Blog Archives

Most Popular Repurposing Tricks of 2009 [Best Of 2009]

We're huge fans of repurposing here at Lifehacker—squeezing extra and usually clever uses out of every day objects. Here's a look back at out some of the most popular repurposing posts from 2009.

Rain Gutters as Cable Management Tools

We’re all about creative cable management here at Lifehacker, so we were instantly drawn to reader Seandavid010‘s rain-gutter cable management setup. Granted, you can find other cord-wrangling solutions, like the one Adam used when he made his cordless workspace, but the rain gutter approach yields impressive results. Sean was nice enough to send in his entire step-by-step, check out the full post to see it.

$5 IKEA Coat Hanger Offers Solid Cable Management

Weblog BitsOfMyMind shares a very simple idea that turns an inexpensive coat-hanger rack into a simple and streamlined cord management solution.

Back when Adam detailed how to go cordless in your workspace, he championed a $10 cable management add-on from IKEA. Many readers wrote in and said they couldn’t find the IKEA wire-manager he used, so this clever hack is a welcome addition to our cable-wrangling bag of tricks.

Open a Bottle of Wine with Your Shoe

Got a bottle of wine on hand but no corkscrew to get it open? You can argue all you want about whether or not the guy in this video really needs more wine, but you can’t argue with the results.

Make Cookies in 90 Seconds with Your Waffle Iron

Baking cookies in your oven is fine and all, but if you want to turn out some tasty cookies in a very short time, consider turning to your trusty waffle iron. Turns out you’re only 90 seconds away from crispy, chewy, cookie-goodness.

Create a Cat Haven from Ikea Shelves

The climbing trees at pet stores are ridiculously expensive and take up tons of floor space. Help your kitty jump to a royal view, Super-Mario-style, without cluttering your floor or wasting money.

Remove Splinters Using a Banana Peel

Bananas are a good source of potassium, but turns out the peels can do more than just store the fruit. Apartment Therapy outlines seven ways to put used peels to work, including removal of those inconvenient splinters. Photo by keepon.

Get More From Cheap Vodka Than a Hangover

Sooth headaches? Clean razors? Kill bees? Vodka is handy for all sorts of uses besides the traditional one. The clear and high-proof alcohol can be used for all manner of tricks. Photo by Carsten Lorentzen.

Coke Can Clean Your Toilet in a Pinch

When your toilet’s got rings and lime scale stains and you’ve got no cleaning gear on hand, grab a can of Coke out of the fridge.

Turn IKEA Cabinets Into a Cordless Desktop Stand

The new iMacs, and similar all-in-one LCD desktop systems, make for a mostly cordless computing experience. Using two pieces of IKEA furniture meant for laptops and modems, you can hide the remaining wires and up the elegance.

Disposable Mugger’s Wallet Gets You Off Scott Free or Gets You Beat Up

A mugger’s wallet is a disposable second wallet that you’re more than happy to give away to a mugger. It contains a few bucks, a non-essential ID, but not much else that would endanger your identity.

DIY Car Dash Camera Mount

Ever wished you had some high-speed chase footage after you finished tearing down the freeway after crooks? Of course you have! You need a quick, cheap DIY camera mount.

Remove Stubborn Batteries and Other Cool Magnet Tricks

As if the sheer magnetism aspect of magnets wasn’t magical enough, weblog Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories points out 17 very cool tricks that put your magnets to great use. For starters, a strong magnet can be the perfect tool to remove batteries from the grips of a stubborn spring.

Use Vicks VapoRub To Cure Toenail Fungus

We’ve heard that Vicks VapoRub can cure toenail fungus before (it’s also helpful when you’ve got a cold!), but the New York Times recently put it to the test. The results: The thyme in VapoRub can in fact do the job.

Repair a Broken Ethernet Plug with Zip Ties

We’ve all been there at some point: You’ve got a perfectly functional Ethernet cord that somewhere along the line had its tab broken off. Don’t buy a new one or re-terminate the cord. Fix it with zip ties.

Open Beer Bottles with Bic Lighters

If you lack for a piece of paper, a ring, or just don’t want to risk bursting another bottle, Wired explains the time-honored tradition of popping the top with a Bic-type lighter.

Outlet-Hanging Charge Station For Your Small Gadgets

If a full-sized charging station is overkill for your single cellphone or iPod, try this smaller gadget cradle that mounts neatly on a wall outlet. Craft blog Zakka Life put together a simple tutorial for making a cradle that's perfect for single, regularly-charged items—the kinds of things you dump out of your pockets upon returning home.

Best Repurposing Trick of 2009?(answers)

Have a favorite post from 2009 that highlights a clever use or novel way to repurpose an everyday object? Let’s hear about it in the comments.

What’s Your Screen Resolution? [Reader Poll]

Google released a tool today—called Browser Size—designed to show web developers what parts of a site users can see without scrolling. It's not exclusively tied to screen resolution (you don't have to maximize your browser), but it got us wondering.

(Click the image above for a closer look.)

We want a better idea of what kind of screen resolution our readers are rocking on their gear. If you’re not sure how to figure it out, Windows users can just fire up your Display Properties from the Control Panel and find the Settings tab; Mac users, launch the Displays preference pane from System Preferences. Then let us know:

What’s Your Screen Resolution?(polls)

I did my best to come up with as many common resolutions as possible based on the results of a screen resolution survey posted on Wikipedia, so hopefully we don’t have too many of you in the Other category. As we said, your screen resolution doesn’t necessarily reflect your browser window’s resolution (unless you’re always browsing maximized, and even then you won’t take up the whole height or width of the screen unless you put your browser in fullscreen mode), but we’re still curious. So give it a look and give us more details on your setup in the comments.

