Tuesday, March 1, 2011

MakeUseOf.com: “Avast! 6.0 Free Antivirus For Windows Released, Adds AutoSandbox [News]” plus 12 more

MakeUseOf.com: “Avast! 6.0 Free Antivirus For Windows Released, Adds AutoSandbox [News]” plus 12 more

Link to MakeUseOf.com

Avast! 6.0 Free Antivirus For Windows Released, Adds AutoSandbox [News]

Posted: 01 Mar 2011 06:31 AM PST

Windows users will be delighted to hear that Avast! 6.0 free edition has been released, packing even more punch into the free antivirus solution.

For extra piece of mind the team have introduced AutoSandbox, a feature that automatically executes suspicious-looking files in a safe virtual environment. Ondrej Vlcek, CTO of AVAST Software explained “If the item is dangerous, the virtual computer is shut down and the user's real machine remains safe. And, if the item is safe, there is no hassle from a false positive”.

Building on what is already an impressive non-commercial security tool, several other exciting new features have been added prompting AVAST Software to release 6 reasons to give your old antivirus the boot.

Amongst them are WebRep, the first “reputation guide” for malware to be integrated into a free antivirus package. There are also several new Internet security features, including Web and Script Shields as well as Site Blocking providing additional security at HTTP and browser-level.

Avast! users enjoy regular definition updates, a top-performing detection engine and don’t pay a penny.

Such a rich set of features from a free antivirus tool may leave many asking whether commercial security software is really worth the expense. Do you use a free antivirus? Do you pay? What are your reasons? Talk about it in the comments below.

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The History Of Operating Systems [INFOGRAPHIC]

Posted: 01 Mar 2011 05:21 AM PST

Have you ever wondered how your favourite operating system got started?   Well wonder no more as the following infographic gives you all the necessary facts, going all the way back to the very first OS back in the 1950′s.

Whether it’s Windows, Mac or Linux, you’ll find some fun, cool and interesting facts below that maybe you didn’t know about before.

Created for MakeUseOf by Wix

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Cool Websites and Tools [February 28th]

Posted: 28 Feb 2011 07:31 PM PST

Check out some of the latest MakeUseOf discoveries. All listed websites are FREE or come with a decent free account option. You can make use of them without spending a dime. If you want to have similar cool websites round-ups delivered to your email daily email subscribe here.

Add Your Website Here!


Google Code University – is an online repository of tutorials and course content in the form of text, video and slides to help people get started with various computer science topics, especially those that center around web development. You'll find courses related to web programming, web security, Android, Google APIs, tools and much more. Read more: Google Code University: Online Courses & Tutorials On Computer Science


Social Search – Are you trying to revisit a link a friend shared on Facebook or Twitter? If yes, then you can use a neat search engine that searches links your friends shared on Facebook and Twitter. This search engine is called Social-Search. You start by choosing whether to conduct your search on Twitter or Facebook. Read more: Social-Search: Search links shared by friends on Twitter & Facebook



BestWP7Games – Many will admit that gaming is one of the biggest strengths of Windows Phone 7 devices. While it does not have the breadth of games as compared to iOS, the integration to Xbox Live makes the platform very appealing. But the question remains – where are the (free) games? Fortunately, BestWP7Games is a cool review site that showcases the coolest games for WP7. Read more: BestWP7Games: Collection of Free and Paid Windows Phone 7 Games



Newsblur – Google Reader is one of the most popular RSS feed reader apps. But if it you want something with a more appealing and friendlier interface, then check out a web service called NewsBlur, a free online feed reader software app. It lets you subscribe to a maximum of 64 feeds; the premium account allows unlimited subscriptions. Read more: Newsblur: A Friendly & Feature Rich Online Feed Reader Software



Google Website Optimizer – As webmasters and entrepreneurs, our ultimate goal is to drive traffic that converts to making a profit. If you want to know if your website is optimized for conversion, you should check out Google Website Optimizer. This tool provides free usability and split testing reports to help track how effective your content is. Google Website Optimizer works by setting up experiments. Read more: Google Website Optimizer: Website Conversion & Design Split Testing Online


These are just half of the websites that we discovered in the last couple of days. If you want us to send you daily round-ups of all cool websites we come across, leave your email here. Or follow us via RSS feed.

