Totally great enhancements to OS X

I’m editing this from my old web page. I’ll do an updated list soon; meanwhile I tweaked this, struck out some old stuff, and emboldened my favorites. Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve posted many more entries like this, but I want to preserve this list as a sample of the Mac tweaks I use all the time. I believe that the key to making OS X work best for you is to customize it. There are so many fantastic 3rd-party apps and add-ons out there, and often for free. The modern Mac can handle more of these tweaks than one might think, and without hiccupping a bit. If I like them, and they’re shareware, I’ve paid the few bucks, and they’ve had a great effect on my productivity. (Note: this list is mostly not about stand-alone applications, but rather plug-ins that modify the operation of the Mac.)

SMARTreporter – get notified if one of your hard drives is going to fail. Of course, even if it does, you’re fine, because you’re backing up every day, right?

MondoMouse – I’m putting this so close the top because I’m totally in love with it! Resize or move windows without clicking on a window handle. Totally crucial for smaller screens, especially.

Déjà Vu – If you’re not backing up every day, you will lose something precious at some time in your computing life. I may not even touch your computer if you don’t have an external backup. So, we can use Déjà Vu to schedule backups. Plug in your Firewire drive, and enjoy peace of mind. SuperDuper and ChronoSync are also fantastic. Slightly different tools for different situations. Time Machine is an amazing piece of software, but after almost a year with it, I still find it very hard to trust as one’s exclusive backup method. We almost always have at least a SuperDuper clone on a separate partition. (By the way, if you were wondering, Apple’s Backup is kind of terrible, but the next version of OS X —10.5 Leopard, due this Spring — will include a program called Time Machine that promises a great new era in backups.)

AppleScript and Automator – Yes, I know these are built-in, but the point is fantastic sites such as Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes and and Automator World are just fantastic for boosting one’s efficiency.

LaunchBar – The future of search was in our hands well before Tiger was announced! I can’t wait to see how LB incorporates with Apple’s next-generation operating system.

Quicksilver – A lot like LaunchBar, but free and with all kinds of neat little plug-ins built in. Quicksilver can also replace Spark to launch apps with keyboard shortcuts. I prefer the LaunchBar/Spark/Synergy/PTHPasteboard setup, mostly because Quicksilver ran a little slow on my PowerBook. Now that I’ve added memory to my laptop, I might give QS another try.

Default Folder X – How to get to favorite and recent files instantaneously. Tried-and-true since OS 9. Fantastic in a production environment.

PTHPasteboard – This free multi-item clipboard dramatically reduces my having to switch between applications. Keyboard activated, of course, or what would be the point. (BTW, Quicksilver has this, and Spark, and Synergy, all built-in.)

Spark – Set up your own shortcut keys

Unsanity haxies – These folks have been the most consistently great developers for minor-but-major add-ons for OS X. Check out:

  • WindowShade – Bring back that useful little OS 9 feature
  • Menu Master – instantly assign a keyboard shortcut to any menu item

Peter Maurer – I don’t use these so much anymore, but Maurer’s stuff is genius, much like the Unsanity group. He does Butler, which is a lot like LaunchBar and QuickSilver, but you should also look at:

  • TextExpander – Autocompletes text that you type frequently (the company SmileOnMyMac bought it from him recently)
  • Witch – Enhances the Apple-Tab application switching to include all open windows

Salling Clicker – the best reason to buy a Bluetooth phone
So cool, and man I miss it from my Sony-Ericsson & Treo days, but it ain’t available for the iPhone. The developer comments here.

MailUnreadStatusBar – puts a count of unread e-mails in your menu bar
Or you could go for Inbox Zero.

Synergy – best-of-breed iTunes control

You Control – I gotta admit, for a one-stop package, it’s worth every cent.
Haven’t used it in a while. It seemed to take a lot of resources.

MenuCalendarClock – iCal integration in a highly configurable menu-bar clock. And now there’s a new, free menu bar widget called MagiCal that does much of the same thing.

Text Wielder – a collection that will show in the Services submenu of any Cocoa (OS X-native) application. Look for more Services, such as CalcService, on VersionTracker. (Note: The link to TextWielder will begin downloading the disk image.)
Services were a fine idea, but they just never seem to have made it.

SBook – convert text to an Address Book card
Definitely made moot by Leopard’s Data Detectors

Just good software:

VueScan – The best scanning software available, and compatible with just about any scanner you can plug into your Mac

GraphicConverter – a great “can opener” for hundreds of kinds of image files

Eliminate the annoying vibrating clock in iCal

Everytime I do an update to OS X, I have to run these commands in Terminal, because the animated alarm clock in iCal is just obnoxious. (It also pulls precious CPU cycles.)

Taken from this hint at, these are instructions for 10.4 Tiger:

cd /Applications/

sudo cp -p alarmclock-mov.BAC

sudo echo "" >

cd /Applications/

sudo cp -p alarmclock-mov.BAC

sudo echo "" >

UPDATE: I posted instructions for 10.5 here at

End User: Breaking the Chains

Published in San Antonio Current, September 19, 2007

Following up on my discussion of the auction of the wireless spectrum: Google had asked the Federal Communications Commission to impose four requirements on whoever won the use of the 700Mhz bandwidth: open applications, open devices, open services, and open networks. Of those, the FCC accepted open devices (e.g. unlocked phones) and open applications (such as Skype).

If you can’t join ’em, sue ’em: The wireless carriers — our great benefactors — are obviously unhappy with any of those requirements; the end of their inflated fees and shackling contracts may be nigh. Verizon has petitioned the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to make the FCC ditch the open-access mandates altogether. Google has expressed disappointment at Verizon’s move; Google’s head of special initiatives, Chris Sacca, blogged, “Once again, it is American consumers who lose from these tactics.”

Apple has reportedly been “studying” the ramification of joining the auction itself. Having finally acquired an iPhone, I can envision all the more clearly a near future for the clever devices — from different manufacturers, all unlocked, and many installed with open-source Linux — roaming a giant gas cloud of wireless internet.

Meanwhile, Google the Instigator has reportedly been collaborating with mobile-device-maker HTC on the rumored Gphone. HTC has already released the HTC Touch, a very sleek Windows Mobile smart phone with specs similar to the iPhone. I would be stunned if Google wants to put the terribly clunky Microsoft operating system on their first branded hardware; I will hope for a very hackable G-flavored Linux.

Speaking of, I’m well pleased by the hackability of the iPhone’s OS — you know, the one that Apple has supposedly blocked from accepting third-party applications? Just in the last couple of weeks, these hacks have come into their own, involving a simple initial “unshackling” or “jailbreaking” procedure. I’ve hacked the heck out of my iPhone with freely available apps, including games (not that I want them sucking on my precious battery), a Flickr uploader, a task list (which the iPhone so far lacks), and a simple word processor. One also gets access to the Ringtones folder to upload any MP3 in one’s collection.

I’m hoping all of this spells the beginning of some real and significant changes to the iPhone’s software. It’s an amazing device — it took my Treo out to the back shed and spanked it till it squealed — but there’s so much unrealized potential.

Finally, my personal chain-breaking story: In July, Palm released a software update for the Treo 700p. I followed the slightly Gordian instructions to install, and it promptly broke the phone’s internet connection. Meh. I had to take the Treo offline and then back online every time I wanted to use the speedy internet, the one I pay an absurd fee for every month. Oh, yeah: The Treo was also still hanging periodically (what the update was supposed to fix) and it synched all my calendar events into the wrong time zone.

Seven hours of tech-support calls later, and I was out of my Verizon contract with no termination fee … and back in another two-year contract with AT&T. Hello, iPhone. Hello, shackles.