Saturday, December 13, 2008

Configuring Microsoft Outlook 2007 for new mail accounts

Microsoft Outlook makes it easier than ever to configure a new mail account.

Here are the steps you need to take:

1. In the menu, go to Tools > Account Settings
2. Click the button that says "New"
3. Use the default setting, which says "Connect to Microsoft Exchange Server POP3, IMAP or HTTP" and click "Next"
4. Enter your name and the new email address supplied to you by your ISP or web/email host (typically in the email they send you) as well as the password they supplied
5. Outlook 2007 should establish a network connection and search the email server for your settings automatically ...
6. if it says the server is unencrypted, then enter the incoming mail server as sent to you by your ISP. This typically follows the format:

Its that easy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Belkin : Hi-Speed USB 2.0 DVD Creator review - better than "EasyCrap"

After my epic troubles with EasyCap and audio, I bit the bullet and bought a replacement USB video converter - the Belkin Hi-Speed USB DVD creator to convert my old VHS tapes. It typically retails for about $120, but I picked on up on Ebay for $60 - just a little more than what I paid for the EasyCap. I looked at the slightly more expensive Adaptec.

I must say that it is a relief that the Belkin device does not use standard USB audio and comes with a full complement of drivers. Instead of USB audio it routes audio directly through the Line-in on the soundcard (which is great if your soundcard has a line-in that is). And it also works with my Realtek chip.

The whole thing runs better for me than EasyCap, but there was a little fiddling around with settings to get it to work initially. The video through AmCap also tends to wobble on preview sometimes, although fortunately this does not come out on the captured video. The frame rate on both USB devices, however, at 30 frames per second (fps) is noticeably slow sometimes. The bundled ULead software with the Belkin was also a little less up-to-date, but both versions of U-lead seemed to work fine with the device.

In summary I'd definitely recommend the Belkin. I haven't tried the Adaptec, but I'd expect they all offer similar features.

However having played with USB video converters for a while now, I'd have to say that my next purchase will be a PCI card of some sort. I think the faster framerate and higher resolutions would be of great benefit, as playing the results back on a large screen are not quite the same as plugging my old VCR directly in.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Easycap USB and ULead - No Audio

I bought a little USB video capture device recently called EasyCap which at the time seemed to be cheap and offer sometinghat others didn't, but as I discovered not all that glitters is gold - this device is hopeless for audio.  They should rename it to EasyCrap.

I tried it on two of my computers and while I could get video I could not get any audio on the bundled ULead free WinAVI video capture software tools.

I spent hours and hours trying to work out what the hell was going on.

Turns out that the device uses Microsoft's generic USB Audio drivers and these have some sort of conflict with Realtek's onboard audio chips.

Just my luck that both my computers (laptop and desktop) happen to have Realtek chips :(

But while it rules out the free software, I have found that AMCap works well (although it unfortunately is not free and limited to a certain amount of video - about 10 minutes worth). The software costs about $50.

So while EasyCap might sound like a cheap option, if you have Realtek audio, consider the add-on cost of software that actually works with this thing.

Update: See my review of the Belkin Hi Speed USB.

Friday, October 10, 2008

NCH Express Talk vs X-Lite/Eyebeam

Well after evaluating various softphones, I've finally decided on and purhased NCH Express Business Edition.

I found it to be more stable overall than X-Lite and it was cheaper to than Eyebeam (~$25 Australian as compared to ~$60) and NCH is an Australian company.

After I realised that Skype and Windows Live Messenger do not support SIP, it narrowed the field substantially, but I'm reasonably happy with my choice.

This means I can now transfer calls among other things.

One thing I am looking for though is a similar system to the Skype dialer plugin for Internet Explorer but that I can use with Outlook Address Book and Business Contact Manager so I can click a button and invoke the dialer on Express Talk. I'm not sure yet whether something like that exists, but neverthelesst that would be nice.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Freemind vs Mindmanager

I've long been a fan of mindmapping for work and just general idea management. I am a big fan of Mindjet's Mindmanager software having found it very handy when preparing proposals, particularly heirarchical representations of website information architecture. However I have also found also found it to be very expensive. So after evaluating several different versions, installing and uninstalling them, I recently experimented with a piece of software called "Free mind". Before this, I hadn't been able to find anything quite like Mindjet's offering.

Freemind does most of what Mindmanager does, the main difference being that it is free and runs just as well on any platform and the XML support is much better for integration with websites. Freemind even allows you to import mindmaps directly from MindManager. While the interface isn't as slick as Mindmanager (certain things like linking nodes, icons and notes can be tricky at first), and I still haven't figured out how to get all the tree nodes on one side, Freemind still holds its own.

