29 April 2007

#18. Small, Powerful, and Free

This week the Jonathan’s Tool Bar & Grill menu is all tapas – a collection of tasty appetizer-size morsels instead of a heavy meal. Here are a few great utilities that solve some little problems, and that I appreciate more every time I use them.


I’m sitting at my desk with Shania Twain blaring from my computer when the phone rings. Must I fumble for the elusive Windows volume icon in the system tray, click it, then drag a slider to lower the volume before answering the call? Not anymore.

A brilliantly simple little utility, VoluMouse, puts a volume slider under the mouse wheel in the task bar. Just hover the mouse anywhere over the Windows task bar and roll the wheel to boost or reduce the volume. Shania’s whine drops immediately to a whisper, and I can take the call.

You can download VoluMouse and many other handy utilities at http://www.nirsoft.net/. If you like any of them, I encourage you to send some money to the author, Nir Sofer.


Where the @#$% is that file I was working on at the end of last week? What did I call it?

Documeron remembers its name and where to find it. This program keeps track of all the files you open. Hover over its system tray icon, and a list of recent files pops up. Click one and it opens in its native application. Right-click to perform file operations (open, delete, copy, move, print, etc.).

Click the Documeron icon to open the full window, where you can filter the file list by date or file type and perform file operations.

Documeron is free from http://documeron.mutexdevelopments.com/.

A similar utility, ActualDoc, offers more functions, such as search, a viewer pane, bookmarking, and basic editing. However, the interface is rather complicated, and my preferences for file locations and types did not persist to the next session. The Standard version is free but limited, so I recommend a free trial of the Professional version (€19.95) at http://www.flexigensoft.com/.


When I’m on a typing roll, my fingers really fly – and there’s no telling where they’ll land. But Web sites and some applications don’t check your spelling. That’s when the free TinySpell comes in handy. TinySpell sits in the system tray, waiting to pounce on your every little mistake. When it detects a typo, the tray icon turns color and beeps. Click the icon for a list of correctly spelled words and pick the right one, and TinySpell replaces it on screen. (The dictionary contains over 110,000 words in American English.)

I use TinySpell less these days, since my favorite browser, Firefox 2, incorporated spell-checking of its own. TinySpell has some drawbacks for fast, bad typists like me: I’m often well past the misspelled word by the time the beep sounds – too late to pick a correction – and anyway the incessant beeps become annoying. (You can turn it off, but then you’ll miss errors.)

TinySpell+, the $7 upgrade, is much better. You can go back and fix the last error, even if you have typed some words since then. It can also flag capitalization problems, ignore Internet addresses, and more.

TinySpell is a gem for sloppy typists, especially those who don’t use Firefox. TinySpell is available from http://tinyspell.m6.net/.

New Versions of Old Favorites

Just in time for Mothers’ Day, upgrades of some great programs have recently appeared, all featuring Vista support:

  • WinPatrol – I reviewed this great security application in #11 (February 10), and now it’s even better. http://www.winpatrol.com/.
  • SecureZip – PKware, the original publishers of PKZip, have just started offering this file encryption utility for free. I have not reviewed it yet, but it has received favorable mentions elsewhere. http://www.securezip.com/.
  • IrfanView – This is probably the best-known free image viewer and editor, and for good reason… and new version 4 brings more improvements. http://www.irfanview.com/.
  • TraxTime – My favorite punch clock application, which I have been using for many years, recently moved up to version 5. I plan a thorough review in the near future. It’s shareware from http://www.traxtime.com/.

Thanks for dropping in to the Tool Bar & Grill. Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking “comments” below or dropping me a line to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com. And be sure to stop by again next week!

22 April 2007

#17. Putting Movies On Disk Shouldn't Be Hard

Hello again from Jonathan’s Tool Bar & Grill, where every week you’ll find new recommendations of useful free and cheap software and cool Web sites. Don’t forget to set a reminder to check this blog every week!

Converting movie files in AVI, MPG, or other formats for burning onto disks and playing in DVD players can be either simple or cheap, but not both. The expensive commercial programs try to simplify the process of converting, copying, and burning movies onto DVDs, but even their interfaces can be confusing. And the free utilities I have tried tend to get bogged down in technicalities.

All is not lost, however. I have found a few utilities that make the time-consuming chore at least bearable. But first you must decide whether you’re impecunious or impatient.

Free AVI Conversion

For converting AVI (including DivX and XVid) files to DVD format for free, I recommend Avi2Dvd. This program comes bundled with other free, public domain utilities, such as encoders, that carry out various steps in processing your files. Many other freeware converters require you to choose and download encoders separately.

Avi2Dvd’s bustling interface is hardly simple, and some technical knowledge is needed to make sense of its many options and to work through the multistep procedure for converting files. File conversion can take many hours, and occasionally fails in the middle. But Avi2Dvd is still the best free solution I have found so far.

The Avi2Dvd home page is at http://www.trustfm.net/divx/SoftwareAvi2Dvd.html. You also should get the official fractured-English instructions from http://www.trustfm.net/divx/GuideAvi2Svcd.html before attempting a conversion. And you’ll still need a burning utility to copy the resulting file onto a DVD (many free burning tools are available).

Easy AVI Conversion

If you can’t be bothered with the technical complexities and are willing to pay to get the job done right, I recommend WinAVI Video Converter. This all-inclusive package supplies everything you need to convert AVI, MPG, and many other formats to DVD, CD, or VCD or to the other supported formats. It can convert batches of files at once. It even burns the resulting files onto disks, so there’s no need for a separate burning utility.

