They're not exactly the tricorders of Star Trek fame, but the latest generation of smartphones offer computing possibilities that would've been discarded as high fantasy only a decade or two ago. One of them is the ability to learn more about your present geographical location, whether it's an old church building in Victoria or a trashy bar in Halifax. Urban romantics are often drawn to the feeling of getting slightly lost, but the rest of us just want to know where the good shopping spots are, how to get to the subway, or even - when the urge strikes - the location of the nearest toilet.
Free iPhone/iPod Touch, Android, Blackberry (also web-based) bathroom finder by developer DenseBrain
Websites collecting the locations of publicly accessible bathrooms have been around for years, but it's only with the surge in smartphone use that they've become truly useful. SitOrSquat can determine your location via GPS (if available) and show you a map of nearby toilets, drawn from an online global database of bathrooms maintained by other users. Selecting individual bathrooms brings up hours of availability, a basic rating for the discriminating type, and even user-submitted photos.
SitOrSquat is a very capable application and the iPhone app's interface is very slick, but the whole thing relies on user data, meaning coverage is spotty. Downtown Vancouver has decent coverage, but Toronto feels a little barren given its size, and the whole of Edmonton seems to have only five or six public toilets. But as more people use the app, more toilets should make it to the database, meaning relief will be easier to find as time goes on.
Free multiple application installer for Windows by developer Secure by Design
Windows 7 has just been released, which means legions of computer users will be busy installing and re-installing programs on their PCs. The jump to a new OS can be a challenge, especially for those upgrading from Windows XP because Windows 7 will not save their old applications. Yet clean installs (when you wipe your hard drive in the process of installing a new operating system) are an opportunity for some to trim software bloat. However, re-installing your old applications is tedious and frustrating at best.
Ninite can't help you with most commercial store-bought programs, but it will reinstall many of the free applications you've come to rely on like Firefox or Flash. Before you upgrade, or on a different computer, you select the programs you want to install on the Ninite site. It gives you one installer that will download all the software you selected and install it, all without requiring you to lift a finger. It'll even automatically reject any adware that might come with the software you selected.
Chances are your favourite free program is already included in Ninite, but you'll likely have to hunt down the more obscure software you want to keep. Ninite has just emerged from a private beta period (formerly known as Volery), conveniently on the same day as the launch of Windows 7. It may not be a utility you use often, but Ninite can save you a lot of stress when you get around to upgrading.
Free application quick-switcher for Windows by developer NTWind Software
One of the first commands any Windows neophyte learns is the humble Alt-Tab hotkey, used to switch between all your open windows and applications. The command is so ubiquitous that you can even use it in OS X (substituting the Command key for Alt). Over time, others have taken the Alt-Tab switcher in Windows and added nifty new features. Microsoft even released a PowerToy utility that added a thumbnail preview to the application switcher, but fell short of actually including the feature in Windows itself.
With Vista, Microsoft added Flip3D, which displays all open windows like a stack of cards. But it's no replacement for the venerable Alt-Tab switcher, which still soldiers on even in Windows 7. VistaSwitcher is no greenhorn itself; NTWind also created TaskSwitchXP, an Alt-Tab replacement built for the previous generation of Windows operating systems. VistaSwitcher takes many of the features of its predecessor, including thumbnail previews and advanced keyboard controls, and adds a fresh coat of paint suited to the more modern look of Vista and 7 (though it still works fine with XP).
VistaSwitcher also takes advantage of the Aero graphics engine available in most versions of Vista and all versions of 7. Live previews show you exactly what's in a window at all times, so you can keep tabs on the progress of a task or even watch video without having to switch windows. Another new addition is an application blacklist-if system tray programs keep popping up, you can tell VistaSwitcher not to show them. Overall, VistaSwitcher is a fine replacement for the Alt-Tab switcher that manages to improve on both form and function.