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DIY: Build Your Own Screen Savers With Stardust

 Desktop Enhancement

There are hundreds of screen savers you can download from FindApp. What if you want something that nobody has already created? For instance, suppose you want to create a custom screen saver to promote a new product you're releasing. Or you might like your screen saver to show the smiling faces of your family, or perhaps your stock portfolio with current pricing.

To create a screen saver, you could hire a professional programmer, or you could use one of the many excellent tools available on FindApp. These tools let anyone create custom screen savers quickly and easily. I selected Stardust Screen Saver Toolkit 2004to review because it is extremely powerful and easy to learn and use.

Screen Saver Toolkit uses a simple wizard interface. There are two types of screen saver you can create: media-based “Classic” or web-based “WebSaver”:

Classic projects can combine all types of media, including bitmap images, movie files, and audio clips. Flash animations are also supported.

I am a fan of old cartoons, so for this blog I will create a screen saver that uses short clips from classic animation. I used Auto Movie Creator's automatic scene detection to create short clips from some cartoons, then added them to Stardust.

The next screen of the wizard sets options for the program's distribution and setup:


You can select from many options to have the screen saver behave exactly the way you want. Using these features doesn't just let you create a professional-quality screensaver, it lets you add touches like the readme file, limited-time trials, and built-in support for user payments and unlocking. For this example, which is free, I won't bother with any of these things. The Add-ons are free programs from Stardust which you can optionally add to your screensaver if you choose.

Click Next here and pick from the Settings. This section shows the real power of the Screen Saver Toolkit.

You can control the behavior of the screen saver completely here, everything from the delay between each media file to how the mouse should work when the screen saver is playing. You can also control how the much control the user has. For instance, you can allow users to turn the audio off, or even change the order in which the files are played.

The next screen of the wizard shows that this program has been around for a while: one setup option lets you put your screen saver on 1.44 mb floppy disks! With this program you have lots of options, including creation of a single EXE file, which is what most people will use. You also get to design your setup window, including the text that appears and the background color.

Click Next, and the program builds your screen saver. Stardust creates a standard Windows installer.

The whole process, including making the video clips, took me less than half an hour. If you already have photos, movies, and/or Flash animations to use, you could create a professional-quality screen saver in only a few minutes.

The other type of screen saver you can create is a WebSaver. This very simply loads a web page if your system remains idle for too long. This can be interesting if you pick a site that is attractive and fun to look at. I created a simple screen saver that loads the NASA Astronomy Image of the Day to test this feature

Stardust Screen Saver Toolkit 2004 is a simple, powerful tool to create slick screen savers with a professional feel. You can find it, along with other fine alternatives, in the Desktop Enhancementcategory of FindApp.com.



Back to School Software Roundup!

 Home & Education

Kids across the U.S. are going back to school. This seems like the right time to look at some educational software. Today, I reviewed a math trainer for elementary school students and some software to help middle and high school students practice their English. Also, a tool for students of all ages shows us the entire world in a new way.

Rewards Multiply

Rewards Multiply is a very simple program to help young learners practice their multiplication tables. It's well-designed to help kids learn. At first, it actually shows the answer, then prompts the child to type the answer that was just displayed. In later rounds, the student has to pick the answer from a list (shown above). In the last round, the answer must be typed, without any prompting. The “rewards” in the title are things a kid likes, such as a can of soda, a ribbon, or a quarter. The wizard character you see above flies around on the screen and congratulates the student for correct answers.

The interface for the game is designed for younger, less-experienced computer users. The buttons are large and clearly labeled. The program takes up the entire screen, with no window controls to make it easy for a new user. It also uses speech synthesis so that students having trouble reading can still learn their multiplication tables. You can also opt to play background music while working. One disconcerting thing—on our test PC, the bearded wizard speaks in a high-pitched feminine voice.

Higher English Workout

Higher English Workout lets more advanced students drill on English subjects, including grammar, spelling, punctuation, and comprehension. Like Rewards Multiply, it presents a series of questions to the user and says which answers were right and wrong. Because it's aimed at older students, it doesn't have the flashy animation and speech and music.

