Insanely Great Software: Beyond Compare

There are a lot of good utilities out there, but every once in a while one comes along that stands out above the rest. Such programs provide a unique combination of usefulness, reliability, quality, value, and a certain "wow" factor that, in my opinion, earns them the title of Insanely Great Software. This is certainly true of one of my long-time favorite utilities, Beyond Compare® from Scooter Software.

At its core, Beyond Compare is a file and folder comparison and synchronization utility. As a developer, I rely on this kind of utility many times a day to sync my backup folders with their corresponding live folders, to update my deployment folders with the files from the latest build, to compare 'before' and 'after' results during testing, and a variety of other such tasks. Beyond Compare quickly became my favorite for its intuitive interface, ease of use, and great features.

Folder Comparison and Synchronization

Beyond Compare's user interface consists of a pair of side-by-side treeviews showing folders, sub-folders and files. The display, which refreshes rapidly even for long lists, drills down the folder hierarchy from whatever drive or folder you have selected as the root on each side. The intelligent use of color makes it easy to quickly spot matches, mismatches, and orphans between the two sides.

You can choose to view all files or only files that are different on one side than on the other. If you choose to view only files that are different, there are several choices involving various combinations of mismatches, orphans, and files newer on one side than on the other. Toolbar buttons enable you to quickly select the desired view and to expand or collapse all the sub-folders in the view, among other things. As you would expect, you can expand and collapse individual folders by double-clicking them in the treeview.

Other buttons on the Beyond Compare toolbar enable you to easily synchronize two folders by copying newer and unmatched files from one side to the other. Synchronization can be done either en masse or for individually selected folders and/or files.

Zip and FTP

Beyond Compare treats Zip files as folders, enabling comparison and synchronization between a folder and a Zip archive, or even between two Zip archives, as though they were all actual folders. It can also connect to an FTP site on one or both sides of the comparison, thereby extending its functionality beyond the local machine or network.

Sessions and Explorer Integration

If you find yourself frequently comparing the same pairs of folders, Beyond Compare lets you save each set as a named session, which you can then open from a drop-down list the next time you need it. Integration with Windows Explorer (optional, but recommended IMO) enables you to select two folders in Explorer and launch Beyond Compare from the right-click menu. Although I have several dozen saved sessions I use all the time, I still find the integration with Explorer extremely useful for ad hoc comparisons and synchronizations.

File Compare and Editing

Beyond its core functionality, one of Beyond Compare's most useful features IMO is the built-in file comparison and editing capability. With any two files selected, you can launch a file comparison with a just click or two. This gives you a side-by-side, line-by-line comparison of the two files in a separate window, again using color to highlight the differences. The basic file comparison is designed for text files, which of course also works great for Visual FoxPro® program (PRG) files, INI files, header (.h) files, and the like. Plug-ins are available for viewing and comparing other file types, including a Hex viewer for binary files and an image file viewer for popular graphics file types.

The file comparison window has its own toolbar, which includes one-click buttons to immediately jump to the next or previous difference without scrolling. A visual representation of the file runs down the left-hand side of the file comparison window and uses bands of color to illustrate where areas of difference occur. I find this very intuitive and especially useful when working with large files that have only a few differences. The file comparison utility also enables you to edit the files in situ; you can edit individual lines on either side and/or copy a line or a group of selected lines from one side to the other.


Another plus is that Beyond Compare can be licensed to the person, not just the machine. The license states that "One registered copy of the Software may either be used by a single person who uses the software personally on one or more computers, or installed on a single computer used by multiple people, but not both." As an independent developer who works primarily on two machines (a desktop PC and a laptop PC) not shared with anyone else, I value this kind of license agreement a lot.


Beyond Compare can also be automated -- that is, run without a user interface -- via scripting. Rick Schummer of White Light Computing is currently doing some interesting work in this area. Look for his upcoming Class Compare utility for Visual FoxPro, which takes advantage of Beyond Compare's scripting capability to implement some very cool reporting.

When you add it all up, Beyond Compare is a really great piece of software. Go download the latest version and see for yourself.

Beyond Compare is a registered trademark of Scooter Software, Inc. Visual FoxPro is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corp.

['Insanely Great Software' is an occasional series about some of my favorite programs and utilities.]

Inno Setup 5.1.4 Released

Inno Setup 5.1.4 has just been released and can be downloaded here. The major enhancement in this version is support for installing 64-bit Windows® applications. This version also includes other miscellaneous changes and additions since the previous version 5.0.8. See the Inno Setup 5 Revision History for a complete list.


