Sometime last year, you bought yourself an iPhone and then realised that a better user experience is indeed possible! So sometime this year, you took the next logical step and upgraded your PC to a Mac – perhaps a Mac Mini to start out small, or a laptop, or even a sexy 20″ iMac.
Now you are that insufferable know-it-all at family gatherings who descends from his Mac OS X Leopard nirvana only to lecture the rest of the brood on their miserable digital lives. In which case, brace yourself for what I am about to say: It’s true – you can make the user experience on your Mac even better!
Here, in this post, I will endeavour to purloin some of his ideas and add some of my own. If you are a Mac newbie, I hope that the suggested applications are new and useful to you. If you are an old hand, read ahead and correct me with your own better alternatives.
This one’s so obvious that they should just ship the OS with it pre-installed. Instead, Mac OS comes with Spotlight, which is nice – for Grandma. For a slick cat like you, Quicksilver is the rare application that qualifies for that over-used metaphor: a Swiss army knife. With simple keystrokes (default invocation keystroke is Ctrl-Space) it lets you launch applications, look up contact info, navigate your directory tree, send email, and interface with other applications using plugins.
Sure you may have taken the path to enlightenment, but the rest of the world is taking its time getting there, and you do have to communicate with them once in a while. I am speaking here of course of the Microsoft Windows world which imposes itself into your beatific world with that occasional annoying banking site that works only in Internet Explorer. For those cases, there is the free virtualisation tools VirtualBox, which lets you run Windows (a licensed copy of course) on your Mac.
(Image courtesy of virtualbox.org)
And while you are on the job (of making peace with the Windows world), you might as well grab Flip4Mac (Windows Media Components), a tool that will install plug-ins for the QuickTime media player on your Mac, in order to enable playback of Windows Media audio and video files.
Choose one or more of the free goodies (donationware) at iSlayer: iStatMenus, iStatPro, iStatNano. They are all applications that will display various useful bits of information about your system.
The first (iStatMenus) sits in your menu bar (see 5 Free Tools to Add to your Mac Menu Bar for this and other useful menu bar add ons) while the other two are Dashboard Widgets. They all display system information such as: the utilisation of your CPU, disk and memory, the top 5 processes that are using your CPU, the status of your laptop battery, and so on.
This is useful, especially for a new user, since such information gives you a clue to those unexpected OS behaviours that even a Mac user encounters, such as slow system response. In the screenshot , you can see that Firefox is using up
20% 15.5% of my CPU even though I am not actively using it (perhaps a misbehaving Firefox extension?). iStatMenu also provides a nice little date and time display in your menu bar and a pull down that brings up a calendar.
A neat solution to a common problem of maintaining and accessing multiple entries in your clipboard i.e., copying multiple bits of text before pasting them. Jumpcut sits in the menu bar and harvests your copy buffer as you work away on the Command-C’s.
When you are ready to paste these bits into an email message or editor, they can be access by clicking on the menubar icon or, even better, using a hotkey (default: Alt-Space) that can be used to rotate through the clipboard.
5. Freeing your Music
Remember that music you bought from the iTunes Store with your hard-earned money that Apple now refuses to give up to you, locking it into their proprietary format or making it inaccessible from your iPod? Two applications that will set that right are FairGame, which will let you convert DRM’ed iTunes Store in your iTunes library to an unprotected format, and iPodDisk, which conversely, helps rescue music stored on your iPod. To this bundle, you can add SimplyBurns which completes the loop by enabling you to burn your media to CD or DVD.
There are other useful tools (here is one example: Open With Manager) for a Mac newbie that we can explore in a later post.