Second-Class Software? Not Anymore

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If you didn’t notice, not only is this apparently G5 and iBook Speed Boost Week, but it’s Software Bargains Week. Yes, that’s a new holiday week here at Macworld , even though nobody actually gets time off for it.

For a long time, the perception around the Mac world was that Macworld never covered shareware or freeware. And when I started working in the Mac press, that was absolutely the case. Software not inserted in a plastic box and wrapped in cellophane was, to put it bluntly, not worth our time. “Why review something that people can download and try out for themselves?” one senior editor told me Back in the Day.

I disagreed with that statement then, and I disagree with it now. You don’t have time to download every new piece of software you hear about and try it out. But it’s our jobs to test this stuff out and point you to the very best of it. With the explosion of the Internet, the entire concept of shareware has transmogrified. Today it’s easy to distribute software online, and easy to pay for it electronically, too. And today, Macworld reviews as much of the stuff as we can — in regular reviews, in our Mac Gems column and weblog, and in annual blow-outs like the one we’re featuring on this week.

The most interesting part of the Mac world right now is the software being generated by hundreds of brilliant, independent programmers who have embraced Mac OS X. Most of these programs don’t appear in any stores, or in any advertisements. But they’re often excellent, professional-quality programs — the only difference being that they’re from a single developer or very tiny team of developers, rather than from a big corporation with a massive budget.

You can find a huge number of these great Mac programs in today’s Get Organized collection, and yesterday’s Be Creative collection. But I thought I’d join in the fun and add a handful of the great low-cost Mac programs I use constantly on my Mac.

  • Default Folder X, St. Clair Software; $34.95. I’ve been using Default Folder for years, since back in the OS 8 days. I love it for so many reasons. Yes, it lets you force Open and Save dialog boxes to go to folders you use regularly, and it gives you quick access to various locations on your hard drive. These are features that are less important now that Panther is here, but I still appreciate the way Default Folder handles them. My favorite feature, though, is Default Folder’s integration with the Finder: while the Open/Save dialog box is open I can click on any Finder window (even ones I can’t see!) and the dialog box will automatically transfer to that folder. Love it.
  • Synergy, Wincent Colaiuta; €5. Synergy displays a cool floating window every time a new track begins playing in iTunes, complete with cover art, and provides me with global keyboard shortcuts to control iTunes — something I use constantly. If you’re into menu bar items, Synergy also provides one of those. Synergy's floating windows and keyboard controls are enough for me, though.
  • DragThing, TLA Systems; $29. Another app I’ve been using since I worked at a mac magazine whose name ended in User . Honestly, I don’t use DragThing as much as I used to (see my last item below), but it’s still a great palette utility that lets me have quick access to items like server aliases, complicated FTP URLs, and oh yeah, documents and apps on my hard drive. DragThing is one of the best Mac OS X apps I’ve ever seen.
  • LaunchBar, Objective Development; $39 (business), $20 (home). Yes, I’m in the cult. I don’t light the candles or wear the poncho, but I have joined the cult of the type-to-launch utilities. With LaunchBar, every single application, document, bookmark, and address book contact on my system is just a few keys away. I can’t use a Mac without LaunchBar anymore without getting hives; if I hit Command-space and nothing happens, I get worried. On my own Mac, if I type Command-space followed by
    -Return, Now Up-to-Date opens. Command-space-
    gets me Command-space-
    gets me Philip Michaels’ phone number. And so on. Once you’ve started using a utility like LaunchBar, you can’t stop. Try it out if you haven’t before.
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