BeyondCompare 2.3 Released

Scooter Software has released version 2.3 of Beyond Compare, one of my all-time favorite utilities. After spending a couple of months in beta, this release has been widely anticipated. Judging by the list of changes and enhancements, which runs two printed pages, there's a lot to look forward to. Beyond Compare version 2.3 is available for download here.

Beyond Compare will be featured in the next installment of my Insanely Great Software series here on this blog. Stay tuned.


What time is it?

I registered for an online 'webinar' today. The confirmation e-mail informed me the event would take place on the specified date at 15:00 BST, 16:00 CEST. Not being sure how to translate this to U.S. time zones, I had to do a search on those terms to find out what they meant. In the process I found a good site at www.computerhope.com/jargon/t/time.htm with a list of several time zone abbreviations and their relationship to GMT. BST in this case is British Summer Time, and CEST is Central Europe Summer Time.


Newsgator acquires FeedDemon

Straight from the source: Nick Bradbury of Bradbury Software reports on his blog this morning that Newsgator has acquired FeedDemon, Nick's outstanding and highly popular feed reader (see my recent blog), along with Nick's other excellent product, the TopStyle CSS and HTML editor. Given that Nick himself is going to work for Newsgator, the headline should probably read "Newsgator acquires Bradbury Software."

I don't blame Nick in the least for selling out while the market was hot, but I'm not optimistic about this. Main reason? Two words: subscription model. More later after I've had a chance to cool down. Right now I'm not feeling too good about this.


Internet Explorer 7 has tabs

From Microsoft's IEBlog: "Yes, IE7 has tabs." Good news, and about time. Tabs make inifinite sense when you want to work with multiple Web pages open at the same time. I hope the tabs are on top of the main content and not at the bottom, or at least that they're moveable to suit individual preferences. I also hope IE7 will implement Ctrl+Tab to move from one tab to the next, Ctrl+PgUp and Ctrl+PgDn to move back and forth among tabs, and Ctrl+T to open a new tab from the keyboard. Keyboard shortcuts sometimes get short shrift; those three ought to be standards, IMO.


Three Cool Firefox Extensions for Developers

If you design Web pages and write your own HTML/XHTML and CSS, or even if you're just interested in seeing how your favorite Web pages are put together, you'll probably find these tools as useful as I do.

Web Developer Extension
Chris Pederick's Web Developer Extension provides a whole range of useful little tools, many of them focused on helping you work with CSS. Among them is the ability to selectively disable CSS styles -- all styles, embedded styles, inline styles, linked styles, or even individual style sheets -- making it easy to see (and debug) the effect of each style. You can even interactively edit CSS styles and see the effect of your changes immediately, even on public pages. Other groups of tools in this extension help you work with forms and images, outline selected elements on the page, view information about the page, perform various validations, and more. You can find Web Developer Extension at chrispederick.com/work/firefox/webdeveloper/.

View Cookies
This nifty little extension, by Edwin Martin, adds a tab to the Firefox Page Info dialog on which you can view the name, value, domain, path, and scope (duration) of the cookies for any page you're viewing. Very useful when developing and debugging cookie-based pages. View Cookies is available for download from addons.mozilla.org/extensions/moreinfo.php?id=315.

When turned on, Aardvark outlines each page element as you pass over it with your mouse, showing you the associated element type such as div, p, td, h3, etc., along with its CSS class or ID info, if any. A set of keyboard shortcuts enable you to interact with the selected element in various ways. From Karmatics, Inc. at www.karmatics.com/aardvark/.

There are of course many other Firefox extensions, both for developers and for other uses, too. You can find an alphabetical list on mozilla.org at addons.mozilla.org/extensions/?application=firefox. Two that I'll be checking out soon include View Formatted Source and View Rendered Source. Look for them near the bottom of the Developer Tools list.


Windows Installer 3.1 Redistributable (v2) Now Available

The Windows Installer 3.1 Redistributable is back as 3.1 (v2). This update fixes the problem described in KB #898628, Windows Installer fails silently when trying to update a file protected by Windows File Protection. The release notes for 3.1 (v2) are here, and the download link is here.


Windows Installer 3.1 Redistributable Temporarily Withdrawn

As reported last week by Stefan Krueger of InstallSite.org, Microsoft has temporarily withdrawn the Windows Installer 3.1 Redistributable due to issues discussed in knowledge base article #898628. The original post with a bit of follow-up discussion is here.

Firefox 1.0.4 now available

Firefox 1.0.4 is now available for download. This update fixes three recently publicized security issues. More information is available in today's mozillaZine article.


Firefox Security Advisory

Mozilla.org has posted a security advisory for two "potentially critical" vulnerabilities in its Firefox Web browser. The advisory suggests users temporarily disable JavaScript until a fix is published.