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10 little known Mac utilities

When I blog about applications that I've found I generally wrap up my posts with an open invitation to readers: Got any you like? Many folks have been generous and shared links and applications that I've used to expand my virtual toolbox and make my Mac experience more fun and productive.

This time I turned that process around a bit and used Twitter up front. I put out this question: Looking for cool little Mac utilities that nobody knows about... I promptly received replies from a number of people with some cool applications that I had never heard of or tried using. After culling through the list I've pulled out 10 that I felt looked pretty cool. I've included the Twitter name for the person that made the suggestion in case you want to start following them.

EasyEnvelopes

Need to quickly print out an envelope for someone in your address book? EasyEnvelopes from Ambrosia Software has a free Dashboard widget that does just that. When you want to print out an envelope you activate the Dashboard, start typing the name of someone in your address book, select them and then click on the stamp and you're printing your envelope. Simple, easy and free. Suggested by Jonathan Bernstein.


SoundSource

Do you have multiple input and output devices for sound? Need to quickly alternate between a plug-in microphone like the Blue Snowball (my favorite) and a MacBook's internal microphone? If that's a common task for you then Rogue Amoeba has a free menu utility called SoundSource that lets you switch inputs and control input volume without having to load System Preferences. Suggested by JT and Marieboyer.


Jumpcut

I'm a copy and paste fiend, grabbing text from various sources and blasting them into my documents and blog posts. Having a clipboard buffer means I can selectively go back through my "copies" and paste in what I want and that's just what Jumpcut does. Small, very efficient and available as open source (MIT license), this was also suggested by Marieboyer.


Pacifist

If you want to inspect the contents of Package files, disk images or ZIP files you have downloaded to see the contents then Pacifist is a slick way to quickly see what's going on under the hood. Pacifist can also inspect a damaged application—especially one installed by OS X—so that it can be repaired without reinstalling everything. It's available for $20 in shareware form from CharlesSoft. Suggested by Ast A. Moore.


TimeMachineEditor

I'm a huge fan of Time Machine, even though the dorky Time Machine Errors still haunt me. That said, sometimes you don't want Time Machine to wake up and back up your machine every single hour. Maybe you're doing some massive file moves and you want Time Machine to take the afternoons off. TimeMachineEditor, a free utility, is a simple application that merely updates configuration settings. Open it, set it, quit it. Suggested by Doug Smart.


OmniDiskSweeper

I like Disk Inventory X, an application I wrote about last year, and several people suggested that again. While I like that tool and the visual display is helpful, sometimes you just want to see a list of files and folders by how much space they take up. Enter OmniDiskSweeper, now a free utility from The Omni Group. It provides a drill down view that's similar to the Finder's column view. The key difference is that it's sorted by the size of the files and folders. Great for quickly finding and pruning out large files that you don't need any longer. Suggested by Marieboyer (yes, she had several excellent suggestions).


MacLoc

If you work in a corporate environment (or have kids that like to play with your keyboard at home) and want to quickly walk away from your Mac without logging out and shutting down your applications, MacLoc can help. It's a free utility that leverages the fast user switching feature of OS X so that you can secure your Mac by activating it and walking away. When you come back you will be presented with the system login screen. Once logged in everything will appear like it did when you left. Suggested by Nicholas Leask.


Caffeine

You fire up Hulu or YouTube and settle in to watching something interesting when after 10 minutes your machine's screen saver kicks in. Frustrating. What you need is something that will keep your Mac awake for a predetermined amount of time. Caffeine, a free utility from Lighthead Software, does exactly that. I'll admit, I had heard about Caffeine before but never bothered to check it out until now.

Add it to your menu bar and activate it when you need to keep your machine from falling asleep for 5m, 10m, 15m, 30m, 1H, 2H, 5H or until your turn it off. All the benefits of a strong cup of coffee without the shaking. Suggested by Paul Thompson.


Paparazzi!

If you have ever needed to capture a screen shot of a web page you know how difficult it can be if the page is taller than your screen. Paparazzi! is a handy little utility for grabbing the entire contents of a web page. Want to capture that forum thread or blog comments into a single image? Paparazzi! can take the shot for you. While it doesn't work with Flash based graphics it can handle most other types of page elements. Suggested by Alo Lopez.


