Swiss army knife and other tools for using the web

Swiss army knifeMozilla FirefoxAs we’ll be covering searching the web in the next post, this one will only provide detail on the choice search combiner tools, as well as five other handy non-search related tools for using the web. As you’re reading my blog, I’m certain that you are intelligent and already have your Swiss army knife, a.k.a. Firefox, but may be looking to throw in a few extra tools.

The most important things to look for in ‘additional tools’ are:

  • cost – and, indeed, in most cases look for free products
  • ease of use – can you use it easily (while recognising that you may need to learn to use programs)
  • functionality – does it do what it needs to if it is to be effective (ie if a single vital element is missing, an other wise ‘good’ program is useless)
  • utility – does the program increase your effectiveness (saving time, in particular, or allowing you to do something previously not done)
  • commonality – is the program becoming ‘standard’ or at least common.

(Allen, n.d.)

  1. Adobe PDF Reader
  2. Flash/Shockwave Players
  3. Media Players
  4. Search Manager/Combiners
  5. Bookmark Manager
  6. Offline Browser/Copier

Adobe PDF Reader

Adobe PDF ReaderIt’s difficult for me to imagine someone using the internet without needing a PDF reader. My father once accidently removed Adobe PDF Reader from his computer before realising that it was the handler for all the PDF files he uses! Adobe’s is the most popular but not the only one. Although it’s free to download, the (Windows) 33.5MB installer for reading without the browser shell, is rather hefty. Modern browsers have the plug-in pre-installed. Ease of use, check. Functionality, check.

Flash/Shockwave Players

Sites such as YouTube and Vimeo are driven by Flash. So there’s a very high probability that you have a recent version of the Flash Player installed. Shockwave on the other hand, tends to be used for a few web-based games. Shockwave Player displays Web content that has been created by Adobe Director. Flash has become fairly standard, initially for vector based animation, but now includes high definition (HD) video and audio presentation. At zero cost, the interfaces are all fairly intuitive, and it exceeds it’s required functionality. A rather universal player.

Media Players

I’ve had both Apple Quicktime PlayerApple QuickTime Player and Windows Media Player installed for ages. On rare occasions, I find video/audio resources only available in the streaming Windows format and am forced to use the player. I feel much the same about Apple’s QuickTime Player except the interface seems a little simpler and easier to use. The free Real Networks Real One includes advertisement sponsored viewing – great… not! – and DVD burning is not available without cost. The installation is sensationally annoying (default options to install games links, soft-porn film strip advertisement, browser restart required, compulsory product registration including email address! – not so compulsory… then annoying Message Center alerts – when will it end?) Despite this, the CNET editor’s review gave 4/5 stars, and you can download and record web videos. (CNET Editor, 2007) Call me old school, but when it comes to watching entertaining video, I’ve got a television, a DVD rental shop around the corner, and great cinemas in the neighbourhood. While I still have 20/20 vision, the quality of web video just doesn’t cut the mustard. Moral of the day: when you’ve found a tool that works well and does the job, stick with it.

Search Manager/Combiners

I’m checking out Copernic Agent 6.12. What is it with these compulsory registrations? I tried a search for yours truly. Aside from the auction sites, a familiar flickr web page came up 3rd on the list. In fact with combining the additional search engines under the hood, it seems to pull a more precise listing than Google alone. I like it. A clean but extensive interface, fairly easy to use, this tool could become quite useful for in-depth research.

Bookmark Manager

Xmarks - a browser bookmark synchroniserXmarks (formerly Foxmarks) is a bookmark synchroniser that I’ve been swearing by for ages. It allows me to back-up my bookmarks and use the same bookmarks across different computers – rather handy when added onto Firefox Portable! However it doesn’t really make it easier to manage, sort and categorise bookmarks/favourites. With tagging, search, and all the other smart book-marking functions of Firefox 3, I’m starting to wonder at the need for more… I might come back to this at another time.

Offline Browser/Copier

PDF Download add-on for FirefoxIf you want/need to create PDFs from web pages, Firefox users would be wise to try PDF Download by Denis Remondini, Nitro PDF Software. This awesome utility produces such excellent quality PDFs, unless you check the surrounding program window icons, you may be fooled into thinking you’re looking at the web site through your online browser. And yes, the links will actually work when you are online next! Check out my example created via this great Firefox extension: vfowler.com blog 2008_08_15 Conceptual Research and Reflection Project (PDF 386kB)

References

Allen, M (2008). WebCT NET11 Module Four – Tasks.

Retrieved August 20, 2008, from Curtin University website: http://webct.curtin.edu.au/

CNET Editor, (2007, December). RealPlayer – Free software downloads and reviews.

Retrieved August 20, 2008, from CNET Download.com website: http://www.download.com/RealPlayer/3000-2646_4-10073040.html

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