Friday, November 7, 2008

Little Helpers

We become a bunch of happy computer users once we have all the essentials installed-Office (or, Firefox / Opera, and you know the rest. Not too many get into looking for programs-specifically little, unobtrusive ones-that help with everyday tasks. For instance: a program that kept all your programs (including itself!) up-to-date… now that would save you the trouble of looking for updates online. Then… something that lets you type in your native tongue (assuming you're familiar with it)? Useful indeed.

We've done some digging for you, and here's what we came up with. Give these programs a shot and see if they're worth the money you spend on them (which is Rs 0.00 each). We're guessing you'll be a happier computer user thereon.

Launchy's in-line search capabilities in action


Here's a lightweight open source program to quickly open any file on your computer. It's as unobtrusive as possible: it's invisible. Press [Alt] + [Space] and it pops up. So here's the  idea: say you want to open an Excel file buried where no mouse has gone before, begin entering the name of your desired file in the Launchy window, and possible matches will come up. Home in on your file and launch it right from the Launchy window-hence the name!

The program learns from past keystrokes, so as you keep using it, you'll find you need to press fewer keys before you find your file. Even if Launchy doesn't find a matching file, it will show you a list of all files that somewhat match what you've typed.

Now Launchy doesn't do black magic (or, to be racially neutral, blue magic). It indexes files, of course. To be able to find files of a certain extension, you need to first index those: for example, if you add the .EXE extension, programs will be indexed. In addition, stuff in the Start Menu is indexed by default.

If you're using this popular program at your workplace, you can index files on your intranet as well. Find Launchy on our March 2007 DVD. 


Those things in Word like "December (Press Enter to Insert)" are more of a pain in the behind than anything else. What you need is Texter to enter oft-used text (hence the name). So just assign a word like "addr" to a block of text-like your address-and when you type in "addr", your address is all typed out for you. This saves time, and more importantly, relieves the frustration of doing mindless things.

Adding Hoststrings in Texter

For the programmers out there: apart from basic text replacement, Texter has a set of predefined variables you can use to generate dynamic content (like the current date). For example, %| will assign the place to where the cursor should return to after text is replaced, as in, if you create a macro with the text block "Digit %| Is The Coolest", the cursor will position itself between "Digit" and "Is". Typing "{Tab}" will insert a tab where you need it. You can even combine variables.

Just to give you an idea of what Texter can do, you can highlight text and paste it elsewhere without having to do a copy-paste operation. You'd have to construct a simple macro: "^c %c {Space}". Here, "%c" is a predefined variable that means "paste clipboard contents along with a pre-defined block of text" to Texter.

Find Texter on our August 2007 CD.


Now if you need macros for just about any action, you need AutoHotkey. You could use it to replace blocks of text, but going beyond, you could do things like open your browser and several sites under tabs, make multiple directories, and shut down your computer after a download or copy action-in the blink of an eye. AutoHotkey, as you can see, takes macros to a new level.

Looks dificult,but is very easy to use

The program incorporates another one called AutoScriptWriter, which allows you to record macros. These can then be replayed. So you start up this program, press Record, do various actions, and press Stop. Then, playing back the macro will do all those various actions. We created a macro to capture screenshots and save them with IrfanView, in the .TIFF format, on the Desktop. Behind the scenes, AutoScriptWriter creates a macro file that contains the code for what is to be done. Find that macro-and the program itself-on our May 2007 CD.

Naturally, you can write your own macros. Learn about it at

Update Checker

The fastest way to find program updates

If you like to have all your software updated down to the last decimal, this little tool is most certainly for you. Update Checker runs a quick scan on all the programs on your computer, then opens up a Web page and tells you which ones can be upgraded.

It's not magic: the Update Checker Web site maintains a version number database of programs along with download information, which registered users can update. Upon a scan, Update Checker compares the version numbers there to those of the programs it finds. Next, a Web page with the download information for the new version is opened.

Find Update Checker on this month's CD. Update Checker runs on even Windows 98, provided you have .NET 2.0 framework installed.

Steganography Tools


The wizard mode is easiest to use     

The flowchart mode of wbStego4open

Steganography software is the digital equivalent of invisible ink. It lets you embed data inside other files. Secret data, of course.

So why use steganography-why not just ZIP your files with password-protection? Well, when you have a password-protected file of any sort, there's something to be explained if and when someone (like your mom or boss!) notices it. ("Hmm. So you're using passwords these days, are you? Tell me more…") Besides, passwords aren't completely safe.

With steganography, no-one will even know there's something hidden! Using the technique, you hide your file inside another, known as the carrier file.

Hide In Picture is once such tool: you can embed files into GIF and BMP images. You retrieve your data from the carrier file just by clicking Extract in the program. You can also password-protect the carrier file if you're so paranoid you think only you'll survive, and then embed that into another file… Find Hide In Picture on this month's CD or download it from http://sourceforge. net/projects/hide-in-picture.

A similar program is wbStego4open. This open-source, cross-platform tool allows you to embed data in BMP, text, HTML, and PDF files! Get this one from There are stego programs that allow you to embed data in zipped archives too.

wbStego4open has two modes-Wizard and Flowchart. The latter allows users we call "advanced" to embed / extract data, password-protect files, and compress the carrier file, all in one window.

