Virtual Safari Web Browser

Mark this as nifty… VirtualSafari is a Web-based frontend for Apple’s WebKit HTML rendering engine. It makes it possible to host a website which looks like the Safari browser and allows the end-user to *load* pages rendered with the WebKit engine (see the demo). When you load up VirtualSafari in any browser, you are shown a window that looks like the Safari browser. Enter an url into a text box, and your URL is sent to a PERL script that processes the page in Webkit and sends it back to the VirtualSafari page. It should be noted that Virtual Safari browser is an application that must be run on a Mac with a working web server, so if you have one Mac in your office that is used for testing purposes, all PC client can remotely look at pages as they would display in Safari.

10 Excellent Offline Backup Solutions

A good offline backup solution is a smart idea in case you need to restore files when you don’t have an internet connection, or simply to keep a physical backup in a secure location. In no particular order here is a list of ten ways to perform offline backups, and a few of them are free to boot:

Syncback SE allows you to schedule backups, and offers a one-click restore. You can do offline backups on open documents as well as different versions of files. Offers 256 bit AES encryption and advanced customization options. Windows only, optimized for Windows seven and Vista compatible. $30, with a free 30-day trial.

GFI Home Edition an excellent option among the free offline backup solutions we looked at, emphasizing ease-of-use for beginners, with a wizard-driven interface, while offering things like encryption and easy data-restore. Option for doing incremental or differential backups. Freeware, Windows only.

With Genie Backup Manager Pro you can backup your entire PC, including locked and open files, using US government certified Advanced Encryption Standard encryption security. You can schedule backups for preset time intervals and rotate different types of backups, backing up pretty much to any storage device. The price is $69, or $49 buys you the home version, which does not offer encryption. Windows only.

Retrospect offers offline backup solutions for both Windows and Mac, and even has a backup and recovery monitoring app for iPhone and iPod touch. Sold as server protection for business critical applications in addition to desktops and notebooks, but also backs up next, Solaris and NetWare computers using a Windows computer. Performs automatic incremental backups, and offer simplified management of backup media, via a backup Wizard. Free trial offer, with a range of retail prices from different resellers.

At around $300 Windows Home Server is an expensive offline backup option for people who might be more comfortable with a Microsoft product. It also functions as a central location for organizing all of your digital media and gives you and your family the ability to access the home network from anywhere.

For Mac users,Time Machine is obviously a very popular option, with a gorgeous and intuitive interface. Simply add an external hard drive and Time Machine makes incremental backups every hour, every day. It saves the hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for everything older than a month. Time Machine comes with Mac OS X.

Acronis True Image Offers both business and home/home office off-line and online backup solutions. The home version is $49.99 and offers continuous system and data protection, supporting a wide variety of storage media. An enhancement is now offered that allows restoration of your files to dissimilar hardware and dynamic disk support. The business version offers scalability to thousands of machines and integrated software deduplication. It’s an industrial-strength enterprise solution, starting at $1219.

ImgBurn is a free, lightweight CD/DVD/HD DVD/Blu-Ray burning application for computers running Windows. With it you can burn Audio CDs in the following formats: AAC, APE, FLAC, M4A, MP3, MP4, MPC, OGG, PCM, WAV, WMA and WV. Supports these image formats as well: BIN, CUE, DI, DVD, GI, IMG, ISO, MDS, NRG and PDI.

DriveImage XML is an offline backup solution for Windows machines. With it you can backup logical drives and partitions to image files. You can schedule automatic backups and copy directly from drive to drive. The private, noncommercial version is free, while a five-user license of the commercial edition is $100.

GDocBackup for Google Docs exports all documents from Google Documents to local hard-disk. Runs on NET 2.0 / Mono (Win, Linux and Mac). Free, donation optional.

If you have any offline backup solution suggestions, please let us know about it in the comments.

How To Build And Grow An App Business

Building an App BusinessEach year the app business gains momentum as an economic force in the global economy with app usage and revenue increasing rapidly.

According to this statistical report, global app revenues amounted to $41.1 billion US dollars in 2015 alone and are expected to rise to more than $101 billion USD by 2020. In many cases apps are replacing websites as the number one source of information, entertainment and commerce today.

Given the historic business opportunity that apps provide, there has never been a better time to tap into the app business, as it were.

If your app achieves any degree of popularity–or even virality–it will not only create a steady source of income, but can also help fulfill other business goals for your company, i.e. brand recognition, visitor funnels, advertising revenue, etc.

However, building and growing an app business gets more challenging over time as the industry consolidates and competition increases. Let’s take a look at the key steps necessary for building and growing an app as a business.

