Trick Out Your Desktop To Make It Productive

>> Saturday, November 28, 2009

The desktop is the first thing that greets us when we log into our computers. And it's also probably the most underutilized aspect of our working environment. Most of us (you too, homie!) just dump all our icons and shortcuts onto the desktop and forget about cleaning them up later. Although that approach gets the work done for most of us, it isn't half as productive as it can be. Luckily, you have me to show you exactly what to do to trick out your desktop with some awesome (yet light-weight) applications.

Important: Although these can be installed on any post-XP windows system, you get the most out of them when you are using Windows 7 (No. I am not a Microsoft fan-boy!).

So here's what you are going to need:

  1. Rainmeter
  2. Stick
  3. Close All Windows
  4. Jumplist Launcher
  5. 7Stacks
  6. Fences
  7. Blaze: Automated Desktop Experience
Now that you have all your gear in place, let's get this party started. Below, I am going to explain the basic functioning of each of these apps and how you can use them to make your desktop work the way you want it to.

Rainmeter: If there's one app that made the Windows desktop totally usable, it's Rainmeter. Rainmeter essentially uses some scripting kung-fu saved in .ini files (that's normal text files saved with the extension .ini). The developers like to call them "Skins", although I prefer to settle for "Widgets". The default installation (make sure that you downloaded v1.0) comes with an ass-kicking number of widgets and you can download more from Rainmeter also comes with a default theme, Enigma by Kaelri, which should be able to handle all your needs. Look at the screenshot below to see how it looks. The theme comes with multiple clocks, a basic calendar, a tasks list, a GMail widget, Weather widget, a Twitter widget, RSS Reader, System Monitors, Application Launchers, etc. You can add/remove widgets at will.

To use a widget you need to place its configuration files (.ini) into "%USERPROFILE%\Documents\Rainmeter\Skins. Then, to add widget, just right-click on the Rainmeter icon on the taskbar and select the appropriate skin from the Configs sub-menu. To remove a widget, just hover over the individual skin sub-menus and select Close Skin. The uber-geeks who are comfortable with playing around with code may modify the .ini files to make the widgets suit their needs. The code is actually quite easy to work with.

Stick: I don't know about you, but I'm a huge fan of any software that's tab. So the other day, I started thinking why I can't add tabs to my desktop. In my quest for a satisfactory answer, I discovered Stick. Stick enables you to place convenient tabs to the top, bottom, left and right desktop edges. These tabs may be used as a Notebook, a permalink to your most-visited sites, or even a hard-link to your favorite folders. I use Stick to display Notes, Google Calendar and my Documents Folder. You can also assign custom keyboard shortcuts to open/collapse a tab (I use Winkey + C for my Calendar). Its very easy to configure and you should definitely take it out for a spin. My only gripe with it is that it uses the IE8 engine to render web pages.

Close All Windows: This is one of those little buggers that are best used on Windows 7. Just extract this app into a folder and Pin it to the Taskbar. Next time you are in  a hurry, just click the button once to see all your open apps vanish. Do make sure that all your data is saved though.

Jumplist Launcher: Another Windows 7 app, which uses the awesome Jumplists in Windows 7 (look at my post Nifty Windows 7 Features for a review). Just run this application and add upto 60 of your favorite files, folders, and applications in the window that pops up. Then pin Jumplist Launcher to the Taskbar and get access to those items within two clicks.

7Stacks: Mac users use something called a Stack to show them the contents of their favorite directories. Just clicking on a link on the desktop shows an aesthetically-pleasing representation of a particular directory. Windows users can get the same goodness by using 7Stacks. Just install the application and create your stacks from within the window that pops up (TIP: place the stacks as a shortcut on your desktop to really make them work for you). Find a version for Windows Vista/XP here.

Fences: This one is for the icon-junkies. Install fences to create different containers of icons on your desktop. No more hunting for icons as you will have the relevant ones grouped together. Fences manages these icons once it's running. You can drag the containers around, resize them or delete them altogether. And just so your desktop doesn't look like an ugly mess of icons (thus hiding the lovely wallpaper, or your amazing Rainmeter widgets), you can double-click on the desktop to hide all icons. Do it again to make them visible.

