Tag Archives: webapps

Manage your to-do list on Android, iOS, and Chrome with Any.DO

Any.DO started as an Android-only solution to the public’s to-do list blues, and it did a damn good job of cheering us up. As a result, Any.DO became a both popular and critically acclaimed app by tech blogs everywhere. Personally, I’ve been a regular user of Any.DO for the past six months or so and I appreciate its minimalistic approach to list-making.

The strength of Any.DO lies in its simplicity. Rather than overcomplicating a simple task manager with endless menus and options, the focus is placed on entering tasks under simple headings like Today, Tomorrow, This Week, or Later.  The app is definitely gorgeous with bold typography and basic colour schemes, and though the Android version is clean and free of cheesy effects, the iOS app is (nauseatingly) made to look like crumpled paper.

It appears that the designers took some inspiration from Windows Phone, but you won’t hear me complaining about borrowing a few aesthetics from the most beautiful software ever. The app displays black text on a white background by default, but a dark theme allows you to reverse the coloration. Above all, it’s clean.

And if you’re in the market for a new task manager there’s never been a better time to pick up this app, especially now that it syncs across all the major platforms (only Windows Phone 7 is missing). Syncing is automatic once you register with the service or choose to sign up via Facebook.

The iOS App

iOS Any.DO - Home in Landscape
Any.DO on iOS in Landscape

Additional gesture-based controls have been implemented in the iOS version: drag down from the top of the screen to enter a new task (hold down after dragging to enter an item with your voice) and swipe right to cross out a completed task. Additionally, when entering an item for your list the app attempts to predict what you’re trying to type. It’s moderately useful at times — finishing “Buy” with “milk and bread” saves a bit of time) — and when the app adds a handy phone button beside names that exist in your address book.

Tapping on a task brings up a menu that allows you to set it to a higher priority, move it to a specific folder, assign a due date or note, or share it with friends. You can also drag items around to reorder and prioritize certain tasks over others, much like in the Android app. The iOS version takes better advantage of screen real estate than its Android counterpart, however, displaying a calendar alongside your task list when the device is in landscape mode. But with luck, this feature will appear on Android soon.

The Chrome App

Any.DO Chrome - Web Browsing
Any.DO while browsing in Chrome.

Of course, given its home on conventional desktops and laptops, the Any.DO Chrome app lacks the gesture-based controls of its mobile brethren. But the aesthetic remains consistent, though you’re unable to change the color scheme from the default white. Check marks are used to indicate completed tasks instead of swiping, but can still be reorganized by clicking and dragging. The app opens from an icon to the right of the address bar and drops down over your current browsing session — no need to open a new tab or window. But the option to pop Any.DO out into its own window is there for those of you who’d prefer.

Conclusion

As a light user of task-based apps, Any.DO is the one and only solution to my needs. The new Chrome and iOS apps mean I can finally sync lists across my Nexus S, iPad, and MacBook Pro (running Mac OSX and Windows 8 Release Preview).

The fact remains, however, that if you’re a heavy user the lists can get a bit cumbersome. Most items end up lumped into the Today category if they don’t have a due date so lists can get out of hand if you don’t pay attention. I still think it’s worth a try for anyone in need of a new task manager since it’s free and using folders may lessen the organizational load. If you do try it out, let us know what you think.

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Collaborate on Documents Online with ScribTex

ScribTeXLet’s talk about LaTeX. No, LaTeX (the document markup language and preparation system). For a majority of computer users, LaTeX is so far off their radars that it doesn’t exist. But for others — students, writers, scientists, academics — LaTeX is the way to write and typeset beautiful documents.

The problem with LaTeX, at least the typesetting software, is that it’s big. Really big. Which means that people who write and typeset documents with LaTeX are generally stuck in front of their computers or accessing servers. On top of that, when you’re collaborating with someone(s) on a document, you’re stuck either exchanging files over email, keeping them on servers, or using workarounds like Dropbox.

Not exactly the best or most efficient options in today’s web-enabled world.

Enter ScribTeX. It offers a way for you to write and typeset documents with LaTeX, no matter where you are or on what computer you’re working. And you can share your files and collaborate others, all in a very comfortable online space.

Let’s embrace our inner geeks a bit and take a closer look at ScribTex.

Signing Up

Head on over to the ScribTeX website. You can do one of two things:

  • Try it out, without creating an account. You won’t be able to save your work
  • Sign up for a free or paid account. You can learn more here

Let’s assume that you tried the demo, were impressed, and signed up for the free account. That’s what I did. Now it’s time to start writing.

