TrayBlank is a freeware tool for managing screensaver settings and turning off the monitor instantly

TrayBlank is a very simple program that offers a quick way to manage your screensaver. Some people like to lock their computer when they are stepping away from it; it’s a good habit for your privacy and security especially if you are in a public place or place where others may get near the device.

TrayBlank is a freeware tool for managing screensaver settings and turning off the monitor instantly

Locking the computer will obviously make Windows switch to the lockscreen which, depending on the version, may display a wallpaper.

Personally, I prefer to see a nice screensaver when my computer is idling and it’s usually set to use my wallpapers folder. Now, as you may know, the screensaver depends on two things: screensaver settings and power settings. The latter is the more important one because it may put your computer to sleep before the former can be triggered.

If you want to start the screensaver immediately, TrayBlank is a nice tool. And it has a couple of extra features that you may find useful. The program’s name should give you a hint, as it runs from the system tray. Right-click on its icon and you will see a pop-out menu. The first option lets you Start the screensaver instantly; this also works when you double-click on the icon. On the other hand, if you want to save power, the ‘Turn off monitor” will likely be your favorite option. This does not put the computer into sleep mode though as it turns off the monitor only.

The Choose Screensaver menu is quite nice, it takes you to Windows’ select screensaver screen. Select the “Configure Screensaver” option from the tray icon to open the screensaver settings. Do note that this is only available for the Photos and Text screensavers (default ones in Windows).

Don’t want your screensaver starting quickly? Hit the screen timeout menu and choose from 1 minute and up to 120 minutes. While Windows does offer a longer time period, this can be useful if you’re temporarily switching to a different duration.

There are three hotkeys that you can use when TrayBlank is up and running:

  • Ctrl  + Alt + S  starts the screensaver.
  • Ctrl + Alt + Z turns off the monitor
  • Ctrl + Alt + C brings up the screensaver settings.

You can customize the shortcuts from the setup menu.

TrayBlank menu

The Screensaver Start menu has 3 settings: Delayed, Directly, and Directly after timeout. When “delayed” is chosen and you double-click the icon, you will notice a slight delay after which the screensaver starts.  The 2nd and third options make the program start the screensaver as its own process.

When you use either of those options, the tray icon changes to an arrow icon with a bar below it to indicate the progress of the timeout. If you need more information about the current settings, simply mouse over the icon and you’ll view a tooltip that tells you what screensaver is set, when it will timeout, when the monitor will go off, and the selected delay mode.

Closing words

TrayBlank is not meant for advanced users, it is strictly for screensaver aficionados. I find it to be better than Windows 10’s approach to screensavers. Navigating to Settings > Personalization > Lock Screen > Screensaver in Windows 10 is annoying. It’s not the best place for the settings, is it? It almost feels like Microsoft wanted to do away with the legacy feature. I’m pretty sure some people may not even know that the operating system has the option.

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Earth Alerts monitors severe weather alerts worldwide

Earth Alerts is a free program for Microsoft Windows devices that monitors severe weather alerts worldwide to inform its users about these in realtime.

The application is compatible with all supported client operating systems (Windows 7 to Windows 10) and requires the Microsoft .NET Framework 4.8.

Earth Alerts displays important information on first run. The program supports global weather alerts and may add specific information about locations in the United States and worldwide to the application; the latter requires a Google Cloud Platform API key and provides you with direct information about thise locations.

It is perfectly fine to use the program without locations support. It may not be as convenient on the other hand as you need to select the alerts under global or United States overview to go through them one by one.

Tip: check out our overview of weather programs for Microsoft Windows systems.

earth alerts

The application displays information about weather alerts in the sidebar. These are sorted into groups and subgroups. The first two groups, Global and United States overview, are always accessible. The group that follows only if you have added an API key.

Groups highlight important events in red and use numbers to indicate the number of alerts. A click on a subcategory, e.g. Volcano, Fire, Tropical Cyclone or Earthquake, provides details.

If multiple alerts are found in a category, data is divided into tabs at the top. The data is color coded to indicate the level of severity, e.g. orange which means it is under watch or yellow which means that it is an advisory.

Information is different depending on the selected alert category. Most categories displays a list of links at the top that you may use to switch between different pages that provide you with information.

weather alert

The tropical cyclone page may display a satellite map, provide released advisories and forecasts, or tracking information.

