Hicks

You’re reading all articles on The Hickensian tagged 'osx'

Apps of the moment

There are a few apps that I’m particularly enjoying using at the moment, so I thought I’d share in case any of them are news to you:

Choosy

Choosy does a seemingly simple task, and does it very well. For a start, it provides a central preference pane to choose your default browser, but its main thrust is letting you choose which browser to open a link in. You can do this either manually via a chooser display (right), or automatically depending on order of preference.

My favourite feature is ‘behaviour rules’. For example, I get emails from Opera’s internal bug tracking system, and I always want to open these in Opera, no matter what my default browser is at the time. I can now do that with one simple rule set up in Choosy!

For someone like me who still uses several browsers (mainly, but not exclusively, Safari, Chrome and Opera) it doesn’t ‘arf make life easier.

Fantastical

Quite simply, the best calendar app I’ve ever used. Its always handy (sits in the menubar), doesn’t have the vulgar leather stitched interface of iCal (yes I know about Busycal) but is small, neat, and made for humans. Yes, it still has an element of skeumorphism, but in my view its done right – just enough to make it feel warm with the distracting superflous details. As well as the mix of traditional calendar and agenda views, it allows events to be added using human language, with the calendar view filtering live as you type, and adding people and locations. Its a joy to use, and I use it as my one and only desktop calendar app.

And then, two well known apps that I continue to enjoy…

Evernote

This is still my central collection source. I’ve tried all sorts of ways over the years, but the Evernote ecosystem of desktop-web-mobile is still the winner for me. Shared notebooks works brilliantly, and they are constantly evolving the UI (such as the recent subtle Notes redesign). It all goes in here – images, PDFs, notes, draft blog posts, anything I want to remember or keep for later. Its my travel diary, design scrapbook, UI library, recipe and notes book. It was invaluable in writing The Icon Handbook:

There’s still a few niggles with Evernote – for example you can now drag a thumbnail out of the app to export it, but it does so in a format that only Evernote can read. Not really export is it? Despite a few niggles like this, I remain a big fan.

Spotify

I’ve had a on-off relationship with Spotify. In general, I treat it as a way of previewing whole albums before deciding whether to buy them, creating collaborative playlists and getting access to a large music library on my iPhone without any syncing woes.

They’ve done a few wonky things recently (such as requiring Facebook to sign up, sharing everything with Facebook by default) and since joining iTunes match (a service that I’m greatly impressed with) the latter reason is less important. However I’m enjoying a great new Spotify feature: Apps. I love the last.fm and Guardian reviews apps particularly, making it an even better place to discover new music.

Yojimbo 2 upgrade

Yojimbo 2 has suddenly arrived!, but I’ve immediately hit a snag. When you first open it, Yojimbo 1 users are met with this message:

Yojimbo

So if you try out version 2, you screw up your installation of 1. It’s good manners that it warns you, but a better solution would be to offer a backup and restore facility. The message put me off upgrading, but I found the database (home>Library>Application Support>Yojimbo) and have backed it up. Hopefully, if I decide not to upgrade, I can just restore this folder to revert to version 1.

Great to see a new improved icon though!

Update: Making a backup of the database works, although I found that wasn’t enough. After restoring the Yojimbo folder in Application Support, and clicking on Yojimbo 1 I got a warning that it was already running another instance. I checked in Activity Monitor, and there wasn’t. The fix was to run Yojimbo 2 again, and choose ‘quit’ rather than ‘upgrade’ – then I was able to run version 1 again.

Dropbox & Leap sitting in a tree

I’ve waffled a lot this year about Evernote, Littlesnapper and their ilk, but I now feel I’ve found the best scrapbooking solution for me.

In the comments to my Littlesnapper post, Jo mentioned Leap.app, the file browser alternative to the Finder, as a way improving the approach of using the Finder to browse scrapbook images:

Your comment about tagging in Finder reminded me of a program I stumbled across, ages ago, that is a pretty cool alternative/replacement to Finder: Leap. It provides preview thumbnails of just about everything (you can pick the size and zoom in at will), tagging (I believe it covers tag completion, as well; it at least auto-tags based on folders you’ve stored things in); all sorts of neat features, and more ways to search and index your files than you can shake a stick at. If you ever want to ditch Finder for something more interesting that might be more helpful in your collecting endeavors than Finder was, I’d highly suggest taking a peek at Leap.

I’d tried Leap a while back when it first came out and didn’t play with it for long, but now having sat down and got used to it’s way of working (These videos help), I’m converted!

DropBox + Leap.app = Heaven

I’ve been a DropBox evangelist since day one, and John and I have pimped it a lot on the podcast. However, my vision on how I could use it was somewhat narrow, until I read a post about Killer Scrapbooking by Colly. I’d never realised that DropBox had an online gallery interface, or that it had an easily browsable iPhone interface.

Above: The normal and iPhone optimised DropBox website

So now, inside my DropBox’s Photo folder, I have a ‘Design Scrapbook’ folder. All I need is an alias to the scrapbook folder on my desktop and I can just drag anything I want to keep to it. There isn’t an interface that pops up when I do this – it all stays in the background until I want to look at it.

This solves the big problems I had with other solutions: Files are easily accessible, and shareable, from anywhere, in their original state. They’re not renamed like in Evernote, or hidden away from view in a database file. The new Evernote Premium version allows you add files to a note without changing their name, but the problem is right there: you have to add them to a note! You still can’t just keep your files on they’re own in their original state.

What’s more I can not only store and browse images, but also PDFs (I have quite a few typeface samples as PDFs), Movies, Presentations, anything. These don’t show up in DropBox’s web gallery interface of course, but they’re still synced.

Tagging any file, and viewing by tag, is quick and easy, and it has the resizable thumbnail interface that I like so much in LittleSnapper and iPhoto.

Above: Using the Loupe tool to quickly enlarge portions of images – Leap also supports QuickLook.

This does mean that I still use separate apps: Skitch for screenshots and Paparazzi/Web Archives to capture complete web pages, but that’s fine. Skitch in particular blends in seamlessly with this system – for all intents and purposes, it could be a feature of the same app.

Of course, I’m using Leap for more than just browsing my scrapbook – now that I’m in the mindset I prefer using that to find files. Unlike my other software reviews this year, there are no downsides to Leap – it’s all full of WIN. I haven’t felt so excited about apps since, well, since Coda.

LittleSnapper

I’ve talked a lot about OS X apps recently, and I’m slightly nervous of doing it again so soon. Let me make it clear though, that I only blog about those that interest me, and for no other reason!

I’ve mentioned before about creative spongery, and how I collect images, screenshots and type samples from the internets and shove them into iPhoto. I loved the idea of being able to use one app to do multiple jobs. After 3 years of doing this, I became bothered by having my photographs and family snaps in particular, mixed up with ‘work stuff’. iPhoto is an excellent app for storing though, so I decided to create a new iPhoto library and switch between the two. If you’ve not come across this trick before, hold down the alt key while launching iPhoto – it gives you the option to create a new library and choose a different one!

This worked for a while. but became a pain to remember to switch, especially when importing images off a camera. I clearly needed to start using a dedicated app for all this stuff. So, over the course of about 6 weeks some of the apps I tried and rejected were:

Yojimbo – No thumbnail previews of images at all, so no way to quickly scan through the collection. Does have tag support though, so the catalogue could be categorised easily

Evernote – This does have thumbnails, and what’s more, they’re resizable like iPhoto. However, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, it embeds the images into a note. This makes the thumbnails less useful, and harder to export. I also prefer a dark background to view my thumbnails against – just a personal thing!

Together – works really well. It keeps images in a clearly marked folder in the Finder (rather than hidden inside a database), and there are multiple ways to drop images in. It loses points on the thumbnail viewing though – there are 3 set sizes to view at, and they can only be displayed as a list, rather than a grid of thumbnails. Does do tagging though.

Finder – This is almost ideal, but as there is no tagging solution, images that you want to be in more than one category have to be copied.

This is where the whippersnapper LittleSnapper comes in, and just in time! It takes the elements of iPhoto that work well – the thumbnail browsing style, keywords (tagging in LS), and adds features that make it more suitable for design collections. An in-built browser with DOM-snapping, remembering URLs and providing a variety of tools to capture information.

Suffice to say, I love it. I didn’t love it until quite late on in the development process, when it became possible to drag an image to the dock icon to import it. This is how I do most of collecting, rather than full-page screenshots with Paparazzi. Once that feature was added, LS suddenly started becoming useful to me.

I won’t repeat the full feature list here, this is a blog post, not a press release, and there are too many to cover. It has ambitions to replace Paparazzi and Skitch, and while it does the former, it doesn’t quite do the latter. Namely you can’t resize images.

It also isn’t the cheapest app you can buy – so is it better than just using iPhoto? It certainly is, but iPhoto still does one thing better: thumbnails. Quickly scroll down thumbnails in iPhoto, and there is no lag, the thumbnails are there. Do the same in LittleSnapper, and you’ll reach a point where it takes a second to draw the thumbnail. Not a long time, but it means you can’t quickly browse – you have to scroll, wait, scroll, wait, etc. One final whinge – no tag completion, so you need to make sure that you type it the same each time.

With the communication I’ve had with the lovely Nik at RealMac, I’m confident that all these outstanding features are planned, and that’s enough for it to become my ‘trusted system’. I’m excited to have finally found a decent solution!

Evernote wishes

evernote logoThis post started off as a grumbly tweet, grew into a feedback email, and now it’s final state as a blog post. I’ll still email this feedback to the Evernote chappies as well, but I didn’t hear back after the last email (gentle nudge).

