7-Zip: My favorite file archive tool!

7-zip As a self-described geek, I often have friends and colleagues ask me for advice on what tools they should be using. For example, when someone sets up a new computer, they often need some sort of tool for working with zip files, because the tool built into Windows XP leaves much to be desired.

WinZip is probably the most popular file compression utility, and WinRAR is also really common. My favorite though, without a doubt, is an open-source tool called 7-Zip.

7-Zip does everything you’d expect it to and more! And it does it better than WinZip in most cases. Not only does 7-Zip allow you to work with it’s own compression format (7z) but also ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2, and TAR for both packing and unpacking, and RAR, CAB, ISO, and a whole bunch of others for unpacking only.

The install is really quick and painless (the setup file is a mere 840 KB). What you end up with is the 7-Zip File Manager, a command line interface, and most importantly – Windows Shell integration! I use 7-Zip exclusively through the Windows Shell. For instance, to add a file or files to a new archive, just right-click and go to the 7-Zip menu:

add

If you choose “Add to archive…” a little window pops up that lets you configure the type of archive, as well as compression settings. Usually though, it’s easier to just pick the “Add to filename.zip” option. It’ll create the zip file right in the same directory.

Unpacking archives is just as easy. Simply right-click on any archive file, and go to the 7-Zip menu:

extract

Again you have a bunch of options, with “Extract Here” and “Extract to folder” being the two most useful. As you can see, in most cases the only 7-Zip interface you see are these context menus.

That’s my favorite part about 7-Zip: it does one thing and it does it well. It’s fast, and mostly stays out of the way. If you are sick of WinZip or WinRAR, or if you *gasp* use the Windows XP zip functionality, I strongly urge to you download and install 7-Zip!

Here is the 7-Zip website, and you can get the latest download here. Developers – you may be interested in the LZMA SDK (so that you can take advantage of the 7z compression format in your own applications).

Ten Years of Visual Studio

Post ImageI missed this last week, but March 19th was the ten year anniversary of the release of Visual Studio 97 – the first release of the Visual Studio product. Rob Caron has written my thoughts exactly:

Visual Studio has come a long way in that 10-year period.

I remember Visual Studio 97. It was sitting around in my Dad’s office, and I asked if I could “borrow” it. Who knows why they had ordered it…they never used it! I might even have the box around someplace.

I love Visual Studio. It’s a great product. More than that, it’s a great environment…and it now forms the base environment of tools in SQL Server and BizTalk Server, among others. Combined with the expanded lineup of SKUs, you could say that Visual Studio is taking over the tools scene at Microsoft!

Despite coming a long way in ten years, there’s much more on tap. Check out the future releases page for more info.

Expression Studio and XAML bring markup to Windows

Post ImageOver the years I have designed my fair share of user interfaces. Sometimes they have been decent, other times they have sucked. I’ve taken a few courses on design and have picked up many tricks along the way. For the last few months I have been primarily working on web applications, though I have created a number of Windows applications in the past. The most important thing I have learned?

Markup is awesome.

You can’t appreciate this completely until you have designed both a website using something like ASP.NET and a Windows application using something like Windows Forms. The website job wins every time. That’s why the new Expression Studio from Microsoft is so important:

So, could Flash ever be “force fit” to be the UI of Windows? Not according to the engineers who’ve studied the problem.

They needed a system that could be used to design real pieces of Windows, if not the entire UI, and handed off to a developer, or team of developers, without having to have the developers touch the UI at all.

The rest of Scoble’s post is quite good – he explains exactly the problem that Expression and XAML attempt to solve. I’ve seen some demos of Expression Designer, and I came away truly impressed. Finally the ability to create Windows interfaces using markup. I can’t even describe how excited I am!

Markup has lots of advantages. It is XML-based, and therefore it’s human readable. Being XML-based also means we can validate, transform, and extend it. Markup is extremely easy to write and to parse. For interfaces, markup allows us to separate the interface from the underlying logic. There are a lot of reasons to like markup.

XAML brings the power of markup to Windows, and Expression Studio will make it easy to work with. Everything else (like cross-platform support, targeting Flash, etc.) is secondary.

For more on Expression Studio, check out the official press release, TechMeme, and the Expression website.

Read: Robert Scoble

How can a company use podcasting?

Post ImageI came across this post from Karl Long today, titled “Uncommon Uses: Podcasting” in which he suggests some interesting ways that podcasting might be used. The basic idea is that we tend to use new technologies in similar ways as the old ones (using a podcast like a radio or TV show) because it seems natural, but that there are far more creative ways to take advantage of the new tech.

Karl focused mainly on individual scenarios, like learning a language or taking an audio tour, so I thought it would be interesting to come up with some company-focused ideas:

  • The most obvious use is public relations…audio-visual press releases!
  • Replacing a conference call with a podcast (IBM has already done this, for example)
  • And a related item…use a weekly podcast to cut down the number of emails that are sent, by summarizing the important things in audio form
  • Keeping your customers up-to-date on new product releases
  • Setup a podcast (or ability to track podcasts) so that potential job candidates could post audio-visual resumes
  • Keeping project members up-to-date on recent developments
  • Company training materials could be turned into podcasts, with the idea that all employees subscribe and information is added and updated over time
  • Certain meetings could be podcasted, like an AGM or shareholder’s meeting
  • In larger companies, new employees could be required to add an “introduction” to the internal “new hires” podcast – great way for people to find out about “the new guy/gal”
  • In a company like Google, employees could post a “pitch” for an idea they came up with or project they have in mind to an internal podcast

You’re limited only by your creativity! Any scenario in which information might be distributed over time is probably a good candidate for podcasting. Can you think of any other ways?