The Motion of Nature As Your Mac Desktop

| In-Depth Review

My Living Desktop for OS X intelligently displays full screen videos, with sound, as your desktop, but does so without consuming vasts amounts of memory or hogging the CPU. The app comes with twenty-six different videos, mostly gorgeous nature scenes, that bring life and perhaps serenity to your Mac’s display.

Most of us who are Macintosh enthusiasts have, for years, picked out the very best, most inspiring static desktop photos. We even manage to have different images for our various OS X desktops, and sometimes the theme of the photo matches the technical activity there. A great source of those photos is MacDesktops.com.

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Still image screen shot.  The clouds are swirling at the top.

On the other hand, from time to time, we’ve been made aware of accessories that can display a full-motion video on the desktop. The challenge there has been CPU hogging and delivering a great user interface. I can tell you that My Living Desktop from Amuse, Inc. delivers on both counts. The app is easy to install and run. It has an unobtrusive yet very functional user interface. It’s very smart about CPU usage, and it has good manners: it gets out of the way when you need it to.

Operation

All you need to do is unzip the download and drag the app to the/Applications directory. If you want to delete it, just drag it to the trash while it’s running. The app will auto-detect your intentions and erase all components. That’s awesome.

MLD is managed with a menu bar app with a distinctive icon. To change scenes, select “Scenes and Settings.” When you get to the scenes mosaic, you can change settings with the gear icon, top right. When done, just click anywhere to get back to work. Nice. Here are some of the notable features:

  • Twenty-six built-on scenes and over a 100 more in the store. These are videos designed to relax and renew the spirit.
  • Uses only about 5 percent of the CPU and less than 100 MB of real memory.
  • Import your own movies.
  • Auto-disable and auto-mute. Tell MLD which apps it should mute for.
  • Auto-detects when on battery power and disables itself.
  • Doubles as a screen saver.
  • Works as a reminder system, “Serenity Breaks,” to take a breather. Includes fine controls and options for when the next break occurs. A warning allows the user freedom to take a break or continue. Or kill all future interruptions.
  • Rate your favorite scenes to affect how often they recycle.
  • A menu bar option turns off the video right now. No fuss.

I especially liked the good behavior and good manners of this app. As I cycle from desktop to desktop in Lion, it shows the default static image for a second, then kicks in the video. When I leave that desktop, nothing is left behind. The app is beautifully behaved compared to some apps that fiddle with, muck up and alter your system. And then you have to clean up the developer’s mess if you want to delete it. Not so here.

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These options make for a courtous app that doesn’t step on other apps.

I also liked the user interface. The menu bar app is the basics, but then you can also get into more detailed settings by clicking the gear icon on the “Scenes and Settings” view. There, you have lots of control, and I like that the author gives the user great freedom and choice. Many apps lock you in or omit options that make the app easier to live with. The development team done a superb job here.

If you have a second monitor attached, it’s auto-detected and what you select for the main display is mirrored. But if you select a different scene on the secondary display, it will run independently. In a day of persistent software imitations and excuses, this app seems to have no gotchas.

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Serenity Break, a welcome feature.

The only negative I can report is something very subjective. It may not apply to you. Namely, both my iMac and my second display are covered with application windows so I can jump from app to app, activity to activity. As a result, there is very little of the motion in these videos I can see on a routine basis. It just peeks through in places. But your habits may be different. You may leave more room, especially on a second display. And, of course, one can still hear the soothng sounds. So I can’t really complain, except to note, with lament, that I can’t really enjoy that app as much as I’d like. If anything, it’s a nice situation to be in.

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A well behaved, courteous app.

Looking to The Future

The author told me that the app is not available in the Mac App Store because it has a screen saver component. Screen savers are not yet allowed in the M.A.S., but they may be in the future. In any case, the app would have no problems with OS X sandboxing because all the movies are kept in the Application Support folder. So, for now, you’ll have to buy the app directly from the website. Paypal and credit cards are accepted.

Licensing and Docs

The retail price is US$34.95 for a single computer. You can buy a license for up to five computers for $49.95. You can decide to upgrade from a single license to a multiple license later if you wish. There’s a 30 day money back guarantee if you’re not satisfied. You can try it for 10 days for free, after which an built-in uninstaller activates, leaving nothing behind. MLD requires Mac OS X 10.5 or later.  It was tested with Lion 10.7.2.

Thankfully, there is no manual. It’s completely self-documenting. The UI is so clear, and the app is so intuitive, and the settings are so well explained, there’s no need for documentation. Nor should there be for an app like this.

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This video scene, “Reef,” makes a great screen saver.

Serenity

I really enjoyed reviewing this app. It brings peace and nature to the desktop. The author has done everything right. The app is considerate, well behaved, and operates smoothly without bogging down your Mac. The author’s design shows much respect for the user, and along those lines, the commitment to the customer is readily apparent from my own communications and the tech support page on the website.

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The version reviewed here was a pre-release of v5.0.1 which will be released December 6th. If you buy the current version, it will auto-detect when the new version comes out.

Product: My Living Desktop v 5.0.1

Company: Amuse, Inc.

List Price: US$34.95 (single computer)

Pros:

A graceful, smooth video desktop app that doesn’t get in the way, has great manners, is easy to use (or delete), doesn’t hog system resources and exhibits good taste in video selections.

Cons:

None noted.

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