THE BEST OF THE BEST

So many programs, so little time. Let’s start the New Year with what we consider the best of the best. By that we mean the programs we found to be the most useful over the years, the ones we use all the time.

The first, and by rightful place, is Smartboard for Windows. We have used this program for 20 years. It is what is called a “clipboard extender.” Windows comes with a clipboard that can hold whatever text or graphic you have marked with the mouse, if you then type control-c on the keyboard to save it. Unfortunately it only saves one.

Smartboard can save a virtually unlimited number of such clips, whether text, photos or graphics. It is the mother lode for boiler plate. “Boiler plate” is a term for material that is used over and over again in many documents. For legal documents, boiler plate can often be several paragraphs of text and sometimes even pages. It can be your name and address, a common beginning or ending to letters, a frequent answer to common questions, etc. We use it every day, many times a day. Need to slug in your address, phone number, email, web site … whatever? Type it, copy it with control-c, and then just click on that item from the list in Smartboard to paste into whatever you’re working on, wherever you have put the cursor. Want to copy something from a document, a web site or an email? Mark it, hit control-c and it’s automatically saved in Smartboard. The latest version of Smartboard can even read the text back to you out loud.

Smartboard is a little hard to find. If you do a Google search, you end up of with dozens of sites wanting to sell you a white board of the kind used in meetings and classrooms. What you want to do is go to X2net.com, the home site for the Smartboard we’re talking about. It says it’s only for Windows XP and earlier but we have it in Windows Vista and it works fine. You can download a free trial version and if you like it and want to buy, it’s $28. It’s an odd price but this is an English program and it was probably the dollar equivalent to Pounds Sterling.

Another clipboard extender that has proved popular is ClipMate, from Thornsoft.com. It’s $35 and can be installed on portable flash drives, like SanDisk’s “Cruzer.” Joy has used it for several years but is switching to Smartboard, because Clipmate occasionally locks up for her.

Snagit

The name is Snagit and it’s the champion of Windows screen grabbers. “Screen-grabber” is a self-explanatory phrase. Click to start Snagit, then mark any part of the screen you’re looking at and then

Snagit

click to save it. Of course that’s just the beginning.

You can grab any part of a screen, the whole screen or a series of screens. You can capture any part of a video while you’re playing it. You can do the same with computer games. You can capture the scrolling frames of a web site, PowerPoint presentation, classroom lesson, training film, etc., no matter how long it is. You can capture any and all of this with sound, and you can add comments to the screens.

Let’s say you’re searching the web and you see a picture you like or a product shot you want. You can right-click the picture with your mouse pointer, and then choose “save-as” from the selection box that pops up. Give it a name and save it to any file you want. But some pictures are protected and can’t be copied that way. Sometimes large areas of a web site are protected from copying. Sometimes it’s just a nuisance to try and collect everything this way. No problem, just mark the protected image with Snagit and you’ve got it, no matter how much it’s protected.

Snagit costs $50 from Snagit.com, and they have a trial version for free.

Picasa

This is the easiest, fastest, “bestest” photo editor and manager we’ve found. And it’s free! The name is a play on the famous artist, Picasso.

We do a lot of picture editing to get things to fit on our web site and for email. Picasa has all the usual tools you find in more expensive editors and especially our favorite: “fill light.” This has saved many a photo that was simply too dark to view easily. It lightens the photo without washing out the primary focus. They even Picasahave an “I’m feeling lucky” button, for a one-click fix for lighting and color. For that old-time photo look, you can select soft focus and sepia tinting. When you’re satisfied it’s the way you want, you can add text to the picture.

Picasa can make pictures into posters and collages. You can turn a sequence of single shots or video clips into a movie; then add an audio track and post it to YouTube. You can, of course, group your photos and other images into folders by subject matter, time and sequence. We first found Picasa many years ago when it was a tiny company called Idealab. (Editor’s Note: We were corrected on this by the first CEO of Picasa. Idealab was just the name of the business incubator which helped Picasa get its start. Click “comment” for more details.) It has since been acquired by Google and you can get your free copy at Picasa.Google.com.

Picasa is a Windows only program, though there is an upload tool for Mac users who want to use Picasa web albums for online storage. Mac users can get a lovely new program called “ilovephotos,” which is also free. You can get it at ilovephotos.com. It has a real high-tech trick: if you tag people’s photos with their name and email address – like family members, for example – the program will recognize those faces in any new photo and send them a copy, if you like.

 

 

 

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