The program is a useful practice tool for students who have already studied the material, and can probably reduce nervousness during tests. I think it would be even better if the software explained the reason why a particular answer is right, instead of just saying “Right” or “Wrong” to the student's choice.

Maker BetterGrades currently offers 4 quiz programs through FindApp: English, Higher English, Mathematics, and Higher Mathematics.


EarthBrowser is different from the other programs I've written about. It isn't designed to teach any particular subject or any specific facts. EarthBrowser lets you play with the world. Just by clicking and dragging, you can see the positions of satellites, weather maps, radar images, road maps, webcam views of cities, fires … an enormous amount of information, updated in real time as you watch.

Want to see the other side of the world? Just drag the globe with the mouse. Photos of a city? Choose “Panoramio photos” and they're one click away. Track the course of a hurricane, or see the site of an earthquake—they're shown right on the display. Zoom in to show your own street. EarthBrowser is really fun to play with—it can even be used as a cool screen saver. The best part is, you can't help learning some geography, meteorology, and earth science just playing with it. Educational and fun: what more could you ask for?

So whether your back-to-schoolers are entering first grade, middle school, or high school you can help them learn faster and easier with the right software. And even if you're done with school, EarthBrowser is a fun way to learn more about the planet we live on. You can find much more learning software in these FindApp categories:

Misc Education Software

Kids Education

Math Software

Teaching and Training Tools

Science Software





Three Powerful Help Authoring Tools


Providing help is a vital part of software development. A well-written help file makes a huge difference in how a user feels about your software.  Good help makes you look professional and user-focused.  Poor help files can make your program seem amateurish.  Of course, a good user guide or manual makes learning anything easier.

In this article I'm going to compare three help authoring tools: Help & Manual, HelpNDoc, and WinCHM. All three share the same basic features.  All three have an HTML editor that can create tables of contents and indexes. Each can compile standalone help files and web help. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. The differences between the programs are fascinating and show that their developers started their projects with very different ideas.

Help & Manual is a "big gun" in the help authoring business.  The developers have tried hard to include every feature that will be useful to any documentation author.  It creates your final documentation in almost any form you might want:  HTML Help (CHM file), Web Help, PDF files, Microsoft Word, and a proprietary ebook format.  The built-in editor makes it quite easy to generate the content of your user documents.  The user interface uses the new "Ribbon"design from the latest Microsoft Office, instead of having the familiar pull-down menus at the top of the window.

Figure 1: Help & Manual User Interface

I found Help & Manual to be quite easy to learn and use, and very fast on both Windows XP and Windows Vista systems.  There is extensive support for templates, making it easy to standardize the look of documentation.  One very useful feature is built-in support for translation, allowing you to generate multi-lingual documentation easily.  Support for command-line operation also lets you script the process of creating documents in the required formats.

Help & Manual can import help files created by other programs, which makes it easy to switch from another product to this one.  However, an experienced help author will notice a few features missing.  Because this product stores projects as XML rather than HTML files, there is no support for CSS. If you have been using a stylesheet to control the appearance of your documents, you will have to recreate the same look using the Help & Manual templates.  Also, if you have been using HTML tags like <H2> and <H3> you will need to redefine these in Help & Manual after importing your Help files, then reformat them all to use these tags.  If you're willing to invest a bit of effort in learning its features and converting existing projects, this is a powerful and very useful program.

HelpNDoc is a very well-designed program.  It's a fine choice for someone who is starting as a Help author for the first time.  The Table of Contents editor is extremely intuitive and easy to use. HelpNDoc includes a complete word processor/HTML editor that makes it simple to create content pages. A single HelpNDoc project can be compiled to a Windows Help file (CHM), a PDF, a Word document, and an HTML web help document in a single operation.  A very useful feature is the ability to link external documents to your Help project.  For instance, you can say that the topic "Frequently Asked Questions" is a Word document stored on your file server. This makes it easy to collaborate with other people on a Help project. Each person can work on their own documents, and HelpNDoc automatically combines them all into the final documentation.  Like Help & Manual, it has a powerful command-line interface.  This is the only product I reviewed that has code generators for development environments like C++ and Delphi, making it easier for developers to incorporate help files into their own final products.

