Note: As you may know, I was out for two weeks with our new daughter, and I returned needing to catch up on a couple Pick of the Week selections. Since I can't give these picks space in the site-top box (three entries is just too crowded), I thought I'd link to the other two "catch up" picks here, just so they have some chance of being seen. The April 24th pick is iChatExtender, and for May 1st, it's Conference Recorder 2. Both worth a look if you're an iChat user.
This week's pick is a bit odd, in that it's not actually a program. Instead, it's a 155 page PDF containing nothing but tips and tricks for using Firefox. I typically use three browsers -- Camino for most of my day-to-day stuff, Safari when I need to see what a site will look like for roughly 75% of the Mac users, and Firefox when I want to take advantage of its powerful add-on extensions. Of the three, Camino gets the most use, followed by Firefox and then Safari. The thing I love about Firefox is its open, extensible architecture. People can (and have!) write extensions to do nearly anything. The browser is also themable, and has an amazingly thorough set of configuration options. The challenge lies in figuring out which extensions and themes are good. Enter the Firefox Facts PDF booklet.
[This is the Pick of the Week for the week of May 1st]
First, let me say that the lame icon at top right is not the program's official icon. It's a quickie I put together, as the program itself is simply an Apple installer package. So don't write about how poor the icon is :).
A lot of my job relies on iChat -- with Macworld staffers spread around the country, it's a primary method of communication for many of us. As such, I've long had iChat's logging feature enabled (to the tune of 5,000+ archived chats), as I often need to revisit something that's been discussed. While this works well, both audio and video chats have become more prevalent in the last year or so. If I knew about the discussion ahead of time, and felt it important enough, I would set up Snapz Pro X to capture the audio and video for possible future use. But that was a pain, and meant that I couldn't move the iChat window around on the screen (since I was capturing a fixed region), nor activate a window that would cover the iChat window.
Enter Conference Recorder 2, from eCamm Network. This cool little tool integrates directly with iChat, allowing you to record audio and video chats (though you'll only get the audio from a more-than-two-person video chat). Dan Frakes covered it in detail in this Mac Gems writeup. As seen in Dan's story, Conference Recorder 2 puts a small "record" palette below every iChat window (or optionally in a window of its own). Click the Record button, and the audio and video are captured in MPEG4 format. There's also a bundled conversion application that will convert to MP3, for easier use in podcasts.
I don't see the need to record every video or audio chat I participate in, but it's nice to know that it's now literally as simple as a click of the mouse to do so.
** Note: The URL for the GeekBind homepage is actually http://geekbind.sourceforge.net, but it seems to have an error when loading, so I published the Sourceforge project page instead.
GeekBind is a handy little utility that offers some interesting window manipulation features, all accessible via global hotkeys. You can, for instance, press and hold a hotkey to make the current window invisible. Or increase or decrease its transparency in small steps. Or move windows (or the cursor). Or resize windows. All via hotkeys. Here's a picture of the full feature set:
As you can see, I don't use all the options...but there is one feature there that I've quickly found to be indispensible -- Move window. While you hold down the defined hot key, the window under the mouse is filled with a color (user controllable for color and transparency level), and an overlay showing the name of the app. Now just move the mouse, and the window moves! No more moving to the drag edge; just press and hold the hotkey, then move the mouse. I've set a mostly-transparent light color overlay, so I can still see the contents of the window I'm dragging around. It will even move background windows without activating them, automatically.
To make it even easier to use this window dragging feature, I reassigned a mouse button to activate the defined hotkey. So now I can move any window just by pressing and holding a mouse button, then moving the mouse. I love this -- no more looking for the right spot, and since I'm moving the mouse to move the window anyway, having a button activate the feature is perfect!
GeekBind runs as a faceless background application; a small "G" icon lives in your menubar, through which you activate and define the hotkeys, and quit the program. The program is PowerPC code, and though it would load on my Intel Core Duo mini, none of the features seemed to work. It was last updated in the middle of 2005, so I'm not sure what the odds are for an Intel version. I downloaded the source and tried a compile on the Intel box, but it failed ... perhaps someone with talent can get it working.
Thanks to macosxhints' reader blafusel for sending me the pointer to GeekBind.
