Mac Gems

This month's column is all about enhancing Mac OS X's built-in functionality, so where better to start than the Finder? The Finder has been improved in each version of OS X, but some users -- including me -- still wish it had a few more features. If you're one of those people, Cocoatech's $34 Path Finder 3.2 (   ; ) may be just what you've been waiting for.

Path Finder looks and operates much like the Finder itself. It lets you do anything you can do in the Finder, but it offers many extra features. For example, Path Finder gives you a number of additional view options, including the ability to show file owners and groups in list view and to sort in column view. You can also set default permissions to be applied to new files and folders, something you can't normally do without a bit of Unix knowledge.

Like the Finder's windows, Path Finder's windows have sidebars, but they also have a Drop Stack area, which allows you to temporarily store files and folders. For example, to move a file between folders, you can drag it to the Drop Stack, navigate to the destination folder, and then drag the file out of the Drop Stack. (You can have multiple files in the Drop Stack at the same time -- a pop-up menu lets you choose a file to work with.) A Processes And Volumes drawer provides quick access to mounted volumes, applications, and the Trash, and you can work with many files from within Path Finder, using the built-in text editor, PDF viewer, and image editor and converter. Path Finder even has its own Terminal emulator.

If you're an advanced user, Path Finder has features that you will appreciate, such as the ability to generate a number of different system reports, browse invisible files and packages, view files as hexadecimal code, and use various themes to customize window appearances. You can even create disk images and compress files directly from Path Finder windows. If you're still pining for OS 9, Path Finder can bring back OS 9's Application menu -- or at least something that's very similar and that has more features.

Path Finder has so many features, I could fill a whole column with them -- if you think you might be in the market for more Finder functionality, check it out. If you decide that you like using Path Finder more than using the Finder, you can even have Path Finder quit the Finder and take its place.

Get More Info

Another area where the Finder can fall short is in providing information on the number and the exact size of items in a folder. Pixture Studio's free (donations accepted) CalculateSizeCM 1.2 (   ; ) is a plug-in that adds a Calculate Size item to the Finder's contextual menus. It provides much more detailed information than the Finder's standard Get Info command. Control-click (or right-click if you have a multibutton mouse) on one or more folders, and then select Calculate Size. You'll see a window showing the total size of all items (in both bytes and megabytes), the total number of files and folders (including the number of invisible files and folders), and the exact breakdown of data-fork and resource-fork sizes. You can also get information on a single file, which can be useful when you want to see whether a file has a resource fork and, if so, the resource fork's size.

Custom Calendar Colors

Apple's iCal lets you change the overall theme color of calendars and their events, but sometimes iCal's stock colors make text hard to read, and you can't customize the various aspects of each theme to compensate for that. With Alex Nicksay's free (donations accepted) iCalibrate 1.3.1 (   ; ), you can choose colors for backgrounds, borders, and text, and you can even customize background gradients. Each calendar can have its own custom theme, and you can even use different themes for different types of items within each calendar -- for example, you can make selected events look much different from unselected ones.

Gentle Reminders

If you work at your computer all day (or night), at some point you've surely started something -- cooking dinner or doing a load of laundry, for example -- and then gotten sucked into your work, completely forgetting about your noncomputer task. It's happened to me many times, so I like to have a timer program on my computer that reminds me when my other activity is done. I've tried a bunch of these little helpers, but my favorite is Leaky Puppy Software's free Fob 1.0.1 (   ; ).

As with most kitchen-timer utilities, you tell Fob how many minutes to count down, and when time is up, the program lets you know -- via an alert, a bouncing Dock icon, or by opening a selected file. But what makes Fob great is that it lets you create alarm presets for frequent timers. For example, I have timers for tea and microwave popcorn, among others. To activate a preset, simply double-click on it in the Fob window (you can also set one-time timers). The Fob icon in the Dock shows you how much time is left before the timer is up. Fob is one of those apps I find myself using more than I expected -- sometimes I even use it to remind myself to take a break!

Reorganized Readings

OS X's TextEdit is an impressive text editor, and it's even a good word processor with many advanced features. However, if you just want to read documents, TextEdit is nothing special -- in fact, you may find that reading long documents on screen is a bit fatiguing. Developer Amar Sagoo's theory is that reading text in columns, as in a newspaper, is much easier on the eyes. His free Tofu 1.0.1 (   ; ) aims to prove that point by allowing you to read documents -- text, RTF, the text portion of HTML documents, and (in Panther) Microsoft Word documents -- in column format. And unlike columnar PDF documents, which force you to scroll up and down to read, Tofu's columns are only as long as the current window, so you scroll left and right instead. (Tofu lets you choose your preferred column width and margins.)

You can drag documents into a new Tofu window or onto its icon to read them; alternatively, you can highlight text in another application and then paste it into, or drag and drop it onto, a Tofu window. If you want to read text from a document in a Services-aware application, you can highlight that text and then choose View In Columns from the Services menu to immediately view it in Tofu. You can navigate Tofu windows using a mouse, a keyboard, or OS X's speech-recognition feature. Tofu also lets you search for text while you're reading.

Tofu is easy to use and extremely effective. I've started to use it for a good deal of my text reading.

Who's Connected?

Many OS X users have lamented the absence of OS 9's File Sharing Monitor, which kept track of users connected via File Sharing. HornWare's $5 AFS Monitor 1.0.1 (   ; ) is an inexpensive alternative. When the program is launched, its Dock icon shows the number of connected Personal File Sharing users; its window provides connection details: connected users, IP addresses, times connected, and the number of files and directories each user has created and/or deleted. (Note that for AFS Monitor to function, the Personal File Sharing activity log must be enabled -- the utility's documentation provides instructions for activating the log.)

If you use OS X's Windows File Sharing, you can get similar functionality from Frederic Bell's useful (not to mention free) xSMB 0.4 (   ; ). xSMB doesn't give you the same graphical display as AFS Monitor, but it does indicate, in the menu bar, the number of users currently connected to your Mac. You click on the menu to display the details -- each connected user's name and IP address and the shared folders they're accessing. (Bell also offers a similar menu utility for Personal File Sharing; it's called xAFP.)

I hope that Apple eventually includes a version of File Sharing Monitor in OS X. Until it does, these utilities serve an important purpose: they let you keep track of users connected to your Mac.


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