Mike Williams

Three ways to improve your chess-playing skills

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Mastering chess can be difficult. Very difficult. Even if you have time, patience and a gift for strategic thinking, you’ll still need to find plenty of challenging opponents to develop your skills.

Still, if you’re running short of real-life candidates then you could always turn to your computer, where there’s plenty of help for players of every level.

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SecurityXploded releases Browser Password Remover

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Utilities developer SecurityXploded has released Browser Password Remover, a free tool for managing stored passwords across a range of browsers (Firefox, Internet Explorer [v7.x -- v10.x], Google Chrome, Google Chrome Canary/SXS, CoolNovo, Opera, Comodo Dragon, SeaMonkey, SRWare Iron, Flock).

The program can be used as a simple password viewer. Launch it, click Show Passwords, and you’ll see all stored credentials for every supported browser.

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Check files for malware before they’re downloaded with VTzilla/ VTchromizer

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VirusTotal is an excellent free web service which scans any file for malware against 50+ of the top antivirus engines. But it can take a moment to use, as you must visit the site, choose the type of scan you need (file or link), then point VirusTotal in the right direction.

VTzilla and VTchromizer are Firefox and Chrome add-ons which simplify this process by integrating VirusTotal scanning options into the browser, enabling you to check any file or URL with one or two clicks.

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View your rooms in any color with Dulux Visualizer

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You’re bored with your home’s look. It’s time for a change. Repainting could make all the difference, but which color scheme will work best? Dulux Visualizer is a smart iOS/ Android app which can show you. Just point your camera at the wall and it’s repainted, in real time, to match whatever color you like.

This all starts by selecting your preferred color. One option is to browse a color picker covering the entire Dulux range. Alternatively, you’re able to take a picture of any scene and extract a color you like.

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New company Icecream Apps debuts its freeware range

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Icecream Apps is a new company which recently launched three freeware Windows tools: Media ConverterPDF Split and Merge and Image Resizer. Polished and professional, available in several languages and with Mac versions available “pretty soon”, the software suggests Icecream wants to be taken seriously. We downloaded the new range for a closer look.

Icecream Media Converter is a free tool for converting video and audio files between all the main formats (and most of the minor ones). The program can import multiple local files, or download its source videos from web URLs, before converting them to your preferred device, audio or video format.

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Convert images directly from Explorer with SendTo-Convert

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Image conversion tools are supposed to save you time, at least in theory, but after you’ve chosen your source files, specified exactly what you’re likely to do with them, and set up your destination options, it doesn't always feel that way.

Send-To Convert makes your life easier by allowing you to set up a conversion task, and run it directly from Explorer. At its simplest you might select a few images, right-click, select Send To > Send-To Convert, and that’s it: your images are converted right away.

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dMaintenance Home cleans up messy PCs

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Utilities developer Foolish IT has released dMaintenance Home Edition, a free version of its PC maintenance and cleanup tool.

The program can perform various maintenance tasks, including cleaning up your print queue, browsers (IE, Firefox and Chrome) and hard drive, as well as resetting your browser home page, clearing proxy settings, and resetting your HOSTS file. There’s an option to scan your computer with Windows Defender, and once it’s complete dMaintenance can create a restore point, reboot your PC or just shut it down.

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Mount up to 16 disc images simultaneously with gBurner Virtual Drive

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One welcome addition to Windows 8 was its ability to mount ISO images. If you need to explore the contents of an ISO, just double-click the file and it opens in a virtual Explorer drive, where you can browse, play and generally treat it like the original disc. This works very well, too, but there may still be times when you need a little more drive management power.

GBurner Virtual Drive is a free tool which can also mount ISO images in virtual drives. In addition, you get support for another 20+ formats (ASHDISC, DAA, DMG, IMG, NRG and more). You’re able to mount up to 16 images simultaneously, and these can be loaded automatically when your PC starts, so they’re always available.

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BusyBox crams 117 Unix tools into a tiny Windows executable

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Unix is renowned for its powerful command line tools, and there are many ways you can try at least some of them on the PC. Installing Gnu on Windows gets you 100+ of the best known tools, recompiled to run under Windows, while favorites like grep have been ported individually.

But if you’re looking for simplicity and convenience, it’s hard to beat BusyBox, which crams tiny versions of 117 Unix utilities into a single 645 KB executable. There’s no bulk, no complex folder structure, just one package which provides everything you need.

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Quickly download Instagram photos and videos with InstagramSaver

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Browsing Instagram photos online is simple and straightforward, but if you’d prefer local copies then that’s also easy to arrange, with just a little help from the open source InstagramSaver.

Download, unzip and launch the program and you’re presented with a clear and simple interface. At a minimum, all you have to do is enter an Instagram user name, click Download, and watch as InstagramSaver grabs all the photos from that account.

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Make one file appear in many folders with Link Shell Extension

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If you’re managing your hard drive, and need to have a group of files accessible from two or more folders, then the solution seems obvious: just make some copies. But while this is quick and easy, it wastes hard drive space, and if you forget about the copies (which you will) they could be cluttering your system for a very long time.

Hard links are an NTFS feature which could offer a better solution. A hard link is essentially an alternate name for a file on an NTFS drive, enabling you to make one or more files appear in as many locations as you need. And as all the references point to the same file, no extra disk space is required at all.

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Create portable versions of applications using Evalaze

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Portable applications can be very convenient, especially if you regularly use different computers. Just copy the programs to a USB stick and you can run them anywhere, no installation required, and no traces left behind afterwards.

Unfortunately many applications don’t have an official portable version, but there are other options you can try. Evalaze is a free (for non-commercial use) tool which converts full applications into a single portable exe file which runs on any Windows PC, from XP up.

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BDReader displays comics by panel...sometimes

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BDReader is a comic book viewer with ambition. It doesn’t just zoom to page width and wait for you to scroll: the program also supports “panel view”, which uses computer vision technology to detect the panels in a page, and display them in order. at the maximum possible size for your page.

There are one or two other comic readers which try to do the same thing, but they’re typically commercial products for tablets. Can an open source Windows tool really compete? We grabbed a copy to find out.

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Collect, organize and share your web research sources with Zotero

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It’s extremely easy to research almost any topic online, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. You can be drowning in links and PDFs before you know it, and browser bookmarks simply aren’t enough to keep everything under control.

Zotero is a smarter solution for organizing both online and offline research. It’s aimed at a professional audience who need a quick and easy way to create bibliographies and properly formatted citations, but the core technology really does have something for every web researcher.

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W8 Sidebar is a system monitor, task scheduler, Registry cleaner…

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W8 Sidebar is a handy Windows 7/8 gadget which crams the maximum desktop-friendly power into its compact portable frame.

A simple system monitor displays your CPU and RAM usage, free drive space, upload and download speeds and external IP address, all on the same screen. Icons next to each section link to related areas, so the RAM monitor opens Task Manager, while clicking a drive icon opens that drive in Explorer.

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