Month: May 2016

Gamani GIF Movie Gear 4.3 In-Depth Review:

Gamani GIF Movie Gear 4.3 In-Depth Review:

Social media has grown in importance and significance as the years have gone by, with memes being used to share popular culture and trending topics. Gone are the days of 8-bit (256 colors) simple graphics of the early 1990’s, replaced with 24-bit/32-bit true color images that show HD movies and TV clips of today. Such changes have required file formats to evolve, and animated icons and images are no different. As PNG image formats have supplanted GIF for web images, so too APNG format has began to replace animated GIF’s. Trying to find a qualified program that accomplishes this that is easy to understand, use, and is reasonable priced, is a fairly narrow field. The cream of the crop can be found in Gamani Productions GIF Movie Gear, which supports both the legacy GIF format and the aforementioned APNG formats.

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This program has a very familiar interface that anyone who has familiarity with standard Win32-Bit/Win64-Bit applications can attest. Inset inside of the main window, you can see a sub frame, which allows you to open a file, add frames, or start the tutorial. As you can see, the main window has a toolbar, with File, Edit, Frame, Animation, View, and Help, common to an art program. The thrust of this program is to take a series of still images that you have already created/imported, and turn them into an animation, cursor, or icon. You can also break down an existing animation, and turn it back into individual still images. This program also allows you to blend/merge multiple animations into a single animation that is a hybrid of the originals. Above these options, you can make edits and palate changes to your animations.

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Breaking down individual elements of this program will allow you to better comprehend and understand how these files are created, and the nuances that go into producing professional-grade final images and animations. The tutorial will take you through some sample images, animations, and modifications. I have followed these steps that the program’s author outlines, and as someone who has minimal experience with making animations, I had very little trouble following the instructions. Anyone has any image manipulation experience, can do this with ease. I like how you can take a portion of an image that does not really change between frames and streamline the final animation, by just using the parts that do change. Bottom line, this program has an easy-to-follow, systematic approach that anyone can use.

You may be asking what does a program such as this might cost. The answer may surprise you, as it is only cost $29.95 USD. Many graphic design programs cost well above this price point, and cannot easily do these tasks, with the same ease. This price is for a single-computer license, and entitles you to tech support and extended customer service. If you need this program for corporate environments or multi-computer setups, you can request a price quote for bulk orders. I definitely believe this program is well worth the cost, and I can see putting this in to practice with both creating memes fir social media and potential animations on my blog website.  If you still are uncertain, you can try the program risk-free for 30 days, in a trial/demo version of the program. Check out this program and company and I know that you will agree that Gamani Productions and GIF Movie Gear are well worth your business. Buy this great program, and tell them I sent you. Until next time, keep on animating!

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Ashampoo WinOptimizer 14 In-Depth Review:

Ashampoo WinOptimizer 14 In-Depth Review:

As a technician, I know all too well how important routine maintenance on your system is to its overall health. Back from the days of Symantec, and its Norton Utilities and SystemWorks program suites, people have been clamoring for advanced and full-featured tools that augment the operating systems ability to manage their hard drives and registry. As the last twenty years can attest, the growth of the Internet and its transmitted data left behind in people’s systems has only grown the need to add temporary file cleaning and cookie management to system tools, beyond the blocking of malware and pop-ups. While such programs has traditional cost upwards of around $99.99 USD for a single, consumer license, back in the late 1990’s, options available today can be had for less money. You may ask who I should trust with these vital system tasks, the answer is the fine folks at Ashampoo, and their new flagship system utilities suite, WinOptimizer 14.

box_ashampoo_winoptimizer_14_frontThis fine product launches, today, and I can tell you that this program has a nice pedigree of both features and solid customer service/support. At only $49.99 USD for a single license, this program covers the following features and services: Computer Management (info, performance, restore points, processes, etc.), Security (privacy setting, file deletion, file encryption, file splitting, and file restoration), Hard Drive(s) (free space, defragmentation, health status, resource hogs analysis, software uninstallation, duplicate files, speed measurement, etc.), Internet (delete web traces and connection optimization), Operation System (registry clean-up, defrag registry, service management, system settings, icon positions, rick-click menus, file associations, and user permissions), and General Settings (undo changes, maintenance plans, and options). These umbrella categories allow you to protect, tweak, and customize how Microsoft Windows 10 performs for you individual system. While this operating system does have some of these functionalities, it is not as encompassing as WinOptermizer 14 or as user friendly as Ashampoo’s GUI layout across their program family. Breaking down some of these sections will allow me to highlight what each facet of this program suite can be of use to you, my readers, in your daily lives.

