View and play all of your media with AK Player

Playing media where and when you want it isn’t always easy, especially with today’s complex ecosystems and new compression algorithms. Playing Flash content while disconnected is also a problem. Adobe doesn’t make an offline player. This is why I like AK Player. It’s a cool media Player for Windows.

AK Player allows you to watch videos from your favorite internet sites, even when you aren’t connected.  This free media player can download content from your favorite media website, like YouTube, and then play it while you’re offline.  One of the reasons why it does this and does this so well is due to its dual media player engines. It plays just about everything.

The app is almost compatible with any and every file format out there.  This is important since there are so many different audio and video formats.  With AK Player all you really need is its one, dual engine player.  However, I did have trouble getting it to play iTunes compatible media, as well as DRM’ed files, although that last one wasn’t surprising.

AK-Player can play multiple files at the same time, something which really sets it apart from virtually every other media player out there. Even better is the fact that you can control the volume or mute or unmute the audio in each individual window that you have open. It has a global volume control, too. When you double click on a new media file, it will automatically open in a new window without closing down the currently open file. It plays multiple files simultaneously and organize it in a smart playlist.

AK Player is a cool app. There’s a lot to like here, especially if you like playing Flash based movies, and aren’t always connected to the internet.  The app allows you to play, as well as organize and search your hard drive for files you’ve got stored. The one thing that annoyed me a little was the fact that it wouldn’t play *.m4a files, DRM’ed or not.  However, despite that, AK Player is a decent Windows media player and is a lot of fun to use.

download AK Player

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Mumble – the open-source group voice chat software designed mainly for online gaming

Mumble is a VOIP (Voice over IP) application which allows users to speak on a chat channel, as in a telephone conference call. It was designed for gamers, who use the software to communicate with other players in the same multiplayer game.

Mumble is a relatively new arrival on the VOIP scene; it has been around in a stable form for about a year, at the time of writing. It takes advantage of newer technologies, such as sound quality and low latency, removing the noise from the audio input.

It is a cross-platform product which is free and open source. It is integrated with the game software in a customisable game overlay so that as well as hearing the other players, you can identify which is speaking. It supports advanced voice activity detection and will record conversations if set up.

To start you must set up the Mumble Server, called murmur, which features secure communication and full extensibility.

We think this is a product with a bright future. It looks easy to work with on the face of it, but running into difficulties is unnerving. It has live support team contact available. There is some technical support from community forums, and there looks to be a wish list for future development. It looks and feels like a product that is on its way up and it will be interesting to see if it develops for usage outside the game arena, but first it needs to grow new functionality, to include things like a user database.

Download Mumble for WindowsDownload Mumble for Mac

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iTunes and iOS6: A Wish List… of Sorts – Part 2

There are changes coming to iOS6, and as a result iTunes, that may or may not make everyone happy. Here’s what I’d like to see

Everyone is talking about iPhone 5 and what it is and isn’t going to look like. While the hardware drives a lot of features, it’s the software that makes the device what it is. The OS, iOS6 and iTunes, are really going to drive what happens to the latest version of the phone that most everyone loves to hate. Here’s what I think (and would like to see) will happen with the latest version of both.

In the first part of this article, I finished up with what Apple was doing with iOS 6. This time, I’m going to opine about what they need to do with iTunes… and its extensive.

iTunes
iTunes does a lot…a LOT, A LOT. It manages music and video, it rips and burns audio CD’s, it’s a podcast catcher, it manages ringtones, it manages applications, and it’s a music, video and application store. Its also a social network allowing users to connect, discuss, rate and review all the content it manages and sells.

It syncs all the content is sells and manages to any and all iDevices you own, so it’s a mobile device manager and sync hub. With it, iTunes allows you to specify what content, and how much of it to sync to your mobile devices.

It’s also a freakin’ mess.

Now, with iOS 6, Apple is going to add additional content to the mix – credit cards, discount cards, coupons, redemption codes, boarding passes, etc. What you’re going to manage it all with on the desktop side is still up in the air. Passbook for iOS doesn’t have a desktop counterpart – yet. However, one thing in my mind is VERY clear – Apple needs to do something with iTunes, quickly, or its going to wind up with a bunch of spaghetti code sooner rather than later.