TubeTV

Even though my iPhone supports YouTube, there are lots of times that a video I want to watch is on another service (blip.tv, among many others, is becoming popular). What I would like is the ability to download a really long keynote address from a conference, plant it on my iPhone and watch it while I'm flying or in poor 3G areas. TubeTV is a free application—donations requested—from Chimoosoft that can open a web page and convert Flash based video to a local copy, then further convert it into a rendering option that can be dropped on an iPhone. The conversion can be slow for long videos but if you want to take that video with you this is a nice option. Suggested by Rahil Dowlath.



There were lots of other suggestions, some that I've written about before like Disk Inventory X. Others—like SuperDuper—I've seen discussed quite a bit so I didn't include them in the list. There is also one that I didn't include that I downloaded and found quite amusing on my MacBook Pro: Oriol Ferrer's Liquid Mac. Thanks to Alo Lopez for making that suggestion!

Got an "unknown" application that didn't get included in my list above? An undiscovered gem waiting for people to find? Let us all know by dropping a note in the comments below.

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why MacLoc is clever, since you can just click "Show Status in Menu Bar" in the Preferences of "Keychain Access" application, and it puts a little padlock on your status bar that allows you to lock your screen. Which is what MacLoc basically does, right?

Keleko said...

That's a good selection you have here. Only a few of them look useful for my needs, but I can see the usefulness in all of them.

TimeMachineEditor and OmniDiskSweeper look like the most useful apps for me. SoundSource may have a minor use for the few times I plug in my wireless dongle to output sound to my main stereo from my laptop.

David Alison said...

@Anon: I didn't know about that option - thanks for pointing it out.

jehrler said...

For a copy/paste buffer it really is hard to beat PTHPasteboard.

The basic app is free, but the pro version adds the ability to filter the text (add capitalization, convert to all upper case, add/remove letters, etc.)

Welles said...

Hi David,

A companion to Sound Source by RogueAmoeba is LineIn which allows sound input such as mics to be played through the Mac.

http://mattmitchellfiction.com/unabashed/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/luna-moth.jpg

Matt said...

Not exactly a secret, but this is Jamie Zawinski's famous collection of about 200 screen savers-- ported to OS X.

Christopher Robin said...

One program I find I use a lot that came built into the Mac is Grab. It's just a very simple screen capture program with a the option of capturing a selection, a window, a screen or timed screen.

Another trick I had not heard about was the ability to move windows from one space to another. In the grid view of spaces you can click and drag any visible window from one space to another.

I use that trick with Grab to move images of grade columns from my space with excel to my web browser space to enter them on-line.

Thanks for the other tips.

daiyami said...

I love Formulate. Lets you type on PDF forms (and re-print them to PDF if you need to return by email. Not sure if it allows you to insert a graphic signature, but I don't usually need to). Has made my life massively easier.

Jacki Hollywood Brown said...

I love DoubleTake.
http://echoone.com/DoubleTake/

I've used it for scanning big pics and stitching them together as well as making panoramic shots at clients.

Anonymous said...

Another endorsement of Easy Envelopes. I have been using it for years and is so intuitive and time saving. It's seamless integration with Address Book is it's best feature. One I'd like to recommend is Name Mangler. I use it everyday. Simple, robust and easy to use. IT CAN CHANGE CASE remove_irratating_unix crap and change super long file names to something managable. Why don't people who put The Garmin Project on a folder insist on begining every file name with the same.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure it's considered "unknown" but Teleport http://www.abyssoft.com/software/teleport/ is a utility I haven't seen many people using.

I use it between my Macbook Pro and my fiancee's iMac to drag&drop documents between them, or to take control of her mouse to click thru application settings and the like.

Back where I used to work, software Q/A used teleport to control testing Macs alongside the Q/A's work Mac.

Amazing little utility.

jonahan said...

Also instead of MacLoc you can turn on fast user switching and just select Login Window.

Mikal said...

