Mac Gems

Mac applications have long used keyboard shortcuts (Command-C to copy, for example) to make it easier to perform common actions. However, learning those shortcuts can be frustrating -- you have to search the current application's menus to find the desired command, and then remember the keyboard shortcut associated with that command when it comes time to use it.

The $15 KeyCue 1.0, from ergonis software (   ; ), offers a useful alternative. After installing the utility, hold down the Command key within any application for a certain amount of time (which you determine), and up pops a window summarizing all the shortcuts currently available from within that application. (In most applications, menu items are dimmed if you can't currently access them -- Copy, for example, isn't available if no content is selected. KeyCue will show the shortcuts for available menu items only.)

KeyCue also shows custom menu shortcuts you've defined using the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane, and you can configure it (via its preferences dialog box) to show shortcuts in submenus and for services (accessible via the Services submenu). When you press modifier keys, KeyCue even highlights the shortcuts accessible via that combination of modifiers.

One feature I'd like to see is the ability to use the mouse to click on a command within the KeyCue window. But even without this feature, KeyCue is extremely useful. I've also found it to be a great "cheat sheet" that actually helps me learn the shortcuts.

History Revisited

Apple's Safari has a decent history feature, but it allows you to find sites you've visited based only on their URLs or titles. What if you remember a few words or the name of a product from a Web page, but you can't remember where you saw it? St. Clair Software's $20 HistoryHound 1.0.2 (   ; ) may be able to track down the page for you.

Leave HistoryHound running and it periodically indexes the contents of the sites you've recently surfed. The app can also index sites you've bookmarked (which can take quite a while the first time you index if you have a lot of bookmarks) or any other files or folders on your hard drive. It then provides a searchable database of those contents.

Type a search term or phrase into the search field, and the top pane of the window lists all sites that include your criteria, ranked by relevance (how closely HistoryHound thinks each page matches what you're looking for), page title, URL, or date -- which is most useful if you remember approximately when you visited a page. Select a page, and the bottom pane shows its contents with the search term highlighted.

Double-click on a page to open it in your browser.

HistoryHound can also perform more-complex Boolean and include- or exclude-variable searches, and you can even assign the app a hot key for quick access. If you've ever needed to find a Web site you've visited (in Safari or Internet Explorer), you'll likely find HistoryHound to be your browser's best friend.

Pack It In

OS X makes burning files onto CDs and DVDs fairly easy. You insert a blank disc and then copy files to the image that appears. My only complaint is that OS X assumes I'm ready to burn the disc right then and there -- I can't use my optical drive until I'm finished. Plus it's a hassle -- a minor one, but still a hassle -- to figure out how much space is left on the CD.

Ronin no Sakurakai Softronics' $15 TheHotFolder 1.0 (   ; ) is a nifty utility that makes burning files to a CD or DVD even easier. Drag a folder into the TheHotFolder window and choose whether you're planning on burning a CD or a DVD. TheHotFolder shows you how much space is available on the disc that you'll eventually burn, and updates this information as you add more items to your folder. Even cooler, it adds a progress bar to the folder's icon in the Finder -- you don't even have to switch to TheHotFolder to see when your folder has reached your media's limit. When you're ready to burn your disc, you simply give it a name in TheHotFolder, click on Burn, and then choose whether you want to burn a Mac or Windows disc. Only then do you insert a disc.

TheHotFolder does have one odd restriction: it won't run if the path to the application contains nonalphanumeric characters (including spaces). Hopefully the developers will fix this limitation in a future version, because I really like the utility's simple approach to burning discs.

Preference Prober

Longtime Mac users know that one of the most common causes of problems with applications or the OS itself is a corrupt preference file. Finding and disposing of these damaged files is one of the best ways to fix (and even avoid) problems. But what most users don't know is that OS X actually includes a neat command-line utility for checking preference files: plutil (for "property list utility"). This little gem of a program checks preference files for syntax problems; chances are if a preference file doesn't follow the proper XML syntax, it's damaged.

But not everyone likes using Terminal to run command-line utilities. Jon Nathan's free (donations accepted) Preferential Treatment 1.0.1 (   ; ) means you don't have to -- it provides a nice Mac interface for the plutil command. Using Preferential Treatment, you can scan both user-level preference files (those in your user folder: Library: Preferences folder) and system-level preference files (in the root Library: Preferences folder); you can also scan other folders. Preferential Treatment scans the appropriate directory (you'll need admin access to scan all files) and presents a list of any files that have XML errors. You can then use the Action menu to reveal the troublesome files in the Finder, immediately move them to the Trash, or open them in another application (a text editor, or a .plist editor such as PrefEdit []).

The plutil approach isn't foolproof -- some files that aren't proper XML files work fine, and some that are perfectly formatted can still cause difficulties -- but it's a good place to start if you're experiencing problems that you suspect are due to a bad preference file.

Clipboard Stationery

In my online travels (that is, work), I tend to type certain pieces of information over and over -- my e-mail address, postal address, phone number, even my business credit card number. I've tried lots of techniques for making these snippets of data easy to access, from text clippings to software utilities, but I've never been completely satisfied. Recently I've been using IGG Software's $10 iPaste 1.0.2 (   ; ), and it's beginning to grow on me.

iPaste lets you store any number of bits of information -- text or images, for example -- that you tend to use frequently. Once you've stored these "clips," you can paste them into any document or text field in one of three ways: via the iPaste menu-bar menu; by pressing a keyboard shortcut (control-option-2 for clip 2, for example); or, perhaps most conveniently, by way of a contextual menu. You can also see your clips in a viewer at any time to remind you which clip corresponds to which keyboard command.

As a bonus, iPaste keeps track of the ten most recent Clipboard contents, so you have easy access to anything you've copied of late. The program has some quirks -- the keyboard commands don't seem to work in all applications all the time -- but for an early version, it shows a lot of promise.

Paste Plainly

Raise your hand if this has ever happened to you: you've copied some text from a Web page, an e-mail message, or a document in order to paste it somewhere else, but when you pasted the text, it was formatted like the original source, forcing you to select it and reformat it. If your hand is up, you'll like Carsten Blüm's free (donations accepted) Plain Clip 1.0.1 (   ; ).

All Plain Clip does is strip the formatting of text in the Clipboard -- nothing more. Just put it in your Dock or assign it a key combination using a macro or launcher utility. Then copy a chunk of formatted text, activate Plain Clip, and paste your now-plain text into the desired document. It sounds simple, and it is. If you copy and paste a lot of text from varying sources, Plain Clip is for you.


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