Blaze: Automated Desktop Experience: This little big-guy is probably the best application launcher that there is presently. Just hit Ctrl+Alt+Space and a cute little box pops up where you can type the name of your program to make it run. It also performs a host of other functions, which can be found here. The best part is that you don't even have to remember the name of your app to run it. If you type in "Moziwa Faiafox" instead of "Mozilla Firefox", Blaze will still launch your favorite browser. Blaze also automates tasks such as renaming files, etc and can open your files and folders.

All, or some of these apps used together should definitely make your desktop experience a very productive two-click affair. You will most likely forget about having to dive deep into the file-system to get to what you need. I have also been looking for ways make the Windows 7 taskbar as small as possible (for Netbooks), but haven't been able to find anything rewarding yet. Will post something when I do.

What's your favorite way of getting your desktop to work for you? Tell me about it in the comments. If you liked this article, don't forget to digg it and tweet about it to your friends. Use the share widget below to do the same.


Technorati Blog Claiming Process

>> Friday, November 27, 2009

This post is basically here so that Technorati can verify that I own this blog. I will be publishing more content soon.

Technorati Claim Code: MVVN3DKYKGKY


Fishbowl is awesomeness for Facebook!

>> Thursday, November 26, 2009

Microsoft recently released Silverlight 4, and they showed off its capabilities to the hilt by showing us a cutely titled Facebook client "Fishbowl". Fishbowl essentially provides you with a view of your Facebook account without the ugly bells-and-whistles (read: Suggestions, Highlights et al). It turns down Facebook into what it was supposed to be before social networking overloaded the Internet. It provides you with a very slick, streamlined interface to manage your Facebook deeds.

The application starts off with asking for your credentials and then proceeds to make you click a few "Allow" prompts so that it can fetch the data from Facebook. A word of caution though: The data-fetching itself seems to be agonisingly slow. It's nothing compared to the Chrome/Firefox/Safari goodness that you are used to. However, once done, it provides you with a toolbar on top and a sidebar to the left. The toolbar provides a box to update your status, and different buttons for Home, Friends, Profile, Photos, Notifications, Upload, and Sign Out. The sidebar provides you with feeds from all over Facebook.

The app does a very good job of segregating the overall News Feed into smaller categories. You have different feeds for Comments, Pages, Photos, Links, Videos, and Notes to name a few. It also does a mean job of taking out all the Application spam from your main feed and then giving each application its dedicated location in the Sidebar.

Windows 7 users can put this app to maximum use as it has support for Jumplists and Taskbar Previews out-of-the-box. The Taskbar Preview can actually be used to directly jump to your favorite Facebook section using the controls provided. There is also a mini-mode, which displays a single item of your news-feed at a time. You can use Next and Previous controls to browse through all your Newsfeed items. And last, you also have theme support in a minimalist kind of way. The themes only affect the Toolbar at the top of the window.

All in all, its a must-have for the Facebook junkie. Other users can also take it out for a spin if they are tired of the same, bland Facebook interface and its relentless spamming of the News Feed.

Think it's cool? Or know of a better client for Facebook? Then drop a comment below and get a discussion going!


3 Things I Miss in Mozilla Firefox

>> Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Everyone knows it. Mozilla Firefox is an awesome product, which shines as a bright beacon (read open-source and free), in an otherwise increasingly commercial software market. Recent stats show that if the number of Firefox users around the world were treated as a country, they would form the third largest country by population, preceded only by China and India. After conquering Antarctica and Europe in terms of penetration, it is catching up to Internet Explorer really quickly.

However, in-spite of being one of the best browsers on the planet and doing that one-handedly, there are certain features that I wish were a part of Firefox out-of-the-box.

