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A Look at Acoustic Bridge

Thursday, July 22, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

In a world of media streaming, does Acoustic Bridge have a place anymore?

I decided to play around with the program a bit and see some of the advantages it offered over streaming music directly to a device via an app like Spotify or YouTube. I admit, in general I tend to stream things from my phone and hook it up to external speakers either via bluetooth or an AV cable, so I wasn’t sure if I would be interested in anything Acoustic Bridge could do for me.

Although I grab most of my music off of Spotify these days, I admit that it’s largely because of convenience. Before music streaming became big, I had a fairly robust iTunes account. I still do - it’s not like the music has gone anywhere - but in most cases I can find stuff on a streaming platform if I want to play it.

The ability to choose specific songs or avoid ads on many of these streaming platforms, however, comes with a monthly cost. Why would I pay that when I already have a huge music library of songs I know I like that I can listen to? This is where Acoustic Bridge comes in for me.

Using Acoustic Bridge, I was able to connect my main PC in my office to my laptop, which I can take with me anywhere in the house. I took it downstairs to my gaming room and hooked it up to a set of speakers, then streamed my iTunes music from my main computer onto the laptop. It was great!

No cumbersome downloads onto the laptop (I have a LOT of GBs worth of music), and a quick, simple, seamless way to connect. All I needed to do was download Acoustic Bridge onto both computers, set one to “send audio” and the other to “receive audio,” enter the computer key, and then boom - I was in business. 

It was nice not to have to skip through ads or click “yes” on the “Video Paused. Resume?” screen. I also found that I had a more consistent connection between my PCs instead of having to wait for loading when the music was streaming from an online source like Spotify. 

The audio sharing goes beyond music, too - I can transfer the output from any application, from Discord to email, ensuring that I don’t miss any notifications while I’m downstairs jamming out to the greatest hits of the 90’s.


Don't judge me.

One thing to note about using Acoustic Bridge is that you might need to dive into your Firewall settings a bit in order to make sure that the PCs can connect. I had to do a bit of finagling and seek a little help from one of my pals in IT, but I figured it out without too much trouble. 

Have you used Acoustic Bridge before? I’d love to hear how you utilize it - share with me!

Using DeskScapes with Dynamic Changing Wallpapers

Friday, July 16, 2021 by Island Dog | Discussion: Stardock Blog

DeskScapes 11 is fantastic at bringing animated wallpapers to your Windows desktop, but it's also great at using and managing static wallpapers as well. Sometimes I don't want a fully animated desktop and would just prefer a more minimal setup. This is why lately I've been using triggered static .dreams that change based on the time of day. These are amazingly easy to make with DreamMaker, and we have added quite a few to the WinCustomize gallery also.

What exactly are they? Well let's look at one of my favorites, The Desert.

The preview shows a day and night view, but it actually has 8 images of the same scene but at different times of the day. Starting from the morning all the way to through late night, this .dream will change based on the time, so you'll have a dynamically changing wallpaper all day.

Another one of my favorites is Tropical Beach. As the name implies this is a cool vector scene of a tropical beach in the morning, afternoon, evening, and night. 

These .dreams are a fun way to add a new twist to your desktop wallpaper! Have you tried using triggered .dreams? Do you have any favorite scenes you'd like to see created?

 

Constant Innovation

Thursday, July 15, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

Change is inevitable.

...hah, writing that first line just made me think of Thanos. The jerk.

ANYWAY, like I was saying: change is inevitable. As humans, we are constantly seeking, learning, and applying new concepts that result in incredible innovations. It’s amazing to see how much has happened, specifically in tech, over the last decade or so. 

Before I came to Stardock and found myself immersed more on the producer’s side of tech, I worked very heavily with the consumer-side. For about five years, I worked in a local school district, and I swear I learned more about technology from those kids than I ever did from any sort of formal class or gaming knowledge I’d picked up over the years.

The stuff these kids could create using a computer or even just an iPad was amazing! They constantly blew my mind with their creations - from short videos, to animated critters dancing across the screen that they controlled while learning how to code, these kids were endlessly exploring all of the great things tech could offer them.

Thanks to technology, they also played a fair number of games, which of course was part of why we got along so well. Have you ever tried to have a conversation with an 8 year old about who their favorite Pokemon is? Trust me, you’ll be charged for hours afterwards from just their energy.

