Use a stand-alone URL downloader
Have you ever wished for a quick way to download something without waiting for your Web browser to launch first? For instance, perhaps you, like me, receive a lot of e-mail messages that include URLs for downloading software. In Mac OS X 10.4.7 or later, there’s a built-in way to skip the launch time and keep track of everything you’ve downloaded; it’s a stand-alone application that does nothing more than accept dragged URLs and download files to your desktop.
In the Finder, navigate to /System/Library/ CoreServices, and then scroll down until you see the program named VerifiedDownloadAgent. Now drag that application to another spot on your hard drive—the Applications folder, or anywhere else you’d like to store a copy. Your user account doesn’t have the necessary rights to modify the System folder, so the Finder will automatically create a copy of the application when you drag it. The original will remain safely in its current location.
When Apple updates this application (currently at version 1), you’ll have to copy it again to get the newest version. To avoid that hassle, you can make an alias instead (Command-option-drag the original file to a new location to create an alias).
Now go to the spot where you saved your copy and rename VerifiedDownloadAgent something more friendly—I called mine Downloader. If you want to get fancy, you could paste in a custom icon in place of the generic one the application uses. I used the Downloads Folder icon from the Iconfactory’s free
Amora icon collection. Once you’re done, drag the application to the Dock or to the Finder’s sidebar or toolbar so it’s easily accessible. Launch it and leave it running all the time; then drag and drop any download URLs you receive into its window or onto its Dock icon for quick downloading without launching your Web browser.
Delete stubborn files
We’ve all encountered a stubborn file that just won’t delete. Yes, there are third-party programs you can use, such as Marco Balestra’s handy and free
Super Empty Trash. Or you could dive into Terminal and use the
command to try to remove the file. Of course, if you mess up with that, you might erase your hard drive (see
). Here’s one more thing you can try: It may seem time-consuming, but this method is very safe (much safer than the Unix Terminal solution) and will work on files that seem immune to all other attempts.
Start by creating a new user in the Accounts preference pane. It doesn’t really matter what name or access level you give the new account; it’s going to have a very short life. Once the account is created, move the troublesome file from the Trash into the /Users/Shared folder.
Now go to the Apple menu and choose Log Out user name and then log in as the new user. Open the /Users/Shared folder, and move the troublesome file into the new user’s Trash. (You might have to type your administrator name and password.)
Now log out of the new account and then log in to your main account. Return to the Accounts preference pane, select the account you just created, and click on the minus sign (-), or just press the delete key. A dialog box will appear, asking you if you’re sure you want to do this. Of the three options—Cancel, OK, and Delete Immediately—select Delete Immediately.
The troublesome file (along with the new user account and the disk space it used) will disappear. (If you had pressed OK instead, the files from the deleted user account would continue to reside on your drive.)
iTunes Store time-savers
The iTunes Store is basically a customized Web browser within the iTunes program. When you click on an object in the store, you’re clicking on a hyperlink on a Web page. But the store has some restrictions that make it not quite as nice to use as a regular browser. For instance, you can’t use tabs to open multiple iTunes Store pages at once. Nor can you create bookmarks to content that you’d like to revisit regularly.
Despite these limitations, there are some browser-like things you can do to save time while shopping. You can, for instance, drag and drop a link from the iTunes window into another application’s window—iChat, for example—to quickly create a link to that object in the store. You can even do the drag-and-drop trick with the navigational tabs at the top of the iTunes window (see “Tear-Away Tabs”).
And here’s one more trick—you can quickly jump back (or forward) through the highlights of your browsing history by clicking on and holding either the left or right arrow buttons at the top of the iTunes Store window. When you do, a pop-up window appears, from which you can quickly jump to any of the major pages between the store’s home page and the currently viewed page.
This feature makes it easy to jump around within the store without having to move back or forward a screen at a time.
Tear-Away Tabs: If you want to e-mail someone a link to a specific location from the iTunes Store, just drag and drop the link into a new message. You can even drag the store’s navigation tabs. Click and drag one to an application such as Mail or TextEdit (in Rich Text mode), and it will turn into a clickable link.
Peek into Zip archives
What do downloads from MacUpdate.com and VersionTracker.com have in common with collections of files you get from far-flung coworkers? They all are probably compressed with the Zip compression algorithm. You may want to look into these archives before you expand them, on the off chance, for example, that a coworker accidentally sent you 1,500 files instead of 150. You can do this by using third-party tools, such as Allume System’s $80
StuffIt Deluxe 11 or Dragan Milic’s $18
Springy. But you can also do it yourself for free.
Start by launching Automator (/Applications). You’re going to create a fairly simple four-step Automator workflow that will list the contents of Zip archives without expanding them (see “X-ray Vision”). Click on Finder in the Library column. Then click on Get Selected Finder Items in the Action column and drag it to the workflow space. Next, click on Automator in the Library column. Then click on Run Shell Script in the Action column and drag it to the workflow below Get Selected Finder Items. Set the action’s Shell pop-up menu to /bin/bash. Set the Pass Input pop-up menu to As Arguments. Erase any text in the action’s work area, and then type this command (or copy and paste it from
unzip -l "$@" > ~/Desktop/zip_peek.txt
You can replace the path and file name, but don’t change any code to the left of those. Here’s what the code does: The
command examines the contents of the selected Finder item and the
the archive’s contents without extracting them. The
is a variable that represents the name of the selected Finder item, surrounded by quotes (in case the file name includes spaces). The
routes the output of the previous command to the specified file. You’ve provided the path to the file where the command will put the information (the
is a shortcut for your user folder
Next, click on Finder in Automator’s Library column. Select the Get Specified Finder Items in the Action column and drag it below the Run Shell Script action. Switch to Terminal (/Applications/Utilities) and type
. This will create an empty file in the proper location. Quit Terminal and switch back to Automator. Click on the plus sign (+) in the Get Specified Finder Items window and navigate to the file you just created. Click on OK.
Click on Finder in the Library column. Select Open Finder Items in the Action column and drag it to the end of the workflow. Leave the Open With pop-up menu set to Default Application.
Select File: Save As Plug-in. In the dialog box that appears, enter a name for your workflow. Make sure that the Plug-in For pop-up menu is set to Finder, and then click on Save. Now control-click on any Zip archive in the Finder and choose Automator: Show Zip Contents from the contextual menu. This workflow can be used on only one file at a time—it won’t work if you have two or more Zip archives selected. Feel free to delete the zip_peek.txt file. The workflow will create it when necessary.
[ Senior Editor Rob Griffiths runs
X-ray Vision: Using an Automator script, you can peek inside Zip archives without actually expanding them.