Windows Live Movie Maker

August 22, 2009

Windows Live Movie Maker

Microsoft has run through several versions of its free Movie Maker application for various Windows platforms, most of them earning a fair amount of criticism. The latest edition, Windows Live Movie Maker 1.0, does easily turn photos and video clips into slide shows and movies, but it is far from perfect. Released from beta on Wednesday, this is functional freeware that’s aimed squarely at the casual consumer crowd. Although mostly easy to use, its toolset and interface lack a certain sophistication that users of all levels would appreciate.

Installation tips

The fresh-out-of-beta Windows Live Movie Maker (not to be confused with Windows Movie Maker, minus the ‘Live’) is compatible with Vista and Windows 7 operating systems only. It comes bundled into the Windows Live Essentials suite of apps, but you can separate it out with a little click-surgery. To get Movie Maker only, you’ll need to uncheck the boxes for the other programs in the suite, leaving Movie Maker selected. Before the app finishes installing, take care to read the penultimate window; if you race ahead, you’ll be changing your default search to Microsoft’s Bing and your home page to MSN.

Windows Live Movie Maker installation

Windows Live Movie Maker comes bundled in a software suite.

Interface

With its visual ribbon of menu actions, Windows Live Movie Maker emulates the look and feel of Microsoft Office 2007 applications. The preview window is portioned out to the left of the screen and the gallery of photos and clips you’ll import sits on the right. Interestingly, tool tips appear above the Edit, Options, and Format tabs to alert you that these are the menus for video, audio, and text tools. These tabs disappear when you’re not using them. While we like this feature, we also wonder why Microsoft didn’t just name the original tabs “video,” “audio,” and “text,” and dispense with the highlighted tabs above the tabs.

Making instant movies

Microsoft’s emphasis on the visual hits home when you get started. In addition to adding photos and video clips through a menu button, you can drag and drop them into the storyboard. Likewise, you can click and drag to move clips around. For extremely simple movie-creation, after you arrange the clips, a click of the AutoMovie button (in the Home tab) ties the clips together with a title, transitions, and pan and zoom effects. If it doesn’t add a song clip for you, it prompts you to select one (again, through the Home tab.) Automating movies and slideshows this ways is a great two-second option for casual or time-stressed users. After all, you can always tweak later.

Here’s a hint: there’s an optimal time to start AutoMovie. If you haven’t saved your project, Windows Live Movie Maker titles it “My Movie” and closes it with “The End.” It’s harmless, but numbingly generic. If you save first and automate the movie after, the software will title your piece as you saved it. Thus, “Yosemite Trip 2009” instead of “My Movie.”

Tweaking filled-in titles, captions, and credits isn’t difficult, so long as you remember to double click to edit, not right-click. You’re able to change colors, placement, and font type through the menu, and you can click and drag elements in the preview window and along the timeline; for instance, if you’re delaying the moment an opening credit shows.

You can similarly change transitions (called animations here), as well as pan and zoom effects, just by selecting a new one from the Animations tab. On one hand, it’s convenient to see a preview when you mouse over each transition or effect. On the other, it quickly becomes dizzying when you’re hunting for the right one.

Windows Live Movie Maker effects

Quickly preview animations and visual effects.

Adding music, editing video

Like any good slideshow or movie tool, Windows Live Movie Maker can pluck audio gems from your music collection. The tools are basic, even a little rough, but there are some necessities–fade-ins and fade-outs, for instance, and fitting the song to your movie’s duration. The AutoMovie tool can help you apply a track, but it won’t automatically turn on fading, a drawback in our opinion. Adding music at current points also requires a learning curve.

Most videos can handle a healthy trim on either end to get to the meat of the action. Windows Live Movie Maker boasts both trim and splitting tools, so you can shave or hack off slow sections. You can also set start and end points and apply fades.

Microsoft provides a list of all compatible image and video file types here.

Publishing and sharing

When it comes time to share the memories, you’ll visit the Sharing bay on the Home tab. The quick-button options within can e-mail the finished video, burn it to DVD, or upload it to YouTube (you’ll need an account). Windows Live Movie Maker can also upload to Facebook via a plug-in, save in HD format for you to transfer to your TV (standard or wide-screen), and can convert the video to a mobile phone-friendly format.