In just the last 10 years, we’ve witnessed the rise of everyday technology. Stuff that, when I was a kid, seemed like just an imaginative idea but is now commonplace and interwoven into our daily routines. Things like social media, cloud computing, iPads, virtual assistants, fitness trackers...the list could go on and on.

We’ve seen some attempts at innovation that either flopped entirely or are still trying to get off the ground (smart glasses, anyone?), but there’s no denying that, failed or not, innovation is constant. Let's take a look at some of the developments within the last 10 years that have impacted me the most.

Video Chatting

I remember starting out on AOL Messenger waaaaaay back in the day. It was text only (and if you were anything like I was in 8th grade, that text was usually brightly colored and in very obnoxious fonts), and the idea of actually having a video chat with someone was just something I’d seen on Star Trek a few times. 

As the years went on, things like Skype started to creep onto the scene. A lot of the video chatting capability evolved because of the growth of the Internet and the ability to deliver higher speeds to consumers. Now, video chatting is so rampant - FaceTime, Zoom, Discord, and so on - that it’s hard to remember a time when it wasn’t a “thing.” 

Video chatting is a large part of how I managed during the pandemic, in fact. It allowed me to converse with family members or friends who I couldn’t see in person. It has also paved the way for nightly FaceTimes with my 16 month old niece, Jade, who just melts my heart every time she says “Ni-ni, Kristy!” Is someone cutting onions in here?

Portable Tech

Do you remember the days of flip phones? Or heck, even the time when cell phones were only found in cars and were about half the size of your face? I have some very vague memories of my father having one of those.

If you had told me when I was a kid that someday I’d be able to hold a portable, internet-connected piece of technology in my hands like it was no big deal, I’d have called you crazy. And if you’d told me it was also a phone, I’d have definitely laughed at you.

I can’t believe how far we’ve come with our cell phones. I can do so many things from my iPhone, and even though innovation churns on faster than I can afford to upgrade, the slightly older model is usually just fine until I can manage to get the newest. I can search the internet, play games (obviously this is the most important thing, lol), video chat with friends, write in a word processor, and so much more.

One of the dangers of having all of that technology packed into something we can easily bring along everywhere we go is the state of constant connection that we have, but I suppose that isn’t always a bad thing. I just have to actively make time to be “unplugged” so that I can have some time to myself now and again.

The best thing about smart phones, hands down though, is GPS. Remember when GPS was its own separate piece of tech? I mean, I guess it still is, but as far as I’m concerned it’s obsolete when my phone can do most of the same things. I haven’t gotten lost in a long time - and believe me, back when I’d have to print up directions on MapQuest and follow them that way, it happened a lot more often than I’d like to admit.

Virtual Reality

A virtual reality experience in my house? You’re kidding, right? Nope, definitely not - welcome to the future! This still amazes me, honestly. 

The first time I tried virtual reality outside of something like a theme park, was actually when I first came to Stardock. We’d gotten an Oculus for the office and a bunch of us stayed after work one night to play around with it.

We ordered some pizza, set up a screen so that we could look at what the person was seeing on their headset, and started taking turns. I remember playing Aperture Robot Repair or something like that, and when the floor started to fall out from underneath me I recall feeling a brief moment of genuine alarm.

This alarm was amplified when one of my giggling coworkers came and gave me a light tap on the shoulder, further startling me. We all got a good laugh out of it! Not long after that, friends started acquiring various VR devices and now several of them have setups in their own homes, which is super-ideal for things like Beat Saber parties!

Ah, what a time to be alive.

 There are obviously so many more innovations that have impacted my daily life - things like Steam and Amazon, which makes gaming and shopping super accessible (a little TOO accessible, sometimes!), and countless other things that I know I’m forgetting.

Do you remember the days before these inventions and innovations? Which technological advances have most impacted or improved your life over the last decade? Share with me!

Sneak-peek at NEW WindowBlinds skins

Thursday, June 3, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

WindowBlinds is one of our software products that has been around for quite a long time - longer than I've been at Stardock, at any rate! If you're unfamiliar with it, WindowBlinds allows you to customize the look and feel of your taskbar, window frames, and more. You can make your desktop look unique by choosing from several different styles and skins and adjusting them to suit your personal tastes.

I think one of my absolute favorite features of WindowBlinds 10 is the randomization. If I like a bunch of skins, I can use this option to have my computer cycle through them at random intervals, giving me a fresh look and a bit of a surprise every time I boot up. The per-application skinning is great for variety, too - I can use one skin for my word processing software, and use a different skin for something like Premiere.