For earthquakes, options to switch between “most recent”, “past 24 hours” and “past week” are provided as well as maps and other information. The program links to weather and government sites on the Internet.

The application’s settings provide useful information. You may change the auto-update interval or disable auto-updating altogether. The default interval is set to 10 minutes. Other options include switching between metric and and English US measurement systems, or changing notifications.

You may enable or disable certain alert types; if you are not interested in tropical weather alerts, you may disable those for instance. Additionally, you may disable weather alerts for certain regions only and change the minimum magnitude and maximum distance for earthquake alerts.

These options are available for global and United States alerts, as well as global and United States locations (if enabled).

Closing Words

Earth Alerts is a useful software program for Windows, especially so if you face severe weather occasionally or regularly. The program is a bit fiddly when it comes to navigation and the Google Cloud Platform API key requirement for its location feature is not optimal either. If you can look beyond these, however, you are left with a useful weather alerts program for Windows.

Now you: do you use weather apps or programs?

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FreeVimager is a free image viewer and editor for Windows

FreeVimager is a free image viewer and editor for Windows. It is user-friendly, fast and offers quite a few interesting features.

Tip: check out previously reviewed image viewing alternatives such as ImageGlass, IrfanView, or FastStone Image Viewer.

FreeVimager is a free image viewer and editor for Windows

The application’s interface is a bit outdated, but we can ignore that because functionality-wise, it’s quite good. The menu bar houses most of the options that you’ll be working with, but some of these tools are also available on the toolbar at the bottom.

The “open file” window displays a preview of the selected picture along with its resolution,DPI, BPP and modified date. You can also load a directory containing your photos and browse through the images.

FreeVimager file preview

Image formats that are supported by FreeVimager include BMP, EMF, GIF, JPG, PCX, PNG, and TIF.  The application opens each image in its own sub-window which some may like, others may dislike.

Loading two or more images does the same, but when you hit the maximize button on one of the pictures, the program switches to a tab bar allowing you to jump between the images quickly.

FreeVimager cascade windows

Opening more pictures when the tab bar is already visible does not add them as tabs. You can fix this easily by using the Window menu’s Cascade or Tile (horizontally or vertically) options. Do that, and then click on the maximize button on a picture. This will rearrange all the images in tabs. Speaking of which, the Windows menu can also be used to navigate through the opened files.

While working with several images, you will be able to use the Play menu to view the contents as a slideshow. If you have a scanner plugged in, FreeVimager can be used to scan a document/picture and save it in TIFF or PDF formats.

Editing options

FreeVimager’s editor isn’t a full fledged one, in that it doesn’t have a proper set of tools like text, eraser, pencil, brush and so on. But if all you want to do is modify some aspects of the image, it can  do that.

Use the edit menu to rotate and resize pictures, and you can also crop images or add borders. There are some advanced options for adjusting the properties such as the Grayscale, Brightness, Contrast, Red Eye removal, Sharpen, or Soften. The convert to option can be used to save the image in a different color profile (16-bit/32-bit, True Color, etc).

FreeVimager Editing options

The JPEG Advanced menu allows you to losslessly crop an image, which saves it without compressing the picture. The program retains the EXIF, XMP, JFIF, IPTC, COM, ICC data when you edit images, but you can optionally delete them if you want to.

The screenshot option available from the Edit menu, can be used to snap a copy of the picture you’re working with. This also works with the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + F11.

Batch Processing

FreeVimager batch processing

FreeVimager supports batch processing which allows you to rename or convert multiple pictures at the same time, adjust the quality settings, etc. You can access the option from the File menu. The portable version of the program runs directly from the executable, and the settings are saved in an INI file directly. The application’s source code is available at the official website.

If you can look past the dated interface, FreeVimager is a good image viewer and the editing options are a nice bonus.

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gInk is an on-screen annotation software for Windows

On-screen annotation software is useful in a number of situations including during presentations or demonstrations. The main idea behind the open source application glnk is to provide Windows users with an easy to use yet powerful program to make on-screen annotations with ease.

Windows users may download the latest version of the program from the project’s GitHub website. Those interested in the source code find it hosted there as well.

