On an inner-city tip this week, wallpaper fans. Echo III by Woodrosen is a stunning bit of photography to enhance your desktop real estate. It features a light green sheen that takes away the distracting highlights and is available in a nice hi-def 1920×1080 resolution . You can get this fantastic wallpaper right here.
Dropbox is an incredibly useful facility, whether you’re happy to plod along with the free service or pony up for the larger gigabyte subscriptions. Increasing numbers of apps now support Dropbox syncing, whereby your store your app’s preference and configuration data in Dropbox and it’s made available to any other device you connect to your Dropbox.
Now app developer Joe Workman has released DropboxAppSync for Mac, which enables you to leverage this syncing facility for any application. This neat utility will relocate your data into a special Application Support directory in Dropbox and then create the correct symlinks to fool your application into looking elsewhere for its configuration data. You run it once on the source machine to copy the data over to the cloud and then repeat the process on your other machines.
Apple often comes in for abuse regarding the applications they ship with their operating systems. They certainly copped a bit of flack for the implementation of Safari on iOS devices and while I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was a bad mobile browser, it’s certainly a little dull. There are of course many alternative browsers already in the App Store, such as Mercury, Opera, Atomic and Skyfire, but Dolphin is, as far as I’m concerned, the first real contender.
Dolphin has landed on iOS by way of Android, where it enjoys a well deserved reputation as being innovative, stable and beautifully designed. It works equally well on iPhone and iPad, but we took it for a roadtest on iPhone because if you can get the browser experience working well on that diminutive screen, then you’re onto a winner.
For all the bells and whistles that you get with modern web browsers, there are actually very few features that have crossed over into the mainstream. Principle amongst these is tabbed browsing and this is something that Dolphin handles particularly well. Rather than creating ever tinier tabs as you open more of them up, they stay the same regulation size and you simply swipe backwards and forwards through the list to the one you want. It’s effective and slick and entirely intuitive.
Swiping left or right on the main browser window reveals the two main toolbars. On the left, you get all your bookmarks and on the right you get the control bar featuring full screen, downloads, gestures, clear data and settings buttons. As with everything else in Dolphin, it’s really well implemented and fits in perfectly with the whole iOS ecosystem in a way that other browsers simply don’t.
At the bottom of the browser window is a navigational toolbar that features backward and forwards buttons, a gesture toggle, bookmarks, coverflow and URL management. If you’re not a fan of pushing buttons, then you might like to give the gestures ago – these are actually easy to use and close at hand and if you don’t like the way they’re set up then you can change them.
Along with tabs, one of the other features to enter mainstream use is the Speed Dial. Originally introduced by Opera, these enable you to keep your absolute favourite websites close at hand. Create a new tab and you’ll see your speed dial buttons ready for access. The design of the speed dial page is crisp and clean and perfectly designed for podgy fingers instead of clicky pointers.
Tapping on the address bar initiates the on-screen keyboard so you can manually enter an address. So far so obvious. However where Dolphin differs from Safari is that the keyboard is tailored to URL entry and features prominent .com, period and back slash buttons along with special buttons for .net, .org, .edu and space. Underneath the address window are a list of your most recently visited websites, in case you want to return to any of them. It’s all imminently useful and cleverly designed to make mobile web browsing a joy and not a grind.
One of my favourite features in Dolpin is the Webzine. This is like a mobile version of an RSS feed in which you can add up eight content-focused websites to your reading list. Feeds are organised in broad categories such as news, health, science & tech and entertainment and you simply choose your favoured feeds from the supplied list. The only drawback to this great feature is that you’re only allowed eight webzines in total and you can’t ‘roll your own’ – you have to choose from the pre-defined list.
Browsing the web on a smartphone sized device is always going to be a testing experience – those tiny screens were simply never designed to show sprawling web pages. And yet with a browser like Dolphin you don’t feel restricted by that screen size in the way that you do with Safari – particularly if you use the fullscreen mode. Apple’s Mobile Safari had all but beaten the desire to browse the web on my iPhone out of me, but Dolphin’s a game changer and has now taken a coveted place on my phone’s main dock. If you struggle with mobile web browsing too or if you’re simply frustrated by Safari – give Dolphin a go and I’d surprised if you went back.
If you’re anything like us, then your Windows archiving software doesn’t extend much further than the Shareware version of WinRar. However you can now bring a bit of interface sparkle to your file archiving pursuits, thanks to ZipArchiver from Hamstersoft. This stunning looking little utility looks terrific but also features a finely tuned compression algorithm so you can squeeze your files down to their maximum extent. It supports all popular compression formats ZIP, Rar, 7z etc and even includes special functions (preset) for e-mail, RapidShare, CD, DVD, and others.
