What’s in the dock?

Following my post on OS X uninstallers, Matt asked about what applications are in the dock in my screen shot. So here’s a quick run down of the extra apps I’ve got in the dock, plus what’s loaded and showing in the menu bar.

What_s What

The Dock (from left to right)

Path Finder – I use this instead of the default Mac OS X Finder for most of my file management on the Mac, mainly because I can open it with two panes visible and drag & drop between them, but it’s got a whole host of other file management goodies besides.

OtherInbox/Fluid – OtherInbox is great for managing my mail and an absolute must in the fight against spam (I wrote a separate post about it). Here I’ve got the web interface to it bundled as an application using Fluid, so I can quickly launch straight into it from the Dock.

NetNewsWire – the best way to keep on top of all those RSS news feeds. I’m a bit of a news junkie (hmmm, might even post about what feeds I follow at some point), and NetNewsWire makes it easy to get my daily fix, oh and it’s free.

Microsoft Messenger – After moving to the Mac I still had a lot of friends using Messenger, and the Microsoft client gave me the best compatibility even though it lacks some of the features of it’s Windows counterpart (like audio & video in the personal version). I do like Adium as an IM client, but for some reason keep going back to Messenger. Old habits die hard!

VMware Fusion – If there’s one indispensable app on my Mac, this is it. It’s neck and neck with Parallels when it comes to running Windows on your Mac, and I typically run three Windows VMs side by side during my working day. VMware has been rock solid and we use it at work so I can move VMs between machines if need be.

1Password – I keep all my logins. passwords and secure notes such as software licenses in 1Password. Browser integration makes it a snip to quickly and safely log in to web sites, plus with the iPhone app I’ve got all my passwords safely backed up on the phone.

Pages 09 – This was my first choice for word processing on the Mac, although I had to add MS Word later.

Word 2008 – I bought MS Office 2008 for the Mac simply because so many of my colleagues use Word on their Windows machines and this gave me the best compatibility for sharing those docs.

Excel 2008 – Not much of a number cruncher but have written a couple of complex spreadsheets in Excel 2007 for Windows which I use weekly and Numbers 09 had a few issues handling them, so Excel 09 was the natural choice. Even so, there’s still a couple of compatibility issues between Excel 07 and Excel 2008 – ahem, thank you Microsoft.

EyeTV – how else to get my daily fix of pulp TV without leaving my Mac? Bought an Elgato EyeTV Hybrid and this is the software that came with it. Works brilliantly and dead easy to use.

Spotify – The revolutionary music streaming service that everyone’s talking about. A good range of music to suit all tastes, and relatively unobtrusive adverts for the free service.

Last but not least, there’s an icon in the dock that lets me quickly connect to my Mac Mini (standard built-in OS X screen sharing stuff).

The Menu Bar (left to right)

Skitch – Superb for capturing screen shots and then editing/annotating them. All the text and arrows in the screen shot at the start of this post were done using Skitch. It also lets you easily upload and share the fruits of your labours.

Evernote – Great dumping ground for all those notes I would otherwise be scribbling on bits of paper, plus I can sync my notes between computers, and with an iPhone version I can sync notes to that too.

DropBox – Another great way to share files between computers, and even with friends. 2Gb of online storage for free!

OpenDNS Updater – I’m a great fan of the OpenDNS service, keeping me safe from dubious websites, phishing attacks etc. I even wrote a blog post about it a couple of months ago. The OpenDNS updater is a free little app that syncs your IP details with the OpenDNS service.

GMail Notifier – A handy way to keep tabs on new Google mail. This was Google’s own version, but I’ve since switched to the leaner GMail Notifr app.

Yahoo Widgets – A hangover from my Windows days, thousands of widgets to put on your desktop, and I like the fact that you can change the transparency of any widget.  I know OS X has the Dashboard for widgets, and with a little hack you can put Widgets on your desktop, so it’s horses for courses. (To be fair, I think Yahoo Widgets are on the way out as there’s fewer and fewer new widgets appearing these days).

Smart Reporter – A little menu bar app that monitors the SMART status of your drives – green is good. I’ve got four drives in this Mac Pro, so any early warning of an impending failure is a plus.

Mozy – Online backup tool (this is me and my backup paranoia again). Mozy offers a good balance of functionality and cost (just $4.95 a month for unlimited storage).

