26 May 2008

Personalized Homepages

Home pages, startpages, personalized homepages or portals are some of the terms used to describe the place you land when you open your browser. Right now my home page is the school district where I used to work. It's been two years since I retired and it's time to move on to something more useful to me now. After looking at the Webware 100, I wanted to try out iGoogle, and, I had already been exploring Pageflakes, though not as a personalized home page. So these two sites are where I began my exploration of personalized home pages.

allows users to add tabs, themes and drag-n-drop widgets to your home page. The site has a whole bank of third-party widgets or gadgets to choose from including widgets for news, tools, sports and lifestyle. Users can also add gadgets for their favorite Google products including Gmail, Picassa and YouTube.

iGoogle is very easy to setup, create tabs for multiple home pages with different themes/topics, and add, place, or move widgets on each tab and to other tabs.

Above is sample iGoogle home page. Sorry it's so tiny. You can see that this example has 3 tabs which are located below the iGoogle search box on the left. On my iGoogle I have 6 tabs: Home, News, Humor, Technology, Entertainment, and Education. Each rectangle with a blue bar across the top is a different widget. On my Home tab I have the following widgets: Twitter, FriendFeed, GMail, Weather, CNN.com, Top News Stories by Google, Interesting Photos of the Day, Current Moon Phases, Movies, Horoscope, and Fat Loss Tip. Depending on the widget it can be personalized for your location, like the Weather forecast. Twitter, FriendFeed, and GMail appear as if I had opened each app separately, but with iGoogle I can have them all available and be able to add a Tweet or answer an email. Really cool to have them all in one place.

Pageflakes is a personalized Ajax home page service with key features being customized widgets, an RSS reader and group sharing capabilities. Pageflakes allows you to customize your homepage by adding and editing flakes. You can keep your pageflake private or PageCast to the public.

Pageflakes is not quite as easy as iGoogle to set up and customize. I had to go to the help & support section to figure out how to do some things. However, basically, Pageflakes has the same functions as iGoogle. The example above has 5 tabs and flakes that look similar to iGoogles widgets.

The widgets available at iGoogle seem to be more varied, but not as customizable as the flakes within Pageflakes. In many cases I like the flakes better than the widgets. Most flakes with text, like news items or lists, allow you to select the display style (thumbnail, summary, headline only, etc.); how you can read the post (RSS feed, original site with new, current, or Pageflakes browser window); and # of posts. Also, when you pass your cursor over the displayed text, the Ajax programming kicks in and you see a summary of the event. Really, really cool. It makes it faster to decide if you want to read the entire article. iGoogle's widget customization only allows you to select the # of posts. In lieu of Ajax, iGoogle has summaries which can be opened by clicking on the + boxes in front of each post. Look closely at the iGoogle example above at the bottom of the middle column.

Pageflakes has a feature that I haven't really made use of yet, an RSS reader. The reader allows you to view all of the feeds you have selected as flakes in one place, just like my Bloglines account. I have to investigate this more to see if I can add the same feeds I follow now at Bloglines from within Pageflakes.

The other feature that I have used but not as a contributor yet, is sharing a personal homepage with others called a Pagecast. In my previous posts about Pageflakes I explored The Collaborative Web Pagecast. I haven't been able to figure out how to add applications like librarywannabe did with the Collaborative Web Pagecast. Maybe it has something to do with PageCasting. You can also meet new people through the Pageflakes community and collaborate or learn from each other.

I haven't decided which personalized homepage to use. Pageflakes is so much more that iGoogle, but I'm not sure I need all that Pageflakes offers.

(iGoogle and Pageflakes are not the only examples of personalizing home pages. Here's an article that compares 14 different personalized home page sites or this blog post by Michael Arrington, or this EduBlogger post, if you want to explore others.)

Do you use a personalized homepage? Which one? and Why?

24 May 2008

Converting Files (doc to/from pdf)

A couple of weeks ago I needed to convert doc's to pdf's and vice versa for a project that WEMTA's Battle of the Books/Golden Archer Award committees have been working on. After doing a simple google search, I discovered many, but didn't know which would be better and easy to use. So I asked for help via our organization's listserv. What a great group! Within an hour I had many answers. Here are some of the answers and my experience.