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Of primary concern to both business and consumer users is security in the 21st. Century, Internet-connected, inter-operative devices and networks. As I have highlighted before, being able to set limits on data sharing between your computer, operating system, and third parties is a high priority. WinOptermizer 14 has a nice, clean interface that lets you set the different telemetry data restrictions, Cortana (Microsoft’s virtual assistant/search app integrator) limits, and how your apps interact with your personal data. These limits help protect who you are, and what programs you use, to shield companies from using this data for marketing, without your permission.

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A simple menu module that gives each category (where features are held) on the left and various tabs that allows you to make sub-category choices from there, via checkbox. The process is straight forward and very intuitive, even for someone who has any form of disability (such as me), and explains what these changes will mean to the user, and whether or not you want to enable/disable said options. Such straight forwardness is not often found in many security-focused programs, but Ashampoo has made this a priority.

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Along with app/telemetry data protections, WinOptermizer 14 is a strong cookie/temp file deletion program. No matter what browser you might choose to use (Edge, IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari or Opera), the simple, concise module will show you what junk is left behind from your browsing/downloading. Each browser has its own row, so you can be selective of what you remove or leave behind. Most people will want to delete all of their history, cookies, temp files, etc. to best protected themselves from snooping and any nefarious usage of their system on the Internet.

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The likelihood is not high, but with ransonware and new forms of malware being developed all of the time, it is better to be safe than sorry. One added benefit of this habit is it wills the freeing up of hard drive storage consumed by accumulated web debris. I can tell you how quickly these types of files can eat up your drive space. When I was an active on-site tech for a major IT companies, I had a service call, in which I had to start an Internet cleanup sweep for a residential customer. I had to leave it running overnight, and when I checked up on the progress the next day, the customer informed me that he had retrieved back over 3.5 GB of disk space. Not only did that give some breathing room on the drive, but allowed the man and his wife to be able to visit websites without a tremendous slowdown on connection speeds. This is a vital toolset and task that should be done with great regularity.

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I could inundate you with more benefits of a system utility suite, but the program really can speak for itself. The thing I want you to take away from this article is that you need this program in your computer life. No matter if you use everything that this program offers; whatever you choose to implement it is well worth the price tag. As I alluded to you earlier, many programs of this type cost around $100.00 USD, but Ashampoo WinOptimizer 14 only cost half of that price. If you are not certain that you need this program, you can of course try out the trial/demo version. If you act now, they can offer you an extended trial period, to give you extra time to decide if you want to get this great program. Also, as this is a new version of this program, you can buy this for 40% off ($29.99 USD, instead of $49.99 USD). Once you try this program, you will become not only a customer of WinOptimizer 14, but all of Ashampoo, and their product family. Just try this program, and I know you will agree. Until next time, keep on computing. . .

Ashampoo Snap 9 In-Depth Review:

Ashampoo Snap 9 In-Depth Review:

My regular readers will know that I use screen captures, frequently, in my review and product highlights. I have reviewed programs from this software category before, but I wanted to revisit this area, due to some people needing to not only capture static images, but videos/clips. While so far I have not done video tutorials or instructional feeds, the potentiality of being able to do so may spark some creativity in my mind for future applications. Most capture programs that can do static captures or even use the alt-print-screen keyboard shortcuts, if you do not have capture software installed. However, Ashampoo and its software cadre of programs come to the rescue! The great program that takes the lead is Ashampoo Snap 9 and it is loaded with features for all capture duties.

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Screen resolutions are growing all of the time, with a new benchmark being 4K (2160P: 4,096px x 2,160px), becoming the top-tier for consumer and web media production. Most programs top out at 1080P, but not so with Snap 9. This great program can allow to you make screen captures and snaps of your desktop, browser, windows selection, and so forth. This is especially nice, if you are fortunate to have an ultra hi-resolution monitor/TV to work on and create clips. Even if you have a screen size and resolution that you are using, which does not match or too large for your final application usage, you can take this program and size it down for distribution; vital for streaming and downloading on non high-speed connections.

