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Just a Thought - Hey! I'm Workin' Here!

by - October 21st, 2004

Step Aside

If you use a modern Mac, then you are likely already familiar with the ease and elegance of using OS X. I've said it before, and it doesn't hurt to say it again; OS X, unlike any other OS, tries its damnedest to get out of your way to let you work. It is no wonder that Macs are the top computing choice of art professionals of every ilk, and are the hottest thing to hit the scientific community since Bucky Balls.

I'm not saying that Windows and Linux are bad'm not saying that Linux is a bad OS, ( Just kidding Billy, Windows has its moments, though most are overlooked because of the constant barrage of viruses and updates, but we won't go into that now.) It's just that OS X somehow manages to do the OS thing while letting you do your thing; and I think it's a thing of beauty.

For instance: When you shut down Windows while there are apps running, Windows will politely warn you to save unsaved documents and such. Windows will also toss up a silly window that warns you that the application will stop at the end of the count down running in the window. The problem is that this countdown window will always pop up on top of the dialog window in which you are trying to save your document in. Sure, you can cancel the shutdown and save normally, but that window adds to the anxiety one gets when using Windows.

When you shutdown in OS X, it politely waits until you save your document, then it continues with the shutdown. It's a comfort to know that my document is saved how and where I want it saved. If you don't save your document then OS X doesn't shutdown. Now isn't that a better than shutting down come Hell or high water?

As good as OS X is, however, there is always room for improvement. Sometimes those improvements are small, but help you in a big way. Other times you find a tool that turns out to be so useful that the act of launching it makes you a bit misty. Then there are those tools that seem to exist only to leave the user with a warm fuzzy. I've found three such tools and I use them every day; they are neat, sweet and petite, which any OS X tool should be.

The Dating Dilemma

One of the things that chafes me more than starched underwear is the fact that OS X does not include a simple, readily available calendar. Apple's OS will tell you the time and date easy enough, but what if you want to check the date of Wednesday three weeks ago, or the date of next Friday?

I know some people can do that sort of numerical gymnastics in their mind; my brain needs to perform mental yoga just to remember today's date. For those of us who rely on calendars to figure dates, it is infuriating when you are trying to recall a moment in time and have to pull up iCal to do it. That's like using your big SUV to drive the 10 feet to the curb to put out your garbage; it's overkill.

A better solution to your dating problem is to have a small, unobtrusive calendar app running in the background; it should be ready on a whim to show you any day of any month of any year, then disappear when you don't need it. Nothing fancy, just show me what I need to know, then get outta the way.

The best app I've seen to fill this little niche is called wClock, from Wolfware. This little jewel replaces your menu bar clock with one that produces a neat little calendar when you click on it. The calendar has simple controls that allow you to check any date. Clean, neat, sweet! And best of all, it's free, though Christopher Wolf, the creator of wClock, will accept donations.

Cool Little Cal

Warm And Fuzzy Ins And Outs

If you have a broadband connection to the Net, then you know the joys of quick downloads and Web sites that render in a flash. Sometimes, however, you notice that those downloads don't seem to be as speedy as they should be. What gives? Wouldn't it be nice to see if you are pushing and pulling data as fast as possible?

That's where Net Monitor from Guy Meyer comes in handy; With it you can keep tabs on how well your DSL or cable modem connection is running, and see how well your downloads work. You can set up Net Monitor to run automatically whenever you boot, and have the graph appear in your menu bar.

The blue means a solid download in progress

It's true that Net Monitor does little more than give you peace of mind that all is well with your network connection at a glance, but then, for US$10, that's something else you don't have to think about, and when you do, there it is.

The Weather Outside Is Frightful

One of the wonderful things about the Internet is that it connects people from all over the Globe. It seems, however, that people still have the dilemma of figuring out what to talk about when they meet; it's hard to talk about the weather with a guy in Bangkok, for instance, because your weather and his weather could be as different as...well, night and day.

You shouldn't let that stop you, however; remember, this is the Internet we're talking about here, and you have scads of weather data at your fingertips. You can confidently discuss current weather conditions happening anywhere in the world if you run Meteorologist, an Open Source application for OS X.

My friend in Japan is about to get some nasty weather

Meteorologist lets you keep tabs on current weather conditions of any major city you choose, giving you weather at a glance using symbols for clouds, rain, sunshine, etc. It also provides in-depth stats and local radar maps of the city in question. Meteorologist sits in your menu bar and updates itself at time intervals you set, so you never have to stop what you're doing to check on the weather, you already know at a glance.

Each of these apps offer minor improvements to the OS X experience; they follow the same ideology of getting out of your way and letting you do work, but they give you the information you need when you need it. These are also very small, so they don't slow don't your Mac with loads of background processes. They are what an OS X app should be.

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

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