But, I digress! Recently, we've been developing some new skins for WindowBlinds and today I get to give you a little sneak peek of what's coming. PLEASE NOTE: These are not 100% final and some aspects of these may change before they are available.

Let's have a look!

Aero Executive

 

NeXTSTEP

 

Open Windows

 

AbraCadabra

 

Aero Metal

 

Aquarium

 

Dragon

 

Elegance

 

Aero Midnight

 

Airframe

 

Driftwood

 

Parchment

 

PlasticXP

Whew! That's a lot of new skins. They'll be available soon, but in the meantime, let me ask you this: which one is your favorite? Share with me!

DeskScapes 11: How to Make a Background Playlist

Thursday, May 20, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

DeskScapes 11 is currently in beta and although there are a lot of fantastic new features, one in particular is my personal favorite: playlists.

In the newest version of our popular customization app, you can set different backgrounds - both animated and static - to a playlist that will cycle in and out at intervals of your choice. I have a lot of interests and things that I love, so sometimes choosing just one of something is tough for me. I usually will manually change out my desktop background a few times a month or so - but now I don’t have to!

Let’s go through a few of the settings and get you on your way to setting up your own background playlists.

Choose Your Backgrounds

If you’re going to start a playlist, it makes sense to start with having an idea in mind of what backgrounds you’d like to include in it. There are thousands of backgrounds to choose from on WinCustomize.com, but maybe you have a few hundred photos from that awesome trip you took, or that family reunion you visited that you’d like to use. 

That’s great, and there’s an easy way to access them in DeskScapes. First and foremost, you’ll want to make sure that all of your pictures you’ll want to use are easily accessible in a Folder on your PC. Then, on the main menu, click on “Settings” down at the bottom. Go to the “Manage Folders” option and once you open that menu, choose the “Add…” option to put a new folder on the menu. You can also select and deselect folders from this menu to control what shows up on your DeskScapes UI.

If you want to use backgrounds other than personal photographs or videos, you can browse the entire WinCustomize library right from within the DeskScapes app. You can browse via categories, popular author, and by latest updated or uploaded. There’s also a section that keeps track of all the backgrounds you’ve favorited so that you can find them easily when you need them. 

Once you’ve found some backgrounds you like - either from your personal camera or from within the app - you’re ready to move onto the next step.

Make Your Playlist

Go to the “Playlists” tab on the main menu of DeskScapes. If you already have some playlists made, they’ll appear there - but for our purposes, let’s select “Create New Playlist” and go from there.

Once you name your playlist, it will appear in the menu below and you can edit it. You have a few options here - you can import backgrounds one at a time, selecting from different folders. If you’re going to use backgrounds you’ve downloaded from DeskScapes, make sure you know the folder directory they’re all saving in so that you can add them here. 

TIP: If you’re not sure where a background saved to, you can check it in DeskScapes by selecting the background and looking at the file directory listed to the right of the thumbnail image. 

If you have an entire folder worth of pictures or backgrounds you’d like the playlist to cycle through, you can add an entire folder to the playlist. 

Choose your Intervals

Once you’ve imported all of the images or videos you’d like to use in your playlist, it’s time to choose how often it will cycle from one thing to the next. You can set it to change only when you login/reapply, every 30 seconds, every few minutes, every hour, and so on. There are plenty of options to suit your preferred speed!

Choose Where it Applies

If you work with multiple monitors, DeskScapes gives you the fantastic option of applying different wallpapers - and, now, playlists! - to each of them. You can also choose to apply the playlist as a screensaver. In theory, since I work with 2 monitors, I could have 2 different playlists running, one on each, plus a separate one for my screensaver. 

Am I extra enough for that? Yeah, probably. Don’t judge me! 

Explore DeskScapes for Yourself

Playlists are just one of the fun and fantastic features in DeskScapes 11. You can make your own animated backgrounds using the in-app DreamMaker Pro, alter static backgrounds with dozens of cool effects, and much more! If you're an Object Desktop member, you can get into the beta right now. Not a member? You can get Object Desktop here

Have you tried the Playlists feature in DeskScapes yet? Tell me about it!

DeskScapes 11: The Dream Maker Pro Tool

Let's take a tour!

Thursday, May 13, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

I’m really not much of an artist.