All it takes is to download the latest version of the software, extract the archive it comes in, and run the executable from the destination directory.

glnk

The on-screen annotation software sits idly in the background on start. You may launch it either with a left-click on the system tray icon or use the global hotkey Ctrl-Alt-G instead. The toolbar is displayed at the bottom and most on-screen activity is blocked at the same time.

Use hotkeys, the mouse or touch-input to select one of the available tools to start using it. Several pencils are provided to draw on the screen; there is also an eraser, an undo function, and a trashbin to destroy everything that has been annotated up to that point. The arrow icon does not paint arrows on the screen but is used to activate mouse functionality (to activate links or buttons). A click on the camera icon creates a snapshot of the screen.

The application supports mouse, pen, and touch input. Pen users may notice that it can distinguish between different pen pressures. Another useful feature is that glnk supports multi-display devices as well.

glnk options

The options of the open source software provide additional settings. You may select the drawing tools that you want displayed when you invoke the toolbar. All but the pen width panel are displayed by default and all but the pencil selection options may be removed from the toolbar.

Other options provided include the ability to drag the toolbar around on the screen, to define up to ten pens each with its distinct color, alpha and width, and to set up or edit hotkeys (for each of the pens and tools).

Tip: check out ScreenMarker which provides similar functionality.

Closing Words

gInk is a well-designed screen annotation software for Windows. It is portable and open source, and supports most tools and features that one would expect from a program of its kind. I’d like to see options to place some elements on the screen as well as text. While you can create those using the pens, it would make things easier if these would be provided by default.

Now You: have you used screen annotation programs in the past?

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Reclaim privacy on Windows 10 with new Debotnet tool

Debotnet is a new application for devices running Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system designed to make configuration changes to improve privacy. The application is developed by Mirinsoft, which you may known from programs such as CloneApp, the disk cleanup alternative Cleanmgr+, or the program download helper Roboget.

Debotnet is available as a beta release currently; interested users can download the latest binary or the source of the application from the project’s GitHub page. Just extract the archive the binary is provided in and run the software afterwards. Note that Windows may throw a SmartScreen warning because it is a new program and relatively unknown.

Debotnet

The interface looks similar to that of other privacy tools for the operating system (You can check out our master list of privacy programs for Windows 10 here).

debotnet windows 10 privacy

The application interface is divided into three columns. The second column lists the tweaks and modifications, the third provides a description for the currently selected tweak. The description may list PowerShell commands that may be run manually to apply the change to the system; good, as it improves transparency and provides tech-savvy users with options to verify the method.

One interesting feature of Debotnet is the ability to edit the description. While it may only be useful to some users, it can in theory be used to modify commands that the program executes or add to the description to provide additional information.

Note: The beta version of the application does not create backups, e.g. system restore points, at the time of writing.  It is recommended that you create a backup of the system partition or the entire system before you run it as you have no option to restore changed functionality at the time otherwise.

Basically, what you do is go through the list of available privacy modifications to enable those that you want to apply to the underlying system. Once you are done, you hit the “run” button and confirm that you want to apply the selected modifications to make the changes to the system.

You may also enable debug mode to make a dry run. Using it, you will be presented with information about Registry changes and other changes that the program would make it you’d hit the run button.

The program supports roughly 70 modifications at the time; some remove preinstalled applications, others disable certain features such as automatic updates, Cortana or Windows tips.

Most program settings are modified using a text editor; this is not overly comfortable and may pose some issues for inexperienced users but experienced users may modify theme related options there for the most part.

Closing Words

Debloatnet is a promising program for Windows 10 to tame the operating system’s hunger for data. It is a beta program and as such in an early state of development. I’d like to see an automated backup option and tweak categories to improve manageability.

Now You: Do you use privacy tools? If so which and why? (via Deskmodder)

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XnShell is an Explorer add-on that lets you resize, convert, rotate images from the context menu

You may have heard about or even used the excellent XnView Image Viewer (check out some of our other favorites such as Faststone Image Viewer, QuickViewer, or HoneyView) . But did you know that the developer also makey an image tool that you can access from Explorer’s context menu?

XnShell is an Explorer add-on that lets you resize, convert, rotate images from the context menu
XnShell is the Shell extension we’ll be looking at here. And no, you don’t need XnView for this tool to work.

