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AUDACITY

If your job needs audio editing and you are looking for the right tool that will not only suffice your needs but also suit your pocket, then your search ends right here, right now! Today I will discuss about Audacity, the digital audio editor. Well, if you are still not sure about if it fits your bill then let me tell you that it is free. Yes you have read it right it is free as it is an open source program.

This cross platform digital audio editor is available for Windows, Linux, MAC OS X and BSD. It has a clean interface that keeps the toolbar and work space uncluttered and makes it easy to use. It supports 32 bit floating point audio and has excellent features and built-in effects including noise removal, bass boost. It can import and export all file formats that are supported by libsndfile library like WAV, AIFF, MP3 etc. Though for MP3 files you need to download the LAME encoder. Audio files can be easily edited by its Cut, Copy, Paste functionality. Another interesting feature is that you can perform unlimited “Undo” operations while editing an audio file. Audacity also allows you to change an audio’s pitch without changing it’s speed. Likewise it’s ‘tempo’ functionality allows you to make adjustments to the speed of an audio track while keeping the pitch same and in turn helps you to synchronize the audio with the video. It has multi track mixing features with a large array of digital effects and plug-ins. With audacity you can also convert cassette tapes or records to digital tracks as it has the ability to automatically split one wav track or other supported type tracks into multiple tracks. Its latest release includes features that support direct sound device for Windows.

Audacity doubles up as a simpler and cost-free alternative to other audio editing software like n-track and nuendo. Though it does not offer all the rich features, Audacity has everything that you need to create and edit an audio file. Why then spend your money on a commercial tool when you can have one absolutely free?

If you are a casual composer, then Audacity is the tool to zoom in on your creativity with and gift professional music tracks to your loved ones. Go ahead! Compose some!

Small Businesses and the Economic Crisis

The current economic crisis can be a frightening time for any business, but is particularly stressful for small businesses. There is a great deal of uncertainty and many questions – can we attract any new customers? Is anyone going to be able to afford my product? Will our business survive?

Just remember that every other business and individual is also feeling the pinch. They want to find the right items to fill their needs without wasting money or time on irrelevant or non-vital products or services.

In order to survive and even thrive in this economy, a business needs to become essential to its customers. Small businesses have the advantage of being able to change course quickly to adapt to changing circumstances, where large businesses may take a long period of time to implement any reasonable change. So are there ways your business needs to adjust?

Examine the services and products that you offer. Can they be adjusted or improved to appeal to those on a tight budget? Can you offer an introductory value service to let people see what you have to offer? Do you cater to a specific niche or to a well-off audience? In that case, you may not feel the same pinch that other businesses do.

No matter what product or service you offer, you’ll need to get the word out to potential customers. Wise marketing is one important key to differentiating yourself from the crowd. While other businesses are pulling back from marketing efforts, you can step in to fill that gap.

Use SEO – search engine optimization – online advertising for a relatively inexpensive, organic marketing method, giving you value for your dollar and introducing potential customers to your products and services. SEO marketing through techniques such as article placement, directories, social networking links, and refreshing your website with fresh, SEO copy will raise your placement on SERPs – Search Engine Return Pages – and send more customers to your website.

Once customers reach your website, be sure you provide excellent, persuasive reasons for them to use your product or service. Let them see why they need what you have to offer, and you’ll find the way to thrive despite the tough economy.

GNU IMAGE MANIPULATION PROGRAM (GIMP )

At a time when the global economy is going through a recession, using an open source program can be like a “bridge over troubled waters” over licensed software. This effectively will bring down the expenses of you or your company. I won’t say that each every software we use has an equally effective open source program but yes, it is true in case of Adobe Photoshop. The GNU Image Manipulation Program or more popularly known as the GIMP can be the open source alternative to Adobe Photoshop.

GIMP is easy to work with and is ideal for anyone and everyone whoever wishes to create, edit and retouch any type of graphics, images or photographs. Whether you are a novice, an experienced graphic and web designer or a photographer, GIMP caters to all of your needs if you are on budget and looking for an open source Adobe Photoshop alternative. Though the project of GIMP was started by Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis in 1995, it is now maintained by a group of volunteer developers. It’s features include channels, layers, brushes, masking tools, filters and effects, tabbed palettes, editable text tools, perspective clone, improved printing, and color operations. Its color palette includes RGB, HSV, colour wheel, CMYK, mixing modes and tools to pick colors from images and graphics. It also supports hexadecimal color codes. A few days ago the team released the latest version, GIMP 2.6.5 and this is a bug fixed release. The new improved features include GEGL integration for 32 bit color support and a more versatile easy-to-use free select tool. Another interesting feature of this latest version is the dynamic brushes. The brush dynamics let you map the different brush parameters like hardness, opacity, size and color to the input dynamics like pressure, velocity and random. To use this you need to map at least 2 brush parameters namely size and opacity to one or more input dynamics.

With this latest version, GIMP has also become easy to install as now there is no need to download and install GTX Runtime Environment separately. GIMP’s professional tools and latest plug in developments have not only made it stand apart among other similar open source applications but also a genuine alternative of Adobe Photoshop without the heavy price tag.

Phew! Would you still buy Photoshop? Of course, if your work demands more intensive image editing than what I have talked about earlier. Otherwise, as we all know, “open source matters”!

Piwik as your web analytics software!

