Let's face it. While icons are pretty, know no language barriers, and are easily recognizable once you're familiar with them-- they're limited in the amount of information they can convey. E.g., you have five Microsoft Word documents on your desktop and you used anything resembling a decent description in naming them --the icons are exactly the same and only part of the file name is visible. Until you click on them, you can't know which is which. If you'd like a more word-oriented, quicker-to-recognize view of your documents, folders, and programs you need Easy Desktop 9.0 ($30, 15-day free trial).
Easy Desktop is a launch application on steroids. It forgoes icons in favor of launch buttons with the full name of the program, file, or folder you want to launch. Easy Desktop 9.0 exists as a single window with 72 launch buttons for each of 9 pages.
To define a launch button, simply drag the file, folder, or application icon from the Desktop or Star Menu to the launch button you wish to launch it from. You can edit the launch name, as well as various startup parameters such as whether the program runs normally, full-screen or minimized. You may also arrange the launch buttons as you wish. For instance, all programs in one column or on one page, all documents on another, etc.
Carrara ($150, buy-only) is a powerful and--dare I say--fun application for creating detailed three-dimensional content and animations. It breaks the various stages of the modeling and creation process into “rooms,” each allowing you to focus on a different task with its own custom tools.
The Assemble room lets you see all objects of your scene in combination, and shift them about in 3D space. Carrara’s object selector is very intuitive, and lets you easily rotate objects, scale them, or move them in any axis. You can also stretch and morph objects, changing their shape.
The Model room lets you dig into any object in your scene and add detail or change its basic shape. Yes--you impact object shapes both in the Model and Assemble rooms, which can be slightly confusing when you’re just getting the hang of Carrara.
Freemake Video Converter (and its sister product, Freemake Video Downloader) are products I use regularly, because they do specific things very well. In the case of Freemake Video Converter, that thing is converting videos from one format to another quickly and easily. The fact that it's free doesn't hurt, either. There aren’t even any ads, popups or watermarks.
Freemake Video Converter's specialties are converting to many formats, including AVI, MKV, and mobile formats like 3GP and MP4. It can also make files suitable for burning to a DVD or Blu-Ray, and even burn the files itself.
Avadon: The Black Fortress ($20, free demo) from Spiderweb Games continues that company's tradition of large-scale, top-down (Ultima-style), story-rich CRPGs. In Avadon: The Black Fortress, you play a newly chosen "Hand" of Avadon, a kingdom which has united (or perhaps, oppressed) neighboring nations in a treaty known as the Pact. As you play, you learn more about the world and its history, and slowly uncover a web of mysteries. Oh, and you kill monsters. Lots of monsters. And rummage through every trash heap, desk, and chest you can find in a mad pursuit of any loot you can use or sell.
While Avadon uses the interface style of many older games, it has kept up with the times, using high-resolution icons instead of retro, blocky, ones, and it has a clean and responsive interface. Animation is still minimalist, and no matter what you're wearing, the only visual change to your character is the weapon equipped. You name your starting character and pick their class (which gives you a fixed portrait and a gender), and then you begin your quest. In short order, you'll have a chance to select companions, each of whom has their own personality and story. Although I enjoy truly older-style games that let you create an entire party from scratch, Avadon's use of pre-generated characters is equally satisfying. The cast of characters you're given makes it possible to tell a story…not only are your companions useful in combat, they will drop major plot points at various places and even interact with each other, which means, if you pick different sets of companions, you'll see different results at certain points in the game.
Avadon is turn-based. When not in combat, you simply click to move, and your party follows you. Once combat begins, each character moves or acts individually, and tactics start to matter. Enemies often swarm at you from many directions, and you cannot casually run by or away from enemies. You have a range of special attacks and powers, increasing as you go up in level (much like the talent trees in Diablo II and many MMORPGs, such as World of Warcraft), but these consume resources that regenerate slowly. Further, they can be used only infrequently--it may take 10 turns for a power to recharge--so there's a real resource management factor to fights. Knowing when to use your powers for maximum effect is critical; you cannot simply spam your best attack over and over.
The Internet is a great place to find recipes. Start with a search engine, and a few clicks later, you can find almost any recipe using any ingredient possible. But if you cook a lot and have built up a store of recipes, a strong, flexible database program can be very useful for finding and accessing favorite recipes quickly and easily. BigOven ($16/year, limited demo) is an easy-to-use and powerful database that lets you organize recipes and find them in a flash.
BigOven's word-processing-style interface has multiple panes so that you can click on a recipe and bring it up on the same page. It offers many different ways to browse for a recipe, including by cuisine, main ingredient, course, and keyword. Once you’ve found a recipe, you can easily edit it, add notes and tags to it, convert from Imperial to metric system, rate it, and add it to your favorites.
You access all of these functions via buttons on the main page of BigOven, which makes the interface seem crowded at first. But once you’ve sifted through the many functions to find the ones you want to use and the ones you don’t, this design makes navigating, choosing and printing recipes as quick as it can be. Everything has been pared down to fewest clicks possible. The quickness and ease is what makes BigOven so powerful.
Working with multiple monitors can really boost productivity, but it also presents a number of unique challenges. For example, not everyone likes to have the same wallpaper on all monitors, or even the same screensaver. Some people also use different wallpapers or themes to color-code their desktops. DisplayFusion Pro ($25, 30-day free trial) lets you assign per-monitor wallpapers and screensavers, but that’s just the beginning.
DisplayFusion’s rich configuration interface can be used to assign hotkeys to numerous window management operations, such as moving windows around, spanning a window across all monitors, and even locking the mouse cursor to the current monitor or window. You can also assign any of these actions to a “TitleBar Button”--a small button that DisplayFusion overlays on the active window, next to the Minimize, Maximize, and Close buttons Windows provides.
When my girlfriend started using multiple monitors last month, she was surprised to discover that the Windows taskbar doesn’t span monitors, but it shows only on the primary monitor. DisplayFusion Pro can correct this by adding a taskbar to each “extra” monitor. The extra taskbar looks just like the native Windows one, but has a different context menu. You can have it show icons only for windows on that monitor, or for all currently running applications. If you move your “real” taskbar to a different edge of the screen, DisplayFusion automatically moves the extra taskbar to the corresponding edge on its own monitor, so all screens always look alike.
If you’re still using Windows XP or Windows Vista, you may have seen friends or coworkers snapping windows around with Windows 7’s newfangled hotkeys, and longed for the same functionality for your aging system. AquaSnap (free) delivers this, and more.
AquaSnap essentially lets you snap windows into place either by dragging them around, or by using predefined hotkeys. When you use it with the mouse, you need only drag a window to one of the screen edges or corners. A large icon then appears, showing what would happen to the window once you let go of the mouse. Much like Aero Snap, touching the window against the screens left or right edges would make the window resize to occupy that half of the screen. But if you touch one of the corners, AquaSnap will resize the window to occupy that quarter of the screen--something Aero Snap doesn’t do.
If accurate window snapping is all you need, you may want to try out another free utility called WinSplit Revolution. WSR supports fine-grained control over the position and size of each of your windows, as well as the hotkeys used to place them.