What’s Under the Hood
For the last few years I have been working with a Mac that had grown gray behind the ears. This prevented me from moving up to OS X. I was unable to use all the new utilities that were becoming available for both OS 9 and X. In April I became the proud owner of a Mac QuickSilver G4/733 MHz with 768 MB of RAM. Since then, I have had the chance to look at over 400 MB of different utilities for both systems.
Utilities can be broken into three categories: Freeware, Shareware, and Commercial. Freeware software is programs that are distributed for free, as implied in the name. Shareware is software that is made available initially for free, but if you find that you like it, you are expected to pay a fee to continue using it. The amount of time you have is normally a month. If you go beyond the time limit, you will start to get messages asking you to pay, the program may deactivate itself, or key features of the software may become locked out until you pay for it. The fee is usually 35 dollars or less. Both freeware and shareware can be obtained on the Net at sites like versiontracker.com and macupdate.com.
Commercial programs you normally find at stores like CompUSA, Micro Center, Fry’s, and Internet outlets. In some cases you can get demos of commercial software to try like shareware programs. In this case, though, at the end of the trial period the program will deactivate itself. The other difference is that the price of most commercial software usually ranges from 70 dollars and up. Now that we know what denomination utilities can come in, let’s look at what’s under my hood.
Note: Except for the commercial software, all other software mentioned can be found on the Web at either versiontracker.com or macupdate.com. All you have to do is do a search (for the appropriate operating system) and you will be taken to the download site.
Conflict Catcher (commercial, OS 9)—I have used Conflict Catcher (CC for short) as long as we had to deal with control panels and extensions. To me it is a must-have for Mac OS 9 or earlier. Besides having the ability to change the order of your system extensions and control panels, you can also disable them on the fly. But the real power of CC is the ability to isolate system conflicts. I load over four lines of startup files when I boot Mac OS 9. If a conflict arises, there is no way I could do the necessary set of tests on my own. CC automatically will turn your startup files on and off as it isolates the file or files that are causing your dilemma. You can download a demo of CC to try for seven days. If you like it, you can then pay Casady and Greene to get the code to unlock it and keep it running. It is also available in stores if you want a hard copy of it.
Norton System Works (commercial, OS 9 & X)—This is preventive medicine for your Mac. Version 2.0 is designed to work in OS 9 & X. System Works provides tools for optimization, file recovery, volume recovery, virus prevention, and a disk doctor that checks media, directory, system files, and more. They even include a little extension called Disk Lite for OS 9 that allows you to see when your drive is in use. Recently I found Volume Recovery to be a lifesaver. I made the mistake of not moving all my files from one drive to another before reformatting one of my drives. Volume Recovery was able to restore my drive back to its original state before I formatted it. All the files that I forgot to move were recovered. Norton Anti Virus (NAV) software is a must if you use the Internet. Norton updates this application each month so you are up to date on any new viruses. NAV can also be bought separately if you do not want the full package. This is one software bundle that all Mac users should have under their hood.
Speed Download (Shareware, OS 9 & X)—If you are still using a 56K modem like me, then this program is just the answer for downloading software. First, it has the ability to increase your download speed by as much as three to four times. It can also do segmented downloads, multiple downloads, resumable downloads if you get bumped off line and much more. I like the multiple download feature a lot. Sometimes I will set my Mac to do multiple downloads before I go to bed. When I get up in the morning, all the files have been downloaded. This is a real time-saver. Even if you use high speed cable or DSL modems, you may find many of its features useful.
Action Menus (Freeware, OS 9)—This particular utility was offered by Mac Addict a few months ago for free. Action Menus allows you to customize your menu bar under OS 9. One feature that I find most useful is the ability of an active application to “branch out,” and show and access any open documents you are working with. I find this particularly useful when I am using AOL and have several windows open at the same time. You can also create menus that keep track of recent documents and applications you have used, and set how many to keep track of. Another menu option allows you make a menu for mounted volumes. If you were not one of the lucky people to get it from Mac Addict, you can still go to Power On’s site and either download it for a 30-day trial or buy it for $29.95. The file is only 2.2 MB so it will not take that long to download even at 56K (about 20 minutes).
