for the Windows operating system is tragic at best. It's difficult, if not impossible, to find a working package manager that fulfills the three main criteria for usefulness: updated applications, minimal downloading errors, and a halfway-decent GUI.
What's the holdup in Windows Package Manager development? Are they really that tricky to create and maintain? And why should users ultimately care about these kinds of applications? To get the answers to these tough questions, I turned to BennyP--creator and sole maintainer of the WinPackMan package manager application. He's currently caught up in bringing this once-popular piece of software back from the dead, making him an ideal candidate for learning more about what's going on in the trenches of third-party Windows package manager development.
If you're ready to discover the dark secrets that separate Linux and Windows package managers... click the jump!
There was a ton of great feedback to my column last week, where I dreamed up (blabbed out loud) the idea of a Windows-based application store for open-source downloads. For the Linux layman, this would be something like a wicked hybrid of iTunes and apt-get. A package manager featuring pretty icons, one-click downloads, descriptions, and community interaction that could help bring the open source world just one step closer to the hearts and minds of average computer users.
As it turns out, a number of package managers already exist for the Windows operating system. In theory, they provide you the convenience of being able to hunt down a number of open-source projects, categorized by operation, which you can install without having to pore over the Web for the right file. Beyond that, they also give you a way to learn about newer open source projects that you might not have heard about or seen by your casual browsing on SourceForge. But are these applications as glorious as my dream from last week? Are these applications even worth your time at all?
Unlike typical open-source roundups, where I recommend five awesome programs that you. must. have. I'm actually going to give you the pros and cons of a series of five different package managers so you can decide for yourself as to which one would best fit your PC habits. So without further ado, I present: Windows Package Managers.
Click the link to get started -- I hope you've cleared off some space on your hard drive!
Last week's freeware gaming roundup generated a mixed bag of reactions from the community. Some of you liked the unique perspectives on traditional gameplay offered by the nominees and finalists of the 2008 Independent Games Festival. Others... thought I was crazy. That's okay. I can take the heat. In fact, I welcome the commentary -- one of Maximum PC's community members, Mojosico, offered up a number of titles that he enjoys playing in the article's comments thread. I checked out the games on his list and was pretty pleased with what I saw. If you like traditional run-and-gun gameplay, with a single driving-based game adding a little spice to the freeware mix, I think you'll enjoy this week's gaming roundup.
Consider these titles penance for last week's out-of-the-box batch of gameplay. For the first-person-shooters, third-person-shooters, and racing games I'm checking out this week represent the meat and potatoes of any gamer's plate. If you don't find something you like in this batch of games, you're getting nothing but Tetris variants next week. Just kidding. Let me know what genres or titles you like in the comments, and I'll see if I can't find a way to boost your spirits by +5 in next week's freeware roundup!
Click the jump to check out this week's top titles!
E3! E3! E3! There is seemingly nothing more important right now than checking out the latest iteration of some made-for-14-year-old-girls title at that big LA convention. Feh. You know what the worst thing about E3 is? It's not the lack of awkward-looking hot actors to stare at, nor is it the barrage of press meetings, demonstrations, and pomp and circumstance for less-than-stellar titles. The worst thing about E3 is that all the games you see there cost money. That's right. Cash. For every neat title you're seeing, there's a price tag attached at the end of the day. Want new graphics in a hot sequel? You'll pay for it. Want to blow up 255 of your closest console friends? Ask for your allowance early. Feel like waving your hand around to simulate an activity you can do in real life? Get a real-life job.
This week, I'm strolling down memory lane and profiling some of the best games from that other gaming conference in California. You know the one--good ol' GDC, or the Game Developers Conference. Each year, the Independent Games Festival takes up shop amidst the chaos of this convention and awards a host of independent (and often free) titles awards of various persuasions. There's a long list of contenders that come to the IGF every year: here's a list of five of the most interesting, enjoyable, and free titles I've found.
Click the jump to check out the cream of the freeware gaming crop!
So here's the deal. You have a ton of extra storage sitting around your house/apartment/basement. That's great. So what's the problem? It's just sitting there, doing you absolutely no good. You've maxed out the SATA ports on your desktop rig, but would love for a way to make use of your hard drives in some manner that's geekier than a doorstop, a height extension for your coffee table, or a crude weapon.
Have you thought about building your own server?
Woah, woah. Don't skip over this article just yet. It sounds complicated, but crafting up your own personal server for your files (and multimedia) isn't that complicated. In fact, for some of the free solutions I'm about to show you, all you need is a working PC that accepts USB keys. That's it. Plug it in, fire up the software, and you'll have a brand-new storage array that's ready to receive your file backups and music files in equal measure. And why is that important? Because you're probably not running a RAID array on your main PC--if your primary drive goes, that's it. Game over. End of story. And if you're the most backup-conscious person around, wouldn't it be nice to have a low-powered PC that serves up multimedia for any networked computer in your abode? I thought so.
All this and more awaits you in the land of home servers!