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4.0 mice; Publicspace.net, www.publicspace.net; single license, $25; five licenses, $100
Ergonomics experts say that taking frequent breaks makes computer users less likely to injure themselves. To provide the necessary encouragement to take a breather from your beloved Mac, MacBreakZ 3.2 unobtrusively tracks your keyboard and mouse activity, reminds you to take breaks, and recommends constructive break-time activities. You can even set it to lock your mouse and keyboard during breaks if you're incorrigible.
MacBreakZ runs in OS 9 and OS X, and it alerts you when it's time for two kinds of breaks: microbreaks (0 to 60 seconds) and longer rest breaks (2 to 60 minutes). You control the interval between breaks and the length of breaks, and, appropriately, the program bases your options on the advice of ergonomics experts. During your time out, the program shows ergonomics tips and charming cartoon people who demonstrate recommended stretches.
MacBreakZ offers an impressive number of customization options. In addition to break frequency and duration, the Settings menu lets you control audio warnings of upcoming breaks, the number of ergonomics tips and stretches that display during a rest break, and even the gender of the cartoon characters. However, some of the controls, such as the timing sliders, could give clearer feedback. -- Terri Stone
File Buddy 7.1
4.5 mice; SkyTag Software, 919/933-9595, www.skytag.com; $50
File Buddy 7.1 is a unique utility that gives advanced users unprecedented control over files and folders in both OS 9 and OS X. By dragging and dropping a file, folder, or even an entire volume into File Buddy's List window, you gain instant access to every visible and invisible file for which you have privileges. You can then perform various actions on your files, including moving, deleting, creating aliases for, and batch-renaming them. This is a much more efficient way to work with your file system than using the Finder for these tasks.
File Buddy also includes an information window that outdoes the Finder's Show Info window by a long shot: it lets you change file and creator types, file privileges, and much more. (If that feature is all you need, Rainer Brockerhoff's XRay does an excellent job at a fraction of the price.) Another intelligent feature allows you to take snapshots of folders before and after changing their contents, so you can compare them -- particularly useful for tracking down files created during those often mysterious OS X installations.
File Buddy offers you the ability to create and apply custom icons, make droplet applications, and set keyboard shortcuts for quickly modifying files and folders. Top it off with an excellent search function that surpasses Sherlock, and you've got an all-around helpful utility that's easy to use. Some may balk at its $50 price, but for everything File Buddy does, it's a good value. -- Jonathan Seff
4.0 mice; Cycling '74, 415/974-1818, www.cycling74.com; $199
If you want one affordable package that contains a slew of audio plug-ins compatible with Steinberg's VST, Mark of the Unicorn's MAS, and Digidesign's RTAS effects formats, you need look no further than Cycling '74's Pluggo 3.0.3. At $199 for more than 80 audio plug-ins and 20 virtual instruments, Pluggo delivers tremendous bang for the buck.
Pluggo includes traditional (and well-implemented) reverb, delay, chorus, and distortion effects. It includes its fair share of exotic effects as well. The Space Echo effect, for example, can replicate a badly aligned EchoPlex (a vintage, tape-based delay effect), and the Granular-To-Go effect can produce sounds similar to a CD skipping or the kinds of blurps and beeps emitted by Star Wars' R2-D2 droid. The bizarre nature of some of these effects demonstrates how flexible they can be (and how far you can push them). Thankfully, it's not difficult to find a musical use for most of them.
The equally varied virtual instruments include drum machines; theremin; and additive, sampling, wave-table, and FM synthesizers. While you'll likely find a place for these instruments, they're a little thin sounding, so don't expect them to replace high-end VST instruments or a hardware synthesizer. -- Christopher Breen
3.0 mice; Vizspring Software, www.vizspring.com; $15
Vizspring Software's Typeset 1.1.1 is a shareware application that lets you view your active fonts in a WYSIWYG format. It won't activate them for you, but it works well with the more complex font-management applications that will, such as Extensis's Suitcase 10.1 (Reviews, April 2002) or DiamondSoft's FontReserve 3 (Reviews, May 2002). In both OS 9 and OS X, the interface is so clean and simple it borders on cute. A two-pane operational window lets you choose fonts on the left to preview them on the right.
With Typeset's main feature, Favorites (or font groups), you can see select sets of fonts rather than the whole mass of active fonts on your system. It would be great if the program let you add more than one font to a group at a time; creating a group larger than five typefaces becomes tedious because you must add them one by one.
But Typeset does factor one twist into the font-preview equation: It allows you to easily display formatting variations such as bold, italic, underline, and font and background color. (Be aware, however, that imposing variants onto a roman font is considered a real no-no by many pros.)
For home projects or office use, previewing fonts with Typeset can be very helpful; the program is an inexpensive and speedy utility that will readily find a home on almost anyone's Mac. -- Andrew Shalat
3.5 mice; Andromeda Software, 805/379-4109, www.andromeda.com; $98
Andromeda Software's ScatterLight Lenses filter for Adobe Photoshop provides a way to give your photos a dreamy, soft-focus look. The filter offers four main categories of lens effects, each loaded with multiple presets. The DreamOptic, SoftFocus, and SoftDiffuser lenses all distribute light to add a hazy glow to images. SoftFocus tends to be the most useful of the bunch; it produces the subtle softening often seen in professional portraits. The fourth category, StarLight, turns focused points of light into stars. Its presets offer several different star patterns, and it works best when used in combination with the selection tool.
The filter's interface -- which, regrettably, has a Windows look -- provides sliders for refining each of the effects. For even more control, you can switch from Novice to Expert mode and tinker with additional settings. In another nice touch, ScatterLight Lenses gives you two preview windows: a large one that displays a downsampled version of your entire image, and a smaller zoom window. However, the previews were not always reliable. On some occasions, they varied dramatically from the actual result.
The ScatterLight Lenses filter works with Photoshop 5 and later, but since it's not OS X compatible, Photoshop 7 users will have to work in OS 9 or Classic. -- Kelly Lunsford