This is part of a multi-part series on Download a la Mode tools, reformatted for a workshop….


In this section of Download a la Mode, the following questions are addressed:

  1. How do I share presentations with others via the Web?
  2. At work, I have the latest MS Office. At home, I don’t have anything compatible. What do I do?
  3. How do I create web pages using free software?
  4. How do I shorten long web addresses for sharing via email and in print documents or presentations?
  5. How can I draw things, or edit pictures/images, on my computer?
  6. What are some of the free screencasting tools available?
  7. How can I create narrated presentations?
  8. Where can I located hard to find multimedia codecs needed to play videos off the Web?
  9. How do I combine PDF files?


How to conduct web-based surveys and polls?

Conducting surveys and polls is great. When I need to conduct a survey, I try to use tools that give me control of the survey data (e.g. UCCASS or Moodle’s built-in survey feature). However, sometimes that level of security just is not needed.
The hardest part about surveys is not collecting the data. Rather, it is designing the surveys and then analyzing the data. Although it would be too much to hope for to simplify both ends of the process—the design of the survey and data analysis—what if the latter could be made easier?
Here are 10 alternative online poll/survey sites you can take advantage of, all at no-cost:

and some “new” arrivals that work wonderfully well:

At work, I have the latest MS Office. At home, I don’t have anything compatible. What do I do?

If you’re not using OpenOffice 3x yet, you should definitely do so! It works great, opens MS Office docx files with ease, prints to PDF, and is a winner on GNU/Linux, Macintosh and Windows platforms! You can also EXTEND OpenOffice with additional add-ons available online at

Benjamin Horst (SolidOffice) shares the following information on his blog about the popularity of OpenOffice v3:

“From the official announcement on Monday 13th October at 09:00 UTC, to midnight on Sunday 20th October, 3.0 recorded an astonishing three million downloads via the Bouncer. That’s:

  • 221,230 GNU/Linux users (who might be considered obvious users of the world’s leading open-source office suite)
  • an impressive 320,622 Mac OS X users (enjoying with a Mac “look and feel” for the first time), and
  • a staggering 2,449,863 Microsoft Windows users.”

Pretty incredible numbers! The question is, how come school districts persist in paying for MS Office in schools at a cost of approximately $36 – $80 per machine when we could get OpenOffice at no cost? Fear of change or force of habit?

How To Create Web Pages with Free Software

A colleague dropped by and bragged that he’d heard from a student in college. “Yeah, she made an ‘A’ in her project because she could create a web page!” I laughed and said, “Didn’t you teach her using Notepad on Windows?” “You bet, that’s all we had!” he laughed back, his blue eyes open wide. “And one of your people just told me about Kompozer!” Isn’t it amazing how, as budgets are slashed, people are naturally turning to free alternatives on the Web? Now, more than ever, there is an abundance of tools available to work with audio, video, as well as how to create screencasts (useful for giving folks a tour of a certain program on your computer or how to accomplish a specific task)!

KompoZer is a free, open source alternative to expensive HTML editors. While many of us are now embracing blogs and wikis as easy web publishing platforms, there is an occasional need to teach HTML. Tools that are free, open source endure because the programming code is out there for a global community to improve.

How do I shorten long web addresses for sharing via email and in print documents or presentations?

Three nifty tools for shortening those long URLs are available. I like to use SnipURL, or to get short web addresses that I can email to people or put into publications. But now, there are three I’m aware of. The bad thing with long addresses is that they get shortened—and therefore, won’t work—in some email programs. A short URL eliminates that problem.
Of the three, my favorite is SnipURL since it allows you to “rename” the URL. Instead of a hard to remember character string (1t3r), you can have people go to where “whatever” is what you type in.

How can I draw things, or create/edit images/pictures, with my computer?

Not being an artist/drawer kind of guy, may I suggest The GIMP, which works for Windows, Macintosh and GNU/Linux computers? You install X11 off your Mac System CDs and you’re set to go. If you’re already familiar with Adobe PhotoShop, then you might consider getting the GIMPshop, which customizes the GIMP to look like PhotoShop.

Although THE GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is my graphics editing program of choice, especially on multiple platforms, Windows users have access to another program known as PAINT.NET. I’m not much into graphics/pictures, but I found the screenshots/images on their web site pretty nifty.
Download PAINT.NET at
Pencil is an animation/drawing software for Mac OS X and Windows. It lets you create traditional hand-drawn animation (cartoon) using both bitmap and vector graphics. Get Pencil online at

Other Mac programs that might meet your needs—at no cost—in regards to drawing and pixel punting, as well as animation, include Pixen, Seashore, and Pencil.

