We are only at the beginning of the Internet era, and already almost any task that used to require an installed software, can be accomplished today using online or web tools. Anything from a simple text editing, to a very complex enterprise level database design, can be done using online tools.
This blog attempts to catalog some of these web tools in a short and to the point blog posts. From time to time I will create How-To's, reviews, and tutorials so check in frequently.
- What if I tell you that you can navigate your browser to any of the malicious sites and download viruses, spyware, and any other kind of malware until you are blue in the face...and your computer will be perfectly safe and clean. And one more thing, what if I tell ...
- When most people think about portable computing, they think about being able to take their laptop everywhere they go and do their work on their own machine, with their own application, and their own data. While it's true that having a laptop computer is a form of portable computing, what ...
- This may take a while, but I'll try to describe my full setup, everything from my day-to-day applications, all the way to my security implementation, and the backup solution I use...this may take a while. In general, I try to use free tools as much as possible, further more, 99% of ...
- Smugmug Photo Sharing is an online service where you can host/share your photos in a professional looking and highly customizable interface. Smugmug was originally created for professional photographers to showcase their work, but I can tell you that I am definitely not a professional photographer, and I use Smugmug for the ...
CrashPlan Online BackupCrashPlan is a paid online backup service, with several plans to choose from and very accommodating. Most backup services out there have limitations on how many gigabytes you can backup, or from how many computers. CrashPlan is the only one I know of that offers a very affordable plan called "CrashPlan+ ...
What if I tell you that you can navigate your browser to any of the malicious sites and download viruses, spyware, and any other kind of malware until you are blue in the face...and your computer will be perfectly safe and clean. And one more thing, what if I tell you that you don't need any anti-virus or anti-malware program for that?
By now you probably think that all these years of riding motorcycles in the sun caused me to lose many of my brain cells. Well, generally you may be right but not this time, let me tell you how I do this.
How do computers get infected?
In order for a computer to get infected with a virus, warm, Trojan horse, and any other number of malware infections, one condition must be true...the malicious piece of code has to enter the computer. A virus can enter a computer in a number of ways: visiting a bad website, opening an email attachment, downloading files, inserting an infected CD Rom into a computer, etc.
Isolated and safe browsing
Isolated or contained browsing allows you to visit any website and download anything (even actual viruses) without getting your computer infected.
To understand what isolated browsing means think of cloth diapers vs. disposable diapers, and think of the poop as the virus. With a cloth diaper, you have to wash the diaper to be able to use it again, which can be equated to cleaning your computer after a virus infection. But with a disposable diaper, you simply trow the diaper away and use a new one, so imagine having a disposable computer, and every time you have a problem, you trow it away and use a new one.
Programs like Sanboxie creates a contained and controlled environment inside your computer by isolating the web browser (or any other program for that matter). Once started from within Sanboxie, the web browser have read access to files on your computer, but nothing can be written outside of the virtual box. Even if you download a file, it will be saved in the relevant directory inside the Sanboxie box unless your explicitly instruct it otherwise. So even if you deliberately choose to download a virus, it can only live within the Sanboxie box, and with one click of a button you can nuke the box and everything in it vanish (you also have the option to save items to your computer).
I have Sanboxie installed on all my computers, and to avoid clicking on the Sanboxie menu and launch the browser (2 - 3 mouse clicks), I created a simple batch file for launching the browser, and a simple one to nuke the Sanboxie box.
Browser start batch
Open a text file and type (or copy/paste) the following text: "C:\Program Files\Sandboxie\Start.exe" Z:\OperaPortable\OperaPortableOneUse.exe.
The first part "C:\Program Files\Sandboxie\Start.exe" is the location of the Sanboxie Start.exe file. The second part Z:\OperaPortable\OperaPortableOneUse.exe is the location of the browser executable (in my case Opera portable oneuse).
Save the file as BrowserStart.bat, than double click on it and your browser will open inside Sanboxie.
Browser close batch
Open a text file and type (or copy/paste) the following 2 lines:
"C:\Program Files\Sandboxie\Start.exe" /terminate
"C:\Program Files\Sandboxie\Start.exe" delete_sandbox_silent
The first line close any program that runs in Sanboxie, the second nuke all the data in it. Save the file as BrowserEnd.bat, than double click on it and your Sandboxie browser session and all the related browser and downloaded files will be nuked.
Wondersay animates any text in a creative way. Enter any text, leave the default settings or customize the background color, font, and a few animation styles and you have created animated text. You can have the results in a form of a URL that you can send to anyone via email, or post on Twitter or Facebook, or anywhere else. Or you can also copy a snippet of code and embed the animated text on your website or blog.
The uses are pretty much endless, you can have a quote of the day on your blog, or ask your girlfriend to marry you. Basically, if you have anything that you want to say, in a form of text, in a more creative way Wondersay may be the tool for you...See a text animation example here (the animation for this one is random so every time you click it the text animation will be different)
Quixey is a must have online tool for those of us that are "apps addicted". Unless you live in a cave somewhere, you probably have a mobile device like a smart phone or some type of an electronic pad like iPod or a hacked Nook Color. And if you do, you probably spend a considerable amount of time at the Apple app store, or the Android Market searching for that next cool app.
