Write, compose and catalog all of your original music with TuneSmith

As an aspiring musician, at least in my day, I wrote over 150 different songs, including lyrics for a musical. However, back when I was writing, during the 1980’s and 1990’s, I didn’t have any of the computer-based music writing tools that exist today. Songwriters have a lot to be thankful for, especially in tools like TuneSmith. It’s a tool that helps you write, compose and catalog all of your original music.

No matter where you are – at home, on the road or in the studio – TuneSmith provides you with the tools you need to easily enhance your song lyrics and to effortlessly administer your growing song catalog. TuneSmith allows you to focus on your craft using a robust lyrics editor. With comprehensive text styles, a handy revision history and extensive search capabilities, you’re certain to insure that every new lyric can be the best it can be. Some of the most difficult rhymes and meters can be easily resolved with TuneSmith’s integrated version of Rhyme Genie. When needed, you also easily be able to rekindle emotions from past writing sessions from your complete clipboard history of previously selected rhymes for each song in progress.

Knowing that the creative juices don’t always flow in a logical order, TuneSmith allows you to keep a pitch journal, allowing you to keep track of your hot ideas, tracks and to breathe new life into classic songs. You can manage all essential information about your copyright registrations, cowriters, and potential cover artists. TuneSmith is a professional grade tool that works for the serious professional as well as thrill seeking amateurs. You can keep track of different demos, album cuts and capture memorable melodies, riffs, and runs with its easy to use audio recorder.

Read full review | Download TuneSmith for WindowsDownload TuneSmith for Mac

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Quickly and easily create industry compatible PDF’s with Nitro PDF Pro

Creating PDF’s is pretty common place now-a-days. There are a number of different products that you can download and install to quickly “print” to PDF. Having in one is important, as sharing information in a non-editable format is often important.  However, sometimes, you need to edit those PDF’s you get. It’s at times like those that I really like using Nitro PDF Professional. It’s on my short list of must have Windows apps.

Nitro Pro lets you quickly create, convert, combine, edit, sign, and share 100% industry-standard PDF files. It’s easy-to-use PDF tools make working with digital documents pain free. You can save time and effort with easy-to-use PDF creation tools that don’t require you to open a file before converting it.

One of Nitro PDF Pro’s best features is its tight integration with Microsoft Windows. This integration means you can create PDF files the way you prefer, such as drag and drop, right click, or within the application. The conversion process is very easy.  You simply drag files from within Windows Explorer or the Desktop into Nitro Pro. Its integration also extends to Microsoft Office.  You can print to PDF from the ribbon toolbar in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.  If needed, Nitro PDF Pro also supports batch convert collections of different files – like reports, spreadsheets, drawings, and presentations – all in one task. It’s easy to combine documents into a searchable, easy-to-share PDF file.

Read full review | Download Nitro PDF Pro

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Xfire – an instant messaging systems for gamers

My oldest son is 6, and he’s turning into quite the gamer. Without being able to read well at all, he was able to complete Pokemon Silver on his Nintendo DSiXL, much to the surprise of me and most of the Geek Squad at the local Best Buy. We don’t have a an X-Box360 or PS3 in the house yet, as most of the games that you’d want those consoles for aren’t age appropriate for my boys. They also don’t have a gaming class PC available to them…yet. However, for those that do, you really want to check out Xfire. It’s a must have gaming utility for Windows

Xfire is the kind of gaming utility that you were wondering would make its way on to the internet a decade or so ago, it’s that cool. With it, you find the games you play. It then tracks how long you play them; and allows you and your friends to find each other so that you can play together.

Once you finally hook up, you can use Xfire to coordinate strategy, strikes and game play. You can chat with other Xfire users, as well as your friends on AIM, Google Talk, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo! Messenger without exiting the game. If you have a hoard to command or are trying to coordinate a multiplayer strike against the enemy, you can bring your friends into a group chat. Best of all, you’re not confined to texting or IM. If the situation requires you to keep your hands on the controls, you can bring everyone into a voice chat and bark orders without a hit to performance or ping.

Read full review | Download Xfire

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Office 15 Speculation

Okokokok…We may as well go here – With Windows 8 Consumer Preview due 29-Feb-12, and all the Office on a tablet talk, we may as well get out our Office 15 crystal balls and see what we can see…

My good friend and former co-worker, Paul Thurrott is probably one of the very few people I know of who has a good handle on what’s going on inside Redmond’s walled garden (the other is MaryJo Foley…)  When I’ve got a question or two that no one else seems to know the answer to related to Microsoft and what they’re thinking, Paul’s usually the one I ask. His Windows Super Site is probably one of the best resources on the internet.

Windows 8’s Consumer Preview is due out on 29-Feb-12.  Office 15 Technical Preview (due out to their technical beta team, or by invite only) will be released shortly after that.  Paul’s pulled together some interesting screenshots on both.

From what I know from my own work in the industry and from the contacts I do have, Office 15 is going to be tablet, or more appropriately put, more touch-screen-centric than previous versions of Office.  Look for a cleaner, less cluttered interface.  The final disposition of the Ribbon and Quick Access Toolbar are undecided; or at the very least, I couldn’t find any corroborating information regarding their fate.

