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Keynote - A solid presentation application Pick of the Week
Keynote imageThe macosxhints Rating:
7 of 10
[Score: 7 out of 10]
This weekend, based on a comment in the current poll, I spent some time playing with Keynote. I wanted to graph the responses based on year, and figured playing with Keynote was a good way to do it. I really hadn't spent much time with the application since its launch, and I came away mostly impressed. The final result of an hour or so fiddling with Keynote can be seen in this graph [119K] of Apple operating system usage over time (and OS versions).

On the good side, the graphing functions are easy to use, the templates are beautiful, and it's amazingly easy to make great looking graphs and presentations. I understood Keynote's "master" metaphor quite easily, though if you have tons of PowerPoint hours, it might require a bit of a learning period. I also liked the easy to understand building (animation) functions, coupled with the output to QuickTime. I actually created a QT movie of the graph I made, but it's a relatively boring chart to see in motion, so I didn't bother to upload it. The ability to scale, rotate, and add transparency to objects, and the use of OpenGL transitions makes it very easy to put graphics to good use in your presentations.

On the down side, the program is still a bit pokey (even with the 1.1 update) on my G4/733. Even worse are the limitations on the export options. I wanted to create a JPEG of the graph I'd created, but the only export options are QuickTime movie, PowerPoint presentation, and PDF. PDF works, but it loses some subtle elements, such as the shadows behind the columnar bars in my final graph. I ended up taking a screenshot and then editing that in Photoshop; a "Save slide as JPEG / PNG / whatever" option would be very useful.

Overall, for $99.00, Keynote is a very solid presentation tool that beats PowerPoints in many areas (and falls short in others), but has no peers in terms of beauty of provided templates ... which may not turn you into the next Steve Jobs, but at least you'll have great looking slides!
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X-Plane: An amazing flight simulator Pick of the Week
xplane imageThe macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
As a long-time pilot (non-current medical at the moment), I've always liked computer-based flight sims. For a long time, though, there was basically nothing available for the Mac. There were a few attempts, some good (F/A 18 Korea, for one), some bad (I could never get Fly II running acceptably), but nothing that approached the variety of features found in Microsoft's Flight Simulator for Windows. I'm still not sure we're 100% there, but Laminar Research's X-Plane certainly greatly narrows the gap.

X-Plane has been around for quite a while, but I think I last looked at it at version 1.0 or so, and it's now reached version 7.0. What started as basically an instrument flight rules (IFR) only simulator has progressed into a very nice all-around simulator. The program's features are too numerous to go into here, but they include excellent physics for everything from gliders to helicopters to commercial aircraft to the space shuttle, amazing weather, 18,000+ real-world airports, and a slew of user-controllable variables.

One other feature is the ability to record any flight (or segment thereof) by clicking control-space at any time. I used this feature to make a short QuickTime movie showing a takeoff roll and climb out from LaGuardia, followed by an approach and landing at John F. Kennedy (in near-zero visibility, led by the auto-pilot). The movie runs 4.6mb, and you'll need QuickTime 6 to view it -- download it here. One technical side-note ... X-Plane doesn't capture audio, so I used Ambrosia's excellent freeware utility WireTap for that task, and then finished the project in iMovie.

One final cool feature of X-Plane is its openness for modification. There are a world of third-party add-ons available in the way of scenery, planes, sounds, and more -- start on the X-Plane links and resources page, and go from there ... and make sure you check out the X-Plane secret page :).
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iClock - A more powerful menubar clock Pick of the Week
iClock iconThe macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
Find the current menu bar clock somewhat limiting? Wish you could see the date and the time without clicking? Need to know what time it is somewhere else in the world? Want an easy way to animate your desktop with the desktop screen savers hack? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you might want to try out iClock.

iClock replaces Apple's menu bar clock, and adds about 3,000 new features while doing so. You can choose the time/date format for the clock display, along with the font face, size, and color. You can view a list of various locations around the world, and add your own as necessary. You can start a timer to warn you when a certain amount of time has transpired. Open a calendar (whose display is fully customizable, of course) and have it launch iCal (or one of six other calendar apps) when you double-click a date. View running apps in iClock's menu. And much, much more ... in short, iClock will do just about anything you would want a menu bar clock replacement to do. And don't miss the version history neatly hiding in the graphical header of iClock's preferences panel!

iClock is a non-nagging $20 shareware package that's worth a look if you'd like more utility out of your menubar clock.
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Spy - Show the world what you're up to! Pick of the Week
Spy iconThe macosxhints Rating:
8 of 10
[Score: 8 out of 10]
While digging around through my folder of intersting stuff to look at someday, I stumbled across Spy. Spy is a simple program with a simple mission: put your desktop on the web. Spy does this, though, in a very well thought out manner.

