Free PhotoShop alternative PixBuilder Studio

PixBuilder Studio comes in a very small size, just 3MB download, a good indication that it will be light on resources, the official requirement is only 512RAM, during installation you can choose to install it as portable on a USB thumbdrive.

Its interface is tightly integrated (no floating panels) the layout resembles PhotoShop, most tools are located in the very same place, this photo editor has all of the features that a home user will need: photo resizing, cropping, import from scanner, brightness adjustment, contrast, auto levels, RGB, hue/saturation, curves and colorize. I own PhotoShop as well and there isn’t a single tool that I normally use there and can not be found on PixBuilder Studio, there are more features in PhotoShop of course but most home users will never need them.


PixBuilder Studio free photo editor
PixBuilder Studio free photo editor

PixBuilder Studio is a powerful photo editor that allows you to work with panels and layers , text editing could be improved a little, you can add and format text on the photographs using bold and different fonts but PixBuilder opens up a new window where you have to edit the text first, other photo editors allow you edit the text directly on the image being able to see what it looks like on real time.

The default special effects are limited to dithering, blur (quick, motion, Gaussian), sharpness, emboss and few others, all very basic. There is support for Adobe Photoshop 8BF filters in the form of plugins, you will need to add those after installation. I enjoyed the clone stamp, and magnetic lasso tool, these are not found often in free graphics editors., the program is multilingual and you can translate it into your own language if it is not available yet, the developer will include it in the next release.

Supported file formats:

It reads: .jpeg, .gif, .png, .bmp, .pcx, .psd, .tga, .ico, .pbs

It writes: .jpeg, .gif, .png, .bmp, .pcx, .tga, .ico, .pbs

It can not save photos as Photoshop .psd files but it is able to read them, you will also find .pbs PixBuilder Studio own file format.

Visit PixBuilder Studio homepage

WorkRave reminds users to take a computer break

If you find yourself for long hours at the computer you are at risk of repetitive strain injury, most people know that taking regular breaks to stretch muscles and refresh tired eyes is a must do but it is far too easy to forget. WorkRave is a multilingual free program to remind users to take a computer break giving you example exercises at the same time, like standing up and walking around.

WorkRave has three compute break modes: Micro-break (30 seconds every three minutes), Rest break (10 minutes every 45 minutes) and Daily Limit (forces you to shut down your computer when reached), the settings are configurable to any values you like, if you are in the middle of something important you can click on postpone or skip when the reminder windows is shown.

WorkRave Repetitive Strain Injury Software
WorkRave Repetitive Strain Injury Software

The popping up reminder window exhibits some exercises giving you ideas on how to stretch your body. This RSI prevention program can be set up in a network across multiple PCs, it is suitable for businesses, it doesn’t come with any help file but it is easy to set up.

Do not forget that changing your workplace ergonomics and changing your posture when working at the computer will also help avoiding injuries, seek medical advice if your pain does not go away.

Visit WorkRave homepage

Create computer sticky note reminders with PNotes

This free multilingual open source utility will help you keep track of daily and far away tasks, default looks and feel are like any physical sticky note, settings allows for different colours, font formatting and alignment, there are many skins to choose from.

If you share computer you can password protect the program to stop meddling people and protect your settings, the software is very well documented with clear easy to understand help including screenshots, people with eyesight problems will be happy to know that the notes can be made to be spoken by Microsoft built in robotic voice.

Windows sticky notes software PNotes
Windows sticky notes software PNotes

 PNotes main features

  • Portable, no need to install
  • Notes can be organized into groups
  • Synchronization with FTP server
  • Stored notes can be encrypted
  • Customizable looks (transparency, font, images, etc)

A central control panel lets you organize notes in groups, schedule them with a reminder alarm system, tag them for easy searching, change skins, dock the notes, send them via email and much more. Overall PNotes is a very complete notes organizing software that will fulfil all your needs and it won’t cost you a cent.

Visit PNotes homepage

Create a video contact sheet with thumbnails using BSPlayer

If you plan on distributing a video online, it is considerate to create a preview showing the video sequences for others to decide if it is worth the download. This is known as a video contact sheet, consisting of thumbnail still images of the video spread over the length of the film pieced together in a single image file. A free utility to do that is Video Thumbnail Maker but in my personal experience I was unable to use it with certain file formats like .avi and .mpg.

