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Best of Gems: Communication and Internet tools

Thanks to e-mail, messaging clients, cell phones, and countless other communication tools, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch. And the six applications I list below make communicating with other people even easier, without costing you an arm and a leg.

In addition to communication tools, this installment of our multi-part look at the best low-cost software for the Mac profiles Internet and networking applications on the next page. If you missed any of the three previous installments, we’ve already covered enhancers and troubleshooters, multimedia apps, and time savers and shortcuts.

The version numbers listed below are current as this article was posted. But software is updated frequently, so new versions could become available by the time you read this; check the developers’ Web sites through the links provided to make sure that your Mac meets the system requirements for the programs.

Remote-control utility: Salling Clicker 3.0.1

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Want to control your Mac from across the room? You could buy a dedicated remote, but if you’ve got a compatible Bluetooth-capable mobile phone or handheld PDA, or a compatible Wi-Fi-equipped handheld, Salling Clicker 3.0.1 (   ) lets you use that device as a remote. The software currently supports more than 100 phones and handhelds. With it, you can control Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple Keynote presentations; Apple’s iTunes, DVD Player, and iPhoto; and many third-party applications. Via your Mac, you can also control third-party hardware such as Elgato’s EyeTV and Slim Devices’ Squeezebox. You can even direct the mouse cursor in the Finder. Salling Clicker also provides extensive AppleScript support, as well as a proximity sensor for automating actions when you venture within a certain distance of your Mac. ($25; Salling Software )

Address Book shortcut: BuddyPop 2.5.1

Pop-up contacts BuddyPop gives you quick access to your Address Book info.

BuddyPop 2.5.1 (   ) lets you quickly access to your Address Book contacts without having to leave another application to get to them. Simply press a keyboard shortcut, and up pops a translucent window; type in a few letters of an Address Book contact’s name, and press return to get a floating window that lists the contact’s details. You can click on an e-mail address to open a new message to that person, click on a URL to open it in your browser, or control-click on an address to copy it to the Clipboard. If you’ve got a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone, BuddyPop lets you call any contact by double-clicking on a contact’s phone number, and it displays a handy Caller ID pop-up window for incoming calls. (€10; Tynsoe )

iChat recorder: Conference Recorder 2.0.1

Although iChat archives your text chats, it doesn’t record your audio chats and videoconferences. If you need this functionality, check out Conference Recorder 2.0.1 (   ), which lets you easily record your video and audio with one mouse click. Recordings are automatically saved as QuickTime movie files—what you see in the movie is exactly what you saw during the conference. You can select the quality of audio and video in your recordings and whether to record just the audio portion of a video chat. You can even record yourself via iChat’s video preview window—great for practicing a presentation or creating a video podcast. ($15; Ecamm Network )

Video-chat enhancer: ShowMacster 1.8.1

Multimedia chats With ShowMacster, you can display video and images and play audio, in an iChat videoconference.

Have you ever been in a video chat and wanted to share an image, a movie, or an audio file? You could drag a media file into iChat to send it to the other participants in your chat, but they would have to download the file and open it on their own Mac. ShowMacster 1.8.1 (   ) lets you display media files in iChat itself, turning videoconferences into full-blown multimedia presentations. To show an image or play an audio file, just drag the file into the drop zone of the chat window’s ShowMacster drawer; the media will immediately be shown—in place of your mug—in the other participants’ video windows. While presenting media via ShowMacster, you can still talk to other chat participants. When displaying images, you can use the built-in Sketchboard to draw on them. Best of all, because ShowMacster uses iChat itself to send images and video, people receiving your media don’t need to be using ShowMacster, just iChat 2 or later. (€15; Eberhard Rensch )

Other top communication tools

If you’re the type who keeps meticulous records of all your iChat sessions, you need Logorrhea 1.3.1 (   ; free; Spiny ). The application lets you browse your iChat logs by user name, date, and time, as well as search for chat sessions by words and phrases. MailTags 1.2.2 (   ; payment requested; Indev ) delivers organizational moxie to your Mail messages by letting you assign keywords to e-mail, or organize messages by project, for easier search and retrieval; you can also use MailTags to add notes to messages, set and view a message’s priority, and set due dates for responding to messages.

From generating HTML color codes to managing your bookmarks, these 11 low-cost apps will handle all your Web browsing and networking needs.

File-sharing customizer: SharePoints 3.5.4

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OS X’s Personal File Sharing and Windows File Sharing features are handy, but the ability to configure them is limited to a single Start/Stop button. SharePoints 3.5.4 (   ) gives you access to all the nuts and bolts. You can set the sharing status of, and toggle guest access to, individual folders and volumes (officially called shares or share points ). You can also create and manage OS X groups, set share permissions, change user passwords, and customize the File Sharing servers themselves. For Personal File Sharing, you can toggle logging and Bonjour, and customize greetings and admin access. For Windows File Sharing, you can edit your Mac’s workgroup and NetBios names, as well as the IP address or domain name of your WINS server; choose specific files to conceal from Windows users; specify the security method; and even force Home directories to show up in Windows share browsers. (payment requested; HornWare )

Internet search tool: iSeek 1.1.1

Searching shortcut iSeek lets you search scores of Web sites right from your menu bar.

