March 8, 2007


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Use any file
Conversion software makes it easy
By John “jaQ” Andrews

Let’s talk conversion software — that is, tools that let you change a file from one format to another so a different program can be used to access it.

First off, let’s talk about converting plain text to MP3, for essentially creating your own audiobooks, like the ones we talked about in last week’s column. I had a couple examples of programs that could do this last week, but I later found a much better one. It’s called DSpeech, it’s free for Windows users and has no time or character limits as far as I can tell. It’s available for download at

DSpeech does take a while to convert (it might have to record the speech in real time), but eventually, a listenable copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War was on my desktop. No reading required! I got the best results with text or HTML files with no extraneous line breaks. I also had the voice speak as fast as it could to speed conversion; I then slowed the recording down with the Change Tempo function in Audacity, a free, open source audio editor available at

Most conversion programs don’t do such a radical conversion. They might convert a specific format of text or word processing file into another format of the same type, like from Microsoft Word to Corel WordPerfect. Many editing programs already accept multiple input formats, but if the format of your file isn’t supported, a conversion utility will really help.

Let’s take video. iMovie for the Mac does not support Windows Media Video. Windows Movie Maker, conversely, does not support Apple’s QuickTime format. Unfortunately, there are very few free programs that support every video format, and by “very few” I mean “zero that I could find.” Video codecs must be licensed, so no one can afford to integrate all formats into one program to give away. There are numerous limited versions out there, though, so you can at least try things out. You might get only 30 seconds of conversion or a watermark, but hey, maybe that’s enough for your purposes. Check out AVS Video Converter ( and DivX ( to get started.

Audio is easier. Most portable audio players come with an application to play music and convert to the player’s preferred format. If all else fails, Apple’s iTunes rips your CDs to MP3 or AAC. For individual conversions, try the previously mentioned Audacity, which can open WAV, AIFF, AU, MP3 and OGG files and save as WAV, MP3 and OGG.

For images, there are a couple widely-used standards. IrfanView ( is focused on, you guessed it, viewing a whole bunch of obscure image formats. Someone sent you a Photoshop or CorelDraw image? No problem — look at it, convert it to a standard format like JPG and you’re free of worries. FastStone Photo Resizer ( doesn’t support as many formats, but most common ones are there. You can download a portable version, meaning it’s only one file that doesn’t need to be installed, so you can keep it, say, on your camera’s memory card so you can reduce the size of all your pictures wherever you are and e-mail them to family and friends.

If your Internet connection is solid, take a peek at That site has a lot of conversion options, but you have to upload your file and download again. It’s simple, but for things like video, it can take a long time. Less than the time you might waste searching for an actual program to change that movie you took of your friend’s kitten into a usable format, though.

3/1/2007 Audiobooks for free

2/22/2007 What's for sale today?
2/15/2007 Prints in your pocket
2/8/2007 Watch this
2/1/2007 How open is your source
1/25/2007 iPhone it now
1/18/2007 Simplify, simplify
1/11/2007 Vista time!
1/4/2007 Google killers?
12/28/2006 Tech that didn't happen
12/21/2006 Do not want
12/14/2006 Meet the new web
12/07/2006 Extreme price shopping
11/30/2006 They want what?
11/23/2006 Zat zany Zune
11/16/2006 Shop smart
11/9/2006 Your data's new home
11/2/2006 Hotkey heaven
10/26/2006 Computer to go
10/19/2006 Tech news roundup
10/12/2006 A different drummer
10/05/2006 Who needs TiVo?
09/28/2006 Disk drives without disks
09/21/2006 Movies, just click your mouse!
09/14/2006 Laptops for less
09/07/2006 GPS everywhere
08/31/2006 The printer dilemma
08/24/2006 A series of tubes
08/17/2006 More music, more places
08/10/2006 How big is your drive?
08/03/2006 It's a WiFi world
07/27/2006 Fancy a spot of memory?
07/20/2006 Under the sea
07/06/2006 eBaysic training
06/29/2006 You paid money for that?
06/22/2006 Processing ... processing ...
06/15/2006 C:\Run for the border
06/01/2006 The keyboard is mightier
05/25/2006 Geek phone home
05/18/2006 Super highway information
05/11/2006 How to host a site
05/04/2006 If they mated
04/27/2006 Apples to apples
04/20/2006 Flash uber-drives
04/13/2006 Web site, by you
04/06/2006 Ayyy, jaQ's right!
03/30/2006 Choose wirelessly
03/23/2006 Tax programs cometh
03/16/2006 And the Spammie goes to...
03/09/2006 Take in the Vista
03/02/2006 Cheap moviemaking
02/23/2006 Go directly to iJail
02/16/2006 Will you stamp your e-mail?
02/09/2006 War of the machines
02/02/2006 Faster than a speeding packet

01/26/2006 Free software made simple
01/19/2006 The Worst of CES
01/12/2006 Radio you
01/05/2006 Making Movies
A browser is to a car as ...

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Essential Gadgets
Get it while it’s hot, used
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In touch with the future
Last-minute dork presents
Make your mark
Memory in your pocket
Microsoft must be scratching its head
No strings attached
Plastic junk for Halloween
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