I’m still holding on to Evernote with the tips of my fingers, but there are areas where it still niggles at me:

  • I can’t export files in the way I would like. If I use the ‘Export’ command I get an Evernote style XML file, rather than, for example, the 3 PDFs I selected. Why XML? Just give me the PDFs! You can’t drag and drop items from the list into the Finder, but I can choose ‘email’ to get multiple items out in one go. Doing this for images frames them in it’s own branded Evernote border. Just give me the images! (does this frame go if you have a premium account?). The way around this is to drag and drop images from their notes individually, but that’s a tedious solution.
  • I really wish it wouldn’t rename my files. If I put in a PDF file helpfully named “VAT Return Jan-Mar 08” I’d like it to still be called that when I export it, rather than the unhelpful “bb2cd873d62b7e9616a056a1aac12698.pdf”. It’s my stuff, give it to me in it’s original state.
  • By default, an image is embedded into a note, which introduces whitespace into the thumbnail: Basically, portrait images fare better than landscape. I would like images to just be images – not embedded or renamed.
  • In the iPhone app, you can mark items as favourites to store them on the phone for when you have no connection (yay!) but if that is a PDF, you have to click twice to see it. Click once in the list (which shows you it’s a PDF), after which you get a screen with another PDF icon. Click that, and finally your PDF starts loading. Compare that with a PDF in Air Sharing, and you can click straight from the list to view the PDF in one. What’s the point of the middle screen? It provides no further information and just delays the process.evernote
  • New notes created on the iPhone automatically go into ‘Pending’ where it can’t be read until it’s uploaded. This means when I’m abroad and have no data signal, creating notes is waste of time, as they can’t be read until I get (or pay extra for) a connection.

The effect of the first 3 issues is that I’m left feeling that my stuff isn’t mine anymore. Once in Evernote, I can do a lot with it, but once in, it becomes Evernote’s, not mine. I’m not liking that loss of control and ownership. Compare this to a desktop competitor like Together.app, which not only lets you import and export the unaltered file in a number of ways, the files themselves are in easily accessible, visible folders. Nothing is hidden, renamed or rebranded.

Why do I stick with it? Because aside from these issues, I like where Evernote is going so far. I like that development is regular and ongoing and that they’re tackling the issue of accessing notes anywhere. I’m also sticking with it in the hope the issues I’ve noted above are simply features that haven’t been implemented yet…

Mac Mini Media Centre

(This post is a work in progress, that I will continue to update and tweak. The comments are great, with a whole variety of suggestions and details of other setups. I’ll try and keep the comments open as long as I can)

Apple TV or Mac Mini?

No getting away from it – I still yearned for a Mac based media centre. I’d hoped Wii Transfer would fit the bill, but the quality of the video streaming isn’t good enough (yet?).

That meant either a Mac Mini or an Apple TV, but that’s a hard decision. Apple TV has the ease of use that makes it ideal for the home. No fiddling about, but no PVR functionality either. In the end, I went for the Mac Mini’s potential over the Apple TV ‘just works’, and using FrontRow and EyeTV to provide the interface.

But, I’d dabbled with a Mac Mini media Centre a couple of years ago, with a G4 Mini hacked to use FrontRow. I gave up on it a few months after, but recently decided that the time was now right. So what’s different this time around?

Front Row built into Leopard – rather than tied to particular machines and requiring a hack to make it work. Front Row 2 also adopts the plugin ‘appliance’ architecture of Apple TV, as well as supporting sharing from other macs. As far as I can see it only lacks the YouTube feature of the Apple TV.

Screen sharing – After using other VNC clients, the inbuilt screen sharing facility is easy and responsive. I can barely notice a difference in performance between administering the Mac Mini and working on my MacBook Pro.

Intel Mac Minis – Compared the original G4 Mac Mini I was trying to use, the new Intel Mac Minis are faster, have larger hard drives and Bluetooth and airport as standard (which the G4 didn’t have). They also come with a built in remote and receiver. I previously used a bluetooth phone and Salling Clicker, which works, but it isn’t the kind of ‘slick solution’ you can hand to someone else and expect them to want to use it. The Apple remote works very well, and isn’t too simple (it is easier to lose though, and you can’t ring it to find out where it is.)

Leopard brings everything you need to run a media centre, with the exception of a PVR, and an automagic system for adding new content to the Mini. Finally, I was trying to run the last system through our old CRT telly, that only had 2 scart inputs. It looks like ass. Now that we have an LCD, it doesn’t.

So after studying the Apple Refurb Store for a few weeks, I picked up a good deal:

Unpacking the Refurb Mac Mini

So, onto the setup…

Preferences

One of the first things you’ll want to do is minimise the possibility of the OS giving you messages, so go to System Preferences > Bluetooth, and make sure this option isn’t ticked:

Open bluetooth setup assistant - make sure its not clicked

Otherwise you’ll get interfering messages, worrying about the lack of a keyboard attached. Likewise, go to System Preferences > Software Update and make sure it isn’t checking for updates.

Hardware

This is how my hardware is setup: A Mac Mini sends video to the TV with a DVI to HDMI cable, while the sound is sent through my stereo with a headphone to dual composite cable. If I wasn’t playing music, I would just send the audio to the TV. I’m using a Western Digital MyBook external drive to store everything on, but I’d like to replace this with something larger, quieter and (if possible) no blinking lights! The only other piece of hardware is the EyeTV Hybrid dongle.

Essential Apps and plugins

You probably have a different list of essentials, but having tried a lot of potential apps, these are the ones I’ve settled into using:

Perian

A plugin that allows playback of .avi, .flv (amongst many others) in Front Row. Installs as a System Preference.

Syncopation

I use this to automate the adding of new content from my MacBook. You set the Mac mini to subscribe to however many Macs you want, and as long as its open on both, it will suck in any new tracks, movies etc. Works really well, I just wish it had some way of letting you know on the MacBook end that all new tracks have been imported. For Movies though, I’m finding it easier to share the Movies folder on the Mini and just drop the files in there, rather than try and get them into iTunes.

Handbrake

For ripping your DVDs, everyone should know about this!

EyeTV

Along with an Elgato Hybrid stick, this provides the PVR functionality, along with more recording features than my DVD Recorder does. Being able to set up smart recording schedules is genius, and I tend set every recording to automatically export as Apple TV, which adds it to iTunes for me.

PyeTV

A ‘Front Row Appliance’, which adds an EyeTV menu item to Front Row. This has now reached version 1, is easier to install, and the transitions between EyeTV and FrontRow are smoother.

Media%20Centre

Media%20Centre-8

Also, I haven’t tried it yet, but Sapphire looks interesting.

Moving the iTunes Library

I soon ran out of space on the Mac Mini, and while I was loathe to add yet another bloody plug to the overloaded adaptors behind the telly, it had to be done. (An external hard drive doesn’t tend to be as quiet as the Mac Mini either!). Relocating the Movies folder to the external hard drive was as easy as using an alias, but the iTunes library is a bit more troublesome. It should be as easy as choosing the new location in iTunes Preferences > Advanced, but I couldn’t manage to do this and retain paths. Everytime I wanted to play something, I had to select the new path to the file.

Instead, I created a folder on the hard drive, and rather than copy across everything manually, I chose this new folder as the library location in the advanced preferences, and used ‘consolidate library’. This not only copied everything across, but this time updated the paths to the media files, and everything plays as it should!

Switching between FrontRow and EyeTV

Everything works well in this setup, with the exception of navigating between the 2 applications – Frontrow and EyeTV. There are a few ways around this:

  1. Before launching FrontRow, I make sure that EyeTV is open, and on fullscreen mode (see below). Then I can go back to EyeTV by pressing the menu button on the FrontRow main screen. Pressing and holding the menu button in EyeTV shows it’s onscreen menu (in which you can do almost all the work that you’ll need to do). Pressing menu once will return you to FrontRow. Sometimes it can be annoying if you don’t remember to press and hold in EyeTV, and you get whisked away to FrontRow.
  2. The Pye TV plugin for FrontRow adds an EyeTV menu, from which you can launch FrontRow, its recordings, or the programme guide.
  3. Setting recordings to automatically export to Apple TV means that they will appear in FrontRow’s ‘TV Shows’ menu a few hours afterwards (depending on the length of recording, processor speed etc).

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that Syncopation, EyeTV and FrontRow are all set to open at startup. If EyeTV is set to ‘Start EyeTV in full screen’ (Preferences > Full Screen), then when the Mac restarts everything is ready to go.

Downsides

When it works, it’s great. The trouble is that 15% of the time something happens – EyeTV crashes, iTunes has been updated and won’t let you play anything until you’ve accepted terms and conditions, or another app is telling you that an update is available.

For these times, I don’t have an easy solution, other than to screen share and sort it out with the MacBook. Sometimes (like in the instance of EyeTV crashing) you just have to restart.

I’ll add more detail and photos when I can…

Custom webclip icon on the iPhone/iPod Touch

hicksdesign icon on the iphone

The new 1.1.3 firmware for the iPhone and iPodTouch brings with it the ability to add a ‘webclip’ from Safari to your home screen.

Thanks to this tip you can easily create a custom icon for people visiting your site, that works just like your favicon. Its just a shame you can’t add your own for other sites – I would love a custom Google Reader icon.

EXTRA : Having tried Nathans suggestion of 158×158px I can confirm that this size does indeed produce a crisper icon. Also, Drew has come come up with a way of using custom icons. I’ve put one up for Google Reader here

My MacWorld Prediction

Its probably the most exciting time of the year for me – the anticipation of new Apple products. I’m really hoping for a revised Apple TV with slick Eye TV integration, but I know that’s not going to happen. It’ll probably just be a Movie Rentals, and US only. Meh.

Anyway, onto my prediction. All this talk of the MacBook Air/super-portable mac is a red herring I believe. The product Apple will unveil later today, to an awed crowd of reckless spendthrifts will be:

The MacBook Grande

A 32” widescreen notebook with the strapline “Your home cinema, to go

Apologies for the lack of a mockup, but you’ll see it later anyway.

