Software Bargains: Tweak Your System

Mac OS X may be the best operating system around, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t stand a few under-the-hood alterations. We’ve looked far and wide for the best system utilites available for less than $50. Here are 17 low-cost utilities that will fine-tune your OS.

CharViewer 1.1

  ; MacParc; free

OS X’s Character Palette is extremely useful for adding obscure characters to your documents; unfortunately, the only way to access it is by activating the Input Menu in OS X’s International preference pane, which adds yet another item to the Finder’s menu bar. (Some applications provide access to Character Palette, but most don’t.) CharViewer is a tiny app that, when launched, opens the Character Palette—nothing more, nothing less. Stick it in the Dock, in a menu, or on the Desktop, and Character Palette will always be close at hand without the need of another menu-bar icon.—DAN FRAKES

Compost 1.2

  ; Greg Weston; $5

The Trash in OS X is an all-or-nothing thing: When you empty it, everything inside it is deleted—lock, stock, and barrel. And if you forget to empty it, it can grow too huge in size. Compost adds more features to OS X’s Trash, giving you a selective Trash that automatically deletes individual files once they’ve been in the Trash for a certain amount of time, or empties the Trash only when it grows larger than a particular size (or when a volume’s free space dips below a certain size). You can have Compost delete locked items and delete files so they can’t be resurrected by disk-recovery software. You can also have different settings for each volume.—DAN FRAKES

CornerClick 0.4

  ; Greg Schueler; free

By assigning frequent actions to the corners of your screen, CornerClick makes executing them as easy as a quick flick of the wrist. You can assign each corner a single action, a sequence of actions, or multiple individual actions. These actions include opening a file, folder, or application; hiding the current application; hiding other applications; opening a URL; and running an AppleScript. You trigger a corner’s action or sequence by clicking on the corner. Each action or sequence of actions can also be assigned a modifier key, so that, for example, shift-clicking does something different than option-clicking.—DAN FRAKES

DockFun 4.6

  ; Donelleschi; $20

DockFun lets you have multiple OS X docks, each of which can contain unique collections of apps and documents, and have its own size, screen location, and background picture. A floating window identifies the active dock and makes it easy to switch between docks in your collection. In the new Dockpit window, you manage your collection of docks, adding and removing docks, documents, and apps without breaking a sweat. DockFun can help you control the size and complexity of OS X’s original Dock by offloading work to other docks that you call upon only when needed.—ROB GRIFFITHS

Do Something When 1.0

  ; Azarhi Software; free

If you have an external hard drive, there’s a good chance that you want to launch an application, such as a backup utility, when you connect the drive. Similarly, you may frequently connect to a remote server to open a particular document. Do Something When can automate these processes—and many others—through action rules. These rules can automatically launch or quit applications, or even unmount specific volumes, when particular actions occur—for example, when you mount or unmount a specific volume, or launch or quit a particular application. Using various combinations of rules, you can save yourself a lot of repetitive work.—DAN FRAKES

Ejector 0.6

  ; Jeb-Soft; shareware (donations accepted)

It’s fairly easy to eject mounted volumes in OS X if you’ve chosen (via Finder preferences) to view them on your desktop or in Finder-window sidebars. But if you prefer to keep your desktop tidy and don’t have any Finder windows open, ejecting these volumes becomes a minor hassle. Ejector’s small menu-bar menu lets you quickly eject any mounted volume: CDs, DVDs, iPods, network volumes, flash drives, and even mounted disk images. The program is also handy for figuring out whether your iDisk is currently mounted.—DAN FRAKES

FastScripts 2.0

  ; Red Sweater Software; $15

OS X’s Script Menu is a great way to quickly access AppleScripts and shell scripts, but by replacing it with FastScripts, you gain even more functionality. The biggest advantage is the ability to easily create keyboard shortcuts for scripts. But FastScripts also provides better performance, by preloading scripts into memory so they execute instantly; quick access to both user and systemwide Scripts folders; and better menu organization—application-specific scripts, those that appear only when a particular application is active, show up at the top of the menu for easier access. (Apple’s Script Menu sticks them at the very bottom.)—DAN FRAKES

