25 March 2007

#14. Your Personal Proofreader

Welcome again to my Tool Bar & Grill, where the menu always contains only the most mouth-watering delicacies from the world of Windows utilities and Web sites, and every item is free or inexpensive.

AutoCorrect and AutoText Everywhere

If you use Microsoft Office (and who doesn’t?), you’re familiar with its split personality – the ever-obedient Good Office and its evil twin, Bad Office.

One of Office’s most revered and maligned, blessing-and-curse features is AutoCorrect. That’s the one that fixes misspellings as you type (for example, changing “teh” to “the” before you even realize you’re mistyped it), lower-cases the second of two capital letters at the beginning of a word (whether you like it or not), and automatically capitalizes the first letter after a period. AutoCorrect also replaces abbreviations with full text (occasionally with unintended results).

I learned long ago to love AutoCorrect, and to set its options so I could appreciate its time-saving convenience while avoiding its foibles most of the time. And I wished it worked in all my Windows programs.

Then I stumbled across Smart Type Assistant recently, and my prayers were answered. (Well, some of them anyway. There’s still that one about Shania Twain. Are you listening, Lord?) Smart Type Assistant provides the functionality of AutoCorrect and AutoText everywhere in Windows.

Smart Type Assistant is always looking over my shoulder and saving me keystrokes, whether I’m typing in my Web browser, dashing off an e-mail message, jotting a plain text note, creating a task in my to-do list, or writing a book in FrameMaker. I’ll bet it’s a godsend for instant messaging users, though I’m not one of them.

Smart Type Assistant comes with a long list of misspelled words and phrases to correct automatically, and you can add your own favorite bloopers. Autocorrect offers the same proofing options as Office: correct two initial capitals, correct an accidental press of the Caps Lock key, and capitalize the first letters of sentences and day names.

In addition, Smart Type Assistant’s Autoreplace works like Microsoft Word’s AutoText: You attach boilerplate text to an abbreviation; when you type the abbreviation, Autoreplace offers to spill out the boilerplate in its place.

Smart Type Assistant does even more, including changing the case of selected text (all upper case, all lower case, or invert the existing capitalization) and Smart Diary, which saves text phrases as you type (mistakes and all); this could be valuable if a crash takes your brilliant thoughts down with it. And with Click2Paste, you can paste boilerplate phrases from your Autoreplace list anywhere you want.

Not just for fun, you can assign a WAV file to any key through Smart Type Assistant. Prevent errors by sounding a warning for certain dangerous keys, such as Caps Lock and Insert (eliminating the need for a separate utility such as I recommended in #1). A clipboard manager is included, too, though I’ll recommend much better clipboard utilities in a future Tool Bar.

Smart Type Assistant might conflict with Microsoft Office or other programs, of course, so you can set up an exceptions list of programs in which Smart Type Assistant will not operate.

I was lucky enough to get my copy of Smart Type Assistant for free from Giveaway of the Day (see below), but you can buy yours from http://www.blazingtools.com for $19.95 with a 21-day free trial. If you work a fair amount of time outside of Microsoft Office, the productivity gains can easily justify the cost.

Worth Checking: Giveaway of the Day

Here’s an idea that’s new to me: A Web site that gives away free licensed copies of commercial shareware. What’s the catch? You must download and install the featured program the day it is offered. Also, the license does not include technical support or future upgrades.

I’ve been watching www.giveawayoftheday.com for several weeks now. So far, most of the offerings have been reasonably priced shareware (in the $10 to $40 range) that I’ve never heard of. Some are indeed interesting and attractive to a utility buff like me, while others offer no apparent advantage over similar freeware (and some are big brothers of freeware versions). Giveaway of the Day (GOTD) is definitely worth a daily peek, though my hard disk is starting to get cluttered with programs I had to install the same day.

However, don’t expect any help from GOTD if something goes wrong. When GOTD offered Smart Type Assistant a few weeks ago, I downloaded and installed it as directed – but the next day it seemed to have forgotten the activation and reverted to an evaluation copy. I sent messages to GOTD through their support forums, blog page, and comments on the daily download page. I never got an official reply from GOTD, much less the hoped-for help in reactivating the software. One thumb up for GTOD’s software, and one thumb down for its lack of support.

