Category Archives: Productivity Software

More Freebies From Microsoft Research Labs

imageWe are excited to be developing technologies that weave software, hardware, and services into every aspect of our lives, thereby advancing toward the goal of making computers genuinely useful — We see a future in which computers interact with people the way we interact with each other, think ahead to anticipate and meet our needs, and support us as we make the most of our ideas, efforts, and intellect.”

Joulemeter

Joulemeter is a software tool that estimates the power consumption of your computer. It tracks computer resources, such as CPU utilization and screen brightness, and estimates power usage.

System Requirements: Windows 7

HD View 3.3

With HD View, you can view and interact with very large images on the Web. HD View supports smooth panning and zooming, as well as appropriate viewing perspectives as you zoom in and out. HD View also makes creating and hosting your own HD View images easy. HD View is available as a plug-in for Windows-based browsers, including Internet Explorer and Firefox.

System Requirements: Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 (32-bit version).

Image Composite Editor (32 bit)

Microsoft Image Composite Editor is an advanced panoramic image stitcher. Given a set of overlapping photographs of a scene shot from a single camera location, the application creates a high-resolution panorama that seamlessly combines the original images.

The stitched panorama can be shared with friends and viewed in 3D by uploading it to the Photosynth web site. Or the panorama can be saved in a wide variety of image formats, from common formats like JPEG and TIFF to the multiresolution tiled format used by Silverlight’s Deep Zoom and by the HD View and HD View SL panorama viewers.

System Requirements: Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7

Download 64 bit version here.

StickySorter

Ever found yourself lost in the eye of a brainstorm? Lots of great information, but it’s all over the place! Sticky Sorter is a Grassroots Project, developed by two Microsoft Employees, that you can use today to manage such challenges.

The inventors, Julie and Sumit, were looking for an easier way to capture, sift through, and organize hundreds of research observations traditionally done on physical sticky notes in an affinity diagramming exercise with researchers from around the world.

The result is StickySorter which met their complex needs, supports virtual collaboration, and is now available for you to use in managing your next brainstorm.

System Requirements: Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 with .Net Framework 2.0.

Touchless

Touchless is an Office Labs Grassroots Project that started from an idea Mike Wasserman, a Microsoft Office Graphics developer, started during his college days to create multi-touch experience using a webcam. Through Office Labs sponsorship, Mike’s weekend hobby turned into an open-source prototype, currently available for download.

With just a webcam and color markers, you can get a taste of Touchless through the multi-touch demos provided. Play a pong-like game, rotate maps, control a snake, and draw with markers. If you’re someone technical, the Software Development Kit (SDK) is available for you to view, contribute to the code, or create your own multi-touch applications to help explore the possibilities.

System Requirements: Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Webcam

Bonus – Not free, but free trials:

Songsmith

Songsmith generates musical accompaniment to match a singer’s voice. Just choose a musical style, sing into your PC’s microphone, and Songsmith will create backing music for you. Then share your songs with your friends and family, post your songs online, or create your own music videos.

System Requirements: Windows XP (SP2), Vista, Windows 7

AutoCollage 2008

Researchers from all disciplines and the Cambridge Innovation Development team worked together, building Digital Tapestry and AutoCollage research into a new product. Face detection, saliency filters, and other Microsoft research identifies interesting parts of pictures. Advanced object selection and blending technologies seamlessly combine these pieces into a beautiful new AutoCollage.

System Requirements: Windows XP (SP3), Vista, Windows 7

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Beta Software, Computer Tools, Digital Media, downloads, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Image Editors, Microsoft, Multimedia Tools, Photo Tools, Productivity Software, Software, Software Trial Versions, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Supercharge Windows Start Menu With Microsoft Labs Free Speed Launch

imageWindows “Start” menu is pretty cool – it acts much like a one stop shop for application launch, and it allows access to additional functions and computer locations.

Overall, the start menu suits me well, but I’m always curious about tools that claim to make my Windows experience a little faster or, a little easier. So, when I came across a small free application from Microsoft Office Labs – Speed Launch, I took it for a spin.

Speed Launch, at its core, is an application launcher with a bit of a twist – it’s easy for an average, or less experienced user, to get their head around. The drag and drop interface is uncomplicated, and easy to grasp.

Or, as Microsoft puts it –

“Using the application is definitely no rocket science, since it can actually be managed quite easily. The basic principle relies on dragging and dropping the shortcut into the bull’s eye, and typing in the name for the newly created shortcut. Absolutely any file stored on your hard disk will be appended to Speed Launch’s shortcut list.”

Shortcuts can include an application, a Web site or a document,  triggered by a  word, or a phrase of your choice. Once you have set up Speed Launch with your shortcuts, accessing the launcher is east – just hit Windows (key), plus C (key).