Windows 7-only

Windows Live Movie Maker looks almost identical on Vista and Windows 7, but it does take advantage of two underlying Windows 7 features. First, there are jump lists, which will give quick access to recent projects and finished movies. Second, it supports QuickTime MOV and QT files, AVCHD, and MPEG-4 video formats. As a reminder, this version is not available for Windows XP.

Windows Live Movie Maker tool menu

Highlighted tabs clue you into editing tools.

Overall look and feel

Compared to Apple’s polished, elegant, and feature-packed iMovie, Windows Live Movie Maker is a crude imitator. However, its comparatively spartan interface should also make it more inviting to novices. The menu tabs that disappear when not in use help keep tasks focused. AutoMovie saves time and gives movie makers a starting-off point to further customize. The few intermediate tools (like fades, start and end points) add variety, though the online FAQs found by clicking the Help menu (the question mark icon) fail to explain their use; you’ll need to hit up Microsoft’s forums for more details if you get stuck.

All in all Windows Live Movie Maker is decent freeware that lives up to its promise of making movies fast. Regardless, Microsoft would do well, at the very least, to build more sharing plug-ins and a fleshier Help menu.

You can start getting acquainted with Microsoft’s online overview.

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It is my opinion that there has been more controversy over Windows 7’s pricing than any other aspect of its coming launch – especially with Apple to offer Snow Leopard upgrades for $29. If you act quickly, though, you have an opportunity to snag a copy of Microsoft’s upcoming operating system free of charge.

The company is hosting The New Efficiency launch events across 25 US cities between September 28 and November 9 of this year for Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, and Exchange 2010. Attendees will receive a free copy of Windows 7 Professional. Granted, that doesn’t consider travel costs but registration and entry to the event is absolutely free.

Have a look at the event dates, times and locations after the jump (via Ars Technica).

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We can all wish that our computer systems would always running perfectly, that we would never ever need to replace any parts, that we would never need to perform any updates, and that we would never have to worry about losing data or information. In a perfect world, our PC computers would function without ever crashing, corrupting, or presenting us with blue screens of objection and concern. Unfortunately, in today’s computer world, we still need to make backups, we still need to install antivirus protection, and we still need to perform defragmentation tasks and other routine maintenance to ensure that our files remain safe, our data remains pure, and our operating systems remain uncorrupted.

But there are ways to automate some of those mundane tasks on our Windows operated computers, freeing up our time for more productive pursuits than data recovery, backup restorations, and other system repairs. Maintenance and diagnostic programs such as Reimage Home Edition can eliminate some of our time eating tasks by automating some of the system routines that can be a nuisiance for us to perform manually (you can see a demonstration of Reimage in this video: Video: How the technology works).

Honestly, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to perform each and every tweak and patch and PC related task required to keep our Windows systems operating at peak efficiency. Why, manually cleaning out our system registries could eat up our free time alone, and much more if we don’t really know what we are doing. Programs that can reduce some of that workload are necessary for both uptime and productivity, especially with so much important and critical programs and databases and other important files that reside precariously on our vulnerable PCs.

Diagnostic and repair programs can not only find and discover errors and faults with our operating systems, registries, drivers, and other files and indexes, but it can also quickly identify the problem and proceed with a solution, so that our PCs are not idling away when there are other important projects we could be working on.

There are a great many automated repair and diagnotic and analysis software suites and packages available for PC computers, and many have different features and functions and benefits, but if you need a system tool that even computer technicians use for repairs and reinstalls, then don’t overlook the potential of Reimage Home Edition (visit the Reimage blog for more excellent information on diagnostic and repair tools, as well as other useful resources on automated PC repair), because computers still aren’t perfect!

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WordWeb 5.52

August 11, 2009

WordWeb is a handy utility that gives you the definition, synonyms, and antonyms of any given word without requiring you to go online, though it can connect to the Internet for expanded functionality should you want it.

