Mike Williams

Uncover hidden PC troubleshooting messages with Trace Spy


Software can fail for all kinds of reasons, but most programs will make at least some effort to explain the problem. Usually this is an error message, but it can also be worth checking the program logs, and maybe the Windows Event Viewer.

There is a more hidden option, though: some options generate debug output with low-level technical details on what they’re doing. This is intended to help developers troubleshoot any problems, but the messages are available to anyone -- and all they need is a copy of Trace Spy.

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Pretty Run is a versatile desktop search tool


The standard Windows Search tool has improved a great deal in recent years, and the latest Windows 8.1 additions -- especially its Bing integration -- are another welcome step forward.

The technology still won't be enough for everyone, though. And so if you're looking for a more configurable, desktop search tool, you might like to try the free Pretty Run.

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Express Points: a simple free presentation tool with PPTX import


Express Points 1.04 is the latest release from Australian developer NCH Software, a lightweight free presentation tool for Windows and Mac.

We really do mean "lightweight", too. Both installers packages are around 1MB in size, and they don’t download anything else: a full installation is barely 4MB in size.

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Scan pages directly to PDF with STP


Converting a printed document to PDF can sometimes be a complicated process, where you must import the pages into a graphics tool, clean them up, then pass the results on to something else to generate the final document.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Creating PDFs from scanned images can be quick and easy, and it certainly doesn’t require heavyweight applications: a tiny portable tool could provide everything you need.

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Create contact sheets of your videos with Thumbnail me


Thumbnail me is an open source Windows and Linux tool which extracts frames from a video, then presents them as a single image, a quick and easy way to preview the movie’s contents.

The program imports most common video types: AVI, MP4, MPG, VOB, MOV, MKV, TS/ M2TS, FLV, 3GP, OGG, SWF and more.

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Macrium Reflect boosts performance, gains GRUB2 support


Paramount Software has updated Macrium Reflect to 5.2.6504, and despite the very minor-sounding version number, it actually includes several important changes.

The company claims that backup performance has been improved by an impressive 30 percent or more.

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Copy websites locally for offline browsing with Cyotek WebCopy


Cyotek WebCopy is a clever tool which copies all or part of a website to your hard drive for offline browsing.

Grabbing a small and simple site is easy: just enter a URL in the "Website" box, and choose the Copy option. Cyotek WebCopy downloads that page, and any links (within the same domain), then repeats the process until it’s done. And then you’re able to view the local copy of any page, and browse it as though you were online.

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Split, combine, encrypt, compress: jPDF Tweak is a one-stop PDF toolkit


jPDF Tweak is an open source Java Swing application which provides a host of ways to customize, adjust and work with PDF files.

You can split or combine documents, for instance. There are crop, rotate and scaling options. Or you can apply text or image watermarks.

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Create, edit and process animated GIFs with Cyotek Gif Animator


From forum avatars to simple web slideshows, there’s still a place for animated GIFs. And, fortunately, they can be very easy to create. Cyotek Gif Animator provides everything you need to create, work and batch process your GIF animations.

Open an existing animation and it’s displayed in a simple vertical timeline. You can change its background color, add or edit a text comment, and decide whether (and how often) it should loop, before viewing any results in a Preview window.

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Pixopedia is a quirky but very interesting image editor, paint and drawing tool


Pixopedia doesn’t initially look like the most powerful of graphics tools. Small flat buttons present various ugly and cryptic icons; even the more obvious ones don’t behave as you’d expect; and there’s no bundled Help file to consult, not even any obvious menus you might browse for clues.

Don’t be tempted to give up, though. The program is quirky in the extreme, but once you’ve learned a few basic tricks then life becomes much easier.

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SnipDock takes screenshots and displays them for easy reference later


Install most screen capture tools and you’ll find they run almost entirely in the background. Often you can simply press a hotkey and have your image saved, printed, uploaded to Facebook and so on, without you having to do anything else at all.

What if you just want to capture something for almost immediate reference, though: an address and phone number, a map, directions, something you want to keep in view? Saving an image means you’ll have to find and reopen it, and so you might prefer the rather simpler SnipDock.

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Give ClamWin simple real-time protection with Clam Sentinel


ClamWin is an easy-to-use open source antivirus tool which runs on every version of Windows from 98 upwards.

The program doesn’t offer any real-time protection, unfortunately, which is a significant weakness. But you can add this yourself, to a degree, just by installing Clam Sentinel.

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Convert is a handy unit conversion tool


When you’re unsure about Fahrenheit vs Celsius, feet and meters, or just wondering how large a petabyte really is, there’s no substitute for a good conversion tool.

There are plenty of candidates online. Google has several (search "convert F to C" for an example). But if you just need something lightweight for your PC desktop, then Convert could prove very useful.

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Microsoft Office Configuration Analyzer 1.2 now available


Microsoft has updated its handy troubleshooting tool Microsoft Office Configuration Analyzer to version 1.2.

The Scan screen has been redesigned to add new tools. An "Office Alerts" section displays links to relevant Office support documents, while corporate customers will find help with Key Management Services activation issues.

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NConvert -- an amazing command line-based image processor


In an increasingly touch-oriented world, the idea of using a command line utility to process images might seem, well, just a little old-fashioned.

And maybe it is. But if you regularly need to resize, rotate, crop or convert multiple images, then there’s still no substitute for a console tool like NConvert.

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