Three Social Network Startup Suggestions

I want to make a social network. Where do I begin? I’m asked this question often, probably because I am an experienced community builder. At the time I’m writing this, Wikipedia will tell you that LockerGnome, Inc. is a network of blogs, Web forums, mailing lists, and online communities. All of this is true, and when taken as a whole, what we have here is a gathering of people bound by a mutual interest in technology, though it’s not really a social network.

What is a Social Network?

Emperor Palpatine, Community Builder
Palpatine, Community Builder (Image by G4TV)

Most of us immediately think of Facebook whenever the terms social and network are put together. Though tens of thousands of communities existed on the Web during the dozen or so years before Mark Zuckerberg first served up the website Thefacebook in February of 2004 (wow, has it already been nine years?), it wasn’t until the blue and white letter “f” (and years later, the Like button) became a household brand that the term social network began to be used in ordinary conversation.

LockerGnome is not a social networking service, as connecting everyone from popes to criminals to crimefighters has never been my aim. Though I’ve always worked to grow LockerGnome to reach as many people who are interested in the types of interactions we engage in here, we’ve always been a more directed community than those that aim to be one-size-fits-all groups. Here we are focused on educating, entertaining, and engaging anyone interested in technology. We try to keep discussions of divisive issues such as politics and religion out of our interactions. We want everyone to feel welcome here, and as part of our maintenance of a sense of mutual respect for each other, we keep our debates within the realm of operating systems and hardware. Let the arguments over war and the economy remain where they belong: Facebook and Twitter.

Size and topical considerations aside, we are a community that continues to grow and strives to connect as many people as we can who find technology important, essential — or simply fun! Over the years I’ve experimented with a variety of ways to reach out and connect those people, and you who find yourself reading this are those people. You are now within the community we have here, either as a visitor or as a member of our family. (No, we’re not a cult. Though that could be fun… oops, I drifted into my recurring Emperor Palpatine fantasy for a moment there. Don’t worry; we’ll continue being a more egalitarian operation here.)

Anyway, since I’m asked the social network question often enough, I know that some of you will benefit from my sharing a few of my observations on community building. Through my development and nurturing of online communities for nearly two decades, through my interactions with members of our mastermind group and from contributors to our Q&A community, I’ve gathered together and now present you with some suggestions for making a social network.

Social Network Suggestion #1: Aim Big by Aiming Small

Anyone (or any group) setting out to build a community, online or off, knows the endeavor is going to start out with a few people, and those few may simply be you and your friends or family or business partners. Yet those few people could quickly multiply, as Facebook did, into thousands of people swimming around in a pool made only for a few thousand. If you don’t have the infrastructure in place or the resources to accommodate a rapidly expanding network, your community may quickly paddle on to a group that has deeper waters. So before you dive into any online undertaking, know how deep you intend to plunge and anticipate how many participants you intend to be able to accommodate.

There are already several social network services attempting to build vast oceans of interacting people; Twitter, Google+, and the aforementioned Facebook immediately come to mind. Lesser-known services such as Diaspora have achieved minor success (up to this point in time, at least) in providing alternatives to these larger communities (and as I mentioned in 2011, I’d be far more interested in joining Diaspora if more of my friends were there). Then there are many smaller pools of people who are happily communing with others in smaller social seas.

In my opinion, aiming to serve a niche community is the best way to go. I’m not saying it’s impossible for ambitious social network developers to create the next big social network. If you have the resources to meet the demands of a rapidly growing community such as Pinterest or Instagram or YouTube, then go for it. What I am saying, however, is that it would be far more satisfying to watch the slow and steady growth of a small network of members into a large community than it would be to put a great deal of time, energy, and other resources into building out a space that either explodes faster than you can keep up with it or that hardly anyone uses.

At one time, Facebook was a niche community. It simply connected the students of one campus. A community that isn’t being served (or served well) by any existing social network provides a great opportunity for the creative or entrepreneurial-minded person. Begin by thoroughly researching the Web and mobile landscape for existing websites and apps that already connect the people you wish to connect. Are the existing social networks already connecting those people? Are they doing it well? If not, how can it be improved? The team behind Instagram had to try various approaches before it finally settled on building a social network of people sharing photos from their iPhones (and didn’t even have an app available on Android devices until April of last year, shortly before being acquired by Facebook).

That said, definitely choose tools that will accommodate a larger-than-expected community (plenty of free and open source social network software is available to help you begin building this), even if your mutual interest is something you feel only a small minority of people will be interested in interacting over. You may be surprised at how many people have a lust for Chia Pets; just don’t count on your social network growing like the seeds in the terracotta planters (overnight). Twitter, for example, started out as the project of a very small team of developers, built out of tools that allowed for rapid growth (though it still felt it necessary to switch platforms a few years after its initial launch, a point to which I’ll turn some attention in a few paragraphs). Yet Twitter could just as easily have remained a niche community, or as short-lived as a similar effort based on RIM devices had turned out to be.

Social Network Suggestion #2: Know Your Own Boundaries

A Social Network Home
A Social Network Home (Image by The Joy of Tech)

Thefacebook may’ve not exploded into the Facebook we know it as today if its founder hadn’t engaged in some unscrupulous activities in order to discourage others from using competing services. (Smearing the name of Facebook’s founder is not my intention here. Most of us have seen the movie, and the actual facts are fairly well known. So anything I have to relate about Mark Zuckerberg is public knowledge, at least for those of us who pay attention to technology-related business news.) If you aim to take on competitors in your field, however, you will inevitably be faced with some opportunities that will test the boundaries of your sense of integrity. Are you willing to destroy the competition if you have information that will potentially damage your competitor(s)?