  • Domain Highlighting: This is something that the Firefox team can pick-up from Chrome. Chrome, by default highlights the current domain you are on. This acts as a safeguard against fraudulent websites as it automatically attracts the user's eye to the domain name. By doing so, the user more often than not, ends up taking a second look at the domain name. The user can then determine whether the domain being displayed is indeed the domain he/she intended to visit. There is, however, an extension that enables this very feature in Firefox (as well as a lot of other nifty features). It' called Locationbar2 and can be found here. It works well with all versions of Firefox up to 3.6

  • Jumplists: Let's face it. Jumplists are probably going to be the most-used feature in Windows 7. I have talked about it in my post about Nifty Windows 7 Features. Sadly, Firefox users are going to have to wait for Jumplists till Firefox 4.0 is released. There is however, a workaround, which enables you to make use of the yummy Jumplists. It's called Winfox and it's available for both x86 and x64 versions of Windows. Find it here.

  • Quick-start Home Page: Opera has Speed Dial. Chrome has a new tab page that shows your recently viewed websites, bookmarks, and recently closed tabs. Safari has the swanky Cover Flow lookalike. Hell, even Internet Explorer has a lame excuse for a new tab page. And that's exactly the reason why I believe Firefox should have a New Tab page of sorts. It's just something no modern browser can do without. However, like everything else, the extension gallery has a solution for this. You can install the New Tab King add-on to get a handy startup page. Once you got it up and running, you can go here to configure some of your other add-ons to work seamlessly with it.

And those are the 3 things, which I believe if implemented, can raise Firefox's awesomeness to new heights.

Do you have any brickbats about Firefox? Discuss them below in the comments section.


Nifty Windows 7 Features

>> Monday, November 23, 2009

We've all hated Windows Vista for every torture that it inflicted upon us. And many of us were very skeptical about Windows 7 and whether it would be able to live up to our expectations. Right from the early Betas down to the RTM (Release-to-Manufacture), Microsoft had taken it upon itself to rollback all the Vista-esque pain and provide us with a leaner, meaner computing experience. On October 22, we finally got Windows 7. We upgraded. We loved it. We hated it. We said every damn thing that we possibly can about it. But the results are in and people like Windows 7. More so than they ever loved Vista. Or any other Redmond OS before that. And to celebrate that fact, we are going to round up some of its best features.

  • Jumplists: Remember the plain-Jane right-click on taskbar buttons? Well, with Jumplists, all that is a thing of lore. Jumplists are handy little lists which pop-up when you right-click on application buttons on the taskbar. Depending on application support, these lists may show the most recent files opened with a particular application or even go on to show some of the most common tasks you can perform with the application.

  • Superbar: The taskbar itself has been revamped and renamed to be called the Superbar. It's been given a fully-transparent Mac-style dock look. It's also much bigger now. The Quick Launch bar has been done away with and the application buttons themselves are mere icons (no text). Show desktop has been replaced by Aero Peek at the rightmost edge of the taskbar.
  • Aero: The Aero engine from Vista has been revamped completely. It now consists of Aero Peek (the live thumbnails displayed when you hover the mouse over an open application in the superbar), Aero Shake (shaking an application window back and forth with the mouse minimizes all other windows and vice versa), and Aero Snap (dragging a window to the left, right and top edge of the screen makes it snap to the left side, right side and maximize respectively).
  • Start Menu: The Start Menu has been pimped out and now features a search box that actually does some searching. Most applications have a button along with their entry, clicking on which shows up the most recently-used files for that applications (kinda like a mini-Jumplist feature). Applications can be Pinned to the Start Menu as well as the Taskbar.
  • Winkey on Steroids: The little Winkey on your keyboard is actually useful with this version of Windows as it performs a myriad of functions now. Here's a little list to get you started:
  1. Win + P: Start projection on additional display.
  2. Win + T: Shift focus to the taskbar and navigate between application buttons using arrow keys.
  3. Win + X: Open the Mobility Center (laptops only).
  4. Win + Arrow Keys: Activate Aero Snap for current application (give it a spin).
  5. Win + Space: View Desktop

  • Media Center: The Vista Media Center wasn't very usable. The W7 Media Center is just the opposite. You'll love browsing through your music collection if you have it properly tagged along with album arts. Plus the Media Center ties in seamlessly with various streaming content providers. There is also good support for TV Tuners.