Where and How to Begin

Unless you have the resources to do in-house development, you’ll need a suitable vendor to hire or perhaps to partner with.

Explore different avenues to gauge the price and specs of the type of app you are interested in developing. Do yourself a favor and don’t base your decision on price alone. Find an experienced developer with demonstrated expertise in UI/UX (user interface/user experience), as a foundational requirement for your end-product.

Look at the design specs of the platform for which you are developing the app, and the experience of development companies you are considering for help in this area. A basic question is whether you’ll be developing for iOS or Android, or both; you cannot necessarily expect a team competent with one OS to be able to deliver quality on the competing OS.

Remember that high cost doesn’t necessarily ensure high development standards. The best mobile apps companies are not just a group of developers, but a team of people who don various hats from project managers to designers and developers. You can only be assured of an economical and quality standard app if you set aside the time to do in-depth research and as to the best company for your particular requirements.

Choose a design

When designing an app, keep in mind the layout and design. Select only visually appealing and attractive designs because folks nowadays decide whether or not to use an app based on its first glance. Always put design first and functionality second, although you may think that it will put off geeks.

With so many apps being installed, opened once, then never used or deleted immediately, initial impression is critical, as traction can be gained quickly if your app has a good aesthetic layout and whose usability is immediately apparent.

Select an appealing niche

Your app doesn’t necessarily need to be built around a popular subject, or crowded niche. As with niche websites, there’s a lot to be said for appealing to a narrow market segment. Millions of dollars have been made by companies who produce apps that target often obscure, yet profitable niches.

On the other hand, to gain a competitive edge over the millions of apps already in the store, another approach is to aim to provide a feature no other app has.

Take QUAD for example. Its founders found a vulnerability in already existing messaging apps like WhatsApp (i.e. that don’t offer bulk messaging) and took it upon themselves to offer a unique solution for a segment of their user base that was clamoring for it.

They then aggressively marketed the app to target groups like college students and hence ended up making a place for themselves in the cut-throat niche of messenger apps.

Optimize your app for app stores

Are you aware that as with optimizing your website around specific keywords to boost its rankings on search engines, best practices dictate that you apply the same strategy for your app description in the App Store or Google Play, etc.?

Make sure that your app’s title includes the keywords that users will search for specifically when they look for an app specific to your niche on the app store.

For example, “WhiteHunt” will not appeal to users more than “WhiteHunt Land & Property Consultants.” The bottom line is that you should rank for popular but unique and medium-search volume keywords when deciding a title for your app. And again, don’t forget to include relevant keywords in the app description.

Launch your app early

You’re looking to grow a user base and attract the attention of investors, so it is of paramount importance that you launch your app early.

As the saying goes: ‘Perfect is the enemy of done.’

Launch the main features first and get a community of users (and hopefully experts, who will promote your app) to rally behind the app. This will give you invaluable data as to who your users in fact are, and what they really prefer to find in your app, as opposed to what you think they want.

Done properly, as you grow your user base through successive iterations, you’ll know which group of people to specifically target, as well as what features to expand upon or drop.

Promote the app via review sites

Most app development projects probably end up needing a bigger budget to build and promote your app than originally forecast.

Remind yourself that you are playing a longer-term game here. To this end, consider promoting your app through popular companies such as Android Pit, Apps Zoom, App Annie etc. Most companies like allow you to choose an economical package which will be appropriate use of your particular marketing budget.

Awards Bait

Look for any kind of mobile app ‘award bait’ such as Best Mobile Apps, Leading Mobile apps etc. and seek to enter your app into these contests. Whether you win or not the exposure your app gains will be vital for expanding your user base.

Act like a business person

After putting so much money and time into planning, developing and marketing your app it would be a shame if you yourself didn’t act the part of a real businessperson when you really start with promotion.

Carry business cards, brochures and the like, and seek out networking events where you’ll encounter people who can facilitate distribution for you.

Now is the time to emulate the habits of the successful entrepreneurs you’ve been reading about all these years! Seek to market your app appropriately.

Conclusion

The most important selling factor of your app is going to be the user base. There is probably no better marketing than glowing word-of-mouth recommendations and user testimonials. And again, to grow a user base it is important to first test the waters i.e. releasing core features early, maybe even offering a free version first, and if it seems to gain traction price and market it accordingly.

Remember, though the app ecosystem has become more competitive over the years there are still many apps released each year that do spectacularly well. For an app idea that seems to have promise, development costs are usually still relatively low compared with other products or businesses you can launch. And, a successful launch can still completely transform different aspects of your business in 2016, and beyond.

If you have other tips to add please feel free to comment below, and we’d really appreciate it if you’d share this article–using one of the icons on the left–if you found it to be a helpful overview.