My suggestion is to keep the fight clean. Your social network may not explode overnight, but you’ll sleep better knowing you’re an honest competitor, rather than one who is willing to hack a rival’s systems in order to take a shortcut to success. Sometimes pushing the boundaries is good; many of those suspicious of Google’s activities have also appreciated being able to find their way around an unfamiliar city using Google Maps, for example. Facebook is constantly making headlines with its privacy breaches, a trend that seems to go all the way back to the company’s founding. Weigh how far you’re willing to go with innovation against your legal resources. Are you willing to pay a legal team to defend your product’s features if they are determined by others to be outside the realm of propriety?

Feature creep is another thing to watch out for. Some successful social networks are constantly delivering new features in the hopes of both retaining existing users and attracting new ones. Without fail, every new feature introduced by Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ is thoroughly scrutinized and then either praised or criticized. Facebook Beacon is one example of this, a feature introduced in 2007 that enough users found disturbing enough to compel the company to remove. Mark Zuckerberg eventually admitted that Beacon was a mistake.

Map out your boundaries before you begin your social network, and you’ll find the ride to success far more satisfactory. Though I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg is quite satisfied with the status of his bank account, one wonders how much his well-being is disrupted by the wake of his ambition. (See the final scene of The Social Network for a simple image that captures this.) Is personal fortune worth losing friends over? Carefully consider how far you’re willing to go before setting out to build the biggest social network on the planet. If you’re more inclined to be less brutal, settle on a smaller network.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to reach the level of success of Google or Facebook without being a bit evil, but it takes a certain type of personality to be able to make the tough decisions that will inevitably result in losing a few friends. Steve Jobs is considered by many to be a visionary and perhaps one of the greatest marketing geniuses the world has ever seen. Jobs left a legacy of great products, but he also made a few enemies throughout his tenure at Apple.

Social Network Suggestion #3: Start off with the Right Tools

A Ready-to-use Social Network
A Ready-to-use Social Network

If you wish to go big, you’ve got quite a challenge ahead of you. Even established social networks such as MySpace are having difficulty staying in the game (though I know people who expect it to make a comeback). If you wish to develop the level of community that will attract hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of participants, you’re gonna need a bigger boat than whatever free content management system (CMS) you’re already looking at.

Even though free and open source tools are perfectly fine for building communities, projects that attempt to approach even a fraction of the size of Facebook’s community usually require a level of constant customizing that is simply not built in to free software. Drupal is one open source platform that has over 20,000 free community-contributed modules aimed at extending the functionality of the CMS. Yet you can only add so much to a CMS before discovering you’ll need someone skilled at programming to customize your project to perform the way you really want it to. (Anyone who has been a bit too overzealous with their installation of WordPress plugins understands some of the hurdles one might face when adding features to a CMS, such as your website slowing to a crawl due to too many extensions trying to do too many things at the same time.)

That said, open source content management systems are still great tools to use in various stages in the development of a social networking project. Joomla, Drupal, and Django have each proven their ability to scale as communities grow. If you’re not prepared to start from scratch, any of these platforms will provide a great foundation. Instagram, for example, used Django for its application servers prior to its acquisition by Facebook. I’ve heard developers say time and again that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, so it’s a good idea to pick one of these frameworks or content management systems, find out as much as you can about it (such as what programming language and database it was built with), and develop from it (or hire developers that know how to).

If your project is successful, it may eventually outgrow its foundation. Perhaps you’ll find yourself switching frameworks, as Twitter famously did when it switched its front-end from Ruby-on-Rails to Java and its back-end from MySQL to Lucene, resulting in a search engine the company claims is triple the speed of its previous one. You may also need to change the technology you’re using if the project you’re working on changes its fundamental purpose, as the team behind Instagram discovered as it was trying to create its own social network application.

If you’re already a programmer, your selection of a framework may depend, in part, on your preferred programming language. If you’re not a programmer, you can spend a great deal of time trying to decide on the best platform for Web development or for writing apps. In the meantime, you may wish to familiarize yourself with a ready-to-use platform such as Ning, which doesn’t require you to know a lick of programming.

I don’t recommend using Ning, however, as I’ve had issues with it in the past and continue to find the platform lacking. There are plenty of similar services out there, though, but I haven’t found a suitable one. They are simply too template-y, with many of the resulting social networks looking like clones of one another, as do many forums. (You may argue that forums look the same because the format works, and that’s a valid argument. Personally, I would prefer to build a social network that stands out both visually as well as functionally.)

When it comes down to it, making your own social network is not difficult, but making one that will be successful is. Of course, success is relative, depending on your measure of the concept. What level of profitability would you accept as the mark of a successful venture? Would you accept breaking even financially the first year or two? Would you even measure success as simply building a network that connects people, even if it turns out to be a hobby rather than a moneymaking project? Chime in below with your own views on the subject!

Mind-Blowing 3D Display

Mind-Blowing 3D DisplayThe creative talents at zSpace have introduced a revolutionary way to combine the physical world with the world of virtual reality. This improvement in 3D technology will improve the way we can solve our problems, teach one another, learn from each other, and communicate effectively in our world of today. By using new computer hardware and new state of the art software, zSpace has created a true 3D user experience.

So who are the people behind zSpace and what are their founding principles? Check out this video from Mike Vesely, founder InfiniteZ, the creator of zSpace.

About Infinite Z from zSpace on Vimeo.

Tracking a user’s eye and also hand motions, a 3D image is adjusted so that the image is presented in real-time. The effect is said to be stunning. It is not like a 3D video that is seen at a movie theater or on a 3D HDTV, but you can actually move your head around the image. One can also view the image from the top or bottom as well. What is amazing is that the user experiences a correct perspective, no matter how the image is viewed.

Though a user does need to wear a pair of 3D glasses to generate the image, this is where the similarities end and real 3D viewing begins. As your head, eye, and hand motion is constantly tracked, the image takes on a life of its own. The built-in infrared light keeps each eye in focus to perspective as you change your point of view.

Fortunately, the company also has a video on its website that explains what zSpace is all about and how it functions. The video is self-explanatory and illustrates how zSpace will change the way we all interact with our computers. Take a look at the video and see what you think.

zSpace — A Virtual-holographic Experience from zSpace on Vimeo.

