11 Free Softwares from Microsoft!

Microsoft - The road to ?

Photo by Nils Geylen

Microsoft The road to ?

Microsoft has been known for the proprietary softwares and need no introduction! There has always been a conflict of views across communities. While some claim that Microsoft provides value for money, FOSS activists have often denied it. Suites and programs like Open Office and GIMP have often been compared to MS Office and Adobe Photoshop, on various grounds. One of the factors being the price.

However, there are a lot of free programs that Microsoft has to offer. We list 11 of them, today;

  1. Windows Live Writer
    This is undoubtedly the best desktop-blogging application that comes for free. The amount of flexibility it offers is matchless, making it one of the best picks for bloggers across the world, both professionals and amateurs.
  2. Server Quest Game II
    Do you find it relaxing to sit and play on your console of PC for hours on end? Well, there is one more item to include to your inventory. If you are into classics, it is one classic you will want to try your hands on. It features the same pixilated graphics featured in King Quest and Leisure Suit Harry. The game is designed with Silverlight and runs on the Internet browser.
  3. SQL Server Express 2008
    This is a slimmed down version of the SQL server but with the same powerful tools to enable you create your websites and applications. The server comes in three variations – Express, Express with Advanced Services and Express with tools. The program is simple to learn, easy to use and offers the same database capabilities as the SQL server.
  4. Office Accounting Express 2008
    Structured on the familiar Microsoft office interface, Office Accounting Express 2008 is a simple to use but powerful accounting tool of all times. It is engineered to blend seamlessly with other office applications.
  5. SyncToy 2.0
    As the name has it, SyncToy acts a synchronization tool that is tailored to help you keep duplicate files open on your computer or over a network. It is also a powerful back up tool. It has a simple to use interface which is a plus.
  6. Windows Steady State
    If you operate a cyber café or a large class and the chances of computers getting crashed is high, you might want to try out Windows SteadyState. The program allows you to restore every computer to the first day of configuration.
  7. Worldwide Telescope
    With images straight from the Hubble Space Telescope, this program brings the power of outer space exploration right into your house. You can engage in a rich user experience where you shuffle through hundreds of images from space.
  8. Virtual PC 2007
    This program allows you to run several operating systems and applications on one physical computer. A simple to install and run software.
  9. XML Notepad 2007
    If you find XML scripting task boring, you might want to give XML Notepad 2007 a try. Featuring different colors for different tags and classes, it is developed to make scripting and editing your XML files easier and fun.
  10. Visual Web Developer 2008
    Wannabe website developers have something for them! This program allows you to get as imaginative and diverse as it can possibly get. Tagging along powerful tools, it is one of the easy-to-use web design tools.
  11. Paint.Net
    This is simply a clever, well designed image editing software. Structured on the .NET platform, it is set to take your image editing to an entirely new level.

How many of these have your had a hands on? Which are the other Microsoft programs that are free to use? Do share your experiences with us.

Finding love in Sass and Susy with a Compass

I’ve dabbled, played and tinkered with HTML/CSS for quite sometime but never took it seriously. Neither did I enjoyed doing them that much to relish the awesomeness of CSS. Of late, I’ve involved knee deep in some serious and heavy duty CSS. For some odd reason, I liked the way things worked out and am intrigued enough that I want to know more and go deeper, improvise and do it more better, and efficiently.

Today, let me chronicle some of the tools, utilities I stumbled upon and I hope that it will be useful to other web developer/designers. Our team embraced semantic and well marked-up HTML long back and HTML5 is proving to be a boon for us. But for this article, let’s keep HTML5 for another sunny day and let me just talk CSS.

Many people have many concerns with CSS, some of the glaring ones being the lack of variables, inability to nest styles, etc. Many CSS gurus and advanced users are smart enough to twist around this and write smart CSS and still remain sane about it. However, for the normal and not-that-advanced CSS developers and designers, I feel there is a real need for them. That’s where many of these CSS pre-processor comes in as a savior.

Let’s play.

I’ll talk about

  • Sass
  • Compass
  • a little bit of Susy
  • How to get Started (Installation and Usage)
  • Few introductory Best Practices
  • A working Live Demo

I won’t even talk about their integration with other major Application Servers like Merb, Jekyll, Ruby on Rails, etc. I’ll assume a standalone CSS-Project to make it easier for you to start off. Integration is the much easier part.