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Resolution aside, a standout of this program is the ability to use OCR text processing with your captures. No matter what languages that you might use in your projects, Snap 9 has support for seven languages (Japanese, English, French, German, Spanish, Turkish, and Russian). Being able to take your captures that contain text and either convert them to usable design elements or isolate them as editable and type-able font excerpts that you can reuse. I have had middling results with OCR before, but I am sure that you will find that Ashampoo’s results with Snap 9 to be great!

 

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For my readers, who might be growing in their skills with more advanced video-making tools, I am happy to report that this fine program has built-in support for major graphic design software suites and social media distribution. If you happen to use video editing software that is compatible with Adobe Photoshop and its file formats, Snap 9 has supports for all layers and objects. You can export to WBEP format and auto-sizing of the content for whatever destination platform or device you are optimizing for.

 

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Social media support allows you to share your captures on Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Twitter. If you have an Ashampoo Web account, you can upload them to the service, and share links to your videos with unique links. If social network platforms are not your speed, Snap 9 can aid you in sending your e-mail, via a dedicated client or through a web-based email service. No matter what way you want to share with people, your clips and captures are going to be up to the task.

 

What does such a full-featured program such as this cost you? The short answer is $49.99 USD, for non-members of Ashampoo products. If you have purchased other products from them, you can pick this up for $24.99 USD, as a reward for customer loyalty. If you are a registered owner of a prior version, you can upgrade for $19.99 USD, also for previous purchases. Unsure if this program is for you, you can try the demo version out first.

logo_w10_comp_blueI know that once you try this, you will buy this without reservation. Ashampoo’s products are time-tested, blogger-approved programs are great, and they have stellar support to backup any issues that may arise. They get my unabashed endorsement, and your usage of them will only grow and grow. If you think of great Windows programs, think Ashampoo!

SoftOrbits Privacy Protector for Windows 10 1.6 Review:

SoftOrbits Privacy Protector for Windows 10 1.6 Review:

Twenty-first Century O/S’s have many advantages of built-in programs and features, but they can have some undesired side effects. One of those categories is the emergence of data mining and privacy leeching. With the latest operating systems and programs, individuals and businesses have had to weight trading their personal data and information, for enhanced services and free software. As society movies away from traditional media channels, with their in-place advertising systems and metrics, to on-demand, 24/7 world, with these same groups clamoring for all the information and customer data they can retrieve. They need this info to help them reach their customers and make more sales, but at the cost of the individual’s privacy.  You need these programs, but how can you combat these requests and take advantage of these new programs, you may ask. Your friends at SoftOrbits have you protected, and ready to move ahead.

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Their new privacy advocacy protection program, Privacy Protector for Windows 10 allows you to install Microsoft Windows 10, and then shield them from snooping on your data, searches, keystrokes, OneDrive, etc. Being able to take advantage of the advanced features of this cutting-edge operating system, while establishing boundaries between you and these corporations is a great compromise. Not only can you shield these aforementioned elements, but also remove the pesky built-in apps (Metro apps) that come bundled with the operating system. This is a great addition, if you never use these programs, and would rather use alternatives or need programs to access these slated file types.

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The list of options that can be chosen range from establishing a system restore point to deleting the OneDrive application. I recommend that you choose the following options: delete the key logger and telemetry, spying tasks, block spy hosts, deny access to your Contacts, Calendar, Camera, Location, Sensors, Messages, Handwriting, Disabled Cortana, Bing Search, Wi-Fi Sense, password reveal, etc. These features can help provide a nice level of protection, while allowing you to still carry on with basic Windows features. While some people may love Cortana’s virtual assistant and scheduler, I am not comfortable with Microsoft or any company building a profile of my personal habits, on my searches and appointments. If you are fine with this level of data sharing, you can leave this option unchecked. No matter what options that might pick, you will go a long way to keep your information yours.

