Many Gems are Gems because they provide desirable functionality that isn’t included in Mac OS X. Sometimes a Gem merely unlocks—or makes more accessible—features already found in Mac OS X; other times, it adds those features itself. Whatever the case, many Gems take the form of system enhancements. And so with every major release of Mac OS X, when Apple touts scores and scores of new features, it’s interesting to note which of those new features obviate the need for third-party add-ons (or at least some of those add-ons’ features). Below are some of the software products previously covered in Mac Gems that overlap with new features of Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger.”
Xounds ( , May 2003, $10). Xounds aims to, in the words of the developer, “bring back Appearance Sounds to Mac OS X.” Apple added a few interface sounds—for example, the “click” made when a file is moved to the Trash—in Panther, but in Tiger, a number of additional such sounds have been added. You don’t get the full spectrum of audio-laden actions found in Mac OS 9 or, with Xounds, in Mac OS X, but Tiger’s sound effects may be enough for many users.
iChatStatus ( , May 2003, donations accepted). One of my favorite utilities, iChatStatus lets you customize your iChat status message using one of a plethora of AppleScripts and shell scripts. But if you’ve been using iChatStatus mainly to display the current iTunes track as your status message—the case for many users, if my Buddy List is at all representative—Tiger’s iChat provides this functionality out of the box: From the status pop-up menu, choose “Current iTunes Track."
NetNewsWire Lite ( , May 2003, donations accepted; standard version $40). I and many other Macworld staffers have long been fans of NetNewsWire, both the Lite and standard editions. It’s my favorite RSS reader and it’s one of the few applications I use all the time—if my Mac is running, so is NetNewsWire. But for those whose RSS-reading needs don’t require a dedicated client, Safari’s new RSS functionality (which I covered last week) may suffice.
QuickImage CM ( , October 2003, donations accepted). QuickImage CM has long been one of my favorite ways to quickly view images in the Finder without having to launch an application—you simply Control/right-click on an image (or images) and then choose View Image from the resulting contextual menu. Even better, you can edit and convert images right from the menu or viewer window. Tiger doesn’t provide these editing and conversion features, but thanks to its new slideshow functionality, you can view images right in the Finder: Just Control/right-click on an image or group of selected images and choose Slideshow from the contextual menu; the image(s) will be shown in a full-screen slideshow, complete with onscreen navigation controls. You can even view an “index sheet” of the selected images.
BuddyPop ( , October 2003 7 Euros). BuddyPop is still the quickest method I’ve found to display contact information stored in Address Book—press a keyboard shortcut, type in a few letter’s of the person’s name (or other information in their contact record), and then press return to display the complete record. But Tiger’s Spotlight can at least approximate this functionality: press the Spotlight keyboard shortcut, type in a person’s name, and then choose their Address Book entry from Spotlight’s results menu to open Address Book to that contact. I personally prefer BuddyPop’s onscreen display over launching Address Book, and BuddyPop offers a number of additional features—such as Bluetooth phone integration and Caller ID—but for many people, Spotlight will do the job just fine.
PDF U ( , October 2003, free). Starting in Mac OS X 10.2.4, Apple added support for what’s called PDF Workflow : By creating a folder called PDF Services inside one of the Library folders, any application, folder, script, or alias placed in that PDF Services folder appears in a new PDF Workflow menu in Print dialogs. By choosing an item from that menu—instead of printing—a PDF of the document is created and then “sent to” the chosen item for processing (opening, saving, converting, or whatever a particular item would do). The problem in pre-Tiger versions of Mac OS X is that this folder wasn’t created by default, so most users weren’t even aware the feature existed. PDF U was a handy utility that created the appropriate folder and populated it with some useful AppleScripts. In Tiger, however, not only is the folder a standard part of the Library directory, but Apple has already included some useful PDF Workflow actions. Even better, you can edit the menu directly from the Print dialog.
PDF Browser Plugin ( , December 2003, free for home or educational use, $69 for commercial site license). Until recently, Shubert|it’s PDF Browser Plugin was the only way to view online PDF files in Safari. (Adobe’s Acrobat and Acrobat Reader 7 recently provided a similar plug-in.) Now that Tiger’s Safari can display PDF files natively, there’s less of a need for such plug-ins. However, I still much prefer PDF Browser Plugin as it offers a number of features not found in Safari, such as access to a PDF’s table of contents, better zoom functionality, and the ability to rotate PDFs.
MailEnhancer ( , June 2004, free). MailEnhancer adds a number of “missing” features to Mail, including the ability to change Mail’s Dock icon so that it shows the number of unread messages in all folders (not just your inbox); show and hide Mail’s Activity Viewer window when you check for mail; and display a status message ( No New Mail or You Have # New Messages ) after checking for new mail. None of these features made it into Mail 2.0. However, MailEnhancer’s most popular feature—the ability to automatically append a different signature to messages depending on the account from which they’re sent—did. Mail’s preferences window under Tiger allows you to assign a different signature to each account. [Note: The MailEnhancer Web site appears to be down.]
WinSwitch ( , September 2004, donations accepted). Panther’s Fast User Switching feature is great, but the Fast User Switching menu takes the full (“long”) username of the current user—so if your name happens to be Arnold Schwarzenegger, the menu all but monopolizes your menu bar. WinSwitch gives you the option to instead display the menu as either a generic “user” icon or the current user’s account icon. Apple must have been paying attention, because under Tiger, you can choose to display the Fast User Switching as either your long username, short username, or—the most inconspicuous option—a generic user icon. You don’t get WinSwitch’s more advanced options, such as the ability to display the root user or to auto-open/launch items when switching between users, but if you’re just trying to conserve menu bar space, Tiger will do the trick.
Konfabulator ( , November 2004, $25). Enough has been said—50 times over—about Dashboard vs. Konfabulator. Suffice it to say that you probably won’t need Konfabulator once enough third-party “Widget”-makers have created wares that match popular Konfabulator modules.
uControl ( , April 2004, free) and DoubleCommand ( , January 2005, free). I’ve touted both of these utilities as ways to let you use a Windows keyboard with a Mac—the alt (option) and Windows (command) keys are swapped on a Windows keyboard compared to their location on a Mac keyboard, and both uControl and DoubleCommand let you swap them “back.” Tiger’s Keyboard & Mouse preference pane now lets you do this without having to install additional software—you can swap the functionality of the Command, Option, Control, and Caps Lock keys via the Modifier Keys dialog.
iCalPublish ( , April 2005, $15). I covered iCalPublish earlier this year as a way to combine and publish multiple iCal calendars. (iCal under Panther and earlier lets you publish only individual calendars.) Thankfully, iCal 2, included in Tiger, lets you create calendar Groups—sets of multiple iCal calendars—which can be published just like a standard calendar. iCalPublish still has a few advantages, such as allowing you to create multiple combinations of calendars, and the ability to publish a combined calendar locally and then import it (which is a useful way to turn multiple calendars into a single local calendar), but at least some users will find iCal 2’s Group feature to be good enough.
So there you have it—depending on your needs, upgrading to Tiger may mean you no longer have to install as much third-party software to get the features you want. And assuming—for the sake of discussion—that you wanted the features provided by the above utilities, but would be satisfied with Tiger’s implementation of them, you’d save nearly $60 (plus whatever donations you would make to developers who accept donations in lieu of “purchases,”) by buying Tiger. At least that’s the argument you can make to person in control of your software budget.
Note: The flip side to Tiger providing some of the functionality found in the above products is that some of them haven’t yet been updated for compatibility with Tiger—in other words, if you want to use one of these products to gain features not provided by Tiger, be sure to check the developer’s Web site to make sure it’s compatible.