55 super software secrets

From obscure options to esoteric shortcuts to arcane add-ons, here are 55 hidden gems

Chrome and Google Apps

Keep up on your Gmail: Are you a convert to Gmail who misses the way Outlook used to notify you of new messages? Google Mail Checker Plus chimes when you receive new messages, lets you view the subject, and opens a new Gmail message window when you click a mailto: link.

Check your Google Calendar: If you frequently need to take quick peeks at your Google Calendar, pick up DayHiker and you'll be able to access it without opening a new tab or moving away from your current page.

Perform instant YouTube searches: Never type "www.youtube.com" again. Instead use Fast YouTube Search to jump-start your search for YouTube videos from the comfort of your main browser window.

Easily add RSS feeds to Google Reader: If you use Google Reader to track your RSS feeds, you'll appreciate RSS Subscription Extension, which displays an RSS icon in the address bar whenever you are on a page that in­­cludes an RSS feed. Just click the icon, and you can add the feed to your subscription list without any hassle.

Manage Your Media

Movies, music, podcasts, pictures...your PC may take up less space in your house than your photo albums and your DVD collection do, but that doesn't guarantee that its contents can't sink over time into total disarray. For many people, PCs have become the hub for storing family photos, home videos, and music libraries--and without the right apps and tricks, those collections can quickly degenerate into a trackless wilderness. Read on for tips to keep iTunes in line, to avoid stuttering streams, and to automate photo uploads.

iTunes Tricks

Auto-add to iTunes: Managing an iTunes library can be a hassle, especially if you download your media from multiple apps. iTunes 9 introduced an ‘Automatically Add To iTunes' folder (located by default at C:\Users\username\Music\iTunes\iTunes Media); iTunes monitors this folder for new files and appropriately sorts the ones it finds. Download new music and videos to this folder, and you won't have to organize them later.

Keep your feeds going: iTunes will automatically stop up­­dating your podcast subscriptions if you don't listen to them--a real annoyance if you want to listen to a series of podcasts on, say, a marathon road trip. A simple Visual Basic script automatically marks all of your unplayed podcasts as played, causing iTunes to continue updating them. Use Windows' built-in Task Scheduler to set the script to run every week or so.

Clean up your music: You don't really need four copies of the same song in your iTunes library--even if it's really good. So select File, Display Duplicates, and start deleting.

Create multiple libraries: You may not want iTunes to lump all of your media into a single library. Maybe you'd prefer a family-friendly media library and a separate adults-only media library, or maybe you'd rather not reveal your love of Rupert Holmes singles to anyone else. Whatever the reason, you can use Libra to set up multiple iTunes libraries and switch from one to another at will; with luck, that "RH+" library won't attract any attention.

Speed it up: By default, iTunes has a few performance-slowing settings turned on. To disable the laggards, open the Preferences menu and uncheck any of the following you don't use: Look for shared libraries (Sharing tab), Look for Apple TVs (Apple TV tab), Look for remote speakers connected with AirTunes (De­­vices tab), and Look for iPod touch, iPhone and iPad Remotes (again, Devices tab). In the Store menu, turn Genius off.

Secrets of Syncing, Streaming, and Organizing

Don't mess with codecs: If you're tired of installing and updating audio and video codecs to extend your player's capabilities, make VLC your main media player. Easily the most compatible media player available, VLC can handle a multitude of file and streaming formats designed for iTunes, Winamp, Windows Media Player, and more.

Prevent stream stutter: Though many factors outside your control could interrupt your video stream (especially if you're streaming from another user's PC rather than from a dedicated service such as Netflix or YouTube), one tweak that may help is to increase the size of your system's read buffer. This adjustment will make the stream take longer to start, but it can also smooth out some hiccups by introducing a little more latency. In VLC, open the Open Network Stream menu, check Show more options, and bump up the number in the Caching field. In Windows Media Player, choose Options from the Organize menu, click the Performance tab, and manually adjust the ‘Buffering settings'.

Accelerate or slow down podcasts: If you want to play back your audiobooks and podcasts in Windows Media Player at a different speed from the one they were set to play at, you can arrange it instantly via a few keyboard shortcuts. Press Ctrl-Shift-G to make a podcast play faster, press Ctrl-Shift-S to slow it down, and press Ctrl-Shift-N to reset it to normal.

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Patrick Miller

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