Little Snitch – I was actually quite happy with the built-in OS X firewall, but I got Little Snitch as part of a MacUpdate Promo Bundle. I installed it and found that it’s nice to have that little extra bit of control and information about what your firewall is up to.

iStat Menus – An assortment of useful menu bar indicators for various aspects of your system. Here I’m using the memory meter to keep an eye on how much of my 12Gb has been gobbled up by my VMware virtual machines.

MobileMe – Apple’s online service needs no introduction. I keep this in the menu bar simply to give me quick access to go and check up on it or force a quick sync.

On the desktop there are two Yahoo Widgets visible. The one on the right is the standard Yahoo Weather Widget that comes bundled with the app. You can see it here at around 50% transparency so it blends into the background. The one on the left is something called Neon Gauges which will give you a graphic representation of various aspects of your system. Here I’ve used circles to indicate CPU and disk usage and have blended them in with the shapes on the background wallpaper.

There you go, a lightning tour of what’s on my OS X desktop. Obviously I’ve done the rebuild since taking that snapshot, but I still use most of those apps, so hope this gives people a few ideas. This has given me a few ideas for other posts I might do in the future, like:

  • What news feeds I’ve got in NetNewsWire
  • What’s on my iPhone
  • A sum up of what’s in (and around) my Mac Pro

Fun with customized folder icons on Mac OS X

How often do you come across a piece of software that does exactly what you want it to do? Well it seems that iconCompo has provided me with the means to do something I’ve wanted to do ever since getting my Mac. Now I actually quite like Leopard’s minimalist cool blue colour scheme for it’s folder icons. I ust wished there was a way to ’emboss’ selected folder icons with something that gives a clue as to the contents so that I don’t have to scan the labels underneath. I still want the folder icon to be clearly visible so that I know it’s a folder (rather than an app or an archive for example), but some extra visual cues would be nice.Similarly I don’t want anything too colourful as that can be distracting.

So it was almost by accident that I ended up downloading iconCompo. I was looking at another icon editing app on MacUpdate and I happened to look at the ‘Other People Suggest’ where someone had mentioned iconCompo. A few minutes later I was staring at a very simple interface with three boxes on it thinking ‘what comes next’? Well the premise is very simple – box #1 represents one layer, box #2 represents another layer and box #3 represents the result, which is the essence of how you come up with a customized folder icon that combines the image you want with Leopard’s standard folder icon, as the picture below demonstrates.



So for example, to create a customized folder icon for the folder where Email Backup Pro stores backups of my mail file, I pasted the Mail.app icon into box #1, the default folder icon into box #2 and hey presto…! However, the capabilities of the program don’t end there. You can resize and reposition images, as well as changing the hue, saturation, brightness etc. I wanted to stick with Leopard’s blue colour theme so I altered the top layer of each of my custom icons to give it a blue hue, and I’m pretty pleased with the results.

Start small, then go for it!

Start small, then go for it!

I then decided to have some real fun and create custom folder icons for TV shows I have recorded through EyeTV. You could just as easily create custom icons for your favourite bands, or anything else.

Custom folder icons

How about folder icons for your favourite TV shows?

iconCompo has a lot more features than I have described here. For example you can alter the pitch and angle of each layer, you can add text (written in any direction), and of course you don’t just have to create custom folder icons – you can combine any two images you like. Your imagination is your only limit.

Auo-renewal… they’re at it again!

After the aggravation I went through when Webroot wanted to auto-renew my Webroot SpySweeper license, I thought I had said goodbye to all of that. Well now PCTools is on my case to… yes you’ve guessed it, automatically renew my license for Registry Mechanic.

“We hope you’ve enjoyed your subscription to PC Tools Registry Mechanic and trust it has been a valuable tool in protecting your privacy and security in the past year. We’ve made some significant changes to Registry Mechanic in the last 12 months. To read about all the benefits and features available for Registry Mechanic click here. To ensure you have the latest version of Registry Mechanic, click here.

We see from our records that your subscription to Registry Mechanic is due to end on June 22, 2009. Based on your current auto-renewal status, we will renew your subscription to Registry Mechanic using the account information you provided. This is scheduled to occur approximately on June 02, 2009 and there is no further action required on your part.”