 

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As I alluded to you earlier, some people might want to remove the built-in Metro apps. It might be a space requirement (HDD space), or maybe these apps you do not personally like or find intuitive. It also might be based on the fact the Metro apps do not work for the file types you might need or use regularly. I personally use other media programs for music/video playback, so my usage of Groove Music will be minimal or not at all. It might consider uninstalling this program to free up some space or to keep this from accidently becoming the default program for these file types. If I choose to do so, I will use this program to remove it, as it cannot be uninstalled from the Programs menu in the Control Panel.

 

The last section that this program offers is the Tools section. Inside of this menu, there are just a few options to pick from that allows you to modify the Windows Update feature, restore the system, disable User Account Control (UAC), and finally edit the Hosts file. Each of these features has their uses, especially if you are leery of Windows Update causing you problems or the UAC causing you to not be able to run/install programs correctly. The Hosts file editing option is great for experienced technicians to make tweaks to what website DNS look-ups your system uses.

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No matter what level of your technical skill-set you possess, this program makes your Windows 10 installation behave the way it should have, right from the factory. I know how well this company stands behind its products, so I can only imagine what they have in store for this program, once the Windows 10 Anniversary Edition launches later this summer.

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I know once you try SoftOrbits Privacy Protector of Windows 10, you will buy this game, immediately. As always, this program comes in three tiers. The first tier is Personal ($39.99 USD), which allows you to use this software on one computer, in a non-commercial, non-business environment. The second tier is Home ($59.99 USD), which is the same as Personal, except it can be used on two computers, instead of one. The last tier is Business ($99.99 USD), which can be used in commercial and business environments. These all include minor updates to the program, and you can try the demo, before you buy the program. A great product, and great company; you cannot get better than that, folks! Until next time, everybody . . .

SoftOrbits Sketch Drawer 4.0 Review

SoftOrbits Sketch Drawer 4.0 Review

Many times we have wanted to take an image/photo that we have created or taken, and wondered what that would look it, if it was a drawing or painting. Professional graphic toolsets have this capability, with varying results and price points. However, they lack a very intuitive interface, nor a nice preview window, to show you what you might expect in your choices. I know, as someone, who has graphic design training and experience, this area of image manipulation has always underwhelmed me, and I have never liked using this in my projects. In being exposed to and very impressed by SoftOrbits and their product line, I was happy to find that they had a niche program to accomplish this with minimal fuss or complications. This excellent program is known as either Sketch Drawer or “Photo-to-Sketch Converter.

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In a unified program layout, that very closely resembles their, other programs, Sketch Drawer allows you to add your images into the main window, and then choose from the various artistic filters/finishes. You might want to make your photos look like pen and ink drawings; you can do that with this program. You want to convert a photo to an artistic rendering, reminiscent of an architectural drawing, this has you covered. Markers, plastic, sepia tone, numerous filters are available to pick from, that are customizable with several sliders.

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In my samples that you can see here, I took another of my photos that I took on my rail trip, the Roseville Train Station, and made it into a drawing.

Rosewood_station_sm_AfterI love how this captured the fine details and gave a look of a scene from back in the heyday, more than a contemporary photo. My second example is where I converted my lovely wife’s portrait from a snapshot into a stylized toner/plastic processed image.Carmen_Outside_Before

It picks up the nuanced color splotches and grain of the simulated paper to create a unique representation of her beautiful face. This is just a very small sampling of what I could have chosen.Carmen_Outside_After

You may ask, what could a piece of software like this mean to the average user? The answer is quite a lot. The industry of home-made art projects and crafts are on a booming trajectory, with social sites like Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat on the rise. People tweet, chat, post, and generally share images, that have filters to increase interest in the subject. Using this program, you can download your images from your phone, tablet, or digital camera, make artistic edits, and then share your creation with the world. On top of this application, you can take your family photos or images and use this great tool to make custom filtered elements for cards, posters, and other printable projects to express any message or greeting you can imagine. The possibilities are endless; just use your imagination.