This article was written by Usman Hassan, a digital marketing psychopath, who is passionate about Inbound marketing, SEO, CRO, Email marketing and Ecommerce. He is a regular writer at Mobiwoz.com .

Is This The Beginning Of The End For Phone Batteries?

clear-solar-panel-for-phones
Is A Clear Glass The Future Of Power Generation For Handheld Devices? Image: MIT

As exciting as advances in battery technology have been lately–not least because of the efforts of Elon Musk, his Powerwall, and the Gigafactory in Nevada–a new glass created by MIT spinoff Ubiquitous Energy promises (threatens?) to turn current power-storage paradigms of their head.

The key here is the special organic coating of that absorbs light in the non-visible potion of the spectrum. When applied to clear glass it is capable of producing power from it. That means future devices could draw energy from the sun without the unsightly dark solar panels currently being used.

It also mean that with clear glass doing double-duty as part of the physical interface for phones, watches, etc. and as at least part of the power generation for the devices, that their weight and volume could be dramatically reduced. You can be sure there will be a rush to get this glass into appropriate devices as quickly as possible.

How Writing Every Day Changes Your Life–And Your Financial Situation

Write Every Day

Write every day. You can change everything.

Three Reasons My Goal Is To Write 1001 Words A Day

For a long time now I have had a goal to write 1001 words every day.

Anyone can do 1000.

I don’t always hit that arbitrary number but I’m convinced that by setting it as a specific daily goal I am setting myself up for profound long-term benefits. That’s right: I said “profound”.

First, by setting aside time to write–whether for one of the many websites I own or simply for personal ‘therapy’– the quality of my writing has steadily improved simply by writing more. This can’t be a surprise but it’s so significant that it’s probably worth restating: there is no substitute for daily practice and refinement of higher-order skills like writing.

Over time I feel satisfaction in the way it’s become easier to write, and I believe the quality of what I produce is improving. It’s a positive feedback loop. I’ve passed my ‘10,000 hours‘ –many years ago!–but I have much room to improve further. This is not about winning a Pulitzer. I’m competing only against myself and there is no rush.

Beyond improving one’s writing, I’m certain that producing written content every single day actually improves my thinking. It’s been said before but writing can be a process of “finding out what you think”, a way of delving deeper and formalizing your own thoughts in a way you might not otherwise do. The combination of mining your own thinking and ordering it well on the digital page feels as healthy and productive as almost anything else I do.

Time spend doing something that feels healthy and provides clarity: another positive feedback loop.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The third benefit of being a daily writer is slightly more subtle, and probably a lot more interesting to most people reading this article. In my opinion it’s becoming more relevant as the years go by.

If you have a presence online, whether it communicates your business or your own “personal brand”, it is clear that expanding your digital footprint has large and increasing financial benefits as time goes by. Growing your body of work in myriad avenues on the web means that you’re extending yourself and your impact on the world.

It seems obvious really, but I don’t think most people are aggressively responding to this idea yet. Are you?

If improving your writing and the quality of your thinking isn’t enough reason to write 1001 words each day, I’ll bet enhancing your financial situation is. That’s right, I said money.

An Aside: Some Context

Part of the reason why more people don’t put more time and effort into writing lots of high-quality content for their business or personal presence is because for many years reaching people was done with SEO in mind. I’ll expand the scope of this article because a little history will make the path forward for writers clearer.

Writing for SEO was about finding shortcuts to reach people, writing with the idea of getting your article or blog post well-placed in Google’s SERPs (search engine results pages) for keywords for which you wanted to rank well. Ranking well for these keywords brought you ‘targeted traffic’, ie people who would be interested in what you were selling. Google was between you and most of your customers or potential customers, so making sure your content was well-placed in the SERPs was essential.

Notice I haven’t mentioned quality writing at all. Instead, the process involved creating scalable systems to make content look attractive to search engine bots, rather than necessarily to people. (I use ‘search engine’ and Google interchangeably, since the big G still handles such a large percentage of search queries)

The scalability was key here: in conjunction with well-documented back-linking methods, low quality content often worked to impress search engines enough for good placement for targeted keywords. Low quality can be outsourced. If you could create and then ‘promote’ (get back-links to) a site in a matter of hours, then have the site rank well enough in the SERPs so that it produced a positive ROI for you from ads, why not create hundreds, or thousands of these sites?

Similar methods could be used if you had a single large ‘Authority’ site you used to target hundreds or thousands of related keywords on a given subjects. I’ll admit I had several dozen developed websites by 2009 or so, of various sizes, and even on autopilot they produced over $1,000/mo of income.

