Five Web Alternatives to Desktop Applications

I’m a big fan of web based applications. I don’t have anything against desktop applications, but there are many limitations with desktop software, especially for someone who like me who is constantly on the move. Higher cost, platform dependence, installation problems (space, hardware, buggy installers) are a few of the reasons I try to avoid desktop applications.

My reluctance to use desktop applications led to me using a few highly useful web alternatives. Mentioned below are the five which I find the most useful.

Aviary Tools

If you are looking to edit images then this is the perfect tool for you.  It’s a great alternative to desktop image editors like Photoshop, Illustrator etc. It has a comprehensive set of tools to do all sorts of things with your image.

You can import your own images to do some quick changes and help text pops up from time to time to ease the process. It has a comprehensive set of tools for vector editing and even audio editing. Try Aviary Tools.

Creately

Creately is a diagramming application that is a great alternative to software like Microsoft Visio and Omnigraffle. It supports technical diagrams like flowcharts, UML and business diagrams like organization charts, mind maps etc.

Creately's LogoIf you are looking to draw a quick flowchart or an organization chart then this is the tool to do it. It also has online collaboration support, meaning you two people can work together in the same diagram, excellent if you are working with clients that are in different locations. Check out Creately.

WobZip

As you will probably guess by the name, this is a great alternative to software like WinZip. It supports popular file types like ZIP, RAR and as an added bonus scans the files for viruses as well.

Most downloads are packaged as zipped files so this is an extremely useful tool to have. The best thing is, you don’t have to sign up or provide you email just to get the file. Try WobZIp.

Google Docs

I consider this a must have tool for anyone. It’s a great alternative to Microsoft office and offers controlled sharing with others as well. You can prepare documents, design slideshow presentations, create spreadsheets and much more.

As mentioned, the online sharing ability makes it very easy for many people to work on the same document. You do need a Google account to use the service, but most people have one these days, so that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Check out Google Docs.

Wunderlist

Wunderlist is the latest addition to my online tool set. Wunderlist is an online to do list manager, which also has some cool additional features which makes it very productive. If you want they provide desktop applications for many devices that automatically sync with your online account.

You also have the ability to share lists with other users. This is especially useful if you are working with few others on some small tasks. You can easily see what they have completed and what needs to be done. Try Wunderlist.

Mentioned above are five tools that have helped me become more productive and efficient in my day to day work.  There are hundreds more web alternatives out there so if you can think of a similar one make sure to mention in the comments section. In the meantime try out these services and enjoy the freedom of web based applications.

Steps to Take Before Throwing Away Your Old PC

In 2010, the FTC recorded over 250,000 complaints of identity theft in the United States. While many identity thieves still get their information from your paper mail, a stolen purse or wallet, or hacked files online, more and more are starting to glean sensitive information from the hard drives of old computers. If you’re getting ready to toss out your desktop or laptop in favor of a newer model, take these steps to protect yourself from identity theft.

What information might be stored?

Not sure it’s worth all that work to wipe your hard drive? After all, you don’t keep a ton of important information on your computer, so what could a hacker possibly find anyway; and if you’re just donating your computer or selling it for cheap, what are the odds that an identity thief is going to get his hands on it?

The problem with this line of thinking is that often times, your computer has stored information that you don’t even know it has stored.

Common information stored on computers includes account numbers, credit card numbers, passwords, registration keys for software programs that you use, medical information, addresses, and even tax returns – which contain pretty much all the personal information necessary for a someone to apply for a credit card or bank loan in your name!

Keep in mind that many identity thieves will actually buy a used computer – or even steal a donated one – in the hope of gleaning such personal information. This information can be worth thousands of dollars to them and can create a huge headache – and financial problems – for you.

How to get rid of the data

So, before you sell your computer or donate it to your local school system, take these steps to get rid of the data for good:

1. Don’t count of just deleting the files. While you’ll want to delete the files from your computer, this is just the first step to take. Identity thieves are often experts at getting deleted information from hard drives by using specialized software.

