Reviews in Brief
After Dark X + Fish
; Infinisys, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://en.infinisys.co.jp; $10
I'll never forget how absolutely cool After Dark was back in my Mac II days. We Mac users played with those modules for hours, tweaking silly options such as the speed, number, and bounciness of elements.
With After Dark X + Fish, Infinisys, the Japanese distributor of After Dark, brings the screen saver back, but not necessarily in a good way. Sure, the Mowing Man, the Fish, and the Space Toasters have returned, along with the adorable theme song. And the program works with OS X, after some rather unseemly manual installation. But many of the modules are disappointing: they look exactly as they did on my Mac II -- which was fine a dozen years ago. But in 2003, on a 1GHz PowerBook G4, they're just bad. Only some modules have been revised, and they're still pixelated and just plain weird.
After Dark X + Fish is a cute novelty for longtime Mac users. If you want your flying toasters back, $10 isn't much to get them. But if you're looking for cool screen savers, stick with the beauties included in OS X, or pick up Marine Aquarium 2.0 ( ; September 2003). -- jennifer berger
; Innovative Office Products, 800/524-2744, www.lcdarms.com; $369
Positioning your LCD monitor at a comfortable height can be a delicate process. I've jury-rigged a stack of risers to get my 17-inch Apple Studio Display to sit at eye level. But Innovative Office Products takes the guesswork out of the job with CinemaLift, a metal arm designed to suspend a 20- or 23-inch Apple Cinema Display above your desk. (For monitors like mine, it offers the StudioLift, which has the same price and functionality but a lower weight-bearing capacity.)
The CinemaLift conjures Apple's flat-panel iMac: the arm holds an attached monitor over your work surface, so you can adjust the display's height, pivot it from side to side, tilt it up and down as much as 200 degrees, and move it closer or farther away. Designers, in particular, will appreciate being able to rotate a monitor 90 degrees to get a vertical view of a page. And all users will enjoy the extra desk space they get.
But you have to assemble the CinemaLift to reap those benefits, and that's a bear of a job. The product ships with enough parts to frustrate even intrepid do-it-yourselfers; the instructions are vague and filled with jargon; and some parts of the CinemaLift are particularly difficult to screw, tighten, or adjust, unless you have very small hands. You also run the risk of scratching the screen when you attach the bracket to the back of the monitor.
In action, the CinemaLift is a thing of beauty. But if you have no tolerance for labor-intensive, do-it-yourself projects, you might want a set of risers. -- philip michaels
; Wacom, 800/922-6613, www.wacom.com; $200
For digital painters and graphic artists, Cintiq interactive displays, from Wacom, are among the best input tools there are. These LCDs have built-in pressure-sensitive tablet technology, which lets you use a stylus pen to paint directly on screen. But if you use a Cintiq as a second display, it can be annoying to have to switch from your Cintiq pen to your mouse when you want to access a menu on your primary screen. To address this, Wacom has released the CintiqPartner, an add-on tablet.
The CintiqPartner plugs into your computer's USB port and has a 6-by-8-inch active area. Using Wacom's normal control panel, you can map the tablet to work across both the Cintiq display and your primary display. If you place the CintiqPartner just below your screen, you can easily access any control, window, or menu on either the
Cintiq or your primary monitor without having to switch to another pointing device. (Because the CintiqPartner uses a pen frequency different from that of Wacom's other tablets, you can't achieve the same functionality with any other tablet.)
With the Cintiq 15-inch display priced at $1,899 and the 18-inch at $3,499, $200 more for the CintiqPartner to get added functionality is money well spent. -- ben long
; Kodak, 800/235-6325, www.kodak.com; free
EasyShare 3.0, from Kodak, is an alternative to Apple's iPhoto. The program is quite good and provides many of the same features as Apple's photo-library application, but EasyShare won't convince you to give up iPhoto.
Like iPhoto, EasyShare includes a number of simple editing tools for cropping, converting to black-and-white, removing red-eye, and automatically enhancing photos. EasyShare also makes it easy to burn your images to disk and print and e-mail your photos. But it's no match for iPhoto when it comes to slide shows or to integration with Mac OS X's built-in screen-saver and desktop-picture features.
EasyShare's best feature may be its solid integration with Kodak's Ofoto Web site (www.ofoto.com). (Ofoto is also the service Apple's iPhoto uses for processing prints.) EasyShare lets you create Ofoto picture albums, upload your pictures, and then sign on to the Ofoto Web site. There, you can share your photos in Web albums and gain access to a larger variety of photo-editing tools and borders. -- jeffery battersby
; Inspiration Software, 800/877-4292, www .inspiration.com; $69; upgrade from version 7, free
Launch Inspiration, and you'll think of dozens of ways to put the diagramming application to good use. The last version impressed us mightily here at Macworld ( ; March 2003), and version 7.5 offers some great improvements that we hadn't thought to ask for.