Getting To Work

When you log into ScribTeX you’re taken to a dashboard that lists your projects. A project, obviously, is the document that you’re working on. It could just be the document itself, or it could also include graphics and other files.

ScribTeX dashboard

If this is your first time using ScribTeX, you won’t have any projects aside from the demo project that comes bundled with ScribTeX. Create a project by clicking New Project in the dashboard. When prompted, type a name for the project — like A Beginner’s Guide to the Linux Command Line — and then click Create.

ScribTeX new project

From there, you can either create a new file (click New File) or upload a file from your computer (click Upload File). If you created a new file, you’re presented with a blank slate. Literally. Just start typing LaTeX markup and words.

Editing in ScribTeX

When you’re done, click Save. If you’re wondering where your files are saved to, they’re stored in a secure online, Open Source version control system called GitHub.

Collaborating and Compiling

Chances are, you’re working on a document with others. So, you’ll need to share your project with them. To do that, your collaborator(s) will need a ScribTeX account. Then, open your project from the ScribTeX dashboard. Then, click the Collaborators link in the top left of the screen. Type the ScribTeX user name of the person and then click Add.

So, let’s say that you’ve finish a pretty solid draft of your document and want to see how it looks. Just open the file and click Compile. If all goes well, ScribTeX generates a PDF file. If you don’t want a PDF file, then you can change the compilation settings. You can read more about that here.

Keeping it Class(y)

In LaTeX, the look and feel of a document is controlled by class (.cls) and style (.sty) files. LaTeX comes pre-loaded with a few basic, usable class and style files. They’re OK, but they’re kind of plain. You can find more class and style files here.

You can upload class and style files in the same way you would a document file. They might not always work the way you expect them to, as you can read here.

Is That All?

Definitely not. ScribTeX tracks the revision history of a document, so if you do something strange or have an accident then you can grab a previous version. You can also work with documents that consist of multiple files.

And if you want to back up a project, just open the project from the dashboard. Then, click Download. ScribTeX creates a zip file and saves it to your computer.

What ScribTeX is Lacking

There are a couple of things. One is a spelling checker. We all make mistakes, and it’s nice to catch them before we convert that magnificent work we’ve been writing to a PDF for posterity. The spelling checkers built into the browsers I used with ScribTeX didn’t work; neither did third-party tools like After the Deadline.

A toolbar, which gives you quick access to formatting, would be a nice touch too. To be honest, working with tables and images in LaTeX is a chore, and lists aren’t always that fun either. To be able to add even simple ones with a click. This seems to be in the ScribTeX roadmap, though.

While LaTeX and, by extension, ScribTeX don’t and won’t appeal to everyone, ScribTeX definitely fills a niche. It makes writing and collaborating on LaTeX documents a bit more convenient. While ScribTeX still has a ways to go, it’s more than usable. And for some people bringing LaTeX to the so-called cloud is a good thing.

Converting Files Online, Quickly and Easily

ConverterEver come across a file that you can’t open? You know what I mean — an archive with the extension .rar or an Apple Numbers spreadsheet. We’ve all run into that situation before. And still do. Some of us more regularly than others, and yes, it can be frustrating.

Instead of running around trying to find desktop software, why not turn to the Web?

There are some very strong file conversion services available. Most of them are free, and they handle a number of file formats.  Unless you’re working with an ancient or obscure format, chances are these services will get the job done.

Zamzar

Zamzar converts it all — documents, images, videos, ebooks, archives, and even computer-aided design files. You can find a full list of the formats that Zamzar handles here.

It’s a powerful service, but also easy to use. How easy? Just go to the Zamzar site. Once there, you follow four steps.

First, click the Choose File button and in the window that opens, and find the file on your computer that you want to convert. That file can be a maximum of 100 MB.

Next, select the format that you want to convert the file to. The list of formats changes depending on the type of file that you’re converting. So, if you’ve uploaded a PowerPoint file, you won’t find an option to convert it to an OpenOffice.org Calc spreadsheet.

After that, enter your email address in the field on the page. You’ll be sent a link to the converted file.

Starting a conversion with Zamzar

 

Finally, click the Convert button. Depending on how large your file is, the conversion can take a few minutes or up to an hour. When it’s done, click the link in the notification email that Zamzar sends.

Zamzar email notification
Zamzar email notification

You have one day to download it before the files are deleted off the Zamzar server. If you want to keep the files available for longer, or want more features, you can sign up for a paid account.

