Jan 30

I’m constantly going to my file manager throughout the day, opening files from there, moving, copying and renaming. A good file manager has always been important to me, ever since my first experiences with a PC back in the 1980s, well before the dawn of Windows Explorer. I used a program called PC Tools for file management back then and when I moved to the Windows OS I used a file manager called PowerDesk Pro which has seen me right through to Windows XP. On and off, I’ve use Windows Explorer but never really fell in love with it – too many restrictions on what I want to do.

I’ve recently moved to Windows 7, so I looked around for a good free replacement file manager to take over from my aging copy of PowerDesk. As usual, my first port of call was my Diigo bookmarks to check out my ‘file managers’ tag. Had a look at Free Commander and didn’t like it much, then looked at xplorer2 Lite – the free version from zabkat which is fully compatible with Windows 7. I’ve been using it for about 2 months now and found it’s a very able replacement for PowerDesk …and more. I find the free version has all the features I need for just now.

Some of the best features of xplorer2

xplorer2

One of the main features I need in a file manager is a very simple one. When I reopen the program I want it to have remembered which folder I was in when it was shut down – for my work I’m usually going back to the same work folder the next day so the ability to save settings on exit is really useful for me.  xplorer2 can also open multiple tabs as shown above, so you have quick access to a number of essential folders – again I find this a really useful feature. You can display the tabs at the top or the bottom of the window. Hit Ctrl-Ins to open a new tab. And you can rename tabs – right click and choose Rename. You can move or copy files by dragging them onto the tab of the destination folder. But if you don’t like multiple tabs in a window, you can set up quick access to all your favourite folders from the Bookmarks menu. And incidentally, you can set up FTP access for file transfers to your website or server again though your bookmarks. FTP access is explained in this excellent Lifehacker article which also gives a great summary of the program.

Filtering your list of files is easy. In the address bar, just type ‘*.jpg’ to list the jpeg files in that folder, or type ‘e*’ to list all files starting with the letter ‘e’. Incidentally, coloured folders as shown above on my Windows XP set-up isn’t a feature of xplorer2. That feature is from a free utility called Folder Marker Free. Once installed, just right click on a folder and change its colour.

I generally use the single pane interface (plus folder tree) as show above, but you can also have a dual pane set-up which is very handy for copying or moving files. I also like how you can  preview images, videos, pdfs and mp3s within xplorer2 using the Preview button at the top.

Another nice feature is the way it autorefreshes when you plug in an mp3 player or camera and the new drive shows up without having to press F5. PowerDesk didn’t do that.

Setting it up

I have it set up just the way I want it now. If you already use the program or want to try it out, here’s a list of the features I find useful and how to set them up:

  1. Save program state on exit: Tools, Options, General tab and check Save program state on exit.
  2. For single pane/double pane toggle: Ctrl-O.
  3. To force file names ending in a number to list in ascending number order 1, 2, 3…10, 11, 12, rather than 1, 10, 11, 12, 2, 3… go to Tools, Options, Advanced tab and check Natural number sort.
  4. To show folder in tree on left side, go to Tools, Options, Window tab and check Keep synchronized with folder in active view pane.
  5. To allow slow double click renaming of files: Tools, Options, Window tab and check Allow slow double click to rename files.
  6. To prevent truncation of file names when window is not maximized:  Tools, Options, Window tab and set Max list column width to 150 – although from reading the forums this doesn’t always work.

And there’s a good xplorer2 forum here.

I’ve only just scratched the surface here with the features I find useful.  Give xplorer2 a try and see what you think. You may find yourself quickly won over from Window Explorer.


Jan 23

With the ever-expanding smartphone market these days, it’s important that your blog is mobile ready, meaning for example, that it can be rendered nice and clearly without having to scroll around too much on your phone. If you have a WordPress blog, there are a number of plugins which will remove the sidebars for example and convert the blog to a nice clean format for viewing on a cellphone. But which WordPress plugin to choose? Here’s a quick run through of how I narrowed the field down.

