Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Goodies for My Mac

This summer, I bought a brand-new MacBook Pro and I couldn't be happier with it. It runs like a horse and lets me do everything that I need to do and it does it fast and well. On top of the fact that it is a great machine, it also looks really cool. Mind you, that wasn't the deciding factor but it is certainly the icing on the cake.

Once I got my new MacBook Pro, there was a bit of an adjustment period while I figured out where everything is and exactly how to access in the most efficient fashion. The hardest thing for me to get used to was the single button mouse, but that was pretty minor. I was also a little confused about how to actually install a program after I had downloaded it. It turns out that it was so much easier than installing something on a Windows machine that I kept thinking that there had to be more to it. Basically, you just drag it to the Applications folder. That's it.

Here are a few quick Mac to Windows conversion equations in case you are thinking of switching or are a recent switcher struggling with some of these issues:

Finder = Windows Explorer
Macintosh HD = My Computer
System Preferences = Control Panel
The Dock = Start Button (mostly)
Trash = Recycle Bin

However, most of the above is moot once you download a few nifty little programs that can make your Mac life much, much easier. I've collected a few of my favorites and I'll share them with you now.

1) Quicksilver
This is the best application I've ever downloaded - Mac or PC. At first glance, this little app seems to be a launcher, but it can do so much more. Quicksilver scours your computer and looks for everything that you might possibly use and remembers it (creates an index). When you invoke Quicksilver (the default keystroke is Ctrl+Space) it pops up in the middle of the screen waiting for your command (See image at right). All you have to do is begin typing the name of the application or file you wish to open. Once Quicksilver has found what you want, you simply hit Enter to open it up. Pretty nifty, but that just scratches the surface.

By installing a few plug-ins (which is as simple as clicking a check box in the Quicksilver's preferences, you can do things like manage your iTunes Playlists, append text to a file, attach a document to an email and find and move multiple files at once. Those are just the things that I have actually done so far. There is so much more that can be done.

The major drawback to Quicksilver is that there isn't any real documentation on how to use it on the web site, but luckily there is a large and enthusiastic user community that is willing to help. Plus, I've found a few good tutorials here, here, here, and here - courtesy of Lifehacker.com - a fantastic site with all sorts of good info.

If you have a Mac, I can't recommend Quicksilver enough.

2) Adium
Adium is an instant messaging program that allows you to connect to all of your IM accounts (AOL, Yahoo, GTalk, MSN, Jabber, ICQ, and more) through one interface (much like Trillian for Windows). It works like a charm and I never have trouble connecting or with it dropping my connection. Plus, it will keep all of your conversations in one window separated via tabs that you can quickly switch between by using Apple+Right or Left Arrow.

Adium's logo is a green duck (you can change its color) and it will sit quietly in your dock until you receive an instant message. Like all of the icons in the Dock, it will bounce when a message is received (the duck flaps its wings as it bounces) and if you have the sounds enabled, it will also quack at you. Dee hates the quack noises so I have those disabled.

There are also many advanced features for those of you who like to tinker. You can create fingerprints in case you need to chat privately with another user and it easily allows file transfers and access to message histories.


3) VirtueDesktops
VirtueDesktops is a nifty little application that helps me keep my open applications organized. It allows you to create several virtual desktops at once. What is a virtual desktop? Imagine that you had four different monitors hooked up to one computer and you could put anything you want on each of those desktops on the monitors. Now imagine that those four desktops are on the same monitor and you can switch between them with the touch of a few buttons. That's VirtueDesktops.

The brilliance of VirtueDesktops is that it lets you keep applications separate from one another so you don't have to clutter up one space with everything you've got open. I tend to keep Firefox (my browser) and Adium on one desktop, documents and spreadsheets on another and iTunes on a third. I also have a fourth desktop that I use for other tasks such as photo, video or music editing.

I'd provide a screen grab from my computer, but it just looks like my desktop. However, there is a cool transition effect that makes people go, "Oooh" when you switch between desktops. It basically makes it look like all your desktops are on a big cube that swivels when you switch. Of course, it has other transitions you can use as well that are equally as cool. Aside from using a keystroke to switch between screens, you can also set it to switch when you wave your hand over the keyboard or when you whack the side of the screen. Cool effects, but not very practical.

Unfortunately, it looks like VirtueDesktops will soon become obsolete when Apple rolls out its new operating system. This new OS will have a desktop virtualization tool built in. Until then, VirtueDesktops is your app.

By the way, all of these applications are free. You can download them today.

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