Figure 2: HelpNDoc

There are some areas where HelpNDoc falls short.  It has no ability to import help files or projects from any other format.  You must completely re-create any existing help files from scratch in HelpNDoc when migrating.  Also, there is no built-in support for templates.  Because of this, there is no way to automatically enforce a standard appearance for all the pages in your project.

WinCHM has a clean, simple interface. I found this the easiest program to learn to use.  Of the three products reviewed, WinCHM has the best support for importing existing help files, which is important if you are thinking of changing editors.  Their page editor is also simple and easy to understand.  Of the three, it is the most like the free HTML Help Editor from Microsoft, so it will seem familiar if you have used that program.


Figure 3: WinCHM

After using several programs in this category, I got the distinct feeling that the WinCHM authors deliberately left out some features to keep their product as simple as possible.  This software is a good choice for relatively smaller projects which don't require the advanced features supplied by some other products.  It's also an excellent upgrade for documentation authors who have been using HTML Help Workshop, because the migration will be simple.

Which help authoring tool is right for you?  If you produce help files in multiple languages, you should definitely evaluate Help & Manual.  It is the most expensive of the three, and also extremely powerful and capable. HelpNDoc is a fine tool, especially if you don't have existing help documentation to maintain. WinCHM is definitely the easiest to learn and you can be productive very quickly, and it's a good choice if you are migrating from the HTML Help Workshop.  Of course, the beauty of shareware from FindApp is that you can download all three and see which one is best for you!



Join the FindApp Community!


FindApp plans to be the best source of downloadable Windows software.  I'm proud to announce the launch of FindApp Personal Accounts.  We designed the Personal Accounts to make FindApp easier for you to use, and to solve some of the most common problems people have with downloaded software.

I use a lot of software, and I love it.  One thing I like is that programs tend have new releases pretty often.  Of course, when you have to update each of your programs manually, it's easy to forget to check for updates.  Your FindApp Personal Account ends this problem.  If you add a program to your FindApp Watch List, we will notify you by email whenever it gets updated.  Your Watch List keeps you up-to-date, it's just one click to download the new version.

I don't have a perfect memory, so I have often had this thought:  "I'd really like to use that software I downloaded last month.  What was it called again?"  It's not a problem any more, because a FindApp Personal Account includes a My Downloads page.  With a complete record of all the software I have downloaded, I will always be able to find the one I liked. 

We've made it even easier to post a review.  Just visit your My Downloads page.  Every program you download will be listed there. Click the Post a Review link and you're ready to rate and review.  By rating the software, you will be helping everyone else who uses FindApp. You'll also be helping the software publishers. Good reviews reward the developers of good software. Even a bad review helps the developers, by telling them where they need to improve.

Personal Accounts work on any PC, so you can log on from your home, your office, or your neighbor's house to find the software you need.  There is no cost, and we will not share or sell your email address.  Please go ahead and create a FindApp Personal Account, then rate and review the programs you download.



Create Animated Demos with TurboDemo

 Business | Graphic Design

Everyone knows that a picture is worth 1000 words.  When you're trying to explain something, a moving picture can be worth 1000 stills.  Animated demos and marketing pieces can explain and persuade. They hold the audience's attention better and are more compelling than just using words and written text for many purposes.

There are several programs that create animated demos, including Flash Demo Builder and Viewlet Builder.  I'm going to review TurboDemo, one of the most popular.

For this review, I tested TurboDemo by creating a short tutorial on using FindApp.  To begin, I recorded myself using the Find feature to locate software on FindApp.

After recording, TurboDemo looked like Figure 1:

TurboDemo Interface

Figure 1: The TurboDemo User Interface 

Notice that TurboDemo calls each captured screen a "Slide". Each slide can have its own graphics, text, and audio added. If you have used Microsoft PowerPoint, you should find the interface for editing slides familiar.

Once you're done recording it's time to turn the simple screen capture into a demo or tutorial.  It's surprisingly easy.



First, I added text to several slides.  I also added a callout, also known as a word balloon, to one slide.  I used rectangles and arrows to emphasize important parts of some screens.  Finaly, I added a "Start" button to the beginning of the tutorial so it wouldn't begin before the viewer was ready. I chose not to use audio for this demonstration. 