Following installation, you’ll notice you now have a small bull’s eye on screen. I attempted to capture this bull’s eye in the following screen shot, but on a 24 inch screen it’s very small. The bull’s eye is in the center of the screen in this case, but it is movable, or it can be hidden.

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The right click context menu allows full control over the application, as the following screen capture indicates.

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Here’s an example in which I set up CDBurnerXP to run from the launcher.

View Slide Show

Or…

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The following example shows the effect of using the application’s Megasearch function which will open the pages of the three search engines in separate tabs in your default web browser, based on your query.

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The result is illustrated in this very small screen capture. Sorry about the size, but I think it helps to get the idea across. I really liked this feature.

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View Slide Show

Watch the video and slide show for the step by step  process by which Speed Launch allows you to identify and quickly  retrieve what you use most.Play Video

Watch the slide show for the step by step process by which Speed Launch allows you to identify and quickly retrieve what you use most.

Watch Video

Matt created this video to show how to create functions.  Watch it and learn to create your own.Play Video

This video shows you how to create functions. Watch it and learn to create your own.

System requirements: Windows 7, Vista or Windows XP SP2 with .Net Framework 3.0.

Download at: Microsoft (Go to “Try It”, on the right hand side of the page).

Note: Microsoft has a number of Lab sites all of which offer a range of free tools.

This is a rather cool little application, well worth a look.

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Filed under Application Launchers, downloads, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Microsoft, Productivity Software, Software, System Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

MachStudio Pro 2 – Price Cut From $4000 To Zero!

imageA product price reduction is one thing, but reducing the product price from $4000 to zero, zilch, nada – well, that’s a whole other thing. In a rather surprising move, StudioGPU, the developers of MachStudio Pro 2 (which has an excellent reputation in the 3-D industry), has done just that. Sort of beats a Wal-Mart rollback hands down!

If serious animation is your thing, and you have the hardware to support it – then rush on over to StudioGPU, and download their flagship product – MachStudio Pro 2.

I should point out; this application is not a toy – this is the real thing; designed by artists for artists, and shaped by the actual demands of a production environment.

Sample screen captures from video productions available at the developer’s site.

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Fast facts:

  • Real-time rendering on your desktop — say good-bye to expensive render farms.
  • Groundbreaking levels of interactivity giving the power back to the artist instead of the pipeline.
  • Provides revolutionary workflow allowing manipulation of cameras, lighting, ambient occlusion, animation, and materials in real-time.
  • Seamless interoperability with most leading CG software programs including Autodesk Maya and 3ds Max .
  • Resolution independent, allowing renders at any resolution and format (e.g. 1080P, 720P, 16:9, 4:3, NTSC, PAL and even 2K and beyond).
  • Render as final frame, or as passes for additional compositing work.
  • Generate higher quality CGI results for less time and money.

System requirements:

Windows 7 – 32 bit or 64 bit, Vista Business – 32 bit or 64 bit (SP1 or higher).

Minimum Hardware Requirements:

  • Intel Pentium 4 or higher, AMD Athlon 64, or AMD Opteron processor
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 2 GB of available disk space
  • 1 GB DirectX 11 compliant video card (tested w/ ATI and NVIDIA)

Download at: StudioGPU

If you’ve got a creative streak, and you have a drive to create imaginary worlds populated with imaginary characters, then this is a terrific opportunity to harness the power of your computer with the magic of MachStudio Pro 2.

Checkout the video at the developer’s site.

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I’m not an artist, a movie producer or director, but I’ve been playing with animation creative software since the days of Autodesk’s ground breaking 3-D applications in the 1980s. You can be sure, I’ve already downloaded MachStudio Pro 2.

Special thanks to Michael F., who brought this to my attention.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Animation Applications, Commercial Applications, Digital Media, downloads, Enterprise Applications, Free Full Versions, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Graphic Software, Multimedia Tools, Productivity Software, Software, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista

SpringPublisher Free Version – Design And Output Business Cards And More

imageOne of the very first freeware applications that I remember downloading, when the Sun first rose on the Internet, was a business card design application. Now, here I am, many years later, reviewing for the first time exactly that – a business card design application.

SpringPublisher 2.1 is a freeware application (upgradeable to a pro version), which allows a user to design and print a Business Card, Flyer, Postcard, and Letterhead with ease. The learning curve is … well, there is no learning curve really. If you can use a word processor; you’re good to go.

The following screen shots represent a walkthrough in designing a business card with SpringPublisher. Clicking on any graphic will expand it to it’s original size. Since these shots were captured on a 22 inch screen, they are very large.

You can create a blank project or alternatively, you may choose to use the Template Library to create a project from a template. In the following example, I’ll work with the template option.

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For this walkthrough I’ve chosen the business card style indicated by the hand icon. I should point out, that the “style” you choose can be carried forward into additional projects, including – Letterhead, Postcard and Flyer.