Spy includes its own webserver, which it uses to publish images of your desktop. Even better, however, is that it also streams your desktop -- so users can see what you're doing in (near) real time. In practice, it was able to push out my 1920x1200 desktop images at the rate of about one or two frames per second, which was quite impressive. If you're behind a firewall, make sure to forward the port you're using in Spy (2000 by default) to your Mac, otherwise your visitors may not see anything at all.

You can control things like the the type, size, and quality of the image to be uploaded, what information is displayed with the image (time, date, OS version, CPU speed, etc.), and even the design of the page. You can even optionally list your streamed desktop on a "Spy Tracker" if you want to publicize your work habits to the rest of the world!

The biggest annoyance at this point is that the streamed images won't work in Safari (though static images are fine), so you'll have to have your guests use another browser if they want to see your streaming desktop images.

Spy is primarily a fun little app (and potentially embarassing if you forget you have it running!), though it could be useful in tech support situations where you may not have direct access to the other user's machine.
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Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 - fore! Pick of the Week
Tiger Woods PGA Tour iconThe macosxhints Rating:
8 of 10
[Score: 8 out of 10]
OK, so this week's Pick of the Week is a game ... it just goes to show I don't spend 100% of my time working on the site! With the recent birth of our first child, I've found that the amount of time I have available to pursue things such as golf has been greatly diminished. As such, I've been forced to look to my Mac for a solution, and luckily, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 (TW2003 for short) was available.

For the longest time, there were absolutely no golf simulations available for the Mac. Now, there are two (that I'm aware of) that work on OS X -- Aspyr's Tiger Woods 2003 and Bold by Destineer's Links Championship Edition. I decided to go with TW2003 for two main reasons. First, there's a demo available, which is a key factor in my decision making process. Second, the Links conversion is based on Links 2001 while the current PC version is Links 2003. The Aspyr conversion is the same as the current PC release (though Tiger Woods 2004 is in the works for the PC; not sure about a Mac conversion of that one). I figure the newer engine is preferable to the older engine (but since Bold doesn't have a demo, I can't say that for certain).
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Vince - Easily set internet protocol helper applications Pick of the Week
Vince iconThe macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
Vince is a very simple little application that does one thing, but does that one thing very well. What is that one thing? Vince allows you to assign the OS X "protocol helpers." What does that mean in English? Assigning a protocol helper tells the operating system which application (for example, the Transmit FTP application) to use when a web browser encounters a given URL type (in this case, "ftp://").

In the current version of OS X, the only way to set these helpers is to use the Internet Explorer "Protocol Helpers" preference panel. As Vince's author writes on the product's info page:
... in order to configure something that is integral to the Mac OS you have to use *a web browser* that is built by Microsoft - If that doesn't seem wrong to you then you've already given your soul to Bill Gates.
Given the recent announcement of the end of new IE versions on the Mac, I expect that we'll soon (Panther?) see an Apple replacement for setting protocol helpers in OS X ... but until that time, Vince does the job perfectly. Once launched, you get a small pop-up menu listing all of the available protocols, along with a short description, an example URL, and the currently assigned helper application. To reassign a helper, just select the protocol from the pop-up menu, click the Change Helper button, and then find the new helper application. Very simple, very easy to understand, and free of the reliance on a web browser as the configuration tool.

The only reason I marked it down from a 10 is that, unlike the preferences panel in IE, there doesn't seem to be a way to easily add new URL types to the configuration panel. Perhaps I'm overlooking something obvious, but there's no help file available to see if I'm just being dense :-).
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iBlog - An easy-to-use weblog creation tool Pick of the Week
iBlog iconThe macosxhints Rating:
8 of 10
[Score: 8 out of 10]
With the impending arrival of our daughter Kylie, earlier this year I set out to find a new tool for managing our family's webpage. Prior to her arrival, site updates have been few and far between, so I just used basic HTML pages and updated the index page whenever I posted new content. Once Kylie was on the scene, though, I was pretty sure the relatives would want more regular updates, so I wanted a tool to ease site updates. I thought that I could use a blogging tool (along with some custom HTML code), so I started testing. I probably ran through 10 to 15 different blog tools, covering those based on PHP, Perl, and even straight HTML. None seemed to do exactly what I wanted, or required amazingly complex setup (I never managed to get the complete set of Perl modules required to get Movable Type running locally), or cost more money than I was willing to spend on the family site.