Another alternative to MacLoc is to set one of your screen corners to activate the screen saver (I use the lower left... a throwback to the old Mac OS days). Then you set your computer to lock ask for your password when leaving the screen saver. All done, no extra software running. It has worked for a very long time.

David Alison said...

@jonahan & Mikal: Your responses are the reasons the comments of this blog are just as important as the original post. Thanks!

John said...

I've always loved using OmniDiskSweeper, but I now use WhatSize with its nicer interface and more features, such as a drill-down pie chart view and the ability to add your own places. Though, it's not free.

Ast A. Moore said...

Aw, what a nice little list. Thanks!

sd said...

I love Capture widget and Youpi Optimizer

SimpleLife said...

DEVONthink Pro is a great Mac only appllication. But it's massive, not simply a utility.

DEVON also has two great & free utilities.

WordService 2.7 allows you to numerous ways to manipulate and reformat cut/copied text or just regular text in any application using the Services menu: Lowercase, uppercase, Remove line returns (good for copied PDF text), and much, much more.

WordService is good for DEVONthink PRO because that app is a sort of an copy/paste/thought aggregator.

Also free is Devon's EasyFind which supplements Finder's search/Spotlight weak areas.

http://www.devon-technologies.com/download/index.html

SimpleLife said...

A good free (donationware), lightweight image editor is LiveQuartz. Small enough to be called a utility.

Much faster than loading Photoshop, and cheaper than Pixelmator, yet more powerful than Preview.

It especially excels at adding text layers easily to any image.


Of course, DropBox is awesome, but Dave's covered that already.

Another nice graphic utility is img2icns at http://www.img2icnsapp.com/.

It allows you to easily make folder and file icons out of any graphic file. Makes customizing your files/folder awesome. Works great with CoverFlow.

For AppleScripters, Key Codes is a nice simple, free utility.

orthodox said...

The current MacUpdate featured app - DaisyDisk has the pie chart like WhatSize, but is really really slick. I bought it just because it is so much slicker than WhatSize, and more so than OmniDiskSweeper.

jameselee said...

Thanks for posting this list! I recommend you check out SizeUp, which makes managing multiple windows on the Mac a snap. It provides hotkeys for quickly setting windows to half screen (vertically or horizontally), quarter screen, maximized, centered, etc.

As a recent "switcher", I found it's free version, TwoUp, was a life-saver. I liked it enough to pay the $10 for SizeUp, which supports multiple monitors and window configurations.

Anonymous said...

Hi David! I'm Alex in Australia. Thanks for that list of goodies. There are a couple I had not come across before. However, I am looking for one that wasn't there and which I cannot find anywhere. What I am after is something that would allow me to save to disk from the Clipboard, e.g. a jpeg image. Any suggestions, anyone?

Nicholas said...

@Anon, and @David. I started using the Key Chain access method, but after activating it a number of times it stops working. That is why I moved to MacLoc.

RobInNZ said...

Regards the TimeMachine issues.
I had a similar sort of problem with TM, which typically seemed to be related to the missus shutting the Macbook Pro while a TM backup was running.

My TimeCapsule was also making weird squealing noises when getting a backup of more than ~2GB of changes for a single backup. At the point it squealed, it would usually sh*t itself (technical term TM). TM would then continue failing backups until the TimeCapsule was restarted, though the wireless carried on fine.

About that point, Apple released the firmware upgrades for the TC and also 10.5.(whatever is presently latest).

I had hoped the updates would fix the issues, but it appeared to not be the case. Finally I ended up with a non-fixable issue where the backups would just fail. Tried HFS checks and all sorts, no way to rescue the backup volume.

In exasperation, after a week or more trying to fix the volume, thinking I had a TC hard drive fault, I blitzed the TM volume (9 months worth of backups).

Created a completely new volume, and havent had a ANY TM backup failures since, or squeals from the TC (and now have more data on the TC than previously).

So, what Im wondering is if the latest OSX updates have changed something in the way it manipulates the TM volumes on TC, but it wasnt able to be applied retrospectively to older TM volumes.