To be frank, saying “not much of an artist” is being a little too kind to myself. I once drew a dog at the request of a 6 year old, who, upon me finishing my drawing, looked up at me and said, “I don’t know what that is, but that’s not a dog.” Kids and their brutal honesty!

While I’m not good at making something out of nothing, if given the right tools I can occasionally create some fun visual things. Fortunately for me - and all of you! - DeskScapes 11 gives me an amazing creator studio right inside the app, filled with tools for creating the perfect background for my Windows desktop. Let’s take a look at how to make an animated background - called a Dream - for DeskScapes together!

Getting Started

You’ll start by clicking “Create Animated Background” on the left-side menu in the app. You’ll have an option to choose an existing template or start with a completely blank slate. At the top, the options for “Package video as dream file,” “Upload Video Background,” and “Upload Static Background,” will allow you to put your finished creations up on WinCustomize - but more about that later. Let’s start creating!

Import a Picture

 

I started with a blank slate for mine because I wanted to animate a beautiful digital painting my friend Leo made for me. To get started, I just needed to double-click on the blank option in the menu, then import the image I wanted to alter.

Now that I had my image selected and ready to go (you can also do this with a short video!), it was time to get started!

Select Your Effects

I had been thinking for a while that it might look cool to add a flickering effect to the purple glows in the picture, so when I opened up the dream creator that was one of the first things I planned on looking for. Once I got my bearings, I found the “add animation” bar at the top, which gives you several options to flip through.

Animated Objects
This section will let you place different kinds of objects on your static or video background. There are tons of options - things like clouds, lightning bolts, fire, light beams, and quite a lot more.

Animated Brushes
These brushes will apply overall effects to your background. You can select something like “Day to Night” and make your image lighten and darken at custom intervals, or choose a drift or flow brush for some other wild effects. The pattern brushes have fun things like stars or hearts and will let you overlay them across your image by painting specific areas.

Airbrushes
These brushes will give you a wide spray of cool effects to apply all over your background. You can control where they go, and even change the size of the spray so that you can be more precise.

Text
There is a selection of fonts here that you can customize with words or phrases of your choice. You can adjust spacing, color, alignment, and more to get it just the way you like it.

Particle Systems
These options have lots of particle effects that you can apply and customize. You can alter the angle and location of where certain effects fall, too.

Lines
You can apply colored and animated lines on your backgrounds with this. You can control how long they are, where they curve and angle, and other aspects of how they look.

Customize, Customize, Customize

Nearly every effect has some level of customization, from speed, to size, to color, and so much more. I found a cool particle effect to surround the character’s sword and changed the color to match all of the purple magic particles in the image (which I also overlaid with some particle animations to make them pop). 

I played around with the effects' colors, sizes, shapes, and frequency of flashing. I was able to adjust the transparency of the effect on the sword so that it fades at one end and appears brighter at the other. After a bit of tinkering, I ended up with a result I was pretty happy with.

Obviously it's difficult to see the full effect of the animations from a static image like this, but I really love what came out of all of my experimenting. It's subtle and it flows into the overall picture very nicely. The Dream Maker Pro tool is included in DeskScapes 11 and, as you can see, offers you so much in terms of what you can do with it. If you're not into making your own Dreams, not to worry - there are thousands to choose from at WinCustomize.com, which you can browse through right from within DeskScapes 11.

What does your desktop background look like? Show me some screenshots!

 

DeskScapes 11: A Guided Tour

Thursday, May 6, 2021 by Frogboy | Discussion: Stardock Blog

DeskScapes is a program designed to make it easy to have really cool Windows desktop backgrounds.  It doesn’t just manage wallpapers - it integrates native animated wallpaper support into Windows. 

Version 11 includes a bunch of cool new things that make it pretty compelling for every PC user.  Here is a quick tour of some of those features.

Part 1: The interface

Once installed, you access DeskScapes by right-clicking on your desktop.

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The interface is designed to make it easy for you to access wallpapers that are already on your computer, as well as ones in the cloud.  DeskScapes 11 seamlessly integrates into the cloud, giving users access to hundreds of thousands of desktop backgrounds, both traditional and animated.

Part 2: The Cloud

I am generally a minimalist.  That’s why I use Fences to keep my desktop as clean as possible.  In my case, I stare at a lot of different monitors but even on a laptop, I like to occasionally switch my background.  The problem is that I can never remember where I put cool backgrounds I found.  That’s where the cloud helps.