In the meantime, web developers may be interested in checking out Browser Size for a better idea of what segment of their userbase may not be able to see important parts of their sites.

Browser Size [Google Labs via Google Code Blog]

Most Popular Linux Posts of 2009 [Best Of 2009]

A new browser, two new Ubuntu releases, and more than one new netbook OS—2009 was a big year for open-source software. Here are the Linux-related posts that caught our readers' attention in 2009.

Last year, we compiled the most popular Linux downloads of 2008 and the most popular Linux posts. The most popular Linux downloads, however, tend to also be released for Windows and Mac systems, and we’d rather not repeat ourselves.

So! This year, we ran through our archives and pulled out the posts most directly related to Linux: informational, how-to, Linux-focused downloads, and the like. For good measure, though, we’ll list the most popular cross-platform downloads at the end, which will look very familiar to those posted in our Most Popular Free Mac Downloads of 2009 and Most Popular Free Windows Downloads of 2009 posts.

Portable Ubuntu Runs Ubuntu Inside Windows

And it really does, too, after a bit of command line tweaking. It’s a close relative of the andLinux system that lets you seamlessly run Linux apps on your Windows desktop. This one doesn’t require any installation, however, and you can even take it with you on a thumb drive. This holiday season, feel free to show Uncle Steve just how open and free Linux can be.

Linux Puts the Lie to WEP “Security”

Using a BackTrack 3 Live CD (which we previously profiled, Gina showed us how easy it was to crack a Wi-Fi network’s WEP password, offering a sound reason to upgrade your age-old router, and providing a kind of last-ditch solution for those in need of emergency connectivity. She also provided more WEP-cracking tools and tips, including some sound reasoning on why anyone would still use a fallible encryption scheme (or use something much stronger).

Looking Ahead to Ubuntu Releases

Every year, at least two versions of Ubuntu are released in six-month lockstep. This year gave us Keir Thomas’ peek at the 9.04 “Jaunty Jackalope” release, and our own screenshot tour. That release was more about subtle changes and improvements. Ubuntu 9.10, Karmic Koala, brought a whole new look to the free OS, along with some major decisions on default applications and immediate improvements like faster, slicker boot-ups and a universal software store. We are, as ever, eager to see what crops up in April.

VirtualBox Makes Linux Life Easier

Sun Microsystems’ free VirtualBox software is free, offers an open-source edition, and is generally easy enough for beginners to get into. Not coincidentally, it solves a big problem for Linux users who just occasionally need access to one or another Windows apps or features. It also keeps adding on new features, like support for Windows’ gaming graphics, and making life generally better for those running one system inside another.

Features We Wanted to See from Ubuntu (and a Response)

“If every Ubuntu developer were assembled at one place, here are five things we’d ask them to accomplish.” That’s the grand daydream that launched our list of five features we want to see in Ubuntu, including strong sticking points like a decent video editor and a design-centric look. Not all of that is under of the Ubuntu team’s purview, but Community Manager Jono Bacon still took the time to respond to our wishlist, noting the progress on many of the fronts we wrote on. That was a very nice moment.

Dual-Boot Windows 7 and Ubuntu in Perfect Harmony

Simply installing Windows 7 and Ubuntu together isn't all that hard—just do Windows before Ubuntu, and leave a little room for the Linux. Fine-tuning it for convenience, access, and general usability, though—that's something we spent a lot of time thinking on. We wrote it all down, step by step, in this post.

Build a Cheap But Powerful Boxee Media Center

Following up on Adam’s guide to building a small, silent XBMC media center on the cheap, Lifehacker’s resident Linux nerd (Howdy!) wrote up an alternative guide to getting a more powerful, Linux-backed, Boxee-centered HTPC running. Seeing as how the upcoming Boxee beta and pre-built Boxee Box will include sped-up support for this very kind of NVIDIA-powered, Linux-based system, this Boxee setup will actually hit its real peak in 2010.

Nine Must-Have Features We Want to See in a Google OS

Now that we’ve actually seen what Chrome OS will look like, and even taken it on an open-source test drive, we can run through our initial wish list for the Linux-based netbook OS and do the tally: Three yays (speed, syncing, and blurred desktop/browser experience), two nays (“All kinds of hardware” and native Linux apps), and four shoulder shrugs (integrated Quicksilver-like app launcher, powerful keyboard shortcuts, user privacy, and enterprise-friendly setup). There’s a lot more bound to come in 2010, though, including the first official release, so stay tuned.

GNOME Do and Docky Are Slick Linux Interfaces

We dig GNOME Do as a Quicksilver-like application launcher that knows your system better than you do. When it rolled in a dock interface, it got a bit more unstable, but even more helpful—and notably more smooth and eye-pleasing than the standard GNOME interface. The two projects have since gone their separate ways, but, installed side by side, they still make for a better Linux experience.

Presto Loads a Streamlined Desktop in 15 Seconds

Well, we thought Presto looked like a pretty neat quick-boot alternative for Windows users, at least while it was free, and promising boot-ups in mere seconds. Then we tried it out and clocked it at a more human 15 seconds, found it to be kind of a simplified Xfce desktop, and, oh, right, this other operating system from some search company was announced. Not to say Presto is a dead option, but, at this point, it might need an overhaul (Chrome installed, maybe?) to grab much more than a glance.