[This is the Pick of the Week for the week of April 10th]
Last week (the week of the 3rd), I highlighted Apple's Boot Camp as a Pick of the Week. This week, it's another solution to the same question, but with potentially even broader appeal. Parallels Workstation is a product that uses the Intel chip's built-in virtualization to let you run Windows XP alongside OS X, without a reboot. Unlike Boot Camp, however, you can run other operating systems, all without leaving the confines of OS X. And just to make sure I'm clear about this, Parallels requires an Intel-powered Mac.
I've been playing with Parallels since the beta was released, and it's been an eye opener. First off, if you're thinking VirtualPC and its associated speed hit, that's just not the case. My test machine is a Core Duo mini, set up with 2GB of RAM. In that environment, Windows XP seems to run at maybe 90% of the speed it does when booted natively. Its fast, in other words. You will not be sitting there saying "ugh, when will this window open / install finish / whatever."
Initial setup is a bit more involved than with Boot Camp, and yet easier overall (as you don't need to partition your hard drive). To install XP, you create a new virtual machine (VM), specify the RAM settings and virtual hard drive size, and then launch the VM with the XP installer in the CD drive. After running through the install, you've got a virtual XP machine alongside OS X.
This week's Pick of the Week is obviously very late. However, the pick itself is the reason that the pick is so late, as I've been spending a lot of time using it, so at least I have an excuse.
Unless you've been away from the net this week, you probably heard about Boot Camp, Apple's new easy-to-use package that helps you get Windows XP running on your Intel-based Mac. As of a couple weeks ago, you could do this using the information from the OnMac project, but that solution was far from simple. It was also missing some key drivers, like those that provide native video, so gaming and high-end graphics programs were out of the question.
Boot Camp, by contrast, is about as easy to use as it gets, and includes all the required drivers. If you're one of those who needs occasional access to a Windows machine, Apple has now taken away pretty much any need to purchase another hardware box; install Boot Camp, partition the boot drive (no reformat required), install Windows XP, and boot into it when you need it. I've spent a few days playing with Boot Camp on my Core Duo mini -- I wrote about the install and first experiences in this First Look article for Macworld earlier this week.
Over the week, I've found that the Core Duo mini makes a fine Windows XP machine -- it's nearly silent, it boots quite quickly (about 40 seconds from boot to usable Desktop, though OS X is about twice as fast to boot on the same box), and everything that should work in XP seems to work just fine -- it's a true Windows XP box, so there are no issues with compatibility or speed (note that not all Mac hardware will work, such as the remote or built-in iSights on the iMac and MacBook Pro). I tested Office 2003, Photoshop, InDesign, and a number of games, along with periperhals such as printers, USB gaming devices, and FireWire hard drives. Everything just works.
And once you've figured out that OS X is where you'd like to spend 100% of your time, Boot Camp makes it very simple to remove the Windows XP installation as well -- no reformat required.
Although still a beta (back up your files!), I've had no issues with Boot Camp (nor XP, for that matter). For taking a complex task and making it simple, Apple's Boot Camp earns this week's Pick of the Week. But it's also here because it's a significant product in Apple's future -- it now allows anyone, regardless of their Windows or OS X preference, to choose an Apple hardware solution. I think this will have some interesting effects, both good and bad, on Apple's future direction. But that's not a subject for the Pick of the Week, but rather, a future editorial (but obviously, feel free to share your opinions in the comments).
From the creator of previous Pick of the Week Mail Act-On comes this amazingly cool tagging plug-in for Mail. MailTags lets you, well, tag your mail in a number of ways--you can assign due dates, create iCal to do items, add multiple keywords, and even add comments. MailTags also integrates with Spotlight, making it easy to then work with all your coded messages.
Instead of trying to cover everything that MailTags can do, I'll just point you to Dan Frakes' recent Mac Gems entry on the program; Dan does a good job of explaining how it works and some ways it can be used.
There's one big limitation with MailTags, however -- it won't work well with messages stored on an IMAP server. While it will let you tag such messages, the tagging is local, and if you ever rebuild that IMAP box, all tag data is lost. However, I'm so impressed with the feature set in MailTags that I'm now changing my workflow. I'll be moving most of my "hot" messages to a local folder, and then move a copy of any "must handle ASAP!" messages to the IMAP folder if I know I'll be going on the road. But if you rely on IMAP and keep your mail in IMAP-stored folders, MailTags probably isn't for you.