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Expanding the following screen shot to its original size will give you an opportunity to carefully study the GUI. I think you’ll find the GUI uncomplicated, easy to follow, and self explanatory.

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Clicking on any element within the template opens an edit input box (text, image, shape). In the following example, I’ve just completed work in the address, telephone, email address, etc., edit box. You’ll notice, I’ve replaced the suggested graphic with something a little fancier.

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The completed business card is shown below.

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But then, since I’m into simple – I replaced the background color with plain white. Which meant, it was necessary to replace the “company name” color with black – very easy to do with the “select color” command.

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This simple walkthrough doesn’t begin to test the power built into this application. The “fast facts” will provide a better overall picture of what can be accomplished with a little creativity.

Fast facts:

Enables you to add images, texts, vector shapes, logos and arrange them as you like.

Provides various image effect: shadows, opacity, rotation, and more.

Allows you to download high quality templates from the template store.

Makes it easy for you to print your artworks either with your own printer or in professional print shops.

Generates high resolution artwork with a maximum output of 350 dpi.

System requirements: Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Win 7

Download at: Developer’s site (SpringPublisher)

I haven’t used this type of application in years, so I’m not surprised to see that  SpringPublisher is a major step up from what I recall from back in the day. There are just enough tools and selections available  that customization possibilities are considerable – very impressive for a freeware application.

Along with your appearance (that great big smile  Smile ), your firm handshake (the dead fish handshake is a no-no), your business card can tell a tale. Make sure it’s the one you want to convey. SpringPublisher is a terrific little application which can help you experiment in developing a card which expresses who you are.

The professional version, with Template Store credits and high-quality output is available from the publisher at $23.95(USD).

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Filed under DeskTop Publishing, downloads, Freeware, Productivity Software, Software, Windows Tips and Tools

NEW – Nitro PDF Reader Version 2 Launched Today

imageFollowing a year long beta testing period, Nitro PDF Reader Version 2, has hit the bricks with it’s official launching today. As an indication of just how popular this application is – during the beta test period, it was downloaded an astonishing 8 million times.

With its ability to not only view and review PDF files, but create PDF files as well, it’s little wonder Nitro PDF Reader has amassed such a large following. I have to say that Nitro PDF Reader is my favorite PDF tool so, I’m more than a little enthusiastic to get on the go with this latest release.

Version 2 continues the strong tradition which Nitro has established with previous version – it’s fast, lightweight, and incorporates customizable security controls, including the option to completely disable JavaScript – no small consideration for security conscious users.

Sample screens – Click on any screen shot to expand to original size.

Standard screen

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Fill in form

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Collaboration

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Fast facts:

Nitro PDF Reader 2.0 includes the following features and enhancements:

Web Browser Integration preview PDF files from within Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Microsoft Internet Explorer

Nitro PDF Creator 2 all-new PDF creation engine enables users to create PDF files up to 4 times faster, with 50% reduction in file size

Optimized Rendering Engine draw and display PDF files on-screen faster with crisp rendering of text and graphics

QuickSign import a scanned image of your handwritten signature to sign and return documents electronically in just seconds

Optional Content Group (OCG) Layers show and hide content layers within PDF files with support for printing layer views and scripting OCG interaction in form controls

XFA Form Support fill-in and save static XML Form Architecture (XFA) forms

Hundreds more significant enhancements updated Ribbon UI, workflow refinements, improved performance, and more

If you really want to be impressed with just how much capability is built into this application, then visit the developer’s feature page.

System requirements: Windows XP, Vista, Win 7 (32 bit  and 64 bit, Vista and Win 7).

Available languages: Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.

Download at: Nitro PDF Reader

If you’re tired of working with that malware magnet, Adobe Reader – I think you’ll find that PDF Reader 2.0 is the substitute you’ve been searching for. On top of that – how do you beat FREE!

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Browser Plug-ins, downloads, Free PDF Software, Freeware, Integrated Solutions, Productivity Software, Software, Windows Tips and Tools

Timberline Estimating Software Review

Popular guest writer, Glenn Taggart who, in the real world, has a real job (like many of us bloggers), has some definite views on construction estimating software and, on how to avoid being lured into purchasing  a less than suitable solution.

imageWhile the thought of being a full time blogger is certainly romantic, the reality of my life is that of a construction project manager and estimator. As I become busy in my professional life, something has to give and I guess writing articles is that something that has to give.

Before any project gets built, the owner wants to know how much the project is going to cost. Most of the time we are providing cost estimates and competing with anywhere from 5 to 10 other contractors. In most cases, the low responsible price wins the contract.

On a $3 million dollar project, I will spend about 2 weeks putting the project estimate together. Estimating software is of the most important software that I use on a regular basis.

Recently, the company I work for tasked yours truly to oversee a new computer and software upgrade. This particular upgrade included a new company server, workstations, and estimating software.