InforMac 0.03

  ; Maconnect; free

Apple’s System Profiler utility is quite useful, but it could use a better interface. InforMac provides just such an improvement, along with more information than System Profiler does for some devices (though it doesn’t display log files). And it has a few additional features. Like System Profiler, InforMac lets you save a summary of your Mac’s information, but InforMac provides the ability to encrypt that data, so it’s safe when you send it via e-mail. And if you manage a bunch of Macs, you can also create quick-reference Identity Cards for each computer; each card contains the model name and number, serial number, installed RAM, hard-drive size (and amount used), processor speed(s), OS version, IP address, and current user at the time the card was created. InforMac’s Library view lets you quickly browse these cards.—DAN FRAKES

IPMenu 1.1

  ; Loopware; free

If your Mac has a dynamic IP address, other people may have a hard time connecting to it for personal file sharing, Web sharing, or even Internet or LAN gaming. Because your IP address may change regularly, you have to figure out what your IP address is at a given moment and then provide it to those people. IPMenu sits in the menu bar and gives you instant access to your Mac’s IP address; if your Mac is behind an Internet router, it provides both the local (internal) and Internet (external) IP addresses. IPMenu can even send you (or someone else) an e-mail message when your external IP address changes, which can be useful when your Mac is also a server.—DAN FRAKES

Konfabulator 1.7

  ; Arlo Rose and Perry Clarke; $25

Apple’s preview of Dashboard, a feature that will be included in Tiger (the next version of OS X, which will be out sometime next year), created quite a stir—because of its impressive appearance and its similarity to Konfabulator. But if you don’t want to wait until next year, give Konfabulator a try now. Each of Konfabulator’s JavaScript-based widgets performs a specific function, and you can run as many of them as you want. Widgets include clocks, calculators, calendars, and iTunes controllers, and they can provide information such as stock quotes, weather alerts, and battery levels. (Those are just a few examples—more than 700 widgets are at Each widget can float on your desktop, over your desktop, or above all other windows—or you can quickly reveal or hide it via an Exposé-like feature called Konsposé. —DAN FRAKES

Net Tool Box 2.5

  ; Charlie Boisseau; see Web site for pricing information

Apple’s Network Utility is a sufficient network-monitoring tool for most of us, but power users and network administrators should check out Net Tool Box. With 23 network tools—from DNS queries to MX lookups to SSL terminals—Net Tool Box has nearly every feature that power users need for network testing and monitoring. It also has some nice surprises: its Mapper shows—on an actual map—the location of any computer on the Internet, Rendezvous functions let you test your local network functionality, and Favorites lists store frequently used addresses. An editable, searchable port database is included as a handy reference.—DAN FRAKES

Peek-a-Boo 2.0

  ; Clarkwood Software; $20

Peek-a-Boo is similar to Apple’s Activity Monitor. At its simplest, Peek-a-Boo is a means by which you can view a list of running processes, sorted in various ways. But you can also easily change the pri-ority of any given process, and you can export a log of process activity into a text file. (These logs could help a developer figure out why a program crashes on your machine.) My favorite Peek-a-Boo feature is its ability to create CPU-usage graphs for individual applications. By checking out a program’s usage graph, which is displayed in a small floating win-dow, you’ll be able to quickly spot a program that’s using more of the CPU than it should be.—ROB GRIFFITHS

CronniX 2.1

  ; Koch und Schmidt Systemtechnik; shareware (donations accepted)

Like most versions of Unix, OS X includes the cron utility, which runs in the background, always checking for any actions—contained in schedules called crontabs —that are due to run. Although editing crontabs isn’t for novices, there’s no better utility for doing so than CronniX, which provides a graphical interface for editing both the system crontab and individual-user crontabs. With CronniX, you can modify existing events—for example, altering OS X’s built-in Unix maintenance routines so they run during the daytime (see “Easy Mac Maintenance,” Hands On , December 2003 )—or create your own events, which can be used to run Unix commands, AppleScripts, or OS X applications on set days, dates, and times. Unix geeks will also appreciate the fact that CronniX lets them edit the environment variables for each crontab event.—DAN FRAKES