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How To Visualize Your Browser Bookmarks In Firefox & Google Chrome

Posted: 28 Feb 2011 05:31 PM PST

visualize bookmarksIf you have been an active Internet user for at least a year or two, you may have lots of bookmarks accumulated in your browser bookmark menu. If so, it may take you quite some time to find the page you remember saving. The frequent joke I hear is that it really is easier to find something on Google than in your browser bookmarks, and if you’ve been browsing and bookmarking pages for years, you are likely to have a hard time even recognizing the entries you find in your bookmarks menu.

Hopefully, the following two browser extensions, for Firefox and Google Chrome, will partially solve the issue. They will capture the page preview for each of your bookmark entries to let you easier recognize it and have more fun browsing through them.

Visualize Bookmarks In Firefox

ViewMarks (see our review of ViewMarks here) offers an alternative way to organize and use your bookmarks. Immediately after installing it, you’ll see default thumbnails around the place and you’ll have to click through to your pages to capture the thumbnail. But for all new bookmarks, the preview images will be automatically captured and saved. The thumbnails in any folder can be rearranged using simple drag-and-drop functionality.

The page interface also allows you to:

  1. Easily resize the thumbnails;
  2. Quickly jump to higher-level folders using the breadcrumb-like navigation;
  3. Easily search within your bookmarks:

Visualize Bookmarks

Besides the thumbnail, the tool saves other information about the page such as its meta description, meta keywords, when it was saved and how many times you have accessed the page. This information is visible on hover-over:

visual bookmarks

The great thing about ViewMarks search is that it includes all this additionally captured information and therefore allows you to search not only within your bookmark titles but also within the page description and keywords. This enhances your search capabilities quite a bit and helps a lot if you have accumulated hundreds of bookmarks already.

Both the thumbnail image and the additional information can be edited: just right-click on any image and select “Edit“:

visual bookmarks

The little handy “Save” icon below the image allows you to upload any image and create the thumbnail using the local file.

visual bookmarks

All in all, the tool makes a great job helping to figure out your bookmarks, especially if you’ve been bookmarking for several years and have a hard time remembering most of your bookmarks.

Visualize Bookmarks In Chrome

As compared to the above addon, Visual Bookmarks is somewhat limited and sometimes slow but that’s the only option so far for Google Chrome users.

The extension visualizes your browser bookmark folder structure, captures the thumbnail image and shows the page title in the foreground. It also supports Delicious bookmarks and has a built-in search option.

visual bookmarking

It doesn’t have drag and drop functionality that could help re-arrange the bookmarks. Besides, per my observations, it only generates the page preview image if you click through the link right from the extension window (if you just bookmark the page, it will appear as a gray box with the title):

visualize bookmarks

To conclude, the tool does a good job creating a good visual structure of your bookmarks as well as giving you quick access to them, but it will give no help in organizing and re-arranging your bookmarks (unlike the similar Firefox addon we have seen above).

Are you aware of any other useful browser extensions to visualize and organize your bookmarks? Please share them in the comments.

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The Best 2 Channels To Seriously Help You Visually Learn Complicated Math Concepts

Posted: 28 Feb 2011 03:31 PM PST

math videos onlineYou have probably been in this situation. You try to scribble notes as fast as possible during math class and barely have time to comprehend what's going on, so when you go home and review the notes, some parts make no sense. You could read the textbook, but it would be easier if someone could clarify what's happening in that small section of your notes. Even if you have a tutor, you need someone or something to always be able to answer your question on the spot.

I've recently had this happen to me many times in a multi-variable calculus class, and while I headed to tutoring and office hours, there were still times that I saw and understood what the tutor or professor did, but when I tried the problem by myself, I wouldn't know how to continue the problem or get to the right answer. I've found the following resources incredibly helpful as they can really show you the snippets of information you need and will always be available on-site for you to go back to.

PatrickJMT (“Just Math Tutorials”)'s YouTube Channel

Patrick, the author behind all these math videos, holds a Masters in math, and more than 900 videos on math topics, ranging from pre-Calculus to Algebra and Calculus. PatrickJMT's videos contain thorough explanations of even the hardest topics using nothing but plain marker and paper. Then, rather than throwing them at you with mathematical jargon, he tells you (in a soothing voice) what and how you'll need to solve the problem in layman's terms.

Simple and straight-to-the-point, he usually goes over a topic's definition, then illustrates it with plenty of problems, guiding you through each step and also telling you how he simplified it by skipping a step. Some of his videos can up close to 10 minutes long, but that’s a very short time compared to the 50 or 60 minutes you spent in class trying to comprehend your professor.

Here is a video where he explains the basic concept of limits.

