Tag Archive: Freeware

Today’s freeware is Xrecode II isn’t technically freeware, but rather an unlimited, fully functional trial with a pretty minimal nag screen (Similar to WinRar or WinZip… though there are better, free programs for compression anyway). It’s a bit of a heavy purchase for $15, given that you’re not likely to use it too often, but good software does deserve some monetary support.

Xrecode II is very nice because it supports a HUGE array of file formats, can be set up to do bulk processing, and it transcodes pretty quickly. For instance, I was able to transcode 500MB of 320KB CBR MP3s into q5 Ogg Vorbis files in about 15 minutes. Ripping a 60 minute CD directly into q5 Ogg Vorbis takes about 7 minutes. This is rather good speed even when compared to some rather expensive (~$40) encoders I’ve tried previously. Additionally, there are several preprocessing jobs that can be added to the whole shabang if you want to do more than just transcoding.

The only real drawback I’ve found (and this might be because I’m using 64 bit Windows 7) is that Xrecode is extremely slow at reading the file structure, especially when trying to load multiple folders into the queue. In fact, if you try to do too many folders, the program just freezes and has to be killed at the process level. This seems to have to deal mostly with the seemingly custom file browser that is used by Xrecode. I’m not entirely sure why the programmer opted to write his own file browsing operation when Windows’ native browser is easy to call with most programming languages and doesn’t seem to suffer from the lag this program has. Again, this may also be due to the program being written primarily for a Windows XP x86 platform rather than my Windows 7 x64 platform.

For me this lag issue isn’t a big deal, since it’s on the front end of the processing step and really isn’t all that bad. Since Xrecode isn’t the kind of software that you have to use a lot, I much prefer the long list of format compatibility and bulk processes than I do any kind of speed when browsing and loading folders. If you have several gigs of music that you’re trying to do all at the same time you might have an issue here, but for me, I find doing them in 500MB chunks is more than sufficient for my needs.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?

Freeware Friday: Audacity

For Friday this week, I thought I’d share one of my favorite freeware audio manipulation programs: Audacity.

Audacity is a great program for home sound manipulation. You can run all kinds of useful sound filtering and adjustment algorithms, and convert files between a number of different formats. It isn’t nearly as fully featured as commercial products used in the sound industry, but it doesn’t pretend to be. Plugin support for the product is fairly rudimentary, but it is there, and Audacity can be combined with the LAME MP3 library to support MP3 encoding.

The best use I’ve found for Audacity is in audio capture. My wife owns a large glut of cassette tapes. Over the years she has replaced a large number of her cassette collection with CDs or MP3 albums, but she also owns a large number of tapes that don’t exist in any other medium. Things like her harpsichord tape or the Scottish bagpipe band tape. This is where Audacity comes in. By hooking an old boom-box up to the sound input port of my computer I can play a tape and use audacity to capture the input. Once I’ve captured the entire side of the tape into one, long audio-steam I can then run the noise filter over the entire track to remove the base hiss of the audio tape and then save the individual tracks as MP3s. It takes a little bit of practice to get the hang of it because you have to adjust both the computer side gain of the signal as well as the output volume of the boom-box, but once you’ve got that down the method produces very good results.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?

Freeware Friday: Gimp

If you’ve done enough work with photography or drawings, you’ve probably already heard about the GNU Image Manipulation Program, or GIMP as it’s called. If you haven’t and want to do some image manipulation, you might want to give it a look.

GIMP is a fully featured freeware image manipulation package similar to Photoshop. Indeed, if you’ve ever used Photoshop you’ll immediately notice that GIMP feels very familiar to you. While GIMP does not have as much functionality out of the box as Photoshop does, there is a plethora of plugins that can be easily downloaded and installed into GIMP that make up for any initial lack. Since GIMP is open source, writing plugins for it (provided you know how to program them) is rather easy, so there are hundreds of plugins available online to fill various needs that are not initially available in the software. The modular nature of the program makes customizing it to your needs fairly pain free.