Sass

Sass

Before going ahead, let me say that I like Nathan Borror’s article — Sass isn’t for me and the reasoning behind it. Fortunately, Sass is for me and will be for most of you. Of course, i’ll tell you how we manage 3000+ lines of CSS codes with Sass without having to scroll much and without having to wait for compass to compile those ‘ballooning’ 10,000+ lines Sass codes.

Simply put, Sass helps you write CSS in a different syntax, cascade your way through the styles, and use variables, mixins and nested rules.

Let’s look at a simple example (excerpt from the Sass website)


Which means you can use that “table-scaffolding” mixin again and again wherever you need it. Sass is easy to start and the best place to would be to visit the Sass Tutorial. Read below for Sass installation and usage.

Compass

For me, the need for Compass was just to supplement Sass compilation without my intervention. I was ready to jump into Sass without any gears or tools or frameworks. However, Compass was a pleasant surprise for me and I’m loving every bit of it now.

Once Compass is installed, it comes built-in with the following frameworks ready for you:

  • Core Compass Styles/Framework
  • Blueprint CSS
  • YUI Grid
  • 960.gs

And here are some of the popular Compass-Plugins you can add:

  • 960.gs
  • Baseline
  • Compass Colors
  • Drupal Zen
  • Fancy Buttons
  • GraphPaper
  • Grid Coordinates
  • Slickmap
  • Susy

Note: Compass might add more in future.

While I’m working on Sass, I simply turn on Compass to watch my folder and forget about it — compass --watch. Jump to the end of the article for Installation and usage of Compass.

Susy

Honestly, it was the name that strike me and I’m not complaining my choice of this particular Compass Plugin. Susy is a grid and utility plugin for Compass. Susy helps you do away with some of the calculations you always do when you deal with the CSS Box Model (understand it better with the interactive CSS Box Model).

However, if you’re already comfortable with the other available plugins, it would be wise to start off Sass with that plugin/framework.

How to get Started (Installation and Usage)

We’ll have to accomplish two important steps (a) Install Compass and (b) Install Sass and of course, make them working. Both Compass and Sass require you to have Ruby installed. Make sure you have rubygems version 1.3 or greater by running “gem -v” in your Terminal (or Command Line). I’m on Mac OS X but the commands should be same for Linux users and eventually hope Windows users can do the same.

INSTALL Compass

$ gem sources --add http://gems.github.com/
$ sudo gem install chriseppstein-compass

Update: Read the comment from the author of Compass for an update on Compass Installation.

You have successfully installed compass if you can perform this command

$ compass -v

and get something like
Compass 0.8.17 [2465bab]
Copyright © 2008-2009 Chris Eppstein
Released under the MIT License.

In future, you can update Compass by this command

$ sudo gem update chriseppstein-compas

How to use Compass

You can start a new Compass Project in a folder of your choice by typing this command

$ compass --sass-dir=sass .

or with added options

$ compass --sass-dir=sass --css-dir=css --images-dir=i .

or start a plugin enabled Compass project (let’s take Susy in our case)

$ compass -r susy -f susy <projectname>

Now, to actually use (or run) compass while you’re working on Sass. You’ll have to ask Compass to watch over your Sass folder or you can compile them to CSS manually. I love the watch and forget thingy — compass --watch.

Run compass

From within your project directory:

$ compass

From any directory:

compass -u path/to/project

To monitor your project for changes and automatically recompile:

compass --watch [path/to/project]

INSTALL Sass

Well, if you just finished the above steps of installing Compass, then Sass was already installed! Isn’t that nice? It comes with two command-line tools for you to use right away.

A sass translator for your existing css files

$ css2sass my-styles.css my-styles.sass

A sass compiler for single files that emits css

$ sass my-styles.sass my-styles.css

Nonetheless, if you need to install Sass, then here we go.

sudo gem install haml

Ah! that’s because Sass is part of Haml Project.

Few introductory Best Practices

We always want to know how to get things started ASAP and with anything new, we want a primer, guidelines, demos, working examples. I would suggest reading on the Tutorials, examples and documentations a bit on Compass and Sass.