Download and install XnShell and open Windows Explorer. Select an image and right-click on it, and you’ll see the XnShell context-menu item. This won’t appear when the selected file is not an image.

The first thing that you will notice in this menu is that it displays a thumbnail preview of the picture. That’s unusual and may be helpful, unless you use tiles or other view modes where the picture is already visible. It also displays the resolution, the bpp (bits per pixel) and the size of the image.

Edit images from the context menu

The application lets you edit the image with a couple of clicks and you don’t need any image editors to process the changes. The first option is to convert the image, and you can save it in GIF, BMP, JPG, PCX, PNG, TIF and TGA formats. How does this work? Select an image, right-click > XnShell > Convert into, and pick a format. That’s it.

XnShell context menu -convert

The other “Convert..” option isn’t instant like the one above, but lets you select the output folder, format, and also resize the image. There are a lot more output formats available when you use this option including CIN, DCX, DDS, DIS, DPX, GBR, ICO, IFF, IMG, JIX, JXR, KRO, MBM, MIF, MTV, PAT, PBM, PDB, PDF, PGM, PIC, PIX, PNM, PPM, PRC, PS, PSD, QRT, RAW, RGB, RLA, SCT, TGA, VST, WBMP, WRL, XBM, XPM, YUV.

You can define the compression settings manually from the “Convert…” menu.

Resize and Rotate images

The Resize menu has options to modify the picture’s size to one of the following 320 x 200 pixels, 640 x 480, 800 x 600, 1024 (x pixels based on the aspect ratio). You can use the 50% and 25% resize options to reduce the original image. The result is instant, and the new image is saved in the same folder with a new name. Similarly, the Rotate option offers ways to change the photo’s orientation instantly by 90°, 180°, Flip Vertical or Horizontal, or Rotate based on the EXIF tag.

Other options

XnShell can edit the ITPC metadata of pictures. There is an option to retain the original attributes and another to use templates to quickly add information to your images. You can upload images to the cloud directly by using the Send to ImageShack menu item. And the final menu option is to set the selected image as wallpaper.

XnShell options

The Options sub-menu allows you to modify XnShell’s settings. You can use this to disable/enable any of the menu items. The default thumbnail preview size is 128 x 96 which is small, but you can increase the size manually. Or you can disable the previews. There are a few other options for tweaking the thumbnail settings.

XnShell’s convert options is incredible if you edit images on a daily basis, and share them online.

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Protect your tabs in Firefox with Don't Touch My Tabs! (rel=noopener)

The Firefox add-on Don’t Touch My Tabs! (rel=noopener) adds the link attribute rel=noopener to all links encountered in the web browser with the exception of same-domain links.

The extension addresses a long-standing issue that affects all modern web browser: when a linked resource is opened in  anew tab, it gets control over the page that it was loaded from.

That’s a problem, as it opens the door for manipulation, tracking or malicious attacks. Visit the About rel=noopener website and activate the first link that says “click me..”. It opens a new page in a new tab and while that in itself is not that exciting, going back to the originating page is because it has been manipulated by that site.

Websites may add the rel=noopener attribute to links to avoid this. Most should, considering that control is handed over to the linked resources. These could do all kinds of things, from changing form field destinations to loading tracking pixels or displaying advertisement.

Sites may implement rel=noopener to protect users and their own data from such attacks or manipulations. The problem is that this needs to be implemented by each site individually as browser makers have been reluctant to make the change. Mozilla did test rel=noopener for target=”_blank” links in 2018 but did not activate the change for users of the browser. Check out the linked article for instructions on enabling noopener for blank targets.

Note: The preference appears to have the same effect as the Firefox add-on. It may require further testing to be really sure about that but a quick check of a couple of sites suggests that it works equally well.

When you check external links here on Ghacks, you will notice that noopener is used for all of them.

noopener browser
Ghacks external links

The Firefox add-on Don’t touch my tabs! (rel=noopener) steps in by enabling noopener sitewide for any link you encounter after installation of the extension. The only exception to the rule applies to links that point to the same domain (as the site in question already has full control over its own pages).