Quickly add movies to Wii Transfer

wii transfer icon One of the things that finally swung it for me to get a Wii was the Mac App Wii Transfer. It’s not quite as slick as the Apple TV, but fits nicely with my fetish for using things for other things. The music application works really well, but movies need to be converted before they can be streamed, which can take a while.

Only recently did I have a poke around and realise that movies are converted to Flash Video (.flv) and stored in /Library/Caches/Wii Transfer/Converted Movies/ folder. Using a handy bookmarklet I can now save YouTube videos directly to this folder and have them immediately available in Wii Transfer.

My 2007 in Blogs, Music, Events and Apps!

As has been my wont since the early 90’s, I like to write up the things that have tickled my fancy for the past year…

Blogs

This is should actually be in the singular, as there has been one particular blog that has lit my fire like no others.

Ace Jet 170 seems to have the ability to find objects that trigger the same emotional reactions, like these Routemaster and Underground Signs. A new AceJet post is often followed by a trawl on ebay…

AceJet 170

Music

As usual, not everything in this list was released in 2007, but I couldn’t leave out Midlake’s Trials of Van Occupanther – 2006 be damned! Along with Midlake, the other big discovery for me was Band of Horses, and in particular ‘Cease to Begin’.

So limiting myself to only one song from each of my favourite albums, here is the top 20, in playlist style order:

Song Artist Album
Is There a Ghost Band of Horses Cease to Begin
Blackout Amusement Parks on Fire Out of the Angeles
Time Bomb Goldspot Tally of The Yes Men
Melody Day Caribou Andorra
It Covers the Hillsides Midlake The Trials of Van Occupanther
Intervention Arcade Fire Neon Bible
Isn’t Life Strange The Clientele God Save the Clientele
The Pills Won’t Help You Now The Chemical Brothers (feat. Midlake) We are the night
23 Blonde Redhead 23
Rest My Chemistry Interpol Our Love to Admire
Girl Sailor The Shins
Black Magic Jarvis Cocker Jarvis
You Can Make Him Like You The Hold Steady Girls and Boys in America
The Strangest Secret in the World London Elektricity Power Ballads
Mistaken for Strangers The National Boxer
Mutiny I Promise You The New Pornographers Challengers
Clever girls like clever boys… Pelle Carlberg In a Nutshell
Up Against a Wall Peter Bjorn and John Writer’s Block
Jigsaw falling into place Radiohead In Rainbows
Don’t bother they’re here Stars of the Lid and their Refinement of the Decline

There are few that didn’t quite make the final list, such as Of Montreal and Hammock.

Apps that have changed the way I work

Two apps have changed the way I work in 2007 like no others.

Coda

Coda IconSince I first raved about Coda, I’ve met people who have either hated it, or see it as manna from heaven. As I suspected, it doesn’t really suit the hardcore TextMate users, but for me Coda has caused some big shifts in the way I work, and everything I do bar graphics is made in Coda these days.

The biggest change for me is that web development tools in browsers have become less of a necessity. The browser is regaining its position of being ‘pleasure’ while Coda is for everything that’s ‘work’ – like the distinction between home and office. I don’t even use Firefox & Firebug anymore, the revised Web Inspector in Leopard has been incorporated in Coda and that does everything I need and more.

My design process has also been changed by Coda. I’m working on visuals less and less in Fireworks and Illustrator, and starting on the HTML/CSS much much earlier. There are so many things that are hard to convey in a static mockup, and writing the CSS and HTML in Coda is so fast, there seems little point making one. I feel that I can iterate quickly and try out ideas. I still sketch and plan on paper, but a middle man has been cut out.

There’s more to love. The ‘Sites’ view has become more like a project folder or workspace. The saved tabs in a site can include not only the site files, but the remote and local previews, the Textpattern admin panels, phpMyAdmin and the project on Basecamp. I can’t do that in Textmate. The split views in Coda are another favourite feature. Apps like CSS Edit have useful tools, like the ability to override site styles, but the multiple windows for editing and previewing drive me mad.

I could go on, but in short, if I ever see someone from Panic, they’re in danger of getting a big kiss.

Billings

Billings IconI mentioned Billings fairly recently, but beyond being a very well thought out time tracking and invoicing application, it’s meant that I have for the first time been aware of just how long I spend doing various different tasks, and how much I spend in terms of expenses and meetings. Having a timer in the menubar wins over a dashboard widget or floating window anyday.

Its also been a great motivator, making me more aware of time I haven’t spent working, without being annoying about it. If I had one request of Marketcircle though, it would be a quicker way of seeing which invoices are unpaid (such as an link in the sidebar), something I need to refer to a lot!

Events

  • Moving into the Rissington offices with John, Jon and Simon, and recording The Rissington Podcast. Its the design studio I always wanted.
  • The iPhone. Crappy camera aside, its the convergent device of my dreams. I can’t wait to see what happens when proper 3rd party apps are written for it. In particular I’d like a cut down version of Coda and a way of playing music wirelessly through airtunes.
  • 2007 has been a good year for visitors – Luke Dorny, Scott Boms, Derek Featherstone and Ms Jen (thrice!) popping by to see family Hicks.
  • Oxford Geek Nights are really something special
  • First year of partnership with Leigh! Many people ask me how well we’re working together, but not only does she run her own projects, she’s also busy making stuff.
  • The National, Imogen Heap and The Hold Steady were gig highlights.

Thanks for letting me get that out of my system – I’m done till next year!

Yojimbo 1.5 Widescreen

I’ve updated the Yojimbo widescreen hack for version 1.5 (which supports adding images and icons by the way!).

Download

Yojimbo.zip

Installation

This hack is for Yojimbo v1.5, and has only been tested on Leopard. It should work on Tiger too, but I can’t guarantee it!

Backup Yojimbo first. Nothing bad should happen, but belts-and-braces, you know? Also, if you get sick of this view and want the old one back, just replace it with the backup.

To install, ctrl-click on Yojimbo in the Finder, choose ‘Show Package Contents’ from the context menu. Navigate to /Contents/Resources/English.lproj/ and replace the OGMainWindow.nib file with the one in the download.

Return of MYOB

Last week I was contacted by the Mac team at MYOB, the software that I briefly wrote about 2 years ago. There isn’t a lot in that post, but it’s negative, and apparently showing up rather high in UK only searches for ‘MYOB’.

The chap I spoke to explained how much MYOB had improved since v11 (the last one I used), so I felt it was my duty to at least give a trial (even though I am now hiring a Bookkeeper for my finances). I offered to hide the original post while I did so, as I felt really sorry for them. After giving v16 a spin, I made the post live again (which is why it suddenly popped up again as the latest post on Monday – doh!) and here is the feedback I sent to them:

  • Installation took over 40 mins! A .sit file had to be expanded, followed by a .dmg and then an installer where the location had to be chosen. First of all, stuffit no longer comes with Mac by default (so I had to download an application to open the .sit file), a .zip would’ve been better. Secondly, Mac users are used to just dragging and dropping an application into their applications folder – simple and straightforward. Many developers are now doing away with drive images, and simply zipping the application itself, which is even better. The Aladdin installer not only took ages to install, but looked very dated. The instruction text looked like OS 9!
  • Once installed, it launched the ‘whats new’ page in Safari, rather than respecting my default browser setting.
  • Opening the app and creating a new company file, the Assistant featured a badly aliased and compressed oval image. Form fields are the OS 9 style text (Geneva?), and go to Anti-Aliased Lucida Grande once filled in – looks horrible!
  • The ‘Command Centre’ interface is still the same horrible mess from v11. It still looks and acts like a PC application that has been ported to OS 9, and then to X. Functions and features are still hidden behind layers of tabs and windows and dropdowns. Aside from a new application icon (which is a bit of a confused mess in itself) I see no interface changes that make this look and act more like a Mac application.
  • Address Book integration. The fact that it has to ‘sync’ addresses, and then warns you to back up addressbook data meant I didn’t want to proceed! How unnerving is that? I use Billings to do my invoices, and that simply uses an Address Book group (which it creates automatically) to read addresses from – no syncing needed!
  • The invoice template customisation is better, but nowhere near good enough. There are also no controls for things like line-spacing
  • Apparently iCal integration is coming, but as it isn’t yet available, I can’t comment on that. Quite frankly I didn’t want to go any further.

Overall, MYOB still feels un-intuitive, messy and distinctly un Mac-like. Maybe these things don’t matter much to the rest of MYOB’s market, but they do to me.

If you want to see a Mac finance app done right, look at the wonderful Billings, my invoice application and job timer of choice. It’s everything that MYOB isn’t: usable and native.

What colour is that?

Being colourblind, “What colour is that?” is a question I’ve had to ask too many times. If there’s no one around to check with it means taking a screenshot and dissecting the CMYK values (I still can’t think in RGB) in a graphics editor. Do-able, but a bit of a pain the ass quite frankly. In particular, the hardest for me are those itty-bitty colour swatches you get in Photoshop and Fireworks. The smaller the area of colour, the harder it is for me to distinguish blue from purple, grey from pink and green from brown.

A wonderful new app for OS X has been released, called Color Decoder, and it solves this problem in a really simple way. Just hover over an element with the loupe and the colour is displayed in a way that I can understand:

My eyes and sanity are saved!

Kestrel

Uh oh, the Browser Radar™ has been twitching again. I have high hopes for Kestrel, the codename of Opera 9.5, soon to be available as pre-release weekly builds. Aside from the CSS3 support, the section under ‘Platform integration’ caught my eye (emphasis mine of course):

To make sure that Opera remains the best choice on your platform, we spend a lot of time making Opera feel more integrated with your platform. Mac users can expect a nice new visual look and feel. Opera for Linux will add a QT4 build, so you can easily adjust the skin to match with desktop. There will also be 64-bit Linux/FreeBSD packages made available.