After you've completed all the text/audio annotations, it's time to adjust the timing.  You can control how long each slide stays on the screen using the Player controls.


Figure 2: TurboDemo Player Controls

The number shown is the duration for the current slide.  Allow enough time for viewers to read the text and/or listen to the audio.

A major strength of TurboDemo is how many ways you can save your demo.  You can create Flash or Java for web pages.  You can also make a self-running Windows program (EXE), PDF and Word documents or an AVI movie.  I created an executable file, which you can download below.

FindOnFindApp.exe (4.15 mb)

TurboDemo is surprisingly easy to use, and has enough depth that experienced users will continue to get better and learn new tricks. You can create buttons, interactive test questions with automated responses to both correct and incorrect answers, and much more.  It does have a few quirks and frustrations, mostly a somewhat out of date user interface.

TurboDemo is a very good choice for a professional who will be creating enough demos and animations to justify the price.  You can find both TurboDemo and other demo builders in the Presentation category of FindApp.



Create Your Own Nature Scenes With Nature Illusion Studio

 Desktop Enhancement

One of the most popular things to display on a PC is animated images of nature.  Today I will review Nature Illusion Studio.  With this program, you can turn a still picture into a beautiful, fascinating animated image.

It's surprisingly easy to turn a simple photograph into a constantly-changing, realistic outdoor scene.  You can use the animation you have created as a screen saver or save it as a GIF file or video clip. 

You can

  • Add weather such as rain or snow.
  • Make any water in the picture look "alive" with ripples, waves, and animated reflections.
  • Add moving objects.For instance, you can make birds fly across the picture's sky, or fish swim in the water.
  • Add sound effects like birdsong, wind noises, or the sound of flowing water.


When you create a project, you select an image to be the background of your nature scene, then add various effects to it.I began with this photo of a pond:

Peterson Pond

Use the "Water" effect to add soothing wave motion to any water in the picture. Just use familiar paint and flood-fill tools to mark the area you want to ripple. All the effects in Nature Illusion Studio have pleasing defaults, and lots of settings you can adjust if you choose For Water you can adjust wave height, speed, direction, and reflection, letting you do everything from a slight riffle on a pond to large waves on an ocean shore. With up to 6 separate water effects in one project, you can really bring water to life.In my project I added a gentle, slow ripple to the pond.

I did not choose to add any weather to this picture. It clearly shows a bright, sunny day, so adding rain or snow would look odd.

I did add an object. Objects are smaller pictures that you can place and animate. I happen to think that a perfect pond scene should have dragonflies (to eat the mosquitoes!), so I found some nice dragonfly clip art and animated one across the image. Nature Illusion Studio can use either JPEG or BMP images.

The final Effect you can add to your scene is Sound. Adding audio is extremely easy—just click Add and pick a sound file.  The program comes with an assortment of nature sounds like waterfalls and crickets.  For this pond scene, Frog.wav was a natural. You can also use your own sound files.  Again, you have many options when deciding how to play the sound: continuously or randomly, or at set intervals.

Nature Illusion Studio's Main Window


Animated Nature Scene with Water and Object effects

Notice the dragonfly moving and the water rippling.  GIF files don't support sound, so you can't hear the frogs croaking.  I also saved this scene as a screen saver and a video clip, and the background noises work perfectly there.

There are definitely some quirks to this program.  You cannot scroll using the mouse wheel in Nature Illusion Studio.  I tend to zoom in and out a lot when doing graphics, and I found the progam's use of Ctrl+= for "Zoom in" distracting. I wish the developer had used the standard Ctrl++ and Ctrl+-.  I also found some of the language in the Help file confusing.  The program did freeze on me once and had to be closed and restarted.  Overall, though, Nature Illusion Studio is easy to learn, and quick to master.  Once I understood all the features, turning the pond photo into a GIF and a screensaver took about 5 minutes.

Nature Illusion Studio is an excellent tool if you would like to animate a nature scene.  If you'd like to create cool, interesting-looking screen savers, videos, and animated GIFs it's just what you need. 

There are hundreds of excellent programs in the Desktop Enhancement category on FindApp.  Check them out today!



