CyberNotes
Tutorial Thursday




Every time you try to use a file in a program it always seems like it needs some obscure file format that you have never even heard about. Or maybe you are trying to post a video to your website but you want a file format that works well in all browsers. There are all kinds of file conversion websites and applications that you can use for free…and they put the power at your fingertips.

Here I will cover 3 online solutions and 2 applications that are all completely free for you to use. All of them support conversions into multiple formats meaning you’ll probably be able to find a lot of use for them.

Remember: With online solutions you will have to upload the file first which can take a considerable amount of time if the file needing to be converted is large.

 

–Online: Zamzar

Zamzar This is probably one of the most popular online conversion services that is on the Internet. It can input a file from a list of supported filetypes and have it converted to another format much like you would expect. The list of filetypes is simply astounding and you can even convert things like PowerPoint presentations to an OpenDocument presentation format (compatible with OpenOffice.org).

You’ll also need to enter in an email address after you select the file and conversion format. This is so that Zamzar can email you the link to download the file. There is a 100MB filesize restriction and the link in the email will remain active for a 24-hour period. The 100MB limit can either be for a single file or up to 5 files. If you “bulk” upload files to the service for conversion (which is limited to 5 at a time) they will email you a download link with all of the converted files zipped into a single file.

 



–Online: Media Convert

Media Convert Media Convert is another online conversion solution that is sure to wow you with the different filetypes they have available. It is slightly different than Zamzar with the more unique feature being that you can provide a URL for the input file. This means that you can provide a URL to an image file, for example, and have that image converted to another image format. There are even some “advanced” options depending on the file type you are inputting, and when the file is an image you can have it resized as well.

The fun doesn’t stop there either. You should take full advantage of being able to enter in URL’s because Media Convert will offer the option to save a website as an image file, which also serves the purpose of creating a screenshot. I have had it shoot back some errors while trying to do this but it works fine most of the time . If you really want to go out on a limb maybe you should try and convert some text to Morse Code. ;)

The other great thing about Media Convert is that the downloads are available within minutes whereas Zamzar has taken up to an 30-minutes to email me my resulting file. There is, however, a small countdown timer that you will have to wait out before being able to actually download your file.

 



–Online: PDF Online

PDF Online This online site doesn’t offer much that makes it unique since its only purpose is to create PDF files. The reason that I do like it, however, is that it seems to do a better job of creating PDF files. The resulting PDF looks a lot more like it should compared to the other two services who sometimes mess up the layout of the document that I am trying to convert.

Here is a list of filetypes that can be converted to PDF’s:

  • Documents: DOC, RTF, PPT, PPS, PUB, XLS, MHT, TXT
  • Images: JPG, PNG, BMP, TIFF, WMF, EMF, GIF

After selecting the file to be uploaded you are required to enter in a valid email address (like Zamzar) for them to send the PDF to. Yes, this does seem like some blatant attempt for them acquire a database of email addresses to sell, but rest assured that their privacy policy does say that the email addresses will not be given to a 3rd party.

Now if only they would allow users to upload files larger than 2MB.

 



–Application: Super

Super Now onto the applications that you can install on your PC…starting with the ever popular Super! Personally I prefer to use software that I have installed on my own PC to convert files because the process is tremendously quicker. After you jump through the hoops that the online services require you have to sit there and wait for them to convert your file, and there is really no telling how long that can be. Of course, the worst part about the online services is probably the length of time that it takes for you to upload the file…which is completely bypassed when using your own computer for the conversion.

The list of files that Super converts is essentially unmatched compared to any other application and online service. Now I haven’t sat there and counted the number of file formats it can actually convert but lets just say that it leaves me speechless.

Super doesn’t just do a conversion, instead, it lets you customize the whole conversion process allowing you to tweak things like the bitrate and number of frames per second. These are all things that advanced users love to have control over but it might look a little intimidating for anyone unfamiliar with the lingo.

This free software also has an option to save Internet Media Streams (such as mms://, rtsp://, and http://) so that you can listen to them whenever you feel like it. Maybe that doesn’t sound too useful right now but I have had several instances where I have wanted to save a Media Stream, but at the time I did not know about this great tool.

 



–Application: MediaCoder

MediaCoder Lastly, the open source MediaCoder application. Its claim-to-fame is being able to transcode audio and video files into a wide range of formats. Here is a list of the various filetypes that are supported:

  • MP3, Ogg Vorbis, AAC, AAC+, AAC+V2, MusePack, WMA, RealAudio
  • FLAC, WavPack, Monkey’s Audio, OptimFrog, AAC Lossless, WMA Lossless, WAV
  • H.264, Xvid, DivX, MPEG 1/2/4, H.263, Flash Video, 3ivx*, RealVideo*, Windows Media
  • AVI, MPEG/VOB, Matroska, MP4, RealMedia*, ASF/WMV*, Quicktime*, OGM*
  • CD, VCD, DVD, CUE Sheet

* supported as input only

You can use MediaCoder for all sorts of things related to audio/video files. If you really want you can extract audio files from a video file or even rip an audio/video disc. This can all be done without needing to have a media player installed since it has the necessary codecs built-in.

 

–Overview–

This post was inspired by everyone who emailed me with tips regarding online conversion utilities. Lewis pointed out Media Convert and Josh pointed out MediaCoder, both of which are excellent conversion tools. I thought it was time to share these recommendations with everyone, but if you know of a better solution feel free to let us know in the comments below. Thanks again for the tips!