At first glance, MiTeC InfoBar looks much like a host of other desktop tools. There’s a display of your CPU utilisation here, your free RAM there – not exactly the most interesting or essential of applications.
But wait. There’s much more here than you might think. And on closer exploration, InfoBar just might be one of the most versatile and feature-packed desktop accessories we’ve ever seen.
Launch the program, for instance, and a small horizontal toolbar will appear at the top of your screen, displaying the date, time, free memory, CPU utilisation, power status (mains/ on battery, if applicable), system up time, current weather conditions and scrolling headlines from Reuters.
That’s not bad – but it’s just the beginning, as you can double-click most of these sections to drill down further. Double-click the weather conditions panel, say, and a pop-up appears with a forecast for the next five days. Double-clicking the free RAM figure displays a breakdown with details for your physical RAM, virtual memory and paging file. And double-clicking the system up-time shows you your system’s network name, IP and MAC addresses, the currently logged-in user, and more.
This is getting to be useful, but we’ve still only mentioned a fraction of what’s available here. If you click the star icon at the far left of the bar then you’ll get easy access to several compact but capable tools.
There’s a smart scientific calculator, for instance. The interface is a little sparse – just a couple of empty panes – but if you start to type an equation – 45* , say – a list appears showing you all the operators, functions and constants you can use.
The Desktop Explorer is a developer’s tool which provides a host of information about your chosen window: class, handle, size, the current mouse cursor position, and the parent process and process ID, and you get a magnifier and colour-picker thrown in for good measure.
The Coding Tools window provides a collection of useful developer tools: you can convert shortcut codes to and from text format; select colour codes in Delphi or HTML format; calculate CRC32 or MD5 values for entered text, detect the SID for specific account names, and more.
There’s also a simple text editor (essentially Notepad with line numbers, right-click in the window for the program’s menu); a basic calendar displays day names and astronomical events (no scheduling of your own events, though); and there’s an ACSII table, a weather forecast viewer, and a basic but usable RSS reader.
All this is reasonably configurable. If you find the RSS feed distracting, say, you can turn off the scrolling. If you don’t like toolbars, you can have InfoBar automatically hide so that it only appears when you move your bar to the top-left of the screen. And all the accessories are available via customisable hotkeys, so if you need the weather forecast, say, just press Ctrl+Alt+W.
And if this appeals then the good news is that you can run InfoBar almost anywhere (there’s support for Windows 2000 to 8), and it’s relatively lightweight, using between 8.5-16.5MB of RAM in our tests.
There are also a few problems here, mostly interface irritations. In particular, if you double-click a panel then InfoBar displays a pop-up with more information, but there’s no way to copy and paste this data elsewhere. Worse still, the pop-up automatically disappears in 5 or 6 seconds, a real problem if you’re trying to copy two MAC and 3 IP addresses (for instance) to some other document. MiTeC really need to rethink how they present these details.
Some of the InfoBar accessories could be a little more helpful, too. You have to start typing in the calculator to understand how it works, for instance, and the notepad has no indication that you need to right-click to access the menu: a few more on-screen hints (if only when users press F1 for help) would be welcome.
These problems aren’t critical, though – the sheer weight of functionality here mean there’s still more than enough useful features to make it worth installing the program, particularly for more technical users. So if you could benefit from this kind of desktop extension, take a look: InfoBar is a surprisingly versatile collection of tools, and we’ll be very interested to see how it develops in future.