Software Bargains: System enhancements
Our second of three installments takes a look at system enhancements.
Whether you spend all day in Terminal or just poke around in your system software, these gems will help you get your Mac running at full capacity.
OS X lacks the ability to print a Finder window’s contents. Print Window () adds this ability and a lot more. You can print the contents of any Finder window via drag and drop, by pressing a keyboard shortcut, through the Services menu, or by selecting the window from within Print Window. You get the added bonus of choosing what to print: complete file and folder information or just names, the visible contents of a folder or all subfolders, and icons or no icons. You can even include custom headers, sort listings, and choose the printing font. The new Advanced version adds the ability to print formatted CD and DVD covers, selectively print subfolders, and customize information display (free; Advanced version, $15).
WindowShade X () brings OS 9’s popular Window Shade effect to OS X. Double-click on a window’s title bar, and depending on your preference, the window rolls up and out of the way, becomes transparent, minimizes in place instead of to the Dock, or hides completely. You can also assign actions to different types of clicks (such as control-double-click). As a bonus, you can customize window shadow settings ($10).
With Tiger, Apple finally lets you dis-play the Fast User Switching menu as a short user name or a user icon, so it doesn’t take up so much space. But WinSwitch ()—one of my favorite Panther utilities for this feature—is still quite useful. In addition to letting you display a user’s initials in the menu bar, customize the appearance of menu contents, and assign a keyboard shortcut to switch to the Login window, WinSwitch can automatically launch applications or open documents when you switch to or from certain accounts. It can even list the root user—if enabled—in the Fast User Switching menu (free).
System Log Tool
Few people can make sense out of OS X’s various system log files. But even those who can are sure to find X-Statistics () useful. It examines the log files and then presents you with a graphical timeline of major system events—when the computer was running, sleeping, or shut down; when you had system or application crashes; when (and which) volumes were mounted; and when PPP or VPN data was sent or received ($10).
Windows Shortcut Enabler
OS X works well on Windows networks, but it still has trouble with Windows shortcuts (the Windows version of OS X aliases)—double-clicking on a shortcut file on a Windows file server doesn’t work. WinShortcutter () fixes this problem, giving you easy access to Windows shortcuts. If the shortcut’s target resides on a different server, WinShortcutter mounts that server, using your choice of SMB or AFP. WinShortcutter can even create an OS X alias next to the shortcut file, so other Mac users on your network won’t have the same problem (free).
If you’ve ever made a change to a folder—especially on a server—and then sat there waiting for the Finder to update the folder’s contents, WindowsUpdater () is for you. Click on the Update Windows button to immediately update all Finder windows, including your desktop. Or set WindowsUpdater to periodically refresh all windows automatically (free).
Software KVM Switch
With teleport (), you can use one keyboard and one mouse to control multiple Macs on a local network. However, instead of a hardware KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch, teleport uses a clever bit of software engineering that works much like screen spanning. You install and activate teleport on each Mac; then you arrange the virtual displays on the master computer. When you move the mouse cursor off the edge of one screen, it moves onto one of the others—you can then use your mouse and keyboard as if they were connected to that computer (free).
NFS Share Manager
OS X’s Sharing preference pane lets you enable personal file sharing and Windows file sharing, but it doesn’t give you a way to enable Network File System (NFS) shares—a popular protocol, supported by OS X, for sharing files between Unix computers. NFS Manager () provides a convenient graphical user interface for both accessing NFS shares on other computers and configuring NFS shares on your own Macs. NFS Manager even works with NetInfo and LDAP directories to allow you to configure multiple computers simultaneously (€15, about $18 at press time).
If you’re a network administrator who supports large numbers of Macs, you’ll love NetRestore () for its ability to restore a master disk image to target Macs locally, over a local network, or over the Internet. You can even use Apple’s NetBoot system to deploy a disk image to an entire lab full of Macs. NetRestore can customize each Mac after the restoration by providing network settings, a computer name, and even an Open Firmware password. A helper app assists you in creating a master image (free).