We are, it must be said, loving all these Metro styled apps that have been appearing of late for Windows. Taking their design cues from the great Windows Mobile interface, they utilise slabs of colour in what (if I was feeling pretentious, which I am) I’d say were influenced by the work of modernist artist Mondrian. Anyway – they not only look great, but they’re very useable too and ultimately that’s the main thing isn’t it?
MetroViewer, which has been developed by SalvatoreG is a Windows image viewer with a funky Metro styled interface. It has a drag-and-drop interface and includes a navigational interface so that you can quickly zip through a directory of images until you find the one you’re after. It has a multi-lingual interface and is, of course, free.
The information bar at the top of the window enables you to view (and copy to clipboard) the path, dimensions, size and extension of the image you’re viewing. The navigation bar can be minimised to hover-mode and there’s an auto-update feature so you can stay on top of new releases. What are you waiting for – go get it. Incidentally – for a sneak peek of what the next release of MetroViewer may well look like, check this out.
There are a squidillion file-sending apps out there across all platforms and so you have to wonder what would motivate someone to enter this particular crowded marketplace. The answer I guess falls under the ‘build a better mousetrap’ heading – everyone thinks they can do a better job of it.
SendGenie is the latest file sending service, but it does have a couple of unique features that may interest you. Firstly it features an Instant Messenger style interface in which you can add contacts and/or put them in groups. Secondly it features a simple drag and drop interface that enables you to quickly get large files (up to 300Mb) to individuals or groups. And thirdly, if you’re in the habit of sending lots of photos to people then the image auto-rotate and auto resize features may prove useful. SendGenie’s desktop client is available in both Mac and Windows flavours.
There’s been some real innovation lately with Twitter clients, with slick interfaces that reflect the nature of the micro-blogging environment. The best Twitter clients enable you to flick easily between trends, check mentions and retweets simply and navigate your way through the users that you’re following.
TweetComb is a great looking and beautifully designed free Twitter client for Android Honeycomb. The main Dashboard screen is split three ways and can display your Timeline, Mentions, Direct Messages, Profile, Search and Favourites as you wish. It’s a great interface for swift and efficient navigation of all those accounts that you’re following.
The app supports the usual Twitter goodies such as Bit.ly, Twitlonger, Twitpic and yFrog and updates in the background so you always get the freshest feeds when you check back. Tweetcomb can be set to notify you when a fresh tweet appears in the timeline, but if you’re following more than a couple of people this can get annoying. It’s a great Twitter client for tablet users, although it’s somewhat disappointing that it’s only available for Honeycomb and not any earlier iterations of Android..
The web is booming like never before. More and more businesses are setting up online portals and funky new web services are starting up every day. Which is all well and good, but it also means that web surfers spend a lot of time entering the exact same details into online forms over and over again. But it doesn’t have to be that way – by installing a form filler add-on for your browser you can complete mundane form entries in a single click.
My son doesn’t have a clue what a tape deck is and while his dad used to earn a living as a DJ, I’m sad to say that he doesn’t have a clue what a record deck is either. Why should he? The sun has well and truly set on that kind of technology and while there will always be hobbyists keeping such things alive, the mainstream moves on. And so it was with with DOS, the operating system that powered all PCs in the pre-GUI interface era. As soon as Microsoft released Windows 95 it was discarded with joy by PC users.
But the fact is that there were some terrific games released for DOS over the years – the formative era of PC gaming. Sure they look pixelated as hell and the sound won’t win any awards for sonic fidelity, but the gameplay’s the key and gameplay’s what you’ll get. Install a DOS emulator and you can wallow in nostalgia until your PS3 or Xbox 360 throws a hissy-fit. There are plenty of games available for download, some of which are considered Abandonware and thus available for download, some of which are still commercial games and can be bought through services such as Gog. And there’s always the third option for getting hold of your games, which I’m sure needs no further explaination.
Far and away the best DOS emulator for the Mac is Boxer which is a free download. It features a slick Mac interface, a customised library and a drag-and-drop import facility that makes running games a snap. It comes with a couple of demos to get you going, including X-Com, Commander Keen, Epic Pinball and Ultima Underworld. To run them, just click on the configurable box art and off you go down memory lane.
Boxer features a number of enhancements to leverage the power of the modern Mac including a CPU setting (as some games will run too fast to be useable), smoothing (Mame or HQX options) and, brilliantly, the ability to use your iPhone as a joypad. It’s an incredibly well designed bit of software and heartily recommended to retro Mac gamers or Generation Y who just fancy a good laugh.