The concept of recording the process of solving a math problem is absolute genius, but the value of these videos really depends on whether the tutor guides you through the steps and whether the tutor can help you regularly. Well, Patrick not only goes through an entire problem for all topics without skipping and making leaps between steps, he also posts videos regularly, which he has been doing since 2008. Even the author's website has playlists for all topics in Algebra, Trigonometry, Calculus and Statistics. For fun, he also posts interesting puzzles to be solved mathematically.

Here’s his latest one, talking about the Monty Hall problem.

MathTV's Youtube Channel

Compared to PatrickJMT's videos where you can only hear the instructor while he does the problem, MathTV’s videos feature a very clear, smiling (makes you enjoy videos more!) and patient professor who goes through math concepts and various problems.

The style of teaching is basically the same: He goes through the concept with easy-to-understand terms and solves problems by applying the concept. Not only does the professor excel at teaching with clear explanations, but what's cool is that he also provides motivational and study skills videos to encourage students to not give up when they face difficult math problems or feel like they can't do math.

Here’s one of Mr McKeague, the instructor in the videos, with a study skills tip.

Then, here’s Mr McKeague in another math video online, explaining the concepts of  limits.

Although the channel hasn’t been updated in a year, the website looks active with playlists and links to online textbooks for anyone to purchase and receive the premium content. The YouTube channel itself contains more than 50 free videos with topics in high school and college-level math.

Overall, these two great resources are helpful for anyone in college-level math classes, with topics such as multi-variable Calculus and can be of assistance when you want someone to simply tell you what exactly you're trying to achieve without the jargon. For additional help resolving problems, you should check out the web-based Mathway.

Would you rather go to traditional tutoring or are open to multimedia lessons to aid your learning? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Image Credit: d3 Dan

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Share More Than Just Photos With Zenphoto & The Zenpage CMS Plugin

Posted: 28 Feb 2011 01:31 PM PST

zenphoto pluginLast week I took you on a walkthrough of Zenphoto, a free and highly extensible self-hosted photo gallery that should not be overlooked if you’ve got the photoblog bug. This week I’m going to show you how to get even more out of your gallery installation with the Zenpage CMS plugin.

Whilst Zenphoto at first appears to be an amazing tool for sharing photos, it can also take on a bit more responsibility than your run-of-the-mill gallery solution. The ability to theme and customize your gallery provides excellent scope for anyone requiring a media-oriented content management system (CMS).

Zenpage CMS

In order to make your Zenphoto a little more WordPress, you’re going to need a Zenphoto plugin called Zenpage CMS. It is an officially supported extension for the Zenphoto platform, and as you’d expect, it works well.

zenphoto plugin

You’ll find the Zenpage plugin (amongst others) on the Plugins tab of your main admin panel. Scroll down to the bottom and find Zenpage, select it and hit Apply at the top of the page. It’ll take a few seconds for Zenpage to be installed, then you’re set.

zenpage cms plugin

The first thing you’ll probably notice are the two extra tabs now on your main navigation panel, Pages and News.

zenpage cms plugin

You’ll be pleased to know that there are now Pages and News shortcuts in the admin toolbox visible on your site’s front end. News posts are split into categories, whereas Pages are simply used as static pages (e.g. contact or about).

zenpage cms plugin

Adding a news post is a fairly simple task, compose an SEO-friendly title, some content, pick a category and hit Apply. Hit the Published checkbox whilst composing to publish straight away, or visit the articles page at a later date.

zenpage plugin

Before you’ll notice the difference on the frontend you’re going to need to enable a Zenpage CMS compatible theme. The default theme is just called Zenpage and provides a good starting place with a fairly blank layout for you to use and abuse.

zenpage plugin

Head over to the Themes tab and choose the default Zenpage theme, hit Apply and wait for your changes to take effect. You can change each theme’s options once it has been applied with the Set theme options link next to each offering.

zenpage plugin

If you intend on using the default theme then there’s a few options on the theme options page you might want to tweak. News on index page will replace the default gallery list view with your latest news stories, whilst Use custom menu requires the menu_manager plugin but gives you the ability to construct your own personal menus.

The image view page is fairly standard, with a few nice touches. Clicking on the image will open it in a larger lightbox and there’s an Image info button that opens EXIF data in a lightbox too.

After installing Zenpage CMS, the default theme and playing around with the options you’ll have yourself a great little gallery-cum-CMS that can handle all types of media.