As you can make out, after the debacle called Vista, Microsoft has gone out and listened to all the little things that the users wanted. This is probably the biggest factor which has contributed to the runaway success of the OS. You can follow the link below and check out Lifehacker's Complete W7 Guide. Or you can leave comments about your W7 experience.


Chrome OS: Unveiled

>> Sunday, November 22, 2009

2009 will probably be remembered for major software upgrades, be it the much hyped Windows 7 launch, or the Office 2010 Beta, there's been something in it for everyone. But another area that has really taken off over the past year has been Cloud Computing (very simply put, that's living and doing most of your work online). And that's exactly what Google was hoping to exploit when they announced their Chrome OS earlier this year.

Chrome OS is going to be Google's answer to the large number of Netbooks (that's ultra-portable, low-spec laptops for the uninitiated) that are proliferating in the market. From the looks of the technical preview, which Google provided this Thursday, Chrome OS is going to be an exciting, if not outrageously awesome product. In fact, if the early response to Chrome OS is taken as a yardstick, Microsoft has a lot on its plate regarding its Netbook offerings (especially in light of the unexpected poor performance of Windows 7 on Netbooks).

What's under the hood, you ask? Well, here goes.

  • The Interface: As largely speculated, the Chrome browser is going to be used as the main interface, be it for traversing the file system, or for connecting to web-apps.
  • Kernel: Chrome OS will be using the Linux kernel at its heart. However, the kernel is expected to have support for a limited set of hardware initially, with support for other hardware expected as it evolves.
  • Application Support: Chrome OS wants you to forget your local hard disk. Like I said, it's about the Cloud, baby! Google's own webapps (namely GMail, Calendar, Reader, Wave, etc.) will be supported out of the box. Other webapps, which want to be part of Chrome OS, will be allowed to install their links onto the OS. The trusty old hard disk will probably only be used as a temporary storage, so that if you ever lose connectivity, you have your information safe. Once back online, the apps will sync again.
  • Speed: Here's the verdict. It's BLAZING fast. In the preview, Google claims a cold boot time of 7 seconds (though exact specifics of the test machine weren't made public).
  • Eye-Candy: Like almost all Google products, Chrome will adopt the minimalist look.

Google also said that the Chrome OS will be released sometime in 2010. However, it is expected to be a tightly coupled OS (meaning, it will run only with certain hardware), and hence probably won't be available as a download. Google intends to provide minimum hardware specs to manufacturers for the same reason. Developers have been kept interested as the Chrome OS project has now been released as the open-source Chromium OS project.

So what's in it for the consumer?

For starters, Netbook prices are going to go down. This is because most notebooks today run Windows as their primary (and probably only OS). What this means is that manufacturers charge the end-user a licensing fee for their copy of Windows. Chrome OS is going to be open source and hence the end-user is going to be spared from huge licensing fees.

Secondly, very simply, another OS implies more choice. I mean just how long can you keep on staring at the blue XP taskbar?

Thirdly, it's going to help users seamlessly migrate to the Cloud. When you see that all it takes for you to get online is a 7-second boot time, you know what I mean.

Do I see you eagerly rubbing your palms to get some Chrome OS goodness between them? In that case, all you need to do to get down and dirty is head over to and download the VMWare Image they've provided. You will need VMWare running on your Windows/Linux/Mac machine. After getting it up and running, all you need to do is sign-in using your Google Account Credentials.



>> Saturday, November 21, 2009

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This blog was created out of my passionate following for technology. After spending most of my life behind a monitor, and bent over a keyboard, I decided that it would be wonderful if I could pass on a bit of my knowledge to fellow netizens. And with that, I realized that it's time to start my first Blog. I hope that I will be able to keep posting quality content regularly. Please drop your comments about the blog on the Feedback page. I will do my best to respond.

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I am a final year Engineering student. This blog is my attempt to provide perspective on technological developments (computers and the Internet) from around the world. This is my first attempt at blogging and any feedback (good or bad) is welcome.

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