Killer Software That's Either Free or Inexpensive
August 25th, 2006
There's nothing I like better than great software that's either free or inexpensive; here are a few of my current faves:
Mouse Locator (Free; www.2point5fish.com)
My office Mac has two huge displays; my desktop measures a whopping 2,880 x 1,024 pixels. Both of my screens are almost always covered with a plethora of windows, docks, menus, documents, icons, and who knows what else. That makes finding the little arrow cursor among all the flotsam and jetsam a challenge, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: It's kind of hard to see the arrow cursor…
Thank heaven for Mouse Locator, a free utility that helps you find the cursor by encircling it with two brightly colored rings (mine are bright fuchsia).
Figure 2: With Mouse Locator it's EASY to see that pesky cursor...
The rings are displayed whenever I wiggle the mouse after my Mac has been idle for a predetermined length of time. So when I wake up my sleeping Mac, the cursor is always highlighted in fuchsia. Or, I can press Mouse Locator's hot key and display the fuchsia rings at any time.
I love this little utility and you can't beat the price -- it's free.
Witch (Donationware; www.petermaurer.de)
I usually have 8 or 10 applications running at any given moment. Using the built-in Mac OS X application switcher -- Command-Tab -- I can switch to any open application without touching the mouse. That's good, but it's not good enough… You see, many of those applications have more than one open window. What I really want is to choose which window becomes active when I switch to an application. And that, my friends, is what Witch does. It works like the built-in application switcher but it lets you choose any open program as well as any of its open windows. It may not sound like much but I find it extremely convenient.
Plus, it's much prettier than the built-in application switcher and offers a bunch of additional window management options as shown in Figures 4 and 5.
Try it -- I think you'll like it!
Synergy ($10; http://wincent.com/)
When I'm at my desk working, chances are I'm listening to music with iTunes. The only problem is that if I want to play, pause, skip a song, see what song is playing, or do anything else with iTunes, I have to make it active and bring it to the foreground. Or at least that's what I used to have to do before I discovered Synergy.
Figure 6: Synergy lives in my menu bar.
With Synergy I can control iTunes from the menu bar or the keyboard without switching applications.
So I can choose the next song, the previous song, play, pause, add a star rating, or see the song title and artist in a transparent overlay (see Figure 8), all without touching iTunes.
Figure 8: Synergy's floating transparent overlay tells me what song is playing.
Synergy rocks (pun intended).
MenuMeters (Donationware; www.ragingmenace.com)
MenuMeters lets me know what's going on with my CPU, hard disks, RAM, and network connection, all without using up a single millimeter of valuable screen real estate. I'm a geek and I like to know what my Mac is doing; MenuMeters tell me more about my Mac than Activity Monitor while taking up almost no screen space.
The MenuMeters are all the icons to the right of the Help menu beginning with the number 73%. From right to left:
- 73% tells me that roughly three quarters of my processor is being used at this very moment.
- The red and blue thermometer icon on its immediate right indicates graphically that around 73% of my processor is in use right this second, with the red area representing the User Load and the blue area representing System Load.
- The green and red rectangles to the right of the thermometer are disk activity lights -- the red one lights up when a file is written to a disk, the green one lights when a read activity takes place. These two “lights” flicker pretty much all the time.
- The red and blue numbers to the right of the disk activity lights -- U: 352MB and F: 160MB -- tell me how much of my PowerBook's 512MB of RAM is currently available (160MB).
- Finally, the green and red arrows and text to the right of the RAM indicator display network activity -- sends and receives. (The reason nothing is displayed is ‘cause I was at a restaurant with no wireless access when I took the screen shot.)
Last but not least, if the menu bar display isn't enough information for you, click on any of the four icons and a menu appears with additional information, as seen for the RAM indicator icon in Figure 10.
Figure 10 Caption: More information than you probably need about RAM usage is just a click away...
Don't forget to make a donation for any or all of these programs if you like them enough to continue using them beyond a reasonable testing period.
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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