All that Zenpage really does is add news and page elements to your website. There’s a couple of good compatible themes, but you’ve also got the option of building or converting your own if you’re the patient type.

As Zenphoto is written in PHP, the Zenpage CMS uses PHP functions to call the desired elements. If you really are interested in how to go about this then you’ll need this handy list of supported functions. An easy way of customizing the default Zenpage theme is by tweaking the style.css file in your /themes/zenpage directory.

If the very thought of this terrifies you, there’s a couple of themes you can install and use right now. Download, extract and upload the folder to the /themes directory of your Zenphoto install, then choose your theme on the Themes admin tab.


A light, airy and newspaper-esque theme that still places plenty of emphasis on your photography. The menu is attractively located atop the main page, with both latest news and latest albums featured on the index.

Even if you don’t like the colours (change them), there’s no denying it’s a well-designed and easy to follow layout.


A dark theme that subtly integrates news and pages into the main menu without displacing your photos or dumbing down their impact. An excellent photo-oriented layout makes for a fantastic theme, you should probably give this one a go!


zenphoto plugin

A perfect example of expanding upon the default theme, Enlighten doesn’t change an awful lot but the colour scheme. If you find light blues and pale greys more inviting than the default greens and blacks then it might suit out of the box.

For the rest of you it’s inspiration to rip up the CSS file and stamp your own mark on your site.


The Zenpage CMS plugin demonstrates what a powerful tool Zenphoto is. Adding news and pages to your site retains all the media goodness of Zenphoto whilst delivering a quality integrated blog and multimedia showcase website. If you’re not too sure about Zenphoto but are looking for a good photo blog then Pixelpost might be just what you’re looking for.

Have you tried Zenphoto? How about Zenpage CMS? Share your creations, photos and comments below.

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Hot Tech Deals [Feb 28th]

Posted: 28 Feb 2011 12:30 PM PST

If you’re in the market for a new computer, laptop, mobile phone, games and other accessories; don’t waste your time searching online. We’ve taken the liberty of locating the best tech deals and unifying them into a single post for your convenience.

For more fresh hot deals, visit our Hot Tech Deals page, which is constantly updated.

  1. EXPIRING Logitech MX 518 8-Button USB Optical Gaming Mouse (1800dpi) $21.99AR Free Ship
  2. EXPIRING Memory Master 8GB USB Flash Drive w/ 256-Bit Encryption + Pin Code $17.99AR
  3. Dell SX2210 22in Widescreen Monitor with Webcam $179.99 Free Shipping
  4. TODAY ONLY Microsoft Arc Wireless Laser Mouse $19.99 Free Shipping
  5. TODAY ONLY Intel Pentium E5700 Barebones Computer SuperCombo $229.99AR Free Shipping
  6. Asus VH236H 23 inch Widescreen LCD Monitor w/ HDMI $132.99AR Free Shipping
  7. LG 55LE5400 55in LED-Edgelit LCD HDTV (1080p, 120Hz) $1149.99 Free Shipping

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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5 Methods To Find Inspiration For Your Photography

Posted: 28 Feb 2011 11:31 AM PST

how to find inspiration for photographyWhether you’re stuck for inspiration, staying home on a rainy day, or simply want to broaden your photographic horizons, there are lots of places you can go online to come up with photography ideas, or even emulate some of the great photographs and works of art that have stood the test of time.

Since practice makes perfect, this is a great way to not only have a bit of fun with your photography, it will also improve your photographic skills, and you could very well end up with some of your best work yet. Online communities, competitions and tutorials are just a few of the ways you can find the inspiration that has been eluding you, and find images where you wouldn’t have normally.

Online Communities

Online communities are the most obvious place to start when you’re looking for inspiration for your photography. With such a huge variety of styles of photography, techniques, and ideas, you’re bound to find something that will spark your creativity.

There are two ways to browse the most popular work on Flickr. If you want to see the most recent work that has left its mark on the community, you can check out 7 days worth of interesting photos. If you want to go back even further, Flickr’s explore page features popular photos, sets and groups.

how to find inspiration for photography

DeviantArt is another site with a strong photography community. Two ways you can look at the best work on DeviantArt is to check out the handpicked photos, selected by moderators, or, like Flickr, you can just take a look at the most popular photos based on comments and favourites.

inspiration for photography

Stock photography communities such as Stock.Xchng, Shutterstock and iStockphoto are also great sources of inspiration.

Entertainment Art

The entertainment industry is full of artistic inspiration. Whether it’s in movie posters, album covers, a few lines in a song, or a scene in a movie, there is no limit to the ways in which one form of art can inspire another.

