Chimoosoft's Mac Picks and Reviews
This page is part of our archive. For weekly reviews of software and hardware for Mac OS X, please visit our main OS X Picks page.
Many options for backing up your data exist on Mac OS X, and with the introduction of Leopard's Time Machine, many users will never need to venture out into the wild west of backup software again. However, for users with more specific needs, software such as Apple's Backup (included with a .Mac subscription) fills an important niche.
Backup allows you to create multiple backup plans making it easy to preserve only the data you are currently worried about. When creating a plan, simple presets such as "Home Folder" and "Personal Data & Settings" can be chosen, or customize your own plan to include or exclude specific files and folders. There are also many preset data types which can be chosen including "Keychain", "iTunes Purchases", and "Pages Documents". Backup can even perform a Spotlight search at backup time to gather all files with certain characteristics; i.e., all documents containing a certain word or phrase. After choosing the files, add as many schedules and destinations for the plan as desired. For example, you can have the plan backup to your iDisk once a week and to a CD or DVD once a month. When manually performing a backup, it's easy to pick which device the backup should go to, and if you choose something too big to fit on a single CD or DVD, Backup will prompt you to insert more media as necessary.
The only immediately obvious drawback of Backup is the fact that only one backup plan can be executing at a time; it's not possible to start several simultaneous backups. Some people have also complained about the way Backup stores your files in a package, but you can always delve into the package by right-clicking on it and choosing "Show Package Contents". For the author, Backup is almost a good enough solution to justify the cost of .Mac on its own.
A free demo of Backup is available when you sign up for a .Mac trial, but it limits you to only 100 MB of backup data at a time.
Time Tracker is a freeware (and open source) program for tracking the amount of time spent on various projects. This software is especially useful when you're working on several projects, switching off between them frequently. Add a list of projects on the left hand side, and for each project, add one or more tasks (if desired) below it. Start the clock ticking and get to work!
A handy menu extra in your menu bar allows you to see whether or not Time Tracker is running at a glance and makes it easy to start and stop the timer without bothering to switch back to the program. The software is even smart enough to notice when you've been idle (not using your computer for a while) and asks if you want the idle time to count or not. All in all, not bad for freeware!
Data Rescue II
Data Rescue II is an example of the type of software you hope to never use since using it implies that you've lost something important and desperately want it back. When and if you delete your favorite photos and empty the trash, this software will be waiting to help.
There are several competing products for Mac OS X which offer similar features - primarily, the recovery of deleted files. After evaluating several of them and examining the pricing, Data Rescue II came out on top (a competing product suffered from a horrible user interface and crashed when trying to recover data). Recovery is simple: choose one of several scanning methods, click a button, and wait. After the scan is complete, a list of recoverable files sorted by file type will be displayed. Select any files you'd like to recover and let the software do its thing.
In addition to actually working (and completely recovering the author's photos), Data Rescue II featured a clear and easy to use user interface with built in help. For instant gratification, the software can be immediately downloaded after purchasing.
Stellarium is a free (and open source) planetarium program for Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows which uses OpenGL to render the sky. Unlike competing commercial software, Stellarium is extremely simple and easy to use - no manual required. Set your location using the map, then drag the sky around using your mouse. A toolbar along the bottom lets you toggle displays such as ground, constellations (with or without artwork), atmosphere, nebulae, and more. Simple to use time controls enable play, fast forward, rewind, and return to current time. Some nice touches including random meteors and twinkling stars are also included.
Even if you have access to commercial software such as Starry Night, you may well find yourself preferring Stellarium; it's quick, simple, and easy to use. This software does not suffer from feature bloat. Next time you're planning to go stargazing, check out Stellarium first; or even bring it along on your laptop.
Note that version 0.9 has a few quirks including a problem starting in full screen mode. These issues will likely be addressed soon, so keep an eye on their web site for updates.
- no version
Today marks our first review of a program designed especially for the new Apple iPhone instead of the Mac. Although the iPhone is still a closed platform preventing all but the most serious hackers from altering the installed software, Apple has encouraged people to write web applications specially tailored for the touch interface and small screen.
One of the first apps to appear was iPhlickr; a fun way to browse photos from the popular online photo site, Flickr. Using the app, you can quickly browse the most recently added photos, photos by specific users or tags, your own photos, or the author's favorite feature: interesting photos today. Use your finger to scroll through the thumbnails and click on any of interest for a larger view. If you haven't already done so, try adding a bookmarks folder to the iPhone's Safari browser for storing iPhone tailored web apps like iPhlickr - ours is called "iPhone Formatted." This acts as a sort of "applications folder" for the iPhone.
Due to the nature of web apps, iPhlickr is likely to change without warning. This review refers to iPhlickr as of 7/30/2007 (no version given).
Apple's built in iChat is a great way to stay in touch with your friends or colleagues, but sometimes feels as if it's missing something. The freeware (and open source) Adium client gives users another excellent option which adds oft requested features including tabbed chats, encryption, and much more customizable chat appearances. Although iChat allows encrypted chats between .Mac users, Adium allows point to point encryption between any two Adium users regardless of network. This is a great benefit since most chatting protocols send every message in plaintext across the network making them easy to intercept (especially on public wireless access points).
One of the few features Adium is missing is easy to use voice and video chatting, although the latest versions do include SIP support which should enable this (unclear how to setup). But aside from this, Adium works well and is a good option to try out. Adium supports AIM, Jabber, MSN, Yahoo, .Mac, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, ICQ, LiveJournal, Lotus Sametime, Novell GroupWise, QQ, SIP, and Zephyr. Also, with such a cute little duck icon, who can resist giving it a try?