At Your Leisure: Puzzle Games


Good news! According to recent scientificresearch, mentally challenging activities actually help us to think better. Now you have an excuse for playing puzzle games: they're healthy and make you smarter!

Here are 3 puzzle games you can download from FindApp that will help you keep your mind sharp. They're also a lot of fun.

Sudoku For Windows

Sudoku For Windows

Sudoku's popularity has exploded in the 21'st Century, from almost unknown outside Japan to being the most popular type of number puzzle. The rules are very simple: every row, every column, and every 3x3 box must contain all the numbers from 1 to 9. The game is so fascinating you may have to struggle to tear yourself away. Sudoku for Windows puts the game on your PC, giving you an unlimited number of games, 5 difficulty levels, and automatic checking for common mistakes like duplicate entries. The program has an elegant, simple, attractive interface, and you can be playing within a few seconds of installing.



Crossword puzzles are the most popular type of puzzle game in the USA. FineCrosser helps you design your own crosswords. It's a great tool for any teacher. There is no better way to reinforce someone's memory of a fact than including it in a game.

Creating a crossword with FineCrosser is easy. Just select which words you want to appear, click the “Make Crossword” button, and the program creates the grid, places the words, and creates the clue sheet and key. The program comes with 24 categories of words and clues, and you can add new words easily to create puzzles about any subject.



A third type of puzzle is based on shapes. BoXIKoN is a game of planning and mental imagery. Like Tetris, you try to fit geometric shapes together to fill rows on the game board:

You can rotate and position the blocks wherever you want, so the game is decided by how well you've thought out your strategy, not by how fast you can handle the controller.

It's a fun mix of an arcade game and a puzzle. Be careful! It's surprisingly addictive.

There are hundreds of games on FindApp in the Puzzles category. Remember, it's for your health, so take some time, have fun, and build up your brain power.



PDF Utilities You Can Use


Portable Document Format (PDF) documents are everywhere.  They're used for everything from IRS tax forms to instruction manuals.  You can read PDFs on almost any computer, and many other devices like phones and PDAs.  Their fillable forms can be extremely useful.  If you work with PDF files in your own business or on your web site, there are many programs on FindApp that can save you money and make your job easier.

Many people think that creating PDF files requires expensive software.  However, PDF Vista makes it easy. To turn any document into a PDF, just print it using the PDF Vista virtual printer.  In only a few seconds your document is converted into a Portable Document Format file.  PDF Vista is an excellent, easy-to-use and reasonably priced way to create Portable Document Files.

VeryPDF PDF Editor

Now that we have created PDF files, what if we want to change one?  Sometimes you create a wonderful  document, and after it is already in use you have to change one word or one date or one phone number.  You can modify your documents using PDF Editor.  A simple mouse-controlled interface lets you change, add, or remove text, graphics, links, and comments easily.  This is the perfect way to quickly update an existing PDF.

Finally, what if you have information in PDF form, and you need to use it in another program?  To turn a PDF into other formats, consider Total PDF Converter.  It uses a simple wizard interface to turn Portable Document Format files into Word, Excel, HTML, Text, and many other file formats.  If there is data in a PDF that you need to work with in another program, for instance a table of numbers that you need in a spreadsheet, Total PDF Converter is exactly what you need.

There are almost 100 programs in the PDF Software category on FindApp.  If you use PDFs, take a few minutes to browse through it.  You will certainly find something that can make your work more efficient and save you money.




File Compression Comparison: WinRAR vs. WinZip

 PC Utilities

Files are getting bigger all the time.  Even in these days of inexpensive hard drives with enormous capacity, there are still plenty of reasons to use file compression programs.  If you are sending a file over the Internet, cutting its size by half reduces transfer time by half.  If you're putting files on a DVD or CD, size is very important.  Compression software also makes it easy to combine many files into a single archive.  It's much easier to share a single RAR or ZIP file which contains hundreds of files than to make someone download each file separately.

There are many different compression programs out there.  Undoubtedly, the two most popular PC compression formats today are Zip and RAR.  Both have the ability to greatly reduce the size of files, to store multiple files in folders in their archives, and to extract the files with several options.  The main practical difference between them is that Zip is older and not protected by a patent, so there are many different programs that can create and open Zip files. The RAR format is restricted to software approved by the creator and there is somewhat less of it available.

