Welcome to GemFest 2014

Dan Frakes Senior Editor, Macworld Follow me on Google+

Dan writes about OS X, iOS, utilities, cool apps, and troubleshooting. He also covers hardware; mobile, audio, and AV gear; input devices; and accessories. He's been writing about tech since 1994, and he's also published software, worked in IT, and worked as a policy analyst.
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The Mac platform boasts an abundance of free, low-cost, and great-value software. (That’s partly because of the convenience and popularity of the Mac App Store, though the concept of excellent, inexpensive Mac apps has been around for decades.) In fact, one of the biggest challenges these days, at least when it comes to software, is that the Mac has a veritable overabundance of apps. How do you know which are the good ones—and which ones are truly great?

That’s where we come in. Here at Macworld, we call apps that give you great functionality for the price Mac Gems, and we review one or two of these products each week in our Mac Gems column. Veteran readers know that Gems reviews are special to us, because they epitomize why we do what we do: to help you make the most of your Mac without breaking the bank.

But at our usual rate of Gems reviews, we can’t keep up with everything that’s out there. So each summer, our editors, along with a number of regular Macworld contributors, collaborate on an annual Gems-review marathon, which we call GemFest (a.k.a., the Summer of Gems).

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Intermission 1.1 review: Pause and rewind your Mac's audio, TiVo-style

Dan Frakes Senior Editor, Macworld Follow me on Google+

Dan writes about OS X, iOS, utilities, cool apps, and troubleshooting. He also covers hardware; mobile, audio, and AV gear; input devices; and accessories. He's been writing about tech since 1994, and he's also published software, worked in IT, and worked as a policy analyst.
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gemfest logo 2014

Editor’s note: The following review is part of Macworld’s GemFest 2014. Every day (except weekends) from July until September, the Macworld staff will use the Mac Gems blog to briefly cover a standout free, low-cost, or great-value program. You can view a list of this year’s apps, updated daily, on our handy GemFest chart, and you can visit the Mac Gems homepage for past Mac Gems reviews.

Over the past decade or so, TiVo and similar DVRs have changed the way we watch TV—so much so that many of us take for granted that we can pause live TV, rewind to watch something again, and jump forward to skip commercials. These features have become such an ingrained part of my media-consuming experience that I often miss them when listening to music on my Mac.

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iReal Pro for Mac review: A harmonious practice tool for musicians

Christopher Breen Senior Editor, Macworld Follow me on Google+

Chris has covered technology and media since the latter days of the Reagan Administration. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, he's a professional musician in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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At the risk of giving away the secrets of musicians everywhere, there are bound volumes of (sometimes legal) musical scores called “fake books.” Rather than denoting every note and rest within a composition, they instead offer a "lead sheet" made up of a single melody line and chord headings. It’s then the musician’s job to devise an arrangement (read: fake their way through) based on this bare outline. The most well known of these fake books is the Real Book, which is full of jazz standards.

I mention all this to give you some idea where iReal Pro (Mac App Store link) gets its name. (iReal Pro is available in versions for iOS, Android, and the Mac; I discuss the Mac version, which costs $20, here.)

iReal Pro is more than a collection of musical scores (known as “charts” to us hep-cats). It’s additionally an auto-accompaniment application rudimentarily similar to PG Music’s $129 Band-in-a-Box. The idea is that you select a chart and press Play, and iReal Pro plays a three-instrument backing track—drums, bass, and piano (or guitar), for example. Your job is to play or sing along with this virtual band.

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iResizer review: Get your images to fit, without cropping

Serenity Caldwell Associate Editor, Macworld

Serenity has been writing and talking and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, writes, acts, sings, and wears an assortment of hats.
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When it comes to Instagram, I usually prefer to post images that I took on my phone. But some people like to use the image-sharing service as a highlight reel for their DSLR images—which is great, but chances are those photos weren’t shot with a square aspect ratio.

You could crop your images, of course, but the $20 iResizer (Mac App Store link; currently on sale for $2) offers a different option: The app’s content-aware resizing tools fit all of your image—no cropping involved—into a square frame, maintaining the original aspect ratio of the important parts.

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You mark the parts of an image you want to keep at the original aspect ratio, then let iRisizer make the overall image square.
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Ulysses III review: Document writing and management in one

Kirk McElhearn Senior Contributor, Macworld

Senior contributor Kirk McElhearn (@mcelhearn) writes The Ask the iTunes Guy column and writes about Macs, music and more on his blog Kirkville. He's also the author of Take Control of iTunes 11: The FAQ.
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I didn’t use to be a fan of Markdown, a plain-text syntax that’s designed to be easy to write and read while letting you easily publish to HTML. I write to HTML for several blogs and websites, but I’ve been fluent enough in that language over the years to be comfortable typing the code directly. (I also use a number of TextExpander shortcuts to handle some of that code for me, so I don’t need to remember the details of certain tags.) In addition, Markdown handles only a subset of HTML tags for styling text, and I often need other, more-complex tags. But if you’ve read my reviews of Mac writing apps here at Macworld, you may have noticed that I’ve slowly been coming around to Markdown—for much of what I write, it does what I need with little complication.

These days, many Mac writing apps support Markdown, though they handle Markdown code in different ways, and they offer different approaches to HTML previews—from showing a preview in a separate window, to showing text and previews side by side in the same window.

The Soulmen’s $45 Ulysses III (Mac App Store link) takes a different tack, showing styling right inline with your text: When you apply styling to a bit of text—such as the italics on the word “with” just above—Ulysses shows the text in the style you’ve applied, with the style-syntax characters displayed in a lighter or darker color (depending on which theme you use).

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System Lens review: View app CPU usage with a click

Roman Loyola Senior Editor, Macworld Follow me on Google+

Roman has covered technology since the early 1990s. His career started at MacUser, and he's worked for MacAddict, Mac|Life, TechTV, PC/Computing, and Windows NT Systems.
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Whenever the fans in my MacBook Pro suddenly rev up, I use the built-in Activity Monitor app (Applications > Utilities) to see what’s going on. But I’ve often wished for a quicker and easier way to check my Mac’s activity than having to open Activity Monitor.

The free System Lens (Mac App Store link) offers a compromise: It resides in the menu bar, and when you click its icon, you see a snapshot of which apps are actively using your computer’s resources.

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System Lens provides one-click access to a list of apps using processor resources.
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LaunchBar 6 review: Do-everything utility gets (and looks) even better

Shawn Blanc , Macworld

Shawn Blanc lives in Kansas City with his wife Anna, their sons Noah and Giovanni, and two green couches. He is a creative-director-turned-full-time-writer who works from home publishing several tech- and design-centric websites.
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LaunchBar, the keyboard-based app that offers a faster way to open the applications and files you use most, started 20 years ago as a folder full of shell scripts that could be triggered by a specific abbreviation typed into a Terminal shell. It was clever, but clunky. It didn’t take long, however, for the developers behind LaunchBar, Objective Development, to realize that their folder full of scripts would be much more powerful as an actual launching application—as a bar that helps you launch things—with an index of everything on the computer, thus allowing the app itself to figure out what it is you’re searching for.

That’s how LaunchBar was born, and it was immediately useful. Today, however, LaunchBar, recently updated to version 6, is the single most important utility I have installed on my Mac.

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LaunchBar’s bar
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