In short, I think Apple needs to break up its iTunes monopoly into a few different applets. Here are my thoughts.

Content Library Management
iTunes’ roots are in content management, namely music. The app started out as a way for users to rip the CD’s they own and then manage their electronic music collection on their computer. It also synchronized the content you chose to your iPod.

Library Management
Content is no longer limited to just audio. In today’s world, it also includes video – movies as well as TV shows. Currently, iTunes does a decent job of managing the content on your PC, as well as on your iDevice; but it needs to do a better job.

I’ve got HUNDREDS of movies and TV show episodes, most that I’ve purchased through iTunes, representing hundreds of gigabytes of space. Some I’ve ripped from DVD’s that I have legally purchased a license for. Unfortunately, I can’t fit all of this content on my MacBook Pro. It’s just not realistic to think that I’m going to be able to fit my ENTIRE media library on a notebook hard drive; but it is reasonable to assume that I would want to have access to all of it, in different locations, all at once.

I’ve got about 12TB (yes, 12 TERABYTES) of NAS, or network attached storage, on my home network. It’s all hooked together through my Apple Time Capsule. Apple needs to find a way of allowing content stored on a NAS device to be actively loaded into an iTunes Library, without having to load and unload library files. Currently, I either have to create and load a specific library file located on an external drive; or I have to delete unwanted content, reload/copy wanted content from the external drive into an iTunes library over and over.

This requires me to burn internal, home network bandwidth (which isn’t so much of an issue as long as I’m not streaming content internally) and to copy large files on and off my hard drive, which creates data and disk errors requiring me to restart the PC in Recovery Mode and repair the disk.

Break Out Podcasts
Having a built in podcast catcher is great, but may be muddying the water. On the device side, Apple broke podcasts out into its own app. I’m recommending they do the same thing here. In the long run, it’s going to make the management of content a lot easier. It may make you look in more than one place for stuff, but if done right, it should make a lot of sense.

Break Out Mobile Apps
This is a no-brainer. Mobile Apps should be a subset of the Mac App Store. Apple already has a way to manage desktop apps. It would be simplicity to break that out of iTunes and extend it to the App Store. One App Store to rule it all. Period.

Content Store – Extend the App Store
The buying experience needs to come out of iTunes. They have an electronic store on every Mac desktop in the App Store. It would be very easy to take not only mobile apps, which is a logical first step, but music, movies, TV shows, etc., and place the entire buying experience in a single electronic store front.

This is going to accomplish two things: 1) It centralizes all Apple content purchases. Software and multimedia content for your iDevice or your Mac can be found in a single place, and changes to the store or store front can be accomplished without having to tweak the entire iTunes/iTunes Store experience. 2) It unclutters iTunes. iTunes was originally supposed to be a way to organize and sync music. Now it’s a mobile app store, a content store, and a social network and ratings portal as well as a content management tool. It’s gotta be a little ugly in there.

The best thing that can happen to iTunes is that it gets an optimization overhaul. It could be a much better application if it got broken up.

Enhance Sync Services
Apple Sync services sync data in Address Book and iCal to a number of different online services, including iCloud. Sync Services *MAY* manage the sync with your iDevice, but honestly, I’m not entirely certain. However, if it doesn’t, it most definitely should. Getting the sync out of iTunes and bolted onto Apple Sync Services here would be a much better idea. That way, all synchronization is handled by the same component(s) and can be managed at the OS level and not at an app level.

Create Digital Wallet Applet to support Passbook
With the introduction of Passbook, and the rumored NFC functionality in iPhone 5, we’re going to need an Apple developed app to handle the management of this information. I know that I’m going to be able to enter the info on my device, but having a password protected desktop app that allows me to better see and handle this kind of information is much preferred to doing this totally on the iDevice side. The data, of course would be encrypted and synchronized to the iDevice via the new, revised Sync Services, as noted above.

There’s a lot that needs to happen here. iTunes isn’t a total train wreck, but it’s definitely a mess. I would really like to see a bit more than a bit of work done on this ecosystem level app with the introduction of iPhone 5. If it can’t be released in conjunction with iPhone 5, then it should happen as soon after as possible. I know this would require a huge update not only it iTunes, but to OS X as well, as some of my recommendations would require enhancements at the OS level (the App Store and Sync Services)

On the Windows side, things get a bit trickier, as system services would likely have to be created from scratch. The App Store would obviously NOT handle PC apps, but could and should handle mobile apps, as well as multimedia content. Both would be new to the Windows world.