This is an amazing merging of hardware and software that will bring to the user a new perspective of what 3D rendering should be. So how much is this extraordinary hardware and software going to cost? The price is going to be $3,995, but if you join the developer program, you can get it for only $1,500.

In my opinion, this is absolutely awesome and is a gigantic leap into the future of 3D. One could picture an Internet experience where we could float around in a 3D environment. The possibilities are endless and I am sure that some big company like Google or Facebook will want to scoop this technology up for itself.

What do you think?

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Source: zSpace

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by M4D GROUP

iOS Consumers Tend to Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Are

iOS Consumers Tend to Put Their Money Where Their Mouths AreA few comments have been posted to an article I recently wrote about a product that is targeted to Apple device consumers. Most of the comments — in fact, 75 percent of the comments posted at the time I’m composing this sentence — are inquiring about whether or not the product I wrote about is going to be made available to Android device users.

My response to one of the commenters included the following assertion: “iPhone/iPad users are more likely to pony up for stuff they want. It’s a generalization, I know — but too many Android users want stuff for free/close to free. iOS consumers tend to put their money where their mouths are.”

I have long desired to own an Android device, and earlier this year I was finally able to afford one, a vastly discounted Samsung device offered by a prepaid carrier. I purchased the device at Best Buy for $50 at a time when the manufacturer’s suggested retail price was well over $100. It was one of those fortunate moments when the stars aligned in my favor; for months I had been watching Fatwallet.com and other deal monitoring sites in the hopes that such a deal would make an appearance. When it did, I jumped on the occasion.

This was my first experience with an Android device, and I must say I was at first thrilled with it. Though the device was somewhat lacking in the specs department, I salivated over the opportunity to finally be able to discover what everyone had been talking about since the first Android-powered device was released in 2008.

Yet I soon found that my new phone was severely incapable of being able to do what I most wanted to do: install apps. I mean, the device was loaded with the prepaid carrier’s apps, including Facebook and Twitter and a few more of the universally accepted necessities. But I was unable to add more than a few more apps without quickly running out of internal storage. Within a month, I decide to delve into the world of Android modding in order to see if I could modify my phone just so that it would be able to run more apps.

Eventually, after much exploring and deciphering of the somewhat esoteric Android modding community, I found a developer who was willing to develop a ROM that would render my device usable. And though at least one of my co-contributors here at LockerGnome finds it awesome but unimportant to be able to root your Android device, I’ve found the ability to root my device to be an absolute necessity in my being able to enjoy using my phone. Today, the Android phone is in a state that I far better appreciate than it had been when I first brought it home from Best Buy.

And yet the device, due to its low specs, is still only capable of running an outdated version of Android. Though I find Gingerbread (Android 2.3.6) capable enough for my current needs (for the most part), I’m finding myself unwilling to purchase apps for the device. For one thing, many of the apps I’ve installed on the device lack the quality I’ve found in their equivalent apps developed for the iOS platform. For another, though I’ve invested some money into the device, such as an extended battery and a larger microSD card in order to enable the device to perform better than it at first did, I’m finding the device still doesn’t quite match the quality of the iOS device that I recently purchased from somebody off of Craigslist, a 4th generation iPod touch that came equipped with far more storage and memory than the inexpensive Android device I’d been hoping would rock my world.

There are some incredible Android devices on the market, but I speak from the point of view of someone who cannot afford the latest and most expensive ones of the bunch. Certainly I would love to sport a Nexus 4 or a Galaxy S III, but those devices are far out of my budget. The iPod touch, though having some flaws of its own, I acquired for $100 and have since purchased approximately $50 worth of apps to install to the device. As for the Android device, I have spent precisely $0 (zero dollars) for apps to install on the phone.

I believe that iOS consumers are far more likely to spend their money on apps for their iPads and iPhones (and iPod touches). I am far from alone in this opinion. This is, I believe, because the typical iOS consumer has more disposable income than the vast majority of mobile device consumers. They can afford to purchase apps that owners, such as myself, of less expensive devices can afford to purchase. In addition, there is a perception that iOS apps are of superior quality than their Android counterparts. Earlier this year, when the developers of Instagram finally released an Android version of their remarkably popular iOS photo sharing app, an immediate and overwhelming criticism was made — mostly from iOS consumers, its seems — that the quality of the Android version of the app was of lesser quality. Whether or not the complaints were warranted or not, I don’t know. (I hadn’t yet tested Instagram on an iOS device at the time the Android version was released.)

There are iOS apps, of course, developed by Apple itself that are far from maintaining the standard of quality that the company is known for. But most apps must undergo a strict vetting process before they are allowed to be sold through Apple’s App Store, and this further reinforces consumers’ perception that iOS apps are of a higher quality. iOS consumers often purchase Apple products due to this perception, whether valid or not, and are more willing to pay for apps to further enhance their iPhones or iPads.

This is not intended to be an insult to consumers of low-cost Android devices (which would in fact be an insult to myself); it’s simply a view that I strongly hold, having now had considerable experience using both devices. (I’ve also participated in beta testing of another Android device since my initial purchase, and found myself even less willing to purchase apps for the device due to its lacking in certain very key areas.) Perhaps, once I have more experience with higher-quality Android devices, my views will change. I’d certainly like to see some of my favorite apps, such as Bossjock Studio, one day make their way to the Android side. But I’m not going to be complaining about it until it’s perfected its app on iOS devices, and I’m certainly not going to pretend I’d pay good money for an Android app that almost certainly wouldn’t be capable of performing well on the device I currently own.

Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is? Would you pay good money for an Android version of an app that currently is exclusively being developed for iOS devices? Would you, for example, buy GarageBand or iTunes or iMovie or FaceTime for Android? If there was an app for surviving the apocalypse, would you download it only if it was free?

Image provided by someecards.

