Archive for FloSpace FloPrompter

FloPrompter Patch for Vista PCs

Let me first say:  I love how easy Microsoft makes it to write and publish software for Windows PCs!

The programming tools are great and there is a lively community of companies making innovative (and some not so innovative) components that you can easily plug into your own software. For example, I use third party components in my software teleprompter program, FloPrompter, to support the robust word processing, spell checking, and thesaurus functionality.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has really screwed up some of the security foundations for Vista which makes life really difficult for little companies like FloSpace. Almost immediately after publishing FloSpace FloPrompter version 3.0, we started getting reports from current and prospective customers that the product would crash on Windows Vista compuers. It works great on Windows XP computers, however. What the heck??

The source of the problem was apparent immediately: Vista doesn’t like the code we use that provides the mirrored text functionality. However, it took about a month to figure out an acceptable solution. The bad news is that there’s no silver bullet to fix this problem. The moderately good news is that I finally figured out how to write a “patch” that, when run on a Vista PC, will fix the problem.

It’s only a “moderately good” solution because ideally, customers shouldn’t have to jump through any hoops at all, like running a second patch program. You should be able to just run the installer once and have it work on all Windows computers automatically.

I posted an entry on the FloSpace blog detailing the problem and new patcher solution. Check it out:

www.flospace.com/blog/?p=45

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FloSpace Launches FloPrompter version 3.0!

FloSpace is my little software company and FloPrompter is my first product. It’s a teleprompter program for Windows PCs — it turns any PC into a studio quality teleprompter! (What’s a teleprompter?)

Today, I’m happy to announce that I’ve updated FloPrompter to version 3.0!

The newest version has several important new features, including mirrored text and support for multiple synchronized windows. Lots of customers have asked for those features and after nearly a year of trial and error, I figured out how to achieve them with very good performance.

In fact, those two features are critical for certain professional situations, but completely unnecessary for many of my “regular people” customers, like podcasters, churches, bands, and motivational speakers. So I created two editions of FloPrompter with this release: the Standard Edition, which has the same features as version 2.0, and the Professional Edition, which includes the mirrored text and support for dual monitors.

I left the pricing for the Standard Edition unchanged ($49.95), and set the price for the new Professional Edition to $250 for several reasons: The price is extremely good compared to competitors, the Professional Edition will be purchased by businesses rather than individuals and can be written off, and it will help me to recoup my substantial investment in producing the product (software tools, components, icons, professional services, etc.).

What’s particularly cool for hundreds of my customers is that they can upgrade for FREE from version 2.0 to version 3.0 (Standard Edition). Yes, that’s right — free!

Most software companies charge customers to upgrade to the newest version (hello, I’m talking to you, Apple and Adobe). But as version 3.0 includes many performance improvements and feature enhancements, as well, I know that my customers will appreciate the opportunity.

So — not only did I update the software, but I also worked with a friend of mine who’s a graphic designer to update the FloSpace web site. I really love the new design. I hope (potential) customers will, too!

The new web site looks professional, sophisticated, and polished. It offers much better features for showing off screenshots of FloPrompter in the Gallery. I love how when you click on a badge in the Gallery, the window becomes dark and the screenshot sort of unfolds into view. That effect is wicked cool. (It’s called a lightbox feature.)

I made numerous improvements to the FloSpace Store page, as well. The page is laid out better with big, clear buttons. I also include an Amazon.com store widget on the page. Many of our customers have asked us for recommendations on wireless remotes and foot switches, so this Amazon mini-store will help customers choose the right accessories to make the most of their investment in FloPrompter.

I hope you like the new FloPrompter web site and software! It’s been a long time coming. I’m really pleased to see how far along the product and web site have come in the past two years.

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How to create .ICO files for Microsoft Windows applications

Creating an .ICO icon file for Microsoft Windows applications is surprisingly difficult, complicated, and unclear. Which is strange given how much software is actually created for Microsoft every day.

Making matters worse, there is precious little decent technical documentation on how to create .ICO files well, and for most graphic designers, it is a total mystery.

Fortunately, I’ve figured out how to do it with a mix of trial & error and a few clues uncovered here or there. First, let’s cover some background.

Q: What is an .ICO file?

An .ICO file is basically a fancy (and undocumented) file archive, kind of like a .ZIP file. Microsoft created it as a specialized container to hold multiple image files within a single logical file. During the software installation process, a program like FloSpace FloPrompter will register an .ICO file with Microsoft Windows. This process is similar to saying, “Hey, Windows! When you show my program or one of my files on the desktop, use one of the images from this .ICO file so that people can look at it and recognize it as mine!”

