Commonly used for everything from program help to e-books, Microsoft’s Compiled HTML Help (CHM) format works very well on the PC. CHM files aren’t always as easy to browse on other platforms, though, so if you need to access their content elsewhere then you might be interested in CHM to PDF.
This free program is extremely easy to use. Just choose your source CHM file, click Convert, and a PDF of the same name (but with a PDF extension) will be produced in the same folder.
When you need to read a long document then you could just sit at your PC, scrolling for an age, until you’re finally done. But having the computer read to you could make much more sense. There’s no eye strain, no document navigation issues, and you might even be able to do something else as you listen.
Windows provides a simple text-to-speech solution in Narrator (Control Panel > Ease of Access Center), and this can easily read the current document in many applications. For real TTS power, though, the free Balabolka is hard to beat.
When writing about new programs we’ll normally start with a general outline of what they do, but FastKeys ($9.99) makes that unusually difficult. It’s a highly versatile Windows automation program with support for several time-saving technologies, but how these are used is very much up to you.
The program could be a simple Start Menu replacement, for instance; move your mouse to the top edge of the screen and a basic Start menu appears. This starts off with just a few links (Office, system applets, Documents folder, a few web shortcuts, shutdown options), but can easily be expanded to add more.
Finding the right disc burning tool for you can sometimes be a problem. The big commercial suites are expensive, but smaller freebies are often buggy, unreliable, sometimes weighed down with adware. So it’s good to find a small but capable alternative in Free Any Burn.
The program arrives as a compact download, only around 1MB. You can just unzip and run it right away, no installation required, no adware hassles. And it’s extremely portable: the authors claim it can run on anything from Window 98 upwards, so this really is a program you can run just about anywhere.
You’ve found an essential Android app. You click "Install", wanting to check it out immediately. And so, let’s be realistic, you’re probably not going to spend a long time reviewing the app permissions, and thinking about whether it really needs to "send SMS", or not. Much easier to just click "Accept" and give it a try.
Skipping basic security checks can catch up with you later, of course, but install Bitdefender’s Clueful and this doesn’t have to be such an issue. This free app warns you of privacy risks whenever you install something new, and can produce a detailed report on your system whenever you like.
Most fractal programs are entertaining for a while, and capable of producing some amazing abstract pictures. But the constant focus on 2D Mandelbrot imagery means that boredom will inevitably set in, and sooner rather than later. What you really need is something more interesting – and we have the ideal candidate.
Mandelbulber is a fractal program with a difference. Forget the usual 2D pictures, this brings you amazing ray-traced 3D images, with complex shading, full lighting and camera control, even the ability to create custom animations where the camera flies around and into your chosen view.
Opera Software has released Opera 18 for Android, a major redesign with every aspect of the browser interface being optimized for larger Android tablets.
"We poured a great deal of thought into the Opera for Android tablet version," says Johan Schön, SVP for Mobile Consumer Browsers, Opera Software. "The size of devices and mindset of users make the tablet very different from its smaller cousin, the smartphone, and we have to respect that. In Opera 18 for Android, we have spent hours and hours tweaking, and fiddling with the placement of, even the most minute detail, just to get that top tablet feel".
In an ideal world, diagnosing software problems would be easy. If a program couldn’t find a vital DLL or Registry key then it would display a detailed error message, describing both the problem and solution, so you could get everything working again with the minimum of hassle.
The real world, of course, is very different: failing programs will generally crash, lock up, or display an error message which means almost nothing at all. Checking with the developer, or searching for your symptoms online may offer some clues. But if you’re getting nowhere, then SpyStudio 32-bit and 64-bit might be able to help you understand what’s going on.
Pazera Free Audio Extractor is an excellent tool for saving video soundtracks as audio files which was just upgraded to version 2.0 with a host of welcome additions and improvements.
The previous edition supported all the main video and audio formats, but 2.0 adds even more. The new formats are M4B, WebM, OGV, OGA, DTS, DTS-HD, EAC3, AIFF, GSM, MP1, QCP (qcelp), RA, TrueHD, VQF, MP4V, MKA, M2TS, MTS, WTV, F4V, F4P, F4A, F4B, VIDEO, M4R and AVS files, while your audio tracks can be saved as MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, AC3, FLAC, WAV, and -- new this time -- M4A.
If you ever work with personal or confidential documents then you’ve probably considered using a shredder, a tool which overwrites your files so they can’t be recovered by others. And there are plenty around: searching for "secure delete" returns lots of capable programs in just the first few hits.
Which file shredder is best for you, though? Most recommendations focus largely on the length of their feature list, but if you’re just looking for something simple, a convenient way to get the job done with the minimum of hassle, then BitKiller could be more interesting.
Opera Software has unveiled Opera 18, an interesting update which sees the browser gain new multimedia support, easier tab handling, speedy search engine creation, and more.
This starts with getUserMedia and webRTC-based support for your camera and microphone, which means sites can implement advanced features like video conferencing without the need for plugins.
You’re at work, tied up with some major project: browser tabs are open, maybe a Word document, while you’re adding polish to some graphics in Photoshop. And deadlines are looming, so you’d like to carry on at home. What do you do?
If you’ve set up a syncing service like Dropbox then your key documents will probably be accessible already; if not, you can always just copy them to a USB key. But for real convenience, you might prefer Cupcloud. Click "Cup" and your application states are saved; click "Uncup" later, on this computer, or another PC and Mac, and the programs reopen, just as they were. Easy.
Working on your PC isn’t generally a great way to wind down, but if you’re stressed out after a hard day then Sound Valley might be able to help. It’s a small and simple tool which plays the sounds of nature -- birdsong, wind in the trees, rain, streams and more -- gently in the background, while you just relax.
The program looks like a simple but stylish media player. Click "Play" and Sound Valley plays its first scene, "Forest -- Day". You’ll hear a stream gurgling nearby, various birds singing, perhaps the rustle of the undergrowth in the background. It’s nicely done, and very restful.
Deleting files on a PC is normally very easy. If they’re locked, though -- being accessed by another program -- then Windows won’t allow you to touch them. Tools like Unlocker try to help out by unlocking the files themselves, but this is a dangerous approach which risks crashing your PC. Reboot Delete File Ex offers a marginally alternative: point the program at the offending file and it’ll have Windows to delete it when your system next restarts.
There’s nothing complicated to this process at all, but the program still requires installation, most probably because it wants to equip your PC with a toolbar. If you’re not interested then watch carefully during setup, and click "Decline" as appropriate.
It’s taken almost five years to get there, but disk cleanup and shredding tool BleachBit has finally reached version 1.0 with some welcome new features.
The Windows installer and executable are now digitally signed, so users shouldn’t be hassled with "unknown publisher" alerts any more.