Free Home Design Software

If you haven’t heard, we are excited over a new group that Chris has formed, called Gnomies. Gnomies is a group of informed, electronics-minded folks who desired a venue in which to share valuable information. One of the members of the group posed an inquiry as to what software others in the group might recommend for him to use in reference to building a home. As could be expected, the group generously responded with ideas for different software programs and where to find such software.

Of course, with my being frugal-minded by nature, my curiosity was piqued by the software that was being offered for free. In my mind, anything free is good, but when it is free, one has to wonder just how well such a freebie works. Is it meant for simple designs, or is it expandable for more elaborate home building projects? But being free was not my only consideration in pursuing such software; it just so happens that, once upon a time, I sold new home construction. During that pre-computer period of my life, my job, besides sales, was to modify — by hand — any necessary changes to existing client blueprints.

Before exploring these different software products, I made a mental list of what they would need in order to make them the most user friendly.

  • Ease of use: In my opinion, software is a useless commodity if the ‘average’ person cannot understand how it works or how to make simple design changes.
  • Help menus and FAQs: How well do the help menus function, and how good is the FAQ site?
  • Technical support: Make sure it’s available for the free version.
  • Type of technical support: Email, phone, or other, including forums or support groups.

Here are the software products I examined (they are not listed in any particular order):

Sweet Home 3D

Sweet Home 3D is free, open source software that offers the user a choice between a Web browser implementation of the software, or the ability to download the software (recommended) to your computer system. One of the best things about Sweet Home 3D is that the program supports Windows, OS X, and Linux (32-bit and 64-bit). Upon analysis, I found the software easy to use and it was able to complete minor designs right away. In addition, I was impressed with the software’s website, which offered a highly evolved FAQ section where I learned that, under Windows, the software provided support for OSes from Windows 98 through Windows 7. In fact, it actually provides a video tutorial within the forum and a blog to keep the user up to date with timely tips.

Floor Planner

Free Home Design SoftwareFloor Planner, another free building and design software program, does not require the user to download anything to their computer. Instead, the programmers have designed the program so that all of your work is done online. I prefer this method since it does not require that any additional software be added to my computer system. The main feature I like about Floor Planner is its ease of use, however, the drawback is that the basic three-story plan is limited to one design per user. You may ask how the software would ever know if you went in and requested another plan, but that’s simple: You must register in order to use Floor Planner.

One of the fun features included in Floor Planner was its demo that allowed me to play with the software before I started trying to figure out how things worked, or didn’t work. The demo included a three-story home with furniture that allowed me to move walls and furnishings at will. After using the demo for about 20 minutes, I was able to maneuver the software effectively and also to save the project for later use. Floor Planner was just fun to use and I highly recommend it.

The free version, as well as the paid version, have their own forum, tips and tricks section, a tour, and and easy-to-follow tutorial.

Autodesk Homestyler

Autodesk Homestyler is a free home planner that is limited to online use, but it offers a unique template feature that will be enticing for those among us who like a helping hand in getting started with a building plan. The software includes a variety of templates (though limited) that are designed to fit the needs of the majority of folks out there who are looking to build or re-design a new or existing home.

One of the pluses of this software is its simplicity; its templates make it a breeze to create a one-level home consisting of a living area, a kitchen, a guest bath, and an office. For the outside area, I was also allowed to throw in a pool, an outside deck, and a garden area. Another advantage of this software is its intuitive nature that makes it perfect for the novice user. Throw in its support forums, as well as its extensive six-category help system — which includes a video playlist directory — and you have a winner. The video playlist directory offers the following features:

  • An on-demand video playlist for tutorials.
  • The introduction provides a quick tour of the user interface, account creation, login, and an opportunity for feedback.
  • The Start Designing feature includes drag and drop, an add design feature, the ability to add other levels, and landscaping.
  • The Refine your Design feature, with video, demonstrates what’s involved when adding a closet or an extra interior room while giving instruction into modifications, including object placement.
  • From the Share Your Design feature, you are able to post directly to Facebook, embed it on your own webpage, and export it as a JPEG, DWG, or RVT file.
  • The software’s Snapshots and 360 Panorama allows for basic, high-resolution, and 360 panorama snapshots of your design to provide a complete perspective.

So there you have it. Three good software programs, all for free, that you can use to design your new dream residence from the ground floor up. The placement of furniture allows you to see how your rooms will look before construction begins and it allows you to make minor adjustments in order to accommodate specific pieces of furniture or appliances that you may already own. In addition, some of these programs even allow you to garner the input of fellow enthusiasts before construction begins by allowing them to share their designs via social networking sites.

Comments welcome.

How Not to Screw Up Your PC with Windows Optimization Tools

Those of us here at LockerGnome have all heard this story before. One of our relatives, friends, neighbors, associates, co-workers, or acquaintances tells us they saw an advertisement on TV — or maybe an advertisement on the Internet — claiming that [fill in the name of shyster company here] software will make their PC run faster, smoother, like new, better than new, super fast, or some other such nonsense. They then made the mistake of falling for the deal offered since it cost a mere [fill in the unbelievable pricing of your choice], only to find out that the software ended up causing more problems and that their PC was performing worse than before they installed the software. Some of these folks are once burned, twice shy, but others may be duped into buying yet another optimization type of software, hoping to cure the problem created by the first one. Unfortunately for them, they are just adding to a problem that may not have existed before they added these supposed premium tools. So what can we do to help these people?

  • We can tell them how stupid they are.
  • We can tell them that they wasted their money.
  • Or, we can send them this article and tell them they are not alone (highly recommended).

It is an unfortunate fact of life that we Windows users have been subjected to all types of scams — optimization software being just the tip of the iceberg. To sell their wares, some programmers and merchandisers have made some outlandish claims, including these:

  • This software will speed up your PC by 300% or [insert any other outrageous and thoroughly bogus percentage] more.
  • This software will solve five or [insert any other outrageous and thoroughly bogus number here] PC problems with a single click.
  • A ‘free trial’ of this software will scan your system, find a bunch of errors, report your PC is not running at its full potential, and for a certain amount of money, the software will remove all of these errors. The software may also promise that the skies will clear, the birds will sing, and man will know peace on Earth!
  • This software is backed up by testimonials from Harry C., Mary J., and so forth who proclaim the benefits and miracle fixes they have received while using it.

