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Path Finder 5 - The Finder, greatly enriched again Pick of the Week
  • Developer / Product Page: CocoaTech
  • Price: $40 ($20 upgrade from prior versions; free demo available)
This week's Pick of the Week is a two-time repeat winner...though its first win was actually many years ago, and under a different name. It was, in fact, the third-ever Pick of the Week, way back in March of 2002. At the time, the program was called SNAX, and it was a replacement for the Finder. Then, in December 2006, version 4.5 won again. Now, just under two years later, I feel the need to reward it again. Why again, you may ask? Because Path Finder 5 is a great upgrade from version 4, and has finally become my full-time Finder replacement. I've used the prior versions off and on over the years, but some of the differences between it and the Finder kept me coming back to the Finder more often than not. That's all changed with version 5, thanks mainly to a handful of great new features. Here are just some of the additions since the last 4.x release of Path Finder:
  • Dual-pane file browser. Now you can open two separate panes within one window; each pane can be in whatever view mode you wish to use, and you can even add tabs within each pane.
  • File cut and paste support. Prefer Command-X, Command-V for moving files from one spot to another? Path Finder 5 can handle it, unlike the Finder.
  • Cover Flow done right. Unlike the Finder's Cover Flow view, Cover Flow mode in Path Finder works with any view mode -- list, column, or icon.
  • Bundled image editor. OK, it won't rival Photoshop Elements' feature set, but if you need to do some quick-and-dirty image editing, this tool works quite well.
  • An even better Drop Stack. Once you've used the Drop Stack to move a bunch of files around, it's tough to go back to any other method. In version 5, it now looks much nicer, and integrates nicely into the sidebar (also new in version 5).
  • Path Finder now uses 10.5's fsevents technology to keep up with file system updates.
  • Greatly improved network share support, including SMB shares and screen sharing activation from within the browser.
Beyond the new stuff, Path Finder has a lot of other capabilities that you won't find in the Finder. In no particular order, here are some of my favorites: drop-down Terminal drawer, drop stack for moving multiple files, customizable contextual menu items, a custom bar for storing often-visited folders and files, a shelf sidebar for storing more often-visited places, a running list of processes in a drawer, customizable item labels and colors, easy navigation into packages, customizable sort orders, show or hide hidden files, and easy modification of file attributes.

Path Finder isn't a perfect Finder replacement. First of all, it's much more complex than the Finder, so there's a steep learning curve, including a ton of different preferences and views to learn and understand. Second, because it's not Apple's product, there are some limitations on integration. You can't, for instance, enter the Time Machine interface unless the Finder is running. (So I usually leave the Finder not running, and only launch it when I need to access Time Machine.) I also find that Path Finder works best on larger monitors, where you can have the various side and bottom panels open all the time. I have to compromise a bit on my 15" MBP, but I still use it regularly.

There's more, of course -- much more, and I'll be exploring Path Finder in more detail in this week's Macworld video blog, due out Friday. Path Finder isn't cheap, but if you find yourself constantly fighting the Finder and wishing it worked more as you wanted it to, it's probably worth the time to check out the free Path Finder 5 demo. With version 5, Path Finder has migrated from a program I used occasionally when the Finder frustrated me to one I use every day.
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Witch 2 - Switch to any open window Pick of the Week
This week's Pick of the Week is actually a rerun. Back in 2005, Witch was very new, and very welcomed -- it was the first program I'd found that let me switch windows, instead of just switching between applications. Over the years, I've come to rely on Witch quite heavily. Unfortunately, the release of 10.5 caused some issues for Witch -- nothing critical, but (for instance) some annoying repetitive log entries.

Witch 2.0 (now up to 2.0.1) fixed those problems, and added one nifty new feature -- you can use (and display, if you wish) "shortcut" badge icons on your first 10 open windows. So I can switch to any window by pressing Option-Tab to activate Witch, and then pressing 0 through 9 to select a window by number. This is a great timesaver when switching away from a window that's near the top of the open windows list. (Witch is also now officially shareware; it was donationware before.)

The other reason I love Witch is that I can use it to cycle to minimized windows in the Dock (they'll then expand out of the Dock) without touching the mouse. (I'd love to be able to see an indicator for hidden and minimized windows in the Witch interface; this would prevent me from picking them by accident.)

