03 June 2008

#73. What’s In a Name?

I get hung up on names sometimes at the Tool Bar & Grill. I take a lot of digital pictures of the numerous celebrities who drop by for a snack, as well as of my new grandson. All these photos must be renamed if I’m to make any sense of them later and then sell them to major news magazines. And then there are all those music files with strange characters or mistakes in their file names (how many ways can you spell Shania Twain anyway?). What to do?

A Rose By Any Other Name

The Internet is full of utilities that rename multiple files all at once according to your specified formula or pattern. Many sophisticated file manager utilities – including my favorite, xplorer2 – also offer powerful batch file renaming functions, but the interfaces of specialist utilities make the job much easier. Most of the best ones cost a few dollars, but I tried out a lot of them, and found a few really good ones for free.

It was a tough choice, but I think my favorite batch file renamer is Flash Renamer. This clever program can rename any selected group of files and folders (including subfolders) in just about any way you want – add, remove, or replace characters, change case, trim spaces, add or change numbers, set file attributes, and more. Wild cards, regular expressions, and batch scripts are supported. “Visual Assist” supplies examples from your files on which to experiment. Preset jobs are provided for common tasks.

You can drag and drop files into Flash Renamer, a major convenience. The interface is relatively easy to figure out, and shows a live preview of the effects of your changes before you execute them. It also displays picture thumbnails, extracts dates from JPG photo files, and provides metadata and ID3 tag support for MP3 files.

The free version annoys you with a nag screen when you launch it, so you might want to pay $20 just to get rid of it.

Tied for first place is JoeJoeSoft’s Rename Master. It does nearly everything Flash Renamer does, including add, replace, and remove characters, change case, add a counter, and much more. You can use wild cards in replace operations, execute multiple changes at once (with live preview), and save batch scripts. You also undo your last change, and drag and drop files into the program window, and view thumbnails. Rename Master also supports JPG and MP3 metadata. It is not quite as flexible as Flash Renamer, though, and doesn’t trim spaces.

Best of all, Rename Master, like JoeJoe’s other great utilities, is freeware and therefore does not nag you to upgrade. However, I urge you to contribute a donation if you like the program and use it regularly.

Rounding out the top three is Denis Kozlov’s ReNamer, whose very simple interface hides functionality similar to Flash Renamer and Rename Master (in some cases even broader). The key is the Add Rule button, which opens a window that helps you formulate renaming rules relatively easily. Thumbnails, however, are among the few features that ReNamer lacks.

ReNamer also is free, but donations are accepted and well deserved.

I also like File Renamer Deluxe, shareware which I am enjoying for free thanks to giveawayoftheday.com. I like its cheery, clear graphical user interface (GUI). The free version has most of the deluxe version’s important functionality, including drag-and-drop, live preview, and the wonderful ability to specify a different output folder… but the price, and lack of wild cards or thumbnails, dragged it down.

Some other reviewers, including my esteemed colleague Samer the Freeware Genius, have plunked down in favor of freeware Bulk Rename Utility. While BRU offers wide-ranging functionality similar to the two programs name above, its interface is complex and intimidating (see below), and it shows only one picture thumbnail at a time.

News Flash: Backup Utility Free, This Week Only

This just in: NTI Shadow 3 software for local backups is being offered for free, but only if you act by June 8. This is the full $30 version for Windows or Mac OS X (only the Windows version will burn backups to optical media).

NTI Shadow 3 is generally well regarded as backup software. Its special advantages include ease of use, flash disk recognition, and file versioning. I especially like the ability to back up files as soon as you save their changes (like my favorite file synchronization utilities) as well as on a schedule. It has shortcomings, too, such as over-simplicity (resulting in a lack of options), and the lack of file compression or encryption. (You can read a recent PC Magazine review here.) However, its functionality falls well short of my favorite easy-to-use backup shareware, Titan Backup (see my review in post #40). And I just discovered that when burning a backup set to DVD, NTI Shadow can't span discs; whatever doesn't fit on a disc is logged as an error.