GeekTool 2.1

  ; Tynsoe projects; free

GeekTool turns your Mac’s desktop into an information resource. The contents of a file, the output of a Unix command, or an image from the Web can appear on the desktop. All of this data updates automatically according to a schedule you set, and you can set each GeekTool object to a different schedule. For instance, you can display your computer’s CPU usage updated every few seconds, your Web server’s log file updated every five minutes, a radar weather map updated hourly, or a series of stock charts updated at 15-minute intervals. GeekTool’s ability to show the output of Terminal commands leads to a world of possibilities, especially if you have Unix experience: resource utilization via

, uptime statistics via
, and disk usage via
are just a few of the things you can easily monitor with GeekTool.—ROB GRIFFITHS

R-Name 3

  ; Yoichi Tagaya; free

R-Name is a one-trick utility, but it’s a very useful trick. R-Name lets you rename multiple files quickly and easily, such as all those IMG_ files from your digital camera. You can replace text strings in file names, add or remove characters from the beginning or end of file names, change the names’ type case, and more. If you know Unix, you can even use regular expressions for powerful pattern-matching replacement tricks. I also appreciate the New Name Preview, which shows you exactly how each file will be renamed before you rename anything. With 14 different methods of modifying file names, R-Name offers a lot of flexibility for the unglamorous but necessary task of batch file renaming.—ROB GRIFFITHS

MemoryStick 1.3

  ; Matt Neuburg; free

OS X’s advanced memory architecture means that you don’t have to worry about memory issues as much as you did under OS 9. But you (and misbehaving applications) can still push your Mac’s memory system too far, especially if you don’t have enough physical RAM, resulting in performance slowdowns, spinning beach balls, and excessive virtual-memory swap files that can take up significant amounts of hard-drive space. MemoryStick helps you keep an eye on your memory allocation by providing a small graphical display of your Mac’s RAM usage broken down into Wired, Active, Inactive, and Free categories. It can also notify you when new virtual-memory swap files are created and when pageouts—memory contents being swapped between actual RAM and your hard drive—occur. MemoryStick is a great tool for figuring out when you have too many applications open, or when it’s time to buy more RAM.—DAN FRAKES

RCDefaultApp 1.1

  ; Rubicode; free

RCDefaultApp is a preference pane that combines the best features of More Internet (   ; November 2003), MisFox (   ; March 2004), and OS X 10.2’s Internet preference pane, and then adds even more functionality. Using RCDefaultApp, you can choose your preferred helper application for each of the main Internet protocols (Web, e-mail, newsgroups, and FTP), as well as the helper for each URL protocol—from AFP (Apple Filing Protocol) to whois and everything in between (such as HTTP, HTTPS, ITMS, and SSH). MIME Types settings let you decide the default application for each kind of MIME content—such as the Windows Media videos and PNG images you encounter on the Web. RCDefaultApp also lets you choose the application that should be used to open files with particular file-name extensions (such as .rtf, .doc, and .mpg ) and file types (the OS 9- style Type Codes, such as TTXT and ttro). Unlike other utilities, RCDefaultApp also lets you disable types of files or protocols, such as URL schemes that pose security risks, providing you with a one-stop solution for customizing default application preferences.—DAN FRAKES

[ Senior Writer Dan Frakes is the author of Mac OS X Power Tools, second edition (Sybex, 2004). Contributing Editor Rob Griffiths is the author of Mac OS X Hints, Panther Edition (O’Reilly, 2004) and runs the Mac OS X Hints Web site. ]

GeekTool can display everything from Apple’s stock price, a hurricane approaching Florida, the current month’s calendar, and the computer’s uptime and load average.Use R-Name’s Number Sequentially option to renumber file names and add text before and/or after the numbering.Net Tool Box’s 23 network tools make network testing and monitoring easier and more precise than OS X’s built-in tools do.RCDefaultApp sets your preferred helper application for Internet and URL protocols.
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