A great source for just about any movie poster is MoviePosterDB. The database is searchable by movie title, artist, actor or tag. If you just want to browse randomly you can do so by decade, popularity or just browse random posters one by one.

inspiration for photography

If you’d rather be selective, the best movie posters are posted on the database site, IMP Awards. The database can be browsed by actor, director, designer, or year.

inspiration for photography

Album covers can be just as if not even more inspirational than movie posters. Sleavage features some of the more interesting album covers from the past decades, which you can browse by cover artist, music artist, genre and more.

inspiration for photography projects

For a wider selection, Album Art is a great choice where you can search for your favourite artists, and see how their album covers can inspire you.

inspiration for photography projects

Another way in which you can use these images is to mimic them, creating images that are identical to the album cover or movie poster, adding your own personal twist.

Professional & Classic Art

While your peers can be a source of inspiration, so can professional photographers who you look up to or aspire to be like. If you have a favourite photographer, keep up with their website to see what they’re doing artistically. If you don’t want to look up someone specific, a photography or art database is a great way to get inspired.

Like with movie posters and album covers, you can emulate photos taken by professional photographers, or even create photos based on famous paintings.

The ideal database of photography, fine art and vintage art is the aptly named art.com. Searchable by style, subject, artist, or collection, there is no limit to the kinds of inspiration you’ll find here.

inspiration for photography projects


No photographer can ever say they know all there is to be known about photography. There is always something new to learn. Tutorials can be a great source of inspiration, encouraging you to try new techniques and tricks.

There’s no limit to online photography tutorials, one of the best and most popular is the website, Digital Photography School, with tips on photography techniques, equipment and processing.


PhotoRadar is another popular site packed with tips, tricks and techniques.


PixelTango has a great list of 20 useful photography techniques which are bound to give you some ideas for new photos, as well as a long list of inspirational ideas and styles. Smashing Magazine also put together a stellar list of 50 photography tips and tutorials that will keep you busy, and inspired, for quite a while.


Lighting Diagrams Creator might not provide tutorials, but is a great resource for better understanding how lighting affects your photography. Photographers share their photos, accompanied by a lighting diagram displaying how they set up the photo.


A simple Google search will reveal the wealth of knowledge and inspiration that is to be found online in the form of photography tutorials and tips.


Online photography competitions and magazines are another great source for inspiration, even if you don’t want to enter).

The World Photography Organisation is a great source of inspiration both for its competitions and the incredible community photography on the site.

how to find inspiration for photography

Also be sure to check out the article, 5 Websites With Free Photo Contests To Improve Your Photography Skills.

Where do you get your photography inspiration? Let us know in the comments?

Image credit: Shutterstock

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How To Remotely Control Your Mac Using Simple AppleScripts

Posted: 28 Feb 2011 10:31 AM PST

mac remote control softwareIf you’re lucky to have two or more Macs in your home or office, you no doubt find occasions where you would like to remote control a Mac either from another room or from another part of the country. You probably know that you can use the Shared feature to remotely control another Mac on the same network. But by creating some simple AppleScript commands you can control a remote Mac much faster, alleviating the need to open the Shared screen feature.

If you have never worked with AppleScript before, don’t fret. The following Mac remote control scripts are very short and easy to use.

Settings For Remote Control

In order to remotely control a Mac, say your desktop machine, you must first set it up for commands to be sent to it. To do this, launch System Preferences > Sharing on the Mac you want to control. Click the box next to Remote Apple Events, and set user restrictions if you need to.

mac remote control software

Next, you will need the IP address. In System Preferences, switch to Network and locate your machine’s IP address. It should be something like, Copy that address to proceed to the next step. You can also use the machine’s Bonjour name which can be found at the top of the Sharing pane in System Preferences. Its address will be spelled similar to this one: “smith-nancy-computer.local.”

Create A Script Command

Now, on another Mac, say your laptop, launch the AppleScript Editor, which can be found in Applications Folder > Utilities Folder. Our first command will be one that puts the remote Mac to sleep.

In AppleScript, go to File > New. Copy and paste the following simple script in the editor:

tell application “Finder” of machine “eppc://″
end tell

Replace the sample IP address with the address of the Mac you’re going to send the command to. Be sure the address comes after “eppc://.

remote control mac

Now click the Compile icon. If you don’t get an error message, you should be good to go.

remote control applescript

Now make sure the remote is awake and running. Click the Run button in AppleScript. You will probably be asked for authentication. Type the username and password of the Mac you’re sending the command to. If it works, then you have successfully sent your first remote command to another Mac.

