One of the philosophies of Mac OS X is that too much choice overwhelms and frustrates the user and diminishes the user experience. As a result, many of the configuration options available are just not surfaced in System Preferences. Cocktail puts a GUI on many of those options to provide more control over Mac OS X for the more advanced user.
Like many apps, Cocktail has a Toolbar at the top to select from configuration options for Disks, System, Files, Network, Interface and Pilot (Scripted, scheduled tasks). Within each major category, there are tabs to control various settings. In the example below, I've selected System-> Startup.
Start up Control
The first reaction a user may have when wandering through these options could be, "Why would I want to change that?" Therein lies the essentials of the program: one has to have some fairly specific ideas about what needs changing. The Cocktail overview page describes the functions so that a prospective buyer can see what changes can be made.
However, there is much more to the program than setting, for example, the file format for screen shots or whether the Mac starts up in Verbose mode. The config options above constitute just one window of eight. The others are shown below:
So for example, if one wants to look up an error code or check what a particular port number does, just switch to one of those windows. The "Commands" item is essentially a "man page" viewer for those who speak UNIX-ese.
Cocktail has a chicken-and-egg element. You can learn a lot about the innards of Mac OS X by exploring this app, but there has to be some curiosity and motivation. On the other hand, it's an app that's likely to be used by more advanced users. While those advanced users may know how to change the com.apple... settings based on snippets from, say, Mac OS X Hints, sometimes it's nice to just be able to launch a GUI and avoid typing errors. In this sense, Cocktail is a program that takes on the personality and expertise of the user. Some will like it and some will not.
In addition to managing Mac OS X settings, Cocktail can also control some settings for the Finder, the Dock, Safari and Mail. Here are the settings for Safari:
There are some other apps, like TinkerTool, that provide control over some of these settings, so it's a good idea to compare and see which features are desired. However, Cocktail adds all those other Windows and look-up features mentioned above, so that's a big plus.
Pluses and Minuses
+ Cocktail changes system settings and needs admin privileges. That can be saved in the keychain so that the user doesn't have to keep entering the password.
+ A file browser is included that doesn't filter types or paths like Mac OS X does.
+ An uninstall option basically returns every setting to its default. (There's nothing deeper to uninstall; Cocktail is a simple app that can be dragged to /Applications.)
+ Help is both online and contained in the app.
+ Control over network parameters, a recap of the system and hardware specs and a summary of the Unix user and the groups belonged to is very nice.
System Software Specs
- Many of the miscellaneous settings seem scattered and disorganized. Some better grouping or deeper thought put into what the app is trying to achieve seems in order.
- The port numbers are sorted "asciibetically" instead of numerically. As a result, port 110 comes long after 10000 in the list. That should be fixed.
- The app doesn't explain to the novice why it needs the admin password every time it launches. That's a disconnect between the intent of the app and the technical side.
- Some of the explanations in the help get into scary details that the above average user doesn't need to know about. The app, in that respect, again reflects a split personality: is it a convenience tool for the expert or simple assistance for the non-UNIX user who wants some additional control? It's actually both, and I don't think that's a good idea.
Note: version 4.2.2, released on December 18, has been tested for compatibility with Mac OS X 10.5.6.
The Bottom Line
I had a generally positive feeling for the program. It's not overpriced considering all the things it does. Even so, there's that vague feeling that the app doesn't know what it wants to be, and features get thrown into the pile willy-nilly.
One should download the trial version. It will function for ten launches before a license must be entered. That should be enough to determine whether the app meets your needs. Don't forget to check the Window menu for all the extra features contained there. These are what make the app, in my view, worth the asking price.