I’d be the first to agree that this should be part of Windows.  But it’s not, so here we are.

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I can type a word in and it goes out and finds desktop backgrounds I want.  I can pick between normal (static) or animated ones. 

But more commonly, I’ll see what the current most popular ones are.

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While DeskScapes is often thought of as an “animated desktop” program, the Stardock team looks at it as a background is a background is a background.  So it makes both easily available.

Part 3: Clever backgrounds

A bunch of really clever backgrounds are already installed with DeskScapes 11.  Not just pretty pictures, but backgrounds that you could imagine being their own apps.  Let’s take a look:

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Colored lights is one of my favorites.  It just changes throughout the day.  It’s like having a mood ring as a a background. 

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Blurry blobs is another background that you could imagine being its own app.  It is kind of like having a lava lamp.  It’s super subtle and interesting.

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Desktop Earth is one I always run on one of my machines.  Except I don’t have the earth rotating.  Here’s why:

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It slowly changes over the course of the day.  Based on your Windows settings, it shows where you are in the world and you can slowly see when nighttime comes. 

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Desktop Collage is one of my favorites.  Basically, it just places pictures from target folders onto the background.  Here at work I have pictures of my daughter from ages 0 to 14 that are placed on my desktop.

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Moving wallpaper is pretty neat.  That said, I have it move very, very slowly. I don’t want to be distracted.  So it takes images and such and gradually rotates through them in a kind of Ken Burns type effect.

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Photo Dream is similar to moving wallpaper, but it treats the backgrounds at 3D images.  I usually have this one running on on my my monitors, as it’s one of my favorites.

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Stars is one I often run. I typically have the stars running very, very slowly. Like, you can barely tell they’re moving.  These work via DirectX, so unlike, say, a video of stars running, these basically use no resources.  At night I will run these on all my monitors at times.

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Part 4: Playlists

Depending on the day and the time of year and other considerations, I will run a given playlist.

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Playlists are super easy to make and once you make one, it’s basically the same as it is with music. 

Part 5: Customizing

So you’ve got a normal desktop background.  As I write this, it’s Spring.  So I have applied a normal background.

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But look at the buttons in the upper left.  The first one down lets you customize the background.

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There are a lot choices to apply, which would require an entire article just to go over them.  The one I find myself using the most is “porthole".  It makes the edges of a background dark.

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Should this be part of Windows? Probably.  But it’s not.  This feature makes almost any desktop background useful.  But there are lots of other ones too that are very interesting and helpful.

Part 6: Universal Resolution Support

Windows has a few fit options for backgrounds.  But not nearly enough.  If you’re someone who runs a monitor with an unusual aspect ratio (or have a rotating monitor), you already know how limited the options are.

DeskScapes has a lot of options.

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And this is super useful if you get a background that doesn’t support your desktop’s resolution, but still looks cool.

Part 7: Colorization

Apple, Microsoft and others make some great default wallpapers.  Unfortunately, they tend to be a particular color, which is fine - until it’s not.

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These are great wallpapers, to be sure. But I tend to like my backgrounds a little less saturated.

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You could also make it a totally different color.

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You can also mix it with the customizations to get something totally different.

Part 8: Creation

DeskScapes 11 includes DreamMaker Pro, a full-on animated wallpaper maker.

Now, personally, I lack the artistic skills to make something cool.  But I’ve used Adobe After Effects enough to know I can take create something from something else that’s cool.

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If you’ve ever used an art program of any kind, you already know how to use DreamMaker Pro.

When you’re done, just Export it as a DeskScapes file and voila.

I tend to use this for games I play a lot and have those as my backgrounds.

Conclusions

So where can you get DeskScapes? Right here: Animated Wallpapers for Windows : Stardock's Deskscapes

Are you a streamer? We have some software that can help!

Thursday, April 29, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

If you had told me twenty years ago that the world would get to a point where thousands of people could tune in and watch people play a video game live just about anytime you want, I’d have called you crazy.

And I definitely would have been wrong.

When I pause to consider online streaming and all that it’s become, it really does just sort of leave me awestruck. I can’t believe how “on demand” things are now, from video and movie streaming services, all the way to streaming as a more general rule - not just for video games, but for other things like art, cooking, or “slice of life” vlogs.

If you had told me six or seven years ago that I’d be able to do streaming as a piece of how I’d make my living, I definitely would have thought you were blowing smoke out of you-know-where. The odds of making it “big” on a streaming platform are astronomical.

