Category Archives: Software

Rip DVDs to Video Files Easily with FormatFactory (Windows)

So, you want to rip DVDs to video files on Windows, but you’re not sure where to begin? While there are a ton of guides on the Internet on how to accomplish this task, most of them get complicated really quickly.

In this simple guide, I’m going to show you how to easily rip a DVD to a video file in as few steps as possible. Ready? Let’s get started.

Tools Required

  • A DVD drive for your computer (obviously). If you bought your computer anytime after the year 2000, it probably has one.
  • FormatFactory – FREE media converting software. This is what will do the ripping for us. Version as of this writing – 1.60.
  • DVD43 – FREE decrypting software. Basically, DVD43’s job is to unlock a DVD so that FormatFactory can access it.

Step One – Unlock

First of all, install DVD43. It takes very few brain cells to run DVD43 – the program will sit quietly in your system tray, waiting patiently for a DVD to decrypt. By default the tray icon is yellow (and not so happy).

Once you insert an encrypted DVD, the program will automatically get to work on unlocking it. If successful, the not-so-happy face will turn green (and much more cheery).

Step Two – Start FormatFactory

Next, install and launch FormatFactory. As the name implies, FormatFactory is an all-in-one utility for converting between media types. For our purposes, we’re going to look at the ROM Device\DVD\CD\ISO panel.

Under the ROM Device\DVD\CD\ISO panel, click on the DVD to Video File icon.

Step Three – Configure DVD Ripping Settings

In the DVD to Video window that spawns, there are only a few things you need to do before starting the DVD rip. First of all, select your DVD from the drop-down list at the top. On the left, select the titles/chapters that you want to rip. The video that I’m going to rip is The Big Lebowski (cult classic).

You can choose the format type for your video by clicking the drop-down list under the Output Setting area. The choices are: MP4, AVI, FLV, MPG, VOB, 3GP, WMV, and SWF.

Quality Settings

If you want to alter the video quality settings, click the Quality Setting button.

I recommend sticking with one of the built-in profiles, such as Medium Quality. Of course, you could always choose a Custom profile and alter settings manually.

Subtitles

One of the last steps is to select whether or not you want subtitles included in your video. Under the Output Control area, take a look at the drop-down list next to Subtitle Language.

Select a subtitle language for your video, or just choose None.

You’re almost done. All that’s left is to choose a filename for your video and a location to save it. Under the Output File section, type a name for your video and select an output folder.

When you’re finished, hit the Convert button at the top.

Step Four – Let It Rip

After you hit Convert, FormatFactory will return to the main window and you will see your job lined up in the queue. The final step is to simply hit the Start button to begin processing.

Depending on the speed of your computer and the length of the DVD, the ripping process will likely take hours. Go outside and run around, or maybe do your DVD rips overnight.

That’s it. You’re done. Eject the DVD, and enjoy your new video.

P.S. Need a place to store your new DVD rip online? Give MyBloop a try.

Add Watermarks to Video for Free with MPEG Streamclip

MPEG-Streamclip is a powerful FREE tool for working with video. Not only can it encode/convert between formats, it can also cut, trim, and join movies together. As an added bonus, it can also directly download videos from YouTube and Google Video.

These features alone are enough to make MPEG Streamclip an essential tool for both Windows and Mac users, but the program has another trick up its sleeve: it can also add watermarks to video. I’ll show you how.

Special note for Windows users: MPEG Streamclip requires either Quicktime OR Quicktime Alternative (but not both!). Please see their site for details.

Adding Watermarks

First of all, launch MPEG Streamclip and open the video to which you want to add a watermark. For kicks, I’m going to add a watermark to Jesus and Frosty, the first animated short by Matt and Trey (of Southpark fame).

MPEG Streamclip - Southpark vid

Next, go to the File menu and Export to your desired format.

MPEG Streamclip - File Menu
MPEG Streamclip - File Menu

In the Exporter window that spawns, don’t be intimidated by the multitude of options in front of you. All you need to do is click the Adjustments button near the bottom-right.

MPEG Streamclip - Exporter

Just type the text for the watermark and hit OK. Make any other adjustments to resolution or audio quality that you want, and press Make Movie when you’re finished.

