Mac Gems of the Year: 2013

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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As the end of the calendar year nears, Macworld editors have been busy picking our favorite products of 2013. A couple weeks ago, we presented our Macworld Editors’ Choice awards to the best overall Mac- and Apple-focused products. But here in the Mac Gems department, we also like to separately recognize the best inexpensive Mac apps we’ve reviewed over the past year.

As the editor who coordinates the Mac Gems section, and who spends lots of time searching for great, inexpensive Mac software, I see a lot of Mac apps each year. While our Eddy-award winners are anointed after a weeks-long process of deliberation involved the entire Macworld editorial staff, the Gems of the year are my personal picks. These aren’t necessarily the highest-rated Gems of the past year—they’re the apps we’ve covered in Mac Gems that either did something especially innovative; offered exceptional value; or simply earned a place in my (or another editor’s) daily workflows. Here are 13 apps you should take a look at to see if they’ll fit in—and improve—your routines.

(You can also check out my 2012 picks, 2011 picks, 2010 picks, and 2009 picks.)

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Dragshare for Dropbox review: Menu-bar item makes sharing links less painful

Jon Seff , Macworld

One of the best things about Dropbox is how super easy the service makes it to share files with others—even if they don’t use Dropbox. Rick Waalders’ $2 Dragshare for Dropbox (Mac App Store link) makes the process even easier. Depending on how you work and how often you share files, Dragshare may be worth the small price tag.

Install Dragshare and it adds a systemwide menu-bar icon that looks like a drop of water. Link the software with your Dropbox account, and you then can share files by simply dragging them—either a single file or group of files—to that icon. When you do, Dragshare copies the data to its folder inside your Dropbox folder (Dropbox/Apps/Dragshare)—if you dragged multiple files, Dragshare first creates a zip archive—and then presents you with a popover sheet with three options.

dragshare sharing new
Drop a file on Drageshare and this sheet instantly lets you share it.
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Focus 2 review: Specialized photo app makes lens and focus effects easy

Jackie Dove Senior Editor, Macworld

Jackie is always looking for creative mischief to get into. So it's fitting that she oversees photography, video, publishing, music, and Web design.
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Developer MacPhun focuses on photo-editing apps, including previous Mac Gems Snapheal and FX Photo Studio, as well as the recently released Intensify. The company has just expanded its image-enhancing portfolio by acquiring the app Focus and updating it to Focus 2, an image-editing program with a specialized and dedicated workflow.

Like MacPhun’s other apps, Focus 2 is part of the company’s strategy of providing refined tools that accomplish discrete goals, rather than building vast functionality into a single, enormous, complex package. Specifically, Focus 2 covers specialty edits such as selective focus, lens blurring, and tilt-shift effects, including depth of field and vignetting. (Focus 2 is an upgrade to the original Focus app from the developer Coppertino. If you own the original version of Focus, Focus 2 is a paid upgrade.)

screen shot 2013 12 12 at 9.47.29 am
Using various adjustable presets, you can apply intriguing tilt-shift effects, vignettes, and color enhancements to your photos.
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Hosts review: Simple System Preferences pane makes network tweaks easy

Dan Moren Senior Editor, Macworld Follow me on Google+

Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. Since then he's covered most of the company's major product releases and reviewed every major revision of iOS. In his "copious" free time, he's usually grinding away on a novel or two.
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I recently had a problem with one of my mail accounts (and before you ask, no, it wasn’t Gmail under Mavericks). The issue was that the account, which is provided by Dreamhost, is located on a mail server named one thing (mail.doombot.com), but is secured with a certificate for a different mail server (mail.dreamhost.com). The result was that every time I opened Mail, I got an error saying that the two certificates didn’t match.

The easiest way to fix this type of issue is to edit a file on your drive called hosts, but it’s located in the hidden /private/etc folder. That’s where Lars van de Kerkhof’s free Hosts System Preferences pane comes in.

If you’re not familiar with the hosts file, it’s essentially a local override for the DNS (Domain Name Server) system. DNS is what takes nice, pretty website addresses (a.k.a., hostnames, such as macworld.com) and translates them into their hard-to-remember, IP-address equivalents (say, 70.42.185.230). The hosts file lets you override the DNS system for particular addresses or ranges of addresses. You just enter, in the text file, the necessary IP addresses and their corresponding hostnames.

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Liquid review: Utility simplifies many text-related tasks

Dan Miller Editor, Macworld

Dan is Editor of Macworld.
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Think about how much time you spend dealing with chunks of text, big and small: the search queries you type into Google, the words and phrases you look up on Wikipedia, the chunks of words you copy from one app and paste into another. I deal with such text-based tasks of one sort or another all day every day, which is why I find Liquid (Mac App Store link) so handy. This utility makes many of those tasks a whole lot easier.

Launch Liquid, and it sits quietly in the menubar until you need it. Select a bit of text—in an app, on a website, wherever—and hit Liquid’s keyboard shortcut (Command-Shift-2 by default, but you can change that if you prefer via the Services list in System Preferences’ Keyboard pane.), and up pops a neat, compact window containing your selected text plus six menu options: Search, Reference, Convert, Translate, Copy, and Share, each with a letter next to it (S, R, C, T, 2, and E, respectively). Those letters are reminders of the keyboard shortcut for each menu—so, for example, you can press S to open the Search menu.

Liquid presents its options.

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Muse review: Mac app makes Pandora even easier

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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Do you love Pandora? No, not just enjoy it, but really love it? If so, $5 and a Mac buys you Industrious One’s Muse, a desktop Pandora player that gives you all the Pandora goodness you’d find in a web browser, and a worthwhile bit more.

When you first launch Muse, you see a window that appears to be nothing more than a container for Pandora’s website. And that’s exactly what it is—complete with your stations, the New Station field for adding more stations, playback controls, thumbs up and down buttons, and any other elements Pandora has chosen to put on the page (including its ads).

So where’s the advantage? Muse provides additional—and welcome—control over Pandora in a couple of forms. To begin with, you no longer need to keep your web browser running (or even keep its resources busy) to listen to Pandora. And, unlike with a browser, you can close Muse’s window and the music continues to play.

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Coffitivity review: Simple utility brings the feel of a coffee shop to your home office

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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As someone who mainly works at home, I’m well aware of just how silent a lonely home office can be—and how quickly it can grate on your nerves and distract you with its lack of sound. Some people rely on podcasts to offer background noise, but the constant chatter can be distracting when I’m attempting to write up the latest tech gadget. Music is often lovely, but there are days when even that won’t do. Enter the odd—yet useful—free app Coffitivity (Mac App Store link), which livens up your silent home office with the soothing sounds of a busy coffee shop.

Given that I often wish my local coffee shop was quieter, I didn’t expect to like this little app, but it’s quickly grown on me. In part that’s due to the app’s three alliteratively wonderful soundscapes, accessed using Coffitivity’s systemwide menu: Morning Murmur, Lunchtime Lounge, and University Undertones. The mixes are a nice blend of shop background noises—cash registers, coffee brewing, plates clinking, and the like—along with little snippets of conversation.

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