On the PC there are several good DOS Emulators but far and away the best is DOS-Box. It emulates 286/386 CPUs in realmode and protected mode, the Directory FileSystem/XMS/EMS, Tandy/Hercules/CGA/EGA/VGA/VESA graphics and SoundBlaster/Gravis Ultra Soundcard for that authentic ’90s audio. All of which means it’s capable of playing pretty much any old DOS game you throw at it.
Unless you fancy getting truly old school and using the DOS prompt to mount and play your games, DOS-Box is best paired with a front end such as CBoxrun, DBGL or D-Fend. Any of these free downloads will enable you to utilise a simple interface to manage and play your games and, to be honest, pissing around with DOS prompts is one part of a retro gaming experience most people would gladly live without.
If you fancy tackling X-Com again or Bullfrog’s seminal Magic Carpet is calling to you from the mists of time, you can find a full list of compatible games here. To kick off your collection, check out the library at Abandonia.
There are some excellent free DJing suites available for the Mac, some great budget ones and a redundant record box full of full-blown commercial apps. Currently Mac owners can download Virtual DJ Home and Mixx in the App Store, both of which have large user bases and, in the case of Virtual DJ, a clear upgrade path to a more comprehensive package should a bedroom DJ decide to move up to the DJ booth.
itDJ certainly has the feel of a free app and while I realise that this means we ought to take it easier on the software, there are other free DJ apps available for the Mac and itDJ has to be reviewed with this in mind. So the first thing to say about this software is that the interface is all over the place – metal styled knobs, old school folders and nasty buttons. It’s probably best to say that it isn’t a thing of beauty but I’d forgive the ugliest of interfaces if the functionality made up for it.
In terms of layout you get a vaguely Serato Itch style interface, with a couple of decks at the top and the music list at the bottom of the screen. There’s pitch and gain controls for each deck, along with EQ knobs per-deck. Music you cue up by dragging it onto either of the decks is shown at the top of the screen in over-lapping waveforms – red for the left deck and blue for the right. There’s a master BPM setting in the middle of the decks along with the obligatory cross-fader. It’s a fairly ramshackle arrangement.
In terms of sonic goodies, there’s actually some fairly cool tools to play with. Principle amongst these is a neat beat mixer that enables you to chop a track up in 2, 4, 8 or 16 beat chunks. It works surprisingly well and syncs nicely between beat modes. There’s also an effects tab with the obligatory reverb and flanger and a wahwah which can be set to match beats and works well when combined with a loop.
The loops and cues tab, an essential tool for any digital DJ these days, is a bit hit-and-miss. This comes down to the fact that itDJ’s beat detection isn’t exactly world-beating and so while the cue points function well, getting a loop on the money is not guaranteed. There is a cool loop shifter slider that enables you to flick your 1/4, 1/2, 1, 2, 4 or 8 bar loop up and down the track.
Many digital DJs either don’t know how to beat-match tracks or choose not to and so the Sync feature is all-important. We found this to be lacking – unless there was a crystal clear bass or high-hat for the sync to latch onto, it failed to find the beat. In comparison to Virtual DJ Home’s syncing facility, it’s woefully inadequate. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was easy to mix the ‘old fashioned’ way, but the virtual decks are non-functional and did nothing no matter how we moved the mouse pointer on them, so to beatmatch you have to use the top waveform to nudge, speed up or slow down the track and it simply doesn’t work in any useful way.
Hidden behind a toggled FX Panel button are four sample decks, 16 effects slots which you can fill with your own police sirens and ‘woo-yea’s and a full sequencer. The latter seemed like a vaguely bizarre thing to add to a DJ mixing application and its painfully simple design wouldn’t add much to any set beyond, possibly, getting you out of trouble if a track comes to its end before you’re ready to cue up the next one. itDJ also appears to have some basic support for MIDI mixing panels, but it’s not clear which ones it supports or indeed if you need to do the button mapping yourself.
The bottom line is that this digital DJing package simply doesn’t cut it in any meaningful way. If I was being charitable I’d say it was a step up from using iTunes to DJ with – but only just. Given just how good the also free Mixx and Virtual DJ Home are and given the fact that many people get Traktor LE free with their digital DJ decks or MIDI panels, you’d have to be fairly desparate to consider using itDJ. It does have a nice icon though.
Five Cool Dark Minimalist Wallpapers : We've scoured the wallpaper sites and are happy to present to you, five incredibly cool wallpapers that are the very essence of minimalistic. For this first rou...
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