Choose a place to save your newly watermarked video, and voila! Go get a cup of coffee while your video exports.

The watermark will show up near the bottom-right corner of your video. As of this writing, there is no way to alter the position of the watermark.

Demonstration Video

Of course, no article of this nature would be complete without a tutorial video, so here’s a visual guide that walks you through the process of adding watermarks.

A video used to be embedded here but the service that it was hosted on has shut down.

Download MPEG Steamclip (Windows/Mac)

Free Antivirus Program Roundup – 10 Months Later

Many moons ago, I surveyed and wrote reviews for most of the free antivirus programs available. I covered ten different programs in detail, and even gave a few recommendations.

Major Updates

Since I wrote those reviews, many changes have occurred. First of all, many of the programs have received major updates. Both AVG and Avast now include protection against spyware, a welcome addition. Avira AntiVir has received a facelift, and PC Tools Free Edition has ascended a couple of versions, though I’m not sure it has added any features.

In the unchanged category, Comodo Antivirus is still slogging along on version 2.0 Beta, though I’m crossing my fingers that version 3 will be released soon, hopefully before the release of Windows 7. BitDefender 10 appears to be collecting virtual dust (their requirements don’t even mention Vista), Blink Personal Edition still remains largely (and unfairly) overlooked, and EAV Antivirus still isn’t worth using.

In what I feel is a great loss, AOL will soon no longer offer a version of McAfee Antivirus. Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I received recently:

We are writing to inform you that your subscription to McAfee® VirusScan® Plus — Special edition from AOL will no longer be a complimentary benefit of your Free AOL membership. Your McAfee® software will continue to receive updates and operate normally until your license expires, one year from the date of registration.

Instead of offering a free version, AOL claims that they will offer more advanced security software at a substantial 43% discount. Whoopee. No thanks.

Upcoming Reviews

I’m not finished with my free antivirus reviews. There are at least two more that I have planned. One is an upcoming program that I’ve been watching for months, and another one I just discovered a few weeks ago. Both have a lot of promise, and look forward to testing them.

What am I using?

So, have any of my recommendations changed since last time? Yes.

First of all, I no longer recommend AVG Free Addition. While I still think it is a good product, the Achilles Heel in the free edition is the lack of rootkit detection. See for yourself:

Uh oh.
Uh oh.

Since other free programs DO offer rootkit detection, this glaring omission from AVG is too much to ignore.

I wish that I could recommend the McAfee/AOL Special Edition. Despite its name, I thought it had terrific potential, and I actually used it on my main computer for a few months following my review summary.

The free version of Avira AntiVir remains popular, and I reaffirm my recommendation for it. Based on detection rates alone, AntiVir is a superb product that also includes anti-rootkit support (are you listening, AVG?), but I reserve my recommendation primarily for users who:

  1. Rely on web-based e-mail only. AntiVir (free) does not support POP3/SMTP e-mail.
  2. Rely on a separate anti-spyware program. AntiVir (free) has no anti-spyware support, unlike its paid versions.

If you’re so inclined, don’t forget to deal with the nagging AntiVir popup.

I still think that Blink Personal Edition holds a lot of promise, though you almost never see its name mentioned amongst the main contenders. Perhaps its inherent complexity and level of customization deter people who are mainly looking for an “install and forget” product.

So then, which program is installed on my main machine 10 months after those reviews? None other than Avast Home Edition! The current version – 4.8 – includes anti-spyware and anti-rootkit support, as well as POP3/SMTP e-mail support. It’s simple to use, functions well as an install-and-forget program, and I love how it gets out of your way quickly during a right-click targeted scan. Curiously enough, Avast was the first free antivirus program I ever tried (6 years ago), and to it I have returned.

I’m not saying that Avast Home Edition is the subjective BEST free antivirus program. It just happens to my favorite, and therefore most recommended, for the moment.

Agree? Disagree? Think I’m an idiot? Feel free to tell me in the comments. Oh, and don’t forget to vote in the poll located in the right-sidebar.

Ghost Windows for Free with Macrium Reflect (A Visual Guide)

Macrium icon
Macrium icon

A few years ago I wrote an article on Ghosting Windows XP for Free with DriveImage XML. It’s proven to be one of the most popular articles on TipsFor.us. Back in 2007 I also wrote a complementary article on Ghosting Windows for Free using Open-Source Tools. I suppose you could say that finding free ways to “ghost” Windows is an obsession of mine.

