Follow Me on Pinterest
@sketchee on Twitter
Android Apps

TriviaToy is a new trivia ecosystem for Android. New features, questions and categories are being added constantly. The goal is to have a great user interface, fun user generated content, and social features. Maybe learn something in the process!

Blog Categories

SKETCHEE IDEAS: A Creativity Blog


Entries in Software (11)

Monday
Jul072008

Missing Google Deskbar

About four years ago, I shared a tip on using Gmail with Google Deskbar's minibrowser (DeskBAR not DeskTOP). Basically, you could get a small browser window right in your taskbar that would go away when you're done with it. The power of it came from the ability to set up keyboard shortcuts to quickly make it where you want to go on the web: Gmail, Search or whatever you could imagine Unfortunately, Google abandoned Google Deskbar soon after.

You can still download Deskbar at PC World if you want, but it's no longer supported by Google. Luckily, it turns out that some Deskbar fans have developed their own version of the software: Googol Deskbar! Let me know if you give it a run and if it's something you find useful. Or not as much.
Sunday
Jul062008

Ugly Open Source Design

Using Audacity this past week has inspired me to talk about the ugly open source programs floating around. Many great open source programs don't care about design. Searching about Audacity, many developers defend the look of the program as being usable. Usability doesn't make something well designed, although that is definitely part of the designers considerations.

Audacity
Screenshots of Audacity. Creative Commons License photo credit: webg33k


Scribus, which I had talked about before, is an open source design tool for designers. But it's not yet looking too good. The interface isn't as outdated as Audacity, but still feels like something out of the Windows 95 era. It feels much more complicated and less polished than InDesign. Open Office has the throw back look down to a science. It looks very much like an early version of Office despite having many advanced features. (Microsoft has since made the Ribbon interface part of office making it easier to find underutilized features)

Firefox and Thunderbird have a great look because they're easily skinned. That encourages the design community's help.

Although I think that too many open source programs have pretty poor UI design (from a mass market perspective), the open media center Elisa has a fairly commercial looking pretty design too. It's pretty much inspired by Apple, but taken in their own direction.



Design is a huge part of innovation. That seems to be a place where commercial products can beat open source. Despite the criticism, a lot of this is great software in a bad package.
Sunday
May252008

Graphic Design Meets Open Source Software

Being a graphic designer can be a pretty pricey thing. We like to have powerful computers and expensive enterprise software. I'm looking at you Adobe Create Suite .... There are alternatives that aim to meet the needs of our profession and products. Graphic design is an art and software is just a tool like a paint brush. Open Source software development has come up with such cool free products as Mozilla Firefox, Apache and Linux. I know they all sound kind of geeky and in that way there's something inaccessible sounding about it, but hopefully what you see here will help you get past your fears, uncertainty and doubt. It's all free to use so there isn't much risk involved. Open Source isn't the solution for everything, but it's as a public service that we can often tap into. We're an adventurous bunch, so let's try something different.

Here are some free graphic design programs that might just bring graphic design to the artists who can't or don't want to spend the money on the insanely priced corporate versions.

GIMP


GIMP is the most widely known Photoshop alternative. Most of the functions that you might use in Photoshop are implemented; you can crop, adjust colors, save as different file formats, use various filters and brushes. CMYK support is there but fairly weak and difficult to handle which may be completely unacceptable for most of us in the print industry. However for web design this won't be a problem since it natively supports the RGB color space. Photoshop users may want to look into GIMPshop, a modification package which is intended to help GIMP mimic the Photoshop user interface. GIMP is available on Windows, Mac and Linux.

 

 

 

PDFCreator


This handy program adds itself to your Windows printer menu. Anything you print can be converted to PDF format or various other graphics formats for you to manipulate. Very handy to have on any system.

Inkscape


Inkscape is a vector editor similar to Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator. It uses the standard [[SVG]] format which makes it compatible with other graphics programs. The interface is streamlined and familiar since they focus on usability. It includes tutorials and tooltips too to ease your transition. They've reduced the number of palettes and all palette options are available as keyboard shortcuts. The interactive tutorials and simple interface make it very easy to start using, especially if you are familiar with other drawing programs. It's definitely a good one to look into. Inkscape is available on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Inkscape Screenshot. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Screenshot of the Inkscape 0.46 user interface. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Scribus


I'm a heavy InDesign user and since it's what I use at work, that's not likely to change. It is good to know that there is an open source alternative for InDesign, Pagemaker, QuarkXPress or even the unfortunate Microsoft Publisher. It's designed to be print ready and runs on Linux/Unix, MacOS X, OS/2 and Windows. If your printer accepts PDFs or any of the other formats supported by the program, you're pretty much set. It's designed to work with professional equipment in a prepress environment. If you're interested in designing books, brochures, business cards this seems like a great idea. A lot of designers have Photoshop and/or Illustrator and attempt to use them for publication layout.