As a container, the file holds multiple files, each at a specific size and color depth. The bit depths are 4 bits, 8 bits, and 32 bits. At each bit depth, sizes range from 16×16 to 256×256. Put that into a table with the three bit depths for columns, and eight special sizes for eight rows. Three times eight – that means the table has 24 cells. That’s 24 unique images to create and pack into one single .ICO file. Yes, it does take some time! (Click the table below to view it at full size.)

.ICO Component Image Tables

(I think you can optionally ignore the 64×46 and higher images for the 4 bit column… but unconfirmed!)

Wikipedia offers a more in-depth look at the .ICO file format at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ICO_%28icon_image_file_format%29

Windows Mobile Note: As you might have noticed from the table above, you’ll want to create a separate .ICO file for the Windows Mobile version of your application. The good news is that you can use a sub-set of the same image files! The only slightly bad news is you have to create image files at two mobile-specific sizes: 22×22 and 44×44. To help keep the total file size down, only package the necessary images as noted above into the .ICO.

Microsoft Resources

When learning how to create .ICO files, start by reading two very important web pages on Microsoft’s web site. One page provides some detailed information on how to create .ICO files for Windows XP, while the other provides additional information for people creating software for Windows Vista.

Read this third link if you’re creating an .ICO file for use by Windows Mobile applications.

Get the Right Tools For the Job

Next, I recommend that you purchase the right software for the job. I’ve tried using a few different software products and Photoshop plug-ins and they all pretty much suck. In my opinion, most are completely useless and unusable, with incomprehensible user interfaces.

One product that stands out as being both fairly usable and easy, is Gamani GIF Movie Gear. As you might expect from the name, it works really well for creating animated GIFs, as well. In my opinion, it’s also the most straightforward software program for creating .ICO files. Even better, it’s also really affordable, just $25.

www.gamani.com

In summary, use Gamani as an ICO packaging utility once the graphics are already created – not as a utility for actually creating graphics!

Step 1: 32 Bit Color Images

First, create the 32 bit color images at each of the magical sizes from 16×16 to 256×256. Yes, you should create the images all the way up to 256×256! Given that your software will probably run on both XP and Vista, just do it.

Whether you create each image file in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, here is what you want to do. Export the image in PNG format for best results. The easiest way is to click on the Save for Web menu item, then choose PNG-24 from the Settings drop-down, and make sure that Transparency is checked. (Click to view the screenshot in full size.)

Photoshop Save for Web - 24 bit PNG Settings

Don’t forget to give each file a good name! Something like “MyLogo_XX_32bit.png” is good, where XX represents the size (e.g., “MyLogo_16_32bit.png”).

Another thing to keep in mind is that the two smallest sizes, 16×16, and 24×24, will probably need hand tuning. So open those PNG files back up in Photoshop, and do any necessary clean up before moving on.

Windows Mobile Note: If you’re creating an .ICO for use on Windows Mobile devices, you don’t need any 32 bit color images in the .ICO archive. Most windows mobile devices can’t display that many colors.

Step 2: 8 Bit Color Images

Now to create the 8 bit images!

Open up one of the 32 bit PNG files which you just created. To convert it to an 8 bit image, the easiest thing to do is simply save it as an 8 bit image. Here’s how:

Click on the Save for Web menu item again in Photoshop. This time, select PNG-8 from the settings drop down. Now, adjust the color settings, dithering, diffusion style, etc., to maximize how well your image looks. Save the image with a good name, such as “MyLogo_XX_8bit.png.”

Photoshop Save for Web - 8 bit PNG Settings

Now repeat this process for all of the images. And again, you may need to re-open the smaller files in Photoshop to do some hand tuning.

Step 3: 4 Bit Color Images

Creating the images for the 8 and 32 bit colors is easy. Creating them for at 4 bit color depth is more complicated and time consuming.

First, you want to get a special color palette file for Photoshop which will make it easy for you to use the right colors. It turns out that Microsoft Windows is exceptionally picky about WHICH 16 colors you’re allowed to use for the 4 bit depth image files. You can only use the special Windows colors — no other colors are acceptable. Download the Photoshop color palette file (CLUT) from Gamani’s info page.

www.gamani.com/support_icon.htm

Direct file download: www.gamani.com/download/4bit.act

Next, we’re going to create some transitional files. These will NOT be added to the final .ICO file, but will help us get one step closer to proper 4 bit images.