Media Converter

Media Converter focuses on multimedia content — Web video, audio, and desktop video. You can point Media Converter to a URL or upload a file from your computer.

Like Zamzar, it’s easy to use. Media Converter uses a wizard which walks you through the conversion. Just go to the site and click either enter a link, upload a file, or browse Youtube. Depending on what you click, you’ll be asked for one of the following:

  • A URL
  • The file to upload from your computer
  • A word or phrase to search for on YouTube

After Media Converter finds what you want to convert, you can choose the kind of file that you want to output. You can also tell Media Converter that you want to set advanced options. The advanced options let you specify things like an audio or video codec, a bit rate, and the like.

Media Converter wizard
Media Converter wizard

When you’re ready to do the deed, click Start.

Ready to convert!
Ready to convert!

The conversion takes anywhere from a minute and up. Once the conversion is done, just click the link on the Media Converter page to download the file.

You’re allowed five conversions a day. If you want more, and  have access to more features, Media Converter also has paid plans. On top of that, there’s a Firefox extension available.

Final Thoughts

If you need to quickly and easily convert files, then Zamzar and Media Converter are great options. They’re fast and easy to use. And they’re convenient.

Photo credit: stocker

Greplin: Your Personal Search Engine

GreplinIf you use more than a couple of web applications, you know how difficult it can be to find things in those applications. Sure, services like Google Docs and Gmail have great built-in search, but services like Dropbox and Twitter … well, not so much.

With Greplin, you can search a number of popular web applications not just for files, but also words and phrases.

Let’s take a look at how to set up and use Greplin.

Getting Started

Head over to Greplin and sign up for an account. It’s free, although there are paid options (more on these in a bit). Once you’re in Greplin, click the Add button — it’s the green button with the plus sign in the middle. A list of Web applications and services that Greplin works with will appear.

Choose your service

At the moment, Greplin only works with 20 apps and services. To work with nine of those, you need to get a paid account. With three others, you can get access by referring other people to the service. So that leaves you with Gmail, Google Docs, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Google Calendar, and Google Contacts.

Searching with Greplin

You won’t be able to search immediately. Greplin has to index your accounts first. According to the developers, that takes about 20 minutes or so. Maybe a bit longer. So, go off and do some work or have a cup of tea while you’re waiting.

Search here

OK, let’s assume that 20 minutes have passed. Head back over to Greplin and start searching. The first way is to type the word or phrase that you’re looking for in the search box. Doing this will search all of the applications and services that you set up in Greplin for that term. That could be a lot of results.

To narrow things down a bit, click the dropdown list beside the search box. You can search:

  • The names of contacts
  • In your Twitter streams
  • Messages in Twitter and Facebook
  • Files

You can also select the any one of the applications and services that you set up to work with Greplin.

The results of a search

Once Greplin returns the results, click on any header to open that result in a new browser tab or window.

Limitations

There are a few. The biggest is the limited number of services with which Greplin works. It tackles 20 of the biggest names, but a few are missing. And to get access to about half of them, you need to pay $4.99 a month (or $49.99 a year). That’s not overly expensive, especially if you need to index and search a lot of material.

What you can search depends on the web application or service. With Dropbox, for example, Greplin doesn’t index and search text. It only indexes and searches file names. So if you plan to use Greplin as a search engine for Dropbox, remember to name your files descriptively. You can find a list of what Greplin can search here.

Still, if you need to find that tweet or that file you’ve archived online, then Greplin is a good option. It’s easy to use and fast. And it’s convenient.

Convert Web Pages to PDF, Quickly and Easily

Even though we live in an increasingly digital world, many people still can’t let go of paper. Look around any office (even your home office) and you’ll see a hard copy of some content from one website or another. The next time you’re on public transit, take a peek at your fellow passengers; chances are at least one of them is reading a printed web page.

But if you look closely at those print outs, you’ll see that there’s often a lot of paper wasted. When you print a web page, you’re printing exactly what you’re seeing on screen. All menus, headers, images, and other cruft. And let’s be honest: not all websites have a printer-friendly version.

If you need to print a web page, you can do it while saving some paper and ink. How? with a couple of nifty services called Print Friendly and Joliprint.

Print Friendly

Print Friendly takes a web page, cleans out things like ads and navigation menus, and leaves you with a plain page. From there, you can either print the page immediately or convert it to a PDF file. All you have to do is copy the URL of the page, then go to the Print Friendly website. From there, paste the URL into a field and click Print Preview.