Saving Your Scripts

There are a couple of ways you can save and access your scripts. You can save them to the Scripts Menu that can be put into the menu bar of your desktop. It looks like this:

remote control applescript

If it is not there, go to the AppleScript Editor, open its Preferences and click the box, “Show Script menu in menu bar” in the General Pane. If that doesn’t bring it up, look for the AppleScript’s folder in the Applications folder. Inside that folder, find and click on “Install Script Menu.”

remote control applescript

Save your script in your Home Library > Scripts folder. It then should show up in you Scripts Menu. From there, you can run the script whenever you need it without having the AppleScript Editor open.

mac remote control software

If you think you’re going to run the script on a regular basis, you can save it as an application and put it in your Dock.

Other Command Scripts

Here are a few other commands that you might want to send to your Mac.

Start iTunes

tell application “iTunes” of machine “eppc://IP Address”
end tell

Stop iTunes

tell application “iTunes” of machine “eppc://IP Address”
end tell

Increase Volume

tell application “Finder” of machine “eppc://IP Address”
set volume 7 — Call this one “Full Volume”
end tell

Open The Safari Browser

tell application “Safari” of machine “eppc://IP Address”
end tell

Close The Safari Browser

tell application “Safari” of machine “eppc://IP Address”
end tell

Let me know if this tutorial works out for you. If you know of other AppleScript commands that our readers might find useful, please share them here. For some more AppleScript automation ideas, check out this article, and if you looking for Mac automation tips, download my free MUO Guide to Mac Automation.

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7 Websites For Desktop Customization That Give You Free Themes & Skin Downloads

Posted: 28 Feb 2011 09:30 AM PST

desktop customization websitesWe are all showoffs. From clothes to gizmos, we like to show that we are different. The same attitude sometimes extends to our computers too. Beauty is skin deep and the fact is brought to the fore by the many ways one can set the visual style of the UI (User Interface). Customizing our desktops starts from changing wallpapers to skinning the entire interface of the operating system.

Thanks to the different themes and theme managers available, desktop customization is a select and apply job. The more adventurous go for a more system wide change with shell replacement and transformation packs. Generally, of the three Windows OS, it's Windows XP which gets the most love. So, are you yearning to wield the scalpel and give your computer a new look? As a newbie perhaps you don't know where to start? Well, you can start here with some of the resources I will be mentioning at the end.

Then take the next leap with some cool desktop customization websites and communities that offer nice themes and skin downloads.


desktop customization websites

The computer skinning community based website is a one-stop resource for downloading skins, themes, icons, and wallpapers that will let you play with the look of your Windows. It is also designed as an entry point for new users into the exciting world of skinning with how-tos, forums, and a wiki. You can also download many free customization programs like Stardock's LogonStudio and BootSkin. Some commercial programs like WindowBlinds are also listed. The site has a large wallpaper collection that you can explore by browsing through almost 1600+ pages.


desktop customization

DeviantART is one of the largest digital art communities on the net. Though at first you might think that it's all about illustrations and graphics, go a bit deeper and you will find loads of downloads on Windows themes, visual styles, icons, desktop screenshots, cell phone themes etc. You can browse two categories in particular – Customization and Design & Interfaces.


desktop customization

Being one of the oldest skinning websites on the web has given it a stock of resources you can dip into for free. The site lays claim to a community of 100,000 members. You can sign up and upload your own files, save your favorites, and take part in discussion groups. It's not only about downloading Windows themes and skins, but also of its applications like WinAmp, Foobar, Trillian, Yahoo Messenger etc.


desktop customization

The skinning community has 1905 downloads listed in 37 categories. The most populated categories are those for wallpapers, Rainlendar skins, XP logon skins, and Windowblinds. The forum is small but you can check out the Featured Works section for some original uploads by members.


desktop customization sites

The forum lists 300,000 members. While some of them may not be active, the active members of this Windows customization community are definitely contributing with uploads. The range of downloads cover customization graphics like icons, skins, and screensavers. Quite a few shell packs, Windows Explorer skinners, and launchers are available for free download. Check out the forums for free tutorials on graphics and skinning.


desktop customization sites

The best way to navigate this wallpapers and skinning portal is from the left sidebar. The site includes category rich downloads for a range of skinnable applications. You will even find skins of applications like ICQ, RadLight and CoolPlayer multimedia players.