I know, you would probably argue with me on Google Analytics being the best of them all, but what’s the harm in knowing about this new web analytics tool on the block? Piwik, as its website claims, is an open source alternative to Google Analytics.

Piwik is a PHP-MySql based program. In order to get started, you have to first download this software from their website and get it installed on your own web server. It just takes as less as 5 minutes to set things up and get going. At the end of the set up process, the software generates a javascript code. You just need to copy and paste this code onto the web pages that you would want to track. There is also a plugin that would automate this process for you! Simple?

Okay, you would still probably argue that Google analytics is the most popular amongst all and that Piwik is just no big deal. However, let me mention here that alternative open source web analytics solutions have their own advantages:

The software is installed on your own server and your sensitive corporate data prevented from being exposed to third party websites
Provides a more professional look and feel, does not have to connect to a third party site for analytics
More manageable and maintainable

Piwik is one such software that not only promises, but also delivers. Being an excellent alternative to Google analytics, Piwik is unique and stands out the rest. Here is a list of features that would make you pick Piwik:

If you are a developer, you can build your own plugins with Piwik! It allows you to add and remove features. Yes, Piwik’s features are coded inside plugins!
You can publish your data in a number of formats including the most popular ones: xml, json, php, csv, etc.
The user interface of Piwik is fully customizable. Creating a report in Piwik is as easy as dragging and dropping widgets into their respective placeholders.
Easily embed graphs and charts in your website dashboard or blog
The graphs are interactive and you can view brief stats just by rolling your mouse over them!

Piwik may be a new kid on the block, but is gaining instant popularity. The official blog is updated on a regular basis and the Piwik team is trying hard to come up with more new exciting features.

I would pick Piwik for now. At 1.9 MB, what more can I ask for? You have any questions?

Required Sitecore Improvements

Here are a few things Sitecore can improve on:

  1. Sitecore Admin needs to load faster
  2. Need an easier way to assign renderings to place holders
  3. Need an easier way to Assign roles & users to folders and content items
  4. Right now it is a pain to get it setup on Windows 2008 with SQL Server 2008, it would be nice to get an installer which does this for you (Sitecore posted a note saying that this is in the works).

I don’t know if I say it enough, I love Sitecore.

Web Analytics

Web Analytics, as the name suggests is the process of colleting, analyzing and interpreting the data about the activities of online users accessing your website. This has become an integral factor in almost all online businesses as it optimizes your business by providing meaningful data about how your site is being utilized.

Suppose I have a website that is an equivalent to exporter-importer yellow pages. A prospective buyer visits my website to see if he can find prospective sellers for his product. After every 2 search pages I ask him to register or login.  He gets frustrated and leaves my website for another similar website which allows him to search prospective sellers at length and only asks for registration or login when he wants to see the contact info. I lose a customer, but with web analytics I can find out why my customers are leaving the site. Not just this! In addition to this behavior or design analysis, the analysis also includes detecting the personal preferences of customers who frequent one site and determining if a customer will repurchase the service or product you are offering. This detection and analysis is done by monitoring the amount of purchases in terms of money by a customer in the past, finding out the geographical locations from where you get the maximum or the least number of visitors or customers and finding out the number of visitors who actually turn customers of your service or product. Other metrics include predicting which products or services are most likely to be bought by your customers among many others.

Web analytics can also help you to determine the effectiveness of your marketing and advertising campaigns. Until then, play around with the analysis tools provided by your web hosting provider or you can even get started with Google analytics. Uncover hidden secrets of what your customer wants!

Rich Internet Applications

Rich Internet Applications, a well-acquainted term to most of us these days, was coined in the year 2002 by Macromedia. At first Microsoft called it, Remote Scripting and later Forrester Research named it as X Internet in the years 1998 and 2000 respectively.

In spite of such changing terminologies, the basic domain of Rich Internet Applications remains the same over the years. The changes that Rich Internet Applications brought in today’s  web world is significant. It has almost abolished the traditional web applications that revolved all its activities in and around a client-server design with a thin client. With slow but continuous evolution of internet standards, it has become a tough job to delineate what exactly constitutes in a Rich Internet Applications and what does not. However, there is one common characteristic shared by all the Rich Internet Applications and that is all of them introduce a middle layer of code, also known as a client engine, connecting the server and the user.

The major drawback of traditional web applications is, processing is done on the server side and the client is used to show only static content. This is very unlike and opposite to what Rich Internet Applications do. I will just brief you on its major benefits:

They are “Richer”: With asynchronous forms of connection like AJAX, Rich Internet Applications now include widget like interfaces, drag and drop and so on. It is very common today that you come across a website that has a mortgage calculator, or a temperature widget or a slider to change relevant data and statistics and so on.

Responsive: Today, web pages do not refresh often, rather the communication between the server and clients is asynchronous. These applications have evolved over time.

Balance between the client and the server: Expensive server and client resources are better managed. Especially server side resources, which are now usually freed up more, so that it can handle a larger number of client sessions simultaneously.

Desktop applications are slowly evolving into Rich Internet Applications. The reason is, nowadays, Rich Internet Applications use a thin client like the browser to produce functionality that a typical desktop app has. With better network speeds, and better utilization of resources, the metamorphosis has already begun.

It is high time that you start differentiating between a Desktop app and a Rich Internet App!