You can also add keyboard shortcuts to switch between only minimized or non-minimized windows, in either all applications or the frontmost application. If you want, you can set up other shortcuts to, for instance, close or deminimize all minimized windows, or just those in the frontmost applications. I leave most of these options unassigned, however, as I find Witch quite useful with just the window switching shortcut.

Between the improved 10.5 functionality and the new shortcut badge feature, I've found myself using Witch even more than usual -- so much so that I seldom use Command-Tab any more. I love being able to jump to the open window I want to use, instead of just to the application containing that window.
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What's Keeping Me? - Identify files on 'busy' volumes Pick of the Week
If you work with disk images at all, it's likely you've been thwarted at some point when trying to eject an image -- you'll get a generic message about not being able to eject the image because it's "in use." As is typical of many error messages, this one doesn't actually contain any information needed to help solve the problem -- you're not told which file is in use, just that something is in use.

Regular readers here probably know that you can use lsof to identify the culprit, but sometimes a trip to Terminal may be more work than you want to do. If that's the case, What's Keeping Me can automate the task for you -- you type in the name of what you're trying to find, such as the volume name (or a file name if you can't, for instance, empty the trash), and the program will then display which program (or programs) are stopping the operation. I've got it installed for those times when I don't feel like mucking with Terminal and just want to get my disk image ejected. Dan Frakes also recently wrote about What's Keeping Me for the Macworld Gems blog.

Note that there's a free program, What's Open, that does much the same thing. I tested it, and it seems to work as well as What's Keeping Me, so either one will probably meet your needs.
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Fluid - Create standalone apps from web pages Pick of the Week
One of the rumored features of OS X 10.6 (actually of Safari 4, which I think will be part of 10.6) is the ability to turn any web page into a standalone application. This can be useful for sites you access all the time, or if you're tired of, for instance, your entire browser crashing because of a problem with one particular Flash-heavy tab you had open. Whether or not this feature is coming to 10.6 remains to be seen, of course, but it's here today in the form of Fluid.

Fluid is amazingly easy-to-use program that converts any web site into a standalone, Cocoa native, OS X application (called a site-specific browser, or SSB for short). Just enter the site's URL, name your new program, pick a save location, and then choose an icon (you can use the site's fave icon, create your own, or download pre-made icons). Click Create, and you're done--you'll find a new standalone program in the location you specified, ready to launch (you can optionally launch it as it's created, if you wish).

Each standalone application gets its own preferences, which include unique things such as window type (choose from standard, none, and a couple of dark variants), window level (anything from 'above Dashboard' to 'floating' to 'embedded in Desktop'), opacity, enable a 'drag window from anywhere' setting, set how the window behaves with Spaces, and you can even create a global shortcut key to bring the application to the foreground, regardless of what app you're in. I wish more programs offered this degree of flexibility in their settings!

SSBs can even be converted into icons in your main menu bar; when used in this mode, they won't appear in the dock when used in this mode, nor in the application switcher. If you have a headlines-only site you check often during the day, this is a great spot to put them. (You can easily convert them back to a normal SSB via a menu item.) Fluid supports browser plug-ins, and includes a couple with its distribution. The first is a Cover Flow view of links on a page that works out of the box for many sites (and can be enabled on others via some CSS tweaks). The screenshot at right (click for a larger version) shows how it looks for a Google search. If you don't like the Cover Flow look, you can see small thumbnails instead, just by clicking the button at the lower left of the screen. The other plug-in lets you split your standalone app, so you can load websites side-by-side.

While I really don't want 30 standalone applications, I've found Fluid to be nice for those sites whose headlines I check regularly, as well as for sites (like Google Finance, given today's volatile markets) that I want to keep running even if I happen to quit Firefox. Given it's free, there's no reason not to check it out if it sounds at all interesting to you.
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MercuryMover 2 - Even better window management Pick of the Week
Earlier this year, I selected MercuryMover 1.1 as a Pick of the Week. This week, it's being selected again, because I've found version 2.0 to be a very nice upgrade over the original. There are two main features of 2.0 that I really like: you can define single keystrokes to set window size (width and height) and/or location (left and top of window), and there's a nice little info window that shows the current window's size and location. While the info window is nice, it's the shortcuts that I find really useful.