I'm interested to see what other people use and if there is anything better out there or if people really feel that Mindmanager is worth the money they are paying for it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

First impressions of X-Lite VOIP software

I've been using Voice over IP (VOIP) for some time now at the office. We use 7490 series Cisco IP Phones. I have also been using Skype for personal calls and Pidgin (using Jabber protocol) for Instant Messaging.

One of the things I don't like about the system is that the phones themselves and their accessories can be costly and bulky. The wireless headsets generally start at over $200. Also, although VOIP potentially enables a whole range of great communications features, such as answering your phone from anywhere, in practicality in my office environment, if I wanted to work from home, I'd need to carry my phone set with me.

Well recently I was introduced to a little "softphone" program called X-Lite by Counterpath which is free and enables you to easily set up your PC as a VOIP phone with the addition of some simple USB accessories, such as heaphones and microphones. I use a Logitech headset and have recently looked at upgrading to a newer cordless model which I will later review.

Anyway, initially I was really impressed with the setup. Besides the fact that your PC will need to be continuously on to use it as a phone, there are several useful options, such as the ability to use my laptop speakers for phone ringing independently of the in call speaking and listening. X-Lite is very intuitive and easy to use and can sit discretely on your desktop and taskbar and run at startup. The setup is cheaper to allow more freedom in the office environment.

One thing I did notice though is that when you want to use more advanced features, you need to upgrade to the full commercial version, another Counterpath upsell product known as EyeBeam 1.5 which retails at about $50. Features like call transferring (essential in an office environment) are blocked for example. In the commercial version, there is also built in Instant Messaging which I believe supports the Jabber protocol.

Another thing that constantly bugged me is X-Lite's update system. It doesn't appear to actually work. A pop-up keeps appearing saying that a new version is available and do I want to download it. But when I click "Yes", it simply closes the application and does nothing. Every time I open the thing this message pops up again after about 10 minutes. Very annoying.

While I'm still searching for a free alternative (such as modding Skype's offering) and something that perhaps integrates into a small business CRM (like PrettyMay for example) as well as Skype for personal use, X-Lite seems to be a good way of doing without the clunky phone.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Movavi Video Converter 6 vs Super by Erightsoft review of video conversion tools

I stand corrected in what I said earlier about video conversion and DVD ripping tools as I recently purchased a license for Movavi Video Converter 6.

Having paid around $50, initially I thought this was a bit too much just for a video conversion tool, however I can say that this product is great value as it does pretty much everything you'd want it to.

While the DVD ripping to AVI is not incredibly fast, the results are great and unlike many similar applications, Movavi is very stable and not prone to crashing, at least on my PC.

It has an option to minimize neatly in the tray without consuming all of the available processing resources, meaning that you can go about your business while you are converting large video files.

I've also converted Apple Quicktime format (.MOV) to AVI and WMV in a wide range of codecs without any hiccups.

The software supports a wide range of conversions of just about any format and great care has gone into the interface design to make it as intuitive and easy to use as possible. What makes it simple is that the interface doesn't overwhelm the user with all of the technical terminology and jargon and options which is common for audio and video. Complexity in the interface (not to mention the difficulty to find and download the application) on the other hand is one of the major failings of Super by Erightsoft.

Searching for a good free application that does these sort of things is extremely difficult and I'm more than certain that the time I wasted combing the web for it would have cost me much more than the price of purchasing Movavi. So my tip is if you are trying to find something that is good value, look no further than Movavi Video Converter 6.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Outlook, IMAP, Gmail problems and slowness - a solution ?

The ongoing saga of Outlook and IMAP has, in the past, given me nightmares. Slow connections, getting headers but waiting sometimes hours for the full messages to download.

I thought I'd solved everything until recently I moved to a Gmail mail server and everything started again. Well I checked and I'm neither imagining it or the only one experiencing it.

Well, I found some information that helped and I thought I'd share it. Apparently most of the problems are due to Outlook's default settings which constantly trying to poll the Gmail server. By customising the settings, you can make a big difference.

Here is a helpful link:

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Google Crome Review - First Impressions - Opion on new Chrome browser from Google

I've just been playing around with Google's new beta web browser and I thought I'd write a few things first up.

At first glance, I think the whole "less is more" approach to user interface design has been probably a bit overdone.

The back, forward and go navigation icons tripped me up a bit initially, and I kept looking for the drop down list to access my recently visited sites. However I'm impressed with the way the recent and most visited sites with screenshots automatically appear when I open a new tab. Chrome really takes tabbed browsing to the next level.

Importing settings from Firefox seems easy on the surface, but even though I closed Firefox as advised, it still didn't recognise that Firefox was actually closed.

There are some interface bits and pieces to get used to. I found myself accidentally adding sites to my favourites. But Chrome is much quicker and easier to sort bookmarks into folders which is a definite plus.

