Using your Android or iOS tablet as a second monitor

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As we’ve seen previously (The more screens, the better – Our guide to multiple monitors ), having more screens to distribute your desktop across can be a huge benefit to your computing experience.

And as you’ll have noticed in the title, if you’ve got a tablet, you can even bring it into the mix, as long as you’ve got access to a WiFi network and have installed a few pieces of software. Lets take a look.

Apps
There are quite a few apps out there for Android and iOS, on both Windows and OSX. This post isn’t really about all the variations available, so to keep it simple, I’m using Air Display by Avatron, which is available for all four configurations (Android (OSX/Win), iOS (OSX/Win)).

It’s a simple matter to set up, just install a server application on your desktop, and a client application on your tablet. Configuration took a minute or two and then I was sharing my screen.

MacAndroid.jpgIt’s about the network
The way these desktop-extending apps work is they basically fool your operating system into thinking you’ve just connected another monitor to the system. To your operating system, the tablet looks just like a monitor, and is treated as such.

You can drag windows on to it, launch your computer’s applications from it — it’s just another screen.

Screen with benefits
Ok, it’s not really just another screen. This new mini-monitor also becomes a touch screen. Yep, you can tap on your screen, and the computer’s cursor immediately snaps to the location you tapped. Which means all your mouse functions are also now available on the touchscreen tablet.

Portable
For me, one of the best uses of a tablet as an extended desktop is when I pair my iPad up with my MacBook Pro when I’m on the go.

Imagine pulling up to your favourite table at your local coffee shop, setup up your laptop, and next to it, your tablet. Extend the screen onto your tablet and poof! You are now uber productive while being extremely portable.

Refreshing
Since you’re actually getting an extended desktop sent through the network to your tablet, don’t expect blisteringly fast screen updates. Depending on the app and desktop, you can make Flash animations appear on your device. In my case, I managed to get just under 60 frames per second in my highly un-scientific HTML5 Fishtank framerate test :smileyhappy:

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Drawbacks?
No system is perfect. Using the tablet as a second screen requires a WiFi network connection. This can be a bit tricky in some locations where you’re only allowed one WiFi connection per person.

Also, if there are multiple WiFi networks in the same building, say at a university, you must make sure that your devices are all on the same WiFi network.

Why?
Well, I like using the extra monitor provided by my tablet as a news desk, tweet monitor and reference desk. Yep, just a passive display that I can occasionally glance at that means I don’t have to Alt-Tab to check on stuff. Much less distracting that way, I find. And it’s a portable solution to my multiple monitor addiction.

Thoughts?
Got a favourite computer and tablet configuration you want to share? Tell us about it and we’ll all learn something!

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50 year old infographic shows NASA’s first manned forray into space

Loving the way today's NASA image of the day looks on my desktop.

NASA’s Image of the Day Gallery provided this cool infographic showing Alan Shepard’s brief flight into space — America’s first.

It appeared magically on my desktop courtesy of John’s Background Switcher — a cool windows desktop wallpaper application that manages and displays many image sources.

How to run your favourite desktop utilities from almost any computer using Portable Applications

photo.JPGIn the course of my day, I use two or three main desktop and laptop computers in two or three different parts of the city.

And yet, working on different devices, I still have access to a core set of tools and utilities that I find essential to my daily work. Here’s how I do it.

Some of the computers are ‘client’ managed, so I don’t have complete control over the software suite I have available to me.

There are two options that I use, though I find myself moving to one more often these days.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me write a little bit about the applications. Continue reading “How to run your favourite desktop utilities from almost any computer using Portable Applications”

How to view PDF files on your iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch with DropBox

Dropbox really is an amazing computing and file sharing application. I was initially introduced to it when I needed to easily share files with various computers across the internet — and email was not an option.

Recently my wife asked me for another solution to viewing PDF files on her iPod Touch. She’d been using this process where you load the image into Stanza on a Desktop, then share it with the Touch. It works, but takes too many steps. Is klunky, she said.

Dropbox basics

On your desktop computer, when you install Dropbox, it creates a watched and shared Dropbox directory.  Anything put into this directory is shared with your online Dropbox account.

Any other computer you install Dropbox on will immediately have access to your online Dropbox account, and have access to those files  you saved on the other computer.

Dropbox has an app for that

For the iPhone and iPod Touch to access those files, you’ll need to install the free Dropbox app. Once you’ve set it up with your login credentials, viola! You have access to those same files you dropped into the shared directory on your desktop computer. Including media and document files.

How to add a network activity monitor to Windows 7

I like Windows 7. But there’s one thing that I noticed missing right off the top, a network activity monitor in the Taskbar.

Sure, you could ad a gadget/widget thingie to the desktop, but when you’re working on something, odds are you’re at full-screen resoulution and the monitor is behind whatever y ou’re working on.

Well, thanks to this cool little site (and the pointer from Download Squad) Windows 7 now has a working taskbar-mounted network activity monitor, complete with animated blinking screen. To quote the developer:

This utility is a standalone executable. Run the program, you’ll see a new system tray icon.

Now you can monitor your network traffic in Windows 7 using XP-like ‘two monitors’ icon in the System Tray.

To customize program settings right click the mouse on the System Tray icon.

Pretty straightforward, and functional. And light weight! The Network Activity Indicator for Windows 7 weighs in at a tiny 57kb download.

You can download it here

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How to easily install essential applications on a new Windows 7 computer

It doesn’t matter if you’ve upgraded from Vista or XP, or if you’ve bought a new Windows 7 based computer, you’re going to need to install some basic and essential applications on your new baby.

And this awesome website makes it so, SO easy. 4 easy steps:

  • Visit the site
  • Select which applications you want
  • Press the button to start a download
  • Run the downloaded application

Visit the site
Ninite.com is a very cool web app with a single function: to make a custom downloader and installer that will save you time and mouseclicks to install commonly used open-source and free applications.

The page looks like this, a long list of applications and utilities, divided into sections by application type.

Ninite includes everything from office suite applications (Open Office, MS Office trial), image and  audio editors, to system maintenance utilities, virus scanners, and media burning tools.

Get your applications
This couldn’t be simpler. Click on the apps or utilities you want. Unfortunately there’s no link to a product overview so if you’re not familiar with the application you will need to Google it.

Press the button
This initiates a bit of back-end magic at the site. A custom download/installer application is built and sent to your computer. It contains all the information necessary to, when run, download and install (in background) the applications you selected in the previous step.

Make it so
When  you run the installer, a window opens showing you the progress of the process. If you’re curious, you can ‘show the details’ and each phase of the install can be viewed.

Why?
The big benefit for me is the time saving and the click saving. What would normally take over an hour for a new install, basically takes 2-5 minutes of my time, the rest happens in background while I do something else. To quote from the developers:

Ninite runs on Windows XP/Vista/7 and works
in the background 100% hands-free.

We install apps with default settings and
say “no” to browser toolbars and other junk.

All we do is install the latest versions of the apps
you choose. Not even Ninite is installed.

How can that not be cool?