Dropbox…preventing computers from “eating” students’ homework

Name: Dropbox
Cost: Free, with pay versions for increased storage ($100/year for 1TB)
Type: App (web and mobile device), plus download for computer
Rating: 5/5

 

Dropbox logI’m old enough to remember floppy disks. In fact, I remember storing data on cassette tapes (or, at least attempting to). Oh, the days of limited storage. I had a variety of cases to store my floppy disks, and then not-so-floppy disks, and then CDs…just don’t ask me to find a file quickly. Thumb (flash) drives were a miracle….well, until I bumped one with my knee while it was plugged into my PC and could only access all my graduate school work if I jiggled the thumb drive just right. After that, I had several thumb drives so that I could still transport documents (from school, work, the library, and between my laptop and PC). The trick was remembering that work documents were on the purple drive, while school documents were on the red drive, unless I forgot it at home, and then they were on the blue drive. Enter “the cloud.” With cloud storage, I could save my documents to someone else’s servers and access those servers via internet access. Granted, this was a bit touch and go when internet access wasn’t as widely available as it is today. But since wi-fi is widely available, if a student has a question about feedback I provided on his research paper, I can access my saved version with my mobile device while at Starbucks. Don’t be fooled. I don’t just use Dropbox to work more, but I also store my photos and other documents that I don’t want to lose if my hard-drive crashes.

Goal: Ditch digging in my purse/bookbag for thumb drives.

Dropbox browser version

This view is of the browser version (i.e., log in through internet browser). To the left, you can see the view options. The Sharing folder shows just the folders you are sharing (or have been shared access to) with other users. As you can see, the screen and functions are pretty self-explanatory. It’s a good idea to organize all files into folders for easier access on mobile devices (with small screens).

Benefits:

  • I rarely get error messages with uploading to the cloud. Actually, only once, and that required me to uninstall and reinstall the desktop version. Once in the 5+ years I’ve relied on it daily isn’t bad.
  • Easy to use, especially the desktop version. I just save my files to the folder already linked to my Dropbox account and it is automatically saved to the cloud (and available on my other devices). The desktop version also allows me to drag/drop files into folders.
  • Access through multiple devices (e.g., PC, laptop, mobile device), along with web access on any device (e.g., a library computer). I like this for my photo portfolio, so that I don’t have to store my favorite photos on my phone, but can still show them off (when I have internet access).
  • Versioning is available, so that if you need to return to an older version of a file, you can do so through Dropbox (up to 30 days). I haven’t had to use this feature before, so I can’t comment on how well it works, but it’s nice to know it’s available.
  • Better security than what I had on my thumb drive (or floppy disks).
  • If you’re sharing files, the other person doesn’t need an account. You just give them permission via email link to access the folder. It can get tricky if the person isn’t familiar with Dropbox or similar cloud storage sites (see Drawback below).
  • Gives email alerts when you’re going to max out on available space, so you can either delete files or upgrade.
  • I can upload photos from my iPhone to Dropbox (and even choose which folder they should go in).Dropbox mobile device workspace views

Drawbacks:

  • I don’t think it always plays well with Office 2016. Opening an Office file from a Dropbox folder generally results in the file changing its name to something generic (e.g., W000001.docx) so that I have to do a Save As to get it back to the original file. I keep hoping for a Microsoft update to resolve the problem.
  • This isn’t Dropbox’s fault, but not everyone is familiar with this tool, so file sharing can be confusing to those who haven’t done it before. That said, there is a help center (and community), and it’s a popular enough tool that there are tutorials on YouTube and social media

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Random Tip: Creative Commons

Creative Commons log

Creative Commons (CC) should be in the vernacular of every college student and professional who relies on works created by others, such as music or images, to enhance their own work. In other words, if you need some background music for a video you’re creating, then CC and their licensing system should be familiar to you. Similarly, if you’re creating new content, you’ll want to know how to share and protect your work.