I’ve been impressed with Opera abilities since about v8, and especially with 9, but the ‘Opera Standard’ interface looks more Mac-like than the ‘Native Macintosh’ skin to me. I use Opera Mini on my mobiles all the time, but it’s never made the leap to my desktop due to its look and feel. I believe that 9.2 introduced proper system-drawn OS X widgets which is a step forward for sure, but with Leopard on the horizon, Opera feels as if it’s still clinging on to a Jaguar look. Sadly, I’ve never had the time to have a go at making my own skin – the process seemed too daunting.

So, I’m quite looking forward to seeing this ‘nice new visual look and feel’, and hoping that it won’t be a disappointment. If anyone at Opera just happens to be reading this, any chance of posting a few screenshots to sate the curiosity?

Safari 3 thoughts

Apple has announced Safari 3 beta for OS X and Windows. To make room for more important thoughts in my head, here’s the associated Brain Dump™.

  • Updated version of WebKit. Nothing new to Omniweb 5.5 users, but my un-scientific perception is that it’s speedier. I think there will be some users complaining of ‘ugly form buttons’ though…
  • Draggable Tabs. Yay!
  • Inline Find, and very nicely implemented it is too. Yay!
  • Resizable textareas, extra yay. Is this the only browser to do this by default?
  • The Web Inspector is in there too. Not a patch on Firebug, but a welcome addition.
  • Its wonderful looking at a website on XP, and seeing gorgeous text smoothing. Even the apps menu’s are smooth – presumably it’s using webkit to display the interface too?
  • WebClips are conspicuous by their absence, but I’m assuming that this is a Leopard only feature.
  • No session saving. I wasn’t really expecting it, but this does make Safari the only browser that doesn’t reopen your tabs inbetween launches. As some commenters have pointed out, you can ‘Reopen previous windows’ from the History menu, but sorry, there really needs to be a preference for this, so that the process is automatic.
  • Looking at the preferences window in Windows is slightly scary. Like those PC-esque interfaces in early version of Firebird/Firefox for the Mac. I did feel that the interface should’ve been a better Windows Citizen.
  • I wondered if installing this on Windows would make Lucide Grande available to the OS. It seems that like iTunes, it doesn’t and keeps it to itself. Shame, I really hoped it would available to IE, Firefox and Opera as well, although as Ben Darlow points out, it does look ropey when aliased!
  • Also wondering if Apple will give a copy of the updated webkit to 10.4 users, in the same way they did for Panther users?
  • The sizable textareas thing and smooth text rendering seem to be only new browser features to Windows users. Is that right? If you’re a Windows user, and have tried the Safari 3 beta, I’d love to know what you think: Does it make you want to switch over?
  • Developing Javascript to work in Safari in the past has been a pain in the arse, so I would love to know from any Javascript developers whether the situation is improved in v3.
  • I wonder if/when developers of Saft, SafariStand and Inquisitor will update their plugins for SF3? My money is on Hetima getting a SafariStand b18 out first. (Update: Inquisitor actually works fine! Also, SafariStand will work if you turn off ‘Enable Site Alteration’).
  • I find the new interface too dark, but I use the Uno shade which for me is just right. To clarify: I’m referring to the screenshots of the Leopard version, which I find darker than the brushed metal. The UNO shade I find just right.

Camino One Point Five

Much kudos the Camino developers – Camino 1.5 is released today. With so many new features, such as RSS detection and Session Saving (Ha! Take that one Safari!) it was decided that this was a 1.5, rather than a 1.1 release.

I love Camino. In February last year I wrote about being a Browser Polygamist but only a few days after that post, Camino became my default, and a year and half later, it still is. I never thought that would happen. You can keep your whines about ‘lack of Firefox extensions’, Camino’s Mozilla power and Mac style hits the spot for me everytime. What’s more, its only going to get better.

An end to Browser pimping?

Thanks go to Doug March, who pointed me to an article on Ars Technica on Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5). In particular, it was this paragraph that Doug wanted to draw my attention to:

One more tip we got regarding Leopard, is that InputManager plugins are no longer allowed. That’s right… no more little hacks from anybody besides Apple. No more Apple menu hacks. No more Safari plugins.

Oh shit! No more InputManagers = no more useful plugins like Saft or Inquisitor. OK, the use of the word ‘plugin’ is up for debate (Haxie is maybe a more appropriate term), but these are little caffeine boosts to apps with no plugin API, and I for one love them.”

The article continues:

Apple isn’t really broken up about it since InputManagers were often used for nefarious purposes anyway,” our sources said, but the loss of InputManager control will break a lot of shareware and commercial software that currently makes use of that control.

It was news to me, but apparently InputManagers are a security risk. I was well aware of the chance of crashing and sluggish performance, but not malware using it to do BadStuff™ to your Mac.

What isn’t clear at this stage, is whether this applies to SIMBL, a method of applying hacks to a specific app. InputManagers load for every application, whether it’s intended for it or not, although not necessarily being active in those apps. SIMBL got around that and could be more targeted. I’ve asked Mike Solomon if he knows, but I guess until he gets his hands on Leopard, there’s no way to be sure.

It does mention that “InputManager is not exactly the same as APE, by the way”, so perhaps Unsanity’s APE (Application Enhancer) system could be used? I must say though, I’ve not had the greatest experience with their APE modules.

There is another way of course. Apple could develop a proper plugin API for their apps (Safari in particular), but something tells me that ‘giving up control’ is not something they’d want to do, and for good reason. As the Camino developers experienced recently, 3rd party plugins/hacks can really screw with day to day bug tracking and resolution.

Somehow, I can’t help feeling optimistic that someone somewhere will find a way, and a good way at that…

Yojimbo widescreen view hack

Having tried just about every notebook, organiser and outliner app over the last 3 years, I’ve become an eager convert to Yojimbo. Here’s a little hack that makes the main window use a 3 vertical pane view, like the letterbox plugin does for Apple Mail.

Yojimbo window showing widescreen vertical hack

There is a wee bug to be aware of. when you resize it too small, the list pane jumps right and covers up the preview. Clicking the splitter bar (the bit inbetween the 2 panes with an indented dot) brings it back though.

Download

Yojimbo.zip

Installation

This hack is for Yojimbo v1.4. Please make sure you update before installing this hack.

Backup Yojimbo first. Nothing bad should happen, but belts-and-braces, you know? Also, if you get sick of this view and want the old one back, just replace it with the backup.

To install, ctrl-click on Yojimbo in the Finder, choose ‘Show Package Contents’ from the context menu. Navigate to /Contents/Resources/English.lproj/ and replace the OGMainWindow.nib file with the one in the download.

The gadget I'm most excited about

It’s been a good week for the gadget obsessed, what with CES and Macworld. I practically wet my pants about the iPhone, but there are just a few things that hold it back from the “Gadget I’m most excited about right now”. Namely, the fact that we won’t get one until the end of the year, that it won’t allow third-party applications and not knowing what the price/contract tie-in will be in the UK.

Its not Apple TV either, although I was expecting it to be. What does Apple TV give me that my Front-Row equipped Macbook and a video cable doesn’t? 40gb isn’t enough for my music and videos, so presumably the rest has to be streamed, bringing a performance hit with it? Hmm, I hoped for more functionality. Now if they included a CD/DVD drive and integration with EyeTV we’d be talking.

No, the gadget I’m most wooping about is a new bluetooth device announced by Belkin. It’s the Bluetooth Dock Adaptor

The Belkin Bluetooth iPod adaptor

I’ve always thought that most remote controls fail the task of navigating and playing iPod music, and that the iPod itself is the best remote you’ll ever get. There have been solutions launched recently even look just like an iPod, with an LCD screen. Why bother recreating the iPod? Why not just use the iPod? Thats where this comes in.

No extra plugs, batteries or wires, just 2, small dock connected devices and you’re away.

It doesn’t stream video, but that’s less of a concern for me. Assuming there isn’t any loss of audio quality (I’ll wait for the iLounge review), the battery life of the iPod is the only real drawback. The Belkin TuneStage II will use a ‘pass through’ connector so that you can use the iPod adaptor while charging it, and I’m hoping this will have the same.

Now imagine this. Connect one of these to the dock connector on an iPhone, and navigate & play your music using the widescreen coverflow view. Now that’s what I’ve always wanted to play my music!

iPhone with coverflow view

I want to hear from Parallels users

Rick Wakeman

Is anyone out there using Parallels on either a MacBook or MacBook Pro? Hard disk and RAM needs aside, do you find that it works as a testing environment for Windows and Linux? I’ve been burnt by previous experiences with sluggard Virtual PC, so for the last 3 years I’ve been using a PC Laptop. It was this dual-computer usage that led Leigh to call me “Web Design’s Rick Wakeman”.

However, the sheer convenience and electrical economy of one-machine-to-do-everything sounds too good to be true. Is it? Please leave me your thoughts and experiences! Thanks!

Update Thanks follks, the message came through loud and clear. An MacBook Pro is now on its way! :D

Very quick thoughts on Leopard

So, this is Leopard, and these are my off-the-cuff reactions.

Time Machine

Great idea, but my goodness, Apple’s designers must’ve been overdoing the weed. That is the cheesiest interface I’ve seen in a long time.

Spaces

Everyone is going to say it. Virtue Desktops

iCal

I was really hoping for a new non-metal interface, but alas. The new collaboration features make up for that though, this is something I’ve been wanting.

Mail

More for me to get excited about here. I already use Mail to keep notes to myself (as drafts), but the todos feature looks great. Initially I’d missed that Mail was getting support for RSS feeds too. Many will hate this idea, but it suits the way I use RSS, so I’m keen to see this in action.

iChat

Unified interface! Yes! Screen sharing! Yes!! Fun wacky backgrounds and effects!! Oh, if you must.