Again, I’d be wrong.

I haven’t made my whole life all about streaming so that I make my entire living off it or anything, but I picked up streaming almost as soon as I came to Stardock and it’s become an integral part of my job over the last five years. In addition to doing it at work for all of our major releases, I sometimes stream some of my favorite games that I play during my leisure time, just for fun.

Because streaming is something I do often in both my work and home life, I’ve picked up a few tricks and things that help my experience run smoothly for both myself and my viewers. Specifically, a few pieces of software that make my life a lot easier - let’s take a look at them!

Groupy

I talk about Groupy a lot, but it’s because it deserves to be talked about! I don’t have the space or the resources to have three or four monitors on my desk - I have two. Obviously, one of those monitors needs to be dedicated to running the game itself; the problem that I have is that I need to be able to view too many different things than can comfortably fit on that second monitor.

I need to be able to monitor the chat on my Twitch channel (or in the case of streaming for work, the chat on Steam). At the same time, I need easy access to my X-Split so that I can change scenes or make adjustments to my sound or troubleshoot any other stream problems. Depending on what I’m playing, I might need a guide open or have to occasionally reference an outline so I remember all of my talking points. I also tend to keep Discord open, especially if I’m playing a team-oriented game and need to be on voice chat with my friends.

Cramming all of this on one monitor without having to waste a bunch of time squinting at my task bar (my eyes are getting old) and trying to find the right thing to maximize from a minimized state is impossible! Enter: Groupy. It makes my life so much easier and allows my streaming process to run smoothly. I can easily switch through my tabs using hotkeys, or trail my mouse over there to click on the one that I need to look at. If I need to grab an asset for my stream, like an animation or an image, Groupy’s organization makes it so much easier to find.

Fences

Fences is another program I talk about a lot, and that’s mostly because it has really helped me personally. I have never been great at organization (both on my PC and off of it!), and Fences makes it possible for me to organize in a visual way that I find appealing and easy to navigate.

While Fences doesn’t serve the same practical “in action” purpose that Groupy does for my streaming, the work it does is still essential to my sanity. I have all of my frequently used programs organized into specific Fences on my desktop, which includes a fence for gaming (it contains mostly games and game-adjacent programs, like Battle.net) and also a fence for streaming.

I know right where everything is because they are neatly categorized (and even colored differently), so when I’m ready to sit down and stream I don’t have to spend a bunch of time hunting down everything I need - it’s all right there ready to go!


Multiplicity

I only have one PC here at home that I use for streaming. I built it a few years ago, and although it’s probably due for some upgrades, we designed it specifically so that it could handle the load of running a game and the streaming software, plus other things, all at once. Some people don’t have that luxury, though, and that’s where Multiplicity comes in!

With Multiplicity, you can have one PC do the heavy lifting of the processing and running the streaming software while the other focuses on the game. You can control it all easily with one keyboard and mouse, so you don’t have to fight with a bunch of hardware covering your desk.

If you have a laptop, Multiplicity can create a “docking station” for it, so that you can utilize it easily while you stream. Being able to pull up a Twitch chat or stream preview on the laptop without having to lean over and use its keyboard or mouse pad is a luxury I enjoy whenever I use it myself. Above, I'm showing my buddy Spencer's setup, since it's shinier than mine (and I don't want to clean my desk off for a pic right now ).

These programs have worked great for me for a number of years and are now an integral part of my streaming process, especially at home where I have more limited space and resources. 

Do you stream games at all? Share a link to your channel with me in the comments! If you’re interested in seeing what I stream during my leisure time, feel free to toss me a follow over on Twitch.

Spring Cleaning for your Windows PC

Thursday, April 15, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

I don’t worry too much about constantly tidying and organizing my PC - until it gets annoying, anyway. By then it’s too late, and I spend all sorts of time sorting icons and renaming folders. I’ll admit that I am pretty much the same way with my house - the idea of ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ has never really resonated with me.

This creates a special sort of chaos, which is fine - until it isn’t. I know that if I had a system in place for where everything goes and just followed it, I wouldn’t have to do frantic cleaning later when I have company coming - or when my disc drives start screaming at me that they’re getting too full.

