Leopard's Gems replacements, Part 2

As I explained on Tuesday, 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.

Now that Leopard is out, I checked the Mac Gems Catalog for products have seen some or all of their features appear in the latest version of Mac OS X. I covered 19 previous Gems in Part 1; here in Part 2, I tackle 18 more. 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. Along the way, you may discover features of Leopard you haven’t yet heard about.

(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.)

NetworkLocation (partial): One of the many “location manager” utilities for Mac OS X, NetworkLocation lets you create groups of settings to be applied, as well as actions that should occur, whenever you change network Locations. Although Leopard doesn’t offer nearly this much functionality, it does include one oft-requested feature: automatic printer selection based on the current network Location. So, for example, if you use one kind of printer at home and another in the office, Leopard will automatically set the appropriate default printer based on the network to which you’re connected.

Overflow (partial): You can think of Overflow as a kind of “Stacks Pro.” It works much like the Dock in that you can drag applications, folders, and documents into the Overflow window and then access those items with a single click (or, in the case of applications or folders, by dragging files onto the item’s icon). But, like a Leopard stack, Overflow’s floating window is hidden until you click on the Overflow icon in the Dock (or press an assigned keyboard shortcut). When you drag an item onto the Overflow icon, Overflow’s window pops up, letting you then drag the item onto any application—or, even better, into any folder—you’ve added to Overflow. And you can right-click on any folder in Overflow to navigate its contents via hierarchical menus, just like you used to be able to do with folders in the Dock.

PDF Browser Plugin (partial): Although Safari has let you view PDF files right in the browser window for a while now, PDF Browser Plugin added multiple layout options; split view; and support for annotation, forms, tables of contents, and links. Alas, it was never updated for Intel-based Macs. Safari itself now includes layout and zoom options (accessible by Control/right-clicking anywhere on a PDF in a Safari window), as well as—according to Apple’s 300+ New Features page, at least—a new sidebar for navigating the pages in a PDF. Unfortunately, we haven’t figured out how to access this sidebar.

QuickImage CM , and PicturePop Pro (partial): These handy utilities, available via the Finder’s contextual menus, let you quickly view—and even edit—images without having to launch a separate application. Thanks to Leopard’s Quick Look feature, you now get most of the image-viewing functionality right in the Finder, although you can’t edit images without using a program such as Preview or iPhoto.

Refresh Finder and WindowsUpdater (full): Among the improvements to the Finder in Leopard—at least in my experience so far—is that the Finder is able to keep the contents of its windows updated and properly sorted; if you create a new folder or document in a folder, it appears in its proper place in the file listing within a reasonable amount of time (half a second or so). This appears to be the case even with networked volumes. And so we can all take a bit of pleasure in seeing these formerly-useful utilities—which let you force-refresh Finder-window listings—fall by the wayside.

Safari Extender , SafariStand , Saft (partial): These utilities all extend Safari’s feature set—in so many ways that I can’t get into them here. (Read the reviews at the links provided for all the juicy details.) Although many of the features of these add-ons are still missing from Safari, the latest version of Apple’s browser has added some of the major highlights, including movable tabs, tab management, the ability to recover closed windows and tabs, and improved Search.

Share My Desktop and VNC Thing : These two utilities let you set up a VNC server and client for viewing and controlling your Mac’s screen from another Mac (or even from another computer on a different platform). Tiger added a built-in VNC option—ostensibly for Apple Remote Desktop, but usable with any VNC client—but Leopard lets you easily set up VNC access using the new Screen Sharing feature, and easily access another Mac via VNC directly from the Finder.

SharePoints (partial): Before Leopard, SharePoints was the killer add-on for file sharing. It let you set up additional shares—folders you want other people to be able to access over a network—for both Personal File Sharing and Windows File Sharing, and let you specify who could access those shares. You could also use SharePoints to set up sharing-only users. Leopard finally gives us these capabilities without third-party software. SharePoints still has a few tricks up its sleeve for administering file sharing and configuring advanced options, but for people who just want their family members or coworkers to be able to access files outside of Public folders, Leopard’s built-in functionality will more than suffice.

Shimo (partial): Back in Tiger, OS X’s built-in virtual-private-network (VPN) client, which offers a convenient menu-bar menu for connecting to and disconnecting from VPNs, didn’t work reliably with Cisco networks. As a result, you had to use Cisco’s OS X VPN client, which works well but is flat-out ugly and has to be running whenever you’re connected. Shimo provides an OS-X-like menu-bar interface to the Cisco client and was a welcome enhancement to many OS X users. Leopard’s built-in VPN feature appears to work much better with Cisco networks, so you may not even need the Cisco client anymore. Still, I miss many of Shimo’s useful additional features, such as Growl alerts and auto-reconnect.

ShowMacster (full): ShowMacster’s claim to fame was that it added to iChat the capability to show a photo, document, video, or your own screen to people on the other end of a video chat. Leopard’s iChat not only includes this functionality, but does so, in my testing, with better quality. One advantage ShowMacster still has is its drawer for frequently-used files; you can even assign keyboard shortcuts for showing particular files. It also lets you make basic shape annotations on documents you’re showing.

Skim (partial): Skim is a Preview-like PDF-viewing program that includes a number of advanced features. Many of its annotation-related features are now available in Leopard’s Preview. On the other hand, Skim still has a number of unique capabilities. For example, its Notes Pane lets you view a list of every annotation you’ve made in the current document; a reading bar makes it easier to track your place; a snapshot feature lets you keep a particular section of a document static as you browse other sections; and I like the ability to zoom in on just a section of a document. I also like Skim’s color-coded table of contents, which indicates not only which pages of the current document you’ve read recently, but how recently (up to the five most-recently-read pages); this feature makes it easy to quickly jump back and forth between recently-viewed pages.

Trans Lucy (partial): This third-party video player gives you lots of options for playing DVDs or QuickTime movies, but it’s two standout features are the ability to float the video window above all other programs and to adjust the translucency of the window so you can also see what’s behind it. Leopard’s DVD Player is much (much!) improved over its predecessors and even bests TransLucy in many ways. It gains the ability to float the video window over others, although it doesn’t offer translucency.

WiFind (partial): WiFind replaces OS X’s AirPort menu-bar menu with one that displays the number of in-range wireless networks in the menu bar and shows in its menu which networks are open and which require a password. It also shows the signal strength of each wireless network and, by holding your mouse cursor over a network name, displays detailed information about the network. Leopard’s AirPort menu now shows the security status of each network, although it doesn’t include any of WiFind’s other features.

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