Category Archives: Software

Great software: Multi-Monitor Wallpaper

Two monitors are great for productivity, but aesthetics are important too. Who wants to stare at the same picture on both desktops? No one, that’s who.

IMAG0145_e

The NVidia display control panel that came with Vista allowed me to set a unique image for each monitor. But fie, Windows 7 hasn’t caught up yet and I was stuck staring at the same image, duplicated on both monitors. Well thanks to Arian Kulp’s Multi-Monitor Wallpaper code sample I’m no longer annoyed by my desktop.  No longer do I see sameness, I instead have a beautiful view of Killary Bay.

Excellent and free panorama software: MS ICE

Panoramic pictures are a great way to convey the scale and beauty of a scene, but building a panorama requires a good set of tools. Fortunately Microsoft Research is giving one away for free.

For the longest time I kept Microsoft Digital Image Suite on my computer only for the purpose of stitching panoramas. My photo editing tool of choice is Photoshop, but Photoshop CS’s panorama stitching was so cumbersome and ineffective that I didn’t even try CS4 until I was writing this. Digital Image Suite does a good job… but only if images are really well lined up. Thankfully, however, Microsoft Research released Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE).

I’ve compared the results of Microsoft Digital Image Suite, Photoshop CS, Photoshop CS4 and Microsoft ICE.

Photoshop CS did only a passable job at creating a panorama. Items weren’t lined up and there is obvious banding where the exposure differs between pictures.

DI did a beter job of lining up the pictures and blending the exposures, but still not great.

Photoshop CS4’s Photomerge feature does a nice job both of lining up the images as well as adjusting the exposure across the frame.

Microsoft ICE generated very similar results to Photoshop CS4 on my set of test images. Both CS4 and ICE had trouble lining up the railing in the center of the picture (probably a result of me shooting the sequence without a tripod). CS4 has a more even feel to the exposure and the perspective feels less warped.

Bottom line: ICE is by far the easiest tool to use of the set and generates results comparable to the $700 CS4. While I still live in Photoshop for image editing I use ICE for stitching panoramas. It’s a smaller application and has nice features like "autocrop" which automatically removes the inevitable curved seams on a stitch.

Useful software: A great tool for web or software UI designers

Have you ever had to:
a. take a screen shot of just part of your screen
b. try to match your web page color to something on your screen
c. figure out how wide to make a div or table cell


Working as a program manager at Microsoft typically means you take a lot of screen shots.  Screen shots of web pages, screen shots of application prototypes and (yes) screen shots of screen shots.  There are a ton of tools out there that do a number of these functions, some free, some not.  My current favorite tool happens to also have my current favorite price.


Mezer Tools from Bayden Systems is a free little app with a very appropriate icon: a Swiss Army knife.  This great, multi-purpose tool has widgets for measuring linear pixel dimensions and capturing arbitrary rectangles.  The dialog box also has additional tools for converting to and from Hex and for grabbing colors from anywhere on the screen.


 
Screenshots (made with Mezer, of course), click for a closer look.


Here’s a list of some of the cool stuff you can do:



  • Double-click the edge of a window to grow to the edge of the screen (not maximize)

  • Capture a target window or just an arbitrary section of screen

  • Capture screen to clipboard or directly to .JPG or .BMP

  • Flag screen captures with arrows or scribbles

  • Copy arbitrary string lengths to clipboard

  • Measure the number of characters in the clipboard

  • Grab the hex and RGB values from any location on the screen

  • Convert from hex to decimal and back

Keeping multiple PCs in sync

I have a work laptop, a work desktop and a personal computer at home.  Moving between each of these machines could be frustrating if it weren’t for a couple nifty tools.  The two big areas for me are my IE favorites and my OneNote folders.  While I have been happily using Favorites Sync for a while now I have only recently settled on a solution to keep my documents folders in sync. 


MS offers folder redirection to their employees that keeps your entire My Documents folder up on a server.  When you’re off the corporate network XP automatically makes the folder available in a cached mode.  It’s pretty slick.  But… the folder size is limited and, for employees in California, very slow.


Back in April Microsoft purchased Groove Networks.  The Groove product is very cool, creating what amounts to a peer to peer Share Point server.   Groove will sync folders and files across multiple computers and allows you to control access so you can easily work with multiple people on a projects covering a whole mess of files.  Groove is really cool, and since MS bought it, employees can use it for free.  But… it takes a while for a computer running Groove to boot up (not a ton of time, but I’m impatient).  Groove also has chat, project and people management functionality.  It’s a great product but overkill for simply sharing files.


That brings me to FolderShare.  FolderShare is much more light-weight than Groove, focusing only folder sharing.  Groove is great for a multi-person office environment and FolderShare is perfect for individuals.  FolderShare offers both free and for-pay versions of their service.  The free version of the service limits the number of files and sub-folders which can be shared as well as the speed of the file sync.  I’ve been able to stick to just using the free service by keeping a sub-folder in my documents folder where I put the items I want to share (typically my current work) and moving them out when I’m done.