Sorry, no review this week or next due to preparation for and attendance at the Apple World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC) which takes place next week. Check back the week of June 18th.
Update: the conference was amazing - and amazingly tiring! Next review will be posted around the 25th.
- built in
When Apple first introduced the PowerPC based Power Macintosh computers in 1994, they included an innovative product called Graphing Calculator which was made by Pacific Tech. In addition to being a great way to show off the speed of the new PPC chip, this program turned out to be a useful educational tool and helped teach basic math skills to many grade school and college students. Unfortunately, with the switch to Mac OS X in 2001, Graphing Calculator was abandoned by Apple and users were left with a hole.
Apple responded to the need for a replacement beginning with Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) and bundled a program they dubbed "Grapher" (originally Curvus Pro by Arizona Software). Although Grapher doesn't feel as fast as the older Graphing Calculator, it offers much of the same functionality including 2D and 3D graphing, integration and differentiation support, and built in examples. In some areas such as customizing the graph display, Grapher is even more flexible than Graphing Calculator.
Grapher is freely bundled with every copy of Tiger and can be found neatly hidden in the
/Applications/Utilities/ folder. Why Apple would hide this useful piece of software (which is clearly not a Utility) in the Utilities folder is anyone's guess, and as a result of this hiding many Mac users aren't even aware that it exists. Since Grapher does indeed reside on your system, it's worth checking out.
Note: Pacific Tech finally started supporting OS X independent of Apple, and you can still buy Graphing Calculator on their website today.
OmniGraffle is the premier vector based diagramming and layout tool for Mac OS X. This excellently designed program lets you produce beautiful org charts, UML diagrams, ER Diagrams, and more. A default set of "stencils" covers most basic shapes and many more are available for download from the web. Connect objects together with the line tool and drag them around or use the auto layout tool to create a balanced graph.
In addition to producing diagrams, the program is versatile enough for creating icons, web badges, or even "art." Bezier curves, shadows, gradients, grouping, and layers give you plenty of options. Many of the graphics on the Chimoosoft website were created using OmniGraffle including the RSS feed badge, most of the icons in the top right hand corners, and even the icon for Chimoo Timer. For the professionals out there, the pro version allows import and export of Visio documents.
This is one of those rare programs which is truly a joy to use; in addition to functionality, you get to have fun!
OmniOutliner Pro is a versatile but lightweight program which is useful for much more than simply making an outline. It particularly shines as a list maker, but can also be used for taking notes, writing documentation, or replacing your spreadsheet for simple tasks. The multi column and summary features make it easy to add up all expenses in a column, or time spent working on certain projects. Features such as intelligent date parsing allow you to type things like "next tuesday" and have Outliner figure out exactly what you mean. Checkboxes come in handy for some types of lists, but fortunately, can be turned off for others.
OmniOutliner is designed to be used quickly and easily from your keyboard - a simple press of the return key gets a new bullet, and simple key commands (or mouse drags) change indentation. This efficiency makes it a great tool for tasks such as taking meeting notes or minutes. The styles overlay view is one of the more impressive features; it lets you easily set all imaginable style attributes (color, background, font, size, shadow, and more) for each level of indentation in the document. As new items are added, the appropriate style is automatically applied. Templates of your favorite styles can be saved, set as default, and restored later when creating new documents.
Exporting to other formats such as PDF, text, HTML, and dynamic-HTML is easily accomplished. The release notes for all Chimoosoft software were created with Outliner's dynamic-HTML export.
A cheaper non-professional version is also available (and commonly bundled with new Apple computers), but it lacks nice features such as folded editing, templates, and more. If you're tempted by the cheaper version, at least download the demo of the pro version first to see what you're missing.
QuickTime ships with all copies of Mac OS X and provides photo, audio, and movie playback services to many programs and the operating system itself. There are however many movie codecs in use on the web which aren't natively supported by QuickTime. Movies encoded with these refuse to play unless a specialized QuickTime component is installed.
In the past, users had to download and install numerous codecs to gain access to the full range of available movies; Perian simplifies the process. In one fell swoop, freeware Perian adds support for video codecs including AVI, FLV, 3ivX, DivX, Flash Screen Video, MS-MPEG4, Sorenson H.263, Truemotion VP6, and Xvid AVI. It also supports audio codecs such as AAC, AC3 Audio using A52Codec, H.264, MPEG4, and VBR MP3! Nearly every common format is supported with the exception of WMV (windows media) which can be added with the free Flip4Mac.
Installation is simple - drag the Perian.component file to your
/Library/QuickTime folder and optionally remove any older components which Perian replaces. Congratulations - your computer will now be able to play almost any video or audio file you throw at it!
- built in
Apple introduced Exposé with Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" in April of 2005, however, many Mac users either don't realize that it exists, or don't know how to utilize it to the full extent. Exposé helps you deal with the constant clutter of overlapping windows and the need to drag and drop items from one window to another by quickly getting things out of your way.
Before getting started, make sure you have set up the keyboard shortcuts to your liking - open System Preferences and choose "Dashboard & Exposé." On a laptop Mac where many of the function keys are already mapped to things like screen or keyboard brightness, it helps to double up Exposé on the two remaining keys, F11 and F12 (screenshot). On our setup, pressing F11 shows all windows, while ⌥ (option) F11 shows only windows in the current application. F12 reveals the desktop, and ⌥F12 shows Dashboard (Hint: to set the keyboard shortcut to use ⌥, hold it down while clicking on the shortcut menu.) It's also possible to set screen corner shortcuts, but many people find these confusing since they are often bumped by accident.
