Sunday, August 02, 2009

JHoodsoft Newsletter

John Hood, author of the freeware site, "Best of Free Software", occasionally writes to tell us what he's been up to. He's got a great site and his opinions on free software are right on the mark.
If you don’t want to wait a month to see the next letter from John, you’ll have to sign up for his newsletter.
JHoodsoft Newsletter for July 2009
DabbleDB - Putting the "Wow" factor into number crunching
Click-N-Type Virtual Keyboardby Lake Software.
Roll your own "Launchy" Handy Computer Help Links
Problem with Google Docs

First off, I'd like to thank friend and fellow free software watchdog, Paul O'Mara, for taking on the job of editing the Newsletter. Bravo buddy, and thank you!

Computing in a Recession -
In a down economy, Netbooks are flying off the shelves. If you only needed to connect to the web and only needed a basic computer with which to do it, and it cost about the same as an iPhone, would you buy one? Asus has made an absolute killing in this economy by offering the just that. They called it the Eee: a computer small enough and light enough to be truly portable. Slip it into a book bag or shoulder bag and off you go.

Now laptop manufacturers practically falling all over themselves to get in on the action. Almost all of the major players in the laptop arena, are making offerings for small inexpensive ultra-portables.

If this is the kind of computer you are looking for, just remember, that is works the best when connected to the web. On it's own, it's slow an a bit limited. Also, it may not be a Windows computer. Not a bad thing: it's giving Linux a big opening in the consumer market. Just be aware that it's gonna look different.

DabbleDB - Putting the "Wow" factor into number crunching. Free for the sign-up at Note that the free version makes all data public. I was initially un-impressed - an online database that didn't really do much, with no support for sub tables and no form editor. It was just another spreadsheet. Then I saw the demo, and then I was forced to use it. Four words: "Pie-chart in eight minutes." On the first try, no less. DabbleDB makes working in Excel seem like driving a stick-shift car. You create a database, import an Excel spreadsheet, etc. DabbleDB will make pretty good guesses about what the day is. Set up groupings, special filters, you name it. Yes, there is a form set up. It's limited, but it's there. Now go to "Views" and decide how you want your data shown. Dabble DB does the rest. I actually had fun doing it. In fact, I wanted to do it again: how about my video collection list, sorted by genre, director, actor? I see two immediate niches for this product: 1: Number-crunching for non-accountants. Instead of relying on someone else's report, managers - who may not be Excel savvy - could use DabbleDB to turn the raw data into meaningful metrics on their own. 2: Support-staff "secret weapon." Whenever support staffers are faced with a large lump of data to collate and an order from on high that makes no sense whatsoever ("I want all our customers by zip code, hair color and handedness -ASAP!"), they can use DabbleDB to manipulate the data quickly and churn out meaningful reports. Even if the denizen of mahogany row suddenly changes his/her mind about the data they want, the support staff can switch it easily.

Dabble make number crunching fast and fun; a winner!

Click-N-Type Virtual Keyboard by Lake Software.

Once in a while you run across a freeware application that almost makes you cry. Click-N-Type was written in response to the needs of a disabled girl, and in response to the poorly written and expensive keyboard solutions out there. Click-N-Type offers a keyboard recorder and and play-back feature, multiple keyboards to choose from - as "speakback" feature - and it's all free. Even if you don't use it, visit the site and say hello. This is what free software is all about - using a computer to make someone's life better, and they don't have to spend a dime.

Click-N-Type is an on-screen virtual keyboard designed for anyone with a disability that prevents him or her from typing on a physical computer keyboard. As long as the physically challenged person can control a mouse, trackball, touch screen or other pointing device, this software keyboard allows you to send keystrokes to virtually any Windows application or DOS application that can run within a window.

Roll your own "Launchy" .

Windows XP users love the open-source program Launchy. It pops up a little box into which you can type a program or file name, and Launchy runs it for you. It saves a lot of navigation. The only problem is that the database for Launchy needs to update periodically, and that slows down your computer. I developed a method to use the "Run" line as a Launchy-type box without installing any software or updating a database: 1: Create a folder called "Links" (or launchers or whatever) somewhere on your C: drive. It's easiest if you just create it off of the root of C:. 2: Go to Control Panel - System, and click on the "Advanced" tab. Go down to the button "Environment Variables". 3: In the second window below, scroll down until you see the word "Path". Select it and click "Edit". 4: Place a semi-colon and then C:\{launcher_folder_name}. Click OK and OK out. 5: Now you have an empty folder that Windows will check if you type something in the "Run" line. Final Step: Copy to your new folder any shortcuts on the desktop and in the start menu. I rename the shortcut and edit out the "Shortcut to", if there is one. I also shorten the name so it's easier to remember: for example, shortcut to "Mozilla Thunderbird" becomes simply "Tbird". Now all you have to do is press CTRL+ESC+R or, if you have that Windows key down between CTRL and ALT, just do {Windows_key}+R. When the Run line pops, type in the name of the shortcut and press Enter. The program will run. I use this mostly to call programs I use a lot, and also for very obscure tools I have installed but don't have the time to look for. I hope this works for you too.

My Friend Sheila sent this around:

Subject: Handy Computer Help Links
Hi all, Thought you might find some of these sites interesting: for help in a wide variety of computer needs. when you just need help getting through a process. If nothing else, a great idea! Enjoy! Sheila

A reader caught wind of this and wanted to bring it to your attention...
Problem with Google Docs

I just wanted to drop you a line to let you know how much I like your website, and to let you know about an ongoing problem with Google Docs. You will notice (see URL below) that several people have been having a problem deleting documents, pdfs, and empty folders in Google Docs. The problem was reported on January 31, 2009, and remains unresolved today. Chandler is a Google employee that has occasionally shown up, but has been of little help. It is incredible to believe that Google can't make something as simple as the Trash Bin work properly. May I suggest that you warn your readers about the above problem? I would also suggest warning your readers about the lack of competent customer service that is currently provided by Google.

Here you go, and thanks for the tip...

OK, that's enough for now. Keep the feedback and ideas coming in...

Hood's Best of Free Software


  1. Google. A marvelous company. Does your company buy lunch for all the employees in the building? But even in the best run places screw ups happen. I use their Blogger and when it goes down (rarely) it goes DOWN. The pages seem to glare at you with hatred. I do NOT use certain features (maps, Chrome, etc., etc.) because the TOS wants not only my first born but also the last born. (And any in between.)
    To get a handle on Google's (and any other URL) horribly long TOS I use Eulalyser to give me a quick run down. I can then pick and choose which terms I want to know more about. It's proven very useful to me.

  2. Hi Catmoves.

    If you'd like to try Google Chrome without giving up any children (LOL), then I can very much recommend SrWare Iron browser. It's based on the open source Chromium code that Google uses to build Chrome.