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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.



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!

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