Aside from simply revealing your myriad windows and letting you quickly bring the desired one to the front, Exposé really shines when combined with drag and drop. Drag and drop has been a hallmark of the Macintosh experience since the beginning, but it can be difficult to use since the source and target windows are often buried under multiple layers. Exposé can help. Assuming your keyboard shortcuts are set up as indicated above, press F12 to reveal the desktop, grab a file, and start dragging it. While still dragging, press F11 to reveal windows in all non-hidden applications. Drag the file over the desired window and either press F11 again to immediately bring the window to the front, or pause for a few seconds and Exposé will bring it to the front automatically. Drop the file. You have now completed a drag and drop without moving any windows!
Variations of this can also be used to drag things between programs without involving the desktop. The key to the whole experience is to not let go of your dragged item until you've tried out various Exposé shortcuts.
TextWrangler is a robust, fast, and free text editor for Mac OS X from BareBones software which replaces their older but widely used "BBEdit Lite" (first released in 1993). This editor is a good choice for those needing a powerful editor with syntax highlighting and regular expression support but not wanting to pay for a commercial editor. As with other text editors, this product is aimed at software and web developers; TextWrangler is not a word processor.
Common needs such as changing a file's line break characters between Unix, Mac, and Windows or changing the file encoding between variations of Unicode and Western (Mac OS Roman) are a single click away. Operations such as removing line breaks, processing (and searching) a file with regular expressions, or hard wrapping text are also trivial. The bundled command line tools let you easily open files from the terminal directly with TextWrangler removing the need to use older programs such as vi. TextWrangler also has better AppleScript support than almost any Mac OS X program you're likely to encounter and includes full script recording support. Simply open Apple's ScriptEditor, press the Record button, and begin working in TextWrangler; press Stop when finished and then replay your script. Unlike many other editors, TextWrangler is extremely fast and lean - this is the cheetah of text editors.
The latest versions of TextWrangler have gone a long way towards modernizing the program; a new toolbar, OS X native spell checking, and document drawer are some of the features which set this software apart from the original BBEdit Lite. Although TextWrangler covers all the basics extremely well, it doesn't do as much for you as newer editors such as TextMate which has many helpful macros and project level file management. Even if you don't use it as your main editor, TextWrangler certainly makes an excellent backup when the paid editors drop the ball on something you need to get done quickly. BareBones also offers a more fully featured commercial version called BBEdit.
Free Ruler is exactly what it sounds like: a freeware ruler for your computer screen. Position one end of the ruler on the start point, drag the other end as long or tall as necessary, and move your mouse pointer around. The ruler shows the pointer's position with a dotted line making it easy to measure precise distances. Try using it in conjunction with control scroll zoom for even better results.
Why would you want a ruler? Anyone working with graphics or layout on a computer needs the ability to measure pixel distances on the screen. This program is a real help when debugging that troublesome CSS code or laying out a user interface. This may seem like a simple program, but it comes in handy more often than you might think!
Like it or not, Windows Media Video files (.wmv) are common on the web and Mac users need a good way to play them. In the past, Microsoft provided a free version of their Windows Media Player for Mac OS X, but discontinued it about a year ago. This isn't a huge loss since Windows Media Player for Mac OS X was never very well done (let's just say it wasn't a pleasure to use) and the new alternative is actually easier to deal with.
Flip4Mac allows you to play Windows Media files with the standard Apple QuickTime Player and also plays movies embedded in web page. After installing the software, dealing with wmv files is no more trouble than dealing with normal QuickTime files. The full version of the software has many more options and allows conversion from wmv files into other formats suitable for devices such as your iPod and Apple TV. The free trial allows export using QuickTime Pro (review), but places a watermark across the video.
Aperture is one of Apple's newest and most hyped "Pro" Apps which is targeted primarily at professional photographers and advanced amateurs. If you use a digital SLR or high end prosumer camera and consider photography to be one of your main hobbies or profession, Aperture may be for you. Otherwise, you probably won't want to spend more for this software than you did for your camera! While mainly an image organization tool with meta-data support, Aperture also provides tools for the most common photo editing needs such as crop, free rotate, red eye reduction, white balance, sharpening, levels, exposure, blemish removal, and RAW adjustments. Like iPhoto, Aperture also includes the ability to produce photo books, order prints, and make web albums but all with more freedom and control. Basically, this is iPhoto on steroids.
Possibly the largest freedom which Aperture provides is the ability to edit your photos endlessly without worry. No longer will you have to think about saving copies, wasting disk space, or protecting the originals. Your master images (digital negatives) are always preserved and any and all changes you make to them can be undone or altered at any point in the future without sacrificing image quality. Instead of actually changing your photos and re-saving them (as you may have done with other tools), Aperture saves only the digital "recipe" used to make the changes. In addition to being able to easily undo your changes, this also means that extra disk space is not wasted when you make additional copies or edited versions of images. In the past, you may have restricted yourself to editing only those images in dire need of help, but it's so trivial to do with Aperture that you'll find yourself making small corrections across the board. The ease with which photos can be edited and organized in this program is phenomenal!
Other innovative features such as the ability to stack similar images on top of one another hiding all but the best (called "stacks"), and the integrated "vault" one-click backup system are a joy to use. If you really need Photoshop, Aperture even lets you send files to it for editing with one click, and as soon as you save, they come right back into Aperture with the changes! This software does so much and has so many innovative features that it would take pages and pages to even mention them all - instead, why not dive in and watch the online tutorials to get a feel?
At the time of this writing, a free thirty day trial version of Aperture is available for download from Apple's website. A discounted (half price) educational version is also available. Aside from the high cost, the only real drawback of this software is the required CPU and graphics horsepower. Warning: if you have anything older than a 1.5 GHz G4 with at least 1 GB of RAM, Aperture may cause excessive hair loss and fidgeting.