One bit of criticism levied at these aforementioned methods is that they both require a fair amount of upfront work. A restoration using DriveImage XML requires the creation of a boot disc such as BartPE. Using open-source tools like ntfsclone requires mucking around with the command line – an intimidating process for a newbie. Yes, I said “mucking.”

Isn’t there an easier way? One that requires far less prep time with an easy learning curve? The answer is a resounding YES!

Enter Macrium Reflect FREE Edition. While the free version is the little brother to the commercial version, it still packs a mighty punch. Feast your eyes on a feature comparison as of 17 October 2008.

Macrium - Feature List

Requirements

To successfully image and restore your system using Macrium Reflect, you will need the following:

  • Windows XP or Vista (32 or 64-bit) – required to install the free version of Macrium Reflect, of course.
  • CD or DVD burner – You need a place to store your backup image. Macrium allows you to burn it directly to CDs or DVDs.
  • Spare Hard Disk or Partition (Optional) – Instead of storing the backup image on optical media, you may choose to simply store it on a spare partition or hard disk.

Before we begin, allow me to remind you to BACK UP YOUR DATA! Working with disk imaging is a volatile process, and you should always have backups of your critical files. Burn everything to CDs or DVDs. Buy a spare hard disk, or maybe take a look at available online storage. Do whatever it takes to keep your data safe.

Ready? Let’s get started!

The Process

Here’s an outline of the entire process:

  1. Install Macrium Reflect FREE Edition
  2. Configure Your System
  3. Create the Disk Image
  4. Verify the Disk Image
  5. Create the Rescue CD
  6. Restore the Disk Image
  7. Final Thoughts

1. Install Macrium Reflect FREE Edition

This is the easiest step. Download and install the executable (Download.com link). The installer will automatically detect whether you are running a 32-bit or a 64-bit operating system. Curiously, the installation process requires Internet access to validate the automatically generated serial number. After the installation is complete, launch Macrium Reflect.

2. Configure Your System

At this point you should configure your operating system to the way you like it. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make sure Windows has the latest security patches and drivers.
  • Scan for viruses and other malware.
  • Run a Defrag.
  • Remove any unnecessary applications.

Ideally, I like to create a couple different disk images. I prefer to have one image of a freshly installed state, and another image that includes all my main applications.

3. Create the Disk Image

Now we’re getting to the fun part. One quick note here: I used VMware for the purpose of convenient screenshots, but the process is no different than if it were a real machine. I also tested the process on a spare computer, and it worked flawlessly for me.

To get started, launch Macrium Reflect, select the disk that you wish to image, and from the Backup menu, choose Create Image.

Macrium - Choose your partition

(Alternative – you could also open My Computer, right-click on the chosen disk, and select Create an Image of this partition…)

Right-click the drive

The Create Backup Wizard will spawn:

Macrium - Create Backup Wizard

At this point you need to choose where you would like to store the disk image. Options include:

  • On a spare partition or hard disk
  • On a network share – Note: make sure your network share is using WORKGROUP as the Workgroup name.
  • On blank CDs or DVDs
Macrium - Choose where to store image

I suggest you also take a look at the Advanced Settings. Here you can choose the amount of compression and also set a maximum file size (for splitting purposes).

Macrium - Advanced Compression

When you are done with the Backup Wizard, take a last glance over your settings….

Macrium - End of Backup Wizard

Enter a name for the backup definition, and away we go!

Macrium - Backup started

It took me only 3 minutes to image my tiny VMware disk, so your mileage will vary. Go make a cup of coffee.

Macrium - Backup finished

Now that your backup is complete, let’s talk about how to restore it. Please continue to the next page.

Suspicious Download? Scan for Viruses Before You Download with Dr.Web

If you ever find yourself downloading potentially harmful files, or if you just want an extra layer of protection against suspicious downloads, you owe it to yourself to check out Link Checker, a FREE browser add-on by Dr.Web.

What is it? Link Checker is a browser extension that allows you to scan files before you download by integrating itself into the right-click menu. Let’s see it in action.

