All Posts Filed in ‘My Own Software

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John’s Background Switcher 3 Released

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I’ve had the weight of John’s Background Switcher 3 on my shoulders for the last 6 months or so and I’m glad to finally say it’s done, it’s out there and now I can have a rest from it all! In my opinion it’s vastly superior to all previous versions and has some really cool features including being able to create montage images and choose from lots of photos sources on Flickr, Phanfare, Yahoo! or your local computer. I’ve put a great deal of thought into each feature and it’s implementation and never compromised my initial design goal which was to “keep it simple”.

Make your wallpaper interesting!With John's Background Switcher

One of the things people probably don’t realise when you develop software in your free time is just how much work it is and how much it can take over your life. JBS consists of over 30,000 lines of code and for version 3 I completed over 130 pieces of work ranging from 5 minute bug fixes to multi-day new features. Since I have a day job and a private life, I’m only left with evenings and weekends doing this work which means it’s slow progress compared to working full time on it. It has meant many late nights staring at a computer screen having spent all day at work doing exactly the same thing.

I’m not complaining though – I really enjoy working on it and love getting emails from people saying how great they think JBS is and how much they’re enjoying using it. I don’t charge money for using it because it’s a labour of love and to try to make money out of it would sour the experience somewhat for me. Also, I use the software myself so at the end of the day I’m really writing it for me and can therefore make it exactly the way I want it!

A few weeks ago I still had a long list of things I wanted to put in JBS 3 but I was starting to realise that without a release date in mind I’d potentially be working on it forever. I also knew that the number of people uninstalling JBS 2.5 who filled out the uninstall feedback form that comes up were asking for features I’d already implemented in 3.0. So I decided I wanted to release 3.0 by the first week of April and cut features accordingly from my list.

With this goal in mind I worked a few late nights and weekends to get it done – I even dedicated a full 4-day bank holiday weekend to it! I updated the documentation and tentatively put the final version up live waiting for things to go wrong. JBS checks for a new version every 4 days (unless you turn that option off) which is handy as it means that rather than everyone updating at the same time, it takes a few days for it to happen. This means if some critical bug suddenly turns up I can fix it and put up a new version before too many people have downloaded it. I had to do this twice with 2.5 and expected to do the same this time. Except it hasn’t happened.

If JBS crashes it gives you the option to send in a crash report and that gets directly fed into my defect tracking software. I can then figure out what caused the problem, get the frequency of crashes and decide if I need to roll out a new version. Thus far I haven’t had a single crash report for version 3. I know it works as during beta testing I had many crashes crop up but frankly I’m amazed I’ve not heard anything live. I’ve also not had anyone emailing me about problems which again is very surprising. Hopefully I’m not just experiencing the calm before the storm!

A great deal of credit must go to the people mad enough to have joined in the beta testing of JBS. I can’t thank them enough as I’d quite often be releasing new betas every day or so and to have people other than me testing them out and giving me feedback is priceless. When you test your own software you tend to look at it through rose tinted spectacles and only test it in the way you designed it. Other people will naturally use it in a completely different way and do things you wouldn’t think of and this sort of testing massively cuts down on the number of potential problems you’ll hit. So thanks to you all! 🙂

Anyway, if you’re on a Windows computer and you’re sick of your boring, static background, then you owe it to yourself to go and install John’s Background Switcher! Now, I’m going to go and relax away from a computer screen for quite some time!

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I Also Convert Images

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Just to prove I don’t spend my spare time only working on John’s Background Switcher, I’ve just released a new version of the cleverly named John’s Image Converter. It’s a simple, one-dialog application that’s sole purpose in life is to resize pictures – which can be quite handy if you want to resize a large photo for use on the net and you’re too impatient for Photoshop, Windows Paint or whatever else to fire up.

John's Image Converter

New in version 1.1 is improved image quality (I’m reusing some of the code from JBS to this end) and the ability to rotate the picture as you convert (you can see from the thumbnail if it needs rotating or not). For me it’s a handy little tool as it saves me a lot of hassle and time. Next I’ll add folder conversion and maybe some sort of cropping…

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John’s Background Switcher 2.5 Released

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After what seems like quite a long time, I’ve finally finished up the latest version of John’s Background Switcher. Over the past few months I’ve implemented 98 features, enhancements and bug fixes. At last I’m greeted by this picture in my bug tracking software:

nothing-to-do-jbs-25

Of course, there’s plenty still on The List, but I had to draw the line somewhere, put out a new version and have a break before embarking on the mighty road to 3.0.

All along I’ve wanted to keep JBS a simple application and avoid the sort of feature-creep that often turns neat, snappy applications into unwieldy monsters that are nearly impossible for the beginner to figure out. It’s been a constant battle to put in cool new features without compromising simplicity and ease of use. While it may not look a whole lot different to previous versions I can assure you that a lot of design work’s gone into making the user interface stay intuitive while adding a lot of new pieces of functionality. Oh yeah, and I sort of cheated by adding a ‘More Settings’ dialog that contains a boat load of customisations as requested by the people who use it.

