Keeping the Display on – Review 4

This week, I’m discussing a handy little tool called caffeine.

A window listing caffeine's version, purpose, icon, command-line options, and website.

The built-in ‘About’ window.

Caffeine prevents the computer from going into sleep or hibernation. Open the program to start it running, disable it by double-clicking the tray icon that appears, or right-click the icon and choose Exit to exit it.

To learn a little more about what went into caffeine, I sent a few questions off to its creator, Tom Revell.

  • Safely Remove: How did you come up with the idea for caffeine?
    Tom Revell: I decided to write the app because I was subjected to what I considered to be a draconian screen lock policy by my IT department. I’m well aware of security concerns, and never leave my workstation without locking it first, but from what I recall it was set to 3 minute or something similar. I could be sat looking at information on the screen and the darn thing would lock, so I looked for a way around that happening.
  • Safe: Have you seen anyone else offer similar software?
    Tom: Yes, there are other pieces of software which perform the same function, including one which is for the mac which has the same name. Well, it’s an obvious name for something which keeps your machine awake…. A few years back I found that someone had taken my app, and used ResHacker to make it look like they had written it instead! I altered my code so that it’s not quite as simple to steal.
  • Safe: How does the program work so consistently?
    Tom: As for working consistently – I’m not sure what you mean. Perhaps you mean “how come it doesn’t crash” at which point I’d either reply “because I’m a great developer!” or more realistically “because the code is so simple”.
Price $0 (Free)
Compatible OS‘s Windows 98,2000,XP,Vista,7,8
Licensing Freeware license
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Magnifying the Screen – Review 3

Ever want to magnify just part of your computer screen? There are a number of tools out there that can help with this task, not least of which are those included with the operating system.

Zoom

Zoom is the program of choice for Mac OS X users. It can be enabled or disabled by pressing Alt-Command-8.

A screenshot highlighting the middle segment of the 'Seeing'-related Universal Access options.

Location of Zoom preferences in the Universal Access part of System Preferences.

When enabled, just press (and optionally hold) Alt-Command-= to zoom in, or Alt-Command– to zoom out.

Zoom comes standard on all Mac systems.

KMag

KMag is a program included by default with the KDE Software Compilation, which in turn is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, BSD, and others.

Demonstration of KMag's screenshot, 'zoom out' and recursive zoom features.

Demonstration of KMag’s screenshot, ‘zoom out’ and recursive zoom features. The blurred effect was added to the screenshot in a separate program.

KMag, like many of these programs, has a static window which shows a specific section of the screen. Unlike the other environments, though, KDE includes an additional ‘desktop effect’ which is much easier to control.

The program also lets you rotate the magnification, add post-processing filters, or even zoom out.

GNOME-Mag

GNOME-Mag is the default magnifier of the GNOME desktop environment.

Windows Magnifier

Magnifier is the default magnification tool of the Windows desktop.

Magnifier lens showing some of the Ease of Access Center, as described in the caption.

Demonstration of Magnifier’s separate lens, inverted colours, and 150% magnification.

It can be started from the Ease of Access Center, which can be found in the Control Panel. Pressing Windows-U will launch this Center directly.

The main magnifier window - effectively a floating toolbar. Behind the window is Windows 7's Ease of Access Center.

Screenshot of the magnifier in its default state – 100% magnification.

Features include a separate dockable lens, inverted colours, and autostart on login – all optional. However, there are no keyboard shortcuts for zooming.

OS Default Magnifier Program
Windows XP,Vista,7,8 Magnifier
Mac OS X 10.5, 10.6, 10.7, 10.8 Zoom
GNOME Desktops GNOME-Mag
KDE Desktops KMag & Magnification Effect
Price $0 (Free)
Compatible OS‘s Whatever you’re currently running.
Licensing Same license as the rest of the shell – Microsoft License, Apple License, or GPL

Darkening the Computer Screen – Review 2

After reading a review from Lifehacker describing Kino, I decided to take a look at this tool.

Kino

Kino Program Icon

Kino can darken your computer screen over a broad range of values, from a completely transparent filter all the way to opaque black. A small selection tool lets the user highlight an area that should not be darkened.

Example use of Kino, with Taskbar fully visible and 50% opacity.

Example use of Kino, with Taskbar fully visible and 50% opacity.

The Page-Up and Page-Down keys increase and decrease the opacity of Kino’s filter, respectively. Clicking on the red + sign, then clicking-dragging over the obscured display allows for at most one untouched rectangle of screen. At its maximum opacity, all but the (optional) selection and/or Taskbar are completely black. This feature is incredibly handy for focusing on one task or item at a time.

Using the crosshair tool to delineate a small segment of the screen. Opacity is set to 100%.

Using the crosshair tool to delineate a small segment of the screen. Opacity is set to 100%.

Similar tools do exist to perform this within web browsers (I recommend interested readers look at Stefan V.D.’s popular Turn Off the Lights extension).

The program’s name (Kino is German for cinema) and curtain-themed icon suggest that it was made for video viewing. Kino’s versatility, though, makes it more than capable of extending the range of monitor/backlight brightness settings as well. Even multi-monitor setups are supported.

When considered along with the ease of setup and removal, this versatility is definitely reason enough for me to use Kino regularly.

Price $0 (Free)
Compatible OS‘s Windows XP,Vista,7,8
Licensing GNU General Public License version 2

Hiding Programs in the Tray – Review 1

There are times when you might want to hide the programs you use. For example, it’s quite useful when buying birthday gifts or reading sensitive blogs online. You’re probably familiar with minimised windows and private browsing.

In this post, I’m discussing a program that hides other programs more secretly – in the system tray.

Clicky Gone


Clicky Gone is a free application from Alan Howie with a minimalist appearance. When run, a small icon appears in the system tray and the configuration window appears. Later, while working on something private, I can press a certain sequence of keys to hide the currently open window.

One right-click on the icon brings up a small menu. From here, I can restore the hidden windows, reconfigure the program, or quit it altogether.

It’s a handy little program, and does precisely what it purports to do. There hasn’t been much development activity over the past two years, but it works just fine.

If you need to hide a program from prying eyes, this is your safe-to-use tool.