This morning we announced that we purchased FolderShare…  I’m hoping I can get the upgraded service now for free.  Yep, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I’m cheap. :)


My computer is now a fat jukebox

Success! 


I have finally reached the end of my CD collection… they are now all ripped.  870 (give or take) CDs are now stored on my PC.  17,501 files in 1,411 folders for a total of 270Gb.  There are 458 unique album artists covering just about every, imaginable genre.


Crap?  How do I find something now?


Windows Desktop Search to the rescue!  I use this free desktop search engine at work to quickly dig through megabytes of saved e-mails… and now I’ve also found a great use for it at home as well.


You can either type in your search (searching through e-mail, files and more) then narrow the results to just the music files by clicking the “Music” icon in the toolbar or you can use the keyword “music” when you perform the search (e.g. “Robert Plant Kind:music”).  You can even create some quick play lists by doing a search like “kind:music genre:classical”.  From the results you can select multiple files and either play them directly from search or create a play list.





Ripping all the music was done over the period of four months and took me hours to complete, I definitely don’t want to do it twice.  All the music is ripped to a RAID array, each hard disk has an exact duplicate.  For backup advice, see my earlier post: Are you crash-safe?

I kan’t spel

I rely on the red squigglies in word.  What happens when I author blog posts?  How about typing in gripes to web forms on web shopping sites?


The answer: I use IE Spell.  It’s a free add-in for Internet Explorer that will spell check any form entry on a web page… even the posts I write for my Space.


Now, I do have to remember to click the IE Spell button, but it beats copy-paste into Word, copy paste into notepad to remove all formatting, copy-paste into my Blog.


Get yourself a copy now (and don’t forget to donate if you use it… it keeps the author making new software).

Fix your Windows Media album info

Omar turned me onto this fantastic tool for quickly and easily fixing the album data in Windows Media.  Album Art Fixer may follow Microsoft’s not-so-sexy, name-it-what-it-is product title strategy but make no mistake, the product is way cool.  It is especially useful for people who are running Windows Media Center edition as MCE uses the “Album Artist” field where many tracks only get their “Aritist” field set when you RIP (esp. for those of you who insist on sticking to MP3s).  It also has a handy interface for getting cover art via a web search (Google by default). 

The process of fixing all your albums is very easy (Album Art Fixer is on version 1.5.2 at this point, the refinements continue).  I’ve ripped over 500 albums to disk so far and fixing them all was completed in one painless sitting last night (it took less than 20min).  I won’t re-hash the instructions on the Album Art Fixer page, their simplicity says it all.  I will add, however, that I’m picky when it comes to making sure my music is correctly labled and filed, so I was aprehensive about letting software do the changing.  Album Art Fixer does, however, allow you to adjust or reject any changes before it changes your media’s metadata.

The software is donate-ware, so you can download it and try it out absolutely free (it’s fully functional).  If you like it and use it you should, of course, show your appreciation by donating via PayPal.

 

You don’t have to take my word for it,

Album art fixer recommendation by Omar.

The album art fixer site: http://www.avsoft.nl/ArtFixer/default.htm

A review here: http://thomashawk.com/2005/01/album-art-fixer-review-two-thumbs-up.html

Media Metadata usage guidelines: http://msdn.microsoft.com/windowsmedia/techart/winmedform/default.aspx?pull=/library/en-us/dnwmt/html/wm_metadata_usage.asp?frame=true

 

Share your web favorites with all your machines

A while back Omar turned me on to FavoriteSync as a great tool to keep your IE favorites in synch across multiple machines.  Omar has since moved on to Groove but I still much prefer this light, simple tool to the heavy-handed beast that is Groove (Groove is designed to be much more than a synchronization tool, it’s a Share Point-like platform with a large feature set and a start up time to match).


Setup is fairly simple, download the installer and run.  In order to store your favorites on the FavoriteSync server you will need to sign up for an account, but filling out the form and waiting for the confirmation e-mail is about as complex as it gets.  Using the default configuration FavoriteSync stores your favorites on their web site but if you want to be more geeky (or more secretive) you can publish your favorites to your own ftp site.  Other advanced options include the ability to ignore certain folders (e.g. to keep work-only stuff off your home computer… or more importantly, vice versa), publish an XSL style sheet (useful if you have your own ftp/web site and want web-based favorites) and the ability to create multiple backup copies of your favorites.


Once installed the synchronization is automatic.  Anytime you start IE or you change your favorites FavoriteSync will merge an updated copy with the copy of your favorites stored on the server (either yours or theirs).  Your other computers will automatically pick up the changes when you next use them.  Changes are merged if you change your favorites on multiple machines and the options allow you to tweak the sync behavior if you desire.


With a work laptop, work desktop and a home desktop it’s great to have my IE favorites finally roam to all my computers.  The software is simple and effective, I recommend it to Windows IE users with more than one PC. 


Software: FavoriteSync
Web Site: http://favoritesync.com
Platform: Windows/IE (FireFox version in beta)
Cost: Free/Donate Ware
Ease of setup: 4 of 5
Ease of use: 5 of 5