One things I learnt during CSS and applied in Sass that proved useful is to separate the modules as much as you can. Keep separate Sass files that does separate stuffs and ‘sass import’ them in a single sass file which will eventually be compiled to a single CSS. That way, I won’t have to scroll through one single ‘screen.sass’ with 10,000+ lines of sass codes.

Here is an example;

Set the following sass files

  • _reset.sass
  • _base.sass
  • screen.sass
  • _othersass.sass
  • _anothersass.sass
  • _yetanothersassmodule.sass

and in the screen.sass file (which actually compiles to your single compressed screen.css) import your other sass files:

@import reset.sass
@import base.sass
@import othersass.sass
so on and so forth

Btw, that ‘underscore’ in the sass filenames denote that they should be expanded inside the screen.sass and not act like a CSS import (which will add another HTTP request by your website).

A working Live Demo

At Infinitely Beta, the UI of one of our weekend project I’m not Spacy was done in Compass and Sass. (Susy was not part of this project). The UI of our much bigger Application — Paisa is entirely on Compass + Sass + Susy.

Download Sample

You can download some sample Sass files which were cherry picked from some of the files I wrote recently. The files are just indicative samples and might not work out-of-the-box.

Notes

  • CSS Box Model — The modern solution for supported browsers is to use CSS3′s box-sizing set to border-box (the default is “content-box”)
  • LessCSS — I’ve heard good reviews about LessCSS, another CSS-Preprocessor like Sass. It’s just that I’ve never tried it seriously.

Microsoft Windows Vista Wallpapers

Microsoft started work on their plans for Windows Vista (“Longhorn”) in 2001, prior to the release of Windows XP. It was originally expected to ship sometime late in 2003 as a minor step between Windows XP (codenamed “Whistler”) and “Blackcomb” (now known as Windows “Vienna”). Gradually, “Longhorn” assimilated many of the important new features and technologies slated for “Blackcomb”, resulting in the release date being pushed back several times. Many of Microsoft’s developers were also re-tasked with improving the security of Windows XP.

Microsoft has announced that Windows Vista will be broadly available as a stand-alone product or pre-installed on new PCs on January 30, 2007. Windows Vista will be made available to Volume License customers later in the month of November 2006.

After “Longhorn” was named Windows Vista, an unprecedented beta-test program was started, involving hundreds of thousands of volunteers and companies. In September 2005, Microsoft started releasing regular Community Technology Previews (CTP) to beta testers. The first of these was distributed among 2005 Microsoft Professional Developers Conference attendees, and was subsequently released to Microsoft Beta testers and Microsoft Developer Network subscribers. The builds that followed incorporated most of the planned features for the final product, as well as a number of changes to the user interface, based largely on feedback from beta testers.

Windows Vista was deemed feature-complete with the release of the “February CTP“, released on February 22, 2006, and much of the remainder of work between that build and the final release of the product focused on stability, performance, application and driver compatibility, and documentation. Beta 2, released in late May, was the first build to be made available to the general public through Microsoft’s Customer Preview Program. It was downloaded by over five million people. Two release candidates followed in September and October, both of which were made available to a large number of users.

Download Microsoft Windows Vista Wallpapers (ZIP)

Flashcom Video Player Source

The title would have been much better if I can have a full sentence; “A Flashcom Application coded with OOP patterned to MVP, to detect user bandwidth and play specific FLV“.

We have recently been fascinated by a fad; “no hanging codes on frames”. You can remember the old days of Flash 5 when there was no option but to write piggy-bag codes on Buttons and MovieClips. But hey, there was Flem (by Branden Hall), which helped you write codes pretty much on the frames and not really on top of the MovieClips. But then as Flash/ActionScript evolved into a more matured form, things have taken shape in a much better way.

Continue reading

Source Files, Downloads, FLAs, Actionscripts

I have decided to dedicate a section specifically for sources, I mean open source, free downloads, FLAs, AS etcetera. I already have them but whenever I move ISPs, I lost them and somehow unable to have them organized. Now, that will be over (atleast I assume). I will try to dig up old files too and post them here gradually with downloadable links, previews etcetera wherever applicable. So, keep a watch over this space!

Visit Downloads and Open Source Files.