Install Firefox 3.5 on Ubuntu with One Command

Even released every six months, Ubuntu still manages to make its users wait on some newly-released apps getting official support—like Firefox, most importantly. This little Python script makes short work of bringing your built-in Firefox up to the bleeding edge.

Ubuntu Pocket Guide Available as a Free Download

Author Keir Thomas did the freely-licensed thing with his pocket guide, and we were all very glad to have it.

Elisa is a Simple, Streamlined Media Center

Looking for something that just plays your music, shows your videos and pictures, and doesn’t get in your way or bog you down with flashy features? That’s what Elisa is, and it looks pretty nice while doing so.

Mac4Lin Gives Linux Desktops the Complete Mac Look

It really, really does. If you don’t mind the obvious break in your your free-as-in-speech fidelity, it’s a pretty nice setup.

Jolicloud Netbook OS Is a Bit Like Chrome OS with Awesome Desktop Applications

Adam's headline pretty much says it all—you get most of the benefits of a fast-loading, small-screen-oriented OS, but with far more adaptability and a wide range of awesome Linux apps you can install.

Popular Cross-Platform Apps

Google Chrome, Alpha and Beta Releases

Google Chrome, which just barely turned one, has actually been up and running on many Linux systems since its earliest days, due to the hard work of Chromium open-source hackers. You could grab the alpha in May, try out a CrossOver-built release in September, and grab the official beta last week. Been holding off on your Chromium and just now trying Chrome? Check out our power user’s guide to Google Chrome to get acquainted.

Namebench Helps You Find the Fastest DNS Server for Your Computer

Google came out with a free DNS service, but many folks are learning, with the help of namebench or the also-excellent DNS Name Server Benchmark, that what the big G does isn’t always the best. Test out all the popular, public DNS systems to see what’s your own network’s best bet.

Google Earth 5.0 Released, Looks Incredible

Google Earth 5 is one of those lucky Linux products that Google still intends to keep up to date, unlike its sad cousin Picasa. So being able to put historical imagery, ocean maps, and improved world touring on a Linux desktop is A-OK with many readers.

Firefox (Of Course)

Firefox seemed to have met its first real challenge for the Best Alternative Browser this year, but it kept up with the modern web at its own pace. This year saw a big Firefox 3.5 release and a bunch of Firefox 3.6 betas (1, 2, 3, and 4). It’ll be interesting to see if Linux distributions consider Chrome as their default in 2010, but we expect Firefox to stick around for quite some time.

Thunderbird 3 Officially Released with New Features, Improved Look

A lot has changed since Thunderbird 2.0 release, but 3.0 brought enough savvy features—awesome search, smart syncing, and tabbed content—to make it an ultimate online/offline message hub.

HandBrake Updates to 0.9.4 with Over 1,000 Changes, 64-Bit Support

Yeah, Mac and Windows users probably find HandBrake really helpful. But Linux is where encoding to non-restricted formats can be crucial, so seeing regular development is a very nice thing. On any platform, Handbrake remains a favorite video encoder—even after developers dropped AVI/XviD support.

Since you’ve made it this far, let’s go ahead and put it up for vote:

What Was Your Favorite Linux Post or Download of 2009?(surveys)

Most Popular Free Mac Downloads of 2009 [Best Of 2009]

Nothing beats finding just the right application to fill a common need, fix a problem, or boost your productivity. Give yourself an early present this holiday season with 15 of the most popular Mac downloads of 2009.

Like last year’s most popular Mac downloads, this list is based on the popularity of apps we’ve covered in 2009, regardless of the original release date of the app. Many were brand new this year, while others were solid updates to popular software. If you took a look at yesterday’s Most Popular Free Windows Downloads of 2009, a few of the cross-platform favorites may look familiar. (I’ve rounded up the most popular cross-platform downloads at the bottom of the post.)

Snow Leopard: The Feisty Kitty That Could (and No, It’s Not Quite Free, Either)

The release of Snow Leopard was nearly as big a deal for Mac users this year as Windows 7 for Windows folks, and while it was never strictly a download (unless you grabbed it from less reputable means), it’s worth highlighting. Over the course of the year, we helped out by prepping your Mac for Snow Leopard, highlighted its biggest improvements, and held your hand while upgrading. If you didn’t want to pony up for Apple hardware, we even showed you how to install Snow Leopard on your Hackintosh PC, no hacking required—and luckily for the frugal among us (no, this one's not free, but it was a big deal in the OS X world so we figured we'd include it), the $29 upgrade disc worked whether or not you were upgrading from Leopard.

2009 Was Still a Year of the Jailbreak

The iPhone hardware may be getting better and better, but Apple still hasn’t gotten any better at opening up the app store to, oh, competition. As long as that’s the case, jailbreaking apps like PwnageTool and QuickPwn will still be extremely popular. Read more >>

Magnifique Customizes Your OS X Theme

The release of Snow Leopard didn’t do all that much to change Leopard’s spots, but Magnifique certainly does. This free skinning app is full of user-generated Leopard-customizing goodies. Note: Magnifique does not support Snow Leopard, so you’ll want to steer clear of it if you’ve upgraded. Unfortunately the Magnifique development seems to be at a standstill at the moment.

