Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks

Some Free Alternatives to Pricey Software

Posted by Matthew Greensmith at 12:47 PM on June 27, 2008

Most of us don’t want to spend $600 for a program to edit pictures (Adobe Photoshop or CS3 Suite) or $400 for a text editor and spreadsheet program. And for those of us that detest Outlook, but like the calendar features, we’ve felt left out since Thunderbird doesn’t offer a calendar in its standard install. And then there’s that pesky problem with Adobe Acrobat Professional; unless you are an educational buyer, Adobe Acrobat licenses are a bit on the pricey side.

There are some free alternatives to all of these things that I’d like to share with you today.

Microsoft Office: For most purposes, you can replace the expensive Microsoft Office 2007 with OpenOffice, the free office suite. OO comes with frequent and regular updates and patches, and offers complete versatility. You can even save your text documents in an MSWord format when you’re done, so you can send it to your client who doesn’t have OO. Open Office also has a spreadsheet program and presentation program, so is virtually a full replacement for the MS Office Suite.

Adobe Photoshop/CS3: If owning Adobe Photoshop is too rich for your budget, and all you’re doing is editing your digital photos and making a few signs or drawings, then a decent replacement is GIMP. GIMP provides all the tools you need to crop, resize, adjust, and retouch your photos before you send them to your printer or to the store for printing.

Outlook Calendar: While I am a huge fan of Thunderbird and use it for all of my pop3 and imap email, the one thing missing is a calendar. You can download and install the Lightning plug-in to add a calendar to Thunderbird, or you can download Sunbird instead, which runs as a standalone product. Visit for these two products.

PDF: Creating PDF’s is about 50% of what I do on a daily basis at work. I have Adobe Acrobat Professional at work to accomplish this, but when I’m doing things at home that have nothing to do with work, I am in need of a stable PDF-production tool that won’t cost me anything, and gives me all the same tools that Adobe does. I’m using PDF Creator for most things, and find it to have all the tools I need for basic PDF production.

Microsoft Publisher: Need to make a flier, brochure, or handout but don’t have MS Publisher? Never fear, Scribus is here to do your dirty work for you. This intuitive, easy-to-use, tiny-footprinted program is the best free tool I’ve found to replace Publisher and the well-loved Adobe Pagemaker (long gone from Adobe’s lineup these days).

QuickBooks: Need to do your home or small business finances but would rather not spend the big dollars to get QuickBooks? Try out TurboCash. And for a $49 optional support fee, you get access to technical support and corruption help, should that ever happen to you.

Why buy it when you can get it for free? That’s my motto.

Moving your Thunderbird mail to a new computer? Here’s help!

Posted by Matthew Greensmith at 12:10 PM on June 12, 2008

As I noted in another post earlier today, I got a new computer. This meant that three years of Thunderbird mail that I’d decided not to delete needed to move over to the new laptop from the old laptop. If you’re using Outlook, you can just backup everything to a PST file and place it on the new machine.

Unfortunately, Thunderbird was going to give me a few more problems in getting transferred over. I could transfer the files and data, but I was not going to get my profile, which in my case includes 22 email accounts along with my signature files and archived templates. And I am not in a position where I want to lose all that I’ve worked so hard on.

So I went out searching. I did find a few references to ways to do it, including this one on Quomon that was complex, but would work. But I’m a busy person, and I don’t have time to spend a couple hours on this process, so I kept searching.

That’s when I found Presto Transfer Thunderbird from For a mere $12.95, I got an automated process to do the work for me. Trust me, based on the manual method I found above, Presto was worth every penny of the $12.95. It installed in about 12 seconds, the registration and purchase took another minute or two, and I immediately got my access code in email and a nice “thank you for doing business with us” followup email. I attached an external hard drive to the laptop and set the program to go to work. This was a not a speedy process, it took about three hours for Presto to archive, compress, and save an executable file on my external hard drive that grabbed everything related to Thunderbird. I let it run overnight, and this morning ran the executable on the new laptop, and within four minutes I was up and running with Thunderbird on the new laptop.