What exactly will happen with iTunes is just as much speculation as what will happen on 12-Sep-12…IF that IS in fact, iPhone 5 Day. We’ll have to wait and see, as with every “box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get…”

Read Part 1 Of This Article

 

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Tweak and test your computer with AIDA 64

Troubleshooting today’s complex computers isn’t always an easy task. With multicore processors and GPU’s along with clock speeds that are easily approaching 4.0 GHz, figuring out exactly what is causing your PC’s performance to tank can be a big task. This is why I like tools like AIDA64. It’s a benchmarking tool for Windows.

AIDA64 is a streamlined Windows diagnostic and benchmarking tool. AIDA64 Extreme Edition provides a wide range of features to assist in overclocking, hardware error diagnosis, stress testing, and sensor monitoring. It has unique capabilities to assess the performance of your PC’s processor, system memory, and disk drives. AIDA64 is compatible with all current 32-bit and 64-bit version of Microsoft Windows, including Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

For 64bit machines, AIDA64 implements a set of benchmarks to measure how fast the computer performs various data processing tasks and mathematical calculations. Memory and cache benchmarks are available to analyze system RAM bandwidth and latency. Processor benchmarks utilize MMX, 3DNow!, SSE, XOP, FMA, and AVX instructions, and can scale up to 32 different processor cores. For legacy machines, all benchmarks are available in 32-bits. AIDA64 Disk Benchmarks determine the data transfer speeds of hard disk drives, SSD’s, optical drives, and flash memory drives.

AIDA64 provides over 50 pages of information on installed programs, software licenses, security applications, and Windows settings. A list of started processes, services, DLL files, startup programs, and visited web pages is also available.

AIDA64 has one of the most accurate hardware detection engines in its class.  It provides detailed information on your computer’s components without the need to open it up. The hardware detection module is powered by an exhaustive hardware database of over 120,000 entries. Additional modules are available to overview processor frequencies, check CRT and LCD display status, and to stress the system to reveal potential hardware failures and thermal issues.

The app is very good at what it does, but its use is limited to diagnostic and troubleshooting activities. Unless you plan to do a lot of tweaking or have a problematic system, you’re likely not going to get a lot of use from the software, so be aware of this if your needs go beyond the basic edition.

download AIDA 64

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Get organized quickly with Swift To-Do List

Getting organized isn’t easy for everyone. Some people have trouble getting started. Some, don’t even have a clue WHERE to start. This is one of the reasons why I like applications like Swift To-Do List. It’s an organization application for Windows.

With Swift To-Do List, you can manage both tasks and notes. Each task can have its own notes; and you can create separate full note pages, or memos, with rich text support, right in the to-do list tree.  The To-Do List Tree has icons that help you organize and print your to-do lists and memos.  You can choose from more than 140 icons in up to 4 sizes.  You can also easily reorder your to-do lists using drag and drop.

Swift To-Do List includes recurring tasks support. Setting it up is extremely easy and is very flexible. It has many different recurrence patterns to choose from including, hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, monthly on day of week, yearly, yearly on day of week, and X days after completion. With these varied options, it’s possible to setup recurrences like, the last Friday of every month, or the first Monday in January, or every Tuesday and Thursday, or 5 days after the task is completed. Unique feature: Swift To-Do List also lets you preview the next 10 times the task is going to recur.

Reminders can be easily set for any of your tasks with just a few clicks. Swift To-Do List has great reminder support. The snoozing of reminders is really easy and flexible. You can even receive email reminders and task recurrence notifications sent to you directly from the program.

Swift To-Do List has extended support for rich formatting in its notes section of your task or reminder.  You can import notes and memos from MS Word DOC and DOCX files, HTML files, web-archive MHT files, OpenOffice ODT files, text TXT files, rich text RTF files, and e-book ePUB files. You can also export notes and memos to PDF files as well as all the formats noted above.

