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More Good Software, Still Cheap

by - Episode 27 - October 1st, 2004

As promised, I'm back this week with another pair of excellent, yet inexpensive programs: Synergy and Jon's Phone Tool (JPT hereafter). Synergy adds three new buttons for controlling iTunes- previous track, next track, and play/pause-to your menu bar and provides visual feedback about the currently playing tune in a unique and appealing way. Jon's Phone tool looks up and dials phone numbers from Address Book, Microsoft Entourage, Now Contact, or Palm Desktop and includes a handy contextual menu that lets you select almost any number in almost any program and dial it instantly.

The two programs serve far different purposes but share several attributes: They both live in your menu bar, cost less than dinner and a movie, and will save you time and effort and bring a smile to your face.


Fig 1: Synergy and Jon's Phone Tool are both available from space-saving menu bar icons.

I don't know about you, but I listen to iTunes 24/7 at my desk unless I'm on the phone, and it's always bugged me to have to switch to iTunes to change songs or play/pause. Sure, the Dock menu is an improvement but it's still not transparent enough for me. What I really wanted was a remote control for iTunes, one that let me control things without switching programs or even reaching for the mouse.

I found it and much more in Synergy.

Of course you can click the previous track, next track, and play/pause buttons right there in the menu bar (see Figure 1), and that alone is a VeryGoodThing™. But wait, there's so much more...

For example, you can add keyboard shortcuts to control iTunes and they work no matter what application you happen to be using as shown in Figure 2.


Fig 2: Adding keyboard shortcuts is a snap using Synergy's System Preference pane.
(Click the image for a larger version.)

And just like that I have near-complete control of iTunes using only the keyboard, and without switching apps or reaching for the mouse.

Or, with a flick of the wrist, I can use the Synergy menu (shown in Figure 3) to choose from the last few tracks I've listened to, switch playlists, turn Shuffle and Repeat on or off, bring iTunes to the front, or Quit iTunes.


Fig 3: More of Synegry's functionality can be seen here in its menu bar menu.
(Click the image for a larger version.)

Last but not least, here's my favorite Synergy feature, the floater, a semi-transparent floating windoid that pops up on screen and tells you what song is currently playing, as seen in Figure 4.


Fig 4: Synergy's gorgeous floater even displays the cover art for the current tune.
(Click the image for a larger version.)

Synergy is one of those programs that, once you've used it for a while, will have wondering how you ever got along without it. If you're an iTunes fan, download it immediately and give it a try. Once you do, I'm sure you'll be as hooked as I am. And, of course, once you're hooked you'll do the right thing by sending Wincent $10 (which he absolutely deserves).

JPT

Moving right along, Jon's Phone Tool can look up numbers from a variety of sources and then dial them on your Bluetooth mobile phone, your Mac modem or speakers, as well as products such as Vonage, CallVantage, Skype, Ovolab Phlink, Parliant's PhoneValet, an Asterisk PBX server, or X-Lite by Xten Networks, Inc.

JPT is much more than just a simple phone dialer. Most of the action takes place in using its attractive floating window, shown in Figure 5.


Fig 5: This little floating window is where the magic begins.

When you click the items surrounding the question mark, additional niceties appear including an on onscreen keypad; a converter to translate letters to phone numbers (so 1-800-FLOWERS becomes 1 800 3569377); a notepad; a call timer; and a call log, which are shown in Figure 6, as well as the Preferences window shown in Figure 7.


Fig 6: JPT's bells and whistles appear when you click the little buttons surrounding the question mark.
(Click the image for a larger version.)

Furthermore, JPT offers sophisticated dialing rules and a location manager among its myriad of preference settings as shown in Figure 7.


Fig 7: Dialing rules and locations add to JPT's usefulness.
(Click the image for a larger version.)

Last but not least, it's fully scriptable for those inclined to script.

If you look up phone numbers often and use the phone a lot, JPT is a dream come true.

Synergy by Wincent Colaiuta. Shareware for $10.

Jon's Phone Tool by Jonathan Nathan. Shareware for $12.

And that's all he wrote...

Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus has been a Macintosh user for a long, long time and has written 49 computer books including Mac OS X Tiger For Dummies and GarageBand for Dummies. He also offers expert technical help and training to Mac users, in real time and at reasonable prices, via telephone, e-mail, and/or unique Internet-enabled remote control software. For more information on Bob and his services, visit www.boblevitus.com.

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