What’s Under the Hood
New Year, More Utilities
OS 9 Lives, at Least ’til June
Well, I hope you all had a great holiday and are ready for more new and improved Macs. By now, I am sure you have all heard that OS 9 is far from dead. It looks like the makers of Quark were able, in their infinite wisdom, to convince Apple that they needed more time on their OS X version of XPress. Since a large percentage of the Mac desktop publishing relies on Quark, Jobs had no choice but to yield. Therefore, I guess we can put the burial shovels away for OS 9, at least for another six months.
In past articles I have told you how VersionTracker and MacUpdate are excellent sites for keeping up with most commercial, shareware, and freeware releases. Another site you may want to look at is ResExcellence. This site hits areas that you will not find at VersionTracker or MacUpdate. At ResExcellence you can find startup screens, boot screens, login screens, desktop pictures, icons, and much more for OS 9 and X. If you have never gone to this site, give it a try; you’ll be amazed at what goodies they offer.
Before jumping into the article, I thought I would take one more moment to warn you about haxie utilities. All the utilities I discuss here are for the most part stand-alone applications. They do not modify or have any effect on your system when you install them. Haxies, on the other hand, do modify your system and applications and can do major damage. The problems aren’t as bad as with Mac OS 9 extensions, because a conflict will generally only cause a single application to crash. However, when it comes to OS X, you really do not want to allow any third-party software to mess with your system or applications. Another thing to think about is, when you do a system update like the new 10.2.3, how will that altered system react to the upgrade? As usual it just comes down to buyer beware. With that out of the way, let’s drain the radiator and pour some new utilities and tips into your Mac.
Customizing the System Preference Toolbar
Did you know that you can customize the toolbar at the top of your System Preferences window just like with your Finder windows? The only difference is that you do not have to use the Customize Toolbar command in the View menu when in the System Preferences window. All you have to do is click and drag any System Preferences icon up to the toolbar. To remove an icon from the toolbar, click and drag that item off the toolbar, and poof, it is gone.
Dockprefs is the perfect replacement for the System Preferences icon in your dock. It allows you to create a customized menu of the System Preferences that you use the most. First, you select the preferences you want to be included in Dockprefs. Then, the next time you click on the Dockprefs icon, a menu will come up with the System Preferences you selected.
If you have been using a Mac as long as I have, you probably have some piece of hardware that just does not work in OS X. The most common item is a SCSI scanner. In most cases, the only way to get these devices to work is by using OS 9 in native form. This is because the programs that run these scanners usually have drivers that were installed into the OS 9 System Folder and these items do not load when you boot into Classic when in OS X. VueScan solves this problem. This program will recognize almost any type of SCSI scanner made for the Mac. It also has all the bells and whistles one would want in a scanning program. The only problem is that this shareware item costs $40. For $20 more, you can go out and buy a new scanner. But, if the scanner you own is a high-end or professional scanner that you do not want to part with, then VueScan is right for you.
Startup Syringe (Freeware)
Are you tired of that dull looking grey apple when you boot up your Mac? I was until I came across Startup Syringe at ResExcellence. I also found a bunch of startup screens to go with Startup Syringe at ResExcellence as well. It turns out that your startup screen in OS X is composed of two files. After you download a new startup screen and open its folder, you will see the two files. To install, all you do is select the two files, click, and drag and drop them on the Startup Syringe icon. Startup syringe will then ask you where you want to place the original startup files in case you want to revert to them. Then Startup Syringe will move the files to their new location. At that point, all you have to do is reboot your Mac to see your new startup screen.
Back in the September issue of ATPM, I talked about a utility called MoonDock. This program allows you to watch the moon go through its phases from your desktop. EarthGlobe is the compliment to MoonDock. It places an image of Earth on your desktop. You can set the size, the transparency, and which part of Earth you want to face you. Then all you have to do is watch as Earth goes from day to night in real time. The only things lacking from this program are some points of lights when countries move from day into night. Also, do not confuse this utility with EarthDesk, another utility that tries to do the same as EarthGlobe. EarthDesk takes over your entire desktop, and I just found it to be way too intrusive for me to use.
Blobber is a utility that allows you to change your arrow pointer and wait cursor (spinning beachball) in Mac OS X 10.2.3. It comes with several customized pointers and wait cursors. It is also designed so that it can accept plug-ins as they become available. Because it replaces certain core files, it makes you do a backup of them before you use the program. It also includes a tutorial on how to make your own cursor replacements. Because of the safeguards built into this utility, I find Blobber safe to use.
This utility is almost identical to Blobber except that it is shareware. I did find more customized icon replacements for your wait cursor. One that I liked, was a spinning hard drive. I installed it and it looks much better than the spinning beachball of death. As with Blobber you can also replace your arrow cursor, and a tutorial is included to help you design your own plug-ins. One word of warning: make sure you take the time to read the notes on the Mac OS X 10.2.3 update. A patch error could occur if you were using Beachball prior to the update. If you are a first-time user of Beachball, then this will not affect you in 10.2.3
Spy is a simple utility that allows you to view the load on your CPU. It basically places two rotating circles (one within another) in your menu bar. The inner circle represents the system load, while the outer circle is the user load. The more complete each circle is, the greater the load is on your Mac’s CPU. You can also bring up a process viewer to see what is eating up valuable CPU time. Another interesting feature is that you can pass the CPU load to the Griffin PowerMate so that the base of the device can pulsate in rhythm with your CPU.
Path Finder (Shareware)
I discovered this utility while I was watching The Screen Savers on Tech TV one day. Path Finder (previously called SNAX) is a Finder substitute for OS X. Some of the features found in Path Finder include: labeling, view invisibles, customizing fonts and colors, the addition of a desktop trash can, create disk image, an Open With menu, enhanced column view, Secure Delete, and so much more. You can also choose if you wish to have it load at startup. This is a well-polished item and well worth taking the time to check out. Apple could really take a few pointers from this utility the next time they choose to update the Finder.
Back in the September issue of ATPM I talked about a program call Super Get Info, a utility that lets you to reassign privileges by bypassing the Get Info command in the Finder. Another major feature was the ability to empty the trash when the Finder refused to do so. FileXaminer picks up where Super Get Info leaves off. Additional features found in FileXaminer include: authenticate as an Administrator to perform all actions, change Unix permissions, alter creation and modification dates, lock and unlock files and folders, super delete as administrator, modify custom icons, and too many more to mention. If you want more control over your Finder, then FileXaminer may be worth checking out. (Also see the ATPM review.)
CoolBackground is a simple utility that lets you run any screen effect on the desktop instead of a still picture or texture. I have tried it with Flurry, Flux, and Marine Aquarium without too much of a hit to the CPU load. Of course, the hit will be much greater on older Macs. CoolBackground does require that you have Mac OS X 10.2 and Quartz Extreme running. If you are not sure if Quartz Extreme is running, you can download Quartz Extreme Check (mentioned in a previous column) and check to see if your Mac is taking advantage of graphic acceleration offered by OS X 10.2.
Well, that once again wraps it up for this edition of What’s Under the Hood. All the utilities I mentioned here have been fully tested on my G4 with Mac OS X 10.2.3. I still must emphasize that I cannot guarantee how any of these utilities will affect your Mac. If you feel nervous about trying out new software, then make sure you back up your data, files, and applications you cannot afford to lose. Whether software is freeware, shareware, or commercial, it still comes down to user beware. End of Line.
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