The Quixey app search engine can make your search easier, you simply type the type of app you are looking for (for example: todo), and the result is a list of apps grouped by a device type, for example: Android, Blackberry, iPad, Chrome add-on, and much more. You can also filter by Paid or Free apps, and by the app compatibility with other common tools like Dropbox (which basically means: "show me all apps that integrate with Dropbox").
The search result shows a list of apps that meet your criteria, the app icon, and the app description. Quixey is very intuitive and visually pleasing.
StreamFile let you send and receive files online. As an input, you provide the email address of the person you want to share the file with (multiple email addresses are fine), and choose a file to share. Once the file is uploaded to the Streamfile servers, an email will be sent to the intended recipient with the options to: view the file, and/or download the file.
There is also a paid option which will allow you to send much bigger files, and retain the files on the Streamfile servers for a longer period of time.
ge.tt is an online file sharing tool. The process to share a file is very simple, click on the "Select Files" button, pick a file from hour computer's hard drive, and you are done. You can now copy the given link/URL and send it to anyone that needs access to your files. You can share many files in one go, which means you don't need a new URL for each file. Files can be up to 2gb in size.
Another functionality is that when someone look at your files, they can see any documents without downloading them. The document is displayed on the browser after clicking on your link/URL.
New IP Now gives you anonymity when browsing the Internet. When you visit a website some information about you is available to be collected by the website and by anyone that intercept the communication between your browser and the site server. This information may include the referrer site, location information, and your IP. New IP Now gives you the option to pick an IP from a number of different countries. When you surf the web using New IP No your IP will not be your IP and Hans you'll stay anonymous, you can pick IPs from a number of different states and countries. The free version gives you 3 - 4 IPs to pick from, the paid version has the option to pick from 20 - 30 different IPs in different countries.
If you read any of my past posts about having everything you need on a portable USB drive (Computing life in portable mode, To P or not to P, My Rig), you know that I am a big fan of portability, I like to have everything I need with me all the time. Over the last few weeks I've been asked a few times how to setup a portable USB drive...so here it is.
This post is a step by step instructions on setting your own USB portable application drive.
USB drive preparation
Skip this step if you are using your USB drive for other things, not only for portable applications. If you have a USB drive that is going to be dedicated for this, format it with FAT32 file system format.
- Connect to USB to one of the USB ports on your computer.
- Open a Windows Explorer, click on "My Computer".
- Locate your USB drive letter and right click on it, scroll down to "Format..." and click on it.
- Under "file system" pick FAT32.
- Make sure that "Quick format" is un-checked, and click the "Start" button.
This may take any where from a few seconds to many minutes, depends on the USB size and/or the data you have on it.
Portable applications must-haves
You need to get some basic programs that will get you started with your portable application USB. The following is a list of what I found to be the best for running off of a USB drive (for a full list of all the programs that I have on my USB drive see My Rig).
Download these applications into a folder on your computer desktop.
- Portable program launcher - A program launcher will let you launch programs in a way that is very similar to using the windows "Start" button. The one I am using is called LaunchBar Commander, it is extremely easy and very convenient to use, it is highly configurable and eliminate the need to use the windows "Start" button for programs that are already installed on your computer and event for things like accessing the windows "Control Panel"...LaunchBar Commander download link.
- Portable USB ejector - When you shutdown your PC, windows will gracefully close any running program and shutdown your computer. But when you run programs off of a USB drive, taking the USB stick out of the computer without closing all the applications first is not a good idea (you may loose data, applications may stay open on the host computer, etc). The solution is a USB ejector program called EjectUSB, it will close any programs that are running on the USB stick and eject it...EjectUSB download link.
- Portable program maker - Many program and applications offer a portable version, but if they don't, we need a way to convert a none-portable program to a portable one. I use a tool called Universal Extractor, it will take almost any program and turn it into a portable application that you can put on your USB drive...Universal Extractor download link (make sure you download the portable version).
Good to have
- Portable web browser - A web browser constantly read/write information to/from your computer hard drive. A browser on a USB is very slow and due to the same reason, and it also cause the USB to die faster. This version of the Opera portable browser lives in RAM which means no reads or writes to the USB drive, it is a very fast browser and does not deteriorate the USB drive... Opera Portable download link.
- Portable office suit - Most people are familiar with Microsoft Office which has tools like Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Excel. But for a USB drive this application are too "heavy" and consume many resources. A good alternative is LibreOffice Portable which is as capable as the Microsoft Office suit, but it is free and portable, it includes: word processor, spreadsheet, presentation tool, drawing package, and a database...LibreOffice Portable download link.
- Portable music and video player - To play your music and watch your videos everywhere, you'll need a player. A USB portable media player needs to be small and light, the best one I found so far is Media Player Classic, it has a very small footprint, it is fast, and can play any format of audio and video. It is based on the early Windows Media Player and it is very easy to use...Portable Media Player Classic download link.