DoubleTwist May Be the Coolest Universal Media Manager Ever

People fed up with iTunes’ restrictive stance on non-Apple devices (see Apple and Palms’ dance, for example) were very interested in doubleTwist, a universal media manager that automatically converts files to the appropriate formats and seamlessly syncs them to your PSP, Android device, BlackBerry, and more.

Google Quick Search Like Quicksilver from Google

A lot of people were disappointed to learn about Quicksilver’s grim future a while back, but many of you were heartened to learn that Quicksilver’s creator had released a similar tool working with Google called Quick Search Box. Then again, it appears Quicksilver’s not entirely dead just yet (see below).

Pollux Automatically Cleans and Tags Your iTunes Library

For all the access to track metadata contained in the iTunes store, iTunes is a slouch at cleaning and tagging mislabeled or poorly labeled tunes. Pollux was an absolutely killer iTunes supplement that grabbed song, artist, album, and other metadata names, along with lyrics and album art, quickly and accurately. The problem? Shortly after we highlighted it, Pollux was shut down because the APIs it accessed stopped letting it access them for free. We liked Pollux better, but if you’re looking for something similar, check out TuneUp (free and pay versions available).

Picasa for Mac Beta Released, First Look

After years of Windows-only support, Google released the first Mac version of Picasa at the beginning of the year, and it didn’t take long before the majority of our Mac readers preferred it to iPhoto. You go, Google.

Quicksilver Releases Update, Improves Performance

Just when we thought Quicksilver was no more, it turns out that several contributors are continuing occasional development over at social coding web site GitHub. Their latest release brought on some solid performance improvements, and it worked well (for us at least) with Snow Leopard.

Glims Turns Safari into a Browser Worth Using

Free Safari plug-in Glims adds a handful of new features to Safari, giving it the kind of features one might expect from a more, ahem, customizable browser—for those of you who still prefer Safari to its more feature-rich counterparts.

Popular Cross-Platform Apps:

Google Chrome—Dev Releases and Beta At Last

Google Chrome is just over a year old, but it’s actually much younger for Mac users. We got our first glimpse at Chrome on OS X back in April, and it wasn’t until last week that Google released the first beta for Macs. Be sure to check out our power user’s guide to Google Chrome if you’re just getting started.

Namebench Helps You Find the Fastest DNS Server for Your Computer

Google very recently announced a free DNS service they boasted as fast, but rather than take their word for it, we pointed you toward namebench (and several readers also pointed toward the excellent DNS Name Server Benchmark). It tests various popular DNS servers to find what’s really going to be the fastest choice for your system.

Google Earth 5.0 Released, Looks Incredible

We’re sort of junkies for maps and 3D, so when Google Earth 5 was released, we were pleased as punch. The update featured historical imagery, ocean maps, and improved world touring capabilities. Maybe we just like saving ourselves some dough in these tough economic times with a little Google Earth sightseeing.

And Then There Was Firefox

The notorious Firefox memory slow-downs may have some of us down on the reliable old 'fox, but that doesn't mean we aren't all still eager to grab the latest and greatest releases and stick with it as our default browser—whether it's the big Firefox 3.5 release or the Firefox 3.6 beta (1, 2, 3, or 4). We’re looking forward to more great Firefox’ing in 2010.

Thunderbird 3 Officially Released with New Features, Improved Look

Sure it was two years since Thunderbird‘s 2.0 release, but at least they didn’t disappoint. Thunderbird 3.0 comes with solid new search and filtering tools, better looks, and a great new tabbed interface.

HandBrake Updates to 0.9.4 with Over 1,000 Changes, 64-Bit Support

Free, open-source DVD ripping and encoding tool HandBrake released a pretty saucy update last month with a ton of fixes and improvements. It’s no coincidence that it’s always been our readers’ favorite video encoder, and this year's big-ish (but still not 1.0) update should only help keep it there—even though several users aren't thrilled that the HandBrake devs have dropped AVI/XviD.

Now, because we like a good polling:

Which Is Your Favorite Mac Download of 2009?(opinion)

Got a favorite Mac download from 2009 that you’d add to your list of favorites? Let’s hear about it in the comments. If you’re craving still more popular Mac downloads, you can also take a look back at the most popular free Mac downloads of 2008.

Most Popular Free Windows Downloads of 2009 [Best Of 2009]

We’ve featured hundreds of free Windows applications over the course of 2009 that we hoped might bolster your productivity, workflow, or your PC usefulness in one form or another. Here’s a look back at the most popular Windows downloads of the year.

As with 2008’s most popular free Windows downloads, keep in mind that the apps featured here are chosen by the popularity of the associated post we published in 2009. Many were new, some were improvements to already loved apps, and others were simply new-to-us. Here’s a quick look back at the 19 or so most popular Windows downloads of 2009:

Windows 7—from Beta to Release Candidate and So On

2009 was a big year for Windows, and Windows 7 was the most important ingredient in Windows’ solid year. (In fact, you’ll notice that several of this year’s most popular downloads are related to Windows 7 in one way or another.) Sure it’s not exactly an application but rather a full-blown operating system, but it only makes sense that a new version of Windows would top the list of Windows downloads for the year. It started with the Windows 7 beta download in January, which had a ton of hiccups. It was released, then pulled, then released again, then extended because of the trouble Microsoft had handling the demand. (Actually, we just think they underestimated the web.) Later, in May, Microsoft released the Windows 7 release candidate. You even jumped on the chance to try Windows 7’s beautiful new themes.