Well welcome to 2014. Over the last few years, Google has had a series of algorithm updates that have rendered old techniques mostly useless, and often downright damaging to a site if one were to still use them. The SEO industry has been shaken to its core, because the methods I’ve just described either don’t work as well (in the case of back-links from low-quality sites) don’t they really don’t work at all (as with low quality writing).

Well, if all the algo changes have been bad for traditional SEOs, they have been generally good for the Internet. Lots of lower quality web pages and sites which used to rank well have been culled form the search results over time.

Users have on balance benefited from Google getting smarter. But you know who has benefited even more? You can guess where I’m going: the real winners are people who are able to produce good quality content.

Now that you find articles on seemingly every subject in the Internet, Google has in effect come to our aid as producers of quality content by making it easier for US to be found. That’s right, I’m including myself as a producer of quality content. I’m including you too, even though I don’t know you.

Because I believe you don’t need to win a Pulitzer to win in this new environment. You need to expect good writing from yourself and work hard at it.

And what would be one of the most reliable ways to do that? By writing every day!

Branding People And Businesses In 2014 And Beyond

OK that was a long side note. I hope you found it helpful. Now lets get back to writing relative to money.

We used to think of a resume as something you got together when you needed work. You actively distributed it until you got the job, then paid little further attention to it until you needed to reintroduce yourself professionally to the world, ie the next time you were between jobs. This used to be a perfectly reasonable approach. It’s not anymore.

The world will bestow benefits you can’t even foresee if you will Always Be Introducing yourself.

It’s time to stop thinking of promotion as something only businesses do. Promotion is not synonymous with buying ads. Creating good content on subjects you know well then taking advantage of the way it flows around via social media and via search is promotion. For you.

You don’t want to promote like this only when you are actively seeking employment. It’s too easy now to create content on a regular basis to not do it. To be clear, I’m not talking about simply a personal blog, although that is still step one. Linkedin is obvious, and it now offers you’ve an opportunity to create content as it relates to your expertise. This is incredibly valuable since Linkedin has developed a real foothold in the minds of anyone looking to hire.

Just think about it: rather than directing someone to your presence, as in your blog or heaven forbid a resume attached to an e-mail, you have a persistent presence within a network used exclusively for matching employers with employees (as well as clients and contractors of course). The effort you have to expend to reach people is by definition reduced since you’ve given people what they need to reach you. When was the last time you were contacted about an interview when you weren’t looking for work? Do you see the power that gives you, the potential leverage if you decide you’re interested in the job?

Why stop at Linkedin? I believe everyone should create a YouTube channel and have an active presence on Twitter. Most areas of expertise can be presented visually on Pinterest. A Facebook Page is fine but the problem is that over time less of your content is is freely distributed as it once was (Facebook is getting more aggressive about essentially charging for distribution), so I’m less excited about it.

Now here’s the thing. Just about everything I just said about promoting your personal brand can also be said for a small business, especially if you have a freelance business. Or, if you have a skill that you can potentially do as a freelancer. Or, if you have an interest in a subject you can learn about, then sell your expertise as an employee, a freelancer or as your own agency.

Or, if you can write well, you have a transferable skill with which you can help any one of tens of millions of small business owners who aren’t able to handle this sort of promotion on their own. Many don’t even understand how valuable it is. But you can show them. Show them what their competition is doing, or even businesses in unrelated fields. You can literally create opportunities for yourself in this way.

I have outlined several directions you can go, across every industry there is. It all gets back to writing well.

Admittedly the scope of this post went beyond the apparent enthusiasm for writing the title might have indicated.

The current economic environment seems now to be characterized by a state of flux. I think it’s important to be on the lookout for ways in which people can redefine themselves and adapt to the new environment to turn it to their advantage. The cliche is that times of great change produce opportunity, and there’s value in pinpointing these opportunities so that you’ll be able to wage your own form of freedom, as you should.

Digital Media Minute Vs Google–Who Won?

Digital Media Minute Traffic Decline
Digital Media Minute Traffic Decline

As painful as it was for me to see after putting so much time into this site, I’ll admit it has also been morbidly interesting to watch the death of traffic to Digitalmediaminute.com in the last 3 1/2 years. You can see the basic idea in the screenshot, but suffice it to say that site has gone from 5000 unique visits on weekdays in 2010 to maybe 250 unique weekday visitors or sessions as they’re now called today. If my math is correct that’s a 95% drop.

Virtually all of this is a function of the site no longer ranking very well for thousands of longtail keywords that used to bring most of its traffic.

If memory serves me right the top few posts alone used to get 500 or 600 visits each day, but just as an article that ranked well for a low-traffic long-tail keyword now might be on the second or third page instead of the top of the first page, the articles that brought visitors via the high-volume keywords also slipped to the second page or much worse.

