Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Excellent and Free Drive Cloning Tools

I'm a long-time user of Drive Snapshot, a tool which allows you to make a backup copy of your computer's hard drive onto an external hard drive. It's a useful backup tool, distinguishing in that it makes a cloned copy of your hard drive without shutting your machine down - you can keep working while it's doing its stuff. That makes it practical to do frequent backups. Another distinguishing aspect is that the backed-up clone of your drive can be mounted as a virtual drive, so that you can recover specific files without having to go through some arduous restore routine. This program is a huge component of any system migration for me, and has more than once saved my bacon. Well worth the 39Euros (well under $60 currently) they're asking for it.

I've just become aware of a tool called Clonezilla, which is free on a GPL license. I haven't used it yet, but while it doesn't offer some of the features of Drive Snapshot (the "keep working" and "mount as virtual drive" aspects), it does offer free cloning of your hard drive for backup or transfer purposes. Another thing it offers, which Drive Snapshot does not, is the ability to "multicast". If you are putting a bunch of essentially identical machines into use, rather than install all that software on every one, you would build one machine, test it thoroughly, clone it, and then multicast that out to all the rest. In the example cited on the Clonezilla website, it took only about 10 minutes to clone a 5.6 GBytes system image to 41 computers simultaneously. There is also software available to correctly differentiate all those machines so that they can properly be added to the network.

I'll probably continue to use Drive Snapshot for my tasks, but there are situations where Clonezilla would be superior, especially when deploying a bunch of machines. It can also be used to remotely "push" a clone out, which could be useful if you're in a school or church environment. If you have a lab where you'd like to refresh all the computers nightly or once a week (undoing any changes made by users, either mischievous or unwitting), or kiosks in the foyer where you'd like to either refresh these to undo damage or put up new content, Clonezilla could make your life significantly easier. And of course, free is a really good price!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Compact Printable Calendar and other Productivity Tools

Just found this site from designer David Seah. What attracted my attention was his compact printable calendar - a template you load into Excel or the spreadsheet of your choice to create your ideal customized calendar. On the site you'll find templates pre-loaded with holidays for various countries, now updated with the 2009 calendars. I could see this being used for calendar inserts to church bulletins, bookmarks, etc.

From the look of it, though, there's a lot more available on his site, including his "printable CEO" series of materials. Well worth checking out!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Converting files from Acrobat (.pdf) to Word; Back-country Internet

Sometimes you have a .pdf file and need access to the contents. While in many cases you can copy and paste bits, if you want an easier way to access the whole thing, check out http://pdfundo.net/convert/ for a free online pdf to Word converter.

Also, if you don't have easy access to high-speed internet because of where you live, you may want to check out http://lifehacker.com/5066868/how-do-you-get-broadband-in-the-boonies - lots of ideas presented in the comments section on how to get access in challenging areas.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Reference and Bibliography Manager

You may want to check out http://www.zotero.org/ for an open source reference and bibliography manager. It runs within FireFox and is attracting a LOT of attention, with quite a few people switching to it from Endnote and the like. It can easily be carried around on a jumpdrive, etc., and in fact, you can use a portable version of FireFox on your USB drive, install Zotero to that, and then use it anywhere. They're also beta-testing a sync solution which would allow you to backup and share your database between all your machines.

In my preliminary tests I'm quite impressed. I like its ability to grab online data (whether you're browsing Amazon or your library database) and inserting that info rather painlessly in your local "library" file. It does a number of things better than Endnote, and needs a bit of improvement on a few others. Since it's open source and has a strong and enthusiastic following, I'm confident those improvements will be coming. I haven't switched over entirely yet (I've only been using it since about 1am this morning...) but most likely will do so. Compared to $300 for Endnote ($200 academic, $100 each upgrade) or $100/year for an individual subscription to RefWorks, free is a great deal!

Monday, September 29, 2008

More Video Downloading, and File Distribution

If you've run into sites which don't work for some of the video download/capture methods I've posted, here's a new piece of software which might work - xVideoServiceThief. It's Open Source (which means it's free - you can use it freely, but can't take the software itself and sell it), works on PC, Linux, and Mac systems (!!), includes conversion capabilities and multiple downloads, will automatically update itself as new versions come out, and have I mentioned that it's free? The only caveat to mention is that this is alpha software, so it's still somewhat in the testing stage. However, it already does a lot of stuff really well, and should be marvelous by the time it's mature.