Usage

Here I am about to download the 7-Zip file archiving utility. I’m pretty sure it’s clean, but let’s make sure.

Right-click the file to download
Right-click the file to download

Notice the Scan with Dr.Web option in the right-click contextual menu. When I choose that option, the file in question will be scanned on Dr.Web’s servers with the latest definition files.

And here is the verdict. It’s clean! No surprise.

Dr.Web says - Clean!
Dr.Web says - Clean!

Just for kicks, let’s try it on a known infected file – the EICAR anti-virus test file. No, this isn’t a real virus, but it should show up as one for testing purposes. Here we go.

Dr.Web says - Infected!

Boom! If this were a file I really wanted to download, Dr.Web would give me second thoughts.

While Dr.Web Link Checker is handy, just remember that it’s not a substitute for proper anti-virus software. As an added layer of security, it’s worthwhile.

One quick caveat – Link Checker will only scan files smaller than 12 MB. Anything larger will cause an error.

Firefox

Link Checker for Firefox and Mozilla

Internet Explorer

Link Checker for MS Internet Explorer

Opera

Link Check for Opera (requires manual configuration)

A better solution to Presentations in Linux

You may have noticed that OpenOffice is great. You also may have noticed that this greatness runs out when you get to Impress. My primary complaint (Oh there are many, most of them “known issues” at the open office site for years) is a lack of anti-aliasing on shapes. In a business situation, a presentation on par with the expectations of 1995 will only get you so far.

A Circle in Impress
Jaggies...a lot of them
A Circle in Powerpoint
Same 200% zoom as Impress.

I in no way endorse the use of PowerPoint, but I haven’t had a [Professional] alternative. I acquired a new Linux-based laptop and just today realized that I wouldn’t be able to give presentations off it without jumping through hoops. Of course there are options (PDF slide viewers, LaTEX, etc.) but I want a straight-forward presentation program that meets my meager demands of Anti-Aliasing and a simple interface. Luckily, I tend to have an active Internet connection at most presentations. This brings me to: 280 Slides.

280 Slides is a WebApp that provides, nearly, full functional slide show creation.

A Circle in 280 Slides
200% Zoom
200% Zoom

It’s still in BETA, but it shows amazing promise. Registration is free, and as far as I can tell so far, it beats Google’s presentation ability by a long shot. I wonder how long before Google acquires them…

The Good:

  • Accessible on any OS from any computer with an active Internet connection.
  • Ability to save sideshow in .pptx, .ppt, .odp, and .pdf
  • Fairly faithful conversion to previously mentioned file types.
  • Ability to Import from uploads of the previously mentioned file types (sans .pdf).
  • Ability to insert Images, Video, Shapes, etc. You can even upload your own shapes.
  • Many themes included, all classier than some of PowerPoint’s ugly templates, or the 2 ridiculous themes that ship with Impress.
  • Ability to add “Notes” to each slide.
  • Straight forward, intuitive interface.
The Interface
The Interface

The Bad:

  • Currently no way to upload your own custom background image. Work Around: Insert it as an image and make it the size of the slide.
  • No transitions. In a serious presentation, however, do you really need objects flying in and spinning with cute sound effects? Only if you want to get laughed at.
  • No way to operate a “Presenter View.”
  • No “Master Slide” for objects and footers that are persistent across all slides.

Overall:

-This will be my new presentation software when I’m bound to my Linux system. If I have access to a Mac, though, I will use Keynote for its powerful elegance. I’m interested to see where this goes when it reaches full release. Hopefully registration will stay free.

-At a later date, I will be comparing 280 Slides to Slide Rocket (http://www.sliderocket.com/).  By “at a later date” I mean when Lan Support Services feels the need to update the flash on my office computer.  Feel free to check it out as another alternative.  [Thanks to Brian for pointing me to Slide Rocket]

When Chrome Crashes – Aw, Snap! Screenshot

Just thought I’d share this – I had a tab get stuck in Google Chrome recently, and when it crashed, this is the error message it displayed:

Aw, Snap, indeed! Hilarious. It’s reminiscent of the infamous “Sad Mac” face from Old World Macintosh computers.

As well as the dreaded “Sad iPod” face that you hope to never see:

Somehow, this touch of humor makes me care a little less that my browser just crashed and burned! 🙂