I went through my Diigo bookmarks and found I had bookmarked blogs discussing quite a few plugins: WordPress Mobile Pack, WPTouch, MobilePress, WordPress Mobile Edition, and Wapple Architect Mobile to name just a few. But what I really wanted to get hold of was a comparison to see what people thought was the best mobile plugin.

Comparisons of WordPress mobile plugins

I found it hard to track down any blog which had reviewed and compared mobile plugins. In fact, if anyone’s interested and has access to a range of cellphones, there’s an opportunity for a really useful blog post here. WPFeed compared a number of plugins and chose WordPress Mobile Plugin (but when you click the link now you’re directed to WordPress Mobile Pack), and the only other site I came across was Alpha2beta which I had Google translate from Chinese. They also compared a few and chose WordPress Mobile Pack.

I know that WPTouch is being quite well received, particularly for iPhone and Android platforms. Technically Personal uses the WPTouch plugin. In a reply to me in the comments there, Raju said he had tried quite a few plugins and found problems with them all. Wapple was a disaster he said.

Narrowing the choice down

On Mahalo Answers, I asked ‘What’s the best WordPress plugin to make my blog mobile friendly?’ I received three answers recommending WPTouch, Wapple Architect and WordPress Mobile Pack. I was getting the feeling now that it was between these three. I liked the Wapple recommendation:

Wapple

Finally, I tried a search on Twitter for wordpress AND mobile. Jumped into an interesting lead:

@dannybrown Did you test other WP mobile plugins before you settled on Wapple Architect? I’m finding it hard to pick one for my blog

@techandlife I did. Tried WordPress Mobile, WP Touch (good for iPhone, not so great others). Wapple best one I found

@techandlife And Rich Gubby of Wapple is just awesome 😉 http://bit.ly/7z2qwx

I checked back on my own bookmarks and Wapple Architect sounded really promising even though it doesn’t work for some. So I thought I’d try it first.

Installing Wapple Architect

Wasn’t just a case of downloading and installing the Wapple plugin. Had to register to receive the Developer Key, click a link in an email to complete registration, then received a Developer Key which was required to set up the plugin. Didn’t take too long though. During set up, you can upload an image to use for your mobile header and which would be automatically resized. Didn’t work for me on this occasion but I’ll try that again later. Incidentally, 2 days after registering, I received an email from Rich Gubby the Lead Developer at Wapple offering to help with the mobile styling – that’s a nice touch.

Testing Wapple Architect

I found a testing tool online to check mobile-readiness at mobiReady. My blog checked out okay.

mobiReady

At mobiReady, you can also check how your blog renders on a Nokia N70, Samsung Z105, Sony Ericsson k750i, Motorola v3i and Sharp GX-10.

I don’t have a smartphone but I fired up the browser on my LG Cookie and had a look at my blog:

LG Cookie and techandlife

Finally, at the top of the sidebar on the desktop version of this blog, I’ve also tried to indicate that it’s now mobile ready.

I’d love to hear how this blog renders on your mobile. Any annoyances you’ve noticed or any improvements you think I can make? If you do comment, let us know what mobile you’re using.


Jan 22

I upgraded my son’s Dell laptop from Vista to Windows 7 recently. Did a custom install without reformatting the hard drive. Everything went fine but after installing some essential programs and putting his 20GB of music back from an external drive, I couldn’t reinstall his 20GB of photos as I was out of disk space. This Dell 1545 came with a 160GB hard drive which should have been way more than enough. What was hogging all the disk space?

I’m not a great lover of Windows Explorer so I downloaded the free Xinorbis to analyse the folder sizes on the hard drive. Straight away I could see that a folder called Windows.old was taking up 63GB of space! I googled windows.old and discovered that the Windows 7 installation had backed up the entire Vista set up here. I didn’t need anything from Windows.old as everything important was backed up to an external drive so I deleted the folder using great instructions I found here.

