Your Favorite Utility Programs

[Last updated:  3-April-2011]

Let's start a thread where we share our favorite utility programs--those "little apps" that we use:

  • To make us more productive
  • Or do that little job quicker and easier with Articulate or PowerPoint
  • Or help us troubleshoot things.

Also, identify if Windows or Mac.  And if free or a cost.

As we add things below, I'll update this list here.

For measuring things on the screen: 

For resizing any window to an exact, predefined size:

For getting color values on the screen:

For troubleshooting HTTP calls under the hood with Articulate content: 

  • HTTP Watch (Windows) - Free Version or Full Version ($395)
  • HTTP Analyzer (Windows) - Trial version of Full Version ($119-$169)
  • Fiddler - web debugger (Windows) - FREE

For Sound Editing:

  • Levelator  (Windows or Mac) - FREE but "tip" suggested
  • Audacity  (Windows or Mac) - FREE

PowerPoint Add-ins:

For Creating/Converting/Playing Media (e.g., videos):

  • Format Factory (Windows) - FREE (but donation suggested ) - (Thanks to Brian B. for this one)
  • Any Video Converter (Windows) - FREE
  • YouTube - converting videos to MP4 (Browser) - FREE  (see Will's post for how to do this)
  • Xtranormal text to video  (Windows or Mac) - FREE Account plus Charged Account
  • Handbrake - media transcoder (Windows or Mac) - FREE
  • SWIFF Player for playing Flash videos (Windows) - FREE
  • VLC  for playing any media file (All platforms) - FREE
  • XVID for converting Windows LiveMeeting files to other formats (Windows) - FREE
  • Codec Information Appliance or GSpot  for finding out how a video was encoded and all the details about the video's file format (Windows) - FREE

For Screen Captures:

  • SnagIt (Windows/Mac) - $50
  • Windows 7 Snipping Tool (in Windows 7 itself) - FREE
  • Screenpresso - simple screen captures and editing (Windows)  - FREE
  • Greenshot - simple screen capture tool (Windows) - FREE
  • Zoomit for highlighting or annotating parts of the screen (Windows) - FREE

For Web Development:

  • FancyBox for displaying images, html content and multi-media in a Mac-style "lightbox" that floats overtop of web page - FREE
  • FoxReplace: Useful FireFox Extension if you are editing content within a web browser (in wiki for example) and you need to do search-and-replace (Browser) - FREE
  • Web Developer: FireFox extension that helps in web design. Especially useful for troubleshooting layout problems or figuring out how someone did something on a page (Browser) - FREE  

For graphics/photo work:

  • ArtWeaver paint program (Windows)  - FREE version or Plus version @ 29 EUROS
  • TinEye reverse image search (Windows or Mac) - FREE 
  • GIMP for photo retouching, image composition and image authoring (Windows/MAC) - FREE
  • Fotosketcher converting digital photos into art, automatically: (Windows) -  FREE
  • Poladroid create easily Polaroid-like pictures from your digital photos:(Windows & Mac) - FREE
  • For picking color schemes (browser-based) - FREE
  • Color Jack for help with color schemes  (browser-based) - FREE

  • Color Hunter - create a color palette from any image (browser-based) - FREE
  • Color Scheme Designer - color scheme designer - (browser-based) - FREE

  • Big Huge Labs -  color palette generator: create a color palette from any photo (browser-based) - FREE

  • Color Contrast Check - calculating / validating color combinations for readability - (browser-based) - FREE

  • Color Contrast Visualizer - calculating / validating color combinations for readability  (browser-based--requires Flash player) - FREE

  • Official Seal Maker - adding seals to your course (browser based) - FREE 

Storytboarding/Idea-Generating/Mind-mapping Tools:

  • Adobe Ideas Digital sketchbook (iPhone/iPad) - FREE
  • Corkulus idea board (iPad) - $4.99
  • Evernote (Windows or Mac)  - Free acount or $ for premium account
  • FreeMind mind mapping (Windows/Mac) - FREE

Online File Sharing and Storage:

  • Dropbox - FREE or account (price varies on amount being stored)    

Text-toSpeech:

Text Effects/Editing:

  • Wordle a toy for generating “word clouds” from provided (browser-based) - FREE
  • PureText tool for  pasting without formatting across all Windows applications (Windows) - FREE
  • Notepad ++  source code editor and Notepad replacement  (Windows) - FREE
  • PDF to Word Converter (Windows) - FREE

