Random Tip #10: CNET.com

For those folks new to downloading software from the Internet, it can be a scary prospect, especially when your anti-virus software goes haywire after detecting malware and other nasty items you didn’t intend to download. One option to see if other users have downloaded the software and found “extras” embedded in the software is to read reviews posted on CNET.com. CNET has a specific area for downloading software, which should add an extra layer of protection from malware, but it isn’t foolproof. Rather, I rely on the reviews of the software to see if others have already encountered issues with the download. CNET logo

CNET.com is an all around good website for reviews and insights about new software and technologies. I really like that there are “editor” reviews, along with “user” reviews. The interesting part is that the editor reviews don’t always match the user reviews, but you can sort of average them out to see where the software or technology falls. The editors’ reviews are generally comprehensive and easy enough to follow; the user reviews may have more jargon and personal preferences (e.g., “I liked the software, but hate the background color for the menus.”). When looking to purchase new technology, I will watch the editor videos since they often have a realistic view of the product (as compared to the company website for the product).

CNET screen shot of review

This is a view of a review found on CNET. As you can see, you can download the software from here, but the most important part is seeing that the software only got 3 out of 5 stars. This is because users reported excessive malware with the software; there are other free video editing options that aren’t as troublesome.

CNET also has technology related news, so you can keep up to date with the fast-paced changes of this field. The How To section is a little disjointed as the tutorials are not always about technology/software (e.g., “Save Space and Organize Spices on Your Fridge“). It might be easier to head over to the Video section and look at the How To videos there, rather than just read How To articles. These videos are generally better produced than what you find on YouTube, since anyone with a webcam can post to YouTube without professional lighting, audio, or editing.

Like most popular websites, you need to be careful where you click as there are banner-ads and “you may also like” links that take you away from CNET. But, the ads aren’t too overwhelming, though they slow down the page from loading, which is a pain.

[You may be wondering why I’m providing information about a website that reviews software, when my blog focuses on reviewing software. Well, CNET doesn’t always have reviews on the digital media tools I use and review (e.g., Canva). Besides, I feel that my audience should have all available resources on hand when deciding to use software, either personally or professionally. I’ve also found that it’s generally easier to search and find reviews on my blog than CNET.]

Create A Graph Tutorial

I have previously reviewed, Create A Graph, but I have created a very simple set of instructions for creating a Pie Chart using the tool. The instructions were originally designed as a sample assignment for my technical writing students, but I decided to re-purpose the text for my blog. It’s not as much of a tutorial than a set of instructions since there aren’t many insights included below. The tool is fairly easy to figure out, so I didn’t think a whole tutorial was needed.

Creating a Pie Chart with Create A Graph  Tool

The online tool, Create a Graph, allows users to easily use numerical data to generate various types of graphs. This set of instructions will focus on creating a pie graph.

  1. Open an Internet browser window (e.g., Firefox, Chrome, Edge).
  2. Access the following URL: http://nces.ed.gov/nceskids/createagraph/
  3. Click Pie from the graph type box
  4. Click on the radio-button to choose the type of Shading you want: Solid, Pattern, or Gradient
  5. Choose the Background color by clicking on the white box and then clicking a color of your choice
  6. Click the Data tab on the right side of the screen
  7. Add a Graph Title in the first box
  8. Add a Source if you gathered the data from a source
  9. Click the dropdown box to choose the number of pie slices needed for your data
  10. Insert text for Item Label
  11. Insert numerical Value for that item
  12. Click the dropdown box to choose a different color for the pie slice
  13. Repeat steps 10 – 12 for all items/values
  14. Click the Labels tab on the right side of the screen.
  15. Change the settings if you do not just want the default settings.
  16. Click the Preview tab on the right side of the screen
  17. Review the Pie Chart to make sure the colors, layout, and content are what you want
  18. Click the Print/Save tab on the right side of the screen
  19. Click Download to save the completed chart to your computer
  20. From the pop-up window, choose the type of file you want to save by clicking on the dropdown menu and then clicking Download

Now, you have a Pie Chart that can be inserted into a Word document, PowerPoint, or website, if you saved the chart as PNG, JPG, EMF, or EPS.

