The newspapers are all atwitter about how competitive the rental property market is at the moment - particularly in Sydney. But even in a competitive market you can make househunting a lot easier for yourself by following a few simple steps. I just rented a lovely house in a popular inner city suburb of Sydney for less than I expected to pay - and it only took me two days of looking at houses. Here's how I did it.
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Windows only: Need to grab files from your home computer or quickly set up a friend's computer for file sharing? Leaf, a peer-to-peer application, creates quick and simple VPN connections between machines. Install and run the software, create a user account and click the "Share" tab to get started. As with most networking products that aren't SSH or similarly encrypted, one shouldn't share sensitive information over something like Leaf, but it could make for an easy way to share files, printers and even network drives. Leaf is a free download for Windows XP and Vista and requires Microsoft .NET framework.
Take Walmart's $199 PC Operating System for a Test Drive (All platforms)
"The gOS operating system sports an emphasis on web applications, with desktop shortcuts to tonnes of Google Apps, Facebook, Wikipedia, and other webapps built directly into the desktop."Solidify Leopard's Menu Bar with OpaqueMenuBar (Mac)
"A week into using Leopard and the translucent menu bar driving you batty? tiny utility OpaqueMenuBar brings solidity back to your menu bar, trading the see-through look for opacity."Update Your Quicksilver, Don't Panic (Mac)
"Whether you want to install Quicksilver fresh or you've already got it installed, go grab the latest version from the link below."Minimize Windows to Thumbnails with ThumbWin (Windows)
"Manage and minimise your open windows to desktop thumbnail previews with freeware application ThumbWin."Never Miss a Deal with RetailMeNot (Firefox extension)
"The RetailMeNot Firefox extension integrates your online shopping with coupon aggregation web site RetailMeNot to keep you abreast of deals and freebies available at the site you're currently visiting."Micromanage Your Widescreen Monitor with AutoSizer (Windows)
"Freeware application AutoSizer automatically resizes and moves application windows to specific, user-defined sizes and screen locations as soon as they're opened."Take Vim with You with GVim Portable (Windows)
"Love the classic Vi text editor and want it and all its settings with you on every Windows PC you use?"Organise MP3 Metadata with Ex Falso (Linux)
"Tired of seeing your songs show up as "01.mp3" in your music player?"Create A Backup Image of Your System with DriveImage (Windows)
"Freeware application DriveImage XML creates and restores images of any drive or partition on your system."
Windows only: Freeware application AutoSizer automatically resizes and moves application windows to specific, user-defined sizes and screen locations as soon as they're opened. That means that if you've got a widescreen monitor with the perfect window layout that packs every last pixel with useful information, you can save each window size and location with AutoSizer and restore the perfect layout automatically, day after day, as soon as you launch the applications. Alternately, if you'd prefer an application to open maximised or minimised, AutoSizer can take care of that, too. AutoSizer is freeware, Windows only. For similar but manual takes on screen real estate maximisation, check out Sizer and WinSplit Revolution.
Windows only: Love Vi and want it and all its settings with you on every Windows PC you use? Grab a copy of GVim Portable, a self-contained, thumb drive-friendly version of the GVim (GUI Vi Improved) text editor, which includes with a configurable .vimrc and GVimPortable.ini that customises and contains all your preferred settings. Reader Mike sent in a screengrab of his GVim Portable setup sportin' a bitstream font (pictured above.) GVim Portable is a free download for Windows only. Thanks, Mike!GVim Portable Home Page
Linux only: Tired of seeing your songs show up as "01.mp3" in your music player? It's due to bad metadata tags on your music files, a frequent side effect of music sharing services and hasty CD rips. Former editor Rick Broida showed us how to tame our music libraries into shape with Windows programs, but Linux users have a nice option as well. Desktop utility Ex Falso fixes MP3, Ogg Vorbis and other files manually or based on filenames, and includes a feature to quickly set track numbers. Ex Falso is a free download available in many Linux repositories (search for the package exfalso), requires the GStreamer 0.10, PyGTK, GTK+ 2.8, Mutagen 1.9, and Python 2.4 packages, and is also available as a source download.