Great! However, nowhere in the email does it even mention the fact that I might not want to renew! So off to the website I go, and login to my account. After ten minutes of searching – nothing. The FAQs tell me everything except how to cancel the auto-renewal. Nowhere is there a button or a link labelled ‘Click here if you wish to cancel your auto-renewal’. I mean it would be so simple to do, but I guess they’d rather make it difficult by either leaving details of how to cancel off the website altogether or burying the information so deep you stand little hope of finding it.Closest I got was a page showing me my Registry Mechanic license details, with a promising field labelled ‘Subscription status:’ followed by the words ‘Active – auto renewal set (modify)’ and the word modify was a link… great! Oh… all it does is take me back to the page showing me the license details. Dead end.

As of today – Saturday May 23rd at 15:30 GMT I have posted a ‘general enquiry’ using the form on the PCTools website, asking them to cancel the renewal. Let’s see how this one goes.

So, if you are switching to a Mac, make sure you get on top of any automated renewals for Windows software you’ve purchased in the past because the general approach these companies take seems to be to make it difficult or at least very onerous to cancel. If you are one of said companies, then PLEASE do two things:

  1. Make ‘automated renewal’ an opt-in choice, rather than forcing people to sign up for auto renewal when they buy your software.
  2. Make it clear, easy and straightforward for people who do want to cancel.

Now why do I get the feeling that last plea will fall on deaf ears…?


Hats off to PCTools – they emailed me within 24 hours to confirm that they have cancelled the automated renewal as follows:

After reading your email, I understand that you wish to cancel your automatic renewal for Registry Mechanic.

We have now processed your request to cancel the automatic renewal for your subscription. For your records, your Registry Mechanic subscription is active until 22-Jun-2009.

Please note that you may receive a reminder notice via email towards the end of your subscription period regarding renewals.

Note:  Should you wish to renew your subscription manually, you may do so by following the link below:

If you require further assistance on this specific request, please reply to this email.

Kind Regards,

Sure it would have been nice if there was actually a ‘cancel my subscription’ button somewhere on their website, but at least they responded quickly and I would have no hesitation in recommending them to Windows users who need such software.

Do unto others as you would be done by…

There’s at least one company here in the UK that will sell you a choice of PC’s with a choice of Linux, Windows or OS X pre-installed, and they openly advertise this on their website. One assumes that they’ve at least had a brief look at Apple’s license agreement for OS X and have chosen to ignore it because they see a market for selling PCs with OS X installed. Ok, so let’s get this straight – they have presumably purchased OS X, taken delivery of the OS X media from Apple and have decided that they, the buyer, don’t see why they should honour the terms under which it is sold to them.

Fine, that’s their decision. But it’s not difficult to find a link on their site to a page called ‘T & C’, and guess what’s on that page? Yup, you’ve guessed it… Terms & Conditions that you the buyer must agree to in order to buy their products. So let’s get this straight. When you buy something from them, they expect you to adhere to their terms and conditions, however when it’s them buying something from someone, they don’t expect to adhere to any terms and conditions.

Now whether or not you agree with this whole business of 3rd parties flogging computers with OS X pre-installed, it does make you wonder – if they’re the sort of company that ignores the terms & conditions when they buy stuff, what’s to stop them doing the same when they sell stuff?

The juicy goodness of OS X applications

Snow Leopard is fast approaching (well I hope it is) and I’m actually thinking that it might be an opportune moment to rebuild my Mac Pro from scratch. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried hundreds of applications since Feb 2008 when I first got my Mac and despite this, OS X is still stable and running sweetly. No it’s just the tinkerer in me that thinks if I install Snow Leopard from scratch rather than upgrading from Leopard, then I’ll end up with an even better system. There’s also the fact that if I do a rebuild I’d sooner be giving it a go when I’m well prepared and not under pressure, rather than in a panic after something blows up!

So in preparation for this big event I’m doing three things. Firstly I’m making sure all my backups are up to date so that I can retrieve every scrap of personal data. Secondly I’m building a list of the applications I really want to keep, together with their licenses and configuration data where necessary. The second bit is the interesting one because of all the apps I’ve tried, it really only boils down to a limited number that I’ll be installing straight away on my fresh build. So what has made it on to my short list…?  (In alphabetical order)

1Password1Password – there is no handier way to store all your logins and a few secure notes like license details besides. Sync’ing with the iPhone is an added bonus! I have been playing with the LastPass Firefox extension and it’s pretty cool, but to guarantee my logins etc. are safe, 1Password takes some beating.