Voice over

The new synthesised voice sounds amazing, but I would like one that sounds like my wife’s scottish tones.

There are more new features to come apparently. Generally, I was hoping for more advancement in unifying the interface, as well as new hotness in Safari, but maybe that can still happen. Like Tiger, a lot of Leopard’s strengths seem to be in the underlying technologies like 64bit applications and core animation.

A Proposal for a Safari Microformats plugin

In a nutshell, I want to be able to easily take advantage of Microformats. I want to know about and get that information with the same ease as RSS Feeds, and I want it to work on a Mac.

Firefox already has its ‘Tails’ extension, but this currently only displays microformats in the sidebar. There’s the TailsExport extension for exporting the data found, but sadly, this is Windows only.

So what tools do we have on OS X? Tantek has put up some bookmarklets that will do the export for you, but the trick is detection – knowing that there is data present in the first place. So either the site author needs to announce the presence of microformats (in the same way that they would display an icon for RSS feeds), or the browser has to check and inform you. I prefer the latter, but currently, Endo is the only OS X app I know that detects (it looks for the hCalendar format and passes it onto iCal).

What I’m doing here is illustrating a request I sent to Hao Li (Saft), Hetima (SafariStand) and Kasper Nauwelaerts (Safari Tidy), all developers of excellent Safari plugins. I can’t imagine that Apple are intending to integrate Microformats any time soon, so I thought it was worth trying the plugin developers. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Here’s what I’m imagining in Safari (although I would equally welcome this in Camino and Omniweb). Microformats are detected and announced the same as RSS feeds – an icon appears in the location bar to warn you. (Incidentally, in these screenshots, I’m using Safari Standardized Feed Icon from Mac Specialist). I’ve picked on Chris Messina’s Blog here, as it had a post with plenty of hCalendar love:

Mock screenshot showing Microformats notification icon

(Click to see the full image)

Clicking the icon reveals a sheet, with details of all the available data on that site hCards, hCalendars and so on. Each type is represented by an familiar OS X system icon:

Mock screenshot showing sheet with available Microformats

(Click to see the full image)

Data can be added individually, or all in one go. An option to cancel is there too. I’m not sure about the small + button, but you get the idea. I also think the ‘hCard’ bit is too techie – perhaps something like an email address or phone number?

I don’t know how hard this would be to implement, but I certainly needed to illustrate what I was asking for. Cross fingers! Any further suggestions and ideas welcome.

Update: Ben Ward had a similiar idea at the same time, but Ben expands the idea further. I like the concept of a ‘downloads’ style window. Go see.

Another Update: Remy Sharp has implemented this functionality as a bookmarklet !

Cocoalicious Hack

I fancied having a play with Apple Interface Builder to remove the margins in Cocoalicious, and moving the buttons and search to the bottom, mimicking Newsfire. Here’s the result!

Cocoalicious screenshot with margins removed

(Click image for original size) | The site in the screenshot is London Views, the work of Radiohead’s artist-in-residence Stanley Donwood.

If you fancy trying it out yourself…

To Install:

Download this file: ccl.zip
Ctrl-click on Cocoalicious, choose “show package contents” and then go to Contents > Resources > English.lproj and replace the ‘MainMenu.nib’ file with the one in the download folder. Best back up first!

Firefox becomes a contender

Up until a few months ago, Firefox was never on my list of browsers that I flirted with. It was never opened, not even for the hallowed web developer toolbar that so many swear by.

But then a few things changed. I discovered the Tails extension (for revealing Microformats) and the Firebug extension (sooo good). Combining this with Neil Lee’s G4 optimised build (with cocoa style widgets), Tab Sidebar and one of Aronnax’s pro themes I had something that looked and acted pretty much like my ideal browser. The sheer flexibility of Firefox was starting to outweigh the lack of Mac feel and behaviour.

Now, we all know that Firefox’s greatest asset is it’s extensions, but a benefit of this has only just got through to me. It allows for developers to add support for fledgling web 2.0 services (such as CoComment and the aforementioned Tails) without relying on the browser vendor to implement integration (if indeed it ever came). This flexibility is mind-blowing.

Now take a look at the new features being implemented in the Firefox 2.0 developer previews (Known as ‘Bon Echo’). SVG Text, Microsummaries, Inline Spell Checking (although I guess not using the OS X dictionary) and search suggestions. Most exciting of all, is the move to the Cairo graphics library, which on OS X, will allow Firefox (and Camino) to use the new shiny Quartz renderer, rather than the old Quickdraw, which should make a real difference to looks. I’m looking forward to this!

My hope is that the Firefox Mac theme sees an update too. Less stripes, more recent style preferences tabs and generally more Tiger styling. Aronnax has put together a proposal theme for the Bon Echo builds, but I strongly suggest setting up a new profile or user account for trying out Bon Echo. It’s not called a developer preview for nothing.

Sure, there are still plenty of annoyances, and its not seeing as much action as current faves Omniweb 5.5 and Camino, but it’s now a contender, which it’s never been before. So the browser indecision continues, only much worse, and I feel more than ever that I really should try and get out more.

Omniweb theme 1.2

Since last weeks update, I’ve not only refined the Safari style buttons, but the iTunes style buttons too. These look miles better, so if you’re using the round buttons, please re-download and install.

iTunes style buttons

This will be the last update to the Omniweb theme for a while, but I will be updating my Camino theme with these new icons soonish.

Download the Tiger theme for Omniweb 5.5 (888k)

Tiger Theme for Omniweb 5.5

I’ve finally updated my Omniweb theme to work with the sneaky peeks

Tiger theme for Omniweb 5.5

Changes for this version include:

  • New Icons: Mark page, Next Mark, Previous Mark, Favourites Folder, News Feed Folder. Thanks go to Dan Carson who created the ‘Mark page’ and ‘Favourites folder’ icons.
  • Added ‘small size’ icons for the main toolbar icons.
  • Improved close tab icons.
  • Added the large bookmarks image for the tab drawer.
  • Redone splash page.
  • It no longer replaces the Omniweb application icon.
  • Downloads window – tweaked to allow it to be resized narrower (like Safari). This may compress text when smaller, but I prefer a narrower window
  • Workspaces window- Changed from a ‘utility’ window to a normal one, with margins removed.
  • *New Change (4.5.06)*- Improved the smoothness of the Safari-esque buttons. Please re-download and re-install to get the improved icons.

As before, if you want to pick and choose which icons you want to install, all the original files are included, as well as goodies folders of applescripts and sample workspaces. Don’t forget to back up Omniweb first.

Download the Tiger theme for Omniweb 5.5 (888k)

A quick guide to Omniweb 5.5 sp6

Omniweb 5.5 is finally a public beta! It felt like it would never see the light of day, but here it is. To get it, you need to register on the new Omnigroup Forums, and then view this thread for download information.

Screenshot of 5.5 on Flickr

Notable changes in this version are:

  • Omnigroup have converted Omniweb to use WebKit, rather than Webcore rendering. In fact 5.5 is using a more up to date version of WebKit than Safari is – its the one that enables unstyled form buttons. (See this post by Dave Hyatt for more information). All Omniweb’s previous problems with sites like Flickr are past!
  • With the change of rendering, Omniweb is much, much faster. I’d say as fast as Safari is on my powerbook. I never thought I’d describe Omniweb as ‘snappy’, but thats how it is!
  • While the system-wide dictionary look-up doesn’t appear in the context menus, the keyboard shortcut – Apple Ctrl D – works just fine.
  • You can now specify CSS rules per site, as part of the extensive site preferences feature. On a site you want to change, select the CSS file to use, and the view is immediately updated! Per site CSS is nothing new to Mozilla browsers, but this has a nice easy GUI, as well as instant gratification!
  • There are still a few Omniweb features that need re-implementing, most importantly the wonderful zoomed text editor. For anyone not familiar with this, it provides a separate window for writing and editing text in textareas. I hope that gets back in soon.
  • Pop up windows are now opened as new tabs.
  • Finally – unified toolbars! Hallelujah!

The focus on this release was very much on the huge code change from Webcore to Webkit, so its nice to see new features like per site CSS sneak in.

Last, but not least, the spanky new Web Inspector (DOM Inspector to you and I) works too. To enable this is a similar process to Safari. Open Terminal and type:

defaults write com.omnigroup.OmniWeb5 WebKitDeveloperExtras -bool true

Next time you launch Omniweb, the ‘Inspect Element’ command is found in the context menu. I love the iLIfe/Aperture style HUD inspector, and use this a lot to look at styles affecting elements in the DOM.

Finally, if you want to hide the stripey ‘Under Construction’ banner in the toolbar, type this into Terminal (as of the new sp7 release):

defaults write com.omnigroup.OmniWeb5 HideConstructionWarning -bool true

While I’m still hoping for updates and improvements to Omniweb’s interface, this release makes it feel great again. This just causes me more browser indecision!

A wee note for anyone using my Omniweb theme. Don’t – not on 5.5 anyway. It adds some images that Omniweb no longer needs, and seems to muck things up a bit. I’ll try and get a revised theme out soon.

Mac Media Centre - iTunes Remotes

Despite constant bribes the children still haven’t broken the old telly, so for now, the Mac Mini is acting solely as a server for iTunes and iPhoto. Thats just fine though, as it was mainly for music that I wanted to use it, and there isn’t much time for TV/DVDs. What I have done though is pick up a cheap Airport Express off ebay which is a great for sending music to the stereo without trailing wires.

So far, I’d been using my s700i phone with Salling Clicker to control everything, and this worked great. The only drawback is that when I’m away with my phone, Leigh is left without a remote. (There’s still VNC of course, but its not really a ‘small remote’!) . So I’ve been looking into other options available.