Adobe makes a competing cross-platform application called Lightroom, but if you're using a Mac, Aperture is probably the one for you. The author of this review has used both of them and far prefers the feature set and OS X integration of Aperture.
Although the basic QuickTime Player is included with every Mac and free to download for Windows, it is somewhat crippled unless you purchase the "Pro" version. By going Pro, you gain several handy features related to saving and editing movies as well as full screen playback. Note that the Pro version usually has to be re-purchased for each "major" version of QuickTime - for example, 6, 7, and 8 when it comes out.
Many websites use QuickTime to play their movies; Pro gives you the ability to save any of these to your local computer by simply clicking on the bottom right corner popup menu and choosing "Save as QuickTime Movie..." It also becomes possible to edit movie clips in the player. You can now copy, cut, and paste sections of movies together to remove unwanted portions from existing movies or make brand new ones from scratch. For the photography buffs out there, you now have the ability to create a new QuickTime movie from a batch of time lapse photographs using the "Open Image Sequence..." command. In addition, recording movies and sound directly in QuickTime Player, and saving in formats optimized for iPod or Apple TV (H.264) is also enabled.
Possibly the feature you'll use the most in QuickTime Pro is the fullscreen movie watching - just press ⌘ (command) F to enter full screen mode complete with movie controls which appear when you move the mouse. For a full list of features, visit the QuickTime Pro web site.
GraphicConverter is many things: a poor man's Photoshop replacement, a versatile photo organizer with IPTC and EXIF tagging support, an excellent way to present a slide show, a robust photo editor, a batch processor, and an image format converter. The software has been around for many years and pre-dates OS X although it is frequently updated and now a universal binary. GraphicConverter can open files in nearly 200 formats and export in nearly 100. It is also available in twelve languages!
Since Photoshop is a bit of a beast and takes its time launching, you may find yourself using GraphicConverter for typical Photoshop tasks such as cropping, resizing, alpha layers, and basic photo corrections. GraphicConverter launches in a snap and is ready to do your bidding. The batch change feature is quite powerful (although the interface is antiquated) and makes short work of entire folders of images. It's easy to use for tasks such as creating thumbnails with different titles or file formats and is used extensively for the images which end up on this web page.
GraphicConverter may be used indefinitely with a short startup delay, however, it's well worth paying the small fee to support this fine software. The developer is also unusually responsive; if you find problems or have reasonable feature requests, he will often fix or implement them within weeks or months - quite different from the experience you'd get contacting Adobe.
The only real drawback of GraphicConverter is the sometimes obtuse user interface, portions of which (batch processing, etc.) haven't changed much since the early nineties. GraphicConverter also suffers a bit from "featureitis" and it can sometimes be difficult to find a desired feature or figure out how to set the preferences to achieve the desired goal. Still, the program is affordable, robust, fast, and hard to do without. It's a venerable workhorse and is sure to find a place in your workflow!
Carbon Copy Cloner
Carbon Copy Cloner is a backup utility which has recently received a massive face lift and is now much more accessible to the average Mac user. Prior versions performed their task well - cloning a disk volume to a disk image or other volume, but the user interface was somewhat confusing for beginners. Version 3.0 still performs the same basic functions but is now easier to pick up and begin using without a manual.
The Mac software marketplace is currently rife with programs claiming to provide easy backup solutions, but most of them are either difficult to use, unreliable, or not fully featured enough. Carbon Copy Cloner appears to stand up well to the task, and it's donation-ware so you can pay what you think is fair! Although the upcoming Time Machine (arriving in Leopard) may alleviate the need for these types of programs for the casual user, Carbon Copy Cloner will still have a valuable place in the enterprise world for backing up servers before upgrades or providing a bootable backup of your own computer. In addition, as the author mentions on his web site, this software could be invaluable for backing up your computer before sending it in for repairs.
Using the software is fairly straight forward - choose a source volume on the left and a target volume, remote server, or disk image on the right. Press the clone button to begin the backup. Folders and files can be unchecked in the source to exclude them from the clone and disk images can be created for you at run time and even automatically encrypted. A nice paragraph form summary entitled "what is going to happen" appears at the bottom for review before proceeding with the clone operation. Other thoughtful features include the ability to restore from a clone, schedule clones to occur at regular intervals (useful for servers or desktop machines), and run shell scripts before and after a clone.
Note that the version tested is still in beta, so some features are a little rough around the edges.
- built in
FileMerge is a visual diff tool freely included with the Apple developer tools. If you have installed the developer tools on your computer (they come bundled for free on the install disks which came with your Mac), you can find FileMerge nicely hidden in the
/Developer/Applications/Utilities/ folder. Amazingly, many people developing software on the Mac haven't yet discovered FileMerge - if you're one of them, now is the time to do so. Apple provides lots of little goodies in the
/Developer folder which are worth learning about.
Although it can be used to compare and merge any two text files you desire, FileMerge will mainly be of interest to software developers. If you've ever used the Unix diff tool, using FileMerge is like seeing the light; differences are actually visible side by side and easily understood at a glance - no more deciphering strange diff codes on the command line. As you jump to a difference in one file with the arrow keys, the second file scrolls to the same position and highlights the changes. You can also jump directly to methods/functions and choose which version of a change you want merged into the final output file. True, performing the same diff in the terminal is more condensed and geeky, but the FileMerge equivalent is much easier to grasp and work with. Many tools such as Xcode and svnX also have direct links within them which launch FileMerge for you.