Naturally this entire dynamic is played out for many millions of websites, especially since April 2012 when the first Penguin algorithm update hit.

For Digital Media Minute it was a slow-motion train wreck which actually began before the first Penguin update, as you can see from the screenshot. As the traffic fell I tried several things, the most time-consuming of which was to add content to every single one of the 2,800 posts on this site. I did this in November-December of 2011.

Many of the posts were ‘thin’, which meant simply that they didn’t have very much content on them, so I assumed and hoped this (rather straightforward) fact might impact the entire site. It makes sense that Google would have a problem especially with thin pages with AdSense on them. I feared that there were so many thin posts that even the quality content on the site no longer ranked well for its keywords.

By the way, I’ve never believed that advertisers would necessarily have a problem thin content; in theory having just a sentence or two might cause a user to click on an ad faster to get his question answered. Certainly we have all seen (and continue to see!) pages all over the web plastered with advertisements and very little of anything that could be conceived of as substantial content. Still, I don’t doubt that over time Google would like to avoid pointing ad impressions at poor quality pages, and I think it’s unreasonable to hope that they wouldn’t penalize thin pages in their search engine results pages eventually.

At any rate I assume this was part of the reason why this particular site got hit– many pages were just a sentence or two worth of content-so I arbitrarily decided to make sure that every single post on the site would contain at least 100 words. Obviously many of them had a lot more than 100 words but for the ones that weren’t I needed to find some semi-happy medium between how much time job would take me and the potential for improvement on the site. With the best of intentions the previous owner of the site (from whom I purchased it) had simply put often brief tips related to programming or a hundred other tech-oriented subjects on site, often just a sentence with a link pointing to something he found interesting.

Eventually as we all know now, content of the sort no longer ranks well, usually.

To emphasize again, even though many of the articles were hundreds of words, the entire site was hit; even the longer articles were suddenly not ranking well for the keywords that brought visitors. (My memory is that approximately 85% of traffic to the site in its glory days was from Google.)

Anyway, I took a couple of weeks to get every single article over 100 words. I decided not to outsource because I didn’t want to risk a language-quality penalty after doing all that work. Frankly it took less time to do it myself than it might’ve if I had outsourced and then edited the outsourced content. As you can see from the chart there was never an upswing in traffic, even after I was done with this job.

In fact, just the opposite happened as April 2012 was the start of the final decline.

I added at least one new post to this site every single day since I purchased it in late 2008. By 2012 I was no longer doing this, as it didn’t seem worthwhile. I was surprised that between the longer posts (admittedly not that long!) and my posting every day that the site was clearly very unloved by Google.

I suppose I’m simply giving this account so that anyone who still visits the site understands why my posting has been virtually nonexistent for years now. From time to time I think about arbitrarily putting one post per day of a few hundred to several hundred words of decent content, maybe for a month or so just to see what happens. I’m not expecting anything, but maybe this is the start of that. Everything I know about SEO tells me that with all the tens of thousands of backlinks as well as the age site, etc. that the site might still have some value.

At any rate, I’ll bet there will be some surprised bots whenever they next show up on the site. Any bets on how long it takes for this post to get indexed, or how many visitors it gets?

A Better Voice Activated Software For OS X: Enhanced Dictation

As far as I’m concerned the voice activated typing software I’ve used for typing blog posts, e-mails, and anything else that required more than a couple lines of text has been replaced. For years MacSpeech Dictate was my tool of choice to quickly get a few hundred words typed up, without risking repetitive strain injury or tightness in my shoulders or neck. What am I using now?

Well if you’re on a Mac and you have the latest Version of OS X version 10.9 (i.e. Mavericks), you should know about enhanced Dictation. Simply pressing the function key twice quickly allows you to simply start talking and have your voice transcribed on the screen. There is an approximately 800 MB file you will have to download before you can start using the feature (see video below), but for me as someone who does not touch type, this is an extremely easy and fast way to record my thoughts. If you have used OS X dictation functionality before note that this new version is definitely improved in Mavericks: your voice no longer has to go to Apple servers. The transcription is done locally, which means the feature works off-line as well.

The real reason I am going to uninstall my MacSpeech dictate is because it is not supported by Mavericks, and there is apparently no way to cheaply upgrade. You’ll have to purchase an entirely new piece of software, and it’s not cheap. Luckily for all of us who use OS X 10.9, Apple has stepped right in with a solution that at least initially to me appears to be excellent.