Legal Stuff (lite): Let me back up for a minute. I’ll try to keep this brief since it’s a common lecture I give. Copyright protects artists/creators from having their work distributed without their permission. Now, granting the right to distribute/use might come with a price tag–a creator can say, “Sure, use my photo however you want, but it’ll cost you $5 (one-time fee) to purchase that right.” Even if there isn’t a copyright policy or fee associated with the photo, it is copyrighted to the original creator by law as soon as it is documented/created (electronically or on paper). I’ll save the extensive explanations for a different post, but just know that just because something is accessible through the internet, does not mean the creator has given permission to use and/or distribute the creation.

Why CC? For creators who want to share their work, and want to be clear about what conditions they’re willing to share their work, Creative Commons provides the language and visual representations (i.e., icons) to be posted with the work. Per CC, “Our tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work.” If you’ve read copyright law, then you’ll really appreciate CC’s approach to making the law easier to implement. Furthermore, CC’s approach makes it easy for audiences to interpret the creator’s copyright intentions.

CC icons view

This is the “normal” view of icons available through CC. There is also a compact version that just has the abbreviations (e.g., BY) and no icons.

Getting Started: CC makes it easy to get started with figuring out what license you want for your work. For those who really want to understand licenses, I’d start here: Licensing Considerations. It explains the purpose and details about licenses. For those of you (like me) who just want the license, you can get it within two clicks at License Chooser. There are even help buttons to give insights about the legal stuff.

Philosophical Stuff (lite): In a capitalist society, one might question why anyone would share anything willingly for free. Even charging a $1 would turn a bit of a profit for your work. I cannot speak for all artists, obviously, but I do share some of my photos for free (and this blog does not yet have any money generating ads), so I can speak to why I share my work without the expectation of financial compensation. The blog is ad-free at this point because:

  1. I’m lazing and don’t want to figure out what ads would do to my layout and overall appeal of my site.
  2. It was created with the intention to help my colleagues and students.
  3. Creating the posts are a form of stress relief and I fear that money will add stress.

As for my photos that I share on Pixabay, well, that’s all ego…I like seeing people like and download my work. Although users can donate payment through Pixabay, I recognize that users rely on Pixabay because it’s free. Ultimately, I like the idea that someone will use my work as a means to create something even better.

Hannigan Pixabay image screen capture

Here is my ego trip…I can see how many views my photo gets, along with downloads, approvals (thumbs up), saves (star), and comments.

Bonus Content: CC also provides access to content that users have shared (with chosen licenses). Go to Use & Remix to see recent additions to content that is being shared. Each image is marked so you know what you’re clicking into, such as an image, audio file, document, etc.

Screen capture of use and remix page

Here is a view of the Use & Remix section of CC.

Go forth and create! And, respect the copyright.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Random Tip: [Royalty] Free Music from Incompetech

Incompetech logoBackground music can make a video seem more professional, especially if you don’t include voice-over narration or other audio components in the video. While some music can be distracting, choosing the right piece of music can help the audience stay engaged with the text/graphic content in the video.

I’m not a musician, which would be pretty convenient if I could not only play music but also score original pieces to add to my videos. While I own copies of music that would work well for my purposes, I don’t actually own the rights to reproduce that music. Copyright primer…purchasing or downloading a copy of a song does not give the purchaser rights to use that song for commercial purposes. While Fair Use might extend to educators/students at nonprofit institutions, YouTube and other hosting sites do not typically honor Fair Use and will remove videos that violate copyright by using music without clearly indicating copyright permission. Sorry for that legal aside, but I’m from a generation that gloried in the beauty of “file sharing” music only to have it ripped away from everyone and described as theft (with extreme consequences).

Kudos to Kevin MacLeod for coming to my rescue! I don’t have to take music lessons now because he’s willing to share his amazing background music clips on his website: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/music.html. At first I felt a bit guilty for benefiting from his musical talents, but he explains his willingness to share as a means to help out those who don’t have budgets for music.