So if you’ve moved up from Vista to Windows 7 by doing a custom install and without reformatting the hard drive and were wondering what had happened to all your disk space, watch out for Windows.old.


Jan 19

firefoxchrome

I’ve had my Acer Aspire One netbook running Easy Peasy Linux for just a year now. During that time I’ve always run Firefox as my browser mostly to trawl through my feeds in Google Reader. Up until about a week ago I found I got an error message about an unresponsive script in Google Reader at least once during every session and often when scrolling. Easy enough to clear but quite annoying. I thought this was probably due to memory issues and Firefox – I guessed the Reader webpage was heavy going for a netbook.

So I thought I’d try Google Chrome on the Linux powered netbook to see if it would be any better. I figured that the Google Reader/Chrome combination should have better luck – you’d think that Chrome should have been well tested on Reader by Google.

So I installed Chrome (version 4.0.295.0) easily using instructions I found here. Absolutely no problems with unresponsive scripts when browsing – but as with Firefox, occasionally when scrolling it would lock up for 5-10 seconds and then proceed without problems. So I thought I’d write a post singing the praises of Chrome and slating Firefox for its errors. Problem is that when I went back to check if Firefox was still issuing those error messages, I found that the latest version of Firefox (version 3.0.17; for Ubuntu) which downloaded last weekend seems to have cleared the problem. Both browsers are now running fine on my netbook.

So what about browser speed? Is there a difference there? Well, I set up both browsers with Google Reader as home page and with no other tabs and checked times for clean loading of Firefox and Chrome separately just after booting the netbook. I have 257 Google Reader subscriptions at the moment. Firefox took 48 seconds and Chrome 24 seconds to load the page. Then to reload Firefox again, that took 33 seconds, while Chrome reloaded in 13 seconds.

Google Chrome has gained considerable momentum recently with a growing number of extensions available. Even though Firefox is better than it was in terms of browsing on my netbook, it’s much slower than Chrome for me. So I’m going to move over to Chrome on my Linux netbook and give it a thorough work out.

Incidentally, for anyone interested in keeping up with the latest at Chrome, Lee Mathews at Download Squad has been doing a weekly Chrome Corner post since the end of December last year.


Jan 11

I’m frequently opening new blank browser tabs in Firefox to load a new website. Well there’s a nice way to get a reminder note in the new browser tab instead of a blank page. First download and install the Firefox add-on NewTabURL and once installed click the Options for that plugin in your browser side bar:

NewTabURL options

Select the option for URL and key in the URL http://stickyscreen.org. Then in Firefox go to that URL and enter your reminder message.

StickyScreen

You don’t have to register with this site to use it. Your sticky reminder is unique to you. According to the website, nobody will see it except you (and whoever you let use your web browser). You can change the reminder as often as you like. The info is stored as a browser cookie. Now any time you open a new tab in Firefox, the StickyScreen website will load showing your reminder before you key your new URL. But if you delete your browser cookies using a PC maintenance program like say CCleaner you will lose the reminder info and will have to rekey it at the StickyScreen website.

Incidentally, as you can see in the Options, if you like, in your new tab you can set NewTabURL to automatically load a URL that’s in your clipboard.


Jan 9

Let’s face it, we all like to get the best deal when we’re buying online – no-one likes to be ripped off and find out later you could have purchased that book, DVD or digital camera for less if you’d spent a little time shopping around. But often we haven’t got time and just go to our old favourite sites.

Well I’ve scoured my bookmarks, scouted around online, and come up with a roundup of some price comparison sites, mostly in the USA and UK, which might help you get the best price for that DVD, book or hard disk.

Digital music downloads

USA

DownloadShopper

DownloadShopper.com – Compares prices of MP3 digital music downloads from Amazon, iTunes and Walmart. Using the search tool you can find songs by artist name or song name. You can search whole album prices by selecting “album” and entering the artist or album name.