Folks who were still using Vista also flocked to Vista’s Service Pack 2 (32-bit; 64-bit) to keep their PCs secure and up to date.

Enigma Desktop 2.0 Released, Adds Installer, Widget Manager, and Templates

One of our very own readers released his popular desktop configuration as a installable utility that brings a handful of great customization and productivity tools to your desktop. It’s called Enigma 2.0. Then Rainmeter, another very popular desktop customization tool, set Enigma as its default desktop. Fancy pants.

Portable Ubuntu Runs Ubuntu Inside Windows

Ever wish you could enjoy some of the finer tools available to Linux but stay comfortably in your Windows desktop? Sure you could run a virtual machine, but Portable Ubuntu for Windows runs an entire Linux OS as a Windows application. Better yet, it’s portable.

Seven Remix XP Makes Windows XP Look Like Windows 7

The release of Windows 7 left a lot of XP users wishing they could get in on some of that snazzy new eye candy. Seven Remix XP is a free utility that does its best to bring Windows 7’s comely looks to XP.

Ninite Bulk-Installs Great Free Windows Apps

Another result of the Windows 7 launch: A whole lot of us were rebuilding systems from the ground up, which often means a lot of tedious downloading and installing one app at a time. Ninite makes it easy, streamlining the download and installation processes for tons of the most popular free Windows apps, including most of our 2009 Lifehacker Pack.

Windows 7 Shortcuts Enables the Best Win7 Shortcuts in XP or Vista

Apart from all the new eye candy, Windows 7 really tickled our fancy with tons of incredible new keyboard shortcuts. For folks still chilling out with XP or Vista, we released Windows 7 Shortcuts, a lightweight utility written to bring some of the best new shortcuts of Windows 7 to previous versions of Windows.

Computer Repair Kit Packs Dozens of Tools in One Portable Package

By virtue of reading Lifehacker, you’re more likely than not the most schooled person among your friends and family when it comes to fixing a bum PC. It’s a dubious honor, because it also means you generally are the person who gets called when something goes wrong. Computer Repair Utility Kit puts a handful of useful PC repair utilities in one handy, portable suite.

Fences is a Seriously Awesome Desktop Icon Organizer

Like to keep items you want to access frequently easily accessible on your desktop but don’t want to deal with the added clutter? Fences arranges your cluttered desktop icons into containers so you can clean up the mess into useful groups of shortcuts—or optionally hide them altogether.

AVG 9 Free Antivirus

We’re of the mind that Microsoft’s security tools are good enough—including the new and impressive Microsoft Security Essentials antivirus app—but that doesn't mean many of you don't get excited when the AVG 9 Free update is available. It’s still the favorite antivirus app of Lifehacker readers (who doesn’t love free), though we’re sensing a slow but steady sea of change on this one.

Google Chrome—Stable, Beta, and Dev Releases

Google Chrome is just over a year old, but it’s made huge strides among early adopters. Chrome came out with its stable 2.0 release in May, then followed up with a Chrome 3.0 release in September. Early adopters willing to try their luck in the beta and dev channels get more features, which we detailed in our power user’s guide to Google Chrome. Whichever version of Chrome interests you most, it’s clear that it was a pretty good year for Chrome.

Hulu Video Downloader Saves Your Favorite Shows for Offline Enjoyment

Hulu Video Downloader was a fun little app that lasted about as long as you could say Hu… that is, it doesn’t work anymore. But when it did, it grabbed videos from the popular video service for your offline viewing pleasure, and you were eager to try it out.

Safari 4 Tempts with Good Looks

Safari‘s 4.0 beta release for Windows came with a lot of bugs and some serious eye candy, but despite the interest at release, we can’t imagine many people still stick with Safari on Windows over, say, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc.

Namebench Helps You Find the Fastest DNS Server for Your Computer

Google very recently announced a free DNS service they boasted as fast, but rather than take their word for it, we pointed you toward namebench (and several readers also pointed toward the excellent DNS Name Server Benchmark). It tests various popular DNS servers to find what’s really going to be the fastest choice for your system.

Google Earth 5.0 Beta Released, Looks Incredible

We’re sort of junkies for maps and 3D, so when Google Earth 5 was released, we were pleased as punch. The update featured historical imagery, ocean maps, and improved world touring capabilities. Maybe we just like saving ourselves some dough in these tough economic times with a little Google Earth sightseeing.

And Then There Was Firefox

The notorious Firefox memory slow-downs may have some of us down on the reliable old 'fox, but that doesn't mean we aren't all still eager to grab the latest and greatest releases and stick with it as our default browser—whether it's the big Firefox 3.5 release or the Firefox 3.6 beta (1, 2, 3, or 4). We’re looking forward to more great Firefox’ing in 2010.

Motion Detection Is an Effective, Dead Simple Security Camera App

If your webcam is sitting around collecting dust, try out Motion Detection, a free, motion-detecting security camera application. It’ll snap pics and video when it detects movement, can upload the results via FTP, and more fun at-home security stuffs.

Thunderbird 3 Officially Released with New Features, Improved Look

Sure it was two years since Thunderbird‘s 2.0 release, but at least they didn’t disappoint. Thunderbird 3.0 comes with solid new search and filtering tools, better looks, and a great new tabbed interface.

HandBrake Updates to 0.9.4 with Over 1,000 Changes, 64-Bit Support

Free, open-source DVD ripping and encoding tool HandBrake released a pretty saucy update last month with a ton of fixes and improvements. It’s no coincidence that it’s always been our reader’s favorite video encoder, and this year’s big-ish (but still not 1.0) update should only help keep it there.

