It’s obvious that using a MacBook or a MacBook Pro isn’t like using an iMac or a Mac Pro. But the differences go beyond simple issues of portability. You interact with a laptop in different ways (relying more on the keyboard and using a trackpad, for example), and you may use a laptop for different tasks. So the software needs of laptop users are different from those of their desktop counterparts. Here are a few of my favorite pieces of low-cost software specifically designed for—or just especially handy for—use on a laptop.
Backup: ChronoSync 3.3.5
If you’ve got a laptop and a desktop Mac, making sure you have the latest versions of your files on each can be a challenge. Econ Technologies’
ChronoSync ( ; $30) lets you synchronize folders, or even your entire Home directory, before you leave home and whenever you return.
iTunes: TiVoDecode Manager 2.1
TiVoDecode Manager ( ; free) gets your TiVo-recorded shows onto your laptop or iPod for on-the-go viewing. Choose a networked TiVo to view all shows stored on that TiVo; TiVoDecode Manager will then copy the shows you choose to your Mac and convert them using your preferred settings—it can even automatically add the resulting videos to iTunes.
Miscellaneous: Keyboard Cleaner 1.0
Want to wipe off your laptop’s keyboard without shutting down? Jan Lehnardt’s
Keyboard Cleaner ( ; payment requested) temporarily disables the keys so you can wipe them off without causing unwanted input.
Networking: NetworkLocation 1.1
If you frequently change locations, you probably do more than just tweak your network settings. Centrix.ca’s
NetworkLocation ( ; $15) can automatically perform a bunch of different actions when you switch locations: launch or quit programs, run scripts, connect to servers, change the default printer, and more. You can choose your location via the menu bar or the attractive network-location display; the latter appears either when you press a keyboard shortcut or automatically when your computer wakes from sleep or connects to an AirPort network.
Networking: WiFind 1.2
WiFind ( ; $8) makes Apple’s AirPort menu more useful; it’ll tell you at a glance which nearby wireless networks require a password, and how good their signals are; you can get more information by holding the cursor over a network’s name.
Security: Knox 1.1.1
File encryption is especially useful on a laptop, given the risk of laptops falling into the wrong hands. If you think OS X’s FileVault is overkill, try Marko Karppinen & Co.’s
Knox ( ; $30). It lets you create encrypted disk images— as large or small as you need—for securely storing data. You can mount and eject these disk images from a convenient menu, and Knox can automatically back them up.
System Utility: AppleJack 1.4.3
With The Apotek’s
AppleJack ( ; payment requested) installed, you can start your laptop in single-user mode (hold down 1-S at startup) and do all kinds of useful troubleshooting—repairing your hard drive, testing RAM, repairing permissions, deleting cache files, and validating preferences files—even when you can’t properly boot into OS X.
System Utility: Mira 1.2.8r2
If your laptop came with an Apple Remote, Twisted Melon’s
Mira ( ; $16) makes that accessory more useful by allow-ing it to work with any application. Although Mira isn’t the most power-ful Apple Remote enhancer out there, it’s the easiest to use, thanks to an intuitive preference pane that lets you assign actions to each button in each program; there’s an impressive array of options, from keyboard shortcuts to system actions. Over 60 customizable software profiles are built in, and you can create your own for other programs. A handy on-screen menu lets you switch between applications.
System Utility: Mouseposé 2
If you run lots of presentations from your laptop, you can enhance those presentations with Boinx Software’s
Mouseposé ( ; $15). It lets you use your trackpad to move a spotlight around the screen.
System Utility: SlimBatteryMonitor 1.4
In addition to taking up less room in your menu bar than OS X’s battery indicator, Colin Henein’s
SlimBatteryMonitor ( ; payment requested) can show you more information, in more formats, depending on whether your laptop is running off the battery, plugged in and charging, or fully charged.
Smart Scroll X ( ; $19) lets you scroll from your keyboard—it effectively adds scroll-up and scroll-down keys. It also enhances the trackpad with a Super Wheel feature that lets you “fling” pages up or down; those pages seem to move on screen with their own momentum. You can also grab an on-screen page and scroll around by moving your finger on the trackpad.
System Utility: Unplugged 1.8
If you’ve ever found yourself with a dead laptop battery because (unbeknownst to you) your laptop’s power cable became disconnected, you will love Michele Balistreri’s
Unplugged ( ; payment requested). It pops up a you-can’t-miss-it message whenever your laptop switches between battery and power-adapter power.
[ Dan Frakes is a senior editor at Macworld.]
Mira: Make your Apple Remote good for more than watching movies on a plane—Mira is an easy-to-use Apple Remote enhancer.
NetworkLocation: For those of you who move around a lot, NetworkLocation can launch programs, run scripts, and more whenever you change locations.
When you’re on the road, wireless networking can be your lifeline. These three tools make finding and using public and private Wi-Fi networks easier and more productive.
Fon: Hotspot networks that enable free or inexpensive roaming aren’t new, but Fon is an interesting variation on the concept. As of this writing, the company says that there are 130,000 participating customers (called Foneros) worldwide, each of them running a La Fonera router. That $40 hardware creates two virtual Wi-Fi networks: a protected one for private use, and a public one that other registered Foneros can use. If you share your network for free, you’re a Linus (after the original developer of Linux, Linus Torvalds) and can use the connections of other Linuses for free. If you choose to be a Bill (after Bill Gates), Fon collects about $2 from visitors for a day’s access to your network, and splits the take with you. But check with your service provider before you join: most U.S. ISPs prohibit sharing a connection.
Loki: Skyhook Wireless has managed the neat trick of mapping Wi-Fi networks geographically. (It does so by constantly driving through cities in vehicles with high-power GPS receivers and taking snapshots of the public information broadcast by Wi-Fi networks; the data is available only for major cities in the United States, Canada, and Australia.) Loki is a Firefox plug-in that uses this data to make your browser location-aware. When you surf to a Loki-aware Web site, it tailors its information to your location; you could, for example, quickly find the prices at nearby gas stations without having to input your location manually (free).
Whisher: Sharing your wireless network with friends should be easy. But if you’re smart, you’ve protected that network with a long, hard-to-guess pass phrase—which also happens to be difficult to type in and easy to forget. Whisher aims to save you some frustration by letting you securely share your network password with a group of buddies. (It can also provide guest access for office networks that use WEP or WPA Personal.) Whisher Technologies’ Whisher includes chat and file-transfer tools like those found in iChat, but it’s designed to work well over a local network. Whisher’s software constantly updates an encrypted password cache for your networks, your buddies’ networks, and shared public networks (free).— Glenn Fleishman