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FLOSS Friday: SilverKeeper

January 22nd, 2010

This time I’m going to visit the Mac side of the house and recommend a backup utility for Mac OSX.  The tool is freely available from LaCie and is called SilverKeeper.  As with much of the software for Mac OS X, you download a DMG file, double click the DMG to mount it, and then a window appears that directs you to drage the application to the Application Folder.  Once you do this, you’re ready to go.  On the first execution, the software scans all attached storage to determine file and space counts, makes a list of system users, and then identifies the current user running.  All of these are used to create default profiles.  The profiles allow you to specify an entire drive, all user home directories, or your current user’s home directory for the backup.  When you’re ready to make a backup, simply identify the destination disk (backups must be somewhere other than the device you’re backing up), and away it goes.

We all know the importance of backups, and LaCie’s free utility makes it so easy that you no longer have excuses to not have redundant data ever again.

SilverKeeper is freely available, but is not, strictly speaking, Free Software.  Nevertheless, it can be a valuable addition to your Mac’s set of tools and applications.

It wouldn’t be FLOSS Friday without a screen shot, so here’s the application screen shot of the week:

SilverKeeper for Mac OS X Main Window

SilverKeeper for Mac OS X Main Window

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FLOSS Friday: ID3 Tag Editor

December 18th, 2009

Continuing our FLOSS Friday theme of software for audio, I have a Windows-only piece of software.  If you have a collection of MP3 files (and who doesn’t these days), you probably have many instances of music you “ripped” from CDs you own.  When you play or view these on your audio device or computer, there’s often information missing such as genre or cover art.  Many MP3 creators will add the information when you rip the CD, but sometimes this doens’t work properly for whatever reason.  What you need is an “ID3 editor”.  An ID3 editor is a piece of software that lets you edit the metadata (title, author, album, cover art, copyright date, …) relevant to the MP3 file.

I recently had a CD that didn’t want to have the data defined properly, so I looked to see what tools might be available to let you do this after the fact.  For Windows, one of the nicest and easiest is the ID3 Tag Editor from SoftPointer Inc.  You download a very small executable.  When the software is installed, you now can see and edit the MP3 data directly from within Windows Explorer (the windows that come up when you view “My Computer”).  Simply right click the file and you now have additional property tags.  One of the really nice features is that you can take an image of the album art in almost any size or format and it will convert it to the proper size for the file.  Now when you use an audio player you see the cover art instead of a generic filler image.

Again, a screenshot:

Audio Data Editing

Audio Data Editing

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FLOSS Friday: Audacity

December 18th, 2009

Manipulating audio tracks has changed from something requiring thousands of dollars of dedicated equipment in a commercial studio to something that anyone with even a netbook caliber machine can do almost anywhere.  One of the most mature FLOSS offerings in this realm is Audacity.  Available pre-compiled for Windows, Mac, and UNIX/Linux, the software is also available in source code form if you have a platform without a pre-built installer/executable.

Audacity is to Audio as Adobe Photoshop is to images: you can edit to your heart’s content, and every step of the process is un/re-doable.  Once you’ve got your audio exactly as you like, you can then produce Ogg, MP3, or other formats for the final result.  Like so much other software, there’s a plugin system to allow for additional functionality without having to have someone rebuild the software.

As always, software is more interesting with a screen shot, so here you go:

Audacity Screen Shot

Audacity Screen Shot

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FLOSS Friday: Portable Apps

November 6th, 2009

As mentioned in my previous entry, I wanted to share with you all the joys of portable apps.  As you’re no doubt aware, downloading or buying new software involves some level of installation, whether it’s running an EXE in Microsoft Windows, mounting a DMG in MacOS X, or using apt-get, Yum, or the like in Linux.  Files and tidbits can be scattered about the file system, sometimes leaving crumbs behind even when doing a complete uninstall.  Even worse than the install/uninstall hassle, sometimes you’re using somebody else’s computer, or perhaps a computer in a business center where you cannot install your own software and it’s not running your personal favorite tools.  Enter portable apps.

The basic definition of a portable app is one that can be run from a machine’s hard drive, a portable hard drive, or USB stick without requiring any installation at the operating system level.  Especially if you use a USB stick, you can have an entire computing environment of all your favorite tools ready to run.