The Keyspan Express remote and particularly the ATI Remote Wonder, are possibilites, but when navigating iTunes without the TV & FrontRow, you really need visuals for choosing albums and playlists. What you need is basically an iPod Nano that acts as a remote. Actually, hang that, how about a 40” screen displaying Coverflow with just a Griffin PowerMate underneath?!

Next up was Coverbuddy. If you have a Sony PSP, Coverbuddy’s web interface has a special version sized for it, and it makes a nice remote. However, not only do i not have a PSP, but Coverbuddy only plays albums, not playlists. webRemote does both playlists and library, but seemed quite clunky after what I was used to on Salling Clicker. Like Coverbuddy, it also needs a web browser to work from.

Cut to the chase, it just occurred to me that Leigh had a Palm Tungsten C, and that I could use Salling Clicker with that. This meant enjoying the full graphics glory of the buillt-in iTunes Controller that I didn’t get on my Sony Erricson s700i. It worked so well, I just laughed for about an hour, punching the air like I was ‘Living on a Prayer’. Job done.

Palm Tungsten C with Salling Clicker

The 3 yr old Tungsten C is a maybe little bulky by todays PDA standards, but I’m sure that somewhere there is a smallish, light, supported handheld (or phone with a reasonable sized screen) thats also cheap to grab off ebay. I’d be keen to hear what device you’re using with Salling Clicker that gives you graphics.

Happy old man

To balance the curmudgeonly talk of the last two posts, here are a few things I’m really happy about:

Kilts! I wore a kilt for the first time last weekend, and I am smitten. For a start if you have a rather more portly frame (such as myself) its quite forgiving. Also, while it was a freezing weekend, I can confirm that underneath all that tartan, there is a zone of warmth. AND, you get to put a dagger (Skean Dubh, sorry) in your sock. AND you get some where to put your camera at last (in the Sporran of course).

I did the whole traditional regalia, except for keeping my pants on. There are no photos sadly.

AppZapper – Yes, to uninstall an app in OS X you can just drag it to the bin, but there are still other files associated with it – preferences, Application Support files and caches. Looking through my Library folder its littered with the remnants of apps that I’ve tried out and dumped, and this mess annoys me. One technique is to do a search using the app name, but this can still miss some files. Now I just drag the app to AppZapper and ‘ZZZZap!’ The action of zapping is childishly pleasing one! For someone like me who is always trying out new stuff, this is a boon.

Salling Clicker – Although I’ve had this for a while, its only now with the Mac Mini as (primarily) a jukebox, that this has really seen some use. Beauty!

Segpub – I don’t get paid to pimp Segpub, or receive any referral fees, but I do get excellent service, uptime and support. Thanks for everything you do Jeremy, thou truly are a Creative Bastard.

Mac Media Centre part two - Software

FrontRow vs Others

So, now that everything is up and working, its time to find a GUI that will wrap it altogether. I could just use the default scripts in Salling Clicker to navigate between iPhoto, iTunes and DVD player using my phone, and this certainly works just fine. Lets face it though, a screen based interface is much nicer, and Frontrow is just the job. There’s the hack to get Frontrow running on macs that it isn’t meant to, and as mentioned above this works really well, but It’s a bit naughty, so lets look at the alternatives:

As mentioned in my sidenotes before, MediaCentral is a freeware FrontRow alternative. Its has a very simple interface – no icons or previews, just text arranged in a very iPod/Frontrow kind of way. This makes it faster to navigate, and works great. It has advantages over FrontRow too, as it also supports WebTV, EyeTV, AVI files and Video_TS folders. There is a Salling Clicker script to control it, but it isn’t as smooth as the FrontRow controller. Instead of just using the up/down/select buttons to navigate what you see on screen, it relays the menus back to the phone display, which I don’t find as easy. Also, there’s no option to view images in iPhoto.

Mediacentral main menu

Mediacentral iTunes menu

Centerstage is another project aimed at this area, and does include the functionality to view images from iPhoto. The initial screen where you choose which media to play looks good, but the interface from then on looks a little busy. Overall, Centerstage feels less like something I would want to use to browse, but its early days yet.

Centerstage main menu

Centerstage music menu

iTheater also looks promising (its open source too), and a public version is due to be released on 31st of this month, although this is a date thats been moving a lot in the past. Judging by the Storyboard PDF you can download from the site, it looks like a winner, but until the public release is out, who knows? One to watch.

Those are the dedicated ‘media centre’ apps, but there are 2 iTunes apps are worth mentioning:

Coverflow is my ideal way of browsing iTunes. I’d love it if this could be integrated into something like MediaCental as another way of browsing (you’d still need to access playlists and such easily, which you can’t do in Coverflow).

Coverflow

Coverbuddy offers a full screen view, but as far as I know, can’t be controlled by Salling Clicker. I also find its performance a bit jerky, even with a plain background. Handy if you have a Sony PSP though, as it can be used as a remote control.

There’s also the recently announced GriffinTuneCenter, but the limitations of iPod HD sizes rule that out for me.

So far, my favourite Frontrow alternative is Mediacentral, but I’m keen to see what iTheater have to offer. None of them quite have the finesse of FrontRow or the features of Windows Media Center, but it feels as if things are just starting to warm up.

Have I missed any? Let me know!

Mac Media Centre part one - hardware

For a few months now, I’ve been bitten by the desire for a Mac based ‘Home Media Centre’. I have all these scattered elements – music in various iTunes libraries, photos in various iPhoto libraries (We’d been using Old Faithful for downloading and keeping all the family photos), as well as DVDs and movies. I felt that I could bring these together somehow, but I also didn’t want to buy lots of new kit in order to do it. What follows is my experience in setting up a basic media thingy.

First of all, I’m a muppet when it comes anything video related. Emails back and forth with Siobhan who knows about such things helped me learn my coaxial from my s-video, and formulate some plans. Originally I wondered if I could use my G5 to double up as a ‘centre’, but looking through the January sales in Glasgow, I found a low spec ex-demo Mac Mini going cheap. It went against the ‘spending too much money’ rule, but it was a bargain. There was no damage – just a bit dusty on top.

Mac Mini

Being the lower model, it lacked a few features, most of which I could compensate for:

  • No Bluetooth, but I did have a USB dongle I could bung in the back, so that wasn’t an issue.
  • No Airport, but no problem as it would be sitting a couple of feet away from my wireless modem/router, and I could just run an ethernet cable to it.
  • Only 512mb RAM, which is OK, but replacing the RAM is straightforward as this model doesn’t have a bluetooth module or airport card to be disconnected first. All you need is a thin putty knife to unclip the base.
  • No DVD Writer. This was more of a problem, as the intention was to combine it with EyeTV at some point in the future, and the ability to burn off a DVD would’ve been ideal. Never mind, I could just grab the files onto the powerbook or G5 to burn a DVD.
  • Iomega MinimaxSmall hard drive, but then again, even the larger spec 80gb model probably wouldn’t be enough. I knew I would have to use an external hard drive anyway. Word of warning though: If you want to buy one of those firewire drives that sits underneath the Mini, get the Lacie mini drive, not the Iomega Minimax. I got the Iomega solely because it was available on Amazon, and I’d saved up some gift vouchers. The problem is that it takes less than a minute of being underneath the Mini for the drive to get too hot and start emitting a loud, high-pitched whine. The Lacie drive has a stand built in to allow cooling, so it shouldn’t get this problem.

So, connecting it all up. At the moment, the iPod dock, bluetooth dongle and firewire drive plug into the mini, and the mini is connected the telly by Scart connector with audio coming from the headphone socket, and video passing through an Apple DVI Video adaptor (which converts the DVI connection to s-video).

Once the hardware was set up, it was time to set up the software:

  • Installed OSXVNC and set it to run at startup. As it has Tiger, I could’ve enabled “Remote Desktop” in the Sharing preference pane to activate OS X’s in-built VNC server. However, I’d heard reports of this being slower than OSX VNC, and that was certainly my experience.
  • Disabled “Open Bluetooth setup assistant at startup when no input devide is present” in the Bluetooth preferences as I was going to be running it without no keyboard or mouse.
  • Installed Salling Clicker and the FrontRow Controller script, and set up the connection to my bluetooth phone.
  • Installed Chicken of the VNC on my powerbook to setup and control the Mini via VNC.
  • All my media files were copied to the firewire drive, and then I set up iTunes to use the library on the drive, rather than the Mini. To get iPhoto to do this too, I simply removed the pictures folder, and started up iPhoto. It then asks you where the library is located, and gives you the opportunity to choose the firewire drive instead. In iTunes and iPhoto this worked fine, but when trying FrontRow (more on that in part 2), it has problems accessing the files. Instead, I created symbolic links (with this easy context menu tool: SymbolicLinker ) of the Movies folder, and iTunes/iPhoto libraries, and that worked a treat. I haven’t tried a plain old alias, but that might work too. iTunes and iPhoto were also set to share their libraries so that we could listen/view on them on the powerbook as well.

Final note – if you’re ever trying to get Apple DVD player working when there isn’t a display connected (as I was, using VNC), it won’t work. DVD player doesn’t like this situation and will refuse to play. VLC doesn’t however. I spent ages trying to work out what was up with it. Doh.

Mac Mini

It all works, except…

The upshot is that this works just fine, apart from my TV, its not one of these fancy ones with a DVI or VGA connection. The S-Video to Scart connection works, but the picture quality isn’t brilliant (looks better on DVD’s though). This is the limitation of the s-video connection, I was a bit naive to think that it would be enough. The sound quality playing music through the TV’s speakers is made ‘fairly good’ by using the Volume Logic plugin for iTunes, but it lacks a bit of oomph. Music could be fed to a stereo via Airport Express, but while Airfoil allows you to send audio from other apps, the small time lag means this wouldn’t work for playing DVDs. At least thats what I figure – if you have any experience with using an Airport Express like this, please leave a comment!