Windows only: Freeware application DriveImage XML creates and restores images of any drive or partition on your system. That means that next time you freshly install Windows on your computer (whether XP or Vista), you can back up that clean and sparkling system state with DriveImage XML. If things get messy down the road, you can just as easily restore that fresh system state with the program's simple interface. We've given you the complete guide to system partition imaging and restoring from the open source perspective, but the freeware, Windows-only DriveImage XML offers a much more user-friendly alternative for the faint of heart.
Linux only: Webapps like colr.org are great for exploring colour theme ideas, but some users might require a little more fine-tuning. Enter Agave, a program for GNOME-based Linux systems that gives you more than enough colour information to plan your web site, desktop theme or design projects. Choose from standard palettes, use a Photoshop-like selection tool to grab any colour on your screen or manually set color, saturation and brightness levels to save in a list of favorites. Agave is a free download for Linux systems only, available as a source download and in many standard repositories.
Mac OS X only: Afraid of screwing up your Boot Camp partition when you upgrade to Leopard? Free application WinClone images your Windows Boot Camp partition for easy restoration to the same or another partition, just in case. The Leopard upgrade shouldn't disturb your Boot Camp setup, but a backup image is nice insurance, especially if you want to resize the partitions on your Mac's drive. WinClone can image an XP or Vista Boot Camp install. As always, back up your important data before using WinClone, which is a free download for Mac only.
Windows/Mac/Linux (Firefox): Firefox extension Readeroo integrates with your Del.icio.us bookmarks to make keeping up with your backlog of unread links a cinch. Let's say you stumble onto a link on Lifehacker that you're dying to read, but—weirdly enough—you're at work and can't get to it (damn boss looking over your shoulder). Rather than tossing it carelessly into your ever-expanding, unmanageable pile of unread bookmarks, add it to Del.icio.us by clicking your Readeroo Add button—which automatically bookmarks the link in Del.icio.us with a "toread" tag. When you finally get a spare minute or two, just click Readeroo's Read button to cycle through your unread links and automatically tag the item "donereading" (the actual tags used are customisable if you don't like the defaults).
If you still prefer adding and tagging your Del.icio.us bookmarks using a more robust extension like Del.icio.us Complete, you can still do so—just tag the item with "toread" and Readeroo will pick up on it. You'll need to provide the extension with your Del.icio.us username and password the first time you use it. If you've got an unwieldy mess of Del.icio.us bookmarks you've never gotten around to reading, this extension is a must-have. Readeroo is a free download, works wherever Firefox does.
All platforms: Add tasks, set appointments and keep on top of your schedule with Mozilla Sunbird and Lightning, the free calendar managers that function as a stand-alone client or extension to the Thunderbird e-mail program. Version 0.7 of Sunbird/Lightning touts a redesign of the user interface and task-adding dialog, along with user-requested functions like adding tasks in different timezones, more customizable recurring events and an improved "Today" glance panel. Sunbird and Lightning store information in a SQLite format, but can also work with iCal data or Google Calendar through an extension. Both are free downloads and work on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.
Mac OS X only: To-do lists are a great way to keep your mind and projects organized, but messing with your program or web-based list's features defeats the purpose. Enter TaskPaper, a seriously simple task manager from the developers of the distraction-free word processor Writeroom. TaskPaper, now in a finished 1.0 version, keeps it simple with text-based lists that can be modified by TextEdit or any other editor. The interface keeps the focus on projects, tasks and checking them off, but tabbed windows and context browsing allow for bigger-picture views. TaskPaper is available as a free trial for Mac OS X 10.4 or later, but a licence will set you back $18.95. If you're looking to get serious with to-do lists, check out Gina's guide to the art of the doable to-do list, or get even more streamlined with paper lists.