TextMate is an advanced text editor designed with software and web developers in mind (chimoosoft.com is maintained with it). Notable features include tabs, project level management of files, multi-file (project) search with regular expression support, text-completion, syntax highlighting for scores of languages, a command line launcher, and countless editable macros defined for each language to reduce typing and improve efficiency. Standard OS X spell checking is also included, but with a nice twist - it's smart enough to avoid flagging items such as HTML tags. A built in web preview is available and many scripting languages have the ability to run and display their output within TextMate.
In addition to your standard and expected text editor features, TextMate can do some truly amazing things. For example, when writing HTML, select a word, press a key shortcut, and TextMate will look up the best matching link for the word on Google and insert it as a link in your HTML code! If you can't remember the appropriate key combo, a floating searchable browser is available where you can quickly find the shortcut you desire. Find the large number of features overwhelming? Check out the free online "screencasts" (iTunes link) which demonstrate how to use TextMate's powerful features or browse the extensive online help.
Google Importer is a convenient Spotlight plugin which queries Google whenever you perform a Spotlight search and includes the top Google hits in the results list. This provides a quick alternative for missing local search results; when information you thought was located on your local computer isn't actually there, you can seamlessly use the top Google hits instead.
Unfortunately, results can sometimes take quite a while to show up, but this may be a fault of Spotlight and not the importer. Perform a general query which returns many thousands of results, and a long delay will ensue before the Google hits appear, however, a more specialized query produces results relatively quickly.
Note: the software was tested on a 1.5 GHz G4, so the speed should be improved on newer Intel based Macs. Since results are filed under the "Bookmarks" heading, make sure to enable this category in the Spotlight system preference pane.
Tired of your free file transfer client? There are many different ftp/sftp clients for Mac OS X including the built in terminal commands, however the free ones often leave something to be desired. After variously using RBrowser, Fetch, CyberDuck (free), and Fugu (free) over the years, Transmit finally emerged as the preferred choice. If you want a client which offers a very Mac like interface without any hassles, Transmit may be the choice for you.
Transmit features a column browser which shows both "your files" (local) and "their files" (remote) side by side. It can be set to default to your favorite directory both locally and remotely at launch time and can even automatically connect to your favorite server. A handy synchronization feature allows you to synchronize a local directory with a remote one and includes advanced options for which types of files and modification date ranges to ignore (this is how chimoosoft.com is updated). Other handy features include queued file transfers, spring-loaded folders, linked local and remote folder browsing, drag and drop from the Finder, and editing of your remote files via your favorite editor(s). Integration with Quicksilver and Dashboard is also provided.
Quicksilver is a freeware program which offers LaunchBar like functionality and more in a prettier, free package. No more time consuming trips to the Applications folder; simply type ⌘ (command) space followed by the first few letters of the item you want to launch and Quicksilver will find it. If the wrong item surfaces, a secondary match can be selected with the arrow keys, and Quicksilver will learn to bring up the correct choice next time.
Quicksilver goes beyond a simple launcher however; hit tab after choosing a program and an entire list of possible actions appears. Want to get info on the item you selected, rename it, or move it to the trash? No problem. You can even choose to open a file with the selected program, hit tab again, and then use Quicksilver to search for the file to open - without ever touching the Finder. A plugin interface allows even more extended functionality for many popular programs.
This program does so much it's quite impossible to summarize it in such a short review. For a taste, dive into the preferences and explore the nearly 100 actions, 100 plugins, and literally tons of customizability, or explore the extensive online documentation. Suffice it to say that there is plenty of functionality hidden within this software to keep you busy for a long time. After using it for a while, you'll have trouble using a Mac without it and will be downloading and installing it on each Mac you use.
Is LaunchBar dead? Not really; it's simply a matter of preference - both tools have lots to offer. Try them both and see which you prefer.
Addendum 11/6/2007. With the release of Leopard, Spotlight is enough faster to be used instead of QuickSilver. If you've been using QuickSilver, it may be time to give Spotlight a chance again as it offers some additional niftiness which QuickSilver can't match.
LotsaSnow and LotsaWater
Screen savers don't have any real use on modern LCD screens other than their entertainment value, but these screen savers definitely offer entertainment. LotsaSnow generates unique snowflakes and gently sprinkles them on your screen with options for setting parameters such as color, growth rate, and background visibility.
LotsaWater employs the much loved water droplet effect similar to the one used by Apple's Dashboard and lets water droplets fall randomly over the screen. Options to set the rainfall from gentle to pouring, water depth from shallow to deep, and others allow you to customize the behavior. Truly mesmerizing! A fairly modern computer is required for both of these; probably at least a 1.25 GHz G4 with a decent graphics card.
The Missing Sync
The Missing Sync enables synchronization of calendars, contacts, photos, music, files, and more between Mac OS X and many portable devices including Palm OS, Windows Mobile, PSP, and coming soon, Blackberry. The version reviewed only syncs to Palm OS devices, but syncing to others should be similar.
For Palm users, the Palm desktop application included for Mac OS X looks and feels like something straight out of the mid 1990's and is hardly a suitable choice. Apple's bundled iSync software works, kind of, but doesn't support many devices and can be quite slow. The Missing Sync is really the best option out there for true Mac like synchronization fully integrated with Apple applications like Address Book, iCal, iTunes, iPhoto, and more.
In addition to the tight integration with iLife applications, The Missing Sync also has multiple connection options including USB and bluetooth. If you need synchronization with your Mac and can't afford an iPhone, this is the application for you.
Wacom Graphire Bluetooth Tablet
Mice may be ubiquitous in the modern computer world, but that doesn't make them the best choice for all activities. Aside from being difficult to use for precise graphics editing, mice can lead to or aggravate repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) - something to avoid at all cost.
