Friday, August 31, 2007

Must-Have Mac Software, part 1

Yeah, only the one-hundred-and-fifty-billionth such thing, but why not?

Top of the list: Path Finder, Launch Bar, Keyboard Maestro and ControllerMate.

Path Finder
A Finder replacement. It does everything Apple's Finder does, better, and it does more. Two big plusses Path Finder had over Finder are the Drop Shelf and tabs.

The Drop Shelf is a parking spot for things you're moving. Let's say you want to move expenses.200707.doc from ~/Documents/budget/current to ~/Documents/budget/archive. You navigate to the first folder, click & drag the document from the window to the Drop Shelf, then navigate to your target folder and drag it from the Drop Shelf to its new home.

Tabs are just that: tabs. You can have multiple tabs in a single window, and a single click on any tab will pull that folder to the front. If you want to move an item from one folder to another, and you've got both folders tabbed in the same window, you can click on the tab for your first window, then click & drag the item you want to move onto the tab for the target folder.

And speaking of navigating between folders: the path navigator shows you the absolute path to whatever folder you're in, and a single click on any portion of that path takes you to that level of your hard drive. If you're in /Users/yourname/Documents/books/My Big Novel/drafts/chapter one, and you click on books, you're now in /Users/yourname/Documents/books. The remainder of the path stays visible until you navigate outside that path, so if you want to go back to drafts, another mouse click and you're there.

Path Finder has bunches (and bunches [and bunches {etc...}]) of other features, but rather than try and cover them myself, I'll just mention that it's a free 21 day trial.

Rather than have to drill down through multiple layers of folders to find that application, document, movie or song you want to open, fire up LaunchBar. It stays in the background until you need it, but with a simple hot-key it comes to the front, you start typing the name of what you're looking for, and it pulls up all possible matches.

Want to open TextEdit? Hit the hot-key (cmd+space on my system) and type "te". I get TextEdit, Terminal and TextWrangler in that order, followed by a couple dozen other applications, folder and files of various formats that have the letters "t" and "e" somewhere in their name. Arrow up or down to the one you want, hit enter and it's up and LaunchBar is back in the background, waiting to be called up again.

LaunchBar also has a built-in app switcher: hit cmd+space, then space again, and it shows all running applications. Hit space again as needed to scroll down the list of running apps, and shift+space to scroll up.

Keyboard Maestro
KB is a macro program. I use it to set global things like "F1 = open" as well as local, like "in GraphicConvertor, F5 = Set Size to 100%." I also use its built-in app and window switchers.

In the past, I've used KB as an application launcher: cmd+F1 = Safari, cmd+F2 = Mail, etc, but I like to have a lot of programs tied to hot-keys, and it's a pain in the ass to remember which hot-key, out of twenty or so, launches what program. This leads me to my fourth must-have program, ControllerMate.

ControllerMate is intended to allow us Apple users to program functions on various USB peripherals that don't have Mac drivers/programs. For gamers, mostly. I like it because it lets me use one program to set the non-standard buttons on my Microsoft keyboard and the extra buttons on my Logitech mouse. I can set Web/Home to Launch Safari, and button #5 on the mouse to cmd+click. It works better than Microsoft's Intellitype software, and it's more flexible, too. For instance, I'm using a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. It comes with the Intellitype software, that lets me set the special keys (web/home/favorites/etc) but the choices are limited. The five favorites keys can be set to launch any particular program I want, but the "My Favorite" key just below them will only pull up a window to set the other five keys. Even worse, the Intellitype software does not recognize my Microsoft Office Keyboard at all.

ControllerMate to the rescue. It recognizes the different keyboards, and lets me program any key on them to any function I want. Want web/home to open Safari? Drop in a button block, tie a Finder Item block to it, then set the Finder Item block to Safari. Now, as long as ControllerMate is running, pressing the web/home key calls Safari, if it's not running, and switches to Safari if it is running.

Terminating Apple's Dock with extreme prejudice

I've been using Mac OS X since late 2002 - five years now, I guess. In all that time, I've been trying, on and off, to do without the Dock. I've tried various little apps I've downloaded here and there, and none of them were white what I was looking for. (There's that whole "it doesn't work" thing that irked me about most of them.)

The closest I'd ever found that actually worked was setting the dock size to minimum and using TinkerTool to move it to the top of the screen, just below the menu bar. That worked, middling well, but the damn thing would still pop up if you were too slow in moving the mouse over it.

Now, however, I've figured out a working way to do it. All it takes is a bit of Terminal work, and the Dock is dead. Here's how it works.

in Terminal, enter these commands:
cd /System/Library/CoreServices
sudo mv
sudo killall Dock

The first line is not necessary, but I use it to get into the CoreServices directory. That way, I can use relative paths when moving/renaming the dock, and save a few keystrokes.
The second line renames the Dock, and the third line kills it. Ding-dong, the dock is dead, the wicked dock is dead!

To reactivate the Dock, use these commands:
cd /System/Library/CoreServices
sudo mv
sudo osascript -e 'tell app "dock" to activate'

Now for the drawbacks.

1: the built-in command-tab app switcher is part of the dock. No dock, no app switcher. No problem, I've got LaunchBar, Keyboard Maestro and DragThing installed, each of which has its own version of an app switcher.

2: window minimizing is also tied into the dock. With the dock gone, I can't minimize windows. Bummer, that, but then again, since I only minimized a window once or twice a month, big whoop.

3: Expose is missing in action. Big deal, I've never used it.

4: Apparently, the Finder Desktop is also connected to the Dock. Path Finder's desktop as well, it seems. Again, big deal. I don't use the Desktop.

I've come up with/found workarounds for items 1 and 4. At the moment, I'm using Keyboard Maestro's app and window switchers.

As long as the Dock runs, the Desktop is accessable, even if you turn around and kill the Dock shortly afterward. I found this short how-to on starting/killing the Dock and making the Desktop workable.

Step 1: write a small applescript:
tell application "Dock"
end tell

Save it as an application.

Step 2: move or copy the Dock to /Applications (or wherever else your fancy leads you).

Step 3: put both the Dock and your dock-killing applescript application into your startup items, making sure that the Dock loads well before the dock-killer.

I have no workarounds at present for the lack of window minimalization or expose's failure to work without the Dock, and I probably won't work on them too hard, since I don't use either one.

Need I add that like all system hacks, you should make backups before starting? If you try this at home, I am not responsible for any loss of data, productivity, or if your Mac OS install turns into Windows Vista.