I’ve discussed my love for Fences and how essential it is in some previous blogs over the last year, and I’ll be honest - it’s gone a long way toward preventing massive bouts of “Where the heck did I put that file!?” that I used to be prone to rather frequently. Even with an organizational system in place, the occasional “spring cleaning” is still called for - let’s take a look at what can help with that!

Fences

I’m sure it comes as no shock, given the above paragraph, that this powerhouse of an app is the first one on our list. At face value, creating fenced in areas on your computer to organize your icons is useful enough, but did you know that you can customize and sort icons automatically?

You can! In the Fences settings, you can actually dictate which fence certain types of files filter into. All of the images I save on my computer filter automatically into my “Pictures and Media” fence, while any documents go to another fence that I am setting up for my Spring cleaning binge.

Your Fences can also become Folder Portals, which lets you see all of the files you need at just a glance, but won’t clutter up your desktop with tons of unsightly folders. Being able to roll up my fences also makes for a clean desktop. You can control how fences snap and resize when you move them, too. I don’t get too nitpicky with my settings personally, but the point is - if you want to, you can!

SpaceMonger

Although I sung the praises of Fences first, this is probably where you should start for your PC spring cleaning! Using SpaceMonger, you can scan, map, and manage your computer’s storage. 

When I built this PC with my friend Gus a couple of years ago, I repurposed some of my old hard drives. The C drive, however, is small - which is different from what I was used to. Previously, I would just save everything to my C drive and never really saw any space issues. This isn’t the case now, and my computer started yelling at me about limited space a few days ago.

I pulled up SpaceMonger and used it to determine exactly what was taking up so much darn space. SpaceMonger made it easy for me to isolate the major offenders and move them to other drives to free up some space. You can click on the categories that are to the left of the pie chart in order to bring up a list of all those types of files at the bottom of the screen.

In addition to running SpaceMonger, I also remembered to go into my Windows 10 settings and change where my files and folders default download to, so I should hopefully be able to alleviate any space issues before they even happen.

Tiles

Another great way to make sure you get the most out of your desktop space is by using Tiles. If you’re unfamiliar with the software, Tiles lets you create multiple desktops of related programs, files, and links through the use of a customizable sidebar on your Windows desktop. You can drag programs onto the sidebar by holding the shift key, then it will create a thumbnail of that application so that you can find it more easily.

This program works pretty well in conjunction with Fences and actually completely interfaces with Groupy (another one of my favorite workflow organization tools). You can adjust the settings in Tiles so that certain Tiles categories show only maximized or minimized Windows, as well as customize where you'd like the Tiles bar to appear on your screen.

Tiles is made to help manage apps that you’re running - which, while it doesn’t help the overall organization of your apps and icons on your PC, still goes a long way toward feeling more organized overall, especially when you’re multitasking and trying to do a lot at once. 

Start10

I have made no secret of the fact that I really dislike the Windows 10 Start menu interface. I feel like I can’t find anything half the time - so that’s why I installed Start10. It lets me choose a Windows 7 or Modern look, making it much easier for me to find what I need. 

It interfaces directly with Fences, too - it will show all of your Fences (and the colors you’ve assigned to them!) right in the Start menu. Custom searches also make for a much more organized feel for your PC, because even if all of your files and folders are organized, sometimes you just can’t remember where you put something - so just search for it right within the Start menu. Start10 and Fences, specifically, are absolutely indispensable for me. 

All of the programs I mentioned above are available individually on our website, or all together along with several other awesome apps in our Object Desktop suite.

How often do you “clean up” your PC? What are some of your favorite organizational programs? Share with me!

Stardock's Virtual Trivia Night

We're all still at home, so we decided to have some friendly competition online!

Thursday, April 8, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel! Vaccinations are rolling out and we’re all one step closer to being back together in person at the office. I know I don’t just speak for myself when I say that we’ve missed each other so much. 

We’re still not quite ready to gather in person yet, so we’ve been taking our game nights online for the last year or so. A couple Fridays ago, we hosted an online trivia night using Discord. We offered a $20 Amazon gift card as a prize, worked on the honor system that no one would use Google (or any other search engine, for you loop-hole searchers!), and had a grand old time. I teamed up with Raeann, our awesome administrative assistant, and together we wrote the questions, chose the categories, and organized the entire affair.

 

The Tools

As I mentioned above, we used Discord for voice chat. Back at the start of the pandemic, we created a company server where we hosted other virtual game nights for things like Jackbox, Among Us, and plenty of games on Tabletop Simulator. Discord is nice because it has a huge room capacity, so we didn’t have to worry about anyone being left out, and Raeann was able to stream her screen with the trivia software (more on that next) easily to everyone in the room.