DeskHedron Adds 3D Virtual Desktop Eye-Candy to Windows

Linux users have a killer desktop management tool called Compiz Fusion that puts multiple desktop management on a 3D cube that we’ve always been jealous of on Windows. Open-source application DeskHedron brings a similar three-dimensional desktop management tool to Windows users.

Now, for fun:

Which Is Your Favorite Windows Download of 2009?(opinion)

Got a favorite Windows download from 2009 that you’d add to your list of favorites? Let’s hear about it in the comments. If you’re craving still more popular Windows downloads, you can also take a look back at the most popular free Windows downloads of 2008.

Most Popular Top 10s of 2009 [Best Of 2009]

Every weekend, we comb our memories and archives to compile 10 useful items addressing a specific topic you may have forgotten about, or just happen to be excellent. Here are the 20 list(icle) posts that proved the most popular in 2009.

1. Top 10 Tiny & Awesome Windows Utilities

The best boxing doesn’t always happen at the heavyweight level. Likewise, some of the best things you can load onto your Windows system are tiny little guys that just make day-to-day writing, working, and surfing better.

2. Top 10 Must-Have Firefox Extensions, 2009 Edition

We didn’t change everything from our original 2006 list, but we did mix up our favorite add-ons for our favorite browser with a few essentials that Lifehacker editors, and readers, have found indispensable.

3. Top 10 Windows 7 Boosters

Just before Windows 7 dropped, we put together the apps that developers had updated or released new to integrate with Windows 7. Some add in things missing from Microsoft’s latest OS, while others improve on what’s already there.

4. Top 10 Firefox 3.5 Features

To think that Firefox 3.5 was almost labeled 3.1, a small iteration. The latest release included a lot to crow about, including much-needed performance improvements, but also many subtle refinements.

5. Top 10 Underhyped Webapps, 2009 Edition

Gina had only compiled her list less than two years ago, but the web’s become an even bigger playground for developers since then. The truly helpful and useful ones, without gigantic advertising budgets, were worth highlighting. Photo by thievingjoker.

6. Top 10 Tricks MacGyver Would Be Proud Of

This was Adam’s favorite Top 10 of at least the year, if not possibly all time. Either he’s really into short, goofy fan fiction, or just appreciates a number of 1980s pop-culture references sprinkled into his listicles. Either way, it’s fun to make like everyone’s favorite duct tape enthusiast with these clever hacks. Image by PoweredByLarios™.

7. Top 10 Ubuntu Downloads

Free software rocks, and free software running on a free platform is heavenly stuff. Check out the apps that make Ubuntu a better place to work, play, and explore. Image by Andrew Mason.

8. Top 10 Battery Hacks, Tips, And Tricks

Modern batteries help us feel like we're living in the future, with cellphones that can do anything and laptops that can work anywhere—when they're fully charged. Otherwise, getting the most out of them requires some old-fashioned cleverness and energy frugality, detailed in these tips. Photo by conskeptical.

9. Top 10 Cheap or Free Home Theater Upgrades

Once everything’s hooked up, it’s easy to just point your HD TV in the right direction and call it a day on your home theater setup. Take on a few of these projects and pointers, though, and you’ll get a nicer-looking, better-performing system. Photo by chunkysalsa.

10. Top 10 Skills to Master Your Grill

Why was this so popular? Because almost everybody loves an excuse to be outside, and nearly everyone loves an excuse to obsess over tasty food. That’s just our guess, anyways, and these 10 skills testify to how geeky this excuse can really get. Photo by adactio.

Those 10 may have been the most popular, but if you’re still eager for some more listicle goodies, here’s a quick overview of the next ten most popular.

  • 11. Top 10 Tools for a Free Online Education
    “It’s easy to forget these days that the internet started out as a place for academics and researchers to trade data and knowledge. Recapture the web’s brain-expanding potential with these free resources for educating yourself online.”
  • 12. Top 10 Apps that Boost Your Media Center
    “Streaming video, digital DVD backups, DVR recording-it’s all possible from your TV-connected media center, and you don’t need a system administrator to pull it off. These 10 apps make filling and controlling your media center PC even easier.”
  • 13. Top 10 Home Office Hacks
    “Whatever kind of work you do at home, your office is one place you want to spend the time to make comfortable and convenient. Take 10 of our tips on organizing, fixing, and streamlining that space.”
  • 14. Top 10 Tricks for Creatively Hiding Your Stuff – Security – Lifehacker
    “Every kid has a creative stash for secret stuff, but that useful enthusiasm doesn’t have to die off just because we’ve traded treehouses for desks. See how you can hide money, files, workspaces, and more in today’s Top 10.”
  • 15. Top 10 Computer Hardware Fixes and Upgrades – Hardware – Lifehacker
    “If your desktop or laptop parts have died or seen better days, you’ve got a friend. All of your Lifehacker editors-and many helpful net denizens-have upgraded or repaired faulty systems, and we’ve rounded up some of their most helpful tutorials.”
  • 16. Top 10 Productivity Basics Explained
    “There’s a core set of habits and techniques that filter and color a lot of what we write about at Lifehacker, but we rarely step back to explain them for newcomers. Let’s get back to basics with 10 productivity tactics.”
  • 17. Top 10 Tools for Your Blog or Web Site
    “Having your own hosted web domain has never been cheaper, or easier, with the vast array of free resources out there. Here are our ten favorite tools to help anyone launch and maintain their internet presence.”
  • 18. Top 10 Tips and Tricks for Better Coffee
    Coffee doesn’t always make work better, but you can definitely work to get better coffee. From four-cup hotel machines to French presses, from home-roasted beans to decorative foam-we’ve got a wealth of tips for enjoying a better cup.
  • 19. Top 10 Tricks for Making Your Playlists Rock
    “If music is part of your everyday work routine, workout, or commute, stuffing your player full of tunes and hitting shuffle just won’t cut it. Scan these 10 tips for improving and expanding your music playlists.”
  • 20. Top 10 Outlook Boosters
    “Outlook is such a fixture of office and computer life, its potential as a central life-organizing inbox is easily taken for granted. Empower your Outlook with these add-ons, link-ups, and data management techniques.”