Steganography opens up a cool one top-corporate-boss-to-another way of exchanging secret messages via e-mail. The sender and receiver need to have the same software installed, of course.

Tranparent Rainlender skins are also available


A cross-platform calendar software, Rainlendar is chock-full of all those much-needed everyday features like to-do lists, alarms, search capabilities, and printing support, apart from the expected calendar.

The software uses the official standard for calendar data exchange set by the Internet Engineering Task Force Calendaring and Scheduling Working Group, called iCalendar, so you can easily import and export entries between calendars. You can set up recurrent alarms, to-do entries, and calendar entries to record recurring events like birthdays, anniversaries, or the signing of an attendance register at work.

The Lite version is free; Pro costs €15 (Rs 850). The difference is that in the Lite version, there is no support for Outlook, Google Calendar, or calendars shared on a network. Both versions support the Lua scripting language, thereby allowing you to extend the calendar's functionality. 

Eye-candy comes in the form of the tons of skins available. Find Rainlendar Lite on our May 2007 DVD.



Change any video in any format

using DivXMachine

If your work involves managing many video files and changing their properties, DivXMachine will be downright useful. It integrates into the Explorer shell; when you right-click on an image or video file, it lists a host of formats and resolutions to which you can convert the file. You can select multiple files of the same file-type to be converted at once. Head to http://www. to see what media formats are supported.

The common filters like MP3 to OGG converters, AVI to DIVX are all bundleded with the software. You can select which filters you want to display in the Explorer shell. There are filters available to enhance the clarity of video called Avisynth filters. You can add these to enhance video clarity. DivXMachine lets you build custom Explorer shell menus from scratch using the bundled DMSI Menu Editor. Find DivXMachine on this month's CD.


An example of using Baraha


If you blog at, you've noticed that they now let you type Indian words in their native script by spelling them in English. This is called transliteration. For example, typing in "Aap Kaise Ho?" in English will display the words in the Devanagri script. Actually, there's a simple tool that lets you use transliteration technology to type out documents in Word, chat with friends on IM, and so on-in your language. It's called Baraha

With Baraha, you don't need to remember complex keystrokes to get the correct matra or letter in place. Just type the words as you would pronounce them in your native language, and they will be reproduced in the correct script on-screen. Baraha supports many Indian languages, and can work with Unicode as well as TrueType fonts. Unicode fonts allow programs to change their shape, size, and rendering; these are the "weird Chinese-looking character" fonts. TrueType fonts are the ones we generally use; they allow designers to define how their font should be rendered in any program, and they look the same on-screen and when printed.

Baraha Direct, bundled with the software, allows you to enter Indian text directly into MS Office applications and PageMaker. It's convenient-an icon in the system tray indicates the language to which the text is being transliterated. You can change the transliteration speed, change the language and change the format of the transliterated text between Unicode and TrueType.

Baraha features "learning" capabilities: it learns the spellings you use for words. For example, if you spell the Hindi word "Ma" as "Maa", Baraha can learn that-so it gets better over time at spelling your words correctly.

Note, however, that Baraha isn't quite perfect. It'll take some getting used to on your part, and some learning on the software's part.

Windows Explorer on steroids

Free Commander

A Windows Explorer alternative that packs a punch, FreeCommander is a portable application that can be used from a CD or USB stick (or from your hard disk, of course). Copy the installation directory to the media and use the program on any computer... just like that!

FreeCommander features a dual-panel window which, divides your screen into two halves. You can open folders in both these panels. If you choose to open more windows in the panel, they are displayed under tabs. You toggle between viewing folders in a column with sub-menus, or in rows. The software can handle archives to open ZIP, CAB, and RAR files. You can also preview images just like in the Explorer shell.

Apart from the usual copy, paste, rename, move, and delete functions, FreeCommander also allows you to delete files for good (shred them). It allows you to change the attributes of any file. While running a search, the software can even look inside compressed archives.

You can assign other programs to FreeCommander for opening specific filetypes. For example, freeware like ATViewer, which opens image files, can be downloaded from _en.htm.

A list of hotkeys you can use with FreeCommander can be found at Find FreeCommander on our March 2007 DVD. 

WinSplit Revolution

Select "Hotkey Settings" from the system tray icon to edit shortcuts

So you have this seventeen inch screen you are very happy with and you are constantly multi-tasking, opening up all those windows on the screen can be a tad confusing. WinSplit Revolution helps you align all those windows on the screen at the click of a button. Of course, you can do this manually too but using the software is much simpler!

If you still want to align your windows manually, the software allows you to snap them into place. Having said that, the auto-alignment ensures that your windows are aligned to the edge of the screen rather than "almost at the edge". To auto align all windows, you press [Ctrl] + [Alt] + [M]. To save any open program, [Ctrl] + [Alt] + [0].

A few other options include Windows Fusion, which splits the screen horizontally with the last two opened windows when the [Ctrl] + [Alt] + [F] shortcut is used. Pressing [Ctrl] + [Alt] + [M], to use the Mosaic function, you can split the screen in nine parts and have windows in all of them. If you have less than nine windows open, some will be larger and if you have more than nine windows open, the first nine will be tiled. You can also close all windows with the shortcut [Ctrl] + [Alt] + [C]. These shortcut keys can be changed too!

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