I came across a couple of very useful Windows apps tonight while doing some maintenance on my systems. The first is Core Mini-SFTP Server. This is a commercial/proprietary app, but it's available free of charge. As implied by the name, it's a stripped-down sFTP server for Windows. No installation or configuration is necessary; simply download and run the executable, specify the username, password, and root directory, then click Start. Any user can now connect via SFTP using the specified credentials. It's very convenient if you simply need quick and easy access to an sFTP server on Windows, but, of course, it does have limitations. It's strictly single user, must be run interactively (ie, it cannot be run as a service when the system starts), and only minimal sftp functionality is included (the
sftp client under Linux works, for example, but
scp does not). Additionally, it stores the specified password in plaintext within the registry. Keep this in mind when choosing a password, and be sure to delete the key after you're finished if it's a sensitive password (HKCU\Software\FTPWare\msftpsrvr\msftpsrvr).
Next up is a fine new FOSS app for Windows. Infra Recorder is a very slick CD burning application based on
cdrecord. The interface is very nice and intuitive, functionally it can do just about anything you'd expect of a CD burning application, and so far it seems quite stable (considering it's a beta release). I'm quite pleased with it so far. The audio capabilities are somewhat limited (it can only handle WAV files directly, for example), but given that I use Exact Audio Copy for all of my audio CD needs it's not much of an issue for me. It'll make a great alternative to cdrtfe, my current burning app of choice under Windows.
Edit: I'm afraid I'm going to have to take back some of the praise for Infra Recorder. It doesn't seem to actually want to write the disc image that you tell it to burn. Instead, it just pretends to burn it for several minutes, letting you think it's being written to disc. I discovered this after thinking I had burned a freshly downloaded 700 MB Kubuntu ISO, only to find out after I had deleted ISO that it had not, in fact, been written to disc. So, I downloaded it again, checked and double-checked all settings (especially the "simulation" option, and attempted to burn it again, but it still failed. I then fired up cdrtfe and burned it without problem on the first attempt, confirming that the disc image was fine.
I'd recommend sticking with cdrtfe for important stuff for now.
One thing I always liked about Windows (compared to Linux) is that it's very easy to add custom actions to the context (right-click) menu for any given file types. For example, I used this ability with Universal Extractor to add
UniExtract... entries to the context menu of archive files, and I use it with Open with Arguments to add
Open with arguments... to .exe and .bat files. I missed that ability for quite some time once I began using Linux as my primary OS. Something as simple as extracting Zip files, for example, would require jumping to the command line and entering an appropriate
unzip command. However, a while back I stumbled across a tutorial entitled, "Creating Konqueror Service Menus", and was very pleasantly surprised to discover that this allowed me to do exactly what I had wanted for so long.
I setup a few custom actions (called "servicemenus" in KDE) a while back on my home system and pretty much forgot about it since it "just worked", but since I'm now using a new desktop system at home I'm already missing these custom actions. So, I figured I'd document them here while setting them up again. Hopefully this information will help out other Linux users. Much more thorough instructions can be found in the article referenced above - my instructions should be treated as more of a reference.
To begin, you'll need to create a new .desktop file for the action you want to perform. For the purposes of this article, I'm going to add a context menu item that will extract RAR files to the current directory. So, we'll create a new file named
~/.kde/share/apps/konqueror/servicemenus/rar.desktop. The file name is arbitrary, but it must be saved in the specified location, and must end with the
.desktop extension. Next open the file in your favorite editor and add the following:
[Desktop Action unrar]
Exec=launch.sh %d unrar x \"%f\"
This code is not very intuitive, so I'll explain each option
rar, and then add the listed file types to the Service Types entry. Repeat for each extension if you want to associate with multiple types
[Desktop Action xxx]defined below.
packageicon from the current icon set. The easiest way (that I know of) to view these "pre-defined" icons is to right-click on any K-menu entry, select
Edit Item, and click on the icon button for that item, It'll bring up an icon browser. Find the icon you like best, note the name, then close the windows and add it to the
Now, let's discuss the
Exec entry. Ordinarily you'd probably want to call the binary directly; eg.,
unrar x \"%f\". In this case, however, I want to get feedback on the current progress of the operation, as well as any errors that might have occured. Since
unrar is a CLI application, running it from a GUI wouldn't provide any feedback. It would simply run in the background and then exit. To work around this, I created a "wrapper" script called
launch.sh that will accept arguments passed by KDE and run the command in a standalone
xterm terminal. Using this method, clicking the the action in the context menu will spawn a new
xterm window, which will then display the current status of the operation. It will also allow you to enter any additional information that may be necessary, such as answering an overwrite prompt or providing an archive password.