There’s a lot to like from Swift To-Do List; but the appearance of the app is a bit on the campy side.  The icons are a bit too detailed and the animations it employs by default aren’t really needed and take away from the awesome functionality of this program.  If you don’t use the to-do list in your mail client (like Outlook), or in Yahoo! Gmail or Outlook.com; or if that’s just too much pomp for the circumstance, you might want to give this app a look.

download Swift To-Do List

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iTunes and iOS6: A Wish List…of Sorts

There are changes coming to iOS6, and as a result iTunes, that may or may not make everyone happy. Here’s what I’d like to see

Everyone is talking about iPhone 5 and what it is and isn’t going to look like. While the hardware drives a lot of features, it’s the software that makes the device what it is. The OS, iOS6 and iTunes, are really going to drive what happens to the latest version of the phone that most everyone loves to hate. Here’s what I think (and would like to see) will happen with the latest version of both.

 

iOS6
I’m working with iOS 6 right now, and have since Beta 1 was released in June 2012. Here are some of the changes that I see coming to the OS.

Maps
Apple is ditching Google Maps for a home rolled version of its own creating. You’re going to see a huge amount of work poured into this effort, with underpinnings for everything changing over. The tool also gets native turn by turn navigation built into the OS. Look for some serious changes to the GPS world as well as search in iPhone before it’s all crammed in the can.

Passbook
Apple says that Passbook is for the stuff in your pockets – tickets, coupons, loyalty and discount cards, tickets, boarding passes, etc. Given that Apple is rumored to be working on an NFC solution for iPhone 5, this could be a shoe-in for winning the digital wallet contest, provided that it works with all iOS6 compatible iPhones and doesn’t REQUIRE NFC hardware.

Reorganized Settings
There’s a lot going on under the hood with iOS6. You’re going to find that a lot of that shows up in the Settings area. One of the BEST things to happen to Settings is that Bluetooth has been moved OUT of General Settings and sits off the root of the applet. You’re also going to see specific settings for Twitter and Facebook integration that hasn’t been there before.

Music & iTunes Match
Playing music from your iCloud locker just got easier on your iPhone. With iOS6, you can now stream music directly from iCloud to your PC our linked iDevice. While you can still play content directly from the device, the upside is that if you didn’t sync something and got a hankerin’ for it, you can still listen to it.

Siri
Siri got the “six million dollar upgrade.” She’s better, faster stronger…and by far still Apple’s little iOS darling. Her accuracy has improved. She’s better at things than she was in iOS5. She still has a long way to go, though. I’d love to be able to use her to turn system components (like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) on and off. I’d still like to be able to tell Siri to find “X” Bluetooth device and pair with it. Perhaps that will come in a future update…one can only hope.

Reminders & Geofencing
This is a cool little dealio… You can now create a reminder that will go off when you arrive or leave a specific location. Reminders can now ping you to buy that gallon of milk when you get to a specific intersection or when you leave the office. You can even use Siri to set the geolocation specific reminder. My guess is that as Maps becomes more mature, you’re even going to get it to automatically start a navigation session when the reminder goes off.

Mail
Some nice UI updates here. Mail now supports the standard, “drag down to update” method. It’s not a huge improvement, but nice that the app that you rely on to get all of your mail goodness now works like every other iOS app out there.

Twitter and Facebook Integration
Updating your status is now easier than ever. You can use the iOS notification try to kick off an update to either social network. The biggest opportunity for growth however, is for Apple to put together a process that allows you to update both networks at once as well as individually. Right now, if you want the same update to go to both networks, you have to do each separately.

What Apple Needs To Do with iOS6
While iPhone hardware updates are great and will definitely drive sales, they need to go the extra mile with iOS6 and tie it all together there. iOS5 didn’t go far enough, especially with Siri, and we never really saw a tweak or update for her that helped us understand what Apple’s vision is for her. I’d love to be able to have a basic conversation with her about checking weather, meetings and to-do’s on my way to the train station and have her ask if I need or want to create any additional meetings, tasks or if I need to notify anyone of anything (based on mail or messages she should read to me while I drive). Yes, I may be getting way ahead of myself here, but I don’t really care. Based on what Apple has already implemented, it’s just a matter of time, effort and expense before we get there. We could be there now, if Apple concentrated solely on Siri for a while… It also wouldn’t matter where options were located in Settings if Siri could change things for you if you asked her to. I don’t want SkyNet, but I would like to see a bit more…

The other big thing Apple needs to concentrate on is Maps. Google Maps with Navigation is smokin’ hot. It is. Don’t be hatin’ ‘cuz I said it. Apple needs to spend time and effort here to bring this up to speed to give us back what we lost with the removal of Google Maps, PLUS what Google has on the Android side of things.