Video contact sheet of "Garfield Gets Real" (2007)
Video contact sheet of “Garfield Gets Real” (2007)

BSPlayer is much more than a simple video thumbnail maker, it is a stupendous free alternative to Windows Media Player, it has many features not found in the default Windows player, like automatic downloading of codecs and subtitles if needed, YouTube support, custom playback and easily producing video thumbnails. To create a video contact sheet using BSplayer all you have to do is to open the video, right click on the screen and select “Generate thumbnails“.

The contact sheet will include the movie title, its size in MB and bytes, resolution, and film duration.

Visit BSPlayer homepage

Lingoes, free multilingual dictionary and translation software

This offline multilingual translation software makes for a good alternative to Babylon dictionary and  web based online translation tools, Lingoes can translate into 23 languages and it supports over 80 dictionary languages, it comes with other extras like a periodic table and abbreviation chart,  you can expand it downloading well known English dictionaries like Merrian’s Webster, Longman dictionary, MacMillan, etc.

The software is very easy to use, pointing the cursor to a word and pressing a hotkey combination will tell you what it means, you can use Lingoes as a text to speech software downloading one of the speech engines available at Lingoes website, or download a plugin for Adobe Acrobat Pro to use in PDF documents.

Lingoes offline dictionary and translation tool
Lingoes offline dictionary and translation tool

The best part of this dictionary and translation tool is that it supports most used languages (Chinese, Norwegian, Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, etc) and everything, including addons, is free, but it isn’t as polished as paid for solutions, I didn’t find its interface too friendly. Lingoes will help you out for non professional translations and to learn English while surfing the web or writing documents.

Visit Lingoes dictionary homepage

Open source English spell checking software “After the Deadline”

After the Deadline is a free open source software using artificial intelligence to check spelling, style and grammar while you write, while many applications include spell checking software, very few check your style and grammar as well. After the Deadline pinpoints and underlines errors with different colours (red spelling, blue grammar, green style) giving you a suggestion of what the correct linguistic style is, if you do not want to change a specific word, like a place name, and it is highlighted, simply choose to always ignore it, creating your own custom dictionary in the proces.

After the Deadline free spell checker
After the Deadline free spell checker

 This tool can be used with your blog (WordPress plugin), integrated with your browser installing a Firefox orChrome plugin (very useful to fill in online forms), text editor, Windows Live Writer and a few others, my favourite feature is the integration with IntenseDebate, a blog comment management plugin, After the Deadline will warn people commenting on your blog of grammar and spelling mistakes.

The only inadequacy I found in this spell checking software is that it does not differentiate in between American, Canadian and British English, all words variations are mixed up in the dictionary but it appears that After the Deadline plans to solve this at some point in future, another downside is that your application needs to be supported for it to work, you can not use it with Microsoft Word for example, overall this is a good proofreading tool for the home user but not for business use.

Visit After the Deadline homepage

Free open source novel writing software StoryBook

StoryBook is a multilingual free open source tool that helps you create a novel, it will assist you structuring your novel with a chronological view showing scenes, as you write the book a time line will be created allowing the author to keep track of the plot and see when certain character first appeared , the main working pane contains various boxes, each one representing a chapter, they can all be dragged around and labelled.

This software works in Windows and Linux as long as you have Java installed, after starting the software you can view a demonstration highlighting what it can do for you and how, I would recommend you to view the tutorial (narrating a normal day in the live of the Simpsons), it is much quicker and fun than reading the help file. Scenes can be edited, a tabbed interface makes it easy to switch in between windows where to add notes for a particular scene, a task list is also available to remember the author about important work and a spell checker will minimizer linguistic errors, if you do not like the skin you can change it in options (System, Tiny LaF and Tonic LaF), and all of the windows inside the working panel can be adjusted. This novel writing software is not a full featured text editor its main function is to help you keep track of the story line (characters, locations, timeline, etc) and it will be better used in conjunction with a word processor.

Storybook main features

  • Chronological view showing scenes by date
  • Adding, editing or erasing of characters and locations
  • Classification of ideas in ‘started’, ‘abandoned’, ‘not started’, ‘completed’
  • Instant autosaving as you type, with all chapters are saved in a single file
StoryBook novel writing software
StoryBook novel writing software

When you need to complete the book using different software StoryBook files can be exported in formats like .doc, .txt, .rtf, .csv, .odt, and .pdf, the pdf file will be useful to publish your novel online once ready for distribution.

Visit StoryBook homepage

Update 2014: This software is no longer available, I am deleting the link.