Worth a try?

ankit said...

hey david.. instead of jumpcut, try clip master. it adds a clipboard buffer at the most convenient place.. the right click menu. so there's no hot key involved. i find it more streamlined.

David Alison said...

@RobInNZ: Ironically the TC I have my wife's MacBook connected to works great. I—like you—had to reformat it early on because of some issues but after that it's been fantastic.

The problem I have on my MacPro is TM writing to my internal drive. Every day or two I'll get a Time Machine Error. If I simply retry it then the backup always works. At one point I even tried reformatting that backup disk and starting over but I still have the same issue. I know this is an issue for Apple, I'm just surprised they haven't fixed it yet.

@Ankit: Thanks for the tip on Clip Master!

Mike said...

Worth noting that LaunchBar also has a clipboard buffer/history accessible via command-option-backslash. Quicksilver also had a clipboard history, but I haven't kept up on Q's development.

urbanomad said...

Hi David,
I cannot live without "The Unarchiver" http://wakaba.c3.cx/s/apps/unarchiver.html It hasn't been updated for a while but it works. It doesn't unrar password protected files though...

dcr said...

Several of these were helpful and I sent them along. Thanks.
D

Isaac said...

What's the point of MacLoc? Just use fast user switching... works exactly the same. Just select "Login Window"

g7whatever said...

DefaultfolderX is a great utility for saving and opening files from recently used directories. You can Also add favorites and more. I can not live without it.

Another app that I am enjoying a lot is typinator.

ThrashNeon said...

Not sure I understand a need for Easy Envelopes... in Address Book, choose "File > Print..."

Don't know what I'd do without FinderPop, though:
FinderPopI think I've been using it since Mac OS 8. :D

Neil Anderson said...

Thanks to Matt for the link to Xscreensavers. Pretty cool.
http://www.jwz.org/xscreensaver/download.html

Wes said...

If youre like me and switch to Windows for testing and 3ds Max then you should check out Flipside.

http://www.projectappletree.org/applications/Flipside/Flipside.html

Easy as launching the app and selecting the target drive. No need to hold down alt before starting up Windows. A nice little time saver for me.

N45800 said...

@anonymous - you can save an image from the clipboard to something like a .png using Preview, just open it, and chose File -> New From Clipboard.

Two apps I haven't seen mentioned before are A Better Finder Rename, a great program for batch-renaming files, and The Cheat, which is a bit like mini-GDB for dummies. You can use it to search programs for values and then modify them. It's aimed at gaming, but it has other uses.

I just remembered AppTrap and Monolingual, those are both more well known, but still useful.

Curtis Armstrong said...

These are some great Mac Apps. Most of which I had not heard before. I am going to look into them more. Thanks!

This Is Ours said...

Evernote. Absolutely bloody fantastic.

Works on iPhone, OS X, Windows.

Integrate with IE/FF, Outlook and has a clipper app residing in the systray for all other applications.

One of the most valuable tools I have.

Paddy said...

Instead of MacLoc you could also use a widget like Intic Lock to lock the screen. I find it more convenient and faster and it also saves menu bar space.

Howard said...

Not so much a utility as it is a preference pane, but I find RCDefaultApp to be a godsend. It adds a pane to SysPrefs that allows you to configure the default application for filetypes - one of the gripes I had with OS X when I moved from Windows.


http://www.rubicode.com/Software/RCDefaultApp/

Anonymous said...

I love typinator It lets me insult people faster lol

Neomusashi said...

Evernote is indeed THE mother of all apps!!! A Must See!

Anonymous said...

Delicious Library from Delicious Monster is a must have for anyone that collects DVD's, music, video games, etc.

It is not cheap ($40), but it has been worth every penny over the last 3-4 years I have been using it. It uses the iSight camera as a barcode scanner and pulls metadata from Amazon. It also interfaces with your iCal and Address Book for tracking "loaned" items.

Mitch

mac tricks said...

thanks! i downloaded all of those utilities and found about half useful on a day to day basis. You should make a new list.

barwelz said...

thanks mate, I'll download them all,
also you may want to check another mac application on osxstation.com