No matter what features that options a program has, cost is a paramount concern. Fortunately, SoftOrbits has several levels and prices to meet your needs. They have four tiers: beginners/hobbyists, intermediate/customizers, and professionals/artists, and finally businesses. Each tier has various options, and plugins, for these groups. The Lite level ($29.99 USD) gives you the pre-formatted presets, which are good for people just looking to take their pictures and make standard drawings. The Standard level ($49.99 USD) is for individuals that are looking for presets that can be altered or changed from the originals. This tier is the most popular, and the one I recommend for almost all users. It allows you to create nuanced variants of your images, and gives you everything you need, sans the specialized watermark tools for copyright protection that the professional graphic designers will need. If you need these tools, the Professional level ($79.99) includes these tools. The Business level ($99.99 USD) is for multi-user commercial or government entities that need these tools on an enterprise level. No matter which level you think you might need, they have a demo to try out, and see for yourself.

I know that if you try this out for yourself, you will become hooked and want this in your digital life. Being disabled and take my photos and create fine drawings is a nice way for me to continue my artwork production. You have disabilities yourself or have difficulty copying photos into drawings; this is going to save your bacon. Check it out, and I know you will buy this, hands down. Until next time . . . adios!

SoftOrbits Photo Stamp Remover 8.1 Review

SoftOrbits Photo Stamp Remover 8.1 Review

As a bit of an amateur photographer, who loves to shoot candid images of people, animals, and landscapes, I find myself having blemishes, tags, or photo-bombed entities that need to be removed. I have used cropping methods, or color alterations, but the results have been less than desired. While I have a B.A. and M.A. degree in Graphic Design, I focused on vector design for print media. As such, my photo manipulation training was something that focused on enhancing the rasterization of my vectors; of which I had already included the elements that I wanted in the final piece. The only tool that we were briefly exposed to was the “clone stamp” tool. My usage of that tool always seemed to create very discernible patterns that are easily seen and was very detracting. I always felt that my work would never get passed this issue, and wondered if a solution was out there to better address this issue.

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Fast forward to today, going from my college days, and arriving in 2016. This year, I had the fortune to discover SoftOrbits. This excellent company specializes in graphic design software that is nicely laid out to expedite your workflow and make doing complex tasks intuitive. One tool that they produce is Photo Stamp Remover, and it addresses this issue, perfectly. The interface presents you with a window that has the standard toolbar along the top, and a drag-in-drop/file browser button to select your image to clean-up/edit.

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Once you pick your image, you are presented with a toolbox that has various selection tools that allow you choose various parts of your image(s) for removal. You can pick a marker tool (narrow, rectangular objects), deselector tool (to remove a selection), rectangular selector (rectangles), free-form selector (you can draw any selection shape), color selection (choose by color), and the standby, clone stamper. Each has their merits and usage, and are determined by what you are trying to remove from your pictures.

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The sample image that I removed objects from comes from an old travel photo that I took in 2008. As you can see, the original version has distracting utility poles and a small enclosure along the roadway. In the after image, I have removed the previously mentioned objects, by a combination of all of the above tools. Now the finished product is much easier to focus on the main subject of the homestead in the background, and not be obscured by these lesser elements.

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In my brief experience with this tool, I can now say that this tool is far superior to the old ways that I did this, even with the inclusion of a “clone stamper” tool that I ended up using to do some final clean-up of the image. I can image that you, my loyal readers may think this tool is too niche for the general public usage. The truth is far from this reality, as you, will need this capability. Photo_Stamp_Sample01You can remove people from your images that you may no longer want in the images (ex-spouses/partners, deceased parties, strangers, and children; to protect minor’s identities), objects (business names, street addresses, props, etc.), and miscellaneous objects (time stamps, scratches, blemishes, etc.). The cherry on top is that you can do this without advanced graphic design training or skills.

 

 

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You may be asking how much does this streamlined removal tool program may cost. The answer is $49.99 USD, which is very reasonable for any professional graphic design program. Many such programs run into the multiple hundreds for a single program, and into the thousands for a design suite.  Speaking of which, quite a few of their programs (including this one) can be had in a Design Studio Suite for $99.99 USD (Home) and $278.99 (Business), No matter what route you take to acquire this software, it is well worth your money and time invested in using this program. If you are still unsure if this software is for you, check out the demo version, and see for yourself. I know that you will like this program, and find it very valuable, along with all of their other programs on offer. If you think of needing valued-added graphic design software, keep SoftOrbits in your mind.

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