perhaps i just need a better mouse.
March 3, 2008 2:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a software app that helps me follow instructions for other computer procedures.

Sounds complicated? Well what i am looking for should be really simple.

I am trying to learn various programs (SPSS at the moment) and find step by step instructions on the webpages of benevolent souls really useful. Perhaps I'm monumentally lazy but I find clicking back and forth from SPSS to the webpage really irritating. I'm sure its a simple task to make my mozilla browser stay in the foreground, but I cant figure out how.

In searching for a solution it dawned on me that there should be an even better way forward. I propose a simple app that allows me to select (like PrtSc) a set of instructions from a webpage, then pins this text in a lightweight easy to move and modify window that stays in the foreground. That strikes me as a good idea, so I am some bright spark has already bettered it.
posted by verisimilitude to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Copy-paste the instructions into Notepad, then use Always On Top Maker (or something similar) to keep it above SPSS?
posted by hjo3 at 2:34 AM on March 3, 2008

Thanks. "Always on Top Maker" seems a step in the right direction. It doesn't quite cut it with SPSS, because the output view window (in SPSS) seems more determined to be on top, even when the notebook window is selected. Also, notebook cant deal with the graphics that are often used in step by step instructions.
posted by verisimilitude at 3:04 AM on March 3, 2008

Use two monitors? Plug an external monitor into a laptop or double head video adaptor?
posted by mattoxic at 3:06 AM on March 3, 2008

This is exactly why many people use two monitors. (or one big one) For under 100 bucks, you can pick up an older video card and a second CRT monitor.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:57 AM on March 3, 2008

Yes I could run two computers, that would solve my problem. But I only have one laptop thats in fit shape.

I do happen to have a spare monitor kicking about - are you saying that with an extra video card I could run a monitor from my laptop and have it display different windows than my laptop's screen? That would be fantastic. Is that what you are saying? i cant imagine how it would work.
posted by verisimilitude at 4:10 AM on March 3, 2008

What would be wrong with cutting/pasting the needed instructions into Notepad or Word and then printing the thing out?
posted by Thorzdad at 4:19 AM on March 3, 2008

Thorzdad... good point. That was my old solution. But these days I am needing to do this so often that its become unpractical. I already spend an outrageous amount on printer cartridges, i cant justify more when there's a technological solution out there.
posted by verisimilitude at 4:32 AM on March 3, 2008

Most laptops will have a VGA connection (it's normally blue) that a monitor will plug right in to, and then the 'Properties' menu that you can get to by right-clicking on your desktop will have a tab that lets you choose the relative position of the 2nd monitor (this might popup automatically when something is attached...).
posted by gregjones at 5:33 AM on March 3, 2008

Sorted. Have linked a monitor up as gregjones said.

Thanks all for your help.

Found some instructions which might help someone else.
posted by verisimilitude at 1:23 PM on March 3, 2008

Multiple monitors sounded like a good idea to me, so I did it for a while. I rarely used it and went back to the single. (Of course, it was a single 24" widescreen at 1920x1200, so, um, you know...YMMV ;-) )

But seriously, folks: Alt-Tab (the task switching hotkey in Windows) is your friend, if you don't want your window obscured by an always-on-top text editor or browser. Hit it once, hit it again, and you can "toggle" between windows. I'm partial to PSPad instead of Notepad/Wordpad by the way, since it does syntax formatting for things like HTML/XML and C++, and has line numbers and a hex editor and like a bajillion other useful things. One really good thing about task switching is you don't have to keep finding your place - your eyes stay in the same general location. So it's sort of like a virtual monitor. (Okay, not really, but give it a try before throwing money at the problem.)

If you must have your notes on top, this application worked insanely well for me when I was writing a lot for school. It does alpha-blend translucency and you can drag notes all over creation and have them in a little popup list you access with a tray icon. They're sort of like the Notes in Outlook, but you can drag them wherever you like on the desktop and say whatever you want on them, save them for later, and so on. Totally cool software.

Or if you prefer actual websites with all their formatting and screenshot examples and such, you can blend your browser into the background with this nifty little software gadget that changes the transparency level of any window you pick with the built in window picker-draggy-thingamabobber. I use it when I'm doing Photoshop tutorials online.

Did I mention all three applications are totally free?

(Unnecessary Addendum: If you really, really wanted to geek it up and map a key to a series of actions I suggest you use AutoIt3 or AutoHotKey and write a script to do just that (copy text, open a Notepad window, paste text, set Notepad window to Always on Top or 50% transparent, set WS_TRANSPARENT property so mouse clicks go right through it, etc., etc., etc.,) Both are free and have excessive documentation and examples. on how to do what you want through forums and downloadable scripts.)
posted by ostranenie at 4:22 PM on March 4, 2008

« Older Is that a UFO or just some guy in a BMW?   |   How can my wee boy get back to sleep? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.