Enter the URL

After a few seconds, a printer-friendly version of the page appears. In the preview, you can delete certain elements, change the size of the font, or get rid of all images on the page.

Setting options

Then, click either Print or PDF. If you click PDF, the service generates a stripped-down PDF file. The file is plain, but readable.

The resulting PDF

There’s also an email button, but I’ve never been able to get it to work for me.

Joliprint

Joliprint is somewhat similar to Print Friendly. The main differences are that you can’t delete elements on a page and Joliprint only creates PDF files. But it creates those files with a little more style than Print Friendly.

As with Print Friendly, you only need to copy and paste a URL into a field at the Joliprint website and then click joliprint it!.

Enter the URL

After a few seconds, you’re asked to download a PDF. And a nice PDF is it, too. It’s laid out in two columns and in a very nice, very readable font.

What a pretty PDF

Making Things Easier

Copying a URL, going to either site, pasting a URL in a field, and then clicking a button is a bit of a chore. You can cut out the a lot of that by adding a bookmarklet to your web browser. You can find instructions for doing that with Print Friendly and Joliprint at their websites. Once you add the bookmarklet, all you need to do is click a button.

If you have a website or blog, you can also add a Print Friendly or Joliprint button to it. It gives visitors to your site or blog an opportunity to generate a printer-friendly version of a post or a page. No need for you to worry about server-side trickery or using Cascading Style Sheets to create a printer-enabled version of your pages.

Print Friendly and Joliprint aren’t the only services to do this on the web, but they both do a great job, and are quick and easy to use. Both are great for archiving web content and printing. And best of all, they save time, paper, and ink.

Stream Music, Create Playlists, and Save the Party for Free with Grooveshark

Here is the situation: You’re at a party – the girls want to dance and your buddy wants to fist pump like a champ – but no one has any music. You spot an iPod in the corner and take a look at the selection, but all you see are 90’s boy bands and a playlist that only exists in Guitar Hero. But now a spark of genius hits you… Since they have an iPod, they must have a computer!

You look around again and spot a laptop next to the speaker system. Perfect!  Now here is the conundrum: do you hit up Pandora and let it roll, or do you go to YouTube and start building a video playlist?

The answer is neither – you go to Grooveshark.com.

It’s Grooveshark, Baby

Grooveshark is an online music search engine and music streaming website. It has a large collection of user-uploaded libraries for all your fist pumping needs.  The Grooveshark interface is very similar to that of iTunes, and features a side bar for most of its options. It is very intuitive and simple to navigate.

In the image below, you can see a few of the options provided to you upon entering Grooveshark. The My Library, People, New Playlist, and Favorites options are for VIP users which I have yet to try out. But what makes this website my go-to for streaming needs is that you don’t actually need to be a member to build a playlist.

All you need to do is search for your songs…

… And hit the plus button and the song will be added to your stream list at the bottom of the interface.

Grooveshark also has a few more interesting features that I enjoy.  The first is a repeat option which comes in handy if you have a song that you just can’t get out of your head. The next is a shuffle option, which is nice when you want to mix things up a little. The third option is the one I found most interesting, a cross fade option. This is unique because I haven’t seen it with any other music streaming websites.  (Crossfading blends adjacent songs in a playlist together as one ends and the new song starts, making a seamless transition to the new song.)

The Radio button is similar to how Pandora works where it will find songs similar to the ones you are listening to and it has a like/dislike feature.  Users can click the happy face or a sad face to specify their opinion on the song.

Another great feature is the Popular playlist which contains the most popular songs of the day (or the month, if you so wish). Click either the Today or This Month tab and hit the Play All or Add All option and you’re good to go.

Conclusion

So now the situation has turned around, the ladies are happy, your buddy can fist pump to his heart’s content, and you’ve saved everyone from the 90’s boy bands. What does that make you? It makes you a HERO, and its all thanks to Grooveshark.

Image credit: Dennis Crowley

Staff Picks: Top Web Apps and Software of 2009

Many great web applications and software emerged in 2009, so the staff at Techerator put together a list of their favorite or most used applications of 2009.  Let us know about your favorite software of 2009 in the comments at the bottom!