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Most browsers have their own Search field, but if you do a lot of Web searching, you need iSeek 1.1.1 (   ). It lets you start Web searches from within any application, without taking your fingers off the keyboard. Just press a user-defined keyboard combination, and iSeek’s search field appears in the menu bar, ready for your input. You can quickly choose from a bevy of possible search sites, including CNN.com, eBay, Google, NationalGeographic.com, Rotten Tomatoes, VersionTracker.com, and even the iTunes Music Store. Press return to see your search results appear in your Web browser. You can assign particular sites their own keyboard command if you search them frequently. iSeek also automatically finishes previously searched text strings—helpful when you’re searching for the same thing on multiple sites. ($15; Ambrosia Software )

Bookmark organizer: Bookit 3.7.1

Many people use multiple Web browsers, either to test Web sites they’ve created or because some sites just work better in some browsers. In either case, keeping bookmarks organized between browsers can be a major hassle. Bookit 3.7.1 (   ) offers a solution to this problem. Import bookmarks from the most popular Mac browsers, arrange them, and edit them—Bookit then synchronizes your browsers by writing identical bookmark files for each. And if you’ve got multiple Macs, you can synchronize bookmarks across computers via Personal File Sharing or .Mac. ($12; Everyday Software )

File-sharing tool: DropCopy 1.2

Although connecting two local Macs for the purposes of sharing files is relatively easy, you still have to set up Personal File Sharing and then manually connect from one Mac to the other, providing your name and password when prompted. That’s a big hassle if all you want to do is move a Microsoft Word document or a few photos from one Mac to another. DropCopy 1.2 (   ) simplifies the process by letting you quickly send files directly to particular users on other computers via a simple drop zone on your desktop. Drag a file (or files) to the drop zone, and you’ll see a list of all computers on your network that are running DropCopy; drag the file onto a user’s name to immediately copy that file to their computer. In addition to its file-copying savvy, DropCopy also allows you to send text messages to other computers and to copy the contents of the Clipboard on another DropCopy-using computer. (free for up to three computers; for larger networks, $25; 10base-t Interactive )

Bookmark sorter: Bookdog 3.6

All modern Web browsers let you organize your myriad bookmarks, yet few offer one of the most no-brainer features: the ability to sort those bookmarks. Bookdog 3.6 (   ) provides this functionality for Safari, Camino, and Firefox; you can even decide how to sort—by page name, URL, or domain—and whether or not to ignore popular site prefixes (such as “Welcome to”). If you’ve already organized your bookmarks into folders, Bookdog will sort them within those folders; you can also choose to sort only particular folders. What’s more, you get the ability to manage duplicate bookmarks, find bookmarks that no longer work, and find links that result in multiple redirections. ($15; Sheep Systems )

Color tag generator: ColorTagGen 1.0

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Web designers and anyone who’s ever muddled around with Web sites are familiar with the hexadecimal (hex) color codes used in HTML and CSS—#FF2F2A for a particular shade of red, for instance. There are a number of ways to get the hex value for a given color, but if you don’t keep a graphics app such as Adobe Photoshop running all the time, firing it up just to get the hex value for a color is overkill. Enter ColorTagGen 1.0 (   ). This open-source app does one thing: it displays the RGB and hex-encoded color values for any selected color. Simply choose a color in OS X’s Color Picker, and ColorTagGen gives you the color’s hex or RGB code in one of several formats. Click on the Copy HTML button, and the code is copied to the Clipboard for easy pasting into your favorite HTML-authoring app. (free; R.A.D. Productions )—ROB GRIFFITHS

Other top Internet and networking tools

ICeCoffEE 1.4.2 (   ; free; Nicholas Riley ) lets you Command-click on a URL in most OS X applications and automatically have that URL open in your preferred Web browser. Little Snitch 1.2.3 (   ; $25; Objective Development ) monitors outgoing traffic—alerting you to software trying to “phone home” and guarding against malicious software that’s attempting to connect to other systems.

NetNewsWire Lite 2.1 (   ; free; NewsGator ) may be a scaled-down version of the $30 NetNewsWire, but this RSS reader doesn’t skimp on features, such as a nifty three-paned interface and the ability to share RSS subscriptions between Macs. PDF Browser Plugin 2.2.3 (   ; free for home, education, or noncommercial use; Schubert-it ) expands on Safari’s PDF-viewing capabilities with features such as multiple layout options, split view, and support for annotations, forms, and links. WinShortcutter 2.1 (   ; free; Lobotomo Software ) gives Mac users easy access to Windows shortcuts (the Windows version of OS X aliases)—ideal for anyone who works in a cross-platform environment.

[ Senior Editor Dan Frakes is Macworld ’s Mac Gems columnist as well as the senior reviews editor for Playlist. Senior Editor Rob Griffiths contributed the ColorTagGen review. ]

Disclaimer: Mac Publishing, publisher of Macworld, has an agreement with NetNewsWire Lite publisher NewsGator that will include providing services on Macworld.com and selling a news reader application based on NetNewsWire. As always, Macworld strives to keep its editorial and business operations separate; NetNewsWire Lite’s inclusion in this feature was not influenced by the business relationship between the two companies.

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