One of the things I love about using Mac OS X is the amazingly wide variety of software. This relatively young operating system can run programs written for OS 9, OS 9 programs updated for OS X, OS X–only programs, Unix applications (either in Terminal or with a GUI on top), and Java applications. OS X’s depth is truly astounding.
I typically run 20 to 30 applications on my Mac. Sure, a number of them are the big-name applications you’d find on anyone’s machine (Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, Safari), but many are smaller, helper applications that make time spent with my computer more productive, more interesting, or just more fun.
Take Huevos (
), from Ranchero Software. This free search engine makes it very easy to search any of 15 preset Web sites directly from your desktop. When I’m online, Huevos is running. A configurable hot-key combination brings the program’s small but functional GUI to the foreground. I can type a phrase in the search box, use the up- and down-arrow keys to select a Web site, and then press enter to execute the search. Huevos sends the search term to the specified site and then opens your default browser to display the results.
You can even add your own search sites if you can figure out the search string’s basic format. Another nice touch is that you can assign keyboard shortcuts to search engines. If you often search Google Images, for instance, click on the Edit button (under Preferences) and assign it 1-I for easy access.
A keyboard-based desktop search tool can be a huge time-saver, and Huevos is my current favorite.
Is your family far-flung? Mine certainly is, spread from Canada to Arizona and from Oregon to Connecticut. But thanks to OS X, a fast Internet connection, a FireWire video camera, and Evological’s $20 EvoCam (
) Webcam software, I can make much of that distance vanish with a few mouse clicks.
EvoCam is a powerful but easy-to-use program that turns any QuickTime-compatible FireWire video camera into a Webcam. Connect the camera, power it up, and launch EvoCam. You’ll see the camera’s image in a small window; a series of tabs below the image control the Webcam options. The most powerful is the Server tab, which lets you activate a bundled Web server that streams your images to the Web in real time. With my 256K cable modem, my relatives see about a frame per second. But even if you’re on a dial-up account, you can have EvoCam upload images to a server at a specified time, save them into a folder, or even send them as e-mail attachments. And EvoCam has some basic motion-detection options you can use to create a simple security system.
You can also easily add text captions, clocks, graphic overlays, and (if you have another video-input source) even a picture-in-picture effect to your Webcam image. And you have access to the standard suite of QuickTime effects, so you can show an embossed or black-and-white version of yourself to the world.
If you’re really creative, you can combine EvoCam, your video camera, and a wireless PowerBook to create a roving wireless Webcam. And unlike iChat AV, EvoCam can stream images to multiple people.
Just the Facts
A great improvement to the Web over the last couple of years has been the emergence of local headline browsers that scan a large number of Web sites and present headlines in an easy-to-read manner. If you see a headline that catches your eye, just click on it, and your preferred browser will jump to the foreground and display the selected article. The free NewsMac (
), from ThinkMac Software, is just one of many such news browsers. It offers features that make it pleasant to use. The MacNews interface has three columns: Sections, Categories, and Channels, which holds the Web sites. This organization scheme keeps hundreds of Web sites in order. For instance, to see what’s happening in Mac software, select the Mac Web section to reveal its seven categories. Then select the Software category and take your pick of applications.
NewsMac also makes it easy to move channels between categories and sections, but it won’t let you create your own sections or categories. And the program includes a tool for sending headlines to your iPod or Palm — but since you can’t read the article without visiting the site, this feature may not be of much use to you. Still, using NewsMac to keep up with the fast-changing news of the world is much easier than visiting every Web site in your favorite browser.
One of the things I find somewhat annoying about Mac OS is its inability to interrupt a drag-and-drop operation. If the phone rings while you’re dragging a file from your desktop to a folder buried deep below the surface, you’re left with two unpleasant options — give up on your operation or ignore the phone. Interruptions aside, it’s often a pain to get to deeply nested folders without your finger slipping off the mouse button, dropping your file in the wrong location.
The solution to both these problems is the free XShelf (
), from Karl Hsu. XShelf is exactly what its name implies — a temporary shelf on which to store objects you’re in the process of filing away.
Using XShelf is about as straightforward as possible. After launching the program, begin dragging an object as you normally would. But instead of hunting for the destination while dragging, just drop the object into the XShelf drawer, which appears when the cursor enters its location. In the Finder, find and open the destination folder; then drag the object from XShelf to its new home. If you change your mind about moving the object, just drag it from the XShelf drawer to the Trash — your original file or folder stays safe and sound.
When you drag multiple objects onto XShelf, you’ll see the name of the topmost item and a small red numeral indicating the total number of items.
XShelf is very configurable. You can choose an on-screen location for the drawer or tell XShelf to behave as a vertical or horizontal window. XShelf will also automatically expand as necessary to hold items you drag in, and it even includes a command-line tool so you can add items to the drawer from Terminal.
A couple of OS 9 features that didn’t find their way to OS X are the venerable Notepad and Scrapbook. In OS 9, these apps let you jot a quick note or keep collections of text, images, and sounds. Some people might argue that Stickies and Text Edit replace this pair, but they’re just not the same. The $10 Alepin (
), from MacChampion, truly replaces them both.
Using Alepin, you can create an infinite number of files, which contain pages that hold text and images. You can also group pages into categories, giving Alepin sorting capabilities that Scrapbook and Notepad would envy. Alepin lets you mark up text with a highlighter, search for text strings, and browse through your notes, much as Scrapbook and Notepad do.