Graphic Styles

desktop customization websites

Graphic Styles gives you free access to XP styles, Windows 7 themes, WindowBlinds, icons, boot and logon screens, Rainlendar skins, wallpapers, Winamp skins and more. Temporarily, new registrations are disabled but the site allows you to download the files without a sign in. The forum is relatively small with around 7000 members.

These seven web communities are meeting grounds for those who hate the humdrum. Why stick to the common path when the web gives us so many free resources to be offbeat. Like the following resources we have covered in the past –

12 Great Ways of Spicing Up Your Windows Desktop – T.J
10 Tools to Overhaul Your Windows Interface – Varun
The Best Ways To Customize The Welcome Screen In Windows 7 – Simon
How To Install Cool Windows 7 Theme Downloads For Windows XP – Karl
7 Simple Steps To An Awesome Minimalist Desktop – Tina

These are just a few random picks from our desktop enhancement posts. But they go to show that when it comes to flaunting your own personal style, the pixel-width of a screen is more than enough. Let us know if you like to experiment with the look of your OS and the resources you follow.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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The Top 6 Alternative Firmwares For Your Router

Posted: 28 Feb 2011 08:31 AM PST

alternative firmware for routersSomething that many consumers do not really think about is that hardware you buy in the store actually has software running on it as well.  Any router you get – that’s the device that distributes the Internet coming into your house or business to multiple computers – has software running on it. Although “officially” the major companies will only support you and any problems you might have if you run their software, you can actually run software from other sources if it was designed to work on your device.

Let’s run over this list of alternative firmware for routers (firmware is just another name for software that runs on specific hardware) to see if you would benefit from the extra features it provides.

Why Use Alternative Firmware?

First of all, if you are not comfortable with voiding warranties, this article is not for you. Installing custom firmware can and will cancel that warranty, so if you have sunk all of your money into a new $150 router then it might be safer just to keep your manufacturer’s firmware on the device. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. There is also a chance you might brick your router.

If you are still reading this, I’ll assume you are cool with that and are willing to roll up your sleeves.

Turn A Regular Old Router Into An Enterprise Class Device

The first and main reason you might want to install alternative firmware is that you are adding features that although are possible on the consumer-grade hardware you purchased, the manufacturer decided not to add for a variety of reasons. They want to keep it simple and easy for Joe-consumer to configure and also because they sell much more expensive hardware to people who want those features. Luckily for you, people have been working on ways to get the fancy software on this plain hardware!

Some features that these alternative firmwares offer are:

Which Routers Will Work With Alternative Firmware?

This question greatly depends on the make and model of your router. By and far the largest consumer manufacturer of wireless routers is Cisco (formerly Linksys). Most of the alternative firmwares are made for these models since there are simply more of them out in the wild than any other kind. But, that being said, the chipsets which are the brains behind the routers are also used in other models, so sometimes you will see a crossover even to some brands that hardly anyone uses. But you are safest with one of the tried and true models that have been tested with each particular alternative firmware.

Bottom line is that you should check with each firmware to see which models it supports.

Let’s continue on to the different firmwares that are available:


alternative firmware for routers

DD-WRT is by and far the most well known, distributed and tested of the alternative firmwares. It has been in development for a number of years now and is very stable. It is easy to install from your firmware upgrade page and include all of the features listed above. It is free and available for a number of routers – in fact probably the widest number of routers compared to other firmwares.

You can check to see if your router is supported by visiting their router database.

Tomato Firmware

firmware for router

Tomato works just like DD-WRT, is easy to install, and is under active development. Tomato isn’t quite as feature-rich as DD-WRT but makes up for it by being very user friendly while at the same time giving you advanced features like QoS and a shell.

Tomato is also not available on as many routers as DD-WRT. Check their homepage to see if your router (and version number, that is important as well) is listed as being compatible.


firmware for router

OpenWRT is billed as the open router platform. Rather than trying to be everything to everyone, they have built a platform that others can then build packages onto. OpenWRT has a package management system that allows you to expand your router in any way you can think of, should you have enough knowledge and time to program it.

OpenWRT itself does not have a GUI (Graphical User Interface) built in. X-WRT is the extension which adds this functionality, and includes the ability to monitor your router as well as perform maintenance tasks over the web interface.


FreeWRT is a fork of OpenWRT. It focuses more on having an open platform that experienced developers can build upon. It only has a command line, so it is not really geared for consumers. However if you have a need for a cheap remote access point, this might work for you.