Also, a tip from Steve Mills via Mel Ming: YouSendIt is a site/service which allows you to send and receive large files, either one to one, one to many, or many to one. There's a free service, which allows files up to 100mb and caps both the total bandwidth used (1gb/month) and number of downloads per file (100), and numerous paid plans starting at about $10/month. The $10 plan allows much larger files (2gb), bandwidth (40gb), and downloads (500/file). For most of us I suspect the free plan will do nicely, and the $10/mth plan should take care of the rest.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More Free Stuff

Hard on the heels of last week's article, here's another article from ComputerWorld with more free software and some services.
One that intrigued me right on the first page is a service to which you can forward emails you get when you buy stuff on the web. They'll find the tracking number and give you a unified page where you can see all the different things you're waiting for. This will save me a lot of time (though, sadly, no money whatsoever).
On page three there's a free program that lets you set up an encrypted "virtual drive" - great for keeping sensitive stuff safe, especially on vulnerable machines like laptops, as well as software for blocking spam and viruses.
There are pages full of some really neat stuff. Just one warning: you can "invest" a lot of time here, because there is so much excellent material to explore.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Free and Excellent Software

Here's an article from ComputerWorld which lists a bunch of software (from email to Office suites to graphics to money to antivirus to....) which is mostly free (a few items offer enhancements for a bit of money, like generally $10 or so). What is very exciting about the items on the list, though, is not only the low price, but also that in many cases the free stuff outdoes the expensive stuff - now THAT'S something I can really appreciate!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Ease Office 2007 Frustrations

If you're frustrated by the changes in Office 2007, here's some help:

a cheat-sheat for Word 2007 – http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9010482

a cheat-sheat for Excel 2007 – http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9028228

a cheat-sheat for Powerpoint 2007 – http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9063119

If this isn’t enough and you find yourself frustrated on an ongoing basis, you might want to invest in a copy of Classic Menu – free to try for 30 days at http://www.addintools.com/english/menuoffice/, about $30 if you like it and want to add technical support (doesn’t seem to actually time-out). It adds the old menus and commands to the new office, so you get the best of both worlds. (Thanks to Mel Ming for making me aware of this one.)

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Easiest YouTube Conversion Yet!!

Thanks to Glen Davis, via Mel Ming, for this tip:

Check out the service and more importantly, the downloadable program, at http://vixy.net/. This is a one-step capture and/or convert process for YouTube and other web videos - basically converts from .flv to a number of formats (.mp4 for iPod etc., .avi for general PC use, .mov for general Mac use) or simply capture the .flv file.

Now for the caveats: the online service to do it didn't work when I tried it - simply never was able to contact the server. Could be all sorts of things, and you may have a different result. However, the great news is that there's a downloadable program (still in beta format) which is currently free, is available for Mac as well as PC, and it worked brilliantly, couldn't be simpler, and gave terrific results. This is a must have - check it out!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Fix" Vista

Many of my friends have expressed frustration over some of Vista's "features" which make it so power-hungry and slow. Here's an article from Information Week which talks about a program named vLite, which can strip Vista down to a lean and mean operating system. It is used in the installation mode, so unfortunately it is not designed for those who already have Vista running. (You use it during the installation phase: as the makers of the tool say, "vLite is a tool for customizing the Windows Vista installation before actually installing it.") It is excellent in this mode, and besides, it's free!
UPDATE: another journal article from Computerworld praises this tool and indicates that it can reduce the installed size of Vista from 15 gigs down to 1.4 gigs - a very significant reduction in footprint! And, by the way, there's a similar tool for Windows XP from the same programmer, called nLite. It's not nearly as necessary, as XP is not nearly as bloated as Vista, but for those who insist on the most finely tuned system it is worth using.

What about those who already have Vista installed? Here are a few sites and tools. The instructions from the folks at ExtremeTech are not as technically involved and dangerous as some I've seen. Also, check out Mobile Pedia, the instructions at the TweakVista site, and those at cucirca.com. The latter makes references to a tool called Tweak VI, which is available as a free download and will automate a number of the processes described on these other sites, which you would otherwise do manually. This (Tweak VI) is probably your best choice.