For instance, after activating MercuryMover (Control-Command-Up Arrow), you can then press 8 to set the current window to 800x600, or 1 to create a 1024x768 window -- those are both pre-defined in the MercuryMover interface. But you can create your own shortcuts too -- "t" to move a window to the top left of the screen, or maybe "W" to create a 1200-pixel wide window, keeping that window's current height. I have a number of predefined sizes for use with the Finder, web browsers, and text editors.

The MercuryMover interface has been redone with version 2.0, and it's now clearer and easier to use than it was before. Dan Frakes covered MercuryMover 2.0 in this recent Macworld Gems entry, if you'd like to read even more about it. As a keyboard fanatic, it's one of my favorite utilities, as it helps keep my mouse at rest.
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DNG for PowerShot - PowerShot RAW image converter Pick of the Week
  • Developer / Product Page: Denis Artyomov / DNG for PowerShot
  • Price: Free (open source)
If you've got a Canon PowerShot (Digic II or Digic III) camera, there's a third-party software suite known as CHDK (Canon Hacker's Development Kit) that adds a huge variety of features to your camera -- and it supports a long list of Canon models, as seen on the first page of their site. For many people, the ability to shoot in RAW mode is among the most useful of the newly-added features. I wanted to test this out, and my PowerShot 850is is among the supported cameras, so I installed CHDK this weekend. The installation is relatively straightforward; I used a combination of the CHDK for Dummies and FAQ pages, and soon had a more-powerful Canon that was shooting in RAW mode. (Once installed, CHDK does not permanently change your camera, and it's easily removed if you never want to see it again.)

The problem, however, is that RAW formats are camera-specific, and OS X (and its various image-aware applications) don't know what to do with these RAW formats they've never seen before. So I couldn't use iPhoto (or Aperture) to import my RAW photos, because those programs know nothing about the PowerShot's RAW format. iPhoto would import the JPEG copy that's created alongside the RAW image, but not the RAW image itself.

So I went looking for a solution, and didn't have much luck at first -- most programs that handled PowerShot RAW format images seemed to be for Windows or Linux. After much digging, however, I found DNG for PowerShot. This program converts PowerShot RAW images to Adobe's DNG format. Once converted to DNG (which is based on the TIFF file format, but adds in metadata), I was able to use Photoshop to open and edit the files. (Aperture also supports DNG, but iPhoto does not.) Note that I first tried Adobe's own DNG Converter, but it would not read the RAW images from my PowerShot.

So if you've CHDK'd your Canon, and you're looking for a way to handle the RAW images it creates, give DNG for PowerShot a try -- it worked well for me!
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10.5: FunctionFlip - Toggle laptop's function key behavior Pick of the Week
Do you have a Mac laptop with the multi-function Function keys (i.e. controlling brightness, keyboard illumination, media playback)? A setting in System Preferences controls how these keys work -- you can either have them work directly, or only when holding down the Fn button. But what if you want some of them (brightness, for instance) to work just by pressing the function key, and would prefer others (that you'd rather not press by accident, or what rather use for other commands) work only when holding down the Fn key?

The answer is this week's Pick of the Week, FunctionFlip. It's a simple System Preferences panel that lets you specify which keys react with or without the Fn key held down, and it works quite well. Dan Frakes wrote about it in detail in this recent Mac Gems entry, in case you want more information. (Dan wrote about version 1.1, and his biggest complaint was that FunctionFlip took up space in his crowded menu bar for a program he rarely used after setting it up. Version 1.2 fixes this, as it's now a System Preferences panel.)
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AppleJack - A utility for use in single user mode Pick of the Week
AppleJack is a different kind of utility -- it's one that you'll probably only use when you're in a real bind, say with a Mac that crashes every time you login. In such cases, the usual advice is to boot off the installer disk, and use the various tools available there to try to fix the problem.

But what if you're traveling with your laptop, and you don't happen to have your install disk with you? Enter AppleJack, which runs only in single user mode (Command-S at startup). In its basic mode, AppleJack does five things (either as a group, or one by one): repair disks, repair permissions, clean up cache files, validate preference files, and remove swap files. You access these tasks through a text-based menu (as you're in single user mode, there's no GUI).