NTI Shadow Version 3 is now about two years old. Could it be offered for free in the anticipation of an upcoming new release? I don’t know. But if you need a simple local backup solution, it’s certainly worth trying NTI Shadow 3 while it’s free this week.

Now special guest blogger and Linux guru Mark Lautman has a scary story to tell…

Shelter from the Virus Storm

by Mark Lautman

The wind was howling around the modest hovel, rain lashing against the window panes. Inside a terrified young mother was clutching her hungry toddler, desperately searching for some ray of hope that would relieve their hopeless situation. A coyote howled in the distance, and the toddler clutched ever harder to his mother. Gazing onto the prairie, the woman saw headlights approaching in the distance. “Don’t worry, my child, help is on the way.”

It was only six months ago when we purchased a new Windows computer for our youngest son. I got lazy and didn’t install any antivirus or anti-spyware software. Within two weeks my son was asking me some very embarrassing questions, like why he’s getting the blue screen of death, why the web browser suddenly closes, and why I never invested in Woodward Governor. Once again I learned that Windows is amazingly susceptible to viruses. Fortunately, things are much different for Linux and Macintosh.

Discussions about Linux viruses tend to be short, and that is because of Linux’s (and Unix’s and Mac’s) inherent concept of file permissions. For example, most of the critical programs used to run Ubuntu Linux are in the /sbin directory. Wiping this directory will make the computer useless. The following image explains why only a single user can access those files.

As the screen shot indicates, only the “root” user can create and delete files the directory. (The root user is similar to an Administrator in Windows.) All others can read the files, but not use them. In order for a virus to erase that directory, it needs to be executed by someone who is the root user. Most of the time people are not signed on as the root user; when I use my email program, I am logged in as a normal user like “handsome” or “successful” or “popular.” If I run a virus, it can affect only those files to which I have access, typically in my home directory. In addition, anything you download from the Internet, including email attachments, is automatically designated as non-executable; you can look at the program, delete the program, but you can’t execute the program. Nothing can “automatically” delete any file unless I explicitly take an action.

In spite of all these inherent safeguards, there are a few known viruses affecting Linux. For those who want the added protection, you can choose from the top two AV packages: Clam and AVG, both of which are free. Other products are also available.

Interestingly, if you do run Linux “naked,” the biggest damage you incur is against other Windows machines. Even though Linux may be immune from virus programs, they are not immune from passing them on to other computers in your local network or across the Internet. Therefore, if you are running Linux within a home or small business network, you might want to install anti-virus just to protect the other computers.

The last component of desktop security is blocking spyware or adware. Firefox has an add-on for blocking ads called Adblock Plus. Jonathan mentioned it as one of his Firefox favorites in post #33. This approach works only for spyware coming through the browser. If, however, your email client displays content from web sites, then you need additional protection. The most comprehensive approach is to modify your /etc/hosts (Linux) or C:\WINDOWS\system32\drivers\etc\hosts (Windows) file by including the MVPS hosts file, located at http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.txt. Request to connect to any of the garbage domains in that file are simply dropped. The disadvantage with this approach is that you need to manually pull and install this file from the Internet; automatic updates aren’t available.

The headlights belonged to a delivery truck, which parked next to the frightened woman’s home. “Thank you so much,” she said to the delivery man. “Son, we won’t have to fear a virus attack any more. We just got our Dell laptop with Ubuntu Linux! Now run along and play that violent, sexist, and debilitating computer game while I crash your uncle’s wireless network.” –Mark Lautman

That’s the name of the game for this week. We laughed a little, cried a little, and learned a little together. Please return next week for more great utility and Web site recommendations, and tell all your friends about us. And do feel free to share your thoughts by clicking on “comments” below or writing to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com.

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1 comment:

  1. V file viewer is not only a superb batch file renamer, but you can also remove spaces in file names with the click of a button or add the file date to the name. It's a single-, or dual-, pane Explorer replacement, with excellent search capabilities. I've been using it for almost a year and absolutely love it.