UK

CompareDownload.com – Compares prices of MP3 digital music downloads from Amazon UK, Tesco, iTunes, 7Digital, we7, Play, HMV, etc.

Book prices

USA

BookLookr

BookLookr – Compares book prices from Amazon, eBay, Half.com, Chegg and Better World.

TextBook Price Comparison – Searches dozens of online US retailers for new or used textbook prices. Search for books by ISBN, title, author and keywords.

DirectTextbook – Compares textbook prices at 200 US online bookstores.

WeCompareBooks – Although this is primarily a textbook price comparison engine designed for college students, it can still help you find the cheapest price for most books in any category.  It will show prices for used and new books, and also the shipping costs from multiple book stores.

CheapRiver – searches Amazon stores in USA and Europe to find the best offer on English books. By selecting your country it automatically includes the shipping costs to get the book delivered to you. As CheapRiver uses the current exchange rates, it lets you take advantage of changing exchange rates.

UK

Ciao from Bing – You can search for the ISBN or book title, and it will search across numerous UK online stores for the cheapest price. It will show you if the shipping is free or not, or refer you to the website.

BestBookPrice

Best Book Price – Compares book prices at a wide range of UK online suppliers. I’ve personally used this service a number of times and found it really useful.

I tried comparing the price of The Mote in God’s Eye by Jerry Pournelle. Ciao gave me a poor choice of just eBay or Play.com with Play offering £5.49 (free postage). Best Book Price gave a much better choice with £5.00 (free postage) on BookDepository and Price Ministry offering a great deal of £2.24 (free postage) for new customers.

eBook prices

USA

eBookPrice – Compares eBook prices from Amazon, eBooks.com, Diesel, eReadable and Powell’s.

DVD prices

USA

DVD PriceSearch

UK

find-DVD – Compares DVD prices from a wide range of UK suppliers. They also have a DVD Price Watch service and you can use this facility to be emailed when a DVD drops below a price that you specify.

BestDVDPrice

PriceGrabber

PriceGrabber

Ciao from Bing

I tried the UK services to track the best deal on Medium Season 3 (I’m just catching up on this great TV series). find-DVD offered £13.35 (from SelectCheaper; free postage), BestDVDPrice and Ciao from Bing both found £9.99 (£1.24 postage; £10.23 total) from Amazon Marketplace; PriceGrabber offered £11.98 (from Amazon; free postage). find-DVD listed but didn’t return prices from Amazon and Play. So my small and probably unrepresentative test shows BestDVDPrice and Ciao to be good on this occasion.

Tech prices

Difficult to choose from the wide variety of price comparison services here. I found an article at SmartMoney which compared comparison shopping sites (in Oct 2008) and PriceGrabber came out on top. Yahoo! Shopping also did well. I also see that PriceGrabber have just announced a free iPhone price comparison app.

USA

PriceWatch

PriceGrabber

UK

PriceGrabber

AUSTRALIA

My Shopping.com.au

Just listened to the Windows Weekly podcast 136 and in his Tip of the Week, Paul Thurrott mentioned Invisible Hand for Firefox and Chrome. This add-on checks for lower prices and automatically shows a discreet notification when you’re browsing a product which is cheaper at another retailer. Currently supports more than 100 US, UK and German retailers. However, I found it didn’t add any information at all to either of the searches I tried but may be useful in future price comparisons.

Well, I’ve only just scratched the surface here and really only for USA and UK tech and book price comparisons. It’s over to you now. If you’ve a found good price comparison site for your tech and book purchases in your part of the world, drop a comment and I’ll add it to the list. With your help let’s try and make this a really useful go-to resource for price comparisons around the world. I’ll try and keep it updated from the comments – and don’t worry if your commenting months down the line. It’ll be nice to keep the list up to date.


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