2. Save any files you want to keep. Before you wipe your hard drive, you will, of course, want to save any files you want to keep. You can transfer your data to a new computer, burn it to a CD, put it on a USB drive, or put it on an external hard drive – a particularly good option if you need to store a ton of files or information.

3. Use a utility program specifically meant to wipe your hard drive. Local tech stores will sell utility programs meant for this purpose that match up with your specific operating system. The best idea is to get a program that will overwrite or wipe the hard drive several times instead of just once, and you’ll definitely want a program that wipes the entire drive.

If you know your computer has particularly sensitive information on it and you don’t trust a utility program to get rid of the information, you can always destroy the hard drive physically.

Businesses in particular, often use hard drive shredding services, as their computers tend to have lots of personal information on both employees and customers of the business.

A hard disk shredder

A hard drive being shredded

Once you shred the hard drive, you can simply sell or donate the rest of the computer without it, and the new owner can then completely replace the hard drive.

Watching for identity theft

Even if you are careful to destroy information on your computer before you sell or donate it, it’s a good idea to be wary of potential identity theft.

Check your credit reports regularly to ensure that everything is accurate. Credit reports are normally the first place you’ll see evidence of identity theft when new accounts pop up that you didn’t open. If you do think you’ve been a victim of identity theft, get identity theft assistance as soon as possible.

Report the problem to the credit reporting bureaus, who will place a fraud alert on your account. Then close the new, fraudulent accounts. Finally, report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission and your local police department.

If you’ve taken steps to protect your personal information from being stolen, you may never have to deal with the problem of identity theft, but it’s always a good idea to be aware of what you should do if your identity should be stolen.

The Pocket Boom – Review

A week or so ago, a company approached Technology Bloggers and asked if I would be willing to review some of their products. I thought that this could be some fun, so I emailed them back saying: why not! They then send me a Pocket Boom to test and then review – this article is that review.

Please note, the opinions in this article are mine, and are completely honest – I am not being paid to write a review for them.

What is the Pocket Boom?

The Pocket Boom is a device that can turn pretty much any surface into a speaker. You just plug in your music – be it from your iPod, computer, tablet, stereo or whatever (anything that has a 3.5mm headphone jack) and place the vibrating speaker onto a surface, and it will vibrate the surface to turn it into a speaker.

The Pocket Boom

The Pocket Boom with its vibrator head and headphone jack out

What Surfaces Does the Pocket Boom Work on?

The clever technology in the vibrating head on the device is able to vibrate any surface and turn it into a speaker. However, on some surfaces, it vibrates it so little that the vibrating head is louder than the surface. Surfaces that I have found to be bad speakers include:

  • Brick walls
  • Solid wood – some thin wood works well
  • Clothing – some clothing does work, but not very well
  • Other solid objects with little capacity to vibrate

Surfaces that I have found to work really well include:

  • Cardboard – and other paper products
  • Thin wood – notice boards, some tables and chairs all work well
  • Metal – due to its ability to vibrate, metal is one of the best materials I have tried, filing cabinets, kitchen hood extractor fans, hole punches, beds, and much more!
  • Thin plastic – tubs, especially DVD (and Blu-Ray, Wii, PS3, Xbox etc.) cases and even washing baskets!

Does it Actually Work?

You may be wondering if it actually works, it seems too good to be true. Can the Pocket Boom really: turn anything into a speaker, turn anything into an amplifier; and turn anything into an equaliser?

My answer is simple. Yes.

You can be sceptical, but I have one and it does. As I mentioned above, some surfaces it really surprises you by how well it actually transforms that object into a speaker, whilst with others you can be left somewhat disappoint with the sound level – but never the less it does turn it into a speaker.

The Pocket Boom with all leads stowed away

The Pocket Boom with all leads stowed away (Compact)

From my personal use of the speaker, I would say that I think it works amazingly well on around 15% of objects, well on 70% of objects, and rather disappointingly on the other 15% of objects. So around 85% of objects to hand should be able to be converted into a good speaker pretty easily!

Check out this video to see it in action 🙂

Is it Easy to Use?

