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New and updated hints and tips for Windows PCs, technology news plus the best shareware and freeware around


Exploring New Possibilities

Windows Explorer has been around forever and is the way most of us look inside our computers, to find, see or open the files and folders stored on our hard drive. It does the job, albeit in a fairly clanky way, so if you are the sort of PC users that often has two or three Explorer windows open at the same time then your life could be a lot easier with a this free Windows Explorer alternative, called Q-Dir. By default it opens in a convenient 4-pane view but there are numerous alternatives, one of which will be bound to suit your way of working. Each Q-Dir window is a separate entity, but like open Explorer windows, you can drag, drop, copy paste and move files around, from window to window, with the greatest of ease. There are all of the usual view icons, from small to large thumbnails, and there’s a few useful extras, including a great many customisation options, zoom, the facility set up shortcuts to frequently used utilities, and more besides. It can be installed or used as a portable application and there’s a very good chance that once you have used it, you won’t want to go back…



Do you have a tip or tweak for Windows that you would like to share with other PC users? If so we would really like to see it, jot it down and email it to us at: PCTopTips







News Briefs

A Jewel Of A Touch Screen

Blinging up smartphones is hardly a new idea but how would you like one with a screen made of sapphire? It may well happen and the word on the street, or rather the digital superhighway, is that Apple could be one of the first to have them. In its natural state sapphire is a precious gemstone but there are ways and means of synthesising it in industrial quantities, but not for its aesthetic or jewel like qualities. It turns out that sapphire, like diamond, is super-tough and hard as nails. In fact it’s virtually bullet-proof, and more than able to withstand the day-to-day rigours of a smartphone screen, including being dropped and sat on. It is totally transparent, can be coloured by adding impurities and it can be up to four times more durable and even thinner than Gorilla Glass. None of this is news but up until now it has, like the stuff you get in jewellers, been very expensive. Scaling up and improvements in manufacturing and processing methods could reduce the cost by a factor of ten, which still makes it a good deal dearer than existing screen glass, but given it’s properties, and the never ending quest for thinner screens it may well be coming to a smartphone near you, and maybe sooner than you think.


Cool Way To Make Electricity

There are many environmentally friendly ways to generate electricity but here’s one of the hottest, or coolest – depending on your point of view – that uses nothing more than plain old humidity – and there’s been no shortage of that lately. Researchers at MIT dreamt it up and the operating principle is incredibly simple, not to say elegant. Some materials strongly attract water (superhydrophyllic) and others repel it (hydrophobic). If you put a copper plate coated with a superhydrophyllic material close to one with a hydrophobic coating, the droplets of water that condense on the hydrophobic surface will jump the gap, and in doing so generate a tiny electric charge. Now don’t get too excited, we are talking about minute amounts of electricity at this stage, just a few picowatts per square centimetre but the MIT boffins reckon this can be increased to a microwatt or more, at which point it may be possible to build a device around 50cm sq, that could produce enough energy to charge a mobile phone in 12 hours. In theory humidity generators would be cheap to build, there are no moving parts, and the technology could be scaled up to become a potentially very useful source of power in parts of the world blessed (or cursed) with high levels of humidity. 



Rewritable Revival

Remember recordable CDs and DVDs? The older ones amongst you may remember that they used to quite popular a few years ago but now they’re in danger of becoming obsolete, what with low-cost solid-state memory and data streaming, but hang on, the technology may still have a trick or two up its sleeve. The materials used in recordable optical discs, including one called germanium antimony tellurium alloy (GST to its friends) have an interesting property called reversible phase change, which basically means they switch between two states when exposed to laser light or heat. Researchers have found a way of triggering the phase change electrically and create a super thin material that can be made to change colour. In short they have come up with the basis of a new optical display technology and potential applications include superfast, nanometre-pixel visual displays, smart glasses with variable transparency lenses, artificial retina devices, flexible displays for wearable tech and smart contact lenses. Sounds promising and we’ll file this one under worth-keeping-an-eye-on…


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