The interface feels like an expanded version of any major word processing app’s dictionary function, giving users an instant familiarity–even if they’ve never used WordWeb. After you type a term into the Lookup dialog box, the word’s definition will appear in the interface’s top pane, along with tabs that link to various wiki functions.

The bottom pane offers tabs for such items as synonyms, antonyms, and related words. The app’s most notable feature is its hot key support; you simply use a hot key combo when the cursor is pointed over any word, and WordWeb will pop up onscreen with all pertinent information.

There are tools for changing the database to one of several English variations, altering the text size, and disabling WordWeb from recognizing offensive terms. The depth and functionality of WordWeb would be worth paying for, but thankfully you don’t have to redefine your budget to get it–it’s free.

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This utility offers a one-stop-shop for cleaning and maintaining your computer for better overall system performance. The interface is very simple, featuring only a few buttons, which makes it easy to get down to cleaning immediately (in fact, it automatically runs on start-up) and doesn’t confuse you with multiple steps.

The Maintain Windows section focuses on four areas of maintenance: spyware removal, Registry cleaning, a privacy sweep, and deletion of junk files. The Diagnose System button provides system optimization tools, detects spyware, defragments your disk, and scans for hijacked Windows settings. In our tests the scan and clean for each of these areas took less than 10 minutes to complete. In many of these scans, it is difficult to tell what exactly is being accomplished by some of the tools, but we were able to test against other trusted apps, which confirmed Advanced SystemCare’s efficacy in those areas.

Under the utilities section you are given several tools, which are similar to plug-ins, for other areas of optimization and diagnostic tests. Overall, Advanced SystemCare Free is a good way to maintain your system’s speed and clear out junk files, but you’ll need to remember to run it regularly because scheduling of scans is only available in the paid Pro version.

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Express Burn you create and record MP3/WAV formats to CD in Windows for free. With Express Burn you can record a CD quickly and easily by dragging the files you want onto the Express Burn icon and clicking ‘Burn’. The software then does the rest, including converting the files to .cda. Audio is recorded with direct digital recording (so perfect audio quality is maintained). Audio CD burning supports wav, mp3, wma, au, aiff, ra, ogg, flac, aac and a number of other audio file formats. Can burn audio CDs in seamlessly mode (with no pause between tracks). Normalize audio volume of tracks. Supports multi session recording to Audio CD. Records CD Recordable (CDR) and CD Re-recordable (CDRW) discs. Features a trial of Paid functionality – Video DVD Authoring and Data DVD Recording.Version 4.26 now has better video authoring support for chapters.

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Web Attacks

August 8, 2009

Is your site vulnerable to Web Attacks?

Audit your website security with Acunetix Web Vulnerability Scanner

Hackers are concentrating their efforts on attacking applications in your website: 75% of cyber attacks are launched on shopping carts, forms, login pages, dynamic content etc. Web applications are accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and control sensitive data such as customer details, credit card numbers and proprietary corporate data.

Firewalls, SSL and locked-down servers are futile against web application hacking

Any defense at network security level will provide no protection against web application attacks since they are launched on port 80 – which has to remain open. In addition, web applications are often tailor-made, therefore tested less than off-the-shelf software, and are more likely to have undiscovered vulnerabilities. Manually auditing a website for vulnerabilities is virtually impossible – it needs to be done automatically and regularly.

Acunetix WVS automatically checks your web applications for SQL Injection, XSS other web vulnerabilities. * Ensures your website is secure against web attacks * Automatically checks for SQL injection & Cross site scripting vulnerabilities * Checks password strength on authentication pages (HTTP or HTML forms) * Scans Javascript / AJAX applications for security vulnerabilities * Automatically audits shopping carts, forms, dynamic content and other web applications * Creates professional website security audit reports.

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Recommended downloads:

Manual:

Complete product documentation including installation and configuration, and performing an extensive security audit of your website.
In PDF: http://www.acunetix.com/vulnerability-scanner/wvsmanual.pdf
In HTM: http://www.acunetix.com/vulnerability-scanner/wvs65manual/websecurity-scanner.htm

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