We needed a way to keep track of the score, the timing, and have everyone be able to answer and participate. We discovered a website called Kahoot!, which is used commonly by teachers for class trivia and quizzes. Raeann and I wrote all of the questions in a shared Google doc and then she spent the time (thanks, Raeann!) putting the questions into Kahoot for the trivia night.

 

The Trivia

First, we came up with categories about two weeks in advance and just filled in a question or two here and there as we thought of them or had free time. Then, about 2 days before trivia night, we discovered that we had completely avoided categories like Math that we both wanted nothing to do with. We figured, why write questions for a topic we hate? New topic! So we added a second miscellaneous category and ran with it.

There’s about a ten year difference in age between Raeann and I, which I found really entertaining to see when we got to any questions about pop culture - it was like two different worlds! It was also fairly obvious by the time we got to trivia night which questions I had written - I can’t help it, I’m wordy! 

 

The Team Building

We had a lot of fun together that night. The competition was friendly, the jokes were abundant, and the laughs were nonstop. Even though some of the questions were total misses - as in, no one got it right! - there was usually a question at least one person knew the answer to.

In the end, Sarah from our dev team absolutely dominated the night with an impressive total score of 29,680 and around a 70% answer rate. Second place was another member of our dev team, Xander, with a score of 19,278. Sarah took an early lead and held onto it with an iron grip - it was inspiring to see how much trivia she knew!

 

Let’s Have a Little Fun

I want to share a smattering of trivia questions with you. There are no prizes, no big to-do, and nothing to stop you from using Google, but I encourage you to try to answer these in the comments without looking up an answer. I will post the answers in the comments (or let you know when you're right!) next week. I’m picking some of my favorites from each category - I hope you all enjoy guessing as much as we enjoyed writing!

CATEGORY 1: MISCELLANEOUS

1. What do Noodlers catch with their bare hands?

2. This number, one of the first 20, uses only one vowel (4 times!)

 

CATEGORY 2: TV & MOVIES

1. The Electric Mayhem band was a regular mainstay on The Muppet Show, which aired for 120 episodes from 1976-1981. Name 3 of its 5 members. Bonus if you can name all of them!

2. Which video game franchise had frequent segments on The Super Mario Bros. Super Show?

 

CATEGORY 3: VIDEO GAMES

1. Video game sound design can often lend itself to finding sound sources in some unusual places! The Ghast enemies in Minecraft were portrayed with sounds from what real-life animal?

2. Any video game fan will tell you that a game’s music is one of the most important aspects of immersion. Composer Christopher Tin is the first musician to win a Grammy for a song written specifically for a video game. Which game was the song written for? BONUS POINT: What was the name of the song?

 

CATEGORY 4: SCIENCE

1. Humans aren’t the only beings who have been to space - they brought man’s best friend with them, too! The first animal to go to space was a dog, aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957. What was her name?

2. Which jungle animal, when in a group, is known as an “ambush”?

 

CATEGORY 5: GEOGRAPHY

1. Vienna is the capital of which European country?

2. What is the only New England state with no Atlantic coastline?

 

CATEGORY 6: LOGOS

1. Identify the company this logo is from.

2. Name the company this logo belongs to.

CATEGORY 7: TECH

1. What does "NFT" stand for?

2. What was the name of the very first computer virus?

CATEGORY 8: HISTORY

1. What piece of technology did IBM develop in 1973 that they nicknamed Winchester?

2. What was the name of the first social networking site launched on the internet in 1994?

CATEGORY 9: MORE MISCELLANEOUS

1. In the movie The Princess Bride, the characters Wesley and Inigo Montoya duel with rapiers on a cliffside. During the battle, both confess the same secret to one another: what is the secret?

2. What race of Star Wars creatures originate from the planet Kashyyyk?

CATEGORY 10: LITERATURE

1. This book series, which started in 1984, features iconic fantasy characters like Tanis Half-Elven, Raistlin Majere, and Sturm Brightblade, among many others. The books began as a Dungeons and Dragons Campaign. What is the series?

2. In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the White Witch offers Edmund hot chocolate and a sweet treat when she finds him standing alone in the cold. What did Edmund eat?

 

I am looking forward to hearing your answers. Have fun!




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