Scribus Screenshot
Scribus. Screenshot courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

KompoZer


KompoZer is a WYSIWYG html and css editor, think FrontPage or Dreamweaver. It's based on the same rendering platform as Firefox. It's meant to be easy to use for newcomers and non-technical users. Advanced users of Dreamweaver will miss some features, but everyone else can do well with the free alternative and save some serious money. It even creates nice and valid html adhering to the standard of your choice.

Kompozer screenshot
Kompozer screenshot provided by Wikimedia Commons

 

Wordpress


Wordpress gives designers an easy to manage system for implementing hugely complicated websites. It's community creates many plugins, templates and widgets that give it a lot of weight. So I couldn't leave it off of this list!

 

FontForge


FontForge is a nifty font editor that supports the very common TrueType, PostScript, OpenType formats among others. Besides allowing you to edit your fonts, it supports automatic format conversion and transformations. The documentation seems straightforward to follow so you can dive into developing your font project.

FontForge Screenshot
FontForge screenshot courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

Open Source Fonts


Fonts are software too. And not too cheap either. Luckily Open Source efforts have stepped in to provide some relief. Typeforge is a project that aims to use Fontforge to create new fonts and provide support in helping designers of various levels create typefaces. You can help them out by simply using their fonts and providing feedback. DejaVu and Linux Libtertine are open source fonts that are freely distributable and free to use in your projects. Junicode is an open source Medieval style font that looks pretty versatile. Free UCS Outline Fonts collects a variety of open fonts of this type. Open Font Library collects public domain fonts.

A few endnotes


I still love the commercial design software out there. Open Source software is still in its infancy compared to commercial software that has been developed over decades. In many ways, these programs just can't compete with that right now but in any case still serve an important niche market in our industry as an entry point for new designers, experiments for those of us who want to escape to something a little different and a as playground for innovation.

No one ever thought Quark would ever go away, now we have InDesign. While those are commercial products, Firefox is an open source project that is now a major player in the web browser world. There is also a ton of little open source programs that make my life easier, but aren't necessarily design related. It's kind of a cutting edge and fringe kind of thing sometimes and on the productivity side at other times.

One last thought, damn does the open source community really need to recruit some designers or what ... These things too often have ugly programmer created technical looking skins that is just the biggest turn off in the world... Someone get on that!

Tuesday
May062008

6 Wordpress Plugins You Want But Don't Know It

In optimizing this blog, it turned out that there are all these great features you can add to your existing Wordpress site that can make the experience better for you and your users. You can add your favorite aspects of larger sites without much programming experience. Here are some of the ones that I found useful:

1. AJAXed Wordpress


AJAX is one of the most important technologies of the Web 2.0 revolution. It enables you to use a web interface without reloads or clunky software plug-ins like Java or Flash. This plug-in gives your blog powerful AJAX features. You can choose and customize the features to your blog's design. The in-line commenting system lets your users comment right from the homepage. They can even preview comments formatted using your CSS before posting. It's as seamless as you need it to be.

2. WP-OpenID


This plug-in gives your users a log-in without any registration! With then power of the OpenID standard, you can have users sign in using a Yahoo, Livejournal or Google (Blogger) account. They probably have an OpenID account without even knowing it. It's very simple to make your blog OpenID accessible. I haven't yet worked out the details of making OpenID play well with the AJAXed WP, but I've come up with a reasonable compromise by using them both in different situations.

3. Batch Categories


This plug-in helps you manage your post categories easily. It's a time saver in so many different situations. It will help you put your content right where your readers will expect it.

4. Broken Link Checker


Find and fix those broken links in your posts. I came across this plug-in after seeing so many daunting 404 errors in my site logs. This thing made it easier to find many of them and correct the problems. You'll want your old articles to be readable and as useful as possible!

5. Hot Linked Image Cacher


Similar to the last plug-in, this one goes through and finds images hosted outside of your site. Then it copies them over to your server. This will prevent missing images down the line.

6. Sociable


This puts icons for various social networks onto your posts. You can choose from tons of different services to feature.

This article is a follow-up to “Wordpress Design Spice Up Tips�
Monday
Mar312008

Sketchee.com up to date

I've upgraded to Wordpress 2.5 without a problem and in minutes. If you're not familiar with it, it's the software that makes updating this site a breeze. My favorite of its new features is its plugin upgrade feature. It alerts the user to upgrades and updates it with a click of a button. The administrative side has a new look, but there shouldn't be too much different for readers.