Thursday, April 23, 2009

Essential Leopard Software.

I've been trying out lots of software on my iMac to see what works best for me. Here is a list of things I've installed to make the Mac computing experience easier.

Support for Logitech keyboards and mice. The one thing that Apple makes that I can't stand is that pathetic excuse for a mouse. Sure, it's got a nice multi-directional scrolling ball thing but it only has one button which - when you go to play a game - is absolutely useless. And before anyone tells me that it can be configured so it can detect right or left click, it doesn't change the fact that the mouse physically only has one button. Go ahead, grab your Mighty Mouse. Hold down the left button and then click the right button. You can't can you? Because the one and only physical button is already being held down. Most useless mouse ever. So I use a decent Logitech wired optical mouse and the Mighty Mouse gets to sit in the drawer as a spare if I ever get that desperate.

This is Microsoft software. It adds Windows Media support to Quicktime so you can watch .wmv and listen to .wma files as well as watch Windows streaming media on the web. Typical of Microsoft, they have a couple of different versions of the same thing with different levels of functionality and price. Stick with the free one. The alternative is to get Windows Media Player for Mac and no-one wants to do that!

3. Perian.
Perian is known as the swiss-army knife of QuickTime components. Basically it adds support to your Mac for lots of different video and audio formats allowing these files to be used in your other Mac software.

4. Growl.
This is notification software and is very popular. It links into the Mac OS framework to deliver notifications of software events that happen on your computer like letting you know when someone comes online or when your torrent has finished downloading. With a bit of extra fiddling, you can install the Hardware Growler which comes with it. Then it will monitor your computer hardware which provides information about your network, notifies you when you plug something into the computer or if a disk has been mounted or ejected.

It really does suck when your Windows using friend comes around with their external hard drive to find that your Mac won't even read what's on there. This solution comes in two parts.
  1. Part one is the installation of MacFUSE which is written by Google. It establishes a mechanism within OS X that allows it to connect with non-native filesystems. Simply put, with this installed, you can 'teach' your Mac to read disks that are not formatted for Mac.
  2. The second part is the installation of the NTFS-3G driver. This is the bit that 'teaches' your Mac to read Windows formatted NTFS disks.
It took me a while to get this working the first time but that was on the Mac Mini about a year ago. The latest versions were easy to install. One, then the other. Done. I can read all my mates external hard drives now. For all those using Boot Camp, this lets you read and write to your Windows drive too, but that may screw up your Windows install... like I care about Windows anymore...

At the time of writing this post, all Macs come with a web browser called Safari but currently you get Safari 3 which, while it's a capable web browser and it's quite quick, it doesn't shape up too well against most of the competition. Safari 4 is still in beta but is a vast improvement over it's predecessor, integrating the tab bar and the title bar together to give you more space for the pages your looking at and the Top Sites feature that shows all the sites you visit the most on one screen with thumbnails so you can easily recognize the site you want to go to.

7. UnRarX.
Leopard has support for most compression types built in including the most popular - ZIP, but some of the archives we download are compressed in a RAR file. To open these, I use UnRarX. This utility won't add full RAR support to your Mac, it does nothing but decompress RAR files. It's small, light and does the job.