I've assembled a list of free (or inexpensive) programs and utilities that might make your life a bit easier. I've been using most of these for some time, so I can confirm that they work and are worth every penny.
The first is a little program that I've been using for years called ieSpell (www.iespell.com). It's a stand-alone spell-checker that installs as an item in the Internet Explorer toolbar and can literally run a spell-check in any application within IE (great for posting in forums that don't have a built-in spell-check). It's very handy, and it makes you look smart too.
Everyone knows what Google is, but are you aware of the ultracustomizable personalized homepage that is a subset of the Google empire? There are hundreds of embeddable applications to choose from and thousands of "skins," and the really cool thing is that it comes up automatically when you access Google. (And need I add that it also does Google searches?) Some of the neat apps (called gadgets-another good reason to mention it here) include automatic blog searches, all kinds of news lists, live weather updates, clocks, calendars, and hundreds more. And you can create your own custom gadget (instructions included). Here is a cute opportunity to create an app that you can use as an advertising link for your clients.
I've advised readers in the past to create PDFs of contracts and email them rather than creating hard copies and using snail mail to get them to their clients. This approach saves time, stationery, and stamps. The problem is that many videographers can't afford Adobe Acrobat Professional, or they feel that they can't justify the price.
The good news is, there are several free alternatives out there. The one that I use is PDF Creator from www.pdfforge.org. Not only is it totally free, it's also open source and can be installed on servers. It's full-featured, supports dozens of languages, and is very quick. This software package installs itself as a printer, so to convert any document, simply open the doc and print to PDF. Simple!
Adobe is also in contact with the major security software companies sharing information to reduce any problems. They strongly suggest that you keep up-to-date with your virus definitions and use caution when opening files from untrusted sources.
If you do corporate gigs that require a teleprompter and are tired of renting or going without, visit www.freetelepromptersoftware.com and check out a couple of programs that give you a teleprompter that you can run from your computer. One of the programs is a web-based package (which requires you to be online) that is quickly loaded and is great for small jobs. The other is a downloadable application that requires a PC (and requires you to install Microsoft .NET Framework v1.1) for portable use and gives you more features and control.
There are thousands of programs out there that offer free trials, ranging from a few days or a limited number of uses to 30-day trials. Some are full-featured programs with no functional limitations or restrictions, but limitations can vary and may not be immediately apparent, so be sure to read the agreement. Some will place a limiting feature, such as a watermark for video or a repeating tone for audio, that effectively means you can try it but not really use it. Many sites, such as www.xdnet.com, maintain a convenient download list library from various sources. Don't overlook the likes of Microsoft, Adobe, and others. They regularly place free applications that are either plug-ins to their major programs or stand-alone tools. Some maintain user groups that regularly post routines, plug-ins, or shortcuts that will make your job (and life) easier. Adobe, for example, has tons of freebies in this category for After Effects, Photoshop, and more that are all pretty amazing.
Another site I've also mentioned in the past is CoffeeCup Software (www.coffeecup.com), a good place to find cool (and inexpensive) web software and utilities. Since the last time they appeared in this column, they've created a few more tools that need to be mentioned. One in particular is the Website Access Manager. This utility is the ultimate in website protection-keeping prying eyes from folders and files within your site while allowing granting people access to those same files with password protection. This is a boon to those of us who use our websites for client viewings and other client uses, in that it enables us to keep their information private. It installs on the server level and has the capacity to handle thousands of passwords-all for $34.
Another new product from CoffeeCup Software is the Shopping Cart Creator, which enables you to create your own online store. This nifty package has the bells and whistles of some of the bigger, more expensive products without requiring a substantial investment to purchase or a degree in rocket science to install and set up. And there is no coding needed to create your store; everything is already done for you, including having your products viewable via search engines (some other packages have issues with this). They also have additional plug-ins available for modifying the look (skins) and for providing compatibility with PayPal, Authorize.Net, and Google Checkout (the latter two cost $19 each). CoffeeCup states that you can have your store up and running in 30 minutes. The base price is $49; there is a 21-day free trial.
The big thing that hooked me on CoffeeCup Software is that once you buy a product, you have access to all updates for that product for life! The customer service is outstanding, and all products have the same look and feel, so there is no relearning. Most (if not all) products offer free trial periods, so you can determine if a particular package is right for you before you buy. CoffeeCup offers cost-saving bundles, with the ability to get the software by download and on CD. Finally, they have a half-dozen completely free software packages for the taking, including an HTML editor, Zip Wizard, and FTP app.
I'm sure that most EventDV readers have GPS devices and find them very handy, not only for finding out where they're going but for providing the approximate arrival time and location of the nearest gas station or restaurant. And I assume that you usually remove and stow them when you leave your vehicle. But I'll bet that you didn't know the best reason to do this every time: They pose a threat not only for burglary but also for identify theft.
Almost every GPS unit provides a selection for "home," thus allowing a simple, one-touch method of finding your way back home from your journey. Here's the issue. Thieves also know this. They break into your vehicle, swipe the GPS unit, and hit "home." They now know where you live and on top of that, they also know that you aren't home! Then they head straight to your home and/or business and walk away with just about anything they want, including items that contain your personal information, which can lead to identity theft.
The solution? Simply enter your home address as you would any of the other addresses in your list.
And when you remove the unit from your windshield, wipe the ring left by the suction cup on the window. That's a telltale sign that you have a device that many thieves look for. The smart thing to do is just to pop it out of the holder, disconnect the wiring, and throw it into your camera bag. This will help ensure that your GPS continues to work for you and not against you.
Ed Wardyga (wardyga at kvimedia.com), owner of Keepsake Video and KVI Media in Rhode Island, has been producing event video since 1989, specializing in stage productions. He runs the website www.theGadgetBag.net and is the recipient of the WEVA Walter Bennett Service to Industry Award.