A Better Finder RenameA Better Finder Rename – with my backup paranoia I not only import my photos to iPhoto but also copy them into a separate folder structure which I backup manually. This tool is great for renaming hundreds of photos at a time given the pretty useless names my camera gives them. There’s a gotcha if you’re using a Logitech keyboard mapping, but that would appear to be entirely Logitech’s fault.

Calgoo Connect – still the most controllable way to keep my iCal in sync with my gCal!

CleanAppCleanApp – yes I know it can be prone to hosing files you want and I’ve blogged about that in the past, but with a bit of care and caution it still seems to be the most thorough uninstaller available. Plus you can archive apps instead of deleting them in case you change your mind. Perfect!

Connect360 – if you have an XBox 360 and you don’t have Connect360 then you’re missing out big time! By far the easiest way to get at media on your Mac from your XBox, and rock solid – it does what it says on the tin.

CoolIris – Ok some call it eye candy but the immersive way it lets you stroll around media on your Mac and on the web is just beautiful. Bye bye productivity!

DropBoxDropBox – No round up of Mac software would be complete without it. In fact it’s a bit like the mobile phone, how did I manage without it before? If you work with multiple computers then this is the best way to keep your important stuff safe and to hand. If you want to share a few things with friends then DropBox makes that easy as well.

Email Backup Pro – great because I know that every day at 9am my Apple and Entourage mail is safely backed up and can be recovered at the click of a button.

EvernoteEverNote – gone are the reams of post-it notes and scraps of paper. Now all that info that had no other home to go to is safely stored in Evernote. Plus I can get at it on the iPhone plus whatever other computer I’m on. Sure beats writing on your arm with a biro!

EyeTV – despite the 32″ LCD sitting in the lounge, there’s something about watching and recording TV on your Mac. Ok, so Freeview gives you endless channels of pulp TV (not a fan of soaps and reality shows), but what there is that’s worth watching is faithfully thrown at me courtesy of this and my EyeTV Hybrid stick thing.

FirefoxFirefox – I wouldn’t be without it. Safari is cool, and I’m liking the look of Safari 4 beta, but it’s the extensions that make Firefox so useful. Gmail and gCal look terrific with Google Redesigned installed.

Flickery – at last, a Flickr desktop client for the Mac that works! I’ve never been a fan of the sometime quirky Flickr interface, and with Flickery I rarely need to set foot inside the Flickr web interface to upload. manage or browse photos.

goSecure – it’s simpe and safe. 256-bit AES encryption for individual files or whole folders. Drag and drop, enter a password and your done. Ain’t no crim gonna get in to my secret stuff!

LittleSnitchLittleSnitch – OS X has a pretty good firewall built in, but like a lot of Apple software it assumes you don’t really want to know what’s going on under the covers or to take fine control over it. Little Snitch protects inbound and outbound connections for you and makes it easy to manage.

MS Office 2008 – a necessary evil perhaps, and I’d happily stick with iWork ’09 if I had to. But for the best compatibility with the people who insist on sending me Word & Excel documents, this is the best compromise. Just a shame that when I think of Microsoft these days the image I see is of Steve Ballmer’s grinning face. Eeek!!

Mozy – more backup paranoia, but I know that even if my house burns down then so long as I wasn’t engulfed in the flames, I’ll be able to get my important data back.

Nambu – My Twitter life began in October 2008 so I’m still a tweeting newbie. As such I’m still searching for the best Twitter client for my purposes, but I keep coming back to Nambu. It just seems to tick the most boxes for what I want. The iPhone client is pretty cool too, although Twitterific and Tweetie are also good contenders.

OnyxOnyx – I trust my Mac to keep itself ticking over nicely, but if I ever feel the need to do a little tidying or tweaking, then Onyx gives me that extra control and ease of use that I need. What’s more, it’s been around long enough to give me confidence there aren’t nasty bugs waiting to trash my precious data.

Skype – I drown in a sea of IM clients but Skype seems the best for video chat, given that most of the people I know don’t (unfortunately) own a Mac. iChat is great for video chat with Mac friends, and Adium is cool for chat but doesn’t yet support audio/video (properly).