The WinAVI interface is simple and easy to use. Less confusion also means slightly fewer options than Avi2Dvd provides, but I like the trade-off. Best of all, in my trials WinAVI completed the job relatively quickly, and rarely failed.

You can download a free evaluation version of WinAVI or buy the full package for $29.95 (US) at http://www.winavi.com. It’s well worth the price.

Free DVD Backup

Commercially published DVDs hold double the data capacity of a standard blank DVD. If you want to back up a commercial DVD in your library, you need a special utility to compress the file, and perhaps to strip out the extra video material often stuffed onto such disks. Most commercial movies also are encoded for only one region, so if you want to watch your movies in another part of the world, you might need a utility to remove the region code. DVD Shrink does all this for free.

In my limited tests, I have found DVD Shrink to be effective and reliable. And DVD Shrink’s interface is fairly straightforward, once you learn how to configure its settings. All of which might make the movie moguls very unhappy.

You can find DVD Shrink download sites at http://www.dvdshrink.org/where.html, and get more information and instructions at http://www.mrbass.org/dvdshrink.

Note: I do not advocate reproducing copyrighted material, and this advice is not intended to help anyone commit copyright violations.

As always, I urge you to donate money to the authors of freeware that you like and use regularly. You will find donation links on the Avi2Dvd and DVD Shrink home pages.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s Tool Bar & Grill, and that you have read all the previous columns, too (see the links to the right). Please send me your suggestions by clicking “comments” below or dropping me a line to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com. See you here next week!

15 April 2007

#16. Save Time Opening and Saving Files

Welcome once again to Jonathan’s Tool Bar & Grill, where the hot tips keep coming – now every week! Check this space each Sunday for more insightful reviews of great software and Web sites.

Time-Savers for File Operations

Don’t you get tired of clicking through layer after layer of folders to get to the file you want to open, or to save your current file in the right directory? I sure do. It used to take me five clicks to drill down from the root folder to my favorite country music – but not anymore. Not since I discovered FileBox eXtender.

With FileBox eXtender, you can jump to the deepest folder in just two clicks. FileBox eXtender puts two new buttons at the top of your Open, Save, and Save As dialog boxes and Windows Explorer:

  • Click the heart button to drop down a list of your favorite folders. You maintain this list by adding the folders you want to visit with one more click.

  • Click the clock button to drop down a list of the folders you have visited most recently. FileBox eXtender maintains this list automatically.

FileBox eXtender offers some other cool aids. For example, it can expand the size of the Open and Save dialog boxes. It also adds two other buttons to application windows. One keeps the window on top of all other windows al the time. The other rolls it up like a window blind, showing only the title bar, and rolls it back down again. I haven’t found a use for these yet, but maybe you will.

Note: FileBox eXtender works on all versions of Windows up to XP, but no Vista update is planned. But if you’re sticking with XP for a while longer, download FileBox eXtender absolutely free from http://www.hyperionics.com/.

Windows Update Alert: RTHDCPL.EXE My #$%!

Did you started getting mysterious error messages a couple of weeks ago, each time you booted your computer? Millions of other Windows users did, too. The messages were titled “RTHDCPL.EXE Illegal System DLL Relocation” and began disturbingly with “The system DLL user32.dll was relocated in memory. The application will not run properly.”

Don’t worry. You didn’t do anything wrong. These messages were the result of a bug in a recent Windows security update that conflicted with a Realtek sound card driver. And Microsoft already has fixed it as part of its latest patch download. If you have not updated your computer in the last week, you can download the fix from a link in the Knowledge Base article that describes the problem and its solution at http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=935448.

Thanks for reading me! I’d love to read you too, so please write back to me by clicking “comments” below, or drop me an email to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com. And set yourself a reminder to check back here every Sunday for new information that might change your life!

08 April 2007

#15. WordWeb, Your Dictionary On Disk

Words are on the menu at today’s Tool Bar & Grill. All the words you can eat, with plenty left over for the doggie bag. They’re all served up piping hot by WordWeb, an excellent dictionary, thesaurus, and linguistic tool.

Where do you go to look up word definitions, spelling, synonyms, and antonyms? There’s the thick dictionary on the bookshelf, but that’s so 1980s. There are lots of good free dictionaries on the Internet; some of my favorites are Merriam-Webster (m-w.com), dictionary.com, and answers.com. But you have to be on line, and the answers can come rather slowly. Multi-glossary Babylon is another valuable tool, but it costs $59. My choice is WordWeb.

WordWeb puts a fairly complete dictionary on your hard disk (the whole package takes up about 13 MB). It’s fast, easy to use, and best of all, free. Select a word on screen and hit the hot key or the tray icon, and WordWeb pops up with the word’s definition. Or just open WordWeb and type the desired word.

WordWeb version 5.0 has just been released. Among its useful features:

  • Definitions
  • Synonyms and antonyms
  • Filter by part of speech
  • Relationships to other words according by concept, as classified by the WordNet project of Princeton University
  • Click to hear the word spoken (using Windows’ text-to-speech facility)
  • Click to see other definitions on the Web

Here’s how WordWeb looks:

You can find more information about WordWeb’s free and paid Pro versions (with a larger word base and more advanced linguistic tools) at http://www.wordweb.info/. Download the free version from http://wordweb.info/free.

Do you have a better idea? Type your comments, complaints, and compliments below, or mail me at jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com. And do come back next week for more valuable tips on the best utilities and Web sites.