Okay, open up one of the 8 bit image files. In the Layers window, add a new layer and position it UNDER the image so that it is the background. Fill this new background layer with a weird color completely unrelated to any other color in your image. For example, if your logo is mostly blues, set the background color as magenta.

Make sure than when this is done, the background color is unique (such as the magenta in the screenshot) and present in the top leftmost pixel.

Click on Save for Web menu item again, and this time select GIF 64 No Dither. Uncheck the transparency. Restrict the number of colors to something very low (such as 3 or 4). Remember that you do not want any anti-aliasing effects along the color borders. Just flat colors. No beveling or other effects. Just a small number of unique colors.

Photoshop Save for Web - GIF Settings

Now, save this image as a GIF. Give it a good name, such as “MyLogo_XX_Temp.gif.” Repeat this process for all image sizes.

Okay, now we can move on to creating the actual 4 bit images for use in the .ICO!

Open one of the temp GIF images. Click on Image > Mode > Color Table. In the Color Table Dialog, click on the Load button, and load in the 4bit.act file you got from Gamani. Your image may look pretty screwy! So now you need to hand tune each image file to use ONLY one of the 16 colors shown in that color table dialog. And again – this file should not have anti-aliasing or transparency effects.

Photoshop - Color Table Menu Item

Photoshop Color Table Dialog

When you’re done hand tuning the file, click Save for Web and choose GIF with the absolute minimum number of colors necessary, no transparency. Give the file a good name, such as “MyLogo_XX_4bit.gif.” And repeat this process for the rest of the sizes.

Step 4: Package the .ICO File

Now you’re finally ready to put it all together!

Launch Gamani GIF Movie Gear. Gamani launches into a “blank new project” state.

Gamani GIF Movie Gear - New Project

Let’s test one of the 4 bit GIF image files to make sure that it was done right. Open the folder containing all of your fabulous new images. Drag one of the 4 bit GIF images (“MyLogo_XX_4bit.gif”)onto the GIF Movie Gear window. Hover your mouse pointer over it and Movie Gear will show a tool tip confirming the bit depth. If Movie Gear does indeed show 4 bit, you ought to be fine.

Gamani GIF Movie Gear - Tooltip showing 4 bit color info for an image

Now, let’s save the project as an ICO file (we’ll add in the rest of the images in a moment).

Click File > Save As. Select “Windows icon (.ico)” from the Save As Type drop down.

Gamani GIF Movie Gear - Save As .ICO File

Now that it’s saved, let’s continue.

Next, drag the rest of your 4 bit image files onto the Gamani project window; then add all of the 8 bit images. Click on the File > Save button again to make sure that all is well and good in the world. Gamani does an error check to make sure that there is only one file at 16×16 for 4 bit, and one file at 16×16 for 8 bit. A common error is that designers will have accidentally saved what should be a 4 bit image as 8 bit instead, so Gamani will catch that if it’s the case. If Gamani saved the .ICO file and didn’t complain, then it means you created all of the 4 bit images properly! If it complained, then you have some illegal colors in one or more of the 4 bit images or it’s the wrong bit depth, so you’ll need to go through Step 4 again.

Finally, drop all of the 32 bit images onto the file. Save it! When you’re done it will look something like this:

Gamani GIF Movie Gear - Complete .ICO File

Don’t freak out if you see some of your 8 bit and 32 bit PNG images with what looks like non-transparent backgrounds. Gamani GIF Movie Gear gives transparency a color for some odd reason, and you can change that color if you like.

Now Breathe…

And with that, you’re all done!

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Official FloSpace Blog Launched!

Yay!

It took awhile, but I finally launched an official blog on the FloSpace.com web site:

www.flospace.com/blog/

Nowadays, I think it’s really important for companies to have blogs, especially small companies like FloSpace. It’s a great channel for communicating directly with customers — something that the main part of the web site isn’t great for, since web sites tend to be more like catalogs.

As a result, I won’t post much about FloSpace FloPrompter in this blog any more. Well, maybe just to let any InfoTart readers know that there’s a new posting on the FloPrompter blog… 🙂

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FloSpace FloPrompter 2.3.1 Released!

Yes, folks, it’s barely been a week, and already we’ve released a new version!

A customer contacted us to request a continuous loop feature in the teleprompter, which I wrote about a few days ago. It’s a great idea and I think that a lot of other customers could benefit from it, as well.