Default Folder (Shareware, OS 9 & X)—Default Folder is a navigation utility that you use in conjunction with the “Save As” and “Open” dialog boxes. One function allows you to go to your favorite and recently used folders. If you have a favorite folder you normally “Save,” “Save As” or “Open” to, Default Folder allows you to set that folder to open each time you do one of those commands. Other features allow you to rename files, move files to the trash, keep track of recent folders you saved to or opened, and directly access to all mounted volumes. Simply, Default Folder takes the pain out of navigating through your system, especially if you have multiple volumes.
Flavor Saver (Shareware, OS 9)—Flavor Saver is a screen saver like After Dark. It is designed to prevent phosphor burn-in when you leave your monitor on for long periods of time. Unlike other screen savers, this one comes with over fifty different modules that you can choose from. Flavor Saver is designed as a stand-alone application so that it does not interact with your system folder. This way it prevents any type of system conflict. Although it is written for OS 9, it does run well in OS X when Classic is running. After the commercial demise of After Dark, Flavor Saver is an excellent replacement for a once great screen saver. Hopefully they will update it to run in 10.2.
Super Get Info (Shareware, OS X)—How many times has this happened to you? You try to drag a file from one folder to another only to be told that you do not have the privileges for it, or you try to open a folder or volume and you are told the same thing. You go to Show Info to access the privileges window but all is grayed out and the owner and group designations are wrong. From what I have seen, this seems to be a common glitch in OS X. It happened to me. One way of fixing it is by using the terminal if you understand how to script the correct Unix commands. Since I am not very versed in Unix, I decided to look for an easier way to rectify the problem. After referring to Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, I read about a program called Super Get Info. This little utility has the ability to let you manually reassign the user and groups and reset the read/write privileges. It took me about an hour to reset the privileges to my system, but it was a lot less painful than trying to do it with the terminal. If you do not know Unix, then I advise using Super Get Info. Another feature is its ability to trash files that are either locked, or that you do not have privilege to open even when you are the administrator. You can download it and try it out free for 15 days. After that it will disable itself until you pay for the code to unlock it. The only question now is whether OS X 10.2 will finally resolve this glitch once and for all.
BatChmod (Freeware, OS X)—Performs most of the same functions as Super Get Info except it is not quite as elegant. On the plus side it is free.
MacJanitor (Freeware, OS X)—If you’re like me, you probably don’t keep your Mac on when you go to bed. One night while watching The Screen Saver’s on Tech TV I discovered that the Mac runs certain diagnostics early in the morning if your Mac is on. Since I do not keep my Mac on, these processes do not get a chance to run. By not running, old data created in the Unix layer begins to accumulates to the point that it will slow your Mac down. MacJanitor allows you to run these procedures when you want to. By one click of a button, MacJanitor will delete all the excess logs and scripts created in the Unix layer. I run it each time I boot up in OS X and I have noticed a performance boost since I started using it. This program is a must for anyone who does not keep his Mac awake at night.
TinkerTool (Freeware, OS X)—When Apple wrote OS X, they decided to leave certain features within it disabled. When I downloaded TinkerTool for the first time, I was amazed at the number of functions Apple had disabled in OS X. It would take a page to list all the features TinkerTool offers, so I will go over some of the most useful features. On the Finder level you can turn on or off the rectangle zoom effect, invisible files, add Quit to the Finder menu, set the number of label lines, and decide how a picture should be laid out on your desktop. On the Dock level, you can set the position and placement of the Dock, enable Dock shadows, and use transparent icons for hidden applications. Other features include placement of scroll arrows, the ability to play audio or video automatically, and the ability to set the screen shot format. There are also features that allow you to control your system and application fonts, font smoothing, and terminal settings. The one thing that really amazes me about this product is that it is free. ’Nuff said.