Pixlr…another tool to mess with photo pixels [review]

Name: Pixlr
Cost: Free (pay membership for more features)
Type: Download (desktop) or Internet (web app) or app (iOS or Android)
Rating: 2/5

 

Pixlr logoPatience + Patience = Edited Photo. I don’t generally have the patience to do much editing with my photos. As a novice photographer, I know that all my photos can use some editing to “fix” the errors in lighting that I don’t address when taking the photo. I have a DSLR camera, so the camera can do all the work if I knew how to use it properly. (Learning to use my camera is on my to-do list since I have two books, two DVDs, and hundreds of Pinterest pins on the topic.) Since I lack patience, I have to be fair in saying that my review of photo editing tools is abbreviated in that I don’t put much time into the features that would fix a photo (e.g., contrast, brightness, spot fixing, etc.). Rather, I play around with the other cool features that can make the photos very artistic and well beyond what could have been captured in with my camera (e.g., double exposure, overlays, color palates, borders, text, etc.).

As with most of my reviews, I stick with the free version of the tools. Pixlr, like most free tools, provides a subscription version that gives you access to more features. Since I already own Photoshop Elements, I’m not inclined to subscribe to a photo editing tool.

Terminology: This tool has two versions, so I wanted to clarify the terminology used in my review. One version you download to your computer to use as you would other software on you computer. This version is referred to as desktop, which is in accordance with the terms used by Pixlr. The second version requires Internet access and a web browser. This is referred to as web app, which is also in accordance with Pixlr.

Goal: test out a photo editing tool that allows me to make “fun” changes to my photos, or get serious with editing (i.e., fixing my errors)

Pixlr internet workspace

This is the opening screen for the web app version of Pixlr

Benefits:

  • No login is needed to start editing photos (either for desktop or Internet versions)
  • There are user guides (desktop and webapp). They are available in multiple languages. There is also a design blog with further insights beyond just using the tool; I like the blog because it provides inspiration (…there are just things I don’t imagine doing with my photos, but the blog has interesting examples with information on recreating the designs).
  • There are many “free” features to use when editing a photo.
  • Although the web app version has the small, obscure icons similar to GIMP, clicking on the icon will reveal it’s function at the top of the screen.
  • The web app version shows the layers and history in side panels.
  • Saving to your computer with either the web app or desktop version is fairly quick.
  • Photos saved to the “Pixlr Library” (after login) are not displayed publicly.
Pixlr Web app workspace 2

This is the web app workspace once you start working on a photo. You can see the ad to to the far right of the screen.

Drawbacks:

  • Web app version has flashing/animated ads in right margin, which are distracting. The membership version removes the ads.
  • In the desktop version, once you click “apply” to a change, you can’t undo it. If you should cancel before applying, then it flips you back out to the main menu so you have to click back through the submenus to keep testing out other changes.
  • Similar to the point above, once you add text to the desktop version and click apply, it’s done. You can’t select and edit the text. This drawback contributed to my 2 out of 5 rating since I like editing without redoing.
  • It takes a few moments for the Filter and Adjustment changes to preview in the web app. It isn’t unreasonable, but you have to wait for the preview to catch up before sliding the adjustments further or you’ll overdo it.
  • There seems to be different login requirements for the desktop version and the web app. I was able to sign in to the desktop version after creating a login/password, but using the same combination for the web app didn’t work.
  • Does not support RAW files (e.g., from DSLR cameras); you’d have to rely on GIMP or Fotor for free RAW file editing. Also, Pixlr doesn’t edit TIFF files.