Evan Wondrasek

  1. Gmail – I’ve been using Gmail for a few years, but 2009 was definitely the year where I got the most out of it.  I love being able to import mail from several accounts into one Gmail account and keep them all organized with Multiple Inboxes.  [Check our our guides about Gmail]
  2. WordPress – You might not know this, but you’re using WordPress right now.  This website (and thousands of others) all use WordPress to create and manage content.  Just like all my favorite applications, WordPress supports plugins so you can expand it far beyond it’s core functionality. WordPress is some of the highest quality free software I have ever used.  [Check out our guides about WordPress]
  3. Twitter – I might be referred to as a Twitter addict.  I might also have a few Twitter t-shirts in my closet. Those allegations aside, Twitter has turned into my favorite social network and I find I’m getting more out of it every day.  If I ever have a problem (especially tech related), I typically Tweet about it first and my great group of followers can provide a solution.  [Check out our guides about Twitter]
  4. Firefox and Google Chrome – Is it cheating to list both of these in one spot?  I think not!  Firefox has been my favorite browser for years, but in the last few months (most notably when Chrome started offering support for extensions) I’ve been using Google’s browser almost exclusively.  Now if only Chrome supported a legitimate version of Tree Style Tabs…  [Check out our guides about Firefox and our articles about Google Chrome]
  5. Android – I fell in love with Google’s mobile operating system when I got my Motorola Droid.  Even though the Android Market is small and most applications are in early versions, I’ve discovered some fantastic applications that could never see the light of day in Apple’s app store (like the Google Voice app).

Dustin Patterson

  1. Dropbox – Dropbox is a great way to sync your files across multiple platforms including different operating systems and other portable devices.  The ability to share files and folders with other Dropbox users creates a great collaboration environment that I have been able to take advantage of this year.  [Checkout our guide Dropbox]
  2. Twitter – Probably one of the most talked about services of 2009, Twitter is a great way to keep up with people you know personally, and those you don’t. I have found Twitter to be a great way to keep up with people I’m interested in including directors, musicians, bloggers, and other tech enthusiasts. [Check out our guides about Twitter]
  3. Hulu – Although Hulu has been around for a couple of years now, I found myself watching more content on Hulu than on cable or over-the-air television this year. By having added a larger number of shows and easiler ways to access the content with software like Hulu Desktop, Hulu is one of my top web apps for 2009.
  4. Evernote – Evernote is one piece of software that I am still incorporating into my daily usage. With an essentially unlimited number of uses, Evernote allows you to keep track of just about anything. Its rich editor is available in both a web interface and desktop application and also has apps for many portable devices.
  5. Vibe Streamer – Probably my favorite piece of software this year, Vibe Streamer allows me to stream my music library to any computer with a Flash-enabled web browser. Whether I am at work or on the run, I always have my Vibe Streamer page open and am able to listen to anything from my music library with a couple clicks.  [Check out our guide on Vibe Streamer]

Reis Pritchard

  1. CCleaner – Every computer’s ‘apple a day’, though in my case it’s more like 10 bushels.  I use it constantly to remove digital junk from my computer. [Check out our guide to CCleaner]
  2. Steam – This online gaming network for PC brings Xbox LIVE to it’s knees in my biased opinion.
  3. Xmarks – I fell in love with this online bookmark management system after they announced support for the Google Chrome web browser. [Check out our guide to Xmarks]
  4. WLAN Optimizer – A very small, relatively unknown tool that has given me huge relief with my Vista and Windows 7 installations.  One of its features cancels the background scan for new networks and has fixed many people’s wireless issues (particularly in gaming and audio/video streaming).
  5. Netflix – Online movie rentals and instant streaming via PC, Xbox 360, PS3, and many other devices.

Kevin Schulte

  1. Gmail – Is there really any question why this is on here? Gmail makes other web based e-mail services look archaic and unusable. [Check our our guides about Gmail]
  2. Bruce Schneier’s Blog – Bruce’s musings on security are always relevant, entertaining, and informative. There’s a reason why he’s at the top of his field.
  3. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal – Definitely ranks as one of my favorite web comics. While everyone loves XKCD, it can be spotty at times. Zach Weiner churns out consistently funny material on a near daily basis.
  4. Dragon Age: Origins – BioWare at their finest. Dragon Age delivers with a top notch storyline and classic BioWare gameplay that brings back pleasant memories of Neverwinter Nights and the Baldur’s Gate series. Without a doubt my personal game of the year.
  5. Rock, Paper, Shotgun – The authority on PC gaming. I’m amazed at how much information RPS is able to produce every day. If it’s relevant to PC gaming, RPS has it covered.