FloPrompter Teleprompter Window Close-Up :: Continuous Loop

  • Continuous Loop: Press the Loop button (grouped with the playback buttons like Play and Next, circled in red above) to loop the content. When pressed, the player will loop through all of the segments automatically. The player will pause at the bottom of the current segment for the number of second set for the loop delay in the Options Dialog, then switch to the next segment. It will also pause at the top of the next segment for the same amount of time before continuing with the auto-scroll.
  • Stored File Settings: If you elect to save and use file-specific teleprompter settings (see the Options Dialog), then the continuous loop setting will be saved and applied, as well.

Upgrade Recommendation: If you wish. This is a “soft recommendation” to upgrade. The loop enhancements made to version 2.3.1 were fairly minor, so most folks won’t notice the difference. If you decide to upgrade, this is, of course, a free upgrade for all FloPrompter customers! FloPrompter customers are always requested to download the latest version on the FloSpace Downloads page.

NOTE: Anyone who has NOT upgraded to version 2.3 yet should definitely upgrade today! Version 2.3 introduced many enhancements to the word processor, including find & replace, spellchecking, a thesaurus; direct import and export with Microsoft Word, HTML and (for export only) PDF; and an automatic software update checking utility.

Many thanks to the customers who requested these feature enhancements. As you can see, your comments are heard and result in direct improvements to the software!

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FloPrompter Helps Elementary School Kids Announce the News

A media specialist at an elementary school in Michigan called me to today to make arrangements for a purchase order for FloPrompter. We got to talking and she told me how the students at her school are using FloPrompter.

Every morning, a couple of students make the announcements over the school’s PA system. They also tell the weather, maybe a brief news report. That sort of thing.

The media specialist acts as director and producer, helping the students set things up and deliver the announcements successfully every day. She color codes the text for each student so that one reads text in one color, the other reads text in the other color. She said that FloPrompter helps the kids a lot. When they read from sheets of paper, their heads are facing the desk and it’s hard to hear them. Now that they’re using FloPrompter, they’re keeping their heads up, they’re speaking more clearly, and they’re having a lot of fun. “They really enjoy it,” she said.

That’s fantastic! I love hearing stories about how our customers are using FloPrompter in innovative ways. Public speaking skills are incredibly important in life and the kids at this elementary school in Michigan are getting a head start.

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FloPrompter Helps Courthouse Stay on Schedule

Mr. D., an IT director for a district courthouse in a Southwestern state, sent me an email today to request a new feature for FloPrompter: continuous loop in the teleprompter player window. I couldn’t image what a courthouse would use FloPrompter for, let alone why they’d want a continuous loop feature, so I gave the IT director a call.

The IT director loves FloPrompter’s smooth scrolling. They had been using a PDF scrolling program before, but it tended to be jerky sometimes and had a few other issues. He said that the courthouse would like to use FloPrompter to share the judges’ daily schedules with the public. They could put the schedules for judges A – G on one segment (or tab page), H – M on another, and so on. If FloPrompter just had a continuous loop feature, he said, then he could simply enter all of the judges’ schedules into a file in the morning, set it on “loop”, and forget it for the rest of the day. That sounds like a perfectly reasonable request — and like it could be really helpful to other folks, as well!
I did some research into what it would take to put this feature into FloPrompter, and I think it would be pretty quick to implement. So even though we just published version 2.3 a few days ago, I’ve decided to schedule version 2.3.1 with the continuous loop feature for this weekend.

Thanks for the great idea, Mr. D., and for helping to make FloPrompter not only the most innovative PC-based teleprompter, but also the most responsive to customer requests! (Well, we would like to think we are, anyways! 🙂 ) Check back next Monday to download version 2.3.1 of FloPrompter with the continuous loop feature.

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FloSpace FloPrompter 2.3 Released!

We’re pleased to announce the release of FloPrompter 2.3!

FloPrompter version 2.3 has so many new features, we probably could have called it “3.0” — but we decided to just increment the number instead. This also means that it’s a free upgrade for all current FloPrompter customers!
The development emphasis for this release was on improving the word processing capabilities of the authoring window, adding a automatic software check capability, and improving integration with Microsoft Word. Check out this list of impressive new features:

  • Spellchecking: New for 2.3! FloPrompter supports both live spellchecking (look for little red squiggly underlines under mis-spelled words) and on-demand spellchecking for the entire document. Right-click on a mis-spelled word to see a list of suggestions!
  • User Dictionaries: New for 2.3! Along with spellchecking, we’ve implemented user-specific dictionaries so that you can build up a list of words unique to your world. Right-click on a “mis-spelled” word to add it to your personal dictionary.
  • Find & Replace: New for 2.3! Now you can look for specific words or phrases. You can replace a single occurrence of a word, and also do global (document-wide) replacements!
  • Thesaurus: New for 2.3! Looking for an alternative way to say what you mean? Check the thesaurus for ideas! Right-click on any word to see a list of synonyms.
  • Import Microsoft Word: New for 2.3! Now you can import Microsoft Word documents! You can also import HTML files.
  • New Export Formats: New for 2.3! What’s better than importing from Word? Being able to export FloPrompter documents into Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF, HTML, and more!
  • Automatic Update Checks: New for 2.3! Never lose track of whether a new version is available for FloPrompter. Periodically, FloPrompter will check for updates, or you can click a button to check at any time. And of course, you can turn this feature off, if you prefer, in the Options Dialog.
  • Word Processing Improvements: We made major improvements in the word processing abilities of the Authoring Window. Copy and paste are much more robust. Changing text styles (like bold, bullets, or italics) is much faster and stable.
  • Minor Tweaks: We also made a few minor tweaks, like suppressing tooltips in the teleprompter player window while it’s automatically scrolling (thanks to a certain minister in West Virginia for that tip!).

In addition to all of the new enhancements, we finally figured out how to fix a very perplexing licensing error that seemed to only occur at schools and government agencies.  In short, when someone went to enter a valid license key, the licensing system would say something about the user’s not having sufficient administrator privileges. It drove us all pretty crazy.
Well, thanks to the help of a school in Michigan, we figured out what the issue was. We also learned that this issue affected anyone in a managed information technology environment (for example, where your IT manager gives regular users limited rights to install new software). The solution was to store the FloPrompter license key in a different part of the user’s hard drive than we had been doing before. Current FloPrompter customers don’t have to worry — FloPrompter will automatically move the license key information to the new location so you will not have to re-enter the key.

Upgrade Recommendation: Critical Release. Because this is such a major upgrade in features, including the new automatic upgrade checking capability, we strongly recommend upgrading. If you decide to upgrade, this is, of course, a free upgrade for all FloPrompter customers! FloPrompter customers are always requested to download the latest version on the FloSpace Downloads page.

Many thanks to the customers (and potential customers) who requested these feature enhancements. As you can see, your comments are heard and result in direct improvements to the software!

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Hollywood learns to love FloPrompter!

Well, okay, that may be a bit of an overstatement. It’d be nice though!

What’s cool is that another small Hollywood area studio purchased FloPrompter this week. To date that brings us up to about a half dozen small studios. I won’t say which one made the purchase this week, but judging from their web site, it looks like they’re focusing on short films. That’s pretty cool!

I love seeing who purchases FloPrompter and imagining how they’re using the software…

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How to Update FloSpace FloPrompter

A couple of customers have written asking how to upgrade to the latest version. The short answer is that you can always just go to the FloSpace.com Downloads page to download the latest version. Follow the instructions to install it, and it will install over an older version with no problem.

www.flospace.com/downloads.htm

Because you’ve purchased FloPrompter and presumably entered in the license key at the prompt, all version 2.xx installers should recognize that and not ask you to enter the key again.

How Do I Tell What Version I Have?

There is no automated “Check for Update” feature in the product yet. That feature is almost done and will be in the next release, tentatively scheduled for early October. In the meantime, you can manually inspect the product to see what version you have, and compare that against the newest version is on the web site.

FloSpace FloPrompter uses the new Microsoft Office 2007 design style. As a result, some familiar menu items have been moved around. For example, the “About” menu item is no longer on the “Help” menu at the top of the screen. Instead, you can see it on the “View” tab in the “Resources” group (right next to Help).

FloSpace FloPrompter - About menu in the red rectangle

Click on that menu item and the About Dialog appears. The current version is displayed in the bottom left-hand corner.

FloSpace FloPrompter - About Dialog - Version number is in the red rectangle

To see what the latest published version is, simply go to the FloSpace.com web site and click on the link in the top menu bar for the FloPrompter product:

www.flospace.com/products/floprompter

You’ll see in the gray bar on the left what the current version is. (Version 2.25 as of today. )

For More Information

If you have an RSS news reader, consider subscribing to this blog. I’ve started to publish blog posts whenever I update FloPrompter, plus provide other information to help make using FloPrompter more useful and productive for customers.

And of course, if you have any additional questions or need assistance, you’re always welcome to contact me directly:

www.flospace.com/support.htm

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