I’ve heard a lot of information regarding Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. I have heard ZILCH about any of the other suite components. Most notably absent is any real news regarding Outlook 15. Which brings me to the screen shots on Paul’s site…

You can clearly see full sized screen shots of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.  The interfaces that are shown are clean and provide a great deal of space in which to work.  However, without any real understanding of where the Ribbon is, how the individual app menus are structured and whether or not they’ve moved and reorganized everything, it’s difficult to say what level of improvement or value-add they offer over Office 2010.  The screens that Paul has displayed also linked to any larger shots or screen renders. We also don’t know if we’re looking at the WOA version of Office 15 or the full desktop client.

I was hoping to have a bit more, here kids; but solid information on what to expect with Office 15 is scarce.  I’m hoping that my TechNet subscription will get me access to the Tech Preview bits so that I can take a closer look at the software. If I can get a look at it, I’m certain I’ll develop an opinion to express…

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Windows 8 Part 1 – Repeating Windows 7 Success

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview (or Beta) is due out on 29-Feb-12 at Mobile World Congress. While it may be strategically important to Microsoft, consumers may not thing so.

I’ve been part of nearly every Windows Technical Beta Team since Windows 95. I’m used to being one of Microsoft’s go-to external testers. I also was part of their Windows 7 Launch, as I was chosen in 2009 to host a Windows 7 Launch Party at my home. I covered the event for a local paper as well, and spun off into a print column for them called, “Technically Speaking.” At the time of its release, Windows 7 was the right operating system for Microsoft’s ailing desktop operating system business – It provided enough of a reason to compel enterprise users to move away from Windows XP, and wasn’t the consumer-worrying, performance deprived, hardware consuming mess that Windows Vista was.

With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft is hoping to address two big issues.

1. Repeat the Windows 7 success
2. Address the tablet trend

In this two part series, we’re going to look at both of these issues and try to make sense of it all.

Windows 7 vs. Windows 8 – Repeat the Success

There are a couple basic reasons why Windows 7 was so successful, and both of them are operating system related. Interestingly enough, both reasons have nothing do to with Windows 7.

Windows 7 wasn’t Windows XP

Windows 7 owes a lot of its past and current success to Windows XP. WinXP was released over 11 years ago. It stuck around in the enterprise for so long because it was solid. Even though it still has a number security issues, it’s still a huge player in the enterprise space because of XP’s longevity and familiarity with IT support staff. Simply put, they’ve been working with it for so long, they’re familiar with the pain it causes, know where the problems are, and know how to deal with them.

However, its time has come and gone. Many companies that are still running the aged OS are in the process of phasing it out of the enterprise and are making in the process of drafting or implementing approved Windows 7 migration plans. IT support staff members feel confident that their users will be able to effectively make the transition without too many use or support issues. It’s enough like XP that users will be able to make a smooth transition, and improved enough that the support issues encountered with XP have been successfully and effectively addressed. Microsoft had also clearly made its plans for sun setting the OS widely known.

Simply put, Windows 7 was a success because the need for an XP replacement was clear. XP needed a replacement and the enterprise and consumer public was more than ready for it.

Windows 7 Clearly was NOT Windows Vista

One of the biggest reasons why Windows 7 was such a success was that it clearly was NOT Windows Vista. While Vista may have introduced a new interface, desktop theme and new technology, it unfortunately came with a lot of problems.

Microsoft moved everything. Windows XP users moving to Vista had a huge problem using the OS. Many of the features and functions that they were used to going to in location X were now located in location Z (location “Y” would have made sense, but MS seemed to randomly move things to new locations that only THEY understood the reasoning behind…).

Vista was late to market. The OS, originally code named Longhorn, was well over 7 years late being released. Worse yet, it was riddled with performance issues. Correcting them was easy and after SP1 was released, it actually wasn’t a bad OS.

Its problems were marketing in and PR-based. Windows 7 didn’t have a hard time being a success. In fact, based on Vista’s bad PR and XP’s overly long longevity, Windows 7 couldn’t have been much else other than a success. Microsoft did what it needed to do to address some interface and user experience issues, further improved the underlying performance and put some marketing money behind the release. The result was instant success.

Come back next time, and we’ll address some items in the Windows 8 Developer’s Preview and what’s supposed to be happening with the Consumer Preview to address the increasing popularity of tablets at both home and at work.

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Create mind maps with CmapTools

Cmap Tools is a powerful software package that allows you to create “mind maps” or concept maps — graphical representations of interrelated data, items or abstract concepts. A concept map consists of “bubbles”, each containing a specific item, with each bubble connected to related concepts by a line. Concept maps can be very useful for teaching; they also make an excellent planning strategy. They’re ideal for many different situations — great for groups and organizations and also perfect for individual planning, project development and decision making. Whether you’re introducing a subject to a class of young children, coming up with a new product, organizing lecture notes, deciding on the decor for your home or writing a novel, concept maps offer a way of structuring information so as to aid comprehension and inspire new ideas.

