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Utility software

Best of Gems: Enhancers and troubleshooters

Finding great software for your Mac can sometimes feel like a gamble. But Macworld is here to help. Every week, in the Mac Gems Weblog, I profile the best low-cost software that delivers big-time returns. (We also profile these software gems each month in the pages of the magazine.) As we approach the discovery of our 500th gem, I thought I would showcase my all-time favorites—the greatest applications I’ve uncovered in my search for low-cost software, from   -favorites to   - and   -rated apps that also deserve some recognition.

Let’s begin our week-long look at the Mac Gems Weblog’s greatest hits with 18 enhancers that will help you optimize Mac OS X. On the next page, I feature 14 of my favorite maintenance, tweaking, and troubleshooting applications.

(Note that version numbers are current as this article was posted. However, given the nature of software development, it’s likely that some of these apps will see frequent updates, and more recent versions could be available by the time you read this. The apps we’ve listed work with the latest version of OS X, but you’re advised to double-check the system requirements at the developers’ Web sites to make sure that your make will run these programs. You can find full reviews of these gems in our Mac Gems catalog.)

Permissions editor: FileXaminer 2.5.6

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Among the myriad utilities that help you edit file information and permissions, FileXaminer 2.5.6 (   ) stands out. In addition to an easy-to-use interface for modifying file permissions and attributes, it provides Super Delete and Force Empty Trash functions—accessible from the application’s Dock-icon menu, Finder contextual menus, or within the application—for getting rid of stubborn files. It also has a batch mode for working with multiple files simultaneously; Finder integration (Command-option-I to get info or Command-option-C to copy a file path to the Clipboard); and systemwide support for contextual menus. Other features let you resize and convert images, edit icons, and edit text files as the root user. FileXaminer even lets you create and delete user groups without having to delve into NetInfo Manager. ($10; Gideon Softworks )

Default application setter: RCDefaultApp 2.0

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RCDefaultApp 2.0 (   ) lets you choose your preferred helper application for each of the main Internet protocols (Web, e-mail, newsgroups, and TP) and for each URL protocol—from AFP (Apple Filing Protocol) to WHOIS and everything in between (such as HTTP, HTTPS, MS, and SSH). The utility’s MIME Types settings let you choose 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 and file types. Unlike similar utilities, RCDefaultApp 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. (free; Rubicode )

New document (here) Using NuFile, you can create a new document of your choosing right from the Finder’s contextual menu.

New document creators: Document Palette 1.0 and NuFile 1.8

One feature missing from OS X that Windows users have long enjoyed is the ability to create a new document in the Finder; instead, you have to launch the appropriate application, create a new document, and then save it in the desired folder. Document Palette 1.0 (   ) and NuFile 1.9 (   ) skip all that, letting you create a new document in the current Finder folder via a keyboard shortcut or the Finder’s contextual menu, respectively. Both programs include a few common document formats, but you can add other document types and your own templates. (Document Palette: $8; Vertical Eye; ,NuFile: payment requested; Piti Ongmongkolkul )

Cursor enhancer: Mouseposé 1.3

Spotlight effect Mouseposé makes it clear to your audience exactly what you’re demonstrating, with a handy spotlight.

When giving an on-screen demonstration, you want to focus your audience’s attention on exactly what the cursor is doing. Mouseposé 1.3 (   ) does this by spotlighting the mouse cursor when you press a hotkey. For example, if you’re showing your audience where to click in a dialog, Mouseposé will darken the screen except for a small circle around the cursor, making it obvious what you’re attempting to demonstrate. (free; Boinx )

File manager: Path Finder 4.1.1

The Finder has improved in each version of OS X, but some users still wish it had a few more features—or at least more flexibility in using the features it already has. Path Finder 4.1.1 (   ), a Finder alternative, can help. It gives you more viewing options, such as tabbed windows, file owner and group columns in list view, and the ability to sort in column view. Path Finder’s windows include a handy Drop Stack area, which lets you temporarily store files and folders. You can even view many files with Path Finder’s built-in text editor and PDF viewers, and create disk images and compress files directly from Path Finder windows. If you decide that you like using Path Finder more than the Finder itself, you can have Path Finder quit the Finder and take its place. ($35; Cocoatech )

Window shade effect restorer: WindowShade X 4.0.2

WindowShade X 4.0.2 (   ) brings Mac OS 9’s popular Window Shade effect to OS X. Double-click on a window’s title bar, and the window rolls up and out of the way—complete with the “swoosh” sound you would expect if you were a classic Mac user. If you prefer, you can determine whether the window becomes partially or completely transparent, minimizes in place instead of to the Dock, or hides completely. ($10; Unsanity )

Dialog-box enhancer: Default Folder X 3.0

Default Folder X 3.0 (   ) adds much-needed improvement to OS X’s Open and Save navigation dialog boxes. As the name implies, it lets you assign a default folder for each application. In addition, it makes recently used and favorite files and folders, as well as open Finder windows, easily accessible—while you’re in any navigation dialog box, you can click on a Finder window (or choose it from Default Folder’s X’s Windows menu) to immediately switch the dialog box to that directory. Add to that Default Folder X’s ability to make Open and Save dialog boxes remember the last folder and file you worked with in each application, as well as the size and position of each dialog box. ($35; St. Clair Software )

Other top enhancers

If you’re using a Windows keyboard with your Mac—or just wish your Mac keyboard was laid out differently— DoubleCommand 1.6.1 (   ; free; Michael Baltaks ) lets you remap special keys, such as turning a Windows keyboard’s Alt key into an option key. (Tiger provides this capability as well, though DoubleCommand offers many more options.) A simple yet effective tool is EraseCMPlugIn 1.3.1 (   ; free; soft ‘O’ matic )—it gives you the ability to erase a CD-RW disc from the Finder’s contextual menu instead of having to delve into Disk Utility. GeekTool 2.1.2 (   ; free; Tynsoe ) allows you to place the output of a Terminal command, the contents of a file, or an image (such as a Webcam snapshot) on your desktop. PrintWindow 3.1.5 (   ; standard version, free; advanced version, $15; Searchware Solutions ) restores the ability to print a Finder window’s contents to OS X while also letting you choose what to print—for example, complete file and folder information, just names and the visible contents of a folder, or all subfolders.

If you want to change the default format and location for screenshots without having to mess around in Terminal, Screenshots Preference Pane 1.0 (   ; $2; EGO Systems ) adds a useful pane for doing just that to OS X’s System Preferences. Service Scrubber 1.1.3 (   ; free; Peter Maurer ) puts you in control of OS X’s Services feature—a necessary task for anyone who struggles with a bloated Services menu. To take your Mac laptop’s trackpad to the next level, SideTrack 1.4.1 (   ; $15; Raging Menace ) is a replacement trackpad driver that lets you adjust speed, acceleration, and calibration, as well as assign hot corners that perform particular actions when you tap them.

Anyone who enjoys tinkering with their system should embrace TransparentDock 2.3.8 (   ; $8; Free Range Mac ), which lets you customize everything about your Dock, from how it looks to how it behaves. WinSwitch 3.2.1 (   ; free; Wincent Colaiuta ) is a handy customization tool that lets you choose the appearance of the Fast User Switching menu, assign a keyboard shortcut to the login window, and—most impressive—automatically open documents or launch applications when you switch to and from specific accounts. X-Assist 0.7 (   ; free; Peter Li ) recreates OS 9’s Application menu, adding useful features such as a Shortcuts submenu for quick access to preference panes.

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