I must thank the people who were crazy enough to help beta test this version and provide me with a hell of a lot of valuable feedback. While I couldn’t get everything asked for in to this version, they’re all on The List and will get there eventually. Thanks again! 🙂

If I were to pick my favourite 3 new features in this version I’d choose these:

  • Mosaic mode – instead of setting a single picture as your background, it goes and downloads a selection of thumbnails and generates a mosaic and sets that as your background – very cool.
  • Explore from the last 7 days – you can now select from the most interesting photos uploaded to Flickr from the last 7 days – excellent pictures guaranteed.
  • Send to del.icio.us – if you see a cool photo on your background from Flickr, you can quickly add it to your del.icio.us bookmarks for later viewing!

The download page is here. Have fun! Now, I’m off for a well-deserved cup of coffee…

Update: Well, a couple of annoying bugs appeared (why do they never show up in testing?) so I thought I’d quickly release a new version with those fixes in. You can do a ‘Check For Updates Now’ and follow the instructions or just go to the download page and get the installer. D’Oh!

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Aren’t Mosaics Lovely?

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I’m rapidly approaching the finish line for John’s Background Switcher 2.5 and am getting quite pleased with what I’ve done. Progress had initially been slow as I just didn’t have enough free time to dedicate to it but lately I’ve been on a roll. One of the cool things I’ve just implemented is Mosaic mode. I’ve seen this feature around and decided to put it into JBS. In short, it lets you automatically create backgrounds on your PC using whatever search criteria you like from Flickr like this (which is interesting photos from the last 7 days):

jbs-flickr-mosaic

Instead of downloading one photo and setting it as your background, it downloads a load of thumbnails from Flickr and builds up a mosaic image. Other implementations of this sort of functionality I’ve seen are pretty inefficient as they download one thumbnail at a time, thereby taking an eternity to build the picture. So I’ve spent a good bit of effort making it fast and smart to the point where it takes around 45 seconds to generate the picture you see above and makes as few calls to Flickr’s servers as possible.

It’s fun writing clever multithreaded, caching thumbnail downloading code, but it’s much more fun to use the resulting mosaic functionality to build up a picture of cat portraits or guinea pigs! In a couple of weeks you’ll be able to do it too!

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John Likes ABBA – 20 Years Too Late!

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I remember ABBA. Judith Wilson used to live along the road from us when I was a kid and when I was over at hers one day when she brought out an ABBA record. I’d never heard of them at that point and don’t really remember if she played the record or just looked at it (come on, it was 20 years ago!). But they clearly didn’t make an impression as I never made a point of listening to them again.

Sure, they were on the TV loads over the years, at discos, weddings, films and so on – it’s impossible to escape from them even now. I just didn’t pay much attention. So last year when I was doing some redecorating I picked up the ABBA Gold CD from my girlfriend’s collection (it was closest to hand), put it on and was hooked. I never realised what a great band they were! And even more surprising was that I already knew all the words and could sing along immediately. I instantly understood why someone once wrote a PhD on the music of ABBA (I saw a program on the BBC about it years ago).

I’ve been working hard on the next version of John’s Background Switcher (which is in beta, contact me if you want to join in the testing) and fired up Media Player. I wasn’t sure what to listen to so just picked the first on the list – which was 2 Unlimited. Since that was terrible, I chose the next which was of course ABBA – and once again I’m reminded how good they are! Excellent coding music borne out by some of the work I’ve spent the weekend doing – including the much requested anti-pants filter. One of my colleagues was doing a PowerPoint presentation and my background switcher had decided to select a photo of a pair of pants on a moor as his wallpaper, much to his embarrassment! So as of the next version you can put in a list of tags and no photos containing any of those tags will be chosen – so no more photos of random children on your desktop!

Now, if I could just get ABBA to reform and record some new material – I know all their songs already…

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Traffic Spike

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Yesterday my beloved John’s Background Switcher got picked up by one of the big techie news sites – digg.com – the net result of which was that I had more visitors to my site in a day than I’ve had over the last 5 months combined! And more importantly well over 2000 downloads of the installer. I don’t know how many people are actually using it – I don’t go in for all that usage tracking spyware type stuff – but it’s safe to say that my user base has increased significantly (I normally get around 10 downloads a day).

trafficspike

I’ve been blown away by the amount of positive feedback from people out there! Reading comments like “This is probably the coolest tool I’ve found in the last couple years aside from Flickr” after I’ve poured in a lot of hours and late nights (just ask my girlfriend) makes it all worth while. I write software for a living and I can honestly say that creating JBS and giving it away for free is infinitely more rewarding.

What’s also been interesting is that only 4 crashes have been reported [so far] – I’d expected more with such a high increase in users. If the software crashes it gives you the option to send me a crash report which details the last few method calls so I can work out what happened. It’s completely anonymous although sometimes I wish it wasn’t – it would be handy to email the person and ask them what they were doing at the time – but anonymity rules. I’m close to releasing the next version which has given me the chance to fix the lot (which are all .NET issues – I thought .NET was supposed to run consistently across all machines?!).