Want a quick blast from the past? Our most popular top 10s of 2008 and 2007 are just a click away.

Most Popular How-To Features of 2009 [Best Of 2009]

We cover a lot of tips every day on Lifehacker, but we get our greatest pleasure from putting together in-depth, step-by-step guides. From Windows 7 to Hackintoshes and beyond, here’s a look back at our most popular how-to features of ’09.

How to Do Everything with Windows 7

Windows 7 was a huge part of 2009, and the Lifehacker crowd was eager to try it out early on—but not necessarily ready to ditch XP or Vista outright to do so. This guide got you up and running with a Windows 7 and Vista/XP dual-boot system. Once you got it up and running, our complete guide to Windows 7 got you started with the most important parts of tackling your new operating system. We toured Windows 7’s best, most underhyped features, schooled you on its impressive list of cool new shortcuts, and detailed how to pull a little XP mode in Windows 7. It was a pretty good year for Windows users.

How to Build a Hackintosh with Snow Leopard, Start to Finish

The Apple tax is always a little higher than a lot of people are willing to pay, so this year’s guide to building a Hackintosh with Snow Leopard, start to finish, followed up by the simplified guide to install Snow Leopard on your Hackintosh PC, no hacking required made a pretty big splash.

How to Crack a Wi-Fi Network’s WEP Password

Whether you’re verifying the security of your own network or up to something a little more dubious in nature, this guide to cracking a Wi-Fi network’s WEP password with BackTrack—followed by this WEP cracking redux post that took WEP cracking out of the command line realm proved popular.

Google Wave First Look

Google Wave made a serious splash this year, and while a lot of people still aren’t sure how to best put it to use, there’s no doubt that there’s a lot of interesting technology going on there. We did our best to help you understand how you might use it yourself, starting with our Google Wave first look, moving onto a few best use cases for Wave, and rounding it out with a guide to Wave keyboard shortcuts, filters, searches, and more with our Google Wave 101 guide.

Clean Up and Revive Your Bloated, Sluggish Mac

Feel like your Mac isn’t the speedy little box it used to be? Our guide to cleaning up and reviving your bloated, sluggish Mac will get your machine back to running like a champ. (PC users, we’ve got you covered here.)

Prep Your Mac for Snow Leopard

Windows users had the Windows 7 release, Mac users had the Snow Leopard upgrade, and this guide detailed how to prep your Mac for Snow Leopard for a painless transition.

Build a Silent, Standalone XBMC Media Center On the Cheap

The future of home entertainment isn't in your cable box as you know it today—it's in powerful home theater PCs. There was a time when you'd need a big, noisy box next to your computer if you wanted to impress with your HTPC, but this guide to building a silent, standalone XBMC media center on the cheap turns an inexpensive, tiny nettop computer into a standalone XBMC set-top box.

The First-Timer’s Guide to Building a Computer from Scratch

Ever been interested in building your own PC from the bottom up but always been a little scared of rolling up your sleeves with computer hardware? Building a computer from scratch is easier than you think, and it’s also one of the most satisfying projects a tech enthusiast can tackle.

Programmer 101: Teach Yourself How to Code

Whether you just want to do some simple scripting or you want to start down the road to an entirely new skill set, our 101 guide for teaching yourself how to code is a great place to get started.

How to Fix Your Relatives’ Terrible Computer

If you didn't already fix every one of your relatives' computers over Thanksgiving, don't worry—the holidays are quickly approaching, and you know your the resident IT person for your friends and family. Our guide to fixing your relatives’ terrible computer can help.Photo by Justin Marty.

Cut the Cable For Good with Boxee and Apple TV

If our above guide to building a silent, standalone XBMC media center wasn’t quite your bag of chips, consider our step-by-step guide to cutting the cable for good with Boxee and Apple TV. You remember Boxee, right? They’re the killer media center folks who had to fight it out with Hulu all year, and they just updated with an impressive new look and feel. Photo by philcampbell.

Six Ways You Should Be Using Twitter (that Don’t Involve Breakfast)

Twitter may be taking the world by storm, but it’s often- and much-maligned by many of our readers. (47 percent of you say you’d never even use it.) Say what you will about tweeting, but if you’re not using Twitter for at least search, we think you’re missing out.

Properly Erase Your Physical Media

A whopping 40% of the used hard drives on eBay contain easily recoverable personal data. This guide details how to properly erase your physical media when you get rid of anything containing a hard drive so your personal data doesn’t end up in someone else’s hands. Photo by Robert Scoble.

