From Google Desktop to the Windows Sidebar introduced in Vista, there have been several attempts to integrate our online life onto our desktop. But none of them come close to Rainmeter, a totally customizable platform for decking out your desktop with a variety of useful applets that can stand prominently in the foreground or blend into the background.
There's a lot you can do with Rainmeter thanks to a diverse collection of available 'skins' (think of them as widgets), all of which can be individually tailored in look and function. There are skins for keeping tabs on system resources, displaying RSS feeds, sending and receiving Twitter messages, and even recording notes.
Rainmeter isn't at all difficult to use, but there is an initial learning curve as you come to understand just how powerful this unassuming app really is. On the following pages, we'll guide you through the setup process and show you the ins and outs of using Rainmeter. We'll also highlight the 12 best skins out of the hundreds that are available to give you a head start on decking out your desktop like never before.
Think about all the time you spend in front on your PC. Are you being efficient? Here’s a better question: Are you being as efficient as you can be? The simple answer is ‘No.’ Every time you lift your fingers off your keyboard to navigate Windows, you’re wasting time. Sure, it only takes a few seconds to drag your mouse cursor over to the Firefox icon or to navigate the Start menu to open up the Control Panel, and while none of that sounds like a big deal, it all adds up over time, be it a week, a month, or a year. The reason Microsoft includes so many shortcuts in Windows is so you can streamline these little time wasters, but these preset hotkeys will only take you so far.
That’s where AutoHotkey comes in, a lightweight but powerful app that allows you to create keyboard shortcuts for any Windows program. Here are a few tricks to get you started.
Remember browsing the Web before mouse gestures? Neither do we. It’s not because we can’t recall that far back, we’ve just chosen to block out any recollection of wading through cyberspace using only the navigation toolbar. How primitive!
Mouse gestures have become such a popular part of day-to-day Web surfing that it was only a matter of time before someone ported the functionality over to the Windows OS. Enter SrokeIt, a free, open-source utility that brings the magic of mouse gestures to any system running Windows 95 or later.
In many respects, it’s more difficult to build a great cheap PC than it is to build a more expensive one. In fact, the less money you have to spend, the more vital it is that every dollar delivers measurable value. With that in mind, we sat down with one simple goal: to build the best inexpensive, multipurpose PC that we would want to use ourselves. We didn’t start with any particular budget, but at every turn we shaved as much from the cost as we could—trimming the fancy case, ditching an unnecessary 800W PSU, and scuttling the spendy Core i5 CPU.
The result is an incredibly lean, but still powerful machine featuring a quad-core CPU, a GPU capable of playing anything on a 22-inch panel, and… well, you’ll have to hit the jump to see the rest. Rest assured, though, this is a machine that would be welcome in any of our homes, whether we’re playing games, editing video, touching up photos, ripping movies, or simply surfing the Internet. Oh yeah, we’ll also show you how to assemble the components like a pro, one easy-to-follow step at a time.
And just to keep the whole thing good and honest, we stopped by our local Best Buy and bought the best comparably priced system they had, which we pitted against our ultra-budget machine in a steel-cage match to the death. Want to see who wins? Read on to find out.
It’s the Holiday season, and that means a lot of time catching up with relatives on the phone or in person. You can make those long-distance calls a lot more personal though, by setting up your living room TV to act as a video phone.
And really, setting up a video chat session on your living room PC isn’t all that hard. We’ll show you how you can get started video chatting with just three simple steps: Finding the right connector, setting up a webcam, and installing video chat software.
We’ll warn you ahead of time: this guide is written to be a little more newbie-friendly then our usual how-tos here at MaximumPC. Now, we’re not forgetting our power-user fans, but we wanted to make this guide something you can send to your parents and other relatives, so that they can get in touch for the holidays.
Left 4 Dead 2 is great fun, but there are only so many maps that actually come with the game. And until Valve releases any additional map packs, community-created maps are your best bet for fresh content. But why not learn how to make your own custom maps? With Valve's Hammer World Editor and Google's free SketchUp program, it's actually much easier than you think.
Valve's Hammer is the game map editor that comes with the Left 4 Dead Software Development Kit (SDK). Google SketchUp is a free 3D design application that has myriad uses. Using both tools, you can design and make custom shapes and objects that would be impossible to generate with Hammer alone.
We're going to show you, step-by-step, how to use these tools to make a single Survival map for Left 4 Dead. We'll cover the basics of Hammer, the art of designing a building from a reference photo, and crafting simple objects to use in-game. The techniques we introduce apply to both Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2. They'll also help you make maps for other Source engine games, like Counter-Strike, Half-Life 2, Portal, and Team Fortress 2.
Grab and seat and dive in. Making a Left 4 Dead map is a perfect D-I-Y project for the Holiday weekend
A while ago we wrote about setting up a MAME machine, which allows you to play faithfully emulated old arcade games on your computer. In an aside to that article, we mentioned that a similar program exists for the other arcade staple—pinball machines. Some pinball fans have written in, asking for more information, and because we love all arcade technology equally here at Maximum PC, we decided to do a quick writeup on how to get started playing classic pinball machines with Visual Pinball and PinMAME.
Read on to find out how to play your favorite pinball classics for free!
There was a time when ripping a CD was a time-intensive, error-prone process. But these days, with programs like iTunes turning the task into a one-click affair, CD ripping has become fast, easy, and reliable enough that backing up your music library is more simple than programming a VCR. However, using a program called Exact Audio Copy, you can achieve even better-quality rips than you can with generic music library managers.
EAC is an “audio grabber,” or ripping program, that’s beloved by the digital music world. It has earned this adoration by providing the tools needed to make the most accurate rips possible, with the fewest errors, and giving you complete control over how your MP3s are tagged and organized.
And although getting EAC set up is a little more complicated than, say, iTunes, we’ll walk you through the process, and show you that it’s not that hard to make top-quality audio rips.
The 21st century has seen a resurgence in the popularity of stereography, or 3D imagery, and thanks to the availability of inexpensive digital cameras and photo-processing software, do-it-yourself 3D imagery is now possible.
The simplest method for taking a 3D photo requires just a single camera, and a stationary subject. Place your feet firmly on the ground, with your weight on your left foot, and take a picture. Shift your weight to your right foot and take a second picture. You now have a stereo pair of images, one for the left eye and one for the right eye, which can be viewed in 3D. Obviously, this technique, called “sidestep” or “cha-cha” 3D, only works for subjects that are not in motion.
To take stereographs of dynamic subjects, we will need to take two photos at exactly the same time. Japanese camera manufacturer Fuji recently released the first digital camera equipped with two lenses for 3D. Of course, for the technologically savvy, you can make your own 3D camera rig using common building materials and two digital cameras.
RAW mode, a feature of virtually all digital SLR cameras and an increasing number of high-end point-and-shoot cameras, enables your camera to capture all of the image data in your photographs in full quality without distortion caused by JPEG data compression. RAW files enable you to repair white balance and color temperature problems, solve exposure problems, and adjust color intensity and other settings far better than you can with JPEG files. Unfortunately, you must use software that supports RAW files to optimize your picture and export it to a format you can use for other purposes, such as JPEG or TIFF.
Thankfully, you don't need to spend a fortune on software to edit RAW images. Or be a hardcore digital photography buff, either.