GIMP is also multi-platform, with distributions available for Windows, Linux, Solaris, FreeBD, and MacOS, so odds are good that you’ll be able to install it on whatever platform you’re currently using (unless you’re using an Amiga, bummer). Beyond that, I don’t know what else I can really say about GIMP other than it’s basically a freeware, opensource Photoshop with an active community of coders. It’s a very well established program that has been around for a decade now, so there are no worries about malware in the program.

One of the most useful plugins I’ve found for GIMP is David’s Batch Processor (DBP). This allows batch processing of images which include: Rotation, blurring/sharpening, colorizing, resizing, cropping, renaming, and file conversion. This is HUGELY handy for somebody like myself who takes all their pictures in the highest resolution possible but then needs to resize the images to better fit into my blog or project files. It’s been a time-saver for the yarn-ball winder project, as all my 10 mega pixel images need to be resized to fit into my figure PDF, which doing individually was taking forever. Other image resizing programs that I’ve used take much longer and produce shoddier looking results when compared directly to DBP, so if you’re looking for a good way to batch resize a lot of pictures, I highly recommend giving it a try.

Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?

As promised, today I will be doing the first of my series of freeware spotlights. Unlike my Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday spots, these freeware entries won’t run every week, nor will they be numbered. However, unlike my “Cooking With Taco” spotlight, I’ll only be doing freeware as a way to fill in the odd Friday… mostly because I like alliteration.

This week, we’ll take a look at Smart Defrag 2 by I0bit.

If you’ve ever used a Windows computer (which I’m assuming the vast majority of you have) you probably know that the hard drives need to be defragmented from time to time in order to help the computer work a little better. This fragmentation is caused by the way that Windows handles file allocation and is really a discussion all in itself.

Now there are a LOT of drive defragmentation programs out there. One of these comes with windows and is widely viewed as being horrible, both because it’s pretty slow and has no configuration options (at least, not ones that are intuitive and easily accessible).

You've probably seen this... you've probably also had this take a day or two to do its job.

At the other end of the spectrum are packages like O&O Defrag, which is both fully featured and pretty fast. It’s also costs $30, which to me is a bit steep for a program I’m likely only going to run once a month or so. It’s also rather memory intensive compared to other solutions. You can get a test version of the software that you can trial for a bit, and there is a very old version of O&O Defrag that has been pruned down into a free version that you can find if you hunt around enough. Both of those options aren’t so great.

On the free side of the spectrum, there are many defrag programs, most of which are pretty simple and don’t offer much in the way of features. Generally they just piggyback directly onto the Windows native algorithm and just encapsulate it with a few efficiency boosting algorithms and wrap it all in a simple GUI. By and large these solutions aren’t very impressive, and aren’t really that good.

This is where Smart Defrag 2 fills the freeware niche nicely. While it isn’t as fully featured as O&O, it certainly has enough features for the home user. It’s about as fast as O&O, uses less system resources when in monitoring mode, and does the job you need it to do, i.e. defragment your drives. It’s more robust than the Windows version and much more intuitive. You can also set up automatic defragging and the like, which is handy if you’re as forgetful as I am.

I’ve used Smart Defrag for a few years now and have been pretty happy with it. For those who want to tweak it, I recommend turning off the active defrag agent and instead set up a monthly defrag job. As of yet I’ve never hit a sudden defrag emergency that warrants constant monitoring of my system, and as such monitoring does consume some system resources, I find that I’m better off without it unless I’m doing something that specifically needs monitoring (which hasn’t actually happened yet). Otherwise, the software speaks pretty well for itself.

From the press side of things, Smart Defrag has a wide array of good ratings and editor’s choice awards with most of the primary software download sites (including ZDNet, Cnet, PC Magazine, TowCows, Softpedia, and PC World among many others). It’s a well established program, so you can put aside worries about it being malicious or poorly constructed.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?