The Context (Menu) Revolution

Either we’re spoilt or something is really changing and others better catch up. Either way, I like it.

Software is becoming more integrated. With features like Firefox extensions and other tricks we are able to move material from one program to another, check the spelling of a word, value of an amount in another currency, look up a term in an online database, without doing anything other than typing the word once, or selecting it if it’s already there on the page. Right-click select what you want, and bam. It’s a revolution, really, if you think about it — especially if you see what they’re doing to the context menu at RadialContext.

I can hear Microsoft saying they got here first with selecting a word in Word, hitting F7 and getting a definition. (I even seem to recall this being possible in pre-Windows versions of Word, but I can’t be sure). But I’d say it’s only taken off with the browser, and in particular some of the cool extensions that Firefox users have been adding in recent months. Way too numerous here, but I’m sure you know them.

You notice, then, when these features don’t work. I am a fan of Milenix’s MyInfo, an outliner whose latest release automatically pastes in to its file anything you copy to the clipboard. It’s not perfect but it’s pretty neat. One or two less steps to take. Of course, I’d like it to go the other way too: Why not select a word in MyInfo — or any program — and be able to look it up on Google, say? I can hear Buzz say his ActiveWords does that, and that is true. That’s a good feature. I just (gulp) haven’t figured out how to use it properly. I can also hear people say select and Ctrl+Alt G will take you straight to the Google Toolbar with the text already entered in. Also true, but wouldn’t it be better to have the feature already there in a right-click menu, a la Firefox extension?

Anyway, it’s cutting out these intermediate steps that help glue applications together, even if they’ve never met each other. I want all the programs I use to have that same level of intelligence that something like Firefox is beginning to show. Is that going to happen, or is it not really a priority? What has to happen before these kind of time-saving features are standard, across the board?

Stop It Before It Starts

A program I’ve found highly useful of late is Windows Startup Inspector. It does something Windows XP should do, but doesn’t: Allow you to decide what programs do and don’t start when Windows does. It sounds dumb until you realise that most programs these days — including a lot that should know better — automatically load themselves, or bits of themselves, into memory when you boot up. It can seriously slow down your computer, and there’s no straightforward way to fix the problem in Windows XP. It’s a bit like the next door neighbour cadging a lift to work everyday without asking.

Startup Inspector lists all these annoying programs, and will even try to tell you more about them than merely their name, via an online database of some 3,400 known programs. I have disabled about half of the programs that have loaded themselves uninvited and it definitely helps, even when you’ve got lots of memory to play with. They hog memory, but they also take time to load. Even sneaky little programs like RealNetworks’ Tkbell.exe (a silly little reminder program) will try to reload itself automatically into your start-up queue whenever you use the RealPlayer (my advice: don’t use it if you can possibly help it.)

Windows Startup Inspector is Freeware. If you like it you can make a donation to the author, through PayPal. Or you can buy his laptop, which he seems to be selling on eBay. Hard times for software authors?