Office Suite:

  • OpenOffice - open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, and databases(note the Impress PowerPoint-like program does not work with Articulate Presenter) - (Windows/Mac) - FREE 

Browsers/Web/FTP:

  • Delicious social bookmarking service (browser-based) - FREE
  • FireFTP  cross-platform FTP/SFTP client for Mozilla fitreFox - FREE
  • iMacros for Firefox - record and replay repetitious web work - FREE but donation suggested
  • Google Analytics - enterprise-class web analytics solution for website traffic -  FREE

Search/Replace:

  • Effective File Search advanced search/Windows search replacement (Windows) - $29.95
  • grepWin  simple search and replace tool which can use regular expressions (Windows) - FREE

Desktop Productivity Tools:

  • Fences  desktop organizer utility (Windows) - FREE for basic; $19.95 for Pro version
  • Soluto a utility that gives you easier control over what programs start up (Windows) - FREE
55 Replies
Alicia Pennington

I'm going to have to try some of these.  I've used Gadwin for screenshots for years.  Seeing the utilities to change photos into graphics would be a good way to use, and not use, employees in courses.  I can take a photo of an employee, change it into a graphic using FotoSketcher and be left with a "likeness" of them.  This way if they leave the company, I would not feel compelled to change the graphic.

Caroline Williams

For help with color schemes.

http://www.colorjack.com/ - Color Jack

http://www.colorhunter.com/ - Color Hunter - create a color palette from any image

http://colorschemedesigner.com - Color scheme designer

http://bighugelabs.com/ Big Huge Labs - Color palette generator: create a color palette from any photo.

Steve Flowers

There are quite a few tools available for calculating / validating color combinations for readability. Here are a couple that I've used:

http://www.snook.ca/technical/colour_contrast/colour.html

This one provides a nice visualization for selection:

http://www.stainlessvision.com/files/ColourContrastVisualiser.swf

Will Findlay

Video tools:

For video conversion (something I'm betting is similar to FormatFactory) I use Any Video Converter (Free, Windows). If you deal with Windows LiveMeeting files (which uses a strange fussy but highly compact codec), I have found it particularly useful in converting these meeting videos to other formats (I would convert them to XVID format, which is then editable in Camtasia).

Another useful transcoding trick is to upload a video to YouTube, mark it as private so it isn't viewable to anyone but you, and then download the transcoded version (MP4) for use in Articulate or other locations. You can then simply delete the file from YouTube. This gives you the power and reliability of YouTube's transcoding software, but the video is never made public.

A good tool for video is the free Windows utility Codec Information Appliance (I'm using the alternate title) which is a gem for finding out how a video was encoded and all the details about the video's file format.

web tools:

I love FancyBox (not platform dependent) for making those Web 2.0 "Lightbox" windows that allow you to pop-up a video or image on a web page without making someone navigate to a new page.


FoxReplace: Useful FireFox Extension if you are editing content within a web browser (in wiki for example) and you need to do search-and-replace.

Web Developer: Another great FireFox extension that helps in web design. Especially useful for troubleshooting layout problems or figuring out how someone did something on a page.



Audio:

foobar2000: With this free Windows sound (and other media) player you can designate "global hotkeys" to control the playback of audio. If you create screencasts and you record the audio separately from the video this can be handy because it allows you to start/stop/rewind the audio while the audio player is minimized.

Windows Utilities:

PathCopy: Allows you to right click on any file and copy the path to that file. In my opinion this should be built into Windows. Useful when you need to send the path of a file on your network via e-mail (which helps avoid sending big attachments).

I love software tools.

Brian Allen

Will Findlay said:

I love FancyBox (not platform dependent) for making those Web 2.0 "Lightbox" windows that allow you to pop-up a video or image on a web page without making someone navigate to a new page.

Will, thank you so much for this tip on FancyBox...  probably something that's been out there for a while but I have never stumbled upon it.  I've got at least 3 projects right now that I will use it with.

Much appreciated

Will Findlay

Alicia Pennington said:

Will,

You made my day with mentioning Any Converter works with LiveMeeting!!!!  I love this discussion!  Talk about just-in-time.

Make it a great day!

Thanks, here are some tips around LiveMeeting transcoding...

When you reencode the video using AVC, make sure you experiment with the settings to keep the file size small. The resolution of a livemeeting recording is typically 704x528. You'll want to reduce the framerate down to at least 8 because livemeeting records at 4 frames a second. The Video bitrate can go way down. Audio bitrate should be set down to at least 64. Sample rate can go down to 11025.