One note, you should download and install Thunderbird onto the new machine FIRST, but do not run it. That way the Presto executable will create the new files in the correct space without any muss or fuss.

p.s. If you have not checked out, it’s a great website for answering and asking questions. I’ve found a ton of great answers to simple problems there and often recommend it to people looking for immediate help with a software issue.

OLPC defector makes Sugar

Posted by susabelle at 10:27 AM on May 27, 2008

Walter Bender, who was once President of the OLPC movement has moved his sugar to a new project. Sugar Labs will continue the software development, but as Bender stated:

As a separate foundation, we will be able to advance Sugar’s development even further and make it available on multiple distributions and hardware platforms.

The company states it enhances the Linux experience with an interface that doesn’t inundate people with Application, file or folder structures. The “Activity” will include program and data. Best part is it is all open source.

The OS GUI add-on is definitely based with children in mind. Icons like “Pippy” for Python programming and Tam-Tam for music creation. If you’re planning to load up the old computer with a system for the kid, or a new machine like a EeePC or even an OLPC with Linux, this is something to think about.

Virtual PC 2007 SP1 now out.

Posted by susabelle at 7:02 PM on May 20, 2008

If you have Vista, or installed XP SP3, you might have seen some quirkiness
out of Microsoft Virtual PC 2007. To counter, Microsoft has released a Service
Pack for this Virtual environment. The Download is for x86 and x64 and are

. Release Notes are found


It doesn’t solve all the issues – if you have tried to install Ubuntu 8.04 or
tried the hackintosh install disk, you were met with an error message saying:

An Unrecoverable processor error has been encountered. The virtual machine
will reset now.

There are ways around that issue. Sean Earp has documented how that can be
done and can be found

. Of course, if you install an OS in Virtual PC, you must have a legally
licensed copy – it is considered another instance, and Apples’ EULA does not
allow it’s OS to be installed on non-Apple hardware. But does that mean if I
have a VPC on a Windows install on a Mac, then I can leagally install OSX on the

An interesting conundrum. Nonetheless, VPC – although not as fully functional
like VMWare (it doesn’t support USB devices like flash drives) – still is a
great tool to have on an IT Specialists desktop. And best part is it’s free. 

Firefox Version 3 Beta a home run!

Posted by geeknews at 1:48 PM on March 21, 2008

First impressions, much faster, smaller memory foot print, websites look much crisper. Overall A+ and as in comparison to IE there is simply no comparison.

Although Firefox 3 is still a beta, they have really hit a home run here. As of today I will use the beta version. Drawback to doing this is that most of my plugins don’t work. But the lower memory footprint really convinces me this will be the browser to use for a very long time. PcWorld/Reuters

Apple is trying to sneak Safari on Windows!

Posted by geeknews at 1:37 PM on March 21, 2008

Why is Apple shoving Safari down our throat. If I had wanted to install that worthless browser on my Windows box I would have simply have downloaded it. The last thing I want is a half functional browser cluttering up my hard drive.

Apple is trying to be slick here in offering Safari via a iTunes update. Nothing like trying to have world domination through some back door way of getting the worthless browser on my windows machine.

Next time you get a iTunes update notice be real careful or you will end up getting Safari installed even when you don’t have it installed. Gizmodo

Having my own TinyURL service with

Posted by geeknews at 2:30 PM on November 20, 2007

Over the past week the site at has been down several times, and when you need to shorten a URL to post via IM or Twitter, it is not good for a service that you have learned to trust to become unreliable.

I asked around to see if there was a open source solution that I could run myself, and I was pointed at by someone that commented on a thread over at

The team there has built Get-Short – a PHP- based application that allows you to run your own TinyUrl type of service.

I found three domains that would serve the purpose I want, but sadly I cannot just open them up to the public to use as the interface is not that fancy and only allows a single login. This is near a perfect solution for someone that does not want to rely on and has their own hosting account capable of running php applications.