- Portable virus scan - You never know if the computer that you stick your USB thumb drive into is protected. I use a ClamWin Portable to scan any files that I'm going to interact with. It is not the fastest virus scan and it is not "on the fly protection", you have to explicitly scan a file or a drive...ClamWin Portable download link.
As I mentioned before, you can find the full list of all the portable programs I use on My Rig.
Instalation & Configuration
Since these are portable applications, you don't realy need to install anyting. Once you downloaded all (or the ones you want) portable programs, unpack/unzip them into your USB stick and you pretty much done. You now have a portable USB with portable applications.
You should now configure LaunchBar Commander, I have it configure in a way that when I press Win+Enter, it pops-up the LaunchBar Commander start menu which is very similar to the windows start menu, from there you can open any of your portable programs (after you configure LaunchBar Commander to do so).
This is it, from now on every computer you plug your USB into becomes your computer, everything you need will be available from your USB stick.
This is the most "vanilla" configuration for a portable USB, you can do other things like partitioning, and implementing encryption for security in case you loose your stick.
If you have any questions, observation, or anything at all you'd like to say, please feel free to add a comment.
eyeOS Internet desktop is suppose to be just like your computer but on the Internet. Once you logged in, it looks and feel like your computer desktop. You can open files, save files, open application, watch videos and save them. You can create directories and shortcuts on your online desktop. You can use an email client, calendar for your appointment...and all this is online and accessible from everywhere and from any computer with an Internet access.
The eyeOS desktop seem a little immature and is not as mooth as I would like it to be, but the general concept is pretty cool and once they work out all the bugs and kinks it should work pretty nice.
Burn Studios Audio Tool let you create your own music online. After launching the online app, you can add a number of instruments to create your tunes. There are four groups of tools that can be dragged into the main composition area:
Once on the main stage, components can be connected to one another just like in a real studio. You can make adjustments and modification, change connections and more.
Before you get your panties in a bunch, the "P" stands for portable.
So if you didn't already figured it out, all of my "computing world" is on a portable USB stick. If you read My Rig and Computing life in portable mode you know why I picked a portable USB thumb drive vs having everything on my computer's hard drive. But what about having my data and programs on the Internet?
Computer Hard-Drive vs. Online Data Storage & Internet Tools
Up until recent years when portable storage such as USB thumb drive and other portable drives became so affordable, most of us kept our data and programs on our computer's internal hard drive. It seem to be the most natural place to keep everything, besides, where else could you keep your "computer stuff" other than inside the computer it self?
Well that was then, today we do have other options:
- Computer internal hard drive.
- Online storage and applications.
- Portable storage.
Lets briefly talk about the advantages, disadvantages, and the concerns that one may have with respect to each one of these.
Computer internal hard drive
The advantages of having all my stuff right on my computer internal hard drive are:
- Everything is right on my computer, so as long as I am on my computer I have everything I need.
- Things are (arguably) working faster when it's all on the computer it self.
- Even if I loose my Internet connection, I still can access all my data and run any of my programs.
- In theory, a computer is harder to loose or misplace in oppose to a portable drive.
And one of the main disadvantages in the context of this article is availability, you can only access your data and program when you have physical access to your computer (yes you can remotely connect to your PC but that's a different topic). So if you are at a friends house and you want to show him/her your photos from last night's party, you can't because you left your laptop at home.
Online storage and applications
In opposed to having everything on your computer hard-drive, having all your data and application online has the following advantages:
- You have access to all your stuff from anywhere, even if you don't have your computer with you.
- Others can access your programs and data from anywhere if you allow them.
- Installed software on your PC is kept to a minimum.
As far as disadvantages, one of the biggest one in my opinion is that with this approche, you become dependent on a 3rd party to run your programs or access your data. Just imagine this scenario, you store all your documents on Google Docs, tomorrow they go out of business and shut the servers down...now what?
This scenario is not very likely to happen but it is definitely possible, and if you are heavily dependent on a website to hold all your documents what would you do when one day you type the URL, click Enter, and nothing happens.
So wait a minute, why the hell do I have a blog called eToolsOnline that is pretty much dedicated to online tools and application? well...I am fascinated by online tools and how far they got, think about it, an online tool like Pixlr Photo Editor that for the average person is as good as the very expensive Adobe Photoshop that must be installed on a computer hard-drive. Or another online tool like Gliffy Diagram tool, just a few years ago you could not even think about creating a somewhat decent diagram without using an installed program like Microsoft Visio, but now, all you need is an Internet browser and an Internet connection.
This is where - in my opinion - you get to eat the cake and keep it too, almost anyone can easily set up a portable USB stick with anything and everything they need (see instructions at Computing life in portable mode and My Rig), you can take it anywhere, and you can use it on any computer. This method has most of the advantages of PC hard-drive installations and online tools, and almost none of the disadvantages. I do this for the last 3 or 4 years, everything I have is on a 16gb Super Talent Pico-C USB flash drive. I can go trough computers like a street hooker goes trough condoms without blinking an eye, all I need to do is unplug my USB stick from one computer, and plug it into another.
So to answer the question that the title of this post asks...P, definitely P.
What about you? do you use any online tools? are you walking around with a laptop or a USB stick? please add a comment and share your thoughts.