So that’s the only limitation so far, but there’s not much we can do about that. Unless I can arrange the children to have a little ‘accident’ with the telly, there’s not enough justification to get a new one!

Now, read Part two: software

Spotlight indexing considered chuffing annoying

Until recently, Omniweb 5 was running significantly slower on my G5 than my lesser spec-ed G4 Powerbook. It was snappy on the powerbook, but sluggish on the G5. Both machines have near-identical files, as they are daily kept in sync with Chronosync. I couldn’t see how the better spec Mac was so slow.

After a post I made to the Omniweb Mailing List about this, the culprit was found to be Spotlight. There seems to be a known bug, whereby OS X can can forget privacy settings for a removable firewire drive. Therefore, every morning when I attached my powerbook to my G5 via target disk mode for syncing, the system would start re-indexing the powerbook.

Stopping the indexing resulted in a much happier G5, and in particular the apps that were using the most CPU – Omniweb and Fireworks.

I’ve seen a few suggestions bandied about for this – but most involve disabling spotlight altogether. I actually find spotlight rather handy, so would prefer to keep this on. Another suggestion involved adding the drive name to a hidden preference file, but ‘Macintosh HD’ could cause some problems there.

If anyone has discovered a way around this – please let me know!

Ideal OS X Text Editor?

That last post got me thinking. My ideal text editor for OS X is out there, but all the elements I want are in different apps! If I could somehow melt these bits together (like melting 4 chunky kit-kats together and pretending they’re the old style kit-kats), these are the ingredients I would use.

  • SubEthaEdit’s collaboration ability, split-view, web preview (just prefer it to Textmate’s), code navigation and general cocoa feel. Textmate allows you to navigate the code, but its a separate window. skEdit puts its navigation menu in the toolbar (where it should be), but SubEthaEdit’s implementation includes icons that find easier to scan.
  • skEdit’s code hinting, colour blender and project management. Its code hinting makes writing CSS and HTML so quick and painless, and its the only one that allows you to create a list of projects to open. In Textmate, I’ve got around this by keeping a folder of aliases to ‘.tmproj’ files in my dock for quick and easy project opening.
  • Textmate’s project drawer, code-folding, bundle editor and CSS & HTML validator. skEdit has snippets, but Textmate takes this much further with its bundle editor. Unfortunately, Textmate doesn’t use a standard cocoa textfield, so services items such as lipServiceX’s Generate Lorem Ipsum aren’t accessible.

With the exception of a built-in Textile filter (which can be added in Textmate, as Drew shows), this would do me nicely thankyou!

Please, don’t start talking Vim or Emacs to me. It always happens when I mention text editors, and It’ll just fall on deaf ears. Hopefully from reading the list above, you’ll get the impression that I’m just not a vim kind of guy! ;o)

10 Mac Apps

Om Malik has started a meme, and as much as I try to fight it, I can’t resist butting into this one. The premise is:

ask Mac Lovers – their ten most favorite apps. Forget, the Microsoft Office, or any of the applications that are bundled with an Apple. Instead, focus on small freeware and shareware applications that have helped you get the most out of your Mac.

So Safari, iPhoto and Fireworks MX are out I guess! No problem, as I have a habit of buying a lot of shareware mac apps, even though (in some cases) I end up not using them after a few months. I hide the embarrassment of my spending by telling myself how good it is to support developers (which of course it is). Also, when it comes down to it, most apps (by the time the exchange rate has done its work) are the cost of a UK magazine. Bingo!

So with no more ado, these are my favourites:

Voodoo Pad – The desktop Wiki. How I love this app – I think of it as my brain dump. Anything I need to write down or remember goes in here. I can’t really express my love for this app, and version 2.0 has bought various features that have solidified it in my affection, especially categories. I’ve tried a lot of notebook style apps, but this one hits the spot for me. Thankyou Gus.

Skype – Not Mac only of course, but I use this such a lot. After overcoming the foolish feeling from wearing a headset (“Hicksdesign, how may I help you today?”), I find this a much more convenient way of talking. I can speak to clients in the U.S for free, and with an infinitely superior sound quality to my land line (most of the time).

Flickr Export” – If it wasn’t for this, I would never have started using Flickr, it’s as simple as that. I love it when I don’t have to open a separate app to do another job, and iPhoto (not eligible for this list) is a app of desire for me. Thankyou Fraser.

ChronosyncEthan tipped me on this one. It syncs everything I want it to – iTunes, iPhoto, NewsFire. Every day I connect my Powerbook to my G5 by firewire, and my home folders are kept up to date. I also use it to schedule backups. After a careful initial set up, its job done.

Transmit – Its kind of an obvious one these days, I rarely see other FTP apps talked about (with maybe the exception of Fugu).

Newsfire – my news reader of choice. Its made reading my feeds speedy and pleasurable, and the new 1.2 betas bring in features I’d missing – subscribing via services menu or dragging links to the dock icon. After it first came out, you saw a lot of news readers trying to copy the minimal, but slick style, but none have grasped it. Hey, it can even perform incredible feats of shopping!

Cocoalicious – An exception to my rule of ‘not liking to open a separate app’ rule. Whether its browsing delicious links, or adding them, its all done in cocoalicious.

Omniweb – I’ve wittered on about how much I like Omniweb too many times before, so I won’t repeat myself!

Camino – If I’m not in Omniweb, or I need to test something in Gecko (without going to Firefox), its Camino. Fast.

skEdit – I still try other text editors (and have licenses for BBEdit, Textmate and SubEthaEdit), and while Textmate is coming close, its not quite close enough to replace this. That code hinting, easy to configure snippets, site management and image preview has me hooked. It makes writing CSS and HTML painless.

There were a few that didn’t quite make the list here – Quicksilver and xScope for example. They only lost out because these I use these more.

Mighty Mouse

As soon as the announcement was made about Apple’s new Mighty Mouse, I was placing an order within seconds. I’d been wanting, not necessarily a two button mouse, but a scrollwheel mouse, for a long time. I’d tried the various PC mice offerings (even the ‘MacMice’) but none of them had that great feel of the Apple Pro mouse. The low profile, and smooth glassy feel was what I wanted, but Mr Jobs had already said he wasn’t for making 2 buttons on his mice. The announcement was a surprise to say the least, but a welcome one.

Anyway, within 3 days, it arrived, and I’ve been using it constantly ever since. Having seen a lot of mixed reviews, I wanted to pitch in and say that I think its well worth it. I’ve not had any of the problems some seem to have experienced with the buttons. The lack of bluetoothness isn’t a concern for me (although the cable is a little short), but I have had 2 issues, which I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere:

  1. Setting the side squeezy buttons to Expose all windows: Windows became inactive after clicking on them. Expose > select > click on any part of the window, it becomes inactive – unclickable. Very odd. Only keyboard commands would work.
  2. The scroll nipple. Just lIke the balls on the bottom mice of old, I found this can become clogged easily. It doesn’t take much, and suddenly up or down scrolling is prevented. It just needs a wee rub with a tissue to get it working again though. Maybe this is just my extra sweaty finger? Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that one..

Browser Survey Results

OK, the results are in – this was a hard one to count, but I reckon I got them fairly accurate. The numbers won’t tally exactly with the number of comments – just to pre-warn any lurking pedants. Thanks to everyone who took part – it was a tremendous response.

(apologies for the fuzzy crapness of this image, but I really can’t be arsed doing it again)

The Results:

Safari 157
Firefox 53
Camino 28
Omniweb 5
Shiira 3
IE 1
Opera 1
iCab 0

Number of people who didn’t read the rules first: 25 ;o)

No surprise there I guess, Safari is king. I remember seeing another survey that showed Firefox much more on a par with Safari, but that certainly wasn’t the case here. Most people preferred it for speed, UI and OS X integration. Firefox’s popularity seems mainly due to the web developer toolbar, which lets face it, is a genius piece of work. There were a large number of Safari users who were put off Firefox as default due to its interface and lack of mac-ness.

Pretty much all those on Camino stated they were using the bleeding-edge nightly builds, which I’m not surprised at. They’re solid, stable and go like the clappers. Mozilla power, Mac Style indeed.

I’m not too surprised at Omniweb’s lack of votes, but I did hope for a lot more. Sluggishness seems to be the main issue for people not using it. Glad to hear no moans about having to pay for it though, as I did expect some “why pay when there are free browsers?” comments.

Opera and IE languish at the bottom with one vote each. I’m not assuming the IE vote was a joke, as IE Mac does have some nice features, so you never know.

Receiving no votes was poor old iCab. I expected at least one person using iCab 3 beta to come forward, but it appears not. Has Safari trampled all over iCab’s possible market?

Also, no one seemed to pick up on that fact that someone used Firefox for its ‘live boobmarks’ – maybe it was just me that found that funny?

and now.. my vote

What about me? Browser hopping as usual. I would love to say Omniweb as my default, but there are some niggles that stop that – performance, not yet updated to the latest rendering engine, doesn’t work well with Flickr, various unpolished areas of the UI and lack of find as you type. Maybe a future release will see improvements, but to be honest, I’ve not got any great hopes. Omnigroup – please surprise me!

I guess Safari would be my default, but lately I’ve been using Camino nightly builds, and found myself falling in love with my old favourite all over again. The UI is clean and looking good, and while it lacks some features I’d love (mainly RSS detection to pass URLs into NewsFire and ability to restore tabs at startup) I’m finding myself using it anyway. Its so nice to be using a fast, responsive browser again, especially after Safari overloaded with plugins. I guess its the downfall of installing plugins, but its either Safari with a features and a slightly unresponsive interface, or no Safari at all for me. Page rendering speed is fast, but simple tasks such as clicking a bookmark bar folder can sometimes take seconds to appear. Infuriating.