While I come up with a fair number of the features, the people who’ve been using it up until now have suggested most of them and while I can’t do everything on the list – I do my best! So thanks to all those who took the time to try it out and suggest how I could make it better (oh yeah, and especially to Ian who suggested the whole Flickr thing in the first place!).

Now, if I can just get this much interest in my photography… 😉

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John’s Background Switcher 2.1 Released

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I’ve been busy over the last month or so improving my wallpaper switching utility paying particular attention to adding more Flickr functionality. I’ve fixed a few bugs (including some problems with corporate firewalls), added lots more ways to get cool photos from Flickr, added proper multi-monitor support, improved the way pictures are resized, added an option to save all photos downloaded from Flickr to a folder and done a whole load of other cool things too.

If it were me, I’d just go and download John’s Background Switcher 2.1 now, you owe it to your computer to decorate it with amazing pictures!

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Multiple Monitors and Wallpapers

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About a year ago I got a suggestion to make my Background Switcher application properly support multiple monitor configurations, just like UltraMon does. I had a look, thought it would be a bit tricky, prioritised it in my defect tracking software as ‘Priority 7 – When Hell Freezes Over’ and forgot about it.

I’ve recently started using a multiple monitor setup at work and am reminded how great it is to be able to have some windows on the left screen and some on the right. But it showed me that I really needed to get my finger out and get my background switcher to support it so I could do cool things like split a picture across both screens. As you can see below, I managed to do it:

stretchacrossmultimonitors

Ah, the satisfaction! It turned out to be fairly straightforward and if I’d bothered to look into it properly I’d have done it ages ago! (Sorry Carl). So as of version 2.1 my background switcher will fully support multiple monitors. There are a long list of new features I’ve added and I have around half a dozen things I still want to do before I release it to the world but I should be done in a couple of weeks so stay tuned… It may be a bit geeky but it’s fun!

Update: John’s Background Switcher with multiple-monitor support is available for download!

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John’s Background Switcher 2 For Flickr

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Well, I’ve finally done it. I’ve finally written a piece of software that makes me smile when I use it. Something that as far as I know nobody else has done. And a piece of software that everybody I’ve shown it to has gone “wow!”. And the best bit? Despite the fact that I should probably sell it for real money, I’m giving it away for free instead!

I’ve spent quite a few evenings over the last month or two working on version 2 of my beloved John’s Background Switcher utility. This started as an application that would periodically change your desktop background selecting from a list of pictures you’d provide. I’ve had a lot of nice comments and suggestions from the surprising number of people who’ve downloaded and use it.

Everything was going well as I ticked off the suggestions people had made until my friend Ian made the suggestion “why don’t you integrate it with Flickr?”. I had a look at the Flickr API and realised it wouldn’t be hard at all to do so I set about putting it together.

The night I got the Flickr integration working was one of those moments I’ll never forget. When I got it to select random pictures tagged with “beach” and a beautiful photo from a beach in California came up, then one from Australia next a large grin came across my face – I was on my own yet I said out loud “this is brilliant”. No, not my coding skills, but the fact that you never know what’s coming next (something that doesn’t happen when you look at random pictures on your hard drive). Flickr really is very good.

jbsflickrmode

A few friends and colleagues have been testing the software for the past few weeks and once I realised that I could make it choose the most popular photos from Flickr rather than most recent everyone agreed that the quality of the selected pictures went up drastically. There really are some amazing photographers out there and I’ve come across so many beautiful pictures I’m building up quite a collection (for this reason I added a “Save current picture as” option so you can save the picture to your hard drive for future viewing).

Anyway, if you’re running a Windows computer and want to see what I’m talking about, I’d urge you to go and download and install it (it uses Microsoft.NET 1.1 but if you don’t have that installed already it’ll be downloaded for you). Put it in Flickr mode and type “beach mountains sunset ocean” into the tags edit box (without the quotes). Then double-click the tray icon a few times to see some of the fantastic photos that come through. Alternatively, you can just tell it to monitor “My Pictures” on your hard drive and be bamboozled by your own pictures!

Oh, and in the event that you don’t like it, I’ve put a lot of effort into the installer so it’ll remove itself very efficiently! All suggestions and comments are gratefully received. 🙂

Go to John’s Background Switcher 2.

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John’s Background Switcher 1.3 Released

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I forgot to mention that I just finished the latest version of John’s Background Switcher and have added a bunch of new features (thanks to those who suggested them).

If you haven’t seen it and wonder what I’m talking about, it’s a simple little application that sits in the system tray (down by the clock) of your Windows PC (sorry, I’m afraid it’s Windows-only) and changes the desktop background at specified intervals. You pick the pictures, when you want them to change and if you want them to be picked randomly and it just quietly goes about its business.

backgroundswitchernotifyicon

It’s completely free and I’m still surprised something like it doesn’t come as part of Windows! You can download it from this page. Enjoy and if you have any suggestions or problems then let me know (I’m working on V2 at the moment).