Beyond the basics, an expert menu (press 'x' on the main menu) offers some additional (though unproven and potentially dangerous) options, including checking hard drive integrity, blessing the system folder, disabling auto login, and more. One of the less-dangerous and potentially very useful features in the advanced section is a memory tester -- if your Mac is having a series of odd, ever-changing crashes, it's possible you've got some bad RAM, and a memory test is one way to find such problems. Apple's got a RAM tester on their Hardware Test disc, but it's great having one built into single user mode via AppleJack. AppleJack bundles Memtest, an excellent memory tester. (Note that to get access to memtest, you'll need to install it when you install AppleJack; read the Read Me for all the details.)

I've been waiting on this Pick of the Week for nearly a year -- until very recently, AppleJack wasn't compatible with Leopard. Now that it is, though, it's a great addition to your troubleshooting toolkit. You may not ever need to use it, but having it with you at all times (especially if you travel a lot) is a nice security blanket. (Dan Frakes recently covered AppleJack for Macworld; read his writeup if you'd like more info on the program.)
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Timeline - Beautfiul timelines made easy Pick of the Week
Back in June, I wrote about the Apple Design Awards at the 2008 edition of Apple's WWDC, where Bee Documents' Timeline 3D earned a runner-up award for Best Mac OS X Leopard Application. And while I've been on vacation for the last week or so, I noticed today that Dan Frakes gave Timeline a spot in Mac Gems last week. Given I wasn't looking at much new software over the last week, I thought Timeline would be a reasonable first pick for my return from vacation. Timeline's purpose is to make it easy to create beautiful timelines, and it does this quite well. It's easy to use (though that ease of use imposes some limitations, as Dan covers in his writeup), and the finished timelines are beautiful.

Beyond the basic package, the 3D Edition enables (surprise!) 3D timelines, which are quite cool. (You can watch the demo video on the Bee Documents' site to get a sense of how the 3D timelines look and work.) The other thing you get with the 3D Edition is improved export support -- in addition to PDF and TIFF, you can export for use on the iPhone, iPod, Apple TV, Keynote, or as a gorgeous 1080p HD video.

While it has some limitations, I've not found a simpler solution for creating beautiful timelines -- read Dan's writeup for more details on Timeline. (Note that there's a version of Timeline available for non-Leopard users, but I've not tried it, nor do I know how the features compare to the 10.5-only versions.)
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10.5: Delicious Library 2 - Track more of your stuff Pick of the Week
The first version of Delicious Library was a Pick of the Week way back in 2004. At the time, Delicious Library let you easily catalog your books, movies, music, and video games -- it could read bar codes using an iSight camera, and then look up data for those bar codes on the web, greatly simplifying the task of creating a digital version of your collection. Your collection is then displayed with virtual representations of the books, movies, etc., using images that are also downloaded from the web.

Version 2 picks up where version one left off, with a slew of new features and performance tweaks. In addition to the original categories, new categories allow you to track tools, toys, software, gadgets, and clothing. The user interface has been overhauled, replacing the sidebar of version one with a lower window pane that presents a variety of information related to the selected item. You can see a synposis of the item from Amazon; detailed info such as publication date, retail price, purchase date, etc.; snippets of reviews from Amazon; and recommendations (again, from Amazon) for other related items that you may like.

For those who loan out items in their collection, it seems like the loan-and-return interface is now easier to use. However, I don't use this feature at all, so I'm not in the best position to comment on it.

The program now uses CoreAnimation to display your library, which provides for fast scrolling and resizing, as well as some nifty animations when you add or delete items from the library. There are strong links between iTunes and DL2, so much so that changes in iTunes song info, for instance, are automatically read into DL2.

One of my complaints with the previous version of DL was that it got slow, even with my moderately-sized collection. Between the use of CoreAnimation, a change to a SQL database back-end, and other behind-the-scenes changes, speed is no longer an issue, even (apparently) for those with thousands of items in their collections. I certainly haven't noticed any slowness while using the program.

There are tons of other changes in version two as well; this page on the Delicious Library site does a much better job of covering them all than I ever could. Suffice it to say that if you liked version one, you'll probably love version two. And if you've never used Delicious Library, check out the demo to see everything its capable of doing. You'll be limited to, I believe, 25 items, but that's enough to get a sense of the program's capabilities.
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