Will Findlay

Brian Allen said:

 

Will, thank you so much for this tip on FancyBox...

You bet! Glad it could be of use. I find it really useful. I know there are several other good lightboxes out there as well, although I use FancyBox because it does exactly what I want. Another similar tool is ColorBox, and for web pop-up tooltips there is qTip. All of these take advantage of jquery, a mysterious library of javascript (mysterious to me anyway) that does all kinds of magic but doesn't require you to understand how everything works under the hood..
Mark Marino

Will Findlay said:

Video tools:
Windows Utilities:

PathCopy: Allows you to right click on any file and copy the path to that file. In my opinion this should be built into Windows. Useful when you need to send the path of a file on your network via e-mail (which helps avoid sending big attachments).

I will second the vote for ninotech PathCopy.  If you frequently need to send UNC paths and URLs to web-servers that you have mapped to local paths, this tool is a huge timesaver.  The trick is to set up the custom copy methods.  For instance, on my local computer running IIS, I frequently send out URLs to our internal clients to review the work in progress.  So in PathCopy, I have a custom copy method that makes it a simple right-click to get the proper URL for them.  It replaces C:\inetpub\wwwroot\ with http://myhostname/ and changes all backslashes to forward slashes.  Simple, and brilliant!  

Mark Marino

Kim Hannan said:

I love Delicious for bookmarking.  It's free, and you can access your favorites from any device.  It's also great for sharing resources with others and being able to quickly locate all of your favorite Articulate tips and screenrs.


I got a little scared off when Yahoo recently announced it was shuttering delicious, which I have been using for years.  I think they ended up backpedaling a bit and delicious got a stay of execution from the governor, but it spooked me into migrating over to Diigo, which is like Delicious on steroids.  I love it.  They can even seamlessly import all of your Delicious bookmarks too.  Extensions are available for Firefox, Chrome, they have an app for iPhone, etc.  Haven't regretted leaving delicious once.  And just like delicious, it's free. 

Raylene Reese

Robert Hetrick said:

For creating very cool text art, Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.

This is a FREE web service.  You can either take a screen grab or print to .pdf to save what you have created.


Wordle is a great application. Inspired by David Anderson's Creating Silhouettes and Design Elements Using Wordle I created the attached image. It's a great way to add a personal touch to your creations!

A program similar to Wordle is Tagxedo which allows you to make text into a work of art.

Another tool I like is Aviary . It is an online suite of powerful creation tools for image editing, music creation, audio editor, screen capture, etc

Vuvox allows you to create collages, interactive panoramas and dynamic visual galleries.

Xtranormal is an online movie creation program where characters can play out your own script.

Youblisher creates interactive pdf documents which can be embedded as a web object in e-learning courses.

Thanks for sharing, everyone.

Joseph Suarez

Such a great list going here. Here's a few more:

  • colourlovers.com is another good color scheme creating site similar to kuler.adobe.com with a community of users sharing color schemes.
  • pixlr & splashup are both free online web apps that mimic basic Photoshop capabilities.
  • smushit is a free and simple image optimizer. Looks like Yahoo acquired it.
Robert Hetrick

Ok, I got one more utility that should be added to the list.

For taking screen shots plus a lot more…(FREE)

Wink: http://www.debugmode.com/wink/

Wink is a Tutorial and Presentation creation software, primarily aimed at creating tutorials on how to use software (like a tutor for MS-Word/Excel etc). Using Wink you can capture screenshots, add explanations boxes, buttons, titles etc and generate a highly effective tutorial for your users.

Robert

Marta Burda

Claudio Starace said:

Hi, my first day in Articulate world.

is there anyone that suggest me a recording tool that I can use into my LO and make my students record and listen their own voice, after they listened a correct pronunciation of a phrase/word in a language course exercise.

p.s. sorry for my "rusty" english...maybe need some more practice in writing

you should try

http://vocaroo.com/

it's pretty cool, you can easily embed it in your course

Dave Neuweiler

Backing up files during project development is a must, else we risk losing hours, days, or weeks of work to the gremlins inherent in our operating systems and computers.

Here's a backup program that offers a very robust free version, and I'm finding that it out-performs the software that comes with either HP's SimpleSave or Seagate's external hard drives: FBackup.

http://www.fbackup.com/

It's a clean interface with a lot of options, and it just works.