My initial tests with Maps indicate a great deal of promise, but again, Siri could help out a great deal here, too. My guess is that by the time iOS8 or 9 gets here, we won’t HAVE to do anything by hand on our iPhones. Siri should be able to do most of it for us.

Come back next time, and I’ll go into what is and should happen with iTunes as we get nearer to the release of iPhone 5 and iOS6.

Read Part 2 Of This Article

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Get a handle on your passwords and keep your private information private with Trend Micro’s DirectPass

With everyone and their brother getting online and creating this account on this website, and that account on another, security is an issue, especially if those websites have electronic stores on them. Having the right kind of password for your sites and stores is important and can be the difference between you buying with peace of mind and working through identity theft procedures. This is one of the reasons why I like DirectPass. It’s a password vault for Windows.

According to Trend Micro, 8.1 million adults were victims of identity fraud in 2010, totaling $37 billion in losses. It’s possible that this wouldn’t have been so severe if those people secured their web accounts and credentials with strong passwords.  The big problem though is that it can be very difficult to remember and manage all these different accounts and passwords this is where tools like DirectPass come in handy.


DirectPass is a secure password generator.  It provides a place to securely store confidential notes, is an automatic form-filler, and is a secure browser for when you visit banking and financial websites.  It automatically syncs your login information across multiple devices.

The app is free and allows you to store for up to 5 passwords.  If you want to store more than that, it’s going to cost you a bit.  The software is billed as a service and not a traditional licensed application.  You get unlimited passwords for $15 bucks a year You also get automatic web form filling, a secure browser for banking and financial sites as well as  auto mobile device synching.

DirectPass is a decent application. Coming from Trend Micro, a security and anti-malware expert, you know the application is secure and  won’t be a point of insecurity. The app is very good at what it does.  The free version does little more than give you a small taste of what the paid version does. With room for only 5 passwords, the rest of your information is unprotected without purchasing an annual subscription.

Honestly, the subscription model bothers me a bit. Once your subscription expires, you’re not able to access your information or get access to passwords. If you give the software a try and like it, the best thing to do is buy the two year subscription, as that way, you’ll have access to your secured information for at least 24  months.

download DirectPass

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Convert several video files at the same time with GOM Video Converter

Putting video where you want it and where you need it isn’t always as easy as you think it should be. With the adoption of this ecosystem or that ecosystem users often make investments that allow their toys to work and play well with each other. However, when you mix and match, it isn’t always easy. That’s why I like tools like GOM Video Converter. It’s a video conversion tool for Windows.

GOM Video Converter is a powerful, all-purpose video conversion app. It supports a wide variety of input and output formats. Generally speaking, if GOM Media Player can play it, GOM Video Converter can convert it. Whether you want to download videos from YouTube and put them on your iPod or upload a video from your 3G mobile phone to your blog, GOM Video Converter is the easy all-in-one solution for you.

The app has an intuitive user-interface; and built in conversion presets make GOM Video Converter easy for anyone to use. GOM Video Converter boasts faster conversion speeds than most other video converters. Computers with multi-core processors can also use the app’s multi-conversion function to convert several files simultaneously. Intel based PC’s with Intel Quick Sync Video Support can also convert videos at blinding speeds.

With GOM Picker you can download embedded flash video from your favorite video websites and can convert it to something that you can play any time, anywhere. The app supports a comprehensive array of input and output formats and enables you to convert to almost any format for any device, including iPad, iPod, iPhone, PSP, PS3, Xbox 360, Zune, Blackberry, and Android. If you want, you can also add subtitles, extract audio, as well as embed your own logo. The app does a lot. The registered version is a bit pricey though, so unless you’re going to use the advanced features a lot, this may not be the right app for you.

Download GOM Video Converter

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