The code for the wrapper script is listed below. The only dependency is that
xterm must be installed in an your
# enable support for spaces
# check for number of arguments
if [ "$2" = "" ]; then
echo "Usage: $0 <dir> <command>"
# set directory and command
# execute command in xterm
xterm -e $COM
That should do it. Save both of those files, make sure that
launch.sh is copied to a location in your
$PATH, then try right-clicking on a RAR file. Under the
Actions submenu, you should now see an entry called
Extract Here. Click it, and if all goes well the contents of the RAR file should be extracted to that directory.
For reference, here's a list of all KDE servicemenus that I have created:
Enterwhen complete to unmount the ISO and remove the temporary directory. This service menu requires my mountiso.sh script.
Ctrl-Cwhen complete to unmount the disk image and remove the temporary directory. This service menu requires my mountvmdk.sh script. More details can be found in the How to Mount VMware Disk Images under Linux article.
xtermwindow; most of my servicemenus require this script
 Yes, I know that I can install a GUI archiving utility such as Ark. However, that's not really relevant here for two reasons:
 Yes, you could theoretically call
xterm directly from the .desktop file rather than using a wrapper script, but I couldn't get it to work properly. I had issues with getting
xterm and the associated command (in this case,
unrar) to accept the correct path, as well as dealing with spaces in the filename. My wrapper script will handle anything that's thrown at it (so far, anyway...).
Streaming (aka, embedded) video has been around since the beginning of the internet, and while it can certainly be a very useful technology, I hate companies and websites that require you to stream the video and don't even offer an option to download it. What if you want to view it multiple times? What if you want to show a friend or co-worker? Tough! You have to stream it (re-download it) every single time you watch it. The only possibly reason for doing this that I can think of is that it supposedly allows the hosting site more control over the video, but it creates a severe inconvenience for users, prevents a number of possible customers from watching it in the first place (eg, if they're not running a "blessed" operating system, browser, or plugin), and exponentially increases bandwidth costs for the hosting provider. Additionally, the very fact that the movie has to be sent to the client to allow it to be played and displayed means that the client still gets a copy and can still save it anyway, just with much greater hassle.
If you want to save a streaming video from a site that doesn't offer a proper download link, you have a few options. Like most things in technology these range from easy but limited to difficult but extremely flexible. For now, I'm going to discuss the easy approach. :-) I'm also going to assume you're using Mozilla Firefox (if you're not, you really should be).
There are a number of Firefox extensions available that can greatly assist with saving embedded/streaming video clips. A simple search for "download video" on the Firefox Add-ons returns 19 extensions. I've personally used VideoDownloader in the past, and it worked well.
If you don't want to install a new extension just for downloading videos, and option is to use Greasemonkey scripts. Greasemonkey is a really powerful extensions that allows users to create or install custom scripts that can change the behavior of any web page. In this case, a Greasemonkey script can analyze the page for embedded video clips, then automatically add a download link to that video; simply click the download link to save the video. Two great scripts for downloading embedded videos are Apple Trailer Download and Download Video (though I use this version of Download Video). Note that you must first install Greasemonkey before you can install these scripts. You can find a lot more useful Greasemonkey scripts on my Mozilla Firefox Tips and Tricks page, as well as a massive collection of contributed scripts on Userscripts.org.
The primary limitation with the extension/script method is that it's often limited to particular sites. Apple Trailer Download, for example, is limited to just movie trailers hosted on the Apple Movie Trailers website. Download Video and VideoDownloader both support a number of different sites (including the most popular, YouTube and Google Video), but are still limited to only sites they "know" about. I'll follow up this article with more advanced techniques and suggestions that should help you save just about any embedded video.
I recently came across an interesting article on Irongeek.com (which itself is a pretty interesting security site that I'll probably add to my list of news feeds) entitled, "ALT+NUMPAD ASCII Key Combos: The α and Ω of Creating Obscure Passwords." The author suggests the idea of using non-standard (ie, not defined on standard keyboards) special characters as part of your password. It's common knowledge that adding special characters to your password greatly increases the difficulty of guessing or brute forcing the password. This extends the idea by adding normally hidden (and often unthought of) characters to the mix. So, while something like
abCD1234%^&* might be a good example of using special characters in a password (though obviously you'd want something more random than that sequence), consider this password:
äßÇÐ½²¶╔¥¢. I'd love to see the password cracker that can crack that one. :-)
Of course, as the author mentions there are downsides to this. Increased complexity notwithstanding, its strength is also its main weakness; these are non-standard characters, and as such not all applications and operating support them in the same manner (or at all). While this may work great as a Windows user password, for example, it may not be possible to use it as a Linux user password.
Regardless, it's still an interesting concept that deserves some attention. Check out the article for more details on the subject, as well as a tutorial and reference charts for entering special characters. The Wikipedia article on Windows Alt keycodes (also referenced in the article) is another good resource.