MacLeod's philosophy graphic

This is an excerpt from Mr. MacLeod’s website (FAQ section). Here he explains why he’s willing to share his work without requiring financial compensation, just attribution.

The website is really easy to use. I know I could get lost for hours just sampling his music, so I just randomly picked some to listen to and made my decision quickly.

Incompetech music preview screen shot

Here is a screen shot of what it looks like when looking and previewing available songs. I love his descriptions of the music…not just the instruments, but the feeling that the music should elicit.

Please respect Mr. MacLeod’s request to give him credit for his work. As someone who shares her work with others for free, I can attest to the faith artists have that their sharing won’t be abused. Giving credit is very simple since the copyright language is provided and can be copied into the credits of the video or other location in the work you’re creating. Should you prefer to not provide attribution, then you can pay for the no-attribution license. If you feel better about using an attributed version by donating to the artist, there’s that option if you have a PayPal account: Donate.

Incompetech copyright and crediting language

This excerpt is also from Mr. MacLeod’s website. Be sure to follow his suggestions for providing attribution.

You can even find him on YouTube, as seen in the clip below.

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Random Tip #14: Awesome Screenshot (add-on/extension)

I have to go on a tangent for a bit before getting to my random tip, but I’ll try to keep the side-leg motion brief. Not everyone is aware of the ability to “add” features to Internet browser’s functionality. Back in the earlier days of Internet browsers (e.g., Netscape, Mosaic, AOL Explorer, etc.), the average user didn’t have have many options for changing or upgrading browser functionality. In other words, the browser worked the same for every user (unless you had programming skills to make modifications that are well beyond my general knowledge).

Along came Firefox, a browser that offered users the ability to “add-on” functionality through third-party developers who create these tools that enhance your browser’s abilities. One of the first add-ons that I added to Firefox was Cool Previews (no longer available), which allowed me to “peek” at a webpage without clicking it open. Yes, Apple didn’t invent the peek option. I’ve had a variety of add-ons since then, and my favorite right now is Evernote Clipper. But, we’re not here to talk about that. One last point I want to mention is that Google Chrome has a many add-ons (a.k.a., extensions), much like Firefox, though not all the Chrome options are free.

Awesome Screenshot LogoWhile I’ve done several reviews of screen-capture software (e.g., Screencast-o-matic, Jing, and Camtasia), there is a browser add-on that was one of my first add-ons and still available: Awesome Screenshot (here is Firefox add-on). What do I like best about this tool? I can take a screen shot of the entire browser page, not just what is viewable (without scrolling down). While Evernote’s Clipper is good for capturing articles I want to read, there are some whole pages I want to save. For example, if I’m shopping for a new Canon lens, and want to keep track of my favorites, I can keep screen shots as I browse different places online. More commonly, I capture my “home” page for my online classroom’s list of announcements so I can make sure I set the course up the same next term since the content doesn’t transfer one term to the next.

Awesome Screenshot doesn’t require a login if you want to just save the graphic to your computer. You can save it online and share if you sign up; you can store up to 30 images for free online. You can also annotate (i.e., draw on the graphic) prior to saving it. Their blog isn’t updated very often, but it’s available for a few more insights.

I suspect there are other (better) options, but this one has worked for me, so I thought I’d share.

Here are some screen shots of the tool:

Awesome screenshot annotation toolbar

There are the annotation options after capturing the screen you want to save. You don’t need to annotated (just click Done to move on to saving it).

Awesome screenshot save screen

Here is the save screen. You’ll need to be logged in to save it to the cloud.

Awesome screenshot sample

Here is the entire screen capture of a webpage, with annotations added.