Spotify – free and legal music, unobtrusive adverts and a pleasing interface. What more could you want?

SuperFlexibleFileSynchronizer – gives me minute control over exactly what data is backed up, where and how often. Superb flexibility, hmmm…. as the name says.

Super DuperSuper Duper – they call it “heroic system recovery for mere mortals” and they’re right. It’s the the belt and braces and it clones my boot partition every other day so that in the event of a disaster, I can almost instantly reboot off my cloned boot disk to how the Mac was a couple of days ago if I need to. Two things – 1) I’ve tried it and it works, booted off the cloned boot disk, no problem! 2) The interface makes it dead easy to use.

TrueCrypt – while goSecure is great for individual files and a few folders, everything is much more easily managed if you have a couple of TrueCrypt volumes. If you have a few gigs of data you’d like to protect, then TrueCrypt is ideal.

VLC – I don’t always want to fire up iTunes, especially if I’m listening to something I don’t necessarily want appearing in my library. VLC lets me play stuff without Apple’s behemoth jumping all over it.

VMware – and finally, what better way to run multiple virtual Windows machines, and even the odd Windows server or Linux machine? The Unity mode even lets you forget you’re running a whole virtual machine! Can’t wait to see what we get when VMware 3 arrives…

‘Only’ 8Gb of RAM in a 2009 Mac Pro

Is it just me or does anyone else think that the 8Gb RAM limit on the new Quad-Core 2009 Mac Pro is a bit of a retrograde step? I keep reading reviews saying what a wonderful machine this is, how fast it is, how easy it is to upgrade the RAM etc, but no-one seems to mention the glass ceiling at 8Gb?

Picture 1

I have an early 2008 Mac Pro, or a Gen 2 Mac Pro – whatever you want to call it. It’s the single 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon version and it currently has 12Gb of 800MHz DDR2 memory fitted. Yep, that’s twelve gig… and I use it. I work from home for a large part of the time, and part of my work involves supporting a variety of large corporate customers. For this I remotely access their systems using dedicated Windows XP clients which I run under VMware Fusion 2.x. Each virtual client machine has around 12Gb of hard disk space and 2Gb of RAM allocated to it, and with my current configuration I can run up four virtual machines simultaneously and get good performance out of each virtual machine, while at the same time run a pretty snappy OS X desktop for all my personal stuff. The ability to run multiple VMs at the same time and not have the whole thing slow down and start swapping is an absolute godsend, and I even run up a virtual Windows server at times for good measure.

So in the eyes of Apple, what would be my upgrade path? The new Quad-Core Mac Pro tops out at just 8Gb of RAM. Ok it has more grunt in the CPU department, but the 8Gb memory limit rules it out, and would require me to drop a whopping three grand or so on a new Eight-Core kitted out with 12Gb of RAM (obviously I wouldn’t be paying Apple’s silly prices for RAM).

I understand the 8Gb limit may be some sort of architectural limitation, but it does throw a spanner in the works when it comes to possible future upgrades. As it happens, the 2008 Mac Pro is a fantastic machine for running multiple RAM hungry Windows VMs, and unless I’m next in line for that big win on the lottery then this current machine is going to be my best option for quite a while yet. I have heard rumours that the 2009 Quad-Core will ‘unofficially’ support more than 8Gb of RAM, but I’ve yet to chase down some definitive answers.

Here’s a list of some interesting snippets I have come across. Not sure if there’s any truth in them but here goes anyway. (I’ll add to this list as I find more):

  • Optimal memory configuration in the 2009 Mac Pro is three matched DIMMs, so 3 x 2Gb would be better than 4 x 2Gb.
  • The limit has nothing to do with the architecture of the Nehalem processor, it’s artificially imposed by Apple as part of the EFI BIOS settings.
  • Someone somewhere has added 4 x 4Gb sticks in to their 2009 Quad-Core, and it ‘works’.
  • Apple doesn’t officially support 4Gb DIMMs in the 2009 Quad-Core.

By the way, have you seen the list price of eight 1066MHz DDR3 4Gb DIMMs from Apple? How does £4,880 (+ VAT) sound??!

That's something a 2009 Quad-Core Mac Pro can't "officially" do.

That's something a 2009 Quad-Core Mac Pro can't "officially" do.