One of the most difficult hardware issues to diagnose is defective RAM, which can result in symptoms ranging from random application crashes to systemwide freezes. Even Apple’s Hardware Test won’t catch every chip problem. Memtest (), on the other hand, is as close to foolproof as anything you’ll find. This command-line utility works in Terminal but is more effectively run in single-user mode at startup (as explained in its user guide). It checks your RAM, bit by bit, for problems—and repeats its tests as many times as you specify (free).
Unix man Page Viewer
Most Terminal commands have corresponding manual (
man) pages that explain how to use them. But Terminal’s plain-text-only display doesn’t make it easy to read these (often long) pages. ManOpen ( ) lets you view them in a customizable, user-friendly window. A pop-up menu takes you directly to the various sections of each
manpage; references to other commands appear as live links you can click on to view the
manpages for those commands; and you can even do apropos keyword searches. ManOpen also adds a Terminal command (
openman) that opens
manpages in ManOpen directly from Terminal (free).
Keyboard Viewer Launcher
OS X’s Keyboard Viewer (known as Key Caps in OS 9 and early versions of OS X) is a handy utility for finding the key combinations of seldom-used symbols and characters. But to enable it, you need to go to the International preference pane and turn on the Input menu—a hassle, as well as a waste of menu-bar space if you don’t use any other features of the Input menu. KeyViewer () is a simple AppleScript that opens Keyboard Viewer; just stick KeyViewer in the Dock or on your desktop—or launch it with a keyboard macro utility—for quick access to Keyboard Viewer (free).
You can set your Mac to shut down or go to sleep at a specific time on certain days, but what if you just want it to shut down after you’ve finished downloading the latest Mac OS X update? iWillQuit () lets you tell your Mac to go to sleep, restart, shut down, or log out after a specified amount of time, and only then. Of course, as with any logout or shutdown, you need to make sure that you don’t have unsaved changes in any open documents. Keep that in mind, and iWillQuit works very well (free).
Trackpad Scrolling Utility
Apple’s latest PowerBooks let you scroll through windows by dragging two fingers across the trackpad. iScroll2 () brings similar functionality to iBooks and many older PowerBooks. With this replacement trackpad driver, you can scroll by dragging two fingers up, down, left, right, or in a circular motion (as with an iPod Click Wheel). You can customize trackpad sensitivity and scrolling speed, and you can assign different mouse-button behaviors to the trackpad button and to finger taps (free).
Apple’s battery-status menu item tells you how much life your PowerBook’s or iBook’s battery has left (or how much time is left before it’ll be fully charged), but for more-detailed information, check out Battorox (). It displays your battery’s initial and current capacity, cycle count (how many charge cycles your battery has been through), voltage, and temperature. Battorox doesn’t work with all PowerBook models (some lack the necessary hardware), but it’s a useful tool if you can use it (free).
Log and File Watcher
GeekTool () lets you keep an eye on a log file, the output of a command in Terminal, or a changing Internet image, via a configurable display that sits on your desktop or floats above all other windows. The display updates in real time so you can always see, for example, a log’s most-recent entries. You can configure multiple displays and create multiple groups of displays that you can switch between using a menu-bar item (free).
Cool menu bar items
If you have an external FireWire optical drive, Ardiem () lets you not only open its tray and eject a disc via a menu-bar icon (much as OS X’s menu extra does), but also assign a different keyboard shortcut to each internal and external drive you have (free).
For an easier way to rate your iTunes tracks and view existing ratings, iTunesRating () puts an iTunes ratings bar in the menu bar. You just click on a star to set or change the current track’s iTunes rating. The app also lets you change its star icons to your own images (free).
XMenu () lets you add hierarchical menus similar to OS 9’s Apple menu to OSX’s menu bar—for the Applications and Developer folders; your Home folder; your Documents folder; and the XMenu folder, the contents of which you can customize. You can choose to display the menus to the right or left of Apple’s menu items, and there are other sorting and display options. Choosing an item from one of XMenu’s menus opens it, or you can use modifier keys to perform one of several actions on the item (free).