Cmap Tools gives you everything you need to translate your idea, approach or topic into a graphical format that’s easy to understand. The software comes with pre-made graphics templates, tools for drawing, editing, linking and adding concepts. This versatile software is suitable for virtually any organization — schools, universities, large and small businesses, and charities. Cmap tools has powerful sharing and collaborative features. You can synchronize maps, allowing a group of maps to be edited at the same time. You can link maps together and share maps you’ve made with others. Cmap Tools lets you export your completed maps in web format, ready to upload onto the Internet. You can also distribute maps made with Cmap Tools via Cmap Servers.

read full review | download CmapTools

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Kindle Fire Lacks (even BASIC) Purchase Controls

Let’s face it, despite what Amazon has to say, the Kindle Fire really just isn’t kid friendly…

I bought my wife a Kindle Fire for Christmas. After a couple of days hesitation with the device, she really got into it, and now, really likes it. Small, easy to carry and for her AND the kids to use, it’s become a standard in her daily gadget line up. In fact, neither her nor the kids have it far from them during the day. Clearly, a sign of a good purchase and gift decision on my part.

However, the tablet, and subsequently Amazon’s ecosystem, have a major flaw in them; and it’s one that you won’t even bump into unless you either have kids that share your Fire or you lose/misplace the device – it has absolutely NO purchase controls.

If you order the device directly from Amazon, the device comes in a clearly MARKED box and comes preactivated with links directly to your credit card and your account. Anyone smart enough to intercept the shipment will have the ability to purchase away inside of Amazon’s online store, with YOU responsible for all of the purchases.

Strike one – Pre-activation

The device itself doesn’t have any method, or way of either excluding your purchasing credentials/credit card info or even password protecting all purchases with your Amazon.com site password. If you have the device, again, you have direct access to your account, and as long as you have money in your debit account, available credit on your card, etc., anyone possessing the device can make all the purchases they want.

Strike two – Have device, can purchase

When I confronted Amazon with this HUGE security (and frankly, clearly common sense) hole, they let me know that Amazon addressed this by putting a password on Wi-Fi access, so if you wanted to prevent purchases, you could password protect the device’s ability to get online.

This made me to a double take; and really ticked me off.

Strike three – Failure to address the specific issue: Purchase control

I think Amazon wants to differentiate themselves in the tablet market by giving their users the clear ability to purchase anything and everything they would want or need on the Kindle Fire without having to enter a password. Really..?! Am I the only one who sees this huge security hole? I give them points for wanting this to be easy, but talk about your advanced identity theft tools..! Apparently, all I need to steal someone’s credit is not their credit card number, their social security number or any of their personal, private information. All I really need is their Kindle Fire.

Nice.

Let’s forget the real world scenario that I bumped into with my 4 year old ordering an entire season’s worth of Olivia, and that I just want to gate purchases on the device with the linked account’s Amazon password (which you see on every Apple iDevice in town, including the iPad). According to Amazon, this is unreasonable. It’s also something they are NOT going to address.

They’ve given users the ability to limit the use of Wi-Fi instead. You need Wi-Fi to make purchases. With Wi-Fi password protected, you can’t purchase new content. That’s true; but it also fails to address the problem. The Kindle Fire is a content streaming device.

Amazon Prime’s streaming service requires an internet connection. The Fire is a Wi-Fi only device, and in order to view/stream content that I’ve already purchased, Wi-Fi must be on. Effectively want Amazon is telling me is that I have to unlock Wi-Fi every time my child wants to view content that’s already been purchased…and once they are streaming content, I have to watch them watch it so that they don’t go looking for something else.

But, as I said, let’s forget this and the fact that its backwards.

The unlocked device represents a huge security hole. Amazon needs to address this with a software update and needs to require the account holder’s Amazon password for all purchases and not for Wi-Fi access. Until it does, Kindle Fire, and really ALL Kindle owners, need to be careful about where they store their Kindle, who has access to the device, and who is using it. You could find yourself the recipient of a HUGE content bill if your kids, or worse, a thief, happen to get a hold of your device and make unauthorized purchases.

NOTHING you can do, either on the web site or on the device, aside from crippling it, can prevent unauthorized purchases; and this is clearly documented by a number of different complaints and posts in Amazon’s own forums.

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JPCSP – The Java PSP Emulator

Programming a console emulator is a tricky proposition, especially for a relatively more recent console such as the Playstation Portable. The Java-based open-source JPSCP emulator is however a strong piece of software, suitable for both playing existing games and testing out your own projects.

As an open-source project there is a strong community behind the software, so any problems can be brought to the attention of the project’s forum for swift advice and help. However, more documentation with the download would be helpful, as it can take time to trawl through forum posts to find the information you are looking for.

The download is compact and the emulator is easy to install and set up, with controls and compatibility features easy to tweak, even for those without technical knowledge. The interface itself is basic but functional, with a graphical control allocation feature making assigning controls basically idiot-proof. You just click on the PSP graphic to assign controls.

The major downside is that the list of compatible games is small, however the range is growing. Some games may run a bit slowly, especially on older hardware.

JPCSP is certainly worth having if you want to play one of the games on its compatibility list or test your own projects. While it is relatively easy to use, more documentation would be helpful.

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