Derek Dahlen

  1. Google Voice – I haven’t yet had the chance to fully utilize Google Voice (lack of Google Voice app for Windows Mobile is responsible for that 🙁 ), but I really think this is the future of telephony. It offers free services that exceed anything I get from my wireless provider. [Check out our guide to Google Voice]
  2. Brizzly – This web UI replacement for Twitter is full-featured, yet simplistic. This is what twitter’s web client should be.  [Check out our guide to Brizzly]
  3. Google Maps – Whether I’m browsing maps looking at the street view in far off lands or checking the local traffic conditions, I seem to find Google Maps perpetually open in one of my tabs.
  4. Pandora – Over the year, I’ve had a resurgence in my use of Pandora due to their expansion into mobile applications. Nothing beats taking Pandora on road with you.  [Check out our guide to using Pandora without a browser]
  5. Google Chrome – Google Chrome has become my primary browser of choice in 2009. With its speedy rendering and increased screen real-estate, it certainly has made itself one of the top browsers in the market. With the release of Chrome extensions, I feel like this piece of software will have a great year in 2010.  [Check out our articles about Google Chrome]
  6. (Honorable MentionSteam – Steam has been around for quite a while, but I feel it deserves much more credit than it gets. I remember back when I had to actually go to the store and buy a physical copy of a game. Steam delivers 100% of the content over the internet. (The only downside to Steam being the elimination of the second hand sales.)

David Carman

  1. Twitter – I really used it a lot this year.  I Started following a lot of cool people and found it to be a great tool to communicate with new people as well as current friends.  [Check out our guides about Twitter]
  2. Amazon – Used it a lot more this year than most, not for any specific reason but I just found myself ordering more and more from it versus other places.
  3. Hulu – As Hulu included more and more shows I find myself watching more and more on Hulu instead of using other methods to get TV.  In fact, I didn’t get TV when I moved into my apartment, and I don’t even feel like I need to.

Patrick Vinge

  1. Dropbox – Dropbox has been around for awhile now but with the ability to upgrade space for free now by inviting people, it is better then ever.  This year we have also seen a lot of Dropbox “hacks” to bring out the full potential of the service.  [Check out our guide to Dropbox]
  2. Twitter – Twitter is huge and only getting bigger.
  3. Google Voice – The single most useful Android app released to date.  Google Voice’s transcription service isn’t spot on yet but it is coming along nicely and honestly, having a “close enough” transcription works for me.  [Check out our guide to Google Voice]
  4. Pandora – Recently I have been reaching my monthly maximum limit over and over again, but you can’t ask for much more then 40 free hours of music a month.  [Check out our guide to using Pandora without a browser]
  5. Quicksilver – A must install app on all systems running Mac OS X.  With the ability to launch and search applications in one quick keyboard shortcut, it will save you a considerable amount of time.  Windows users should check out Launchy for a suitable equivalent.

Michael Green

  1. Firefox – I had previously been an Internet Explorer user and I am really glad I made the switch.  I really like all of the options for add-ons.  I love the Folders 4 Gmail Greasemonkey script because it shortened up the length of my labels A LOT.  [Check out all of our guides about Firefox]
  2. Gmail – I have been using Gmail for a while but after reading about getting organized in Gmail and utilizing filters to sort my messages, I really like the way Gmail works for me now.  I have set up a couple of filters to send my work emails to a folder which skips my inbox so my phone doesn’t blow up every time I get a work email which is great.
  3. Clone DVD by Elaborate Bytes and AnyDVD by Slysoft – With this combination of programs I have been able to burn every DVD I own to make backups.  AnyDVD is a decryption program that is updated at least 2 times a month to account for the most recent DVD protection codes.
  4. DVDShrink and Mediacoder iPod/iPhone Edition – With DVDShrink I am able to reauthor DVD’s so that I can save just the main title of a DVD as an ISO file.  DVDShrink also allows me to adjust the compression ratio on the title I am saving which is nice because it saves a lot of room in the end when I put the file onto my phone or iPod for watching.  Mediacoder takes the ISO file and converts it to an MP4 file.  This program program has a friendly UI, but sometimes it takes around 3 hours to convert the ISO file into an MP4. Both of the programs are free so that is a definite bonus to be able to convert any DVD into an MP4 for free.
  5. Microsoft Excel – If I made this list in order of most useful programs this would be my #1 and not my #5.  As an engineer I really don’t have any idea what I would do with out Excel.  I use it in just about every one of my classes and it saves me a lot of time.  I have been using the 2010 beta version lately but it seems to be pretty similar to the 2007 version with some changes in paste options being the biggest thing that I have noticed.