Clearly a lot of work has gone into designing the Pocket Boom, it has some great ideas behind it. The ergonomics need some tweaking before the product is 100% perfect.

The 3.5mm headphone jack lead that comes out to plug into your device is way too short to be practically used with most devices. That is a major flaw, but this has been fixed, as included in the box is an extender lead, so you can get an extra 40cm (ish) of reach.

The Pocket Boom and accompanying items

The items that come with the Pocket Boom

Inserting the batteries is really easy, literally slide back a cover, put them in and slide the cover back on. Dead simple.

The enclosed instructions do tell you how to pull out the speaker wire, so that you can place the vibrating speaker head on a surface, however I found them very hard to follow. I found a video on YouTube about how to do it though, and that cleared things right up, just pull the wire out whilst rotating it round at the same time – effectively pulling and unwinding.

The Pocket Boom's Instructions

The instructions that come with the Pocket Boom

One thing that I am still a bit puzzled about is the suction pad system. The speaker head has an adhesive suction pad on it so that you can stick it to surfaces easily. It does get dirty, and I have found that covering it with sellotape and then slowly removing the tape cleans it up and it becomes sticky again. In the pack some extra adhesive are provided, however I can’t seem to find any instructions as to how to change the pad. Hopefully when I need to it will be pretty easy.

What is the Battery Life Like?

I have so far been very pleasantly surprised by the life of the battery. Considering this is a device that is designed to effectively replace most speakers, it uses very little power. Normal speakers can be power hungry, however the Pocket Boom takes just two AAA batteries.

I have had my Pocket Boom vibrating and turning objects into speakers for around three hours now, and despite it being powered by just two AAA batteries, it is still working just as well now as it was when I started using it. The Pocket Boom would appear to be a great saver of energy, considering that two speakers would be unlikely to last that long, producing the kind of sound levels that the Pocket Boom can.

 How Good is the Sound Quality?

Okay, so it is portable, can turn almost anything into a good speaker, uses less power, therefore its weakness must be in its sound quality right? Wrong.

Personally I am very impressed with the quality of the sound the Pocket Boom can produce. I have used it on many surfaces, and found that everyone produces a slightly different quality, pitch and intensity of sound. Some produce music with much deeper bass levels, whilst others just produce really loud music! Some substances I would like it to go louder, but the volume level is always reasonable.

Depending on the song you are playing, the sound produced will vary. Sometimes you need to turn the volume down slightly, as the speaker head vibrates too much and doesn’t sound that great, but turning down the volume easily fixes this.

The Environment…

One thing I have noticed about the Pocket Boom is that it works better in quieter environments. Also, the size of the room seems to affect how well it produces sound, as it can really affect the acoustics. I have personally found that it works far better in small rooms than it does in bigger ones. If there is also a lot of noise, it doesn’t work as well, but for most environments it works really well.

I currently have it plugged into my PC, using the machine (metal) as the speaker, and it works really well. The environment is relatively quiet, and the volume of my PC is only on 20%, yet the sound is much louder than if it were through headphones!

Is the Pocket Boom Value for Money?

When I reviewed the Kymera Magic Wand I bought, I concluded that it was a great novelty product, but not really value for money at £50.

I think the Pocket Boom also has some novelty element to it, which you get when you first use it. I ran around testing it on everything I could! That has slightly worn off now, but the product is very practical and does work. As I said, I am using it as a speaker for my PC, and it is working very well.

The Pocket Boom retails at £20 (£19.99) which I think is a very reasonable price. I think that the novelty factor of the boom is probably worth £5 to £10, but after that you have an extremely practical product, which you find uses for in your every day life.

If you prefer to listen to high quality music, amplifiers and professional loudspeakers are probably for you, the Pocket Boom is not the best of speakers, but it is a bit of fun.

If however you are someone who just likes to casually listen to music, and the occasional bit of fun (as you find a new surface to try out!) then the Pocket Boom is a must have gadget!

The Pocket Boom and its packaging

The Pocket Boom in its packaging

As I said at the beginning of the article, this product has been sent to us to review. This company is called GearZap. Our thanks to GapZear for providing us with the pocket boom 🙂