Linux only: Automate frequent tasks and avoid unnecessary program hunting with Nautilus-actions, a free extension that adds file-specific options to the right-click menu. Those with a little script know-how can easily hack together their own automators, but some of the freely available actions include resizing and emailing pictures, file conversion and renaming and even a helpful "shredder"—the kind that erases and overwrites a file 10 times to make it unrecoverable.
Mac OS X only: Freeware flash card application Genius helps you memorise information by testing your knowledge using what it calls a "spaced repetition" method, which adjusts how often a card is repeated based on your performance over time. The application has a strong following, meaning you can download tonnes of user-submitted flash card sets covering everything from language to marine biology. Genius is freeware, Mac OS X only. If you plan on making your own flash cards for Genius, be sure you read about how to make effective flash cards first.
Windows only: The recently released Winamp 5.5 brings a new interface, album art, remote music sharing, and more to the classic media player—meaning it's come a long way since the heyday of Napster. New Winamp features you may be unaware of and impressed by include:Winamp Remote: Stream your music over the internet through your browser and to game consoles, including the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360.
Syncing with iPods and other portable media devices: Winamp can (and has been able to for a while) sync your music to iPods and almost any portable media device you can throw at it, and the new version syncs album art, as well.Winamp Toolbar: Control your music playback from the comfort of your browser, similar to previously mentioned FoxyTunes.Auto-Tag files: Winamps Auto-Tagger automatically updates your music metadata.
It's no surprise that Winamp had such a presence in today's Media Player Show and Tell. Since, admittedly, I've been out of the Winamp game for a while, I'd love to hear what features keep the die-hard Winamp fans coming back for more, so let's hear your Winamp raves in the comments.
All platforms: The Opera web browser's new Link function synchronises users' bookmarks, "Speed Dials" sites and customises toolbars across desktop and mobile browsers. The del.icio.us-like function is built into the just-released betas of Opera 9.5 for the desktop and Opera Mini 4, but users of the non-Java Opera Mobile—or any browser, for that matter—can head to link.opera.com to store their favorites. Opera Link requires a free sign-up, while the new Opera betas are a free download for Windows, Mac, Linux and cell phones.
All platforms: Pen drive-sized operating system Damn Small Linux—the savior of old PCs, non-booting systems and efficiency-minded users everywhere—released its 4.0 version this week. Notable changes include:New drag-and-drop capabilities in the file managerImproved Wi-Fi support (through ndiswrapper, madwifi, and other modules)New GUI interfaces for changing system preferences, managing printers and other tasksKernel upgrade to 2.4.31, which means better power management and device supportDamn Small Linux is a free download that fits inside less than 50MB, so it's easily booted from a CD, a USB drive, or an ancient PC with only 8MB of memory. Hit the link below, choose your download mirror and download the dsl-4.0.iso from inside the "current" folder.
Windows/Mac/Linux: Open source image editing suite GIMP version 2.4 is now available and features a host of new goodies and long-awaited improvements. Chief among the new features are scaling for all kinds of brushes, intuitive selection and crop tools, a new object alignment guide and advanced tools like perspective cloning and lens distortion filters, but there are many more. GIMP is free, available already in some Linux repositories and for download for Windows and Mac users. For help getting started with GIMP, check out these intermediate video tutorials.
Mac OS X only: The keyboard shortcut loving Mac owner's favourite app, Quicksilver, has received a minor update, presumably in preparation for the upcoming release of Leopard. Aside from the version update (it's B52 from B51, despite what Quicksilver's homepage says at the time of this writing), the most significant difference I've noticed is what appears to be a very slight refresh of the preferences, triggers, catalog, and plug-ins manager (I saw a spinner when I switched tabs that's new to me). But there actually is a little more.
Windows only: Sharpen your fast and accurate typing skills with freeware application RapidTyping. Type as quickly as possible in an underwater simulation while avoiding mistakes. The fish that swim by while you're being quizzed may be a little distracting, but you can disable the animation. As each lesson ends, you'll get statistics charts with characters-per-minute, words-per-minute, and percentage of accuracy, and you'll be able to move to the next level where you're faced with tougher challenges (and more sea creatures). RapidTyping is a free download for Windows only.