What Microsoft wants with Facebook

Posted by todd at 8:45 AM on October 7, 2007

I was working on a reply piece to an article on Publishing 2.0 that claims that Facebook has no use for business.  I absolutely disagree with this and while I was listing out the reasons why a Facebook style platform would be brilliant in a business situation (found on BusinessGeek if you are interested), two things popped into my head

  1. The back-end application I was describing sounded a lot like Microsoft Sharepoint with a better front-end
  2. This story from earlier in the week where Steve Ballmer claims Facebook is a fad, even though he values it at $10 Billion.

It clicked into place what MS wants a stake in Facebook for.  In an earlier posts on GNC and BG, I talked about them wanting either technology, a business contract, or a denial of these to other companies.  I am now confident that what they want is access to Facebook IP.

I now expect to see a Facebook like interface on MS Sharepoint in the near future, possibly with extra integration into other MS applications.  They will either be getting some code from Facebook to help achieve this quickly, or will be licensing whatever patents they may have to prevent costly litigation in the future.  Knowing Microsoft’s history they have probably already done a lot of due process on the strength of the Facebook patent holdings.

Modern Copyright Law Madness Explained

Posted by todd at 10:06 AM on September 18, 2007

There is a great video on YouTube explaining the downside of modern copyright law using the story of a very famous drum loop called the Amen Break.  The video is called Amen Brother.  It is 18 minutes long so be warned, but if you want to skip to the explanation of why current copyright law hurts the economy rather than encourages it, this part starts at 14:46.  If even that is too long I’ll provide a summary.

Prior to the ‘Sonny Bono’ act and subsequent extensions in 1998, it was generally possible to sample small sections of other artists work and re-interpret them, as long as there was substantial difference from the original, or the original artist did not complain that the work infringed on their copyright.  Music scenes like Hip Hop and Drum and Base, blossomed with the invention of the sampler, using snippets of existing music to build a new work.  These genre’s started with people mixing new tracks at home and playing them in clubs and the like, making little or no money.  With few exceptions, the new works, while borrowing from the original, where so radically different from it to be considered an original work of themselves.  If you listen to the video you will see how unless you were told there would be no way to associate some of the derivative tracks from the original 6–second drum break.  Both genre’s eventually grew into significant markets generating huge revenues.

Under todays laws any length of sample, regardless of how it is modified, must be credited and licensed.  While this does not matter to big Hip-Hop artists of today, it prevents any new backyard artists from experimenting with new forms without breaching copyright.

The justification for copyright as it applies to music is that it encourages innovation.  The argument goes that if people have protection for their creation then they can gain the financial benefit of that creation and are therefore encouraged to produce.  This is only accurate to a point.  While the recording industry tries to gloss over it, copyright is not binary (present or absent) there is a scale of control.  While moderate controls can promote innovation, extreme controls can actually stifle it.  If the laws of today were in place in the 80’s then the Hip-Hop genre would not exist.  Regardless of whether that appeals to you or not, it would definitely make the music industry smaller than it is today.

While this is an interesting story in itself, the true connection with IT is its correlation with other intellectual property (IP) law.  All other IP regimes (e.g. patents) mirror copyright in their application.  Moderate enforcement encourages development.  But if the application is too weak or too strong, then the opposite is true and innovation is stifled.  I think we are seeing this in patent law today, and we in IT should take a lesson from the mistakes we can see in the music industry and get behind efforts to rationalize IP law.

I need a new Off Shore Development Team!

Posted by geeknews at 12:35 AM on September 8, 2007

My team at RawVoice has been working with a Offshore development firm for some development jobs we out sourced, and they are about done with the current jobs we have for them.

The experience was ok but not great. In a previous post on this topic I was recommended a company from one of you, yet I have not been able to dig it out. If you have a company you have worked with offshore that has done good work and has good English skills I would really like a recommendation.

The next set of projects we have are going to need a bit of a higher experience level, and I need to engage them for 3-6 months. If you know a developer or are one we can use some more domestic help as well depending on skill sets, perfect for the person looking to make some extra cash before the upcoming holiday period