Share your own favorites with me! Post your comments and suggestions below, or write to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com. And come back here again for more helpful reviews of great software.

10 March 2007

#13. Love Is Fickle

Call me a cad, but sometimes I can’t help stumbling into a new love affair, ending the previous one without ever meaning to. I think I have it all, and then something better comes along and I’m swept away again. I love the hard-working and good-looking ones, and I’m especially vulnerable when they’re cheap too.

I’m talking about utilities, of course. Hey, what kind of guy did you think I am?

Welcome back to Jonathan’s Tool Bar & Grill, where twice a month I share with you my favorite free or low-cost utilities and Web sites. This week I’ll update you on a few newly discovered utilities that I like even as much or more than some I previously recommended.

Startup and Process Managers

A few weeks ago (#11), I devoted a column to startup monitors – utilities that help you see and control all the programs your computer is running, including those that launch automatically when you boot up. These include built-in Windows applets, Startup Control Panel, Starter, and WinPatrol. All these have been my favorites at one time or another.


Since then, I have discovered another great entrant in the field, WhatsRunning. If you’re a true geek and want more information that you can possibly understand about running processes, services, and modules, WhatsRunning is for you. WhatsRunning also shows complete data about all your active IP connections and drivers, as well as general system information. You can start and stop listed programs, and control which ones start up automatically. Another nice feature is the tree view, which shows nested items in their proper hierarchy. You can even save a snapshot of the current setup and compare it with a later setup.

Here’s a sample screen, this one of the Processes view:

WhatsRunning works in Windows 2000, XP, and 2003, but not yet Vista. It is absolutely free for personal use ($25 for commercial use) at http://www.whatsrunning.net. The same site also hosts Process Information Central, a database of detailed process specifications listed by name, product, and company. You can dive straight into this database from a right-click on a process in WhatsRunning.

I still like Starter and WinPatrol, but you can’t beat WhatsRunning if you need every last technical detail about the programs on your computer.

SysInternals Process Explorer

However, Sysinternals Process Explorer comes close. If you never tire of technical data about your computer’s processes, services, etc. (snooze), you will appreciate Process Explorer too. It presents a wealth of data, similar to that of WhatsRunning (right-click an entry for more details), though the user interface is less friendly… but Process Explorer already supports Vista.

Process Explorer is one of a plethora of Sysinternals technical utilities that are well regarded in the geek community, and that still are offered for free, even after Microsoft acquired Sysinternals last year. You can find Process Explorer and much more at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/sysinternals.


Another entry in the free startup manager field is StartRight (why is there so much competition to give away good software?). Once you’ve installed StartRight, you won’t see it again. It launches in the background when you boot your computer, and silently arranges your other startup programs to launch in the most efficient order. StartRight inserts pauses between startup programs too, to ensure they don’t get tangled up with each other in the rush to launch.

StartRight is free (donations are encouraged) from http://www.joejoesoft.com, and does not yet support Vista.

Tray Clock

I have previously recommended several utilities to set your computer’s clock accurately, such as Rocket Time and Atomic TimeSync (#3), and TClockEx to enhance the system tray clock (#4). Now here’s one free program that does both, and much more: AlfaClock.

AlfaClock lets you customize the font, color, and size of your tray clock. In addition, you can display resources, such as CPU usage and three views of RAM. Here’s how I’ve set mine up:

Though I prefer TClockEx’s more compact, graphical RAM usage display (a colored bar), AlfaClock shows more information. But that’s not all.

Like TClockEx, AlfaClock pops up a monthly calendar, which also is highly configurable. And like RocketTime and the others, AlfaClock can synchronize your computer with your choice of atomic clock servers for dead-on accuracy.

AlfaClock also can speak the time and date to you on command or at specified intervals. This feature, too, is highly configurable, except for the slightly mechanical female voice (for example, you can specify silence between certain hours). And AlfaClock offers multiple alarms, in case – like me – you need waking up while at your screen.

AlfaClock is available for free at http://www.alfasoftweb.com. There you also can check out its little brother (AlfaMini, a free always-on-screen clock and stopwatch) and their fancier big brother (AlfaClock 2, $30).

Do you have a favorite utility you want to share? Tell us about it in a comment below, or mail jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com. And set a reminder to visit me here again on March 25 for more cool tips.