Prior to the upgrade, we were using a product from Sage software called Timberline Estimating. I believe Timberline was the first mainstream estimating software. I personally have been using Timberline Estimating software for the past 15 years.

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After enduring multiple webinairs from multiple estimating software platforms, I narrowed it down to two choices – ProEst and Timberline.

Timberline has the advantage of being a tried, true, and tested estimating platform by companies large and small. It also had the advantage that all of us at work have been using it for a long time. Because estimating software is the most important function for us at work, we desire to utilize the best software to help us with our estimating.

Let me make it clear that the estimating software is a tool that we use. We are NOT slaves to the software and the software does not “think” for us. I guess an analogy would be playing the guitar. You aren’t simply going to put a Les Paul guitar in someone’s hands and all of a sudden they become Eric Clapton.

ProEst has a great marketing department. They are able to clearly articulate and demonstrate the great things that ProEst can do. Unfortunately, that is as good as it gets with ProEst. The program is slow and klunky and I personally ran into several bugs that, according to ProEst support, were being worked on and “would be fixed in an upcoming release”.

Our company went so far as to buy several licenses under the false pretense that we would be able to get some of our money back if things didn’t work out. Long story short, things didn’t work out. Nearly all of our estimating team found the software to be too slow and time consuming to use. Our estimating team consists of 6 who all have at least 10 years estimating experience. Once they have their hands on your money, they will not do the honorable thing and hand it back (as we were lead to believe).

Unfortunately, ProEst’s answer to our unwillingness to have them force feed their software to us was simply that we needed to sit through umpteen hours of their web based support. I beg your pardon? Hey ProEst, we’re not dummies. We recognize a sub par estimating platform when we see one.

What I can’t explain are all the favorable reviews for ProEst. The only thing I can think of is the people who are favorably reviewing ProEst are ProEst employees or folks that have not tried the more superior, refined, and FAST Sage Timberline estimating.

Like I said, Timberline estimating has been around since day one. The folks that put this fine piece of precision software together are not without their A-Game. The programmers who put Timberline together have obviously made it their priority to have people from the estimating profession give input into making the program function.

Timberline really excels with it’s excel spreadsheet integration (no pun intended), report writing, address/contact book, and did I say FAST! With Timberline you never more than two clicks away from entering an activity. ProEst on the other hand…Ugh! After opening at least 3 or 4 windows (I honestly lost count), you finally get the opportunity to enter an activity. ProEst is simply too slow of a process to contend.

If you are sitting on the fence in trying to decide which estimating software to use, look no farther than Sage Timberline Estimating. There is absolutely no comparison. Simply put, no other estimating platform even comes close.

Bio: Glenn Taggart of The Crazy World of G, – one of the hardest working people I know – brings a background as a high level super user, to the Blogging world. Glenn has been a contributor here almost since “day one”.

Drop by Glenn’s freeware page.

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Filed under Commercial Applications, Computer Tools, Guest Writers, Opinion, Productivity Software, Software

Nemo Documents – A Powerful Free Document Manager

My Hard Drives can be a bit of a “black hole” when I’m trying to find a particular document. With literally thousands of documents – Word files, PowerPoint presentations, Excel Work sheets, not to mention, images, videos, and more, spread all over, I occasionally feel as if I’m lost in space.

Stepping into this void for me, is a recent find – Nemo Documents, a powerful freebie document manager from Danish open source developer IOLA.

With Nemo Documents running, I can now view all of my Word docs (for example), in an easy to read “Calendar” view as well as a number of additional file formats. Better yet, the program integrates with Windows Desktop Search so I can locate files based on phrases within the documents, file types, modification dates, and so on.

Setup is easy, and on the first run the program will audit customary file locations in order to index files.

Click on any graphic to expand to original size.

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In my particular case, and perhaps yours as well, most of my documents are not located in the “usual suspect” places so, the ability to add locations is critical.

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File support is fairly robust – including support for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, images, video files, Google docs, and many more. You can choose which files to add and index, from the Settings menu.

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Calendar view – selectable Day, Week, Month, Year.

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Focusing on an individual  file allows you to view specific properties.

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The “List” view provides additional file references.

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The application can be run in a number of alternative languages including – Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Lithuanian, Russian, and Portuguese.

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Since Nemo Documents adds an application icon to the Windows notification area, direct access is quick and easy.

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System requirements: Windows XP, Vista, Win 7.

There is a version available for Linux here.

Download at: Developer’s site (nemo-docs.com)

Nemo Documents is not an application for everyone, but for those users who have to deal with a sizeable number of diverse document files, Nemo can certainly make the job much easier.

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Filed under downloads, File Management, Freeware, Linux, Open Source, Productivity Software, Software, System Utilities, Timesaving Tips, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools