Monthly Archives: May 2012

Help the Aged

Before my trial version of UltraCompare v8.30 came to an end, I was interested to give their on-line help another go, as in a previous article, I criticised UltraCompare for not having local help files. This was followed up by their VP’s comments that online help has lots of advantages. Fair enough but as an average user how does the experience match my expectations?

As you’d expect, help is accessed from the Help>Index (F1) menu item. This opens the help index (contents) web page for UltraCompare. All good so far. I’m interested in looking for help on using Workspace Manager, and this can be found under the ‘Getting Started’->’Workspace Manager’ links or I can use the search facility. Using the links, the page that I want loads in about 5 seconds. Using search lists articles about Workspace Manager and selecting one of these opens the article in a new tab (and also takes about 5 seconds on a fast connection).

UltraCompare

I would have to say that the search facility is very good as it provides advanced search options but only after a basic search has been executed. I would prefer to have the advanced options from the outset. I’m also not sure that the page makes best use of available space as the right third is taken up with things you can do with the article, such as subscribe, print, export (PDF or Word) and even Tweet.

I think overall it does work well enough and I dare say that I’d eventually get used to it and maybe even get to like it but mainly for the fact that the content is comprehensive, up-to-date and has a good search facility. Actually, that sounds a bit like a Monte Python “What have the Romans ever done for us?” type statement as surely, that’s all I really need – and I can wait 5 seconds for a page to load if it gives me the information that I want.

The question of ‘What about when I’m working offline?‘ is a moot point for me as it’s a rare occurrence when I’m working with either UEStudio or UC.

For any software company there is the dilemma of balancing the time and cost of producing new help files for each release coupled with having to provide updates or corrections, against satisfying user expectations. To do this for various platforms and in various user languages is, to be honest, a bit of a nightmare. So in conclusion, I appreciate the position IDM Computer Solutions is taking on this mainly because their help system content is very good.

If they continue to work on improving the web page user interface, then even old duffers like me may feel at home with it.

Spot the difference

To supplement my review of UEStudio v12 last month, I’ve now taken a look at the companion product UltraCompare Professional v8.3 from IDM Computer Solutions. First impressions are good but with some room for improvement.

Folder SyncAs stated on the IDM website, UltraCompare Professional is a folder/file compare utility loaded with features to enable you to compare text files and folders, Word documents, and even zip files and jar archives. It’s much more powerful than the lite version supplied with UEStudio and UltraEdit with some very worthwhile features. My highlights include;

  • compare text files (obviously)
  • compare binary files
  • colour coded highlighting
  • merge lines or blocks of text
  • compare and synchronise folders
  • tabbed sessions

Looking at the detail shows how powerful this utility application is, including being able to compare files over FTP, 3-way compare, web page compare (by typing the URL) and the option to save favourite files and folders.

Synchronise FoldersThere is also built-in support for comparing native Microsoft Word documents (.doc and .docx) to highlight differences in text content. If merged, the files can only be saved as unformatted text but it is a useful tool for identifying minor changes to a large document which would be difficult to find by other means. If you write your documentation in Word this would be an ideal way of checking for version differences

UltraCompare includes a useful print function for file or folder listings but the print preview doesn’t provide an option to switch to landscape mode which, considering the width required for side-by-side comparison, would have been helpful.

Duplicate File Finder

UltraCompare includes a duplicate file finder that provides the ability to find duplicate files based on Find Duplicatesname, size or binary content by selecting and comparing two folders. This is accessed from the File->Find Duplicates menu option which then opens a dialogue box to set the search criteria. Clicking ‘Start’ runs the comparison and the view switches to the Results Report tab. The duplicate file finder needs some minor tweaks on the user interface as on my screen the identified duplicate files are listed in a cramped left pane, making it difficult to scan through them. The dialogue window itself can be re-sized thereby widening this pane but the re-sizing is not remembered for the next time it’s used.

Duplicate files can be deleted by selecting the associated check boxes and clicking ‘Delete Checked’. This requires stepping through each set of duplicates to delete as you go, as there’s no option to select and delete multiple duplicates i.e. it doesn’t retain the check box state between sets for a final bulk delete operation.

The other frustration for a new user is the lack of a local help file. Using help opens a web page on the IDM website which is not ideal and can be tiresome to navigate and use.

Despite these issues UltraCompare Professional v8.3 is a very competent file and folder comparison tool that goes well beyond the basics offered by many others. Its main competitor for file/ folder comparison is Beyond Compare which is priced similarly but for users of either UltraEdit or UEStudio the built-in integration of UltraCompare with each of these, and the extra features, make it more appealing.

UltraCompare Professional v8.30 is available for Windows, Mac and Linux and can be downloaded from the IDM Computer Solutions website as a 30 day trial and purchased for $49.95

[s3r star=4/5]

Right to reply: I received a response to this review from Rich at IDM Computer Solutions, who made some valid points in regard to the online help system.

“The online help allows users to access the latest documentation in their language according to their favored platform.  Our user community at large has welcomed this across our product line.  What is also noteworthy about our online help is that will allow you to download any topic or print a topic or for that matter – the entire manual.  In fact, we purchased a specific online help back-end solution to especially provide these benefits to our users. The online help is also integrated with our localization software and provider so new content is essentially provided to our user community in real time, vs only available in software upgrades.” – Richard L. Knott, IDM Computer Solutions

Gathering clouds

In a previous article, I recommended using cloud storage to make your files mobile and to provide a means of backing up vital files and data. For file back-up, the idea of cloud storage is appealing as it fulfils one of the main tenets of secure back-up by providing off-site storage should your premises or house be desimated by fire or flood.

Fire and Flood

Don't let this happen to your data

All well and good, until recently when there was a huge stushie over file sharing company Megaupload which was shutdown by US officials on 19th January 2012 and charged with conspiracies to commit racketeering, copyright infringement and money laundering. The background to the case is that Megaupload were allegedly encouraging users to upload and share popular files leading to copyright infringements including software, video and music piracy. Whatever the outcome of the case against Megaupload, it has already had an effect on the online storage industry and some similar cloud providers are restricting or closing down their service including FileSonic, FileServe, FileJungle, UploadBox and UploadStation.

For your average and genuine user, the concern of this is that the many legitimate companies that provide a useful and innovative service may be tarred with the same brush and put at risk by this action.

So where does that leave us ……?

The Silver Lining

My advice is not to be put off using cloud storage for both personal and business use but to use it as a convenience rather than rely on it as an absolute necessity. This means keeping a local copy of your files and all the best cloud storage providers will have a synchronisation utility to do this automatically, giving access to your files even when you’re offline. For extra security, sensitive files can be encrypted using an on-the-fly encryption utility such as AxCrypt and TrueCrypt can be used with Dropbox to create a secure container. The great thing about Dropbox synchronisation, unlike with many other services, is that it only transfers the part of the file that has actually changed not the whole file, so you won’t use lots of bandwidth to update your TrueCrypt containers.

Dropbox offers 2Gb of free storage but if you’re looking for more, then I can recommend 4shared who provide a generous 15GB of free storage. I’ve been evaluating their service for a while and I like the web interface, which is much better than that from Dropbox and more like a proper file manager. 4shared also provides two free programs to synchronise your files with your PC, ‘4shared Sync’ synchronises the whole 4shared account, while ‘4shared Desktop’ is similar to an upload/download manager and allows you to synchronise a particular folder. I’ve emailed 4shared a couple of times with general questions and their responses have been quick and helpful. It stands out from the rest and is worth a look.