Monolingual (Freeware, OS X)—Did you know that when you do a clean install of OS X you wind up with over 300 MB of foreign languages? Due to the way OS X installs these files, there is no easy way you can sort through your Mac in order to delete them. Monolingual solves this dilemma by allowing you to select the languages you wish to delete and then removes all the files related to them. Since I only need English on my Mac, I deleted all other languages for a total of 300 MB of freed-up space on my drive. I also recommend that you run it when you install new applications as well, since they also tend to install different languages without giving you a choice. If you do not want to waste space on your hard drive, then this little utility is right for you.
Fishpad (Freeware, OS X)—If you are like me, you have probably found that Stickies is not the same as our trusted Notepad was in OS 9. Fishpad is a clean, simple replacement for Notepad. Fishpad also gives you a few features that was were not found in Notepad. These features include font selection, style, point size, alignment, and ruler settings. It can also has a find feature and a spelling checker, and it can tell you when you make a spelling error. I guess you could call this little application one step below a standard word processor. The Notepad is not dead, it just went fishing.
MoosePad (Shareware, OS X)—Like Fishpad, MoosePad is an alternative to the dreaded Stickies. When you first examine MoosePad you will quickly discover that all the features I mentioned for Fishpad are found here as well. But that is where the similarities end. One of the most powerful features of MoosePad is the ability to create additional databases. Although “database” may sound fancy, all that means is that you can create multiple pads. This is a great feature since it allows you to categorize each of the pads and not clump all your data into one pad. You can also create auto fill tasks (i.e. name, address, etc.) so you do not have to keep retyping them over and over again. A date/time stamp is also included. Other features include font color, page color, table of contents, auto software update, number of databases to keep track of, and much more. As you can see, this is a very powerful replacement for the old Notepad. Like other shareware, you can download it for a 15-day trial.
ASM (Donationware/Freeware, OS X)—Remember the application menu in Mac OS 9 and below? Well the Dock was designed to take the place of it in OS X. Although it is a great idea, I have found in practice that I would rather have the application menu instead. The reason is because I tend to keep the dock hidden most of the time and don’t like to have to search for a specific application icon in a sea of tiny icons due to the number of items residing in the dock. ASM resolves that problem by recreating the application menu in the upper left hand corner of the menu bar. All the features that were found in the classic version are here as well. You can also customize how the menu looks, by setting the applications to be shown in alphabetical order, show whether you wish to have the applications listed by name, icon or both, adjust icon size, and many other features. ASM is a much better way to keep track of what applications you have up and running. ASM is a combination of Freeware and Donationware. That means if you like it, you can either decide to donate to help ensure further development of ASM or pay nothing at all. Apparently ASM was written for a philosophical reason and not to make money on it. Thanks, Mask Man.
LiteSwitch X (Freeware, OS X)—LiteSwitch X is an application switcher for OS X. By preselecting either the Command, Option, or Control keys, in conjunction with the Tab key, you bring up a dialogue box that lets you move from one open application to another. Once invoked, you can also press other keys to perform other commands. Pressing F will Force Quit an application while M will bring up the current application’s contextual menu. There are other keys that do other functions and they are well explained within the program.
Classic Menu (Shareware, OS X)—This utility restores the OS 9 Apple menu to OS X. You can add aliases to the menu from within the program or by drag and drop. It also gives you the ability to restore the old tried and true rainbow apple. If you place a folder or mounted volume in it, the menu will tree out allowing you to access the contents within. From what I read online, currently Classic Menu may not run under OS 10.2.
Dock-It (Shareware, OS X)—Although the Dock in OS X is a great idea, I am sure many of you have found that it does not take much to fill it up. Dock-It adds additional functionality to the Dock by giving you multiple docks to work with. When you launch Dock-It for the first time, you will be presented with its default dock. Within the dock you will find all mounted volumes and your Home folder. Clicking any of these items will cause them to tree out allowing you to navigate within each item. You can also make multiple docks as well. This is a very useful feature because now you can tailor the dock to the specific needs of what you are working on. Another excellent feature is its shelf area. The shelf area in the dock makes it easier to move a file or folder from one place to another. What you do is first drag the item to the shelf on the dock. Then you locate the destination folder (or volume) you wish to move that item to. Then drag the file (or folder) from the shelf to that destination and that is it.