It has taken a bit of time to get used to less right click options. In particular, I find myself looking for "Refresh" and "Find" options, only to find them in the toolbar. The page icon is a bit counter intuitive and a bit of a catch all and working out what is in either this or the Tool/spanner icon is a bit tricky at first.

I like the inbuilt developer tools and History tab is great.

As a web developer, I'm really interested in how it renders sites. But having checked out many of my favourite sites, I can't yet see any obvious rendering differences between Chrome and Firefox, which is another real positive. However I did notice that while Hotmail works, rich text editors on Blogger and many content management systems (CMS) don't. I'm told this is a problem WebKit, the engine that both Safari and Chrome are partly based on. But more on this to come soon.

Overall, Chrome Beta is not a bad first up effort by Google, although I still think Firefox is better (although the current version seems unstable) and Firefox will probably remain my favourite browser for the time being ...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Upgrading to Firefox 3.0

I've recently run an update of my web browser to Firefox 3.0 and I must say, superficially I can't see too many differences. Some of the interface elements have increased in size. Although I suspect many of the improvements are under the hood in terms of rendering and new standards support.

One thing I did notice though is that during the upgrade, all of my previously installed add-ons like Firebug disappeared. I didn't expect this and I'm pretty sure that there was no advice on this in the upgrade process. Still, it wasn't too painful to find and install them again ...

However I have experienced numerous severe crashes, particularly on some sites and incompatibility issues with some rich text editors which has seen me go back to Internet Explorer. Currently Firefox appears unstable, and I'm not sure why they released and promoted such a buggy browser ...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Alternative to MS Project - OpenProj

I've begun trying a few freeware alternatives to Microsoft Project.

After trying several tools including Open Workbench 1.16 by Computer Associates, I've settled on OpenProj 1.3.1 by Projity.

OpenProj seems to offer almost everything that Project does. It is a Java application, but I've found it to run pretty fast, at least as fast as MS Project 2007 does, which is very suprising for a cross-platform application.

The interface is intuitive and familiar and it contains many of the same features offered by other project management suites.

The only current difficulty I'm having is working out how to assign multiple predecessors to a task.

But I can't complain, it is completely free.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Delivering a PowerPoint Presentation for Coaching

Another set of tips:
1. Introducing Yourself
2. Outline the lesson plan
3. State your objectives, why you are here
4. Explain the benefits for your audience
5. Outline the session structure
6. Follow the lesson structure – create section slides
7. Start with the basics
8. Reinforce each section with “What you have learned” slide
9. Use callouts, circles and arrows to highlight features
10. Provide useful tips and techniques
11. Stick to format and minimise distractions
12. Ask for feedback
13. Organise Follow-up training

I've also found some other delivery methods useful:

  1. Screencast
  2. Webcast
  3. Web Conferencing

Some Dos and Don'ts of using PowerPoint for coaching

I had to prepare something recently and I thought I'd share some of it, these work for me:


  • Understand your audience
  • Have a lesson plan
  • Keep it simple
  • Be confident, maintain eye contact
  • Make it interesting, entertaining
  • Make it interactive, engage the audience
  • Use screenshots and visual aids
  • Encourage Practical Demonstrations


  • Simply read slides
  • Rely on it

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Trying to save PDFs from Excel 2007 ?

My old PDF printer driver wasn't reproducing the document properly and I spent ages trying to find a good free one because that was the old way to do things.

Until that is, I discovered that Microsoft have a free add-in. Of course you need a valid licence to download it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Select All in Word and Excel 2007

There are a number of little user interface quirks to get used to when moving to Word and Excel 2007.

One is the old "select all" function which seems to have been overlooked by Microsoft.

The easiest way, I've found is to use shortcut keys - specifically "CTRL+A".

Then copy and paste using CTRL+V and CTRL+C.

The only other way is to use the ribbon. Unfortunately this useful function is now hidden on the far right of the "Home" ribbon (which is a bit of a catch all and not really well thought through). If you click "Find & Select", there is the option to "Select Objects" (which doesn't mean much to me). Unfortunately it can be a bit tricky to select everything this way.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A freeware screencasting alternative to Camtasia Studio

I do a lot of screencasting and in the past, I've used trials of Camtasia Studio to create demonstration videos for software.

Problem is that Camtasia is very expensive. I've also found it to crash on some computers.

Well I've been using CamStudio recently and I can say that it is very good, in combination that is with other programs such as Windows Movie Maker.

There are a few limitations in CamStudio that I have found that you should be aware of. One is that I like to use digital zoom and pan. You won't find that in free screencasting software yet, however. Camtasia in comparison has a lot of built in movie producing stuff, which personally I find to be a bit of overkill. Windows Movie Maker is pretty good for that sort of thing. The concept of CamStudio is simple - just do one thing and do it well. And that thing is recording what is happening on screen.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Media Monkey digital Media Player kicks some butt

I don't know why, but I'd been using Apple iTunes as a digital media player for so long, I never questioned it.

