The Slacker's Guide - iAlarm and Growl

by Chris Barylick
February 20th, 2006

Alerting the Masses: Growl

Notification has never been an easy thing, both in real life and within technology. Yes, we want something that will gently tug at our pant leg and point out that something important is happening. On the other hand, we also don't want something that brings every minute detail to our attention. Some things actually go into the background of day-to-day life on your Mac.

For a program to understand this difference and act on it is admirable.

For several months, friends have mentioned Growl, then have mentioned the bodily harm they will inflict upon me if I didn't get around to trying it. Finally, after only seeing the program tangentially, with brief glimpses, I installed it and tried it out.

It was worth every word of praise my friends had ever uttered about it.

Activate Microsoft Entourage and you'll see something you might or might not want when notifications emerge and draw your attention to them, even if you might happen to be in another program. Growl goes beyond this and allows similar notifications to take place through customizable programs such as iTunes, Apple's and other applications.

The notifications, which provide a good balance between subtlety and function, inform the user of the basics of the event and provide a good level of introductory detail (for example, a new e-mail will have had to have made it past's spam filter, its notification window displaying information such as the subject, sender and the first few sentences of the message). Let a new song load in iTunes and a notification window will provide the track name, band, album and whatever cover art in can provide to add to the visual. Additional modules, such as a notification to handle shell scripts in the Terminal program and windows alerting the user to the presence of new hardware being seen by the system can also be installed.

Growl alerts a user of a friend's coming online in the Adium instant messaging program.

Growl, a 2.6 megabyte download, is available for free with the programming team asking for a donation via PayPal and nothing more. The program installs by opening the .dmg file that is downloaded, then by double clicking on the "Growl.prefPane" file to bring up the installer. From here, users can choose which programs to install modifications for while individual modules can be chosen from Growl's "Extras" folder. Once the desired modules have been installed and the desired preferences have been chosen (this segment of the program has been cleverly thought out with almost everything being adjustable), the user logs out and logs back in again to set Growl into action.

The Growl team, led by Christopher Forsythe and featuring Mohammad A Haque of AppleGeeks fame, keeps the project open to anyone who'd like to contribute with a full section of the site devoted to developer information as well as active forums and a bug tracking page.

Completely unexpected, but one of the coolest and most useful programs I've seen in a bit, Growl does an excellent job of pointing out new information without being obtrusive in the process. The program runs cleanly in the background, has just been converted into a Universal Binary for use on Intel-based hardware and requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later to run.

Reinventing the Rooster: iAlarm

My days began with a glimpse of something flashing across the ceiling before the weight hit. From the sound of the doorway, my family erupted in laughter. The weight, having landed, scrambled to find secure footing before finding a purchase. This was the typical wake up routine during high school, an 85-pound Labrador retriever being sent in to leap onto my chest at my family's whim.

And honestly, there was nothing that could be done about it. Some of us sleep deeply to the point where above ground thermonuclear testing becomes necessary to wake us up and a clock radio has almost no chance of succeeding at six in the morning. Enter iAlarm, a cool little shareware program by Sam Gharabally that may become one of the most useful applications on your Mac.

Specifically centered on the idea of a timer and music, the program essentially functions as a countdown timer that can be set with a variety of notifications once the time has expired. Multiple options can be configured for when the timer expires, a smorgasbord of wake up calls blasting you from halcyon dreams. In addition to its primary function of activating iTunes, additional customization can be had by choosing a specify song library. Custom text can be spoken aloud in addition to local weather and news.

An iTunes play time can also be configured to fade iTunes out as well as discontinue it completely in case you need to wake up, get dressed and walk out without disturbing those around you. For the brave of heart, the program can also hook into custom AppleScript files to activate any sequence you can think of from your Mac.

iAlarm's main screen.

While this may not be the most revolutionary program available for the Mac, it does address the need of blasting those who sleep like the local pet rock population out of bed in a manner of your choosing. This serves a purpose, runs nicely in the background and includes a good help section via the developer's Web site. iAlarm isn't completely free and requires registration as well as $5.75 to completely disable a nag window that delays the program's start for 30 seconds. The program is a 776 kilobyte download and requires Mac OS X 10.2 or later and iTunes 3.0 or later to run.

Simple, easy to learn, extensible and more than fulfilling its main purpose, give iAlarm a try and see what you think. True, it may not make the process of getting out of bed any easier, but at least you have your choice in how this is done, sans your furry companion's full weight jarring you out of a deep REM cycle.

And yes, it does feature a "Snooze" option.

That wraps it up for this week. As always, if you see anything new, cool or useful in the Mac universe,