If these “subtle” marketing strategies don’t do the trick, there are more devious methods at hand that scam artist software peddlers can use to sucker in more unwary clientele. One is the ever-suspicious pop-up that displays as a phony alert that there’s something wrong with a system. A few years ago, my partner and I were running a very successful computer business. At the time, business was booming because unfortunate souls had downloaded software or email infected with viruses. To further add to their distress, some of them had attempted to fix their own systems with any number of the optimization scams or gimmicks that were currently out there. Others had installed the optimization tools in an attempt to speed up what they thought were slow PCs.

The problem with optimization software was driven home to us when a client brought in a brand new computer that was running Windows XP. The client wanted us to install some programs and to clean out the glut of unnecessary, pre-installed software that typically comes with new systems at the time of purchase. However, before we did anything to the PC, we installed an optimization program (a pay-to-fix trial version) that was popular at the time. I will never forget the look on my partner’s face when the report came back that we had over 500+ registry errors. Unfortunately, it also reported that this new system was not optimized for the Internet (which wasn’t even set up), and the system itself was running at only 58% of its full potential. To verify the report, we ran the program several more times, and each time the numbers changed!

This is not to say that all free programs will damage your system. One of the good programs out there is CCleaner (aka Crap Cleaner), which I have been using for longer than I can remember. As a matter of fact, I was using it when the program was still being distributed for free by its developer. Of course, this was prior to his selling the rights for the software to Piriform LTD. Thankfully, the purchasing software company has retained the free version for private use, and it state on its website:

CCleaner is our system optimization, privacy, and cleaning tool. It removes unused files from your system — allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your online activities such as your Internet history. Additionally it contains a fully featured registry cleaner. But the best part is that it’s fast (normally taking less than a second to run) and contains NO spyware or adware!

How Not to Screw Up Your PC with Windows Optimization Tools

The other of my favorite free programs that was introduced when Windows Vista first came out is Glary Utilities from Glarysoft LTD. It is a reliable program that does what it promises and cleans your system by removing the junk that can bog down any PC. On its website, Glarysoft LTD states:

Glary Utilities is a freeware with registry and disk cleaning, privacy protection, performance accelerator and amazing multifunctional tools. It can fix dogged registry errors, wipe off clutters, optimize internet speed, safeguard confidential files and maintain maximum performance.

How Not to Screw Up Your PC with Windows Optimization Tools

I am sure that some of my fellow Gnomies here at LockerGnome have their very own favorite optimization utilities that they use and trust. Share your experiences with us and let us know what you use and why.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Best Windows Downloads for Any New Computer

It’s hard to believe that, just over a month ago, the holidays rolled around and it was time to exchange presents with friends and family. If you were among the lucky ones, you may have gotten a new computer. If so, chances are that you got a nice Windows-based computer and are now wondering what to install onto it. Here, I’ll do my best today to give you an idea of what software to install on that new machine.

There’s always that essential software that we install on a new computer to get it just the way we like, whether it’s a new browser like Google Chrome (as we uninstall Internet Explorer) or a favorite flavor of anti-virus software — we all have our preferences. I’ve asked many Windows users across the Internet and come up with a list of what I think is essential for every Windows user to install immediately after Windows is set up.

Productivity

Notepad++: Is one of the most common applications that I get because of its customizability. And it can be used for typing up simple notes as well as coding. If you don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for coding applications, check out Notepad++. One of the abilities of Notepad++ is the code highlighting tool that color codes your text based on the coding method and elements used to help you keep track. I use it every day when I’m doing Web design; it compares closely with expensive developer apps and does a great job.

WinSCP: If you do any type of file transferring to or from a server, check out WinSCP. This free SFTP and FTP client for Windows can help upload files to your server. A must for Web developers or server admins, it can create a secure connection from you to the server so that you can upload files and look through directories easily.

PuTTY: To access that server of yours, you’re going to need an SSH client. Unfortunately, Windows doesn’t have a native SSH client, so to circumvent this, we have PuTTy, a free telnet and SSH client. You can set up different profiles and customize them to your liking for the type of work that you do.

SumatraPDF: It’s no wonder that so many of us hate Adobe Reader. It’s the most overweight hunk of junk that is coded. I know that I’m not alone when I say that it bogs down any system when trying to open up a simple PDF document. Thankfully, SumatraPDF is an alternative that works better than the native platform. It supports almost all Adobe Reader layout elements like table of contents and more.

LibreOffice: If you simply won’t pay the money for Microsoft Office, check out LibreOffice. This software package comes with all the software needed to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations without the need for you to buy Office. LibreOffice isn’t just free, but it also works on other platforms beyond Windows; users can install it on Linux and OS X as well.

Internet

Google Chrome: I’m not a fan of Internet Explorer, and it’s a safe bet that you might not be, either, if you were to look into alternative browser options that are out there. One of my favorites is Google Chrome — it’s both fast and lightweight. It’s very expandable with extensions and can sync across computers if you have a connected Google Account. Google Chrome is a fast growing browser and is making leaps and bounds over the competition. Based on the open source project of Chromium, it’s being actively developed and stays up to date for avoiding all the nasty browser bugs out there.

Firefox: For all you Google haters out there, I recommend Firefox as a browser option, which is also highly developed and open source. Firefox has a bit of an up and down curve to it; some of the latest versions have been found to have some troubles related to memory leaks and general slowed down behavior. To be fair, it has a lot of great plug-ins.

Thunderbird: If you don’t care for the mail client that comes with Windows, give Thunderbird a shot. It’s made by the same people at Mozilla who make Firefox. It’s a lightweight mail client with high customizability and it can connect up with almost every mail account out there. It does a great job of managing your emails and looks pretty sleek. You can add multiple accounts and customize each of them for different settings and signatures that you might use.

