Leopard's Gems replacements, Part 1

One of the great things about writing Mac Gems is finding useful software that enhances Mac OS X. However, sometimes the features of a Gem are so useful—or so obviously missing—that Apple eventually adds similar functionality to the OS and its bundled applications. This is especially the case when a major new version of Mac OS X is released; in one fell swoop, many Gems are rendered obsolete—or at least a little less necessary.

With the release of Leopard, I went through the Mac Gems Catalog to see which products have seen some—or all—of their features make their way into the latest version of the OS. Here’s Part 1 of my rundown (check back later this week for Part 2 ). Next to each item’s name, I note whether the product’s features are fully replaced (or at least close enough) by Leopard’s built-in functionality, or only partially so.

(Note that I’m talking about a program’s functionality here, not its compatibility; many of these products haven’t yet been updated to work with Leopard.)

Butler , LaunchBar , and Quicksilver (partial): No, Spotlight won’t replace the extensive functionality of any of these excellent utilities. But if you use such an add-on mainly to quickly launch programs, two significant Spotlight improvements in Leopard— much better performance and automatic selection of the best application match—may convince you to give up your launcher. I’m a devout LaunchBar user, but on a test Mac in my office that doesn’t yet have LaunchBar installed, Spotlight has worked surprisingly well as an application launcher.

CalculateSizeCM (partial): This handy contextual-menu plugin lets you view not just the total size of a folder’s contents, but also the total number of files and folders inside (including the number of invisible files and folders) and the exact breakdown of data-fork and resource-fork sizes. In Leopard, the Finder finally displays the total number of items in a folder—although not the breakdown of files and folders.

ChangeShortName (undetermined): A new Advanced Options screen in Leopard’s Accounts preferences lets you change the short username of your account; however, it’s unclear exactly what making a change here actually does, so I don’t recommend using it yet. (ChangeShortName, which I have a hand in, isn’t yet compatible with Leopard, by the way.)

ChatFX (full): This add-on for iChat lets you apply special effects to your own image; place a background behind you; share your screen; and show a slideshow of your photos during a video chat. Leopard’s iChat includes all of these features, although ChatFX still has a few additional effects.

Chax (partial): The most significant Chax-provided feature that’s now built into iChat is tabbed chat windows. There are a couple other minor ones, but for the most part, Chax’s plethora of useful tweaks remain available only through this add-on. I’ve been using Chax for so long that until I started using Leopard’s iChat (i.e., iChat without Chax), I’d forgotten how many of the features I take for granted are actually provided by Chax.

Combine PDFs and PDFLab 2.0.3r2 (full): The Leopard version of Preview now lets you combine and rearrange PDF documents. ’Nuff said.

Conference Recorder (full): Although you don’t get quite as many recording options as Conference Recorder provides, Leopard’s iChat now lets you record audio and video chats and save them to your hard drive as QuickTime movies.

DropCopy (partial): Leopard’s file-sharing features are dramatically improved over those of Tiger. However, DropCopy is still much more convenient for quickly transferring a small number of files between Macs. The biggest advantage to DropCopy is that you don’t need to connect to a remote volume first; you just drag a file onto a floating disc that shows you all other DropCopy users on your network, and then choose the name of the user to whom you want to send the file. DropCopy also lets you grab the contents of the Clipboard of another Mac, a feature I use regularly in my office.

EasyFind , MoRU , and NotLight (partial): These three search programs offer better functionality and, in many cases, better performance than Tiger’s Spotlight. Thankfully, Leopard’s version of Spotlight is so improved that many users will be more than happy relying entirely on Spotlight. However, these utilities still offer easier access to some advanced-searching options.

ForgetMeNot and Taboo (full): Safari 3, officially part of Leopard but also available in beta form to Tiger users, finally warns you if you try to close a window with multiple tabs open, or if you try to quit Safari with multiple windows or multiple tabs open. The latest version of Safari even lets you restore recent windows and tabs via History: Reopen All Windows From Last Session—even if Safari crashed—and lets you reopen any window you accidentally closed via History: Reopen Last Closed Window. ForgetMeNot and Taboo are no longer necessary.

Google Maps Plugin (full): It used to be that control/right-clicking on an address in Address Book contact, and then choosing Map Of, would open your Web browser to a map of the address on MapQuest.com. Because of the popularity of Google Maps, Brian Toth came up with this useful plugin for Address Book that instead took you to Google Maps. In Leopard, Apple has updated Address Book to use Google Maps by default. (Will someone now release a MapQuest Plugin?)

HistoryHound (partial): HistoryHound indexes the contents of Web pages you’ve visited and then lets you search those contents—useful if, for example, you remember some text or a topic on a page but can’t remember where you saw it. In Leopard, Spotlight itself indexes the contents of Web pages you visit, and you can then search for such content via Spotlight; Spotlight’s results listing now includes a Webpages category that includes all matches found on previously-visited Web pages. (For example, earlier today I wanted to view info about Apple’s recent Login & Keychain Update 1.0 for Leopard. I remembered that the page mentioned Mac OS X 10.1, so I used Spotlight to search for “OS X 10.1"; sure enough, Spotlight found the page and let me open the URL in my browser.) Two advantage HistoryHound maintains are that it can also index the contents of sites you’ve bookmarked but not recently visited, and it works with browsers other than Safari.

iConiCal : For years, one of the most-requested iCal features has been for iCal’s Dock icon to display the current date all the time—even when iCal isn’t running. iConiCal provided a kludgy-but-effective solution, but it’s no longer necessary in Leopard: iCal finally does this on its own.

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