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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.

Remembering those shortcuts easily - KeyCue

The best part about writing a blog where I talk about Macs? People give me some great tips in the comments and yesterday's post on apps for making users more productive was no exception. While I love the shortcuts available on my Mac I often overlook many of them because I don't know what they are and they aren't always obvious.

Fortunately DCBrit stopped by and mentioned KeyCue, an application that can quickly display all of the keyboard shortcuts for the application you are currently running. You simply hold down the activation key (defaults to Command) for a few seconds and up pops a dynamically built list of all the shortcuts for that application. Here's what it looks like for TextEdit:



It really is a simple application but can quickly help you learn those key combinations, making you much more productive on your Mac. It's normally $26.99 but MacZOT is running a special on it right now for $14.99 through May 3, 2009.

If you want to learn all of the keystroke combinations available for your applications I recommend you give KeyCue a try.

4 Mac Apps that speed YOU up

Many people are obsessed with speed and I happily include myself in that category, at least with respect to the performance I get from my computer. Whether it's a faster processor, more memory, a quicker graphics card or a new high-speed hard drive, upgrading to the latest and greatest translates into getting things done more quickly.

It's not enough to just throw hardware at a problem, sometimes you have to optimize yourself. Of course I can do this by inhaling a rather large quantity of coffee first thing in the morning but what I'm talking about is finding applications that can improve how you use your computer. Though Macs have incredibly high usability right out of the box, over the last year I've found 4 applications that have really helped me improve my efficiency on my Mac. I've tried quite a few but these are the applications I've stuck with and found most valuable to me.

1Password
Like many people I spend a lot of time in a web browser (actually both Safari and Firefox). It seems that each site has a different cookie policy and password standard and each browser has different reliability when it comes to remembering my login credentials. You want to lose time during the day doing something that doesn't add any value other than challenging the Grey Matter to a memory exercise? Try remembering the username and password for every site that requires it. Think about the amount of time you waste when you try to log in and try every variation of a password you can think of, or waiting for a password reminder to come back to you in e-mail.

Then think about the repetitive forms with your contact information that need to be filled out and the purchase sites where you have to enter in your credit card details. Finally toss in those times when you need your frequent flyer number or child's social security number or application's license code.

1Password does a fantastic job of handling all of this for me. It plants itself in the toolbar of my browser and makes logging in to a site a one or two click affair. It will offer to remember my login credentials the first time I use it and then it retains it after that. Now when I hit nearly any form I can just tell 1Password to fill it out for me and it usually completes most of the common fields without any typing on my part.

Now that I have it synchronizing my 1Password data automatically through DropBox (which is a free service), both the Macs I use on a regular basis are current all the time. It is seamless and completely wonderful.

I realize I sound like I'm gushing about this application but it's one of those "you have to try it to appreciate it" types of things. It's also one of the few applications I immediately bought a family license for and put on my wife and kid's Macs. At $39.95 (single user) and $69.95 (family 5-pack) it's not the cheapest utility you can buy but well worth the money.

LaunchBar
I have a confession: I am a keyboard junkie. I'll use an easily remembered keystroke combination over a mouse movement every time. It was for this reason that one of the first features in OS X I became enamored with was Spotlight. The ability to hit Command-Space and just type in the name of something and launch it by hitting Return was excellent.

The issue was that Spotlight had some issues about the time I was starting to really use it and I ended up trying out QuickSilver. While QuickSilver was great I started to see some minor issues with it and at the time the author of QuickSilver was indicating he was walking away from the project (that has since changed I believe). It was at this point that I started playing with LaunchBar and I've been hooked ever since.

LaunchBar makes it really fast to get to the application I want, whether it's running or not. Command-Space (I moved Spotlight to Control-Space), type in a couple letters and hit Return. It's much faster than Spotlight and allows me to do more than just launch an application. It also learns my personal shortcuts so that when I want to launch Pages I hit Command-Space, PG, Return and it's up and running.

Since it can also use what I type to search my address book I can find a person by typing part of their name, then hit the right arrow button and select and e-mail address, press Return and I've got a new mail message addressed to that person and ready for writing.

I use Skype for my phone calls and have installed some LaunchBar scripts to control it, allowing me to just navigate to a person's phone number through LaunchBar and hit Return; Skype dials them for me.

Though I can get by with Spotlight on a Mac that doesn't have LaunchBar installed, my productivity takes a bit of a dip. LaunchBar is €24.00 for a single user version and €39.00 for a 5 user family license.

Spaces
I run lots of applications at the same time (right now I've got 16 running). Even with dual screens I like being able to arrange my application windows in a very structured way so I always know where to look for things. Spaces give me the ability to set up those work spaces and jump between them very quickly. The alternative is a bunch of windows that are either layered on top of one another or minimized down to the Dock Bar. I have found that jumping to a Space that contains the apps I need set up and ready for use saves me a lot of time throughout the day.

I've written quite a bit on how I've set up Spaces to optimize my daily routine. Though it's included in OS X and could really just be considered a part of the Mac experience I've observed a number of Mac users that never bother to. If you haven't already, give Spaces a try.

SteerMouse
Though I'm a keyboard first kind of person there are plenty of times that I switch into "mouse mode". Usually this is when I'm browsing through information on a combination of web pages, links from Twitter, and from NetNewsWire. This is when I want my mouse to be more than just a 2 button hockey puck with a scroll wheel and go for heavier duty mice that have multiple programmable buttons.

Logitech is my mouse vendor of choice and while I love the hardware they produce the Mac mouse drivers they put out have been horrid. Fortunately SteerMouse has come to my rescue. It allows me to define custom actions on all of the buttons on my Logitech Mx510 mouse. While I would prefer that Logitech make serious efforts to improve their drivers I'll happily pay the $20 for SteerMouse because it makes my mouse that much more functional.

So there you have it, the four applications I use constantly to optimize the way I use my Mac. How about you? Got an application that helps you perform at your peak? Drop a note in the comments and share.