Pidgin: Let’s face it, you probably have multiple instant messenger accounts. An easy way to manage all that is Pidgin, a great IM tool that lets you connect multiple accounts — even IRC — and manage your instant message life. With access to a wide array of extensions, you can turn Pidgin into the ultimate IM machine and use it with Facebook Chat and integrate notifications and styles to fit your needs.

Skype: Even though Microsoft bought Skype, the application is still pretty slick with Facebook integration and the ability to easily video or voice chat with people over your Internet connection. Initially, the application is free for you to voice chat with a group of people without limitation. if you want to video chat with a group of people, unfortunately, you’ll have to pay for that service. For most mainstream users, the base Skype system is fine. There’s also the ability to add in your own phone number to the service and the ability to call landlines with Skype Credit.

Utilities

Dropbox: One of my very favorite applications for sharing documents and other files between multiple places is Dropbox. You starting out with a massive 2 GB of space that’s enough for pictures and videos to be stored with documents and other data. Not only on Windows, but all desktop and mobile platforms, Dropbox can sync and view almost every document from any location where it can be accessed. Here at LockerGnome, we use Dropbox to transfer the daily TLDR videos to be edited and uploaded. It’s super easy to give users access to other folders so that you can share and collaborate whenever you like.

Virtualbox: If you want to play around with a Linux distro or even run Windows inside of Windows, there’s a free program called Virtualbox that can emulate another computer within your computer to run your operating system of choice. This is great for anyone who wants to try out different operating systems to se what they like or even use it as a sandbox utility to test out their applications or programs in different systems.

TeamViewer: If you need to access another computer or provide tech support to your friends and family, TeamViewer will do just that. It’s free if you’re using it for non-commercial purposes; TeamViewer allows you to remote access computers not just running windows but Macintosh and Linux, too. If you’re looking for a more professional route, check out GoToAssist, which provides more features and one-click URLs as well as allows you instant access to remote computers for support.

7-Zip: The unzip utility in Windows isn’t enough to handle multiple types of files and unarchive them. Luckily, we have 7-Zip, which is compatible with almost every archive type of file out there. Using 7-Zip, you can not only extract files, but compress them, too. A traditional .zip file isn’t always the best, and sometimes we get better use from other file types like RAR, 7z, and TAR. 7-Zip is the all-in-one utility to take care of that.

Media

VLC: One of the most popular media players out there is VLC because, let’s face it, Windows Media Player sucks. It comes packed with all the codecs you could ever need to play any video or audio file out there. VLC also leaves a lighter footprint on your computer than WMP and won’t cause it to crash as much. Besides compatibility, it’s also customizable for that perfect home theater computer as well.

Picasa: Who doesn’t take pictures these days? One of the biggest problems with taking a lot of pictures is organizing them. Picasa has proven time and time again that it can handle all of your pictures and manage them in organized folders and even upload them to sites like Facebook and Flickr. For the best management of your pictures from your camera, check out Picasa and all its abilities.

iTunes: Just like you need to organize your pictures, you need to organize your music library. Even if you don’t own an iPod or iPhone, iTunes is great for both managing and purchasing music. With its extensive library of music and intuitive interface, you can master the art of organizing your music.

Paint.NET: Photoshop and sometimes even GIMP seem to be a bit of an overkill. I personally recommend Paint.NET for those who need more edit abilities over just the regular Paint application but less than a fully professional editing suite like Photoshop. Paint.NET is a nice fit and works similarly to Photoshop with layers and the ability to manipulate images and create graphical works of art.

Security

Microsoft Security Essentials: Hands down, the best free security system for Windows is made by its designer, Microsoft. As MSE was made by the same people who produced the Windows operating system, that means they have a higher level of understanding of the system than other free anti-virus makers and won’t try to scam you out of money. It has been said time and time again that MSE is the best anti-virus system that you could have for your computer. But, if you’re looking to go for the paid route, there’s also Nod32, which is at the top of its class.

Malwarebytes: For that pesky malware that could get itself nestled in your system, Malwarebytes can find it and put a stop to it immediately without any hassle. It certainly knows what it’s doing when scanning your system for the common and uncommon malware that could infect your system. With one easy scan it can look over your system and come back with a full report.

Conclusion

This is obviously just a handful of applications that we’ve picked out that you should install when you get your new Windows computer. If you think we’ve missed something or want to add to our list, leave it in the comments below and discuss.

If you’re in search of Windows software that’s more suited to your professional needs, Matt Ryan recently wrote about 28 Great Windows Programs and Apps for Professionals.

And if you came here because you just bought a new Mac and you were hoping to find OS X software, check out Best OS X Downloads for Any New Mac.

Go Hands-Free on Your Mac with Dragon Dictate 2.5

Dragon Dictate

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Nuance. All opinions are 100% mine.

I use the Dragon Dictation feature on my myTouch 4G phone almost daily and I’ve used Dragon NaturallySpeaking on Windows for years. Speaking to my computer gives my hands a break from typing the 10,000-20,000 words I normally tap out over the course of a day. Until recently, I hadn’t tried Dragon Dictate on my Mac, but like the other Dragon products I’ve come to rely on, Dragon Dictate 2.5 works great too.

Dragon DictateAfter going through the introductory process of training Dragon Dictate to my voice, which took about five or six minutes, I was converting speech to text on my Mac in a matter of minutes. One key addition to Dragon Dictate 2.5 is the ability to both talk and type in Microsoft Word 2011. There are also a bunch of Word specific voice commands.

The ability to navigate Mac OS X with voice commands gives the operating system a very Star Trek-like feel. I can almost imagine myself as Captain Picard saying, “Computer, open GarageBand.” Maybe Picard never said that, but if the Enterprise had been designed by Steve Jobs, I’m sure he would have.