The best place, if you’re a Windows user, to find out about portable apps is PortableApps.com.  There is a huge and ever-growing collection of applications just waiting to be tried out.  The process for their tools is that you get the EXE, run the EXE, specify where you want the resulting files to be saved, and then you’re all set.  There are no registry changes, there are no services that get installed, and there’s no annoying “let’s call back to the mothership and let you know about an upgrade” programs installed.   If you don’t want to use the app, just delete the folder that’s created.  Gone and gone.  Even better is to get the PortableApps.com Suite, which is an application manager/launcher program specifically for PortableApps.com apps.  The menu lets you install other apps from within it, as well as give you direct access to documents that you might have stored on your portable device.  Note that although you can run from a USB stick, you don’t have to.

OK, OK, I hear all the Mac people saying, “But what about us?”.  Well, have no fear.  The Mac community has developed their own Mac OS X versions of portable apps.  Check out the FreeSMUG Portable Applications page or the Windows and Mac list of portable apps from MakeUseOf.com.

For the Linux folks out there, the offerings are as rich, but of a slightly different variety.  Generally, portable Linux applications are entire Linux distributions that you can boot from CD or USB stick. I did find one article called Linux for Travelers where someone shows how to run a small Linux distribution from within Windows or Mac OS X.  Since live CDs / live USBs are their own topic, I’ll be saving details on them for another posting.

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FLOSS Friday

October 23rd, 2009

Welcome to the first post for FLOSS Friday.  FLOSS stands for Free,  Libre,  and Open Source Software.  Every Friday, I plan to discuss some software, site, or tool that is either free to the ECU community because of purchased licenses, because a commercial vendor doesn’t require payment, or is a project of the  Open Source / Free Software community.

For our first offering, I present to you KeePass

KeePass is a password organizer/storage/generator.  It has a huge number of features, and a huge number of plugins contributed.  At its most basic, it allows you to create entries with user names, passwords, labels, and (optionally) URLs so you don’t have to remember.  The KeePass file you create has a single password that you can then use to access all the passwords it contains.  Once you have an entry in KeePass, you can have it automatically paste your password to the clipboard, which means you can then paste that password into whatever application/site/machine you are currently trying to access.

KeePass lets you have folders for entries, and in fact comes with a large default set of folders for things like “Home Banking”, “Network”, and so forth.  These are completely at your control, and can be deleted, renamed, or used as-is.  Each entry and folder also has an associated icon within the application, so you have a lovely visual clue about what you’re looking at.  For instance, you can use a globe for web sites, a penguin for your Linux machines, and a Windows logo for your Windows machines.  The application comes with an extensive set of icons for this purpose.

To give you a sense of the application, check out this screenshot:

KeePass Main Screen

KeePass Main Screen

And here’s an entry:

KeePass Entry Editor

KeePass Entry Editor

Besides auto-pasting passwords (and user names), you can also have it open your default browser with the URL that you’ve configured in the entry.  Additional plugins are available to not only go to the URL, but enter your user name and password.

Whenever you’re talking about passwords, the issue of security is a big deal.  You don’t want to entrust your credentials to an application that will let someone else readily read the file.  Since I’m not an encryption expert, I’ll defer to the KeePass security document to explain why what they’re doing is a Good Thing ™.  As an example use, KeePass files can be sent as e-mail attachments.  If you then call the person to tell them the KeePass file password (NEVER SEND PASSWORDS VIA E-MAIL WITHOUT ENCRYPTION) you can give them a collection of passwords they might need in one handy organized file.

As an added security feature, KeePass will let you generate new passwords, with many features to restrict how they are generated (but still be secure).  Believe me, if you use a KeePass generated password with the default settings, nobody is going to guess it.  Since you can’t remember them, it’s a good idea to make sure you never forget your KeePass file’s main password.  If you do, then it’s game over.  There is no back door.  Unless you have a Beowulf Cluster of the world’s best super computers (plus a few hundred years), you’re not getting back in.

KeePass is available for a huge number of platforms, including:

  • Microsoft Windows
  • Apple Mac OS X
  • Pocket PC / Smart Devices
  • Linux
  • iPhone / iPod Touch
  • Blackberry
  • Android

See the offerings at the KeePass Downloads Page.

Even better for you Windows users, you can get Portable KeePass in PortableApps format so you can run the program without installing straight from a USB stick.  I’m sure I’ll be revisiting why PortableApps are the Best Thing Ever in another post.

There you have it.  A small, fast, safe, simple tool to manage your passwords.  I’m a big fan.

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