Top 12 Ruby on Rails Tutorials

A former student asked me a few days ago how I learned Ruby on Rails. The answer was that I simply read alot of great tutorials. So in the spirit of sharing, here are the 12 tutorials that I found most useful:

  1. Rolling with Ruby on Rails – Curtis Hibbs of ONLamp.com offers his first excellent introduction to Ruby on Rails. This is the article that got me really excited about RoR.
  2. 2. Rolling with Ruby on Rails, Part 2 – The sequel to Curtis Hibbs excellent series of articles.
  3. 3. Four Days on Rails (PDF) – a great tutorial that is broken down into simple tasks that you can do over a four day period. To be quite honest, this tutorial only takes about 2 hours, but nonetheless it is very well organized!
  4. 4. Really Getting Started in Rails – Amy Hoy has a great tutorial that not only covers RoR, but also introduces the reader to many of the basic concepts of the very cool Ruby scripting language.
  5. Tutorial in Ruby on Rails – is a basic tutorial aimed at newbies.
  6. Fast-track your Web apps with Ruby on Rails – IBM jumps into the sandbox with an excellent (as usual) tutorial to get you on your feet fast.
  7. Getting Your Feet Wet With Ruby on Rails – Talking about getting on your feet fast, this one from Webmonkey promises to get them wet too!
  8. How to make a todo list program with Rails – Another excellent introductory tutorial that actually helps you build something useful!
  9. Ajax on Rails – Curtis Hibbs offers part 3 of his look at RoR
  10. Many to Many Tutorial for Rails (PDF) – is a nice document that begins to delve into some of the more complex parts of web application programming, but in fine Ruby on Rails manner, it’s really not too complicated!
  11. Distributing Rails Applications – A Tutorial – So now you’ve built your RoR application, how to you push it to a production server? This tutorial covers the bases.
  12. Installing Ruby on Rails with Lighttpd and MySQL on Fedora Core 4 – and of course this list wouldn’t be complete without a shameless bit of self-promotion, this tutorial promises what it says. Other install tutorials can be found here, here and here!

Hey, Ruby on Rails Fans!

UPDATE, JUNE 2009: Want more up-to-date tutorials on Ruby programming? OK, we heard you. By popular demand, Digital Media Minute has a brand new, maintained list of 11 12 more-recent tutorials on both Ruby the language and Rails the framework. Don’t miss it! New Ruby Programming Tutorial section.

Happy Rails developing and if you have any other tutorials that you’d like to share, please leave them in the comments!

Free Mac FTP Server

PureFTPd is a very nice replacement for the somewhat limited FTP server for Mac that comes with OSX. It is a free (BSD), secure, production-quality and standard-conformant FTP server. It focuses on efficiency and ease of use and has unique useful features for personal users as well as hosting providers.

A binary installer is available for both Panther and Jaguar.

To manage the ftp server Mac PureFTP Manager provides a GUI to the PureFTP server. It will ease the creation of users, viewing log files and monitoring the status of the server. PureFTP Manager is also free.

The installation of both these products were very easy, and all told, I had my Mac FTP server setup in less than 10 mintues.

MSDN Library Now a Free Download

Link updated for 2016: Microsoft has just made the MSDN Library a free download! If you do any Windows development at all you can imagine that to finally get the MSDN Library for Visual Studio 6.0 free download is a very useful tool to have. But wait – you say the MSDN library is already available online? Yes it is, but the search isn’t always very useful, and the web based UI is cumbersome and doesn’t always load properly. No reason not to get this MSDN library update. This version that is available for download is a native Windows interface and is quicker and better than its web counterpart. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a copy on your hard drives too, especially if you live somewhere without broadband Internet access or with an unreliable connection.

Voice Activated Typing Software

Dictate voice activated typing softwareI have never been a very fast typist (or a fascist type for that matter), in fact I operate a keyboard in a fashion that might be called “touchhunting”. Lately if I’m writing something that runs more than 300 or 400 words I feel my shoulders and neck tighten up and I get more headaches than I used to. For the last several months I thought about getting some kind of voice-activated typing software but the prices seemed rather high and it was one of those things that I couldn’t justify buying because I didn’t actually need it.

A stumbling point for me was that Mac users are excluded from the apparently state-of-the-art Dragon voice recognition software, NaturallySpeaking. Last year though, MacSpeech licensed the NaturallySpeaking engine for its Dictate software.

After coming across another review of MacSpeech Dictate I thought to myself “It probably won’t get much cheaper and I’m probably going to buy it eventually.” Why not do it before the headaches get any worse and before my hands start to hurt? Hey, some rationalizations require more creativity than others do. Still, I was excited about my rationalization.