I've only just started using MailTags, but it's already helped me keep track of the multitude of stuff that flows through the inboxes each day.
This week's pick was the sole reason this hint about connecting my mini to our HDTV was even possible. I cover the program a bit in that hint, so I won't say a lot more here, other than if you're trying to get a Mac connected to something other than a current monitor, DisplayConfigX might help you get the job done. It's probably not a program that a ton of people will use, but I think it's the closest thing we have to PowerStrip on the Mac, and as such, worthy of a pick.
Note that it is technically possible to damage your monitor if you use this program incorrectly, as noted in the disclaimer you read when launching the program. So it's not something you want to just experiment with. If you intend to use it, the first thing I recommend is using your favorite search engine to research the device you're attempting to attach -- the more you know about the available resolutions the better. And remember, you're proceeding at your own risk. Did I mention that you're doing this at your own risk? OK, just wanted to make sure that was clear.
So though potentially risky, DisplayConfigX's ability to set resolutions and timings for attached monitors and TVs makes it a useful program for at least a small subset of Mac users. Just proceed with caution!
[Note: Due to some other projects last week, I didn't get to the Pick of the Week, so today, you get two. This one is this week's Pick; below it is last week's Pick.]
I make heavy use of iCal's to-do feature, but I don't like how the to-do's are hidden until their alarms pop-up (unless I'm in iCal, of course). Enter High Priority, a menu extra that makes iCal's to do's much more visible.
High Priority resides in your menu bar, from where you can create (once registered), view, and update the status of your iCal to do's, without ever launching iCal. From the menu, you can see exactly what's due when, with the list sorted by Calendar, Due Date, Priority, Status, or Title.
You can also display the entries using the colors from your iCal calendars, hide completed to do's a certain number of days after they're done (I use zero days to make them hide immediately), limit the number of to do's that are shown (based on due date), and change a to do's status by holding down a definable modifier. You can even define a global shortcut key to activate the High Priority menu extra without touching the mouse.
It's not free, but at $6.00 for two Macs, the price is quite fair for the ability to see and manage my iCal to do items from anywhere.
[Note: This is the Pick of the Week for the week of March 6th.]
Although I still use the free SilverKeeper for my routine data backup needs, I recently had the chance to use SuperDuper for the first time. I was writing up a few articles for Macworld about the Leap.A malware/trojan, and wanted the ability to easily bring my PowerBook's external FireWire drive back to "normal" mode. Enter SuperDuper, a very easy-to-use cloning and backup utility.
Dan Frakes covered SuperDuper in detail last year (though it's now up to version 2.1), if you'd like a lot more information on how it works. In a nutshell, you see a simple dialog box that asks what you want to copy, and where you want to copy it to. After you make your choices, it tells you in plain language exactly what's going to happen. SuperDuper works quite well in 'free' mode, but registering gets you access to scheduling, smart updates (which only replaces files that have changed), sandboxes, and scripting.
SuperDuper makes it very simple to create backups and/or clones of your key files and drives. And, regardless of which app you choose to use, investing in some sort of backup solution (hardware and software) is a very important thing to do!
I've made no secret concerning my feelings about Spotlight. As a short summary, I think it's amazing technology with a badly crippled user interface, at least for those who want to do more than "find everything." Enter MoRU, which macosxhints' reader Michael Dinsmore pointed me towards. MoRU is an application designed to let you do more, a lot more, with the power of Spotlight.
MoRU lets you extend Spotlight by searching for things as you wished you could out of the box. Using its interface, it's very simple to build complex queries that simply aren't possible using Spotlight alone. Consider this (somewhate contrived) query: find every Photoshop document in my 2003 and 2005 site redesign folders that is between 100KB and 200KB in size. In Spotlight, I'd be stuck right off the bat, as I couldn't use it to search two folders using an 'or' condition, and then have some other 'and' conditions. In fact, you can't even search two folders at once using Spotlight. In MoRU, though, this is a snap (click the image for a larger version):
As you can see, the Location section is an 'or' condition (added by clicking the + sign next to the first location entry), while the following conditions are 'and' (added by clicking the Add item at lower left). As noted, this is somewhat contrived, but it shows the power of MoRU. The "Type" pop-up is a lot more flexible than Spotlight's, too, with numerous predefined options, as well as an "extract type from dropped file" choice.