Wacom graphics tablets provide a great alternative input device, and even if you don't spend all day editing in Photoshop they're well suited for mousing around as well. Another often overlooked benefit of using a pen based input device is Apple's built in Inkwell handwriting recognition technology. Inkwell allows you to write entire sentences on your tablet and have them translated to text just as if you were typing.
On the down side, clicking small targets is sometimes difficult since the pen is very sensitive and you may end up dragging rather than clicking. Also, the tablet doesn't play well with the previously reviewed Control Scroll Zoom; when zoomed, tablet clicks are offset and don't land where they should. It is unclear whether this is a problem with OS X or with Wacom's drivers. A tablet probably isn't a 100% replacement for a normal mouse or trackpad, but when used in conjunction with traditional devices (or even the included mouse), it works very well.
The Graphire wireless tablet comes with a stylus, stylus holder, two button scroll mouse, and recharging cable. Wacom's technology doesn't require a battery in the stylus, so it's very light weight and easy to use. In addition to being pressure sensitive (with applicable programs like Photoshop), the stylus and the tablet itself both have two programmable buttons on them which can be configured with Wacom's System Preference Pane.
For best results with Inkwell, try using "mouse mode" and turning "mouse acceleration" off. Also, make sure to download and install the newest drivers from Wacom as the ones included on the CD have problems with lag time.
Do you enjoy text-to-speech, but are tired of the built in Mac OS X voices? Cepstral has ten US English voices available for download as well as UK English, Italian, Canadian French, German, and Americas Spanish. After installing, they appear in the speech System Preference pane alongside the traditional voices.
The quality of the voices is comparable to the best Apple provided voices, and some of them such as Callie, William, and David may be superior. Cepstral also includes a command line utility called "swift" which allows you to synthesize voice directly into an audio file. For example,
swift -n Callie -f review.txt -o cepstral.wav produced this sample file. The demo voices vocally ask you to register before speaking your text but are still fun to play with.
AppKiDo is a handy documentation browsing tool for Cocoa software developers which relies on the built in Apple developer documentation. Although the program allows browsing by class hierarchy, the most useful feature is the easy to use search and the option to display all instance or class methods in the same list for a given class. For example, looking at NSMutableDictionary this way also shows the methods for NSDictionary, and NSObject.
Unfortunately, the browser doesn't remember your position on the page when hitting the back or forward buttons, and the keyboard navigation could be improved. Still, AppKiDo is a nice fast alternative to browsing the web by hand or using PDF documentation. If you're a Cocoa developer, check it out! If you're not a Cocoa developer, perhaps you should become one. Happy New Year!
There are many decent web browsers for Mac OS X such as OmniWeb (see review), Safari, FireFox, Camino, and Opera. Each browser offers a slightly different feature set and as expected, some browsers perform certain tasks better than others. As a result, it is often desirable to move between browsers on a daily basis; e.g., you may use OmniWeb most of the time, but Safari for a few pages, and FireFox for some others. Having your bookmarks remain consistent between all your browsers is virtually impossible to achieve by hand since there are several file formats in use - that's where a tool such as bookit steps up to the plate.
Bookit merges all your bookmarks and allows you to manage them within its interface and sync them with all your browsers. Alternately, if you have one master browser which you use most of the time and manage your bookmarks with, bookit will read them in and allow you to overwrite the bookmarks of your other browsers with the master browser's bookmarks. Other features include an optional global bookmarks menu extra and dock menu. Nearly every web browser for OS X is supported.
Freeware svnX is a front end to the popular Subversion version control system. Although Xcode has built in support for svn, third party tools such as svnX offer more flexibility and support a wider range of Subversion commands. With svnX, you can manage all of your version controlled projects and repositories in the same GUI environment. Tasks such as tagging, rearranging your repository, removing files, browsing, and committing changes are easy to accomplish. Although svnX feels a little rough around the edges, it has been progressing nicely and makes a worthy companion to Xcode or whatever program you're using to edit version controlled files.
PowerMail is an IMAP and POP capable e-mail client which features blazingly fast and easy to use search thanks to homegrown "FoxTrot" search technology. Searching by content through the author's entire email database of tens of thousands of emails using PowerMail takes less than one second! The search function has plenty of options to help narrow down your search, it's fast, and results appear in a separate window for each query. No longer will you be afraid to look at other messages lest you lose your search results.
PowerMail also features SpamSieve integration (see review), syncing with Address Book, multiple accounts, text clippings, location specific server settings, Spotlight integration, and a built in HTML reader. It should be noted that PowerMail doesn't feel quite as refined as Apple's Mail and its handling of picture attachments and HTML email is not as smooth or seamless. However, it's a worthy client and one you should seriously consider if you are fed up with your current choice or just ready for a change.
MacTracker is an incredibly useful application which tracks the technical specifications of every Macintosh ever produced (including clones) as well as most other Apple hardware such as iPods, displays, and AirPort Base Stations. The hundreds of details available are very specific and even include an area for keeping your own notes and comments. Although similar information is available on Apple's web site for current products, it can often be difficult to locate for out of date machines. MacTracker makes it quick and easy to look up the details on nearly any Apple product you can think of.
Great for researching possible upgrades to your system, troubleshooting, or simply amazing yourself with the fast pace of technological innovation. Other features of note include an iPod version (via the notes feature), timeline by year of models produced, indication of Apple support status for each model, and links to firmware updates for relevant machines. This product would come in handy in any situation where multiple Mac models have to be supported, e.g., at a business or school.
