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Three System Preference Panes I'd Hate to Be Without


Episode 47
November 4th, 2005

Over the years I've tried literally hundreds of user-installable System Preference panes, all of which purport to make using a Mac more pleasant and/or easier. While some have fallen into disuse over the years, a few have remained in service. Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to three of my favorites: WindowShade X, MenuMeters, and Synergy.

WindowShade X

The Windowshade concept has been around for ages and the Mac OS X version by Unsanity is the best yet. Of course its namesake feature lets you to “roll up” almost any window, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Rolling a window up with WindowShade X-before (top) and after (bottom).
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image.)

That's nice and conserves screen real estate nicely, but wait-there's more. It can also minimize a window in place, saving even more screen space as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Minimizing a window in place with WindowShade X.

But that still isn't all WindowShade X can do… In addition to rolling up windows like a window shade, and minimizing windows in place, you can also make any window transparent, so you can see right through it as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: You can see the folder on the desktop right through this transparent document window!
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image.)

Configuring WindowShade X couldn't be easier. It's a System Preference pane as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: The WindowShade X System Preference pane's Settings tab.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image.)

As you can see, when I double click a window's title bar it will minimize the window in place; when I click a window's yellow Minimize button it will minimize the window to the Dock; when I hold down the Control key and double-click a window's title bar the window becomes transparent; and when I hold down the Command key and double-click a window's title bar (or use the keyboard shortcut Command-M) the window rolls up like a window shade.

Now for the best part-you can try it for free. And if you like it as much as I do, you can buy it for a mere $10.

For more info or to download your own copy, visit the Unsanity Web site.


I like to know what's going on under the hood of my Mac so I'm a big fan of MenuMeters by Raging Menace software (a.k.a. Alex Harper). MenuMeters does just what its name implies it will do-places useful meters in your menu bar as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: The Memory (left) and CPU (right) meters.

What these meters are telling me is my Mac is currently using 769 megabytes of RAM with 1279 megabytes available. The little zero with the red and blue arrows above and below it tells me there have been no page outs (which indicate virtual memory use and are an indication that you are running low on real RAM). The two bar graphs on the right which say 12% and 8% tell me that my dual-processor G5 is currently using a small fraction of it's available processing power.

With MenuMeters running I can tell at a glance whether lack of RAM is hampering my Mac, and how much of my processing power is currently being used.

MenuMeters takes up precious little screen real estate and is almost infinitely configurable. In Figure 6 you can see the CPU and Memory tabs and all of the items they allow you to control.

Figure 6: MenuMeters CPU (left) and Memory (right) tabs.
(Click the thumbnail for a ginormous image.)

While I choose not to display them, there are two other MenuMeters you can display-Disk Activity and Network throughput-as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7: MenuMeters Disk (left) and Network (right) tabs.
(Click the thumbnail for a ginormous image.)

In addition to the info you can see at a glance, clicking on a MenuMeter displays additional useful information as shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8: Clicking on the Memory (left) or CPU (right) MenuMeter in the menu bar displays additional info.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image.)

I like MenuMeters a lot. And you can't beat the price-it's free (though you are asked for a donation if you find it useful).

For more info or to download your own copy, visit the Raging Menace Web site.


I listen to iTunes almost all day every day so I love Synergy, by Wincent Colaiuta. It's a controller for iTunes and much more.

The first feature I like is the transparent overlay, which tells me the title, artist, album, and length of the song that's playing. Album art also appears if you've got it, as you can see in Figure 9.

Figure 9: Clicking on the Memory (left) or CPU (right) MenuMeter in the menu bar displays additional info.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image.)

The floater pops up on screen whenever a new song begins, or when summoned via keyboard shortcut. Speaking of keyboard shortcuts, they are the other great feature of Synergy.… I have hot keys for Play, Pause, Next Track, Previous Track, Volume Up, Volume Down, Show/Hide Floater, and Star Ratings as shown in Figure 10. What's so great about this is that the hot keys work in any application, so I can control iTunes without having to activate the iTunes application itself.

Figure 10: Synergy lets me control iTunes from the keyboard without activating the iTunes application itself.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image.)

Synergy also offers an iTunes controller and menu right in the menu bar as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 10: Synergy lets me control iTunes from the menu bar, too.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image.)

Synergy has even more features and options but those are the ones I can't live without. You can try Synergy for free and buy a copy for just $10. After using it for over a year I can't imagine using my Mac without it.

For more info or to download your own copy, visit the Synergy Web site.

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

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