(BTW, IBM ViaVoice is another voice activated software option for Mac with a free trial and about the same price point as Dictate. I didn’t try it, but I’d love to hear opinions of it. I also looked for cheap or free voice recognition software for Mac but I didn’t find any.)

The base price for Dictate is about $199, but Amazon knocked about $30 off that. I recently got a MacBook Air (no, I’m not a fanboy, and that will have to be a different review) so the installation wasn’t as simple as it would have been if I could have loaded it right from the disk. Still, using the Remote Disk functionality worked entirely without problems for me.

Training the software was as easy as advertised as well, taking less that five minutes, and I was amazed at how, in my normal speaking voice and a pretty rapid clip, the software seemed to have no problems transcribing what I was saying immediately.

After a couple of days using Dictate, my honest impression is that it is physically easier for me to bang out 500 to 1000 words, but I don’t necessarily do it any faster than I do typing manually. Alas, the software I need to help me think faster may not have been invented yet.

I am impressed at how easy it is to make corrections verbally, on-the-fly, without ever touching the keyboard. The documentation actually encourages you to use verbal commands for corrections and punctuation, because actions like changing the location of the cursor and using the delete key can and do lead to unpredictable results.

Also, while I don’t have to try very hard to speak clearly, if I do make an effort to speak clearer, errors are a reduced to almost zero. Having said that, my wife points out that I say the “forget that” and “scratch that” commands quite a bit, so far.

I’ve used Dictate only with TextEdit up to now, doing blog posts. Obviously I plan to use the software to write e-mails and other applications too. Having read a few reviews on the net about voice dictation software, I see a general absence of information on users’ impressions with software of this kind after the first flush of enthusiasm with it. I think I will report back to Digital Media Minute readers after a couple weeks and maybe a month out.

Yes, this post was created with Dictate voice dictation software, and creating it did feel a lot more like a relaxed conversation than an editing session. Stay tuned.

(This was not a paid review.)

Google Database Application

It looks like Google is about ready to launch Google Base. In fact the site was up earlier, but was soon taken down. You can find a screenshot on Flickr. The text on the screenshot reads:

Post your items on Google.

Google Base is Google’s database into which you can add all types of content. We’ll host your content and make it searchable online for free.

Examples of items you can find in Google Base:

• Description of your party planning service
• Articles on current events from your website
• Listing of your used car for sale
• Database of protein structures

You can describe any item you post with attributes, which will help people find it when they search Google Base. In fact, based on the relevance of your items, they may also be included in the main Google search index and other Google products like Froogle and Google Local.

It appears to be an interesting application, but I worry about the amount of personal data that Google has access to. For example, they have all my emails (gMail) and my Blog reading list (Google Reader), they are storing my search history, and now I can store any type of structured data for me! Keep in mind, that I have allowed Google to do this, so I’m not complaining about them, but it is food for thought – How much data do we want them to store for us by way of a Google database?

Setting up a SFTP Server on Windows

I recently had to create an SFTP server on our work development system, and after doing a fair bit of Googling on the topic found a good solution. The solution is a combination of research done at different sites. It is this solution I am sharing in hopes that it will help someone else.

This tutorial will help you turn your Windows based system into a SecureFTP server.

Background

Secure Shell (SSH) is a program that lets you log into another computer over a network, to execute commands in a remote machine, and to move files from one machine to another. It provides strong authentication and secure communications over insecure channels. When using ssh, the entire login session, including transmission of password, is encrypted and therefore is very secure.

You may have noticed that many webhosts allow ssh access. This means that you can login to their webserver and execute many UNIX commands (the ones they allow you access to) on your account. Not only can you connect to other computers that provide SSH access, but you can also allow others to connect to your computer using SSH.

To take this one step further, you can also turn your Windows PC into a Secure FTP (SFTP) server. SFTP is a program that uses SSH to transfer files. Unlike standard FTP, it encrypts both commands and data, preventing passwords and sensitive information from being transmitted in clear text over the Internet. It is similar to FTP, but because it uses a different protocol, you must use a FTP client that supports SFTP (more about that later). To determine if you want a SFTP server windows 2012, or another version keep reading.

Installing SSH on Windows

Most UNIX based systems (Linux and OSX) come with SSH preinstalled, so connecting to a remote host is very easy. However, if you run a Windows system, you need to download some additional software to make the SSH programs available to you. Fortunately a free open-source project called SSHWindows, provides a nice Windows installer that will setup the SSH client and Server on your system.

Your first step will be to download the Binary Installer Release from SSHWindows. Once downloaded, run the installer and be sure to install both the client and server components.

Configure the SSH Server

In this next step, I have summarized the information that is included with the readme.txt that is included with SSHWindows (it can be found in c:\program files\openssh\docs)

Your first configuration step is to set up the passwd file. You will need to set up the passwd file before any logins can take place.