The Definitive Guide to Finding Free Wi-Fi

Spend a lot of time on the road and out of the comfort of your home or office? Our definitive guide to finding free Wi-Fi can help you find some fast internet while you’re out of your home territory. Photo by °Florian.

The Beginner’s Guide to Creating Virtual Machines with VirtualBox

We play around a lot with various pieces of new software and even entire operating systems around these parts. Play it safe or just play around with our beginner’s guide to creating virtual machines with VirtualBox, a free, open-source virtualization tool.

Use Firefox to Fix the Web’s Biggest Annoyances

The web is an amazing place. It can also be an extremely annoying place. Skip the annoying flashing ads, turn off auto-playing movies and sounds, skip the auto-refreshing pages, and more with our guide to fixing the web’s biggest annoyances with Firefox.

How to Build a Web Site from Scratch with No Experience

Ever wanted to try your hand at building a web site you've been dreaming about—but have no experience with web development? We've been there (I was proud to release earlier this year), and this guide for building a web site from scratch with no experience will point you in the right direction.

You’re Backing Up Your Data the Wrong Way

Your data is the most important thing you've got on your computer—in fact, it's everything. If you aren't backing it up correctly, one bad move and all that information—and all those memories—goes the way of the dodo. If you're not sure if you're backing up the right way, this how-to will steer you in the right direction.

Ten Must-Have Gmail Filters Available for Download

If your inbox is overflowing and you feel like you’ve lost control, these 10 must-have Gmail filters will get you started slicing and dicing your inbox into a more manageable place.

An Exhaustive Guide to Saving Your Smartphone’s Battery

If you spend a lot of time outside your home or office, your smartphone is likely your lifeline to the rest of the world. Problem is, your pesky battery can die pretty quickly if you’re not mindful of how you’re using it. Follow our exhaustive guide to saving your smartphone’s battery and you may be able to squeeze a few more hours out of that gadget of yours. Photo by [177].

Make Free VoIP Calls from Google Voice

Soon free-calling functionality may be built into Google Voice (now that Google’s bought Gizmo5), but in the meantime, here’s how you can make free phone calls using Google Voice.

Hack Your Wii for Homebrew without Twilight Princess

If you’ve got a Wii and want to undertake a little homebrew fun, the Twilight Princess hack used to be the only way to go. Not so anymore, and our guide to hacking your Wii for homebrew without Twilight Princess walks you through how to go from zero to homebrew step by step.

Which Is Your Favorite Lifehacker How-To Feature of 2008?(polls)

Got a favorite Lifehacker guide on or off this list that we covered in ’09? Let’s hear about it in the comments. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can also gander back at the most popular how-to features of 2008.

Battle of the Windows Notification Apps: Growl for Windows vs. Snarl [Lifehacker Faceoff]

Mac users have long had an excellent universal notification application called Growl to unify alerts from various applications in OS X. In more recent times, we’ve seen two promising Growl spin-offs spring up for the Windows crowd: Growl for Windows and Snarl.

Snarl is the oldest of the two, and while it didn’t have all that much to offer the first time we covered it, it’s grown significantly in the past year. Growl for Windows, on the other hand, is relatively new (we first saw it back in May), but also features pretty solid support for a lot of popular applications.

Both apps support notifications for iTunes, Google Reader, Gmail, Firefox, and Prowl, the iPhone application that can send push notifications of your notifications. Since most Windows developers don’t support either application by default, you’ll normally need to install a plug-in or script for either Snarl or Growl for Windows to get that added support. That said, both applications have extensive lists of supported applications (Growl for Windows supported apps; Snarl supported apps).

We're nuts for Growl on OS X, but it's been hard to decide which to use on Windows—and whether either is really worth using at this point. (We love competition in software, but with these applications, it may also mean developers are less likely to support one out of the box if there isn't a clear choice.) So if you've tried your hand at both, let's hear what you think:

Which Universal Notification App Do You Like Best?(online surveys)

Got more specific reasons for the app you prefer—or why you don't like either? Let's hear it in the comments.

How Fast is Your Internet Connection? [Reader Poll]

DSL and other high-speed internet services feel like dial-up more often than they should. According to a new study, the U.S. ranks 28th in terms of fastest broadband speeds behind Japan, Sweden, Holland, and other industrialized nations. Where do you rank?

The admittedly partisan labor union group Communications Workers of America compiled a list of broadband speeds for U.S. states (and its territories). Based on the data, America’s average broadband speeds clock in at about 5 megabits per second, with Delaware registering the fastest stateside speeds, averaging 9.91 mbps. For its part, Puerto Rico had the slowest rates at 1.04 mbps.

Though the study should be taken with a grain of salt since not all territories were included, among other variables (the article itself notes that the study is not entirely scientific), it does highlight the wide disparity in broadband speeds, both within the U.S. and abroad. South Korea, Japan, Sweden, and Holland, for example, all fared better than America.

This report got us wondering what kind of speeds our readers are used to enjoying (or pulling their hair out over), so head over to one of the previously mentioned bandwidth speed tests (we’re quite partial to the classic Speakeasy speed test), give your connection a workout, then let us know how spry your downloads are:

How Fast Is Your Internet Connection?(online surveys)

Update: We accidentally dropped a zero on our initial poll; this new poll should be a touch more useful for measuring it out.

Browse the full link to see how your state ranks, then tell us if these findings match up with your own observations. How does broadband stack up where you live? Let us know in the comments.

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