Even though Mac OS X is a multimedia powerhouse, we've all encountered movies that just won't play correctly -- or at all. The next time QuickTime balks at playing a movie, don't fret. Instead, try the free MPlayer OS X 2.0b6 ( mplayerosx.sourceforge.net ), the OS X distribution of The Movie Player for Linux.;
Using MPlayer OS X, you can play almost any video or audio file -- the list of supported formats includes various MPEG audio and video, DivX, AVI, ASF, Ogg Vorbis, RealMedia, QuickTime, AC3, WMA, WMV, and 3ivx. And unlike QuickTime Player, MPlayer lets you use the keyboard's left- and right-arrow keys to scan backward and forward, respectively.
MPlayer OS X's playlist feature allows you to play movies one after another or in loop mode. It also lets you change the order of video clips by simply dragging them up or down in the list.
Although most people will likely prefer the polished interface of OS X's QuickTime Player, MPlayer OS X is a good tool for the files QuickTime just can't seem to figure out.
iRecordIt, You Play It
Speaking of movies, wouldn't it be nice if you could use Apple's iSight as a DV camera? With Boinx Software's $15 iRecordNow 1.0.1 ( www.irecordnow.com ), you can.;
The main iRecordNow window shows the current view from your iSight. Click on the Record button (or press 1-R) to start recording, and do the same to stop recording.
You can access picture-quality settings for hue, saturation, and brightness, as well as a few audio-recording settings. You can also choose and customize video size and compression, as well as format -- for instance, uncompressed video or DV format for direct editing in Apple's iMovie or Final Cut Express.
The feature set is fairly basic, but the simplicity means that iRecordNow is easy to use and convenient for recording short video clips.
A Scroll in the Park
Many third-party mice have scroll wheels that facilitate scrolling through documents, but I've long wished that my keyboard had scroll-up and scroll-down keys right next to the page-up and page-down keys. If you've ever had the same wish, Marc Moini's $15 Smart Scroll X 1.1b1 ( www.marcmoini.com/sx_en.html ) may be just what you're looking for. With it, you use various combinations of the shift, control, option, and 1 keys to easily scroll up, down, left, and right without ever moving your hands off the keyboard.;
Smart Scroll X's preference pane lets you choose the key combination for each direction, as well as for a Next feature that lets you change which pane you're scrolling -- for example, if you want to switch between the mail list and message text in Mail. If you forget the key combinations you've chosen, Smart Scroll X can show you an on-screen guide to your keys.
The only downside to Smart Scroll X is that some applications -- such as Microsoft Word -- have built-in keyboard commands that overlap possible scrolling commands. To use Smart Scroll X with one of these applications, you'll need to choose different settings or change the application's own commands. But if you can get over that minor hurdle, Smart Scroll X is often faster (and easier on your hands) than using the scroll bar.
Pop Goes the Finder
I'm a sucker for contextual menus, especially those that make it easier to access files, folders, and programs.
So I've become a big fan of Balance Software's $15 Ittec 2.1 ( www.balance-software.com/ittec/ ), inspired by the popular utility FinderPop OS 9.;
With Ittec installed, control-clicking (or right-clicking if you have a multibutton mouse) on a folder in the Finder brings up a contextual menu listing that folder's contents (including other folders, which appear as hierarchical menus). Ittec can even show the contents of StuffIt archives and OS X packages. If you control-click on a window -- including the desktop -- the contents of that window appear in the menu.
You can configure the Ittec contextual menus in many different ways. You can add mounted volumes, open windows, the Classic desktop, your Home folder, and any items in the Ittec Items folder (in your personal Library folder). You can also include hidden and invisible files -- items you can't normally see in the Finder -- in Ittec listings. You can even include running applications, making contextual menus useful as a quick way to switch to an application. Ittec even lets you configure particular keys to perform actions on selected files -- show, open, print, copy, or delete -- directly from the menu.
For people who don't like having to control- or right-click to see contextual menus, Ittec provides the ability to access contextual menus by holding down the mouse button (great for people who use single-button mice and trackpads). Ittec also lets you choose a different font and font size for contextual menus -- I much prefer smaller type so longer contextual menus don't scroll off the screen.
Unfortunately, I don't have enough space to cover all of Ittec's myriad features here. But if Ittec's functionality is up your alley, you'll be hooked in no time.
OS X can burn CDs and DVDs without additional software, but it does so in a fairly limited manner.
If you don't need all the features of the $100 Toast 6 Titanium ( ; December 2003), check out Radical Breeze's $19 DiscBlaze 2.1.1 ( ; www.radicalbreeze.com/blaze/index.html ). It expands on OS X's abilities and provides all the functionality many users will ever need.
Just insert a blank disc (choose Ignore if OS X asks you what to do with it), and then drag files or folders into the DiscBlaze window to add them to the disc. DiscBlaze lets you select from four disc formats -- Mac, PC, Mac And PC Hybrid, and ISO 9660 -- from a pop-up menu. If you select the Hybrid format and then select an item in the window and click on the File Info button, you can choose whether to make the item visible on a Mac, a PC, or both. In other words, you can create CDs that show up one way on one platform, and another way on the other.
When it comes to burning, you can allow multiple sessions on the same disc and choose whether to verify the disc afterward. DiscBlaze can also erase rewritable (RW) discs, and even burn Toast disc images.
If you don't need Toast's bells and whistles -- and if OS X supports your drive -- give DiscBlaze a try.
We've already covered the free and useful QuickImageCM contextual-menu plug-in ( ; October 2003), which allows you to view and edit image files quickly in the Finder. QuickImage's developer, Pixture Studio, has released a similar free plug-in for movie files, QuickPlayCM 1.0 ( ; www.pixture.com ). It lets you view any QuickTime-supported movie file in the Finder by control- or right-clicking on the file and selecting QuickPlay from the contextual menu. You don't get any editing features like those QuickImageCM offers, but you do get the quick-view ability.
One thing I love about my Palm is its ability to download Web content from AvantGo. Unfortunately, AvantGo still doesn't have an OS X conduit, so Mac users are out of luck (AvantGo blames Apple and Palm, but every other major conduit maker has had OS X support for a long time). I used to start up Classic to download content to my Palm -- but now two different workarounds have finally banished Classic from my daily routine.
The first is the free AvantGo USB sync 1.2.1 ( homepage.mac.com/s_d/malsyncx/malsyncx_en.html ), which combines Tom Whittaker's malsync and Florent Pillet's USB-TCP Bridge. It retrieves data from the Internet and sends it to your Palm over USB. Launching AvantGo USB sync interrupts the Palm's normal synchronization, so a click of the HotSync button allows your Palm to find and download AvantGo material -- albeit slowly. A sync of three large channels on my Palm m505 took 20 to 25 minutes (several times longer than using the actual conduit in OS 9 or Classic).;
Mark/Space's $20 The Missing Sync for Internet Sharing and AvantGo 1.0.1 ( www.markspace.com ) requires that you select Internet Sharing in the Sharing preference pane; this basically turns your Palm into another computer on the network. The main problem with this is that it turns your Mac into a DHCP server. If you're on an office network that uses DHCP to supply Internet addresses, this can cause major headaches for other users and your IT department. However, The Missing Sync is much faster than AvantGo USB sync. And as the product name suggests, it also lets you send and receive e-mail, as well as download Web sites to view offline.;
These apps aren't perfect -- for example, neither can properly download premium (paid) content from Salon.com's AvantGo channel -- but since they rid me of the need for Classic, they both deserve praise. -- Jonathan Seff
Go to www.macworld.com/macgems to see an index of all of our Mac Gems reviews.