A simple dashboard widget to calculate beats per minute (bpm) for songs. Tap the widget or space bar in time to your music and bpmWidget will calculate the tempo and store it in the song's bpm tag. Having this information allows you to build more powerful smart playlists in iTunes.
Although other programs exist which automatically determine the tempo of each song, they often don't work as expected and can be frustrating to deal with. Even in conjunction with an automated program, bpmWidget is still convenient for fixing its inevitable mistakes. Hopefully a future version will include the option to auto advance to the next song and possibly jump midway into it.
LaCie Portable Hard Drive
This LaCie 100GB portable FireWire and USB 2.0 hard drive is designed by Porsche and serves as an ideal backup companion for your lonely PowerBook or MacBook Pro. (It also gets along with iBooks and MacBooks, but the metal styling doesn't match as well.)
Available sizes range from 60 to 160 GB and the drive is bus powered via the FireWire or USB port on your Mac laptop which solves the annoyance of having to plug in a separate power cable. Unlike some other tested drives, this one is able to draw enough power from even the pickiest Apple laptops which often provide no more current than the exact bus specification (which some drive manufacturers don't follow very carefully). In the unlikely case that your laptop doesn't provide enough bus power, this drive can even draw juice from both the FireWire and USB ports simultaneously via an included cable.
The drive is stylish, small, solidly built, fast, quiet, and works flawlessly with Macs. It comes with a soft drawstring case and thoughtfully short FireWire and USB cables. Note that you should use Disk Utility (in your Utilities folder) to reformat the drive as an HFS plus volume (Mac OS Extended) before using it for optimum Mac compatibility. If you need to exchange data with Windows users, leave it with the default format.
Adds bayesian spam filtering to most popular email clients including Apple Mail, Emailer, Entourage, Eudora, GyazMail, Mailsmith, Outlook Express, and PowerMail (see review). The author has used SpamSieve for several years and has achieved a 98.6% accuracy score out of 91,348 emails processed. From personal experience, it appears to work better than Apple's own spam filter in Mail. SpamSieve offers a great deal of customizability and even allows you to view the corpus of words which it uses to calculate spam scores. Integration with clients such as PowerMail is seamless via AppleScript.
Find your hard drive filling up? OmniDiskSweeper can help. This handy little utility scans your drive and hierarchically sorts every file and folder by size - even the invisible ones. This is very handy for finding those huge cache files or old applications, movies, and music that you forgot about. The demo still sorts all your files but forces you to go to the Finder or use the Terminal to delete them manually. Pay the small fee for this software and you gain the ability to delete unwanted files directly within DiskSweeper.
Although this program does only one thing, it does it well and still functions normally on modern OS X systems even though it was last updated in 2002. Drag a folder of pictures onto ExifRenamer and it will do exactly what its name suggests: rename them based upon their EXIF metadata tags which are embedded in the files by the camera. The way it renames files is very customizable with regard to what date and time formats are used and how to handle duplicate photos taken in the same second. Now, rather than having your digital photos labeled like "DCM_015.jpg" you can have something more meaningful like "2006-10-30 12.23.35.jpg" which shows both the time and date in one glance.
To make using ExifRenamer truly seamless, set ImageCapture (in your Applications folder) to run ExifRenamer as its "Automatic Task" which occurs after downloading. Of course, if you use iPhoto or Aperture, this program probably won't be much use to you; but if you like to manage your photos by hand and use something like GraphicConverter, then this program will be a welcome addition to your workflow.
Control Scroll Zoom
- built in
Not exactly a software review, but this new trick is so exciting and useful it was just pleading to be mentioned! On Mac OS X 10.4.8 or later (and possibly earlier?), hold down the control key on your keyboard and scroll to zoom the entire screen in and out! This works on recent PowerBook, iBook, MacBook, and MacBook Pro trackpads which support scrolling, or on any other Mac with a scroll wheel (or ball) enabled mouse. Similar functionality has been available for quite some time by turning zoom on in the Universal Access system preference pane and using ⌘⌥+ and - (option command plus and minus), but the scroll wheel method is much smoother and more convenient to use. Turning zoom on or off in this preference doesn't seem to have any effect on whether or not the new scroll zooming works.
It's encouraging to see Google expanding their Mac software offerings with Google Notifier. Notifier lives in the menu bar and provides notifications of incoming Gmail and Google Calendar events. As email arrives, a black translucent window appears with a summary of the message; it automatically fades after a delay or when clicked upon. In addition to mail, Google Calendar events can now get your attention more readily by playing a sound and popping up on your screen. The menus also provide a summary of recent mail and upcoming events including links to the appropriate Google pages.
Unfortunately, the app is not without its quirks. First of all, rather than being a "real" menu extra, Notifier is actually a normal application located in the Applications folder. This means it doesn't behave as other menu extras do - e.g., ⌘ (command) clicking and dragging the icon doesn't allow repositioning or deletion as it does with other menu extras. The colorful icons are also against Apple's standard menu shades of grey, and a little too big - hence they look slightly out of place.
Notifier checks for updates every minute, but this setting is not customizable in the preferences. When waking the computer from sleep, it often checks before the internet connection is fully active and annoyingly reports an error condition in its menu icon.
Even given the flaws, this program is a good start and worth taking a look at if you use Gmail or Google Calendar. Things can only get better from here.
Full Key Codes
A useful program for software developers, but the casual user won't find much to use it for. Extremely simple and to the point - this program displays characters as they are typed along with their key codes in hex, dec, and the ASCII number. Lower rating due to the 'unmacness' of an empty File menu and grayed out Preferences which don't work, but the app itself still gets the job done. A Windows version is available as well.