Passwd creation is relatively easy and can be done using two programs that are included with SSHWindows – mkgroup and mkpasswd. Both of these programs are located in the c:\program files\openssh\bin directory.

To begin creating the group and passwd files, open a command prompt window and navigate to the c:\program files\openssh directory.

You must first create a group file. To add all local groups on your computer to the group file, type the command as shown below:

mkgroup -l >> ..\etc\group

You will now need to create a passwd file. Any users in the passwd file will be able to log on with SSH. For this reason, it is recommended that you add users individually with the -u switch. To add a user to the passwd file type the command shown below:

mkpasswd -l -u username >> ..\etc\passwd

NOTE: the username specified above must be an existing windows login account.

Creating Home Directories for you Users

In the passwd file, you will notice that the user’s home directory is set as /home/username, with username being the name of the account. In the default install, the /home directory is set to the default profile directory for all users. This is usually c:\documents and settings.

If you want to change this location you will need to edit the passwd file. The passwd file is in plain text and can be edited in Notepad or any text editor. The last two entries for each user are safe to edit by hand. The second to last entry (/home/username) can be replaced with any other directory to act as that user’s home directory. It’s worth noting that when you run SSH on windows, you are actually running SSH in a scaled down version of cygwin, which is a Unix emulator for Windows. So, if you will be placing the user somewhere outside the default directory for their Windows profile, you will need to use the cygdrive notation.

To access any folder on any drive letter, add /cygdrive/DRIVELETTER/ at the beginning of the folder path. As an example, to access the winnt\system32 directory on the *c:* drive you would use the path:

*/cygdrive/c/winnt/system32*

Connecting to your SFTP Server

To connect to your new SFTP server, you will need to download an FTP client that supports SFTP. I use Filezilla which is a nice free FTP and SFTP client. You might also try WinSCP which is another free SFTP client. It is important that the server you wanted to connect to is running SSH.

To test if your server is running, create a new connection in your client and specify SFTP as the server type, 22 as the port, and localhost or 127.0.0.1 as the server name. You will also need to provide the user account and password for any account that you added to your passwd file. Now connect to the server. If all went well, you should see a directory listing where you pointed the home folder to. If not, there are a couple of things to check. Make sure your Windows firewall is set to allow traffic over port 22 and finally double check your passwd file to make sure that the account you added is actually there.

Security

Because SSH allows access to only Windows user accounts, you can restrict access based upon NTFS file permissions. As such, SFTP does not provide for chroot jails (a Unix method for locking a user to his/her home directory). Simply lock down your filesystem for that user, and SFTP will respect that.

Summary

In the end, setting up an SFTP server turned out to be a very effortless task. With a couple of open source programs and a couple of command-line commands, you can up and running in no time at all! Try this link for info on a free mail server on Windows.

I’m aware that a certain percentage of people who get to this page don’t find the info they need. I don’t consider Digital Media Minute an overly commercial site, but I’ve decided to include a link to a product that will help some of those people.

ADDITIONAL READING:
1. Common SSH Commands
2. Open SSH

If you are interested in setting up a secure web server and/or self-hosting, including installing and configuring either IIS, Apache or PWS, router configuration. etc., Click Here.  (Updated: March 02 2012)

Free Windows Mail Server

MailEnable is a high perfomance POP3 and SMTP free mail server for the Windows platform. It is free and contains some nice features like spam filtering, SMTP authentication, highly customized relaying options, and a built in list server.

I can’t say I’ve done an exhaustive search for the very best free Windows mail server available on the market but I looked through the list of features contained in MailEnable and it seems to have just about everything you would want in 2005. There is an online demo and plenty of video tutorials available on their site to help you get yourself up to speed and make it useful for you.

[link via Matt Woodward]

Free Online File Converter

Mark this in the very cool utilities category – MediaConverter is a web based tool that will convert files from one format to another. The lists of files it can handle is impressive:

MP3 WMV 3GP AMR FLV SWF AMV MOV WMA AVI MPG MP4 DivX MPEG4 iPOD PSP OGG WMA AAC MP4 MPC MMF QCP KAR MIDI REALAUDIO FLAC JPG PSD DOC PDF RTF TXT ODG ODP ODS ODT SXW WK1 MDB XLS VOB

… and that is to just name a few! So now when somebody sends you a file that you just can’t open, check this online file converter site to see if they can do something with it for you!

For a one-stop solution for converting your files, supporting all the file formats listed above as well as Mpeg, Rm, Rmvb and others, as well as offering batch video file conversion, Click Here.