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Utility software

Best of Gems: Work, study, and play

All this week, we’ve been sharing our favorite low-cost software of all time—listing 78 programs that handle everything from enhancing OS X to helping you easily share files among Macs. Let’s wrap things up with 10 final favorites that will enable you to work more productively, study more effectively…and blow off some steam with a nice game of solitaire.

Version numbers are current for these apps—with one exception that I note below. These programs should all run on the latest version of OS X, but, as always, check the developers’ Web site links to make sure your Mac meets the system requirements.

Screen-capture tool: Snapz Pro X 2.0.2

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If you’re serious about taking screenshots, Snapz Pro X 2.0.2 (   ) is the tool to use. You can easily capture an entire screen, objects (singly or in groups), or a selected area, and then save the resulting picture in most common image formats (TIFF, JPEG, and PDF, to name a few). You can also include borders, drop shadows, and watermarks, create thumbnail icons, and choose color depth and compression levels. A Live Preview mode lets you see exactly how your screenshot will look, including all the options you’ve applied, before you actually take it. If you need animation, Snapz Pro X’s movie version can record full-motion video and audio. When you’re done recording, you choose the video-compression format from your QuickTime-compatible codecs, along with the frame rate, color depth, and data rate (useful for creating smaller videos for the Web or for e-mail messages); you can also pick audio-compression settings. (screenshot-only version, $29; movie version, $69; Ambrosia Software )

Mac database: Mactracker 4.0.5

IT informant With Mactracker, you’ve got quick access to specs on nearly every product Apple has ever made.

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If you need to find the specs of a particular Mac model—to buy it, upgrade it, service it, or sell it—don’t waste your time searching Apple’s Knowledge Base or wading through the results of a Google search. Instead, download Mactracker 4.0.5 (   ), a browsable and searchable database of information on nearly every Apple product ever made, from 128Ks to Intels, eMates to Xserves, QuickTakes to keyboards, LCs to LCDs. Each entry in Mactracker is chock full of more information than you’ll ever need to know about that product, down to the most minute detail: processor, bus speed, drives, memory, graphics card, size, weight, supported OS versions, and latest firmware update. You also get an image of the product, a brief description from The Apple Museum or apple-history.com, and—for computers—an audio demo of the model’s startup chime. You can even create Smart Category views; for example, “AirPort Card includes g” to list all Macs that support the 802.11g standard. (free; Ian Page )

Collaboration tool: SubEthaEdit 2.5

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Having several people working on a document at the same time is usually a recipe for disaster. SubEthaEdit 2.5 (   ) makes such collaborative efforts feasible—even enjoyable—by allowing an unlimited number of participants to join a plain-text editing session over the Internet or on a local network via Apple’s Bonjour. Each participant can edit the document simultaneously; each person’s contributions are tracked in a different color, and each participant can see what others are doing. Integration with Apple’s iChat and Mail apps means that you can chat or e-mail with participants on the side, and a split-screen mode lets you view two sections of your document at once. New automation features let you make quick work of manipulating text. ($35; TheCodingMonkeys )

Typing utility: TextExpander 1.3.1

If you find yourself frequently typing the same text, TextExpander 1.3.1 (   ; formerly Textpander) can save you hours of work—and your fingers hours of typing—each month. It lets you assign abbreviations to snippets of text; the abbreviations are automatically expanded to the full text snippets when you type them. For example, when I type homeadd, TextExpander types my full home address. TextExpander can also insert images or a mix of text and images, and you can create new snippets from selected text. TextExpander works systemwide, so your snippets are available in any OS X application that lets you type text. ($30; SmileOnMyMac )

Text-processing utility: TextSoap 5

Copy cleanup You can tidy up your text with a click of a button, using TextSoap (shown here in an earlier version).

Text isn’t always tidy, especially when you get it from e-mail, the Web, or a PDF—often littered with odd characters, hard returns, quotation marks, and who knows what else. My favorite way to clean up this text is the aptly named TextSoap 5 (   ). Simply paste your text into the TextSoap window and then select your favorite cleaner (a set of rules that tells TextSoap exactly what to do with the text); your text is quickly tidied, ready to be pasted wherever you like. The available cleaners range from the simple (removing forwarding characters [>] and manipulating case and formatting) to the comprehensive (multiple operations in one click). But you can also create your own custom cleaners that include actions such as find and replace. Services support makes TextSoap's cleaners available in most OS X apps. In the Deluxe version, plug-ins for programs such as BBEdit provide a palette of cleaners for quick access and a contextual-menu plug-in make your cleaners available in most other applications. You can even access cleaners via Automator (Standard and Deluxe versions) and AppleScript (Deluxe). (Standard, $29; Deluxe, $39; unmarked software )

Other top tools for work, school, and play

Business Card Composer 3.2 (   ; $35; BeLight Software ) takes much of the guesswork out of creating your own business cards, with 100 templates, customizable layout and design features, and tools that help you print cards that look professional. The software was recently updated to version 4, which boasts 100 new card designs ; I plan to revisit this software in the Mac Gems weblog soon.

Physics 101 SE 5.1.1 (   ; $10; Praeter Software ) remains a must-have teaching and learning tool for physics—the number of formulas has swelled to more than 125, and it also includes special modes for simulating projectiles, building virtual circuits, and more. Students will also benefit from i Flash 2.7.2 (   ; $12; Loopware ). Like most flash-card software, it lets you create, arrange, and view study aids that you create. But advanced features, such as special testing modes and categories for better organization, make this flash-card program stand out from the crowd. PCalc went four years between updates, but version 3.0.3 of this calculator app (   ; $19; James Thomson ) was worth the wait, thanks to a number of useful additions you won’t find in other calculators.

How to take the edge off after a productive day at work or school with these other Mac Gems? Try Solitaire Till Dawn X 1.5 (   ; $25; Semicolon Software ); since our last review, the number of included games has jumped from 85 to 100.

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

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