You can download these applications online at the following web sites:

I’ve been exploring a variety of web-based image editors, including the following:

  1. Block Posters – Upload an image from your computer and choose how many sheets wide you would like your poster to be once printed. Access it online at
  2. Picnik – With Picnik you can quickly edit all your online photos from one place. It’s the easiest way on the Web to fix underexposed photos, remove red-eye, or apply effects to your photos. It lets you pull images from Flickr, yuor computer, from a web site URL, Yahoo or Flickr Search, or a webcam if you have one connected. Access it at
  3. Snipshot – Includes basic editing tools like crop, rotate, resize, as well as image adjustments like contrast, brightness, saturation, sharpness and hue. 100% web/browser-based, edit big pictures—up to 10 MB, or 25 megapixels. Access it at
  4. Wikipainting – Enables you to paint images collaboratively. Access it at
  5. ePassPort Photos – Lets you create passport photos. Access it at
  6. Fauxto – Image editing reminiscent of Paint. It will require a free account sign up (2 seconds to register). Access it at
  7. LiTha-Paint – Image editing among other features. Access it at

What are some of the free screencasting tools available?

Over the last year, I’ve found myself collecting screencasting tools. These tools essentially allow you to record what is going on your computer and then share that with others. When working with screen recording software, it’s easy to end up with a ponderous, slow-moving application. My criteria for on screen recording includes fast-moving, snappy applications, whether that is on Mac or Windows.

Here are three, free, client and/or web-based alternatives you can use without spending a dime:

At the moment, continues to win hands-down as the easiest to use and cross-platform. The only caveat is it’s proprietary video encoding format (SWF), which while providing great quality is difficult to embed in traditional slideshow programs or on web pages. uTipU, in contrast, provides encoding in FLV—the same format used on YouTube—but requires the installation of a Windows-only client. Of all the solutions, the beta Screencast-o-Matic was the most intriguing, offering Java-based application that enabled me to record my screen at different resolutions and audio! It worked quite well for recording a simple tutorial or walkthrough on the screen!

How can I create narrated presentations to share on my blog, wiki or Moodle site (or plain web site)?

In a conversation with a central office administrator, the question came up as to how to easily share a slideshow presentation with campus staff. The presentation had to include the speaker’s voice.
I quickly shared 3 tools with the central office administrator, including the following:

  1. – This is my favorite, free tool to share. VoiceThread enables your viewers to add audio, video and text of their own. What a fantastic way to recognize the work that is being done, and invite recognition of that work done by your staff by others! When working with campus administrators, be sure to share the web site with them. There are a few examples of administrators at the district and campus level sharing their presentations.
  2. – This is another engaging tool to use, both for yourself or with your students presentations. In addition to uploading slides from a presentation, you can also pull in photos, images, and then narrate them with sound, upload music as a backdrop!
  3. – This is a wonderful tool that allows you to upload your Powerpoint presentation, then, if you have it, send in audio you have recorded. When working with the presentation, you listen to your audio and advance the slide show at the appropriate moment. When you are done, MyPlick actually remembers and when played by a visitor, plays the audio in sync with your presentation slides. Amazing! (Thanks to Steve Dembo at for this tip!).
  4. – This is another slideshow sharing tool that I use with great frequency. You can also add audio to Slideshare so that it works in a similar way to

Of the 3 tools, is the easiest, but both and can be used in different ways. For example, can be used as a podcasting tool that allows you to upload your presentation and then your separately recorded audio file. Give these tools a try and find the one that best matches your presentation style!

Where can I locate those hard to find multimedia codecs needed to play some videos off the Web?

In working with PBS TeacherLine’s Peer Connection product earlier this school year, I became aware that much of their video content was in RealPlayer format, rather than the more standard FLV popularized by YouTube and other video hosting/sharing sites. Although PBS TeacherLine has since converted their content from RealPlayer to FLV to ensure greater compatibility, the question this raised in my mind sent me on a last minute search for video codecs.

Though I’m not a video expert, I know that video codecs allow me to play certain video formats on my computer. Without the right codec, my computer will not be able to play certain videos. As such, more video codecs is better! Chances are, you may not need to have a variety of video codecs installed on your computer. Often, videos will play just fine on the no-cost, cross-platform VLC Media Player. But, just in case, be aware that you can find a wide variety of video and audio codecs online at .

How do I combine PDF files?

While it is certainly easy to make PDF files on a Mac (or on Windows with PDF Creator) no matter what application you are using, it’s not obvious how to combine multiple PDF files into one document. To accomplish that, you once might have needed Adobe Acrobat Professional. Now, all you need is the freeware PDFLab. or CombinePDF on a Mac. This program…

  • …lets you split and join PDF documents as well as insert images and blank pages. You will also be able to easily create PDF documents out of several images.

Its usage is really simple. You add your files in a list, select the pages you wish to include, order them the way you want and create a new PDF document. Give it a try! You can find it online at .

What? No Windows tool? Use PDFSAM--works on Windows, Mac, and GNU/Linux–to combine PDF files you create. LifeHacker shares that it allows you to join PDFs together, split them apart and pull out individual pages with pdfsam, an open-source, Java-based cross-platform tool that’s a free download.
Copyright Notice: Content appearing on this page was originally published by TCEA TechEdge magazine by Miguel Guhlin sharing his work under Creative Commons Copyright (ShareAlike-Attribution-NonCommercial).

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