Eject Me! and Trash It! (Freeware, OS X)—These two items are simple AppleScripts that perform what their names describe when all else fails. Eject Me! takes over when pressing the Eject key fails. Now that there is no paper clip hole to force the CD/DVD drive door to open, Eject Me! will execute an emergency command that will force the drive to eject. This is a much better alternative than taking your Mac to the shop. Trash It! is designed to get rid of those nasty files that refuse to trash. Most of the time this is because the files are locked. Under OS 9 you were able to get around this by pressing the option key as you selected the trash command. Since this feature is not in OS X, Trash It! takes the place of it. I keep these two little scripts in my dock at all times.
Visage (Shareware, OS X)—One feature I have always liked about the Mac is the ability to customize the look of it. Visage allows you to change the skins for the Boot Panel, Login Panel, Login Background, and Dock. If you are like me and like to give your Mac a personality unique unto itself, then give Visage a try.
Duality (Shareware, OS X)—Duality is the perfect companion to Visage. It allows you to customize Finder themes or skins. It is also the first application to change Icon Sets. This ability opens up an entire new area to developers. Duality also lets you preview any changes before you apply it. One word of warning: although Duality is already 10.2-compatible, older themes may not be, and can corrupt the 10.2 Finder to the point that you may have to reinstall it. There is an application called Theme Fur that is suppose to upgrade old themes so they run under 10.2. Since I do not have 10.2 yet, I have not had the chance to test Theme Fur. I recommend that you go to resexcellence.com after you get 10.2. They have sections that are devoted to all types of skins and other types of applications for OS 9 & X. I go there every day to see what material has been contributed to their libraries.
MoonDock (Freeware, OS X)—We all enjoy watching the moon going through its phases each month. With the help of MoonDock, you can now watch it from your desktop. MoonDock places a moon on your desktop that you can position wherever you want with your mouse. You can also set the size and transparency level of the moon. If you double-click on the moon, a data sheet will come up telling you about what phase it is in, surface visibility, and dates for the next full and new moons. If you like looking at the moon, then you will enjoy watching it go though its paces on your Mac.
Xounds (Shareware, OS X)—Do you miss the system sounds you had in OS 9 when running 10? I hated it. The lack of these sounds seems to take the life out of my Mac. Xounds restore these sounds to OS X. The only thing I do not like is that you cannot assign sounds to specific functions. You can also go online and find other sound sets that work with Xounds. If you want to restore some personality to your Mac, then Xounds is a great choice.
This concludes our look at software I keep under the hood of my Mac. Everything I have listed will work with OS 9.2.2 and 10.1.5. I have not seen any degradation in the performance at all. I cannot predict how these OS X applications will work with 10.2. I plan on installing 10.2 on one of my other volumes so I can slowly test to see what works with it without damaging my 10.1.5 system. I strongly recommend that if you have another volume to install 10.2 onto, that you do the same. We like to think that Apple has gotten all the bugs out of it, but I am sure we will see an update to it within the first few weeks of its release. Whether software is freeware, shareware, or commercial, it still comes down to user beware. Make sure your most critical data is backed up before you ever venture into unknown waters. ’Nuff said.
Also in This Series
- Tips—Getting More Out of Your Mac · June 2003
- Got Vinyl? LPs to CDs Part 3: The Playlist and Burning to CD · May 2003
- Got Vinyl? LPs to CDs Part 2: Recording and Editing · April 2003
- Got Vinyl? Converting LPs to CDs Part 1: Terminology & Hardware · March 2003
- Eye Candy for the Mac · February 2003
- New Year, More Utilities · January 2003
- ’Tis the Season · December 2002
- What’s Under the Hood · November 2002
- What’s Under the Hood · September 2002
- Complete Archive