.:VirtualSalt

Software Reviews and Recommendations
For Trainers, Educators, Instructional Designers, and Others

Robert Harris
Version Date: November 6, 2013



Here is a listing with some brief reviews of some of the excellent software--some of it free software--that I have found and most of which I use. Whether you are an educator or instructional designer, or just someone with a need, check out some of these items.

Review of AVS4You Family of Applications

What convinced me to update this page was the suite of applications by the AVS4You company. I recently had the need to toss a bunch of screenshots together and add a music track, so I opened up the AVS4You video editor. Then I wanted to edit some music for another project, so I used the company's audio editor. And yet still again, I've started to think about converting some of my documents into ePub format to sell online, and--guess what--AVS4You has a document converter, too.

Now the greatest news is that you can get all of these programs, all their future updates, and any new programs they create, for one low, one time price. Currently there are at least 18 applications included in the global lifetime license, which I have often seen available at a remarkably low price.

The applications are simple and straightforward. The video editor allows you to slice and add scenes, transitions, effects, narration, music, and so forth. You can output to several formats (wmv, mov, avi, and so on) and the rendering engine is reasonable fast. Dont' expect Adobe Premier or After Effects, but think comparability to Windows Movie Maker or some of the under $100 applications on the market. A new video editing program that I really like is AVS Video Remaker, which allows you to slice up video files and simply re-save them without having to reconvert or re-render them. Very handy for tweaking your home movies.

Similarly, the audio editor is rather like Audacity or Sony Sound Forge, easy to get used to and very practical.

So far my experience with the Document Converter (to make ePub files) has been limited, and it appears that the nature of the input document is critical to have a well-formatted output document. Document Converter converts to pdf as well as ePub and other formats.

The last item in this review is for the AVS Media Player. At this writing, the player is free. And it plays every kind of format I tested. I added mixed files to the playlist and it played one after another without a pause or glitch. I added a wmv, mp4, mov, flv, mp3, and mpg and they all played perfectly. This is a real benefit for people who have a miscellany of files and don't want to wrestle between Quicktime Player, Windows Media Player, and a Flash player.

Graphics Tools

Snagit
Snagit gets listed first on this page because for trainers, educators, and especially instructional designers, it is the single most important tool in the software toolbox. Snagit is a screen-capture and editing program that allows you to copy portions of screens (or entire screens, even scrolling Web pages), and annotate them, edit them (reverse colors, blur out sensitive information, create a transparent background, etc.), and resize them. If you aren't willing to risk the $50 fee, there is a free 30-day trial that will convince you. Everyone I tell about this application ends up loving it.

Photo Editors
There are many free or cheap, very powerful photo editors available. Here are a few. I haven't used any of these at this point.

Picasa
Photo editor by Google, free.

Gimp
Open source photo editor, free.

Paint.net
Free photo editor compared to Adobe PhotoShop

FreeSerifSoftware
Several applications in addition to the free PhotoPlus software. Each application (photo editor, page designer, Web page editor, etc.) has a free and an upgraded version for sale.
 

Graphics Sources

Need graphics for PowerPoint presentations, posters, or training documents? Well, you're not supposed to grab a picture from a Google image search. You'll need to ask permission from the owner of the photo. Here are some graphics sources that offer pre-approved, royalty-free use. Some are free, and others charge, as noted.

Animation Factory
More than 500,000 animated gifs, video backgrounds, sounds, music, and PowerPoint templates. I use this fairly regularly for PowerPoint presentations because the animations keep the audience interested and focused on the slides. Annual subscription fee.

Stock.xchng
Excellent source of free stock photography. This is my first-look place for photos.

iStockPhoto
One of the least expensive, commercial stock photography sites. Photos range from about $1.50 for PowerPoint or document resolution  to $40 for super hi res for large posters or banners. I use this site fairly regularly.

Image*After
More than 20,000 free images and textures in good resolution.
 

Message Generators

3DTextmaker
Create scrolling banner messages (that are animated gifs) for use in PowerPoint.  Web-based. Free.

GifWorks
Edit graphics in .gif format (add text, make the background transparent). Web-based. Free.

Error Message Generator
Create fake computer error messages, or duplicate real messages that flash by on the screen. Free.

SignGenerator
Put your own text on 500 different signs and create a graphic image for use with PowerPoint or documents.  Free. If you have a fast Internet connection, you can view 500 thumbnails and choose a sign from here.

CustomSignGenerator
Another sign creation site. Free.

Warning Sign Generator
Create warning signs, for print or presentation use. Free.
 

Miscellaneous Tools

Vocabulary Worksheet Factory
Create crossword puzzles, word search, cloze tests, matching exercises. Probably intended for the K-12 market, the worksheets are great ways to create fun activities and assessments for adult learners also. The first time we handed out a word search puzzle (with terms relevant to the curriculum, of course) to a class of systems trainees, we were astonished at the enthusiasm. One time license fee.

Audacity
This is an audio recording and editing application. Many features including amplify, noise filter, etc. Export to .wav and .mp3. Free.

Maze Maker
Create mazes to print or include in documents. Great for breaks between modules. Free, online.

Maze Creator
For more serious maze needs. License fee.

Xtranormal
Create cartoon-style animations with text to voice synthesis or record your own audio track. Very inexpensive, easy to learn, and it is a great way to add humor to your training.


Utilities

PrimoPDF
Create PDF files from your documents with this free converter.

RAD Video Tools
File converter from one format to another. Video, such as .mov to .avi and still, such as .jpg to .bmp. Free.

Restoration
This is a file undelete utility that saved my bacon. I was editing a document on a flash drive (apparently not a good idea) when the document disappeared. Word's previous version recovered file feature didn't work, the .tmp file wouldn't open (or was gone--I forget). So I desperately searched the Web for something that would work. I tried several suggestions from helpful sites, but nothing worked. Then I found this little utility and it got my file back in a snap. It doesn't even install anything on your computer--you can run it from a CD or floppy drive or Utility folder on your hard drive. And it's free.

SyncToy
File copying and backup utility from Microsoft. Free. Very handy and recommended.


Bonus Links

Mind42
Create mind maps (also called idea maps) on your browser to show students how concepts interrelate. Collaborative. Free.

Survey Monkey
Create and distribute surveys (by email link to the Web site). There is a free version, but for an annual license fee, there are many extra features.
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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com