Random Tip #13: Usability.gov

As has probably become very apparent by reading my blog, I like free options for educators and professionals. While teaching at a for-profit university, I also had to start seeking resources that were not only free, but also didn’t violate copyright restrictions that would otherwise not be an issue for non-profit universities (i.e., fair use for education/learning). I was specifically challenged when designing a technical writing course that didn’t rely on a textbook, so that I had to either write the material, find library sources, or copyright “free” sources on the Internet. I couldn’t even provide students with a URL to a site that did not give us permission to do so.

usabilitygovOne comprehensive and free to use source is usability.gov. As the URL implies, the focus is on usability testing, which is a cornerstone of effective technical communications. Since it is a government website, I don’t have to worry about copyright issues (which is noted in their About page). The site doesn’t just cover usability, but also design, project management, accessibility, and content strategy. It has templates and tutorials. There’s also a blog, but it’s buried under the Get Involved link (…not good design, by the way). It’s worth exploring the site, but here are a few of my favorite pages:

The site was created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, but the content is general enough to apply to almost any field and situation involving design and usability testing. The site is not only for educators looking for “free” content, but I would advocate web designers and other professionals who create content viewed by a large audience review the site for insights. Some of the articles have further links embedded, so you can continue researching topics beyond what is offered at usability.gov; just a caution, though, that not all the external links are active. While the site isn’t as robust as a textbook might be, it’s still good supplemental materials to get a conversation started.

TinyTake…unless you have a big screen

Name: TinyTake
Cost: Free (pay versions available)
Type: Software download
Rating: 2/5

TinyTake_logo

Although I’m a technical writer, and able to explain steps in a process through text, I value the “let me show you” ability that screen capture software provides, either with still-shots or video capture. This type of software helps the audience compare their actions and outcomes to those described in the tutorial or instructions. I can only imagine how this software would have changed my approach to training when I first started out as a technical writer. Instead of long training sessions, brief videos could capture what the documentation reinforced. For anyone who has sat through a three-hour PowerPoint training class, you’ll understand the value of videos you can watch at your leisure. As for screen shots in documentation created 15 years ago, I used the Prt Scr keyboard button of Windows, and then edited it in Paint. Actually, TinyTake is not too far off from the options in Paint, though it includes the screen capture feature that Paint does not. If TinyTake was the only screen capture software I was given when abandoned on a desert island, I would probably last about a week before pitching my laptop into the ocean. It isn’t bad software, but it’s just not very dynamic. That said it would work well for anyone who likes to use a simplified version of Paint (if you can get more simple than Paint).

I would like to thank one of my technical writing students (Britt Wells) for bringing this tool to my attention!

TinyTake workspace

This is the whole tool. You can select an image capture, video capture, upload documents to share, or access your YouTube account to share videos you’ve uploaded.

Goal: create video or static photo of my computer screen through screen capture software

Benefits:

  • There is a blog associated with the tool, but at the time I wrote this post, there were only seven articles and none were dated, so they could be a few years old. (I’m becoming such a blog-snob, as I want companies to continually update their blogs with fresh ideas and insights.)
  • There are undo and redo buttons. As someone who is prone to playing around with software until it breaks, I like the option to go back to a pre-broken state.
  • There is an effect to “pixelate,” which threw me off at first because I’m always trying to make graphics clearer rather than more obscure. But, then it dawned on me that sometimes you need to obscure personal information and the like.
  • You can add arrows to point out areas in the graphic. There are options to change the color of the arrow, though that’s about it. It’s also easy to add an arrow and textbox.
  • There are a few different options to save/share: save to computer or to TinyTake cloud; copy to clipboard; email; or print.
  • When uploading videos to YouTube, you can preset all the videos to use the same privacy setting (e.g., Unlisted).
  • MangoApps, the company that created TinyTake, claims their cloud storage is very secure. This is helpful when storing screen shots of proprietary software or personal information.
  • If you like the ability to add text, arrows, and other simple graphics (e.g., circle, square, etc.) to your own photos, you can open graphic files with TinyTake. I’d probably stick with one of the more “fun” photo/graphic editing options, such as PicMonkey, BeFunky, or Canva. You can also import a video you’ve recorded with other software.
  • You can record the audio from your speakers, which is convenient if you’re recording a Google Hangout session. But, you only have five minutes of recording time on the free version, so it needs to be a very short meeting.
  • You can share more than the TinyTake screens/videos on their cloud; in other words, you can share documents and your other YouTube videos you’ve created and want to show others in your group/class.

    TinyTake workspace 2

    After capturing an image, this is what you’ll see as far as the workspace. The “annotating” tools are at the top of the screen.

Drawbacks:

  • Requires software download. This isn’t a big deal, but some people can’t make changes to the PC/laptop they’re using (e.g., school lab, work laptop).
  • Required login to use the software. It’s best to set up the account prior to download because you have to receive and respond to the confirmation email.
  • No click and drag resizing before opening the editing window. Jing, for example, selects the area and allows me to drag the borders to capture more/less in situations where I missed the mark I was aiming for.
  • There’s a “drag me” indicator at the bottom of the screen that makes it seem like more features are available, yet it actually implies you can click and drag your graphic right into another application (e.g., email). I was hoping for something more fun (like Alice in Wonderland‘s “drink me” bottle to change sizes).
  • The pixalation squares for the pixelate effect are really big, so they seem more decorative and the audience may not realize that you intentionally obscured information. I think I would prefer a blurring effect that can be gained in a photo editing tool.
  • There are few formatting options for the textbox text. The border color is the same as the text color; so, you can’t have a green border and black text, for example.
  • The free-draw option (as compared to drawing a box, circle, or line) is pretty basic. I tried to draw a star and I think that I was able to draw better looking stars when I was in kindergarten.
  • The free version does not allow for annotating the video.
  • If you click the main Save and Share button, it goes right to the TinyTake cloud; you have to click the little arrow on the right side of the button to open the other save options.

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Random Tip #11: GCFLearnFree.org

YouTube…the chaotic bazaar of videos, where you can find quality and awful within a few clicks of each other. It really reminds me of the local video rental place we went to when I was young (…I know, I’m totally dating myself). It was a small shop, with poor lighting and shelves running all along the walls (with a set of shorter shelves running through the middle of the store). While the videos were somewhat organized by genre, with one step you could move from Labyrinth to Goonies to The Garbage Pail Kids Movie.

So, my point is, as an instructor, I don’t want to send my students to the sometimes unenlightening world of YouTube if I can avoid it by providing more specific recommendations. This is especially true when I ask students to use PowerPoint or Prezi to make their messages more dynamic. While many students now have been creating PowerPoint since they were in kindergarten, those without early experiences are panic stricken with the thought of clicking on the PowerPoint icon and facing a blank slide. Telling these students just to search YouTube for a PowerPoint tutorial might push them completely into technophobia. Lynda.com is also an option, but not everyone has access to the full video content, which can be frustrating if you get through the introduction and still need more information.

I recently came across a reliable and useful website that provides access to 125 free tutorials about technology (and other topics, such as Reading, Math, and career advancement). It’s the Goodwill Community Foundation: www.gcflearnfree.org. I’ve listed some of my favorite resources, but it’s worth sending students to browse the whole website to see what other useful tutorials and insights they can find. GCF Logo

My favorites include:

Most of the videos are short so that you can just review one video per topic, versus a long video with a variety of topics that you have to watch or fast-forward through. Not all the tutorials have videos, which is helpful for those who need to move through the content more slowly than what a short video can accommodate. I also like that there are share buttons (e.g., Facebook, Google +) buttons, along with a button to print or a button for a “single page view” (if the article is extensive). The content is professional, without being intimidating, and access is free.

GCF tutorial list sample

This is what a list of related tutorials looks like on the website. Clicking on a blue square will reveal the tutorial. Some tutorials provide further suggested links at the end of the article.

