Collection of OS X apps + tools

With iTunes 7 coming out yesterday, it’s meant a couple of apps I’ve ran on the MacBook aren’t needed anymore. Makes things a bit easier I suppose! Clutter is pretty much gone now which used to pull in cover art for tracks as you can automatically (albeit a little slowly at times) grab them from the iTunes store, and CoverFlow has been built-in to iTunes for browsing + flipping through albums via cover art.

Still, it leaves quite a few little apps I have running which are cool and some people have asked about when they’ve seen screenshots of my desktop. Always new stuff to pickup on, and TUAW Desktop group on Flickr often has photos which catch my eye! My current desktop is as such (most of the little apps I use are on display):

MacBook desktop

Photo DesktopThere’s actually only one icon on the desktop! Might look a mess, but it’s just a collection of photos powered by Photo Desktop, a very cool little app that allows you pull in photos from your iPhoto library and drop them onto the desktop, including rotating, resizing, adding captions, etc. Minimal memory demands makes it very nice, and 5/10 minutes of playing got me setup with a really nice layout, so whenever I get fed-up + frustrated, I can simply hit F11 to swish all the apps away and leave me looking at the photos – happy memories of holidays, trips, and time with friends.

VirtueDesktopsAnother little app I use constantly is VirtueDesktops, which in the same way Clutter + CoverFlow have been replaced by Apple building these features into their software, OS X 10.5 Leopard is bringing in ‘Spaces’ which seems to be doing the same as VirtueDesktops. Basically, it lets you have multiple desktop screens, allowing you to group applications together and makes things much cleaner.

I have a web brower (Firefox) on one desktop, my mail client (Mail.app) on another, RSS reader (Vienna) on another, etc. I took this idea for granted from using various Linux systems + graphical environments for years where pretty much every window manager provides multiple desktops, and VirtueDesktops has some nice features such as binding applications to certain desktops, customisation of triggers, etc. Very smart little app, and I love the way you simply click whichever icon from the dock you want it it rotates to that desktop automatically.

QuicksilverNow something I’ve only been using for a couple of weeks – Quicksilver. I wouldn’t say ignorance had kept me away from Quicksilver, as I’d heard about it long before I got the MacBook. The problem is, the website gives so little indication of what you can do with it, and most of the docs and guides are well out of date, even though they seem bang on when you finally get stuck into them and wade through the crap – guess the core functionality hasn’t changed much. Quicksilver is a combination of a launcher (simply type in an app and it launches) and a Spotlight-like search system for documents, photos, music, videos, etc. but also provides a host of exta functions via plugins.

For example, just today I came across a roundup on Lifehacker providing info on uploading photos directly to Flickr with Quicksilver. Sure enough, once you’ve found your photo in Quicksilver (which only takes a few seconds anyway), from the ‘commands’ options you click ‘Upload to Flickr’ and your webrowser (which automatically rotates in on it’s desktop thanks to VirtueDesktops!) shows the Flickr upload window asking for a title, description + tags and it’s all done. It’s worth the time it takes to learn Quicksilver and some of the little features like this it has. A personal favourite is the iTunes plugin – select iTunes within Quicksilver, then browse by artist, album, genre, etc. and give it some keywords and hit enter. iTunes starts playing whatever you told it to.

Recent TunesRecentTunes also sits quite nicely in the status bar watching what’s playing in iTunes, and uploading the data onto the webserver here. Look on the sidebar and it should tell you what’s playing in iTunes. No really need for it, but adds a bit of activity to the blog and is only a few kb of traffic every 3/4 minutes when a new tracks plays. Only problem is RecentTunes doesn’t like working after the computer has been in ‘sleep’ mode or when you logoff/restart. Loads of similar issues across the internet – I’ve found you can simply copy ‘com.freshsqueeze.recenttunes.plist‘ from ‘Home/Library/Preferences‘ to somewhere else in your home directory, and whenever it stops working, delete the preferences file, copy it from your home directory and relaunch RecentTunes. Bit of a chew on and will probably automate it if I can get my head together and look at AppleScript or maybe an Automator workflow.

OnyxSome other apps running around on the MacBook include Disk Inventory X for tracking down disk space usage and cleaning things up, Monolingual (which I’ve blogged about before) for removing unnecessary localisation files + language packs, TubeSock for downloading videos off YouTube and into iTunes, Keyword Assistant for iPhoto for easy tagging of photos with iPhoto and Onyx for various tweaks to OS X preferences and scheduled tasks.

It’s the little things that make a difference 😉 Throw these little apps + tools together, and makes the whole system so much easier to work with. Although they are 3rd party releases, they seamlessly integrate with OS X, especially the fade in + out effects of Quicksilver and the screen flipping + rotating of VirtueDesktops. End of the day, it makes it quicker + eaiser to use OS X than any of the desktops I’ve used a cross various Linux distos (KDE, Gnome, Fluxbox, Englightenment, XFCE, etc.) and, of course, Windows pales in comparison.

SkypeOh, and just as I’m finishing writing, news of Skype releasing version 2.0 of Skype for Mac has sprung up so downloading that. Still appears to be a beta release, but maybe they’ve ironed out a load of bugs – they seem to give version numbers out as they see fit! Reliability has been terrible with the 1.5beta, even with video turned off, although it could just be the internet connection up in Alaska! Hopefully this new release will be more stable + offer improved audio + video quality. Much as Skype has been a God-send the last 18 months, and putting down quite a bit on Skype-Out credits too, the service has been getting noticeably worse the last few months as they’ve grown larger + larger. Free Skype-Out calls in France until the end of the year was recently announced will only put more of a strain on things. Hopefully they keep up with the pace though!

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Senior Content Development for Microsoft writing about Azure virtual machines. Occasionally I play video games.

Posted in apple, computing, photos + galleries

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About Me

Iain Foulds, 33 years old. Originally from England, now living in Seattle. I currently work as a Senior Content Developer for Microsoft writing about Azure VMs. Gamer. Very passionate about photography. Comments and opinions expressed here are my own. More...

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