  • I do it via scanner. My Epson scanner software offers a setting to save as PDF. I too have a scanner and hadn't thought of using it. I wanted to convert a pdf to doc and be able to edit. I've tried to use OCR scanning and found it to be lacking (or maybe it was user error) so I didn't try to use my scanner or check out whether it could save a scan as pdf.
  • This site is free and I have used it numerous times. It’s called Zamzar. I had already heard abou Zamzar and I think I had even used it once before for something, so I gave it a try. It's an easy online tool, no signup needed. One just needs to upload the file, select the format to convert to, enter your email address, and convert. Zamzar converts your file. As soon as this is done you receive an email to let you know where you can download your file from. The file will only be available for 24 hours once you have been notified. It took about 30 minutes to receive my email. After downloading I had trouble editing the document. The original formating came thru but I found it difficult to change. So I moved on to another suggestion.

  • Here's an excellent article which links to two main tools: pdf995 (download and run) and Zamzar (online service). Both have free and non-free versions. I found this article by searching on Google for "convert from pdf to word" without the double-quotes.
    I've used pdf995 very successfully and finally paid for it (a whole $9.95) to be able to easily convert any document to a pdf.
    I read the article and began to understand a little bit. But I was converting pdf to doc, so I continued to look at more of the suggestions.

The rest of the suggestions, however, were all for converting doc to pdf :

So, I did another google search on pdf to doc. I examined a bunch of sites, but didn't want to buy any software and I was leary of downloading even if it was free. I was really looking for an online site that would convert for me and be free. I finally found PDF2Word Online. It is really easy, but a little strange. At the site browse to find your pdf file. No signup is necessary, nor will the converted filed be emailed. The Word document will be immediately pushed back to your browser. A popup, Enter Network Password, opens in another tab, which I just cancelled. The converted document appears in the browser window. Do a File, Save As and cancel the Enter Network Password popup again. I could then save the document to my machine after changing the extension rtf to doc. It only took about 5 minutes, however, there is a limit of 3 pages only. This online service worked without any hitches after I figured out I needed to deal with the popup. After my experience with this online conversion I think that Zamzar would probably have worked if I had converted to rtf or txt instead of doc.

I did go back and download PDF2Word Conversion. After some experimenting with the desktop conversion tool's general options, I was able to convert and edit w/in Word. I found it easiest to remove the checkmarks from the boxes on the right.

By the way I went back and tried Zamzar again, converting pdf to both rtf and txt. It worked, but I didn't find it any easier to edit than when I had converted to doc. It's much harder to convert pdf to doc than it is to convert doc to pdf when using online or free tools.


On to converting doc to pdf. Now I could go back and try some of the other suggestions. In the meantime I had gotten an email from a peer (thanks Liz) in which she recommended PDF Creator. It required a download and installation. PDFCreator is an open source application that can create pdf's from just about any program that prints using windows printers. One just opens the doc file, prints, and when the print dialog appears, change the printer from your default printer to the PDFCreator printer. And wah la...you have a pdf file.

Final summary: Use PDF2Word Online or download PDF2Word Conversion. In the reverse process I only tried the one tool, PDFCreator, but it works quickly and easily.

10 May 2008

Webware 100 Winners

The Webware 100 voting has been compiled and the results are available here.

I use at least one and sometimes several of the web applications in eight of the categories. The two categories that I don't use are Social and Utility. I guess that I consider myself social enough when I use twitter, blogger, and gmail, which are my favorite web apps. As far as utilities are concerned I'm interested in OpenId. For browsing I use IE7, but am interested in learning more about Safari and Firefox. I didn't know that either have pc versions. Or perhaps I'll check out iGoogle. I was surprised to discover that Publishing and Video are the two categories in which I use the most web app's. I don't think of myself as an author, tho, I do watch a lot of TV and video.

Take a few minutes, or maybe more that a few minutes, to explore a few of the top 100 web applications.