For those of us who use social media daily, Dragon Dictate 2.5 added Facebook and Twitter voice commands. You can post to Facebook or post to Twitter by selecting dictated text and simply saying ‘Post to Facebook’ or ‘Post to Twitter’ which can definitely save time over switching windows and typing or copying and pasting.

One of the coolest features of Dragon Dictate 2.5 (and Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5) is the Dragon Remote Microphone app for iPhone users. With a Wi-Fi connection and the Dragon software installed on your desktop computer, you can talk to your iPhone and have the voice transmission sent directly to your Mac. As I indicated earlier, I’m an Android user, so I’m out of luck for right now, but for the millions who do have an iPhone, this feature seems invaluable. Talking to my phone definitely feels more natural than using a microphone connected to my computer.

If you are looking for a way to type less and still be productive, Dragon Dictate will definitely get the job done on your Mac.

To Keep Your Software Updated, Check out CNET

To Keep Your Software Updated, Check out CNETCNET is currently offering a free program, called TechTracker, that will update any computer software to its most recent version. To take advantage of this offer you need to sign up to become a member of CNET. Once your registration is completed, you will be able to download this free program and start using it immediately. I gave this software a try on my personal laptop system that is running Windows 7 Ultimate with SP1 and here is what I found:

The download process from CNET for its TechTracker software was quick and the installation process was straightforward and uneventful. Once installed, I ran a scan of my computer system and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it finished. When the scan was completed, I discovered that TechTracker had found 30 software programs, on my system; out of those 30, 11 needed updating.

One program that TechTracker found to need updating was avast!, which surprised me since I was under the impression that this would have been done for me during the automatic definition update cycle. Since this was apparently not the case, I did allow TechTracker to upgrade this program as well as the other 10 software programs that it indicated needed updating. The entire process took about one hour, since some of the upgrades required that Windows be restarted.

However, there is one tip that I learned when I accessed the CNET Web site that may help you. When using the TechTracker software, there is a ‘View My Software’ button that, when you click it, will take you to the CNET Web site. Once you are on the CNET site, you need to sign in with your email address and password in order to view which software needs updating on your system. For the free edition you need to manually update the software one at a time. However, if this is too time-consuming for you, CNET also offers a plus version for $19.99. With the purchase of the plus edition, you will have expanded features made available to you such as a feature to assist you in installing and uninstalling software as well as a feature that assists you in updating and downloading upgrades.

Overall, I believe that TechTracker is great software that will be a valuable asset to you in keeping your system updated with the latest software versions. To get your free version of TechTracker, go to: cnet.com/techtracker-free/.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Thieves Can’t Hide Your Mac when You Use ‘Hidden’ Software Protection

Picture this scenario: Someone walks off with your prized MacBook Pro while you are distracted or away from home. You report the theft to the police, who take a report. Hopefully you have insurance to cover your computer loss. Theft of laptop computers at airports number over 600,000 a year. The odds of you getting back your precious computer and the data on it are slim to none. Until now.

MacBook Pro users have a new software called ‘Hidden’ that can help you recover your laptop using identification which includes the following:

1. Hidden software can take pictures of the thief and their surroundings to make locating them easier.

2. Hidden software can take screen shots of what the thief is doing on your system.

3. Hidden software, once activated by the owner, will locate where your laptop is within a few yards of the location where the computer is being used.

What makes the Hidden software even more sneaky is that the thief won’t even know they are being tracked down. The information Hidden records is sent to you for viewing remotely. The police can isolate the location where your laptop is located and catch the crooks right where they are hiding.

Pricing for Hidden is as follows:

1 computer is $15 a year
5 computers is $45 a year
20 computers for $125 a year
100 computers for $395 a year.

On its Web site’s FAQ section, the techies at Hidden software state that installing and uninstalling the software is easy. They also state that thieves cannot uninstall the Hidden software without the administrative password. In addition, the folks at Hidden software state that they will assist you and the police in locating your laptop computer from anywhere in the world.

Unfortunately, the Hidden software works only on Mac computers, like MacBook and MacBook Pro hardware. There is no version for Windows nor for Linux laptop computers. Download Hidden for your Mac.

Comments welcome.

Are You One of the 5% with an Infected Windows PC?

According to the tech folks at Microsoft, one in every twenty Windows based computers is infected. These infections are capable of disabling anti-virus programs and also turning off Windows update features. This in turn prevents the user from removing the virus and the nasty bugs continue to infect other users.

On its Web site, Microsoft recommends a scanner called Safety Scanner, which can remove malware and scrub your system clean. The tool was recently relaunched and is now available for all Windows users for free. What the tool will do is locate JavaScript viruses, which Microsoft has determined are the most prevalent malware, as well as other critters on your computer.

But are these statistics reliable or are they just a scare tactic by Microsoft? It all depends on which side of the fence you sit on. The pro-Microsoft folks will have an opinion that Microsoft is trying to get people to clean up their computers. The anti-Microsoft crowd will have the opinion that Microsoft statistics are flawed, since the 95% of those that had a clean PC may have thought they were infected.

Here is my personal opinion. Those folks who have an infected computer have no clue they even are infected. These same folks are the ones that use their computer as a toy and are clueless about infections or even where to go to get their systems cleaned. These same clueless folks will continue to use their systems until it completely stops on them or when they no longer can connect to Facebook.

In my opinion the Safety Scanner will not be used by those most likely have a non-infected computer. I also believe that 5% is a rather low number of infected Windows computers. I think the number is higher.

By scrubbing your system clean, you will have a more enjoyable computer experience.

Is a Virtual Fitting Room in Our Future?

Any male who has ever been shopping with a female for clothes knows how long it can take. It seems that women need to try on the clothes before buying, because of the irregularities that exist in sizes. Men usually do not face this problem since, for the most part, sizing is not an issue — especially when we are shopping for a t-shirt or a pair of jeans. In fact it has literally been years, maybe even a decade or more, since I tried something on in a fitting room.