In the old days, I was a big fan of Winamp. Especially getting into its visualisation plug-ins, skins and format compatibility.

At one point I started using iTunes. I think it just became a pseudo standard. It was easier to import music and plug in to my Sony Walkman MP3 player for a start.
But I always found that iTunes to be limiting in visualisations, and it generally got bloated, slow, incompatible and unusable. I got sick of the ads in the interface.

Recently I've discovered Media Monkey. Not sure why it took so long, because it is not only faster, but it offers a lot of the features that I used to like about Winamp, but takes it to a whole new level. I'd definitely recommend looking at it at least.

If I haven't made your mind up for you, then check out this blog which provides a pretty decent and detailed comparison between the products (there is also a wikipedia article, "Comparison of Media Players", but there are so many on their list unless you have the time I would much prefer to cut straight to the chase).

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Paint.NET is a Photoshop killer

I've recently discovered Paint.NET. This great application is not only completely freeware, but it offers pretty much all of the most common things I once used Photoshop for.

I have been using version 3.35 and only found a couple of limitations so far, notably I can't find a way to do find rotations ... it only seems to support rotating and flipping in lots of 90 degree which is pretty useless. But combined with Irfanview, it seems to work a treat and I can't complain about what is a pretty fast and slick application.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

CRMs are just too slow ....

One thing that has been frustrating me of late is that every single Customer Relationship Management system that I have tried is so incredibly slow ...

Years ago I used Maximizer and ACT. Neither of them costed more than a few hundred dollars. While I complained a bit about the lack of advanced features and occasional bug, one thing I never complained about was the speed. Running fully on the desktop, these programs enabled you to talk on the phone to customers while you recorded notes and made calcultations in real-time. Yet ever since ACT 6 or 7 (I can't remember which) this great product went to the dogs because it ran Microsoft SQL Server, .NET and bloated the system with memory issues slowing the whole thing down to a snails pace such that it became completely unusable. You'd spend minutes watching hourglasses while your customers would hang up in your face.

Since then I've gone through all sorts of web based CRM systems, which have the same interface issues. SugarCRM, vTiger, and basically come to the conclusion that they all suck. When you don't want to use them hosted and install them locally, you can add plenty of support headaches to the list.

My latest brainwave was to go back to basics and try Microsoft Business Contact Manager for Outlook. I've been using it for a while and though it offers the functionality and features I'm after I've found that it also runs incredibly slowly. Such that I'm going through the same headaches all over again. My laptop hardware should be more than up to the task, but somehow I'm doubting it is a hardware problem and once again I find myself suffering from "Slow CRM Syndrome". I did get a licence and with Office Small Business upgrade, it cost a few hundred bucks, so about the same as ACT, but probably a slightly better investment.

Anyway, I'm reluctant to even try the high end systems, because from what I've seen they are really no better in terms of performance.

There has to be a huge market for a slick, fast CRM that doesn't cost the earth (sigh) ....

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Filezilla is my FTP client flavour of the month

I've tried everything, from SmartFTP to CuteFTP and WS_FTP for uploading files to file and web servers.

Most of them have issues. They are either clunky or have compatibility issues, and particularly drag and drop problems. Cute FTP has the best interface, but I just couldn't get it to work with some servers.

Anyway, I'd recommend Filezilla. I have not had an issue since I installed this software (apart from the odd very minor drag and drop frustration). It is fantastic and free and apparently it works with Macs as well (if you're into that sort of thing ...).

Irfanview is still the king of image viewers

Since I first started using the great free image editing software that is Irfanview way back in 2001, it has not taken a backwards step and has only continued to improve.

I refuse to use anything else. It is fast, easy and intuitive.

I find the bulk image conversion functions to be particularly useful and it supports almost any format (handling its file associations particularly well). While it isn't an image editor, it is fantastic for quick and easy viewing of images.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The best freeware multimedia format converter is the hardest to get

If you're trying to convert Quicktime or Apple Flash video to AVI or Windows media or vice versa, it can be a pain finding an application to do the trick. Finding a free one is extremely hard.

And as I've found, even when you find one it can be a pain.

Well, I found one, eventually, that does almost everything - SUPER. Problem is that the eRightSoft website is such a convoluted mess that you'd assume either that they don't want anyone to find out or download it or that they are somehow making a lot of money from subtle advertising on their website by forcing people to click on the ad links. I'd guess the latter. Interesting business model, but bloody annoying and frustrating all the same.

There is a really, really difficult process to obtain this app, but I guarantee you that it is definitely worth it. This blog tells you how.