Your Mac, Your Way

Can you imagine a place where automobiles come only in black, ice-cream shops carry nothing but jamocha almond fudge, and all the Village People dressed as construction workers? Who would want to live in such a drab land?

Thankfully, our world offers myriad choices. Just look at the wide variety of Macs available to us -- an indigo iMac for Ivan the librarian, marine-biologist Molly's Power Mac G4 Dual Processor, and young Lauren's key lime iBook. We are fortunate to have a great many remarkably colorful and configurable Macintosh options.

But those options don't end with the hue of the case or the amount of installed RAM. No computer -- PC, Palm, or Psion -- is more customizable than the Mac, whether you'd like it to conform to the way you work or simply want your desktop pattern to match your mood. Granted, the forthcoming OS X will provide the greatest face-lift the Mac has seen in over a decade. But while you're waiting for its final release, why not take matters into your own hands? With the help of a pocketful of shareware utilities, a smattering of commercial applications, and some system and application tweaks, you can make your Mac your own.

Make It Work Your Way

You may be perfectly content to dig through your Mac's hard drive to launch applications; rummage through volumes and folders in Open and Save dialog boxes; traipse to the menu bar every time you want your Mac to execute some trifling task; and repeat a series of clicks and drags to perform the same operation many times. But we're here to tell you there's a better way. These customizations are guaranteed to make your Mac more productive.

Everything at Hand

Why wait for OS X's Dock? Files, folders, and applications you routinely misplace can be easily found -- and launched -- with the help of some classic Mac OS utilities. (See "17 Mac Makeovers" for details about the programs discussed in this article.)

Out to Launch Included with Mac OS is Launcher, a program you can use to open applications, files, documents, and URLs with a single click. It doesn't do much more than that, though. And while you can create up to eight separate categories of Launcher items (arranged as tabs), the process is hardly intuitive, and Launcher takes up a fair chunk of desktop real estate.

If you're looking for more-powerful and less-obtrusive launchers, you'll find plenty of third-party utilities that let you1

Space Savers   Sig Software's DropDrawers 1.2.6 is another useful launching utility. Instead of employing docks, DropDrawers lets you place your favorite items, including clippings files, in floating "drawers" that open and close when you click on their handles.

You can also try Power On Software's powerful Action GoMac 2.0.3 (4.0 mice; Reviews , February 2000). Like Windows' Start menu and Task Bar, Action GoMac displays running applications and lets you launch your favorite applications and files from a palette that runs along the bottom of your Mac's screen. A unique feature allows you to quit running applications without switching to each one. Just select Quit and then the application's name from a pop-up menu, and that application quits in the background.

Let Your Fingers Do the Working   Some of us dislike reaching for the mouse, either because we think it wastes time or because the ergonomics fairy has warned us against it. Two launching utilities that rely on the keyboard rather than the mouse are MindVision's MindControl 1.1 (4.0 mice; Reviews , January 2000) and Stefano Ghielmi's SpeedApp 1.0.2.

With MindControl installed on your Mac, you press command-` to reveal a window that contains your favorite applications, documents, URLs, e-mail addresses, recent applications, documents, and servers. You'll also find common commands such as sleep, shut down, and restart. Use the mouse or the Mac's arrow keys to access these items.

MindControl also places a command line at the bottom of your screen where you can enter text. To launch an item on your Mac's hard drive, begin typing the name of the item you'd like to open -- or the abbreviation you've assigned to it. MindControl fills in its name; just press the return key to launch that item.

SpeedApp offers the same command-line feature in a more intuitive way. Unless you configure MindControl in the Command window, the program requires that you type the complete name of the item you wish to open, beginning with the first letters of the application. For example, Adobe Photoshop is the default name to type for Photoshop. SpeedApp -- which is limited to opening applications -- allows you to type any portion of the application's name.

Better Dialog Boxes

Many Mac users hoped that Navigation Services -- introduced with Mac OS 8.5 as a new way to view and move through Open and Save dialog boxes-would offer a greatly expanded set of navigation options. Dialog boxes that take advantage of Navigation Services do provide quicker access to mounted volumes and often-used documents and folders, but they don't provide the wealth of navigation options found in the Finder, such as the ability to produce a file's Get Info window.

Fast Filing   St. Clair Software's Default Folder 3.0.7 and Power On Software's Action Files 1.5.4 (4.0 Mice; Reviews , February 2000) provide some solutions. Default Folder places additional commands in Open and Save dialog boxes -- commands for producing a file's Get Info window, as well as for renaming and trashing files. It will also display a default folder you've designated when an Open or Save dialog box appears for the first time after an application launches. This is a real time-saver if, for example, you plan to save all your Microsoft Word documents in a particular folder.

Action Files offers even greater enhancements. (See "Launch into Action.") In addition to the same features as Default Folder, it gives you the ability to sort files by name, size, kind, and date; change file and folder labels; create an alias of a file or folder; and even resize these previously nonscalable dialog boxes.

More from Your Menus

Menus provide another way to easily launch applications and locate favorite files on your Mac. Each new version of Mac OS has made menus more powerful by increasing the number of keyboard equivalents for common tasks-for example, creating an alias or moving items to the Trash. But menus can be made to do more, with utilities such as Jerry Du's FinderMenuTuner 1.2.2, Connectix's CopyAgent 1.0 (4.0 mice; Reviews , December 2000), and Power On's Action Menus 1.0.2 (4.0 mice; Reviews , February 2000).

Navigate with Ease   FinderMenuTuner is a simple control panel that allows you to assign additional keyboard commands to Finder menus -- a boon for those who've longed to press command-T to empty the Trash.

CopyAgent, though primarily a tool for enhancing Finder copying, also makes menu navigation easier with its Keyboard Power component. Using Keyboard Power, you can access Finder and application menus in the Mac's menu bar with keyboard shortcuts: for example, just hold down control-shift-F to select the File menu. Once you select a menu, you can use another keyboard shortcut to choose a command within that menu -- such as control-shift-O to select Open -- or the arrow keys to move from one menu item to another.

Action Menus is the be-all and end-all of menu customization utilities. It not only allows you to assign keyboard commands to menu items, but also creates additional menus that display applications, files, folders, and servers you've recently accessed -- complete with hierarchical submenus. And you can place items in the Apple or Applications menu by dragging them there from the desktop.

Mega-Macro Programs

If you repeat some tasks frequently on your Mac -- copying blocks of text from your word processor and pasting them into different fields in your database program, for example -- you may long for a way to alleviate this drudgery. A macro program can automate many of these tasks. You can use applications such as CE Software's QuicKeys 5.0 (4.0 mice; Reviews , October 2000), Westcode Software's OneClick 2.0 (4.0 mice), and Binary Software's KeyQuencer 2.5.5 for simple chores (launching applications or creating keyboard equivalents for menu commands), but the forte of these macro programs is executing a series of actions at the click of a button or the press of a key.

Automate Your Actions   QuicKeys is the easiest macro program to use, thanks to its icon-oriented interface and ability to accurately record the actions you perform on your Mac. Just click on QuicKey's Record button, run through the task you'd like to turn into a macro, and click on the Stop button when you're done. Your actions are recorded and ready to be played back when you press the keyboard command or on-screen button you've assigned to trigger the macro. (See "Macro-Made.")

Still, QuicKeys lacks some of the power found in script-based programs OneClick and KeyQuencer, which offer better control over actions that include a series of variables -- when the appearance of a dialog box triggers another action, for example.

OneClick gets its name from the palette-driven interface that represents macros as clickable buttons. Beneath the simple interface is a scripting language called EasyScript that allows you to manipulate your Mac in many powerful ways. For example, you can create a OneClick macro that automatically closes browser pop-up windows -- not possible with QuicKeys.

KeyQuencer lacks the action-recording features of QuicKeys and OneClick, but its scripting capabilities allow intrepid users to create some potent macros.

Stick to the Script   Of course Apple includes its own free automation utility, AppleScript, with every copy of Mac OS. AppleScript is daunting to many Mac users, but using it to create simple scripts isn't difficult. You don't need to be a power user to benefit from this excellent tool.

Using the Script Editor, found inside the AppleScript folder within the Apple Extras folder, you can record many of the actions you take on your Mac. For example, you can create a script that will clear up the clutter on your Mac's desktop and display files in alphabetical order. First open Script Editor and click on the Record button; then switch to the Finder, hold down the option key, click on the Close box in the active window to close all windows, and select By Name from the View menu's Arrange submenu. You can then save this script to the Apple Menu or your desktop as a classic applet.

You can also create simple AppleScripts to move items into the Trash, copy files from one buried folder to another, and turn the Appearance control panel's windowshade feature on and off. (To learn more about AppleScript, see "AppleScript for the Programming-Shy," Secrets , November 1999.)

Make It Look Your Way

Having a more productive Mac may placate the persnickety office manager within us all, but a computer can be competent without being compelling. With a little effort -- and the help of a couple of utilities -- your Mac can be fun and functional.

Lovely to Look At

With the Appearance control panel, you can change the visual elements of your Mac's interface, selecting desktop pictures and patterns, alternate system fonts, and hues for highlighting and menus. But if you want to alter your Mac in more profound ways, you need greater assistance: download Greg Landweber and Arlo Rose's Kaleidoscope 2.2.4.

Total Makeover   Kaleidoscope is a control panel that allows you to load schemes that radically distort the appearance of windows, menus, buttons, icons, and progress bars. (See "Interface-lift.") Be advised: it may impede the performance of your computer or make it more prone to crashes. But with so many entertaining scheme options available, many users will be tempted to install it regardless of the consequences.

Many authors have created schemes that transform the Mac's interface into something resembling Windows 95, the Be OS, NextStep, a Palm Pilot, or even Mac OS X. (Apple's legal department has warned against replicating OS X's Aqua theme.) Hundreds of schemes are available from the Kaleidoscope Web site ( www.kaleidoscope.net ) and others. To locate these additional schemes and others, use Sherlock or a Web search engine.

Accessorize, Accessorize   Some Kaleidoscope scheme authors toss in icons to replace Apple's drab hard drive icons, but many do not. If you're looking for more interesting icons -- whether or not you plan to use them in conjunction with Kaleidoscope -- you can point your browser to IconFactory ( www.iconfactory.com ), the finest collection of free icons on the Web.

If you're aiming for an OS X-like look, consider one more visual enhancement: Greg Landweber's Power Windows 2.4.2. With this program installed, when you drag a window across the screen, the entire window and its contents remain visible, not just the dotted outline. Plus, it can make windows translucent.

Custom-Crafted Applications

If you enjoy playing MP3 files on your Mac, you know that MP3 players include a variety of "skins" that change a player's appearance. But MP3 players aren't the only applications that support customization.

Beautify Your Browser   In the latest releases of Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator, Microsoft and Netscape supply the means to make their browsers reflect Apple's recent designs.

To style Internet Explorer 5 more like your Mac, just select Browser Color from the View menu and choose from colors such as Bondi blue, lime, PowerBook bronze, and graphite. To change the way icons and text are displayed in the tool bar, control-click on the tool bar and select Icon & Text, Icon Only, or Text Only from the contextual menu. Then choose from the listed colors.

Netscape 6 includes a variety of themes that allow you to change the look of this venerable browser. Preview Release 3 includes the Modern and Classic themes: Modern has a rounded look reminiscent of OS X, and Classic's appearance resembles the traditional Netscape interface. To apply a new theme, you simply select Apple Theme from the View menu and choose from the list in the submenu. This submenu also contains a Get New Themes command that prompts Netscape to connect to the Web and download any additional themes that become available.

Office Remodeling   You can't radically change Microsoft Office 2001's color or icons, but some Mac users have found that the suite's Formatting palette lets you dispense with many of the program's tool bars.

To change the appearance of this palette in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, select Customize from the Tools menu, click on the Appearance tab, and choose either the Office 2001 Appearance option (which bears a slight resemblance to OS X) or the Mac OS Theme Compliant option (similar to the classic Mac OS). In the same window, you can choose to increase the size of icons in tool bars and in the Formatting palette.

Now Hear This

Before color displays, Mac users had few ways to tart up their computers. After all, you could create only so many interesting desktop patterns out of black and white pixels. However, one advantage the Mac had over its PC counterparts was its ability to play sounds (PCs were nearly mute back then). Mac folk took this advantage and ran with it, creating custom sound effects and -- with the help of utilities such as Bruce Tomlin's SoundMaster -- linking them to events as varied as ejecting disks, emptying the Trash, and restarting the Mac.

Starting with Mac OS 8.5, Apple included the Appearance control panel, which contained a single collection of sounds tied to system events: Platinum Sounds. But CrossRoads Solutions offers us Soundz 1.0, a utility that substitutes custom sounds such as popping corks and belching for the staid set Apple includes with its OS. If you don't care for the Crazy Sounds collection included with Soundz, you can to add your own; read the documentation to learn how.

The Last Word

There are plenty of good reasons to change the ways your Mac looks and works: you can't wait for the cool new functions of OS X, you'd like a better launcher than the one supplied by Apple, or you want your Mac's desktop to match your new earrings.

Ultimately, it doesn't make a bit of difference why you want to customize your Mac. What really matters is that you can alter the look and feel of your Mac simply because you have the power and desire to do so.

Contributing Editor CHRISTOPHER BREEN pens Macworld 's Mac 911 column and appears with alarming frequency on the compucentric cable network Tech TV.

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