It’s no wonder reports suggest that more than 80% of machines are infected with some form of software that makes your browser visit sites you never intended to visit. Applications with some of the tools we need are distributed with software that hijacks common functionality. This is one of the key reasons reading the End User License Agreement and every screen of the install process is vital to keeping your system junk free. A classic case is the Burn4Free CD burning application, which does work as described, but forces you to install the toolbar NavExcel on your system in order to use Burn4Free. On one hand, I see this as the prerogative of the developer of Burn4Free. He’s getting paid to include the software with his app and his app is free. The alternative for anyone who downloads Burns4Free is to cancel the installation upon learning that a browser hijacking application is being installed as a special bonus.
There are plenty of reasons you might want to boot a CD or DVD image from your hard drive rather than having to load the CD each time you use an application. If you have multiple licenses for a software application, it’s more convenient to access the disk across your home network via a image on a networked hard drive than it is to dig through a stack of CDs until you find the right one. Two common uses for this type of application are to launch games that require you to keep the game CD inserted in your tray while playing or to create a virtual library of DVDs so you can access them from your hard drive. While the game and movie companies would prefer you not do this, because they assume that all imaging of their products results in theft, there are plenty of times when you are better off leaving the disk at home and taking an image with you. For instance, if you want to watch several movies on your laptop while traveling, bringing all the DVDs and their protective cases wastes precious carry-on space. An image on your hard drive takes up virtual space, but you don’t have to worry about scratching the image, leaving it behind in a hotel room or having it ripped off by someone from the hotel staff. As the software EULA clearly states: This program is NOT freeware. If you don’t use this program for commercial purposes you do not have to register a license and are allowed to use this software for free. That means free for personal use, but if you want a network CD emulation tool for corporate purposes, you’ll need to get a license. Of course, you also need a CD/DVD burning tool capable of creating image files, like Nero, CDBurnerXP Pro, Easy CD Creator or one of the numerous other alternatives. [Windows 9x/2k/XP $0.00]
One of the tricky parts of managing a large music collection is dealing with missing album art or album art that’s just plain wrong. None of the music applications have figured out a bulletproof system for always finding album art. Even the services providing the information, like Gracenote and AMG don’t offer a consistent method for updates (although AMG does make their system obvious). As a result, your music files get no information or wrong information associated with them. Windows Media Player provides an interface to access this information, but associating the right images with a particular audio file is tricky. Album Art Fixer for MCE and WMP offers a solid alternative to making corrections to audio files. By tying into Google Images and Cover Target a quick search of the Internet typically finds the correct album art for a given music track. The interface also provides an option to correct song title and album title information. If a particular track is orphaned from the rest of an album, Album Art Fixer offers a pointer to place the file where it goes. While this isn’t the perfect solution to missing image data for your music, it makes it easy to update file information without needing complicated steps. The app is donationware, so it reminds you how many files you’ve fixed and asks for donations periodically. [Windows 9x/2k/XP $0.00]
Palette’s interface is slightly confusing at first, but one you figure out the subtleties it works admirably as a tool for composing music with MIDI instruments. Composition is based on methods of motive development. A system of mouse gestures makes selection of pitch, chord type and arrangement based on movements rather than clicks, which actually improves note placement after a little practice. I know from past experience with other composition apps that I frequently clicked in the wrong spot when placing notes, which is solved with the mouse movement method. A wide range of MIDI instruments are supported with preview playback at any point in the composition process. Building songs on a phrase-by-phrase basis may not make sense for experienced composers, but for starting out with music composition, this is an easy way to go. The app lacks a traditional installer instead containing all files in a folder easily placed anywhere on your system. [Windows 9x/2k/XP $0.00]
Orb was announced last year as this cool app designed to connect you to your home media via any portable device. If you have a laptop and you’re on the road, you can connect to Orb. If you have a Pocket PC, Windows Mobile SmartPhone or any other portable phone with support for Windows Media Player or Real Player (except Palm OS devices) you can connect to Orb. Originally the service had a fee associated with it after a short trial service. As of today, the service is free. Basically the service works by installing a component on your home system and a component on your portable system and connecting between the two. The home system needs Windows XP with a 2.4GHz processor and 512MB of RAM because of the hefty media load generated in streaming content to your portable, but these are features available in the $300 range currently, so it’s only a matter of time before most every PC meets the required specs. If you want access to live TV, you also need a tuner card installed so Orb can transcode the TV direct to your phone or laptop from anywhere. This isn’t just a one way funnel though. If you have a camera phone you can put your pictures back to your home system using the Orb interface without needing to mail them as an attachment. If you like the idea of having access to your music and movies from anywhere you can get broadband access, give Orb a try. You do need to register for access, which is a requirement to make the service work properly. [Windows XP $0.00]
We may never learn if androids truly dream of electric sheep, but this cartoon short advocates the possibility of penguins dreaming of flight. Billed as, “A story of a penguin hoping for intergalactic voyages,” this animated short demonstrates a boy’s willingness to sacrifice to help his aquatic avian friend achieve his dream. Originally appearing on the CBC’s Zed Open Source Television, which I assume is Canada’s answer to public access the imagery and backing soundtrack are both quite talented from the second offering by director Wojtek Wawszczyk. His other work, Mouse, also available through Zed is worth checking out too.
Brian writes, “I bought an LCD HDTV and the picture looks great on my local Comcast HD channels. I notice a lot of ‘pixilation’ What is that? Is that my TV, the feed, or the general current technology? I also bought a cheaper progressive scan DVD player. Why is the DVD quality so much worse then my cable feed? It looks OK, but not like the HD channels?”
There are a number of elements that might play into the issues you are facing, but without knowing specifics about the particular model of your TV, the way you are connecting all the devices, and the overall environment of your home theater setup, I’ll need to make a few generalizations and then offer several potential solutions for you to try. There are a number of issues at work here, but they all boil down to differences in the quality of the video information for each content type.
A43 File management utility offers a clever alternative to the native Windows Explorer. The file browsing component includes a feature to create your own favorite folders list and the search function is a cleaner alternative to that annoying search puppy. Built-in zip compression extraction including the ability to unRAR files is definitely appealing, if you don’t need your own copy of WinRAR for compressing files and folders. A text editor isn’t as fully featured as something like UltraEdit, but does an adequate job of tweaking text. A hex viewer provides quick access to peering inside music, movie and compiled binary files to get more information about the files. Using the multiple pane interface is easier for manipulating directories than using numerous instances of Windows Explorer and who could overlook the quirky charm to the A43 icon, which looks like a Windows 3.1 directory tree. [Windows 2k/XP $0.00]