The extension does the following, basically:

  1. Searches for hyperlinks on active pages and checks if they have the “target=”_blank” attribute. For any found
    1. It adds the rel=noopener attribute if no rel attribute is used already.
    2. It adds noopener to the attribute if rel is already used leaving any other attributes untouched.

Breakage should be minimal and the extension works automatically in the background once it is installed. The extension is open source; you can check out its GitHub webpage to check out its source. Chrome users can check out No Opener instead which does the same.

Now You: How do you handle this in your browser?

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How to block the automatic installation of suggested Windows 10 apps

When you sign-in to a new Windows 10 profile or device for the first time, chance is that you notice several third-party applications and games listed prominently in the Start Menu.

Candy Crush Saga is probably the most famous example of such an offer but there are other games and applications such as Netflix, Twitter, the Windows 10 edition of Minecraft or Farmville 2 that may be displayed in the Start Menu.

windows 10 suggested apps

It is easy enough to remove these, just right-click on the icon and select uninstall to remove it, but that does not take care of future suggestions that may be put on the device automatically.

Tip: you may use third-party applications to uninstall Windows 10 apps. Free options include Revo Uninstaller Free, Geek Uninstaller, or AppBuster.

If you want to avoid these altogether, you need to make a change to the Windows Registry. Here is how that is done:

  1. Open the Windows Registry Editor, e.g. by using the shortcut Windows-R to open the runbox, typing regedit.exe and hitting the Enter-key-
  2. Confirm the UAC prompt that is displayed.
  3. Paste the following key into the path field at the top or navigate to the key manually: HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionContentDeliveryManager
  4. Check if the Dword value SilentInstalledAppsEnabled exists.
    1. If it does exist, double-click on it and set its data value to 0. A value of 0 turns the suggested apps feature off on the Windows 10 system. You may turn it on again at any point in time by setting the data value to 1.
    2. If the Dword value does not exist, right-click on ContentDeliveryManager and select New > Dword (32-bit) Value. Name it SilentInstalledAppsEnabled and give it the value 0.
  5. Restart the PC after closing the Registry Editor.

Please note that the setting prevents future suggested apps from being installed; it does not affect applications that are already installed on the device. You still need to remove these manually from the device to get rid of them.

You may also download a Registry file that you just need to run on the Windows 10 device to turn the suggested applications feature on or off. Just click on the following link (disable_suggested_apps) to download it to your system (thanks Majorgeeks). Just extract the archive and run the “disable” or “enable” Registry file to turn the feature off or on.

 

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Booking.com promises to end manipulative sales practices in the EU

If you have ever been to one of the big hotel and flight booking portals on the Internet, you may have noticed sentences like “Only 1 room like this left on our site”, “other persons showed interest in this hotel in the last 24 hours”, “the room is popular”, or “time limited offer”.

Hotel and flight booking portals like Booking.com use these to  convey a sense of urgency to people interested in finding a hotel or flight in order for them to make rash decisions.

booking.com changes eu

According to a Reuters report, Booking.com will stop using manipulative sales practices in the European Union from June 16, 2020 onward.

The European Commission said on Friday that Booking.com had committed to end “manipulative techniques” on its travel site, such as time-limits for making bookings and misrepresentation of discounts.

One of the main issues that the European Commission had was that some of the information that Booking.com displayed on its site would not provide any context. The “only x rooms” message for example meant only that Booking.com could not provide any more rooms to interested users but it did not necessarily mean that the hotel itself or competing services would not have any rooms either anymore.

The European Commission noticed other practices that it considered anti-consumer. Booking.com used sales and promotions to advertise certain hotel room offers but when these ran out, it was often the case that the price would not change at all.

Changes that Booking.com will implement by June 2020 include making it clearer that the number of rooms available only reflect rooms available through Booking.com and not necessarily other portals or the hotel directly.

Other changes include stopping the practice of highlighting offers as time limit if the same price applies after the time limit expires, that discounts “represented genuine savings”, that the total price is displayed in a “clear way”, and to indicate whether an accommodation is offered by a private host or professional.

The Competition and Markets Authority in the UK managed to get formal commitments from six online hotel booking sites after it launched an investigation in sales practices in late 2017. The six sites, among them Booking.com, Expedia, and Trivago, “provided formal commitments to change practices on their websites which the CMA considers may be misleading consumers”.

Now You: do you book hotels and flights online?

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