Then I heard about iBlog, a blogging tool designed to work with various servers, including .mac, WebDAV, AFP, and FTP. Unlike server-oriented solutions, iBlog creates local static HTML pages, and then uploads those to your site. This has both pros and cons; if you need a truly dynamic site with comments and other "realtime" features, iBlog may not meet your needs (though the iBloggers.net site has some good workarounds). For my relatively static family site, though, iBlog seems nearly perfect.
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Pick of the Week - A non-standard selection Pick of the Week
WWDC 2003The macosxhints Rating:
8 of 10
[Score: 8 out of 10]
As it's already Thursday, this week's Pick of the Week won't get the usual seven days' of exposure given to prior PotW selections. However, I don't think a lack of publicity from macosxhints.com will hurt the PotW selection in the least!

Yes, I've chosen this week's WWDC as the Pick of the Week. I had some software candidates at hand, but after watching the keynote and the press and user response this week, I felt it was only fitting to select WWDC as the PotW for its impact on the future of the platform -- as measured by announcements of Apple software, Apple hardware, and other related stuff.

I don't do a lot of (any?) editorializing on the site, but there are some things I'd like to say about the WWDC announcements. If you'd rather not read my editorial, don't read the rest of the article -- just stop now, knowing that I believe this week's WWDC is well deserving of its PotW status. But if you'd like to know why I feel that way, read on...
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StillLife - Applying motion to still images Pick of the Week
StillLife iconThe macosxhints Rating:
8 of 10
[Score: 8 out of 10]
If the Ken Burns Effect in iMovie3 intrigues you, but you'd like to do more with it, you should take a look at StillLife. StillLife does similar things as Ken Burns in iMovie3, but with many more options. For example, you can pan along a curve, add multiple "shots" to an image, and even rotate the camera (careful, you could make your viewers quite ill with too many spinning photos!).

The interface is very iMovie-like, complete with a drawer containing images, a timeline and soundtrack bar at the bottom of the screen, and a preview window showing your edits and the end result. You drag images from the Finder into the drawer, and then from the drawer to the timeline, then apply "shots" (pan/zoom/twist effects) to each image. You control the speed of the effect with a "Move" slider, as well as how long each image appears with a "Hold" slider. You can even attach multiple sound tracks (complete with automatic audio fadeout at the end of your string of images).

StillLife supports a few unique export features. First of all, you can create a slideshow very easily by just dragging a number of images into the program and selecting Format -> Like ScreenSaver. When you then export to the video format of your choice, you'll have a standard slide show in a matter of seconds (no pan/zoom effects, just slides). More useful to me is the "Export as iMovie Project." When you use this format, StillLife creates a new iMovie project, with each slide (and its associated pan/zoom effects) as a new clip in iMovie. This makes it really simple to then go in and add really nice transitions and title effects to your animated slideshow.

At $24.95, StillLife is a bit pricey as a replacement for something you can get for free - but its feature set goes well beyond what you get with Ken Burns in iMovie. You can try the program for free, but any exported video will have a "StillLife" watermark applied in the center of each frame until you register.
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XShelf - A temporary storage spot for items in transit Pick of the Week
XShelf iconThe macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
  • Developer: Karl Hsu
  • Price: Uncrippled donationware
A slightly off-beat but unique and useful PotW this week. XShelf is a small applicationt that provides ... well ... a shelf. This shelf is self-resizing and can live attached to any screen edge, or as a free-floating vertical or horizontal window. When stored on a screen edge, only a tiny thin line indicates that the shelf is even there (it pops out like a drawer when you mouse into it).

What do you use the shelf for? Basically, the XShelf shelf is a temporary home for items in transit. If you've ever tried to file an item from your desktop into a folder that's 10 or more levels deep on your hard drive, you know it can be a bit tricky. If you use spring-loaded folders, you have to keep the mouse button pressed the whole time, or else you'll end up filing your item somewhere along the path. If you drag into a column-view window, you still have to navigate across the columns and drill down into the final destination. With XShelf, you simply drag the item to the shelf, release it, then open a window at the destination. Mouse over the shelf, grab the item, and move it to the destination. Yes, this is more steps than using spring-loaded folders, but it's a heck of lot easier for deeply buried folders. While the item is on the shelf, it still appears at its original location. If you change your mind about moving the item, you can just control-click on the item on the shelf and delete it (it deletes the "shelf" item, not the source). But when you move the item off the shelf, the original vanishes, just as if you'd moved it in one step -- even if you move it out six days after you added it to the shelf.

XShelf has some nice features, such as automatic grouping of multiple dragged items (you see a small white number on a red circle indicating the item count), the ability to 'lock' an item on the shelf, the self-expanding feature that makes the shelf as large as necessary on the fly, and a full set of preference features. It's clearly not a required tool for most filing operations, but if you find yourself moving things from the desktop into deeply buried sub-folders, it can be a real timesaver.
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