The best addition builds on the program's outlining feature. As before, you can view your charts in Diagram mode or Outline mode (which shows your chart as a textual outline in a simple word processor). Any changes you make in either mode are universal. When you're finished diagramming and outlining, you can click on the new Transfer button to send your chart to either a Microsoft Word or an AppleWorks document.
The Transfer feature makes a lot of sense in a program targeted at classroom environments, as do several new language-arts templates, including Fiction Writing and Biographical Essay. Customizable templates are a strength of Inspiration, and the new ones are superb. (The program actually made me wish I'd had a book report to write; luckily, it works equally well for software reviews.) -- charles purdy
; Niemeijer Consult, email@example.com, www.assistiveware.com; $250
KeyStrokes 3 is an on-screen keyboard for people with disabilities. Using KeyStrokes and a mouse, trackball, head mouse, or other mouse emulator, you can enter text and control a computer. The software supports multiple languages and offers numerous configurations to accommodate users with differing degrees of muscle control. It also includes a Dwell mode for people who cannot click a mouse or trackball. But the Dwell mode is poorly documented and unintuitive, despite its clearly labeled icons.
Using an on-screen keyboard is a slow process. To speed things up, KeyStrokes features text shortcuts (useful for addresses and other frequently used text) and word prediction. We found that the choices offered by the prediction engine were very useful. It suggested single- and multiple-word choices as we went along, offering could, could be, and couldn't when we entered cou. The more you write, the better the prediction gets. You can even analyze documents you've already written, to further fine-tune KeyStrokes' performance. -- t. patrick henebry
; Ableton (distributed by M-Audio), 800/969-6434, www.ableton.com; $399
Ableton's Live ( ; July 2003), the Mac's foremost audio sequencer, just got better. Live 2.1 has added multichannel audio-input and -output support for Digidesign hardware, as well as support for sample files saved in Digidesign's Sound Designer II format. The program is also snappier than previous versions -- there's no longer a slight delay when selecting functions and switching between Arranger and Session views.
For people who work in multiapplication music environments, the biggest improvement is Live's full support for ReWire, Propellerhead's cross-application synchronization standard. We configured Live as a master, and it flawlessly played and controlled the tempo of a sequence from Propellerhead's Reason 2.5. With Reason configured as a slave, we could easily trigger a Live arrangement from within Steinberg's Cubase SX ( ; March 2003).
If the lack of full support for ReWire was the only thing holding you back, it's time to go Live. -- christopher breen
; Realmac Software, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.realmacsoftware.com; $10
Upon ﬁrst learning about MacMaid 2.1, I jumped for joy: the little utility purports to use rules you set to automatically clean your Desktop or any other folder. "Finally," I mused, "I can delete those aliases I mistakenly created, the hundreds of disk images, and inadvertent PDF downloads without picking through them one by one."
MacMaid is, indeed, easy to use and has a very clean interface. You just pick a folder to clean (in my case, the Desktop) and set some if-then rules based on a file's name, extension, date created, date modified, or size. (This process is similar to setting rules in Microsoft Entourage.) Then you tell MacMaid how often to clean; the catch here is that once each hour is the least frequent cleaning schedule.
The program's limitations, therefore, make it only marginally useful. I found myself rewriting basically the same rule because you can't create two if statements per then: for example, to put files with .jpg and .tif extensions in a folder titled Images, you must create two rules. But the biggest problem is that your rules are limited to certain file criteria, so you can't create a rule based on a file's Kind, such as a Microsoft Word document or a StuffIt archive. MacMaid will do some cleaning for you, but not quite enough. -- jennifer berger
; Apago, 770/619-1884, www.apago.com; $35
When it comes to PDF files, one size doesn't fit all, especially if you want to use those files on the Web. But Apago's PDFshrink 3.0.1 can help make those files smaller by letting you alter image resolution and compression and remove unwanted content.
If you already use Adobe Acrobat 6, you may not need PDFshrink. Acrobat 6 Professional does all that PDFshrink does (except eliminate tiny metadata) and offers finer control; Acrobat 6 Standard does a decent job of reducing file sizes, but you can't control how it shrinks them.
But if you have batches of files to trim down, you'll want PDFshrink. You can create a large queue of files, and PDFshrink will slim them automatically and quickly.
The program works extremely well on files filled with high-resolution images or repetitive elements (such as a PowerPoint presentation with a logo on every slide). And if you rely on OS X's tools to create PDF files, PDFshrink can make a huge difference in the sizes of those notoriously bloated files. -- jim felici