For this review I tested the leading Zip and Rar programs, WinZip by WinZip Computing and WinRAR by RARLAB.  I compared them in two areas:  User Interface and Performance.

1. User Interface

As you see, the two programs have a very similar interface, with a file list and colorful, easy-to-recognize icons.



Both programs also have a Wizard to perform basic tasks (create an archive, open and extract files from an archive). I do find the WinRAR file selection interface more intuitive.  Both programs integrate with Windows Explorer and with your email in very similar ways.  Overall, the two programs are very similar in both appearance and functionality.  At least for me, WinRAR is slightly more intuitive. 

2.  Performance

For a compression program, there are two types of performance:  compression ratio (how small they can make files) and speed (how long it takes to compress files).  For this test, I compressed a folder containing a mixture of documents, images, video and audio files, and data files from different programs.  The uncompressed size of the folder is 112 mb.  I tested each program three ways:  with default settings, set for maximum compression, and set for maximum speed.  Here are the results:

Test Results
 Default Settings
 Maximum Compression
 Maximum Speed

WinRAR does seem to live up to its claim to be the fastest compression software.  In the "Default" section WinZip takes less time, but it does so by giving slightly worse compression.  (All compression numbers here are low because I was working with music and image files, which do not compress very much.  Documents may compress by as much as 75%.) I didn't do formal tests, but uncompression of RAR files also appears to be slightly faster than Zip.

Interestingly, both programs support the other one's file format.  WinZip can uncompress RAR archives.  WinRAR can actually create Zip files as well as open them.  (Remember, the Zip format is not patent-protected.)  I tested WinRAR compressing the same folder using the default Zip settings.  It took 2:46 to compress by 13%, so clearly WinZip is better at Zipping than WinRAR.  Both programs can also open many other types of compressed files, including TGZ, 7Zip, and LHA.

Which one should you buy?  Both can do almost anything you need from a general file compression utility.  WinRAR does give better performance in most circumstances.  WinZip has additional features like job automation for the advanced user.  Also, if you are planning to share your files, your audience is more likely to have an unzipper than an unRAR program.  And of course, there's nothing stopping you from having both.

Why not take advantage of FindApp's try-before-you-buy philosophy?  Download them both and see which one you like the best. 

Agree?  Disagree?  Post your own reviews on the product pages!



Create Unique, Realistic 3D images with Quick 3D Cover

 Graphic Design

It matters how things look.  Whether you're trying to sell products, giving a gift, or creating a DVD collection, it's important to you how the package looks.  You can find lots of software packages on FindApp that help create CD labels or box covers.  Quick 3D Cover handles a different job: it directly creates images of the packaging, without your having to make and then photograph the package.  For instance, Figure 1 is a box image, making this 3D illustration took about 10 minutes. Figure 1: My Personal DVD Editor

The program is designed to be easy for anyone to use.  There is a simple text tutorial available from the opening screen, which explains the four-step process:

  1. Choose a template.  In Quick 3D Cover, a template can be a box, a label, a card, and other types of object.
  2. Select graphics to display on each side.
  3. Decide what size image to create.
  4. Save your image.

Despite the name, Quick 3D Cover is not limited to producing covers and box images.  If you do presentations, you'll find its ability to simulate screens, portable devices, and even clipboards very useful.  Here's another example: 

Figure 2: PDA



I really like this program, but I can't call it perfect.  It's very powerful, but the user interface is not as straightforward as I would like.  For one example, the Gallery of templates should be divided into categories, and the templates should have meaningful names.  This would make it much easier to find the one you're looking for.  As a "power user" type, I would love to see a template editor, so I could create my own images to fit any object I happen to want to stick graphics on.  

It would also be very convenient if Quick 3D Cover worked with software that produces actual cards and/or labels, like Label Designer Plus DELUXE, so I could create both actual labels and the 3D image of them easily. 


Overall, I recommend Quick 3D Cover to anyone who needs to create product images or presentation graphics.

Do you have an opinion of this software?  Please review it yourself.

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