If you want to run a Hotspot, Chilifire is the firmware of choice. This professional firmware allows you to offer for-pay or free hotspot access from your consumer router. The downside? They have a free version which supports limited methods of access and up to 10 users per month. If you want to offer more than that, or a pay version of a hotspot, they take a percentage of your revenue.

In return, you get a very professional firmware which will take the headache out of managing such an enterprise. Their firmware is available on many different routers, check their website for full compatibility information.


alternative firmware for routers

Gargoyle is another firmware which adds bandwidth management quotas and network access rules to WRT54G and other routers. The web interface looks a bit dated, but the functionality is all there. It is a good alternative if you are looking for something different.

Whatever Works For You

Each package has its pros and cons. Obviously you are limited to what hardware you have or are willing to buy, but beyond that the choice is yours. If you are looking for firmware that is easy to use, check out Tomato. DD-WRT definitely has the most features and the most community support so is a great choice as well.

Do you have another alternative firmware for routers that you think would be good to share with our users? Let us know below!

Image credit: jaygooby

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Windows 7 Service Pack 1 Released – But What’s Inside? [News]

Posted: 28 Feb 2011 08:00 AM PST

It may surprise some of you to learn that Windows 7′s first major update – Service Pack 1 was released this week as an optional download from Microsoft and within Windows Update itself.

Provided you’ve got automatic updates turned on, you’ll probably have most of the fixes already. You’re free to jump straight in and install it right now, but some of you will at least be a bit curious about what’s inside.

How-To Geek have gone to the trouble of demystifying the contents of Microsoft’s latest update for you, with plenty of screenshots and juicy info about exactly what you’re downloading.

There’s also detailed instructions about how to go about installing the update if you’ve never installed a service pack before.

Read: Windows 7 Service Pack 1 is Released: But Should You Install It?

Got Questions? Ask Them Now FREE on MakeUseOf Answers!



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Speck Fitted Case for iPad Review and Giveaway

Posted: 28 Feb 2011 07:30 AM PST

We’ve seen quite a few iPad cases here at MakeUseOf and the few that stand out are always from Speck.

This week, we’ll be taking a look at another Speck iPad case, specifically the Fitted case for iPad. Admittedly, it’s not one of their newest cases but like a classic, it withstood the test of time and still a great accessory for your iPad. We’ll also be giving 5 cases away so stick around and participate in our giveaway.

The Speck Fitted case is a two-piece ensemble that forms a hard shell case to protect the rear aspect of the iPad. The case is finished with a soft “rubberised” matte layer that provides good traction.


The Fitted series is known for their unique fabric-wrapped back shell. They feature some of the more attractive plaid-theme designs like Houndstooth Gray, Fadeaway Gray, Classic Plaid Pink and Grey.


The iPad is fitted into the larger shell and the second part of the case forms a bevel around the iPad’s screen and clips solidly into place.


With both pieces attached, the Fitted case still provides easy access to all of the iPad’s buttons, speakers and connectors.


And as you can see, the headphone jack and the sleep button are both unobstructed.


The Speck Fitted case for iPad goes for $49.95 and is a solid, well-built, casual case that offers great rear-end protection for the device. If you’re looking for something that also provides front surface protection, take a look at Speck’s latest offering — the CandyShell Wrap for iPad.

We’re giving 5 of these cases away this week (iPad not included) and here’s how you can win one for yourself.

How do I win one?

It’s simple, just follow the instructions.

Step 1: Fill in the giveaway form

Please fill in the form with your real name and email address so that we can get in touch if you are chosen as a winner. Click here if you can’t view the form.

The giveaway code required to activate the form is available from last Friday’s newsletter or on our Facebook page.

Step 2: Share!

You’re almost done. Now, all that’s left to do is to share the post. There are 2 options to choose from or you can do both!

Like it on Facebook

Or share it on Twitter

Giveaway eligibility
In accordance with Facebook’s Promotional Guidelines 2.4.2 and 2.4.3:
Individuals who are over the age of 18. If you are under 18, get your parents to participate on your behalf;
Individuals who reside in a country embargoed by the United States; Belgium, Norway, Sweden, or India are not permitted to enter.

This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, March 4th at 2100hrs PST. The winners will be selected at random and informed via email.

Spread the word to your friends and have fun!

MakeUseOf would like to thank Speck for their generosity while participating in this giveaway. Interesting in sponsoring? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us via email.

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