Quite possibly the best efficiency enhancement available for Mac OS X! One of the main drawbacks of modern operating systems including Mac OS X is the difficulty of finding things - especially applications. Spotlight is a step in the right direction, but still far too slow for true harmony. The dock can hold a limited subset of commonly used applications or even a folder for hierarchical browsing, but these methods fall short as well. Searching visually for a given app can be time consuming and frustrating especially for those less commonly used.
Launch Bar is another application from the NeXT days which aims to solve this problem. To access a given application, simply type ⌘ (command) space, and then the first few letters of its name. A list of close matches will pop down from the menu bar; if the desired choice is at the top, hit return. If not, type a few more letters or use the arrow keys (or mouse) to select it. What could be simpler?
Extensive preferences for what to index are available as well as support for opening or viewing far more than just applications. Web site URLs, folders, files, address book entries, system preference panes, bookmarks, etc.. You'll wonder how you ever lived without this wonderful app!
Note, see also Quicksilver which was reviewed after LaunchBar.
"Afloat. Light as air." An unusual user interface enhancement which adds several new options to the Window menu of all Cocoa applications. The namesake "keep afloat" option forces the current window to float over all other windows; something which is occasionally useful. When a window is kept afloat, it is translucent unless the mouse pointer is placed over it, at which point it becomes opaque. Another menu option lets you arbitrarily adjust the transparency level of the current window. Probably the most useful enhancement is the ability to move any window by ⌃⌘ (control command) clicking and dragging anywhere on it rather than on the title bar as usual.
Requires installation of the free SIMBL framework (included with download) for loading additional code into Cocoa applications. Due to this "hack," it is possible that installation of plugins like Afloat could adversely affect the security or stability of your system, so proceed with caution.
When switching between multiple sound input and output sources using the built in System Preferences pane becomes frustrating, try SoundSource. This simple free menu extra alleviates the problem by allowing you to quickly choose a global sound input and output source with the click of a menu. A perfect example of something which should have been built in to start with!
- built in
The Oxford American Dictionary and Thesaurus is bundled for free with Mac OS X version 10.4 (Tiger) and above! This well designed and full featured dictionary application is less than a click away when you need the definition for a pesky word.
A seldom known feature accessible from any application written with Cocoa is the ability to obtain the definition for a word on the fly. Hold down ⌃⌘D (control command D) while your mouse pointer is hovering over any word and a definition will pop up - no need to click! You can also bring the entire dictionary to the foreground by clicking on the "More..." button. Note that this shortcut is customizable in the Keyboard & Mouse System Preference pane and may be set differently on your computer. The dictionary automatically finds matching definitions as you type in its search field, and usually includes word origins which make them easier to remember in the future. Well done for a free included application!
RSI, which stands for repetitive strain injury, is a problem plaguing more and more people as computer use becomes ubiquitous in our modern world. Since treatment for this condition is difficult, taking preventative measures is the way to go.
This freeware gem helps you prevent RSI; AntiRSI keeps track of how much you're using the mouse and keyboard and reminds you to take breaks accordingly. Two different break types are provided - the "micro pause," and the "work break." During a micro pause, which may be on the order of ten seconds, moving the mouse or typing will force the pause to start over - a good incentive to hold still! During a work break, which is typically a few minutes long, movement only causes the countdown to pause which prevents you from accidentally resetting a long countdown. A "postpone" button is also present on the work break in case it comes up at an inopportune moment. This software is well thought out and worth trying!
A "power user's" web browser which hails from the NeXT glory days but has been thoroughly updated for Tiger. Useful features include resizable graphical tabs, collections of windows and tabs called workspaces, and preferences customizable on a site by site basis. Web browsing is a fast and pleasant experience since the rendering core is shared with Safari.
The joy of using this browser is in discovering all the finishing touches that have been put in. For example, to duplicate a given tab, hold down the option key and drag the tab in the vertical tab drawer (akin to copying files in the Finder). When relaunching the browser, the previous workspace is restored including all windows, tabs, and scroll positions, enabling you to pick up browsing right where you left off. Begin typing in a window and matching links are highlighted; hit return, and the selected link is followed. ⇧⌘ (shift command) F jumps to the web search field which defaults to Google, but is completely customizable.
Other interesting features include searchable and sync-able bookmarks, RSS feed support, speech recognition, HTML source code editor, ad blocking, ability to send a workspace to another user, and form fill. The peace of mind attained by using this browser will make you forget you had to pay for it! A free demo is available.
Tofu is a unique electronic book reader which splits text files into columns and scrolls horizontally rather than vertically. This creative approach improves readability on a computer screen while saving your eyes from fatigue. A horizontal scroll bar along the bottom shows your position in the text while easy keyboard controls move the text side to side. Tofu also includes speech recognition support and a full screen mode - both appear to work well. An alpha of version 2 is also available.
An assortment of the best software and hardware for Mac OS X chosen from around the web and briefly reviewed. Our picks are normally updated on a weekly basis, so check back often for more! No, we don't take requests for reviews at this time; the programs are chosen solely by the reviewer and tend to be lesser known but useful titles which deserve a bit more attention.
The companies or individuals producing reviewed software or hardware are in no way affiliated with Chimoosoft. Software reviewed includes freeware, shareware, commercial, and built in to the OS. All software is tested with the most recent shipping version of Mac OS X currently available at the time of the review.
The software reviews above are for programs (a.k.a. software) for the Macintosh OS X (ten) operating system (Mac OS X, or sometimes just osx). A program may also be referred to as a utility or application depending on its intended purpose. Reviews are copyright 2006-2007 by Chimoosoft.