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An open-source approach to tracking stolen laptops

SEATTLE--Imagine your laptop is stolen.

Set aside for a second the likelihood that if it was you wouldn't be able to read this story and think instead about how you might go about tracking it down.

There are existing services, such as LoJack, that are designed to help find purloined laptops by identifying the IP addresses where they are subsequently used and through other assorted methods.

But according to a team of computer scientists at the University of Washington, the price you pay for utilizing such services is a loss of privacy--as well as a reliance on a corporate third party to take care of you.

That's why the team has come up with its own alternative, which it is calling Adeona, the name for the Roman goddess of safe returns.

The idea behind Adeona, according to Tadayoshi Kohno and Gabriel Maganis, who gave a talk about the project at the Gnomedex conference here Saturday, is to give people a method for safeguarding their laptops that relies neither on proprietary commercial software nor the centralized servers of the companies that provide such software.

Adeona, they said, is the world's first free, open-source laptop-tracking system, and one that can be installed by users themselves, and which doesn't require a corporate intermediary.

The team is also developing a version of its software for iPhones, though it isn't ready for public use yet.

To Kohno, the danger associated with commercial laptop-tracking services is that it's never possible to know for sure that someone at a company that makes such software wouldn't exploit the company's possession of your personal information--and access to what's on your laptop--for personal gain. Or, he said, that information could be subpoenaed in court cases. … Read more

New review: OmniGraffle (Mac)

Need to make a flow chart, a family tree, a diagram, or just plan the layout of your new apartment? Check out OmniGraffle, from the folks who make the classy OmniWeb browser. OmniGraffle offers all the tools you need to make professional-looking diagrams for any presentation you might have. Whether you're just sketching out ideas for a business plan or even planning an elaborate presentation, OmniGraffle helps you create a nice-looking diagram everyone will appreciate.

Still not sure if OmniGraffle is right for you? Download OmniGraffle and read our review.

New Review: Photo to Movie (Mac)

Do you want a simple way to bring life to your photos? Photo to Movie is a fairly basic concept which adds drama to average photographs. Once you have your chosen photo, use the intuitive tool set to choose your starting and ending frames to create a camera path across the image. The end result is a slow motion pan across a photograph or several photographs, making for excellent slide shows with extremely smooth animations. You can even add music to make it more dramatic. If you're looking for a way to make a photo DVD, a personalized screensaver, … Read more

WikidPad wikifies your life

I'm more than a bit skeptical of many of the online fads for staying organized, like 43 Things. They all seem to emphasize learning their system as much as using it, which does not inspire much confidence. WikidPad doesn't work that much differently, so I was hesitant to give it more than a second thought. What it does benefit from is the incorporated note-taking aspect, which links your work to your To Do list, and by an intuitive filtering system intuitive that helps you stay on top of stuff through a wiki lens.

Open-source, free, and cross-platform WikidPadRead more

Featured Freeware: iTunes

As old as it is, iTunes isn't the oldest free media player around. Since it was married to the iPod, though, there's been no denying that it's the industry standard for multipurpose jukebox software and that the program has become practically synonymous with media playback. Available for Windows and Mac, iTunes handles music and video equally well in a clean layout.

The bundling with the iPod and iPhone have made it the powerhouse that it is: neither device will function unless you connect it to iTunes first. The connections to the iTunes Store and App Store are … Read more

Featured Freeware: iSquint

Want to watch AVIs, MPEGs, and other movie files on your iPod? iSquint is a free utility that can help you do just that, without the need for QuickTime Pro. From the makers of the more feature-packed VisualHub, iSquint has a simple, streamlined interface that's designed around the app's basic, hassle-free functionality.

You just drag all the files that you want converted into the iSquint window, choose whether you want to optimize for iPod or TV viewing, and you're off. iSquint can give you even faster and better compression than QuickTime, especially when you choose H.264 … Read more

Bubbles and Fluid turn your favorite sites into apps

I may get fired for saying this, but I miss the convenience, focus, and robustness of desktop apps. Sometimes I just want the clarity of a dedicated app--or the isolation; all too often when I'm in a browser, a rogue JavaScript-heavy site will crash not just its own window but the 20 different tabs I have open at that moment.

Building a Site-Specific Browser (SSB) is possible with technologies like Prism from Mozilla, but that doesn't do much for non-developer users. If all you want is an icon to click on your desktop to open a specific URL, … Read more

Featured Freeware: Senuti

iTunes makes it really easy to put music from your computer onto your iPod--unfortunately, the reverse is not true. If you want to get music from your iPod onto your computer--say, if you had a hard-drive failure, or you just bought a new Mac--you either need to know how to use Terminal or you need an app like Senuti.

This cleverly named utility essentially does what iTunes does backwards, acting as an "iPod ripper" that lets you move your music, playlists, videos, everything, onto your Mac. Senuti has been around for a few years, but it's still … Read more

Featured Freeware: WordPress

Originally intended for blogging, but customizable into just about any configuration, WordPress is the Firefox of cross-platform content management systems, including the iPhone. Extensible and proud of it, the program itself is known for having one of the simplest installations of any CMS available.

The download is a ZIP file that comes with instructions on how to install it to your server, requiring an FTP client and administrator-level rights. Documentation for the ''five-minute install'' at its Web site is extensive, clear, and concise. The WordPress support forums haven't failed me yet in answering even my most difficult questions.

Without … Read more

Simplify Media for iPhone brings music to you

We've talked about Simplify Media here before as a great way to listen to music from your friends' iTunes music libraries (Windows and Mac). In fact, Simplify Media was one of our 10 best downloads of 2007. The minute you fire it up, you'll see why--as long as you and your friend both have a free account with Simplify Media, you can stream and listen to each others entire music collections on both Windows and Mac. But, the latest release of Simplify Media for iPhone and iPod Touch lets you take all of that music with you.

To … Read more