When I read about an experiment that took place in Russia using a Microsoft Kinect device and special software to simulate a fitting room, I wondered if this could be the future of apparel shopping? It seems that as a lady stepped into the Kinect device, their image was projected as well as a new outfit. There was no need to remove any clothing to try on a new outfit.

Would retail businesses find this an alternative to the traditional fitting room? I believe that this could be the future coming right to a local retailer near you. The first thing I can think of is that eliminating fitting rooms would reclaim the lost footage that can be used for additional display of retail items. Also, it is a known fact that some people walk into a fitting room with three items, but exit with two items, and either wear the stolen garment on their person or place it into a shopping bag they carry.

The most likely reason for eliminating fitting rooms is that you need no additional employees to monitor those entering or exiting the fitting rooms. In addition, clerks don’t need to rehang the garments that customers have tried on. My personal reason for eliminating fitting rooms is that I don’t want to buy clothing someone already put on their body and is being sold as new. New? Excuse me, but that doesn’t fit my definition as being new.

Just my two cents, but I believe that virtual fitting rooms will one day be a reality for the reasons I have given.

What do you think?

Soluto Now Fixes PC Crashes and Analyzes Browser Applications

I have used Soluto on my personal computer system for about nine months. The original version only dealt with applications that started in boot, which the user could delay or pause. Soluto analyzed your boot process and then provided a listing of applications that could be delayed or paused to speed up the boot process. The software was so innovative that TechCrunch gave the software founder its annual Disrupt award.

I was honored when I received an invitation to try two new additions that Soluto was adding to their already fine product. The features are PC crashes and how to fix them, plus browser applications that also could be delayed or paused. During the testing process we were asked not to write about the new features until they became public. Yesterday Soluto made the download available to all Soluto users in beta form, which includes the added features.

Notice I said in beta. The software is still in its testing phase and is dependent on users like you and me to test the software. In order for Soluto to be more effective, each phase requires input of data from your system to the Soluto servers in order to analyze and recommend solutions for all users. If you feel uncomfortable with this procedure, this software may not be for you. In my professional opinion you have nothing to be concerned about and I trust the folks at Soluto to only collect information that will improve their software.

The first new feature Soluto added helps to identify applications and toolbars that may be slowing down your browser. In addition, Soluto can identify those toolbars that can hijack your browser and prevent you from selecting your preferred search engine of choice. Soluto also finds add-ons that might be sucking the life out of your browser.

The second new feature is my favorite. It monitors system crashes and attempts to provide a solution for you. The crash report also makes suggestions as to what is causing the crash. If a solution is currently not available, and if a solution is found at a later date, you will be notified.

Take Soluto for a test drive and see what you think.

CCEnhancer for CCleaner Makes a Great Software Product Even Better

CCleaner, which was originally named ‘Crap Cleaner’ by its author, is one of the tools I use to clean up up a system clogged with junk and gunk. CCleaner takes care of left over registry entries that are no longer needed, removes temporary files that no longer serve a purpose, controls programs that start up during the boot process, and has its own uninstaller to remove unwanted programs.

When I first read about CCEnhancer, which is an add-on for CCleaner, I wondered how anything could improve on the already stellar performance of CCleaner. So I did some research and this is what I learned. Basically, CCEnhancer improves upon the performance of CCleaner by adding additional programs that CCleaner normally doesn’t handle. This allows the user to remove all traces of the 270 programs that CCEnhancer adds to the list of programs to be cleaned.

I downloaded CCEnhancer and the program automatically installed correctly to the CCleaner program. During the installation you are prompted to update CCEnhancer with the latest programs rules. Once you open CCleaner you can take advantage of the advanced cleaning functions by just checking the box of applications you wished cleaned.

I tried this add-on feature for several programs I have installed on my system and there didn’t appear to be any problems using the new feature. In fact, I noticed that more junk and gunk was actually removed than when I ran CCleaner by itself. Your mileage may vary.

The best part of both programs is that they are free. Do be aware that CCEnhancer is not an official release by the authors of the CCleaner program, so use it at your own risk. Since CCEnhancer is not an official release, I feel that only advanced users should use the add-on.

Comments welcome.

ioBit Advanced System Care 4 Review

I have been using Glary Utilities for about 3 years and have found the utility to provide excellent performance for keeping my system running smoothly. Most importantly, Glary Utilities has never caused any system problems in which I needed to repair a program or other fix to get my system running properly. Because of this, and the fact that Glary Utilities is free, I have come to trust Glary Utilities on all of my Windows systems.

I recently read an article about ioBit’s Advanced System Care 4, and decided to give this software product a workout to see how well it performed. I downloaded ioBit Advanced System Care 4 and installation went smoothly. Once installed you have two different icons to use, depending on your preferences.

Icon #1 is Quick Care, which provides an assortment of commonly used tools, such as scanning for malware, fixing the Windows registry, fixing short-cuts, scanning for junk files, and a privacy sweep to remove nasty leftovers after surfing the Internet. Icon #2 is the complete Advanced
System Care 4, with added features to make your system squeaky clean.

For my first test I tried Quick Care. The program is actually quite fast and I was confronted with an assortment of problems that the software indicated needed fixing. The system created a backup file just in case something went wrong, and in a matter of minutes, all was fixed or repaired according to the software screen. I found the Quick Care feature easy to use, which would be great for those in our families who are not computer gurus.

The Advanced System Care 4 options are very well layed out. There are options to use a defragmenter, fix disk errors, undelete files that have been deleted from the recycle bin, and repair options to fix numerous other Windows conditions. As an example, on my laptop system, ASC4 wanted to put icons back on my desktop such as the recycle bin, my computer and so forth, which I do not wish to see. So the software program does offer a lot of benefits in that it can repair issues that may be plaguing your PC.

My overall experience was positive and I think this software would be great, in Quick Care mode, for those family members who are always bugging us for help. For me though, I will be sticking with Glary Utilities because it is just like an old pair of shoes and fits my comfort level.

Comments as always are welcome.

Download ioBit Advanced System Care 4