Screencast-o-Matic…automatically a success

Type: Internet tool (download version available)
Rating: 5/5

 

Screencast-o-matic logoGetting an audience to see what you’re seeing is ideal for photographers, videographers, trainers/instructors, and technical communicators. This is especially true for a society that has a “just show me” response to learning new things, as compared to “just explain it to me.” Screen capture software can take different forms, whether it’s capturing a static screen shot or recording movements (e.g., clicking, typing) and audio being performed on a computer. Jing has been my go-to screen capture software for many years, and for static screen captures, it’s still my favorite. But, Screencast-o-Matic is my new love for video recordings of my screen. Jing, Camtasia, and Snag-It all have quality issues with recordings; the text is sometime blurry or pixelated, which is frustrating for an audience who isn’t sure what they’re supposed to be seeing. For the record, this post is not my first encounter with Screencast-o-matic. I had looked at it several years ago and found it lacking, though functional, but dismissed it for Jing/Camtasia. Screencast-o-matic’s “new” look and functionality is a great improvement.

Screecast-o-matic start screen

This is the home page, and access to the tool. Very simple.

Goal: quality screen recordings for longer than five minutes

Benefits:

  • No need to sign up or login to start recording your screen. At this point, I haven’t see the value of signing up since I won’t store my videos to their site.
  • Records the computer screen or webcam view and microphone recording; for the pay version, you can record audio from the computer speakers, which makes it a good option for recording Google Hangout sessions or other video conferencing that doesn’t include a recording option.
  • 15-minute recording length, as compared the the five-minute limit for Jing. You can record longer versions with the Pro Recorder (pay), but you’re limited to 15-minutes if you’re uploading it to their cloud.
  • Recording can be downloaded to PC, or uploaded to YouTube of Sceencast-o-Matic cloud (i.e., hosting).
  • Clear (video) screen captures, even when the screen is moving.
  • Tutorials are available, though I didn’t review any of them since you can pretty much figure out what to do for simple screen captures
  • Unless you download the software, it runs from your Internet browser, yet records to your computer. There are two benefits here. 1) You have access to the most recent version of the software without further downloads/updates. 2) Your video is not saved to a cloud unless you want to; so, there isn’t public access to the recording unless you upload it yourself to a public area.
  • A yellow circle rings the mouse pointer so that it’s easier to follow when watching the recording. (See first sample below.)
Screecast-o-matic video options

This is the pop-up screen you’ll see after finishing the recording. You can make changes to the file type, filename, where it’s stored, whether the cursor is highlighted in your final version, and whether captions should be included.

Drawbacks:

  • If you don’t catch the enable/allow Java screen quick enough, the recorder won’t launch and you’ll see the link to download the software instead. If you catch the Java accept screen, though, you can click the box to not ask for permission in the future. I think that if you have a Mac, you’ll need to download the software as the Internet version wont’ work.
  • “Screencast-o-matic” sounds like something Calvin and Hobbes would think up. Okay, not really a bad thing, but it’s difficult to sell the concept to peers and managers with a straight face.
  • When making several recordings, and exiting the recorder each time, you have to click back the the website’s Home page to find the Record Screen button again. Again, not a big deal.
  • There is a watermark on all the recordings done with the free recorder. That said, it’s not obnoxious, as I’ve seen with other free software.
  • If you upload the video to their cloud, then there will be ads on the screen. Since I can save the file and upload it to YouTube, then I don’t have an issue with this. The free hosting plan is limited to a 15-minute upload, so even if you have the Pro Recorder (pay) version of the software, you’d need to invest in their Basic hosting plan for $96/year to get 2-hour recordings uploaded to their cloud.
  • No screenshot option for the free version.
  • No video editing abilities for the free version; you would need to save the video file and use a different tool to edit the video (e.g., Camtasia, Adobe Premiere, iMovie, Movie Maker, etc.)
Java screen

This is the Java screen you’ll need to accept (or use the download version of the tool)

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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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