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Fotor…more fun with photos

Name: Fotor
Cost: Free (upgrade for no ads)
Type: Internet tool (app available for iOS and Android); software download for Windows and Mac
Rating: 2/5 (Internet version) 5/5 (Download version)

 

Fotor logoI recently presented my blog to coworkers in order to not only bring attention to a resource that I think they’d find helpful, but I also wanted a sense of how my peers would respond to my blog’s content. I’m very fortunate to work in a very supportive environment. Through my presentation, I realized there are many options available for those looking to use free Internet tools to jazz up their classrooms (or whatever). Fotor was brought to my attention as a photo editor similar to PicMonkey. There are a few differences between Fotor and other photo editors, though they all offer the same types of options overall. At this point, I don’t have much of a preference for Internet photo editors, especially for my purposes. If I need to do any “professional” photo editing, I’m still likely to turn to Photoshop Elements or Lightroom. But, it’s good to have these options for times when I don’t have access to a computer with my purchased software. I have found that the free versions are likely to also be suitable for student use (as long as they aren’t in a graphic design course or the like).

Goal: create graphics to include in my online classroom, combining text and graphics; I’m also looking for an easy to use tool for enhancing the graphics I use in my blog

Defining terminology: The “Internet version” is the tool that you access through an Internet browser; you obviously need an Internet connection to use the tool. The “desktop version” or “download version” refers to the tool that you need to download from one of the links above to use the software on your computer rather than through an Internet browser. (I did not test the app versions.)

Fotor desktop workspace

This is what the desktop version of the workspace looks like. Can’t complain.

Benefits:

  • No log in required to get started with either the Internet or desktop version.
  • Font colors can be changed within the same textbox. (If I want to highlight a specific word, I can change the color without changing the color of every word or needing to create a separate textbox for the highlighted word.)
  • Able to save finished graphics as .jpg or .png. (No upgrade needed in order to download the graphic to your PC.) With the desktop version, you can also save it as .bmp and .tiff.
  • The graphics you create and download show up under the Import Photos section of the workspace. You can then add the edited graphics to the next graphic you create (e.g., for when you need to edit some photos before adding them to a collage).
  • Several share options: Fotor Forum, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+, or print or URL.
  • There is a preview feature that shows the graphic in the style’s intended environment. I created a YouTube cover, so the preview shows me the graphic as it might appear on a YouTube channels screen on a laptop, computer monitor, and smart phone. This way, you can see where the graphic might be cropped when put in that environment.
  • There is a download version of the software so you don’t need an Internet connection to use it.
  • Help is available, though it isn’t extensive. There are tutorials and a blog, with further insights.
  • The desktop version supports RAW image format. For those who shoot photos with a DSLR, this is a big deal since many photo editors only support JPG photo formats. (That said, most folks who take the time to shoot in RAW format have invested in Photoshop or Lightroom already.)
  • You can “batch” changes in the desktop version, so if you want to add the same border to a bunch of photos, you can do it at once.
  • The desktop version doesn’t seem to have ads beyond one in the right hand corner.
Fotor internet version workspace 1

This is the opening screen of options for the internet version of the tool.

Drawbacks:

  • Like most photo editing tools, some options are reserved for the upgraded version.
  • There are ads at the bottom of the screen for the Internet version, which can be distracting with they’re flashing, but I found it easier to ignore them as compared to tools with the ads in the right margin (e.g., Pic Monkey).
  • Some font colors don’t appear correctly (e.g., white font on black background). I had to change it to more of a gray-white in order for it to appear; for the yellow, I needed to slide the color picker to a brighter version of yellow. I identified this issue with the Internet version.
  • The screen freezes sometimes when it’s changing to a new banner ad on the Internet version.
  • Pictures over 8 megapixels cannot be uploaded to the Internet version of Fotor.
  • When creating a collage, I can’t seem to add text in the desktop version.
  • The Internet version sometimes doesn’t load, but reloading the page worked.
  • Some of the borders in the Internet collage tool will cut into your graphic. I think this is just a result of using a template that wants the graphics to be a certain size.
  • Undo in the Internet version seems to undo all the changes I made to a photo when editing it.

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