Shiira, while impressing with useful innovative features like tab expose, goes and adds things like the cheesy ‘page transition effect’. I’m not sure that the direction for Shiira is quite clear, but its still one to keep an eye on.

Opera is impressive, and I like the idea of combing email & browser. There’s a lot of features in there, but it looks like a dogs dinner, has strange key combos (cmd-T for adding bookmarks? Whats that all about?!) and calls tabs pages. Joe Clark has a more eloquent list of its failings – but if you’re using it and like it, good for you. I can kinds see why you’re attracted.

Firefox (Deer Park) is better, but its still no Mac app bless it.

So, while it should be a Safari/Omniweb split, I’m going to vote Camino here, especially as its an underdog in the ratings, and I think it deserves more!

OS X Browser Survey 2005

The question is simple: What browser are you using the most on OS X? With so much (good) choice on Mac these days, and the ‘field’ being very different to a year ago, I’d like to know what peoples tastes are.

This is a survey in the form of the Comping app and Text Editor surveys from last year (I.e – not very scientific). Is Safari the favourite? Have Firefox and Camino eaten into its share? Has support for underdogs (Shiira, Omniweb, Opera, iCab) increased? Or are you using apps like NetNewsWire for their browsing needs?

How to take part : Name your default browser in the first line (to make it easy for me to count), followed by a short sentence on the next line, saying what it is about that browser that ‘makes’ it for you. The only other rule: this is OS X only I’m afraid. Unlike the previous surveys, I’m going to be very strict on that point this time, you have been warned! I’ll leave comments open for a week or two before I publish the results.

Go!

A list of typography things

  • I love shopping for type, and have just started a de.licio.us tag for typeIwanttobuy, a kind of Amazon wishlist. As you can see – they’re mostly from Veer. The experience of browsing, previewing and puchasing type from Veer is the best I’ve found anywhere, its a joy to use. The fact that you can preview your own text, and download a gif image (with no watermarks) is so much more usable than the normal flash-based font preview utilities.
  • There are many ‘font finder’ type utilities on the interweb, but one I’ve recently discovered – Fontshop’s Type Navigator – is definitely worth a try.
  • I recently gave the new improved-for-Tiger Apple Font Book at spin, and went through hell. I love the simple, ordered interface of the app, but it really caused suffering with my font menus. Typefaces that should’ve been disabled were showing up, and it was as slow as molasses. I went back to Suitcase X1, and all was well with the world once more – especially in my Adobe apps with fonts being auto-activated.
  • The day I organised my fonts by foundry and added each foundry folder to Suitcase was time well spent. I don’t get out much.
  • Welcome to the new type foundry Village, with the beautiful face Omnes by Joshua Darden, creator of the popular Freight Family. Expect to see this adorning freshly designed sites soon.

Using things for other things

Use your IMAP email account as a way of storing notes to view between machines. In the ‘To’ field, write a category (such as ‘To do’) and the note name in the subject, and save as a draft.

Set up a web scrapbook album in iPhoto. See an icon or logo you like? Stick it in there. Like a site design/colour scheme? Take a screenshot and bung that in there too. It may not be there next time you look. (A wee mention for Chronosync which can sync your iPhoto libraries, as well as everything else on your Mac).

Use the superb Sidenote to store a collection of form widgets/logos for use on side design mockups. Copying and pasting from The Designers Toolbox works a treat.
Sidenote, with widgets
You can also drop files (which creates an alias) or links in there for easy access/relevance to the note.

How about using NetNewsWire as a browser? It has many browser features beyond the tabbed browsing interface, such as appearance settings and downloads manager. It uses the same Safari shortcuts for navigating pages and tabs, and saves your tabs between launches. What’s more, tab setups can be synced across macs with either a .mac or FTP account. It shares cookies with Safari, so if you already have your details saved for someones blog comments, the fields will be autofilled as they would be in Safari. Extend its functionality by:

  • Using a Floppymoose usercontent.css file, for ad-blocking abilities.
  • Drag and dropyour Firefox bookmarks.html file into a tab. As NNW remember tabs when you shut down, you can keep this open all the time to see your bookmarks. Cmd-click will open your bookmarks in a new tab as normal.
  • Setting your ‘External weblog Editor’ to ‘Cocoalicious’, so that you can add links to delicious by using ‘post to weblog’. Alternatively, use this applescript to post via Safari (will also work in Omniweb, just change the application name in the script).
  • Bookmark a site in Omniweb with this applescript.
  • Take this a little further with the web apps now available, NetNewsWire becomes an email client (GMail) and Project Manager (Basecamp etc).

Please share if you have anymore!

Friday Question: Useful Dashboard Widgets?

After that little rant about useless Dashboard widgets, I feel the need to redress the balance. My problem with widgets is that most seem fall into 3 categories:

  1. Searching widgets that are no more convenient than just searching in a browser (especially when most browsers have some way of adding search engines to the default google bar)
  2. Widgets that display information from other apps – viewing iCal events, or unread mail.
  3. Widgets that are just a way of viewing a single RSS feed.

Apart from the default calculator, these are the two that I’ve found worthwhile:

Capture (More than what you can do with keystrokes, it lets you choose filetypes, scale and saving destination)

Google Maps (the one widget that I’ve found to be more convenient than going to the browser)

There must be some useful widgets out there, but maybe there are some little gems that you’ve discovered? Show me your widgets!

Jeremy is right! Tiger underwhelms, except for...

I have to come out and agree with Jeremy, Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger is a little underwhelming. I’ve been using it for 8 weeks now, and overall, I’m not as wowed as I was with the Jaguar>Panther upgrade. Sure, there are a lot of improvements, but I’ve not found a use for Dashboard and Spotlight, the supposed major features. I’m still missing uControl’s virtual scrolling, and haven’t found any suitable replacement. Thats a sore point.

Dashboard takes a while to ‘kick in’, as you watch the widgets load slowly. I think this is still yet to reveal its usefulness, as a lot of widgets are things like ‘Amazon Search’. Hmm, referrer fees are wonderful thing aren’t they? Even the Transmit widget isn’t that useful. Why use that when I can just drag files to a dock or finder sidebar icon? It also seems to use up CPU unnecessarily, and since turning it off with DashOnOff on my powerbook is improved. Those widgets that I actually use (Calculator and currency converter) I have bookmarked in Safari, and open them in a tab. (To do this, ctrl-click the widget, and open the main .html file found inside).

To be honest, I still prefer my neat little Stattoo.

Spotlight is nowhere near as quick to use as Quicksilver (although, to be fair, I find the fact that it indexes text in PDFs quite useful). The jumpiness of its search results are annoying to say the least.

I think there are sleepy features that will reveal their usefulness over time, such as Automator, but until then, the one thing that has made me glad to upgrade is Safari 2. Not only for its new features (little things like undos in textareas), but for its RSS Reader. I had very low expectations for the in-built RSS reader, despite really wanting a browser+RSS solution. I’ve now found myself using it all the time. Its convenient, feeds are synced along with my bookmarks, and it suits my style of reading perfectly. I always prefer to view the actual content in the browser, using RSS readers as little more than a notification of updates. It also seems to cope well the 250+ feeds that I subscribe to – no speed problems at all.

Admitting this makes me feel very guilty though, as if I’m personally betraying Brent Simmons and David Watanabe.

I’ve had a few questions about how I use the RSS feature, so I thought I’d just quickly outline what I do. In my bookmarks toolbar is an ‘RSS Feeds’ folder, in which there are sub-folders for ‘Mac’, ‘Music’, ‘Design’ and so on. This means that each sub folder has a ‘View all RSS articles’ command at the bottom its menu, which means I can view feeds together, or just in 1 category. New feeds are set to be coloured red, and sorted by ‘new’. Finally, I’ve hacked the appearance to be little less vanilla. I love the fact that that I can do it all within the browser.

Safari RSS screenshot

In fact, there is only one drawback I’ve come across. Sometimes it takes two goes to get the RSS feeds displayed. Click ‘View all RSS Articles’ once – nothing. Go back and do it again, it works fine. I’ve also seen this happen on individual feeds, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason or reproducible steps to it. Has anyone else found this? Its odd, but I find that I can put up with this (and hopefully its a bug that’ll be fixed in the future).

So thats the way it is now, at least until NetNewsWire gets even more browser features…

Looking for a MYOB replacement

I’m looking for an app, and I hope someone out there can help me! I’m fed up with the crappy carbonised MYOB for doing my accounting, and I can’t help but think there is a more native OS X app out there that would suit my needs better.

Ideally I’m looking for:

  • iCal integration
  • AddressBook integration
  • Ability to create invoices as pdfs, with a template thats fully customisable. MYOB is severely restricted when it comes to designing in invoice template. If it can then email the invoice at the end of it, that would be even better!
  • Basic reporting, but must include VAT Returns.
  • Import of MYOB accounts

iBiz has some of these features, but the current version just locks up on my G5. It also only handles invoicing, and needs iBank for the actual accounting features. Ideally, I’m looking for just one app to serve both needs. Let me know if I’m missing out on some great app here.

Update: Thanks for the recommendations so far, although Quickbooks isn’t an option, as the UK version is PC only. Using it via Virtual PC isn’t much better than what I’m using. Studiometry looks good, but lacks the accounting features I need – it can only do invoices as far as I can tell, and I need to track purchases and supplier payments as well.

Tiger-r-r-r-r

One ‘archive and install’ later, and I’m now running on 10.4. This is just a quick post to offload the Tiger related thoughts in my head to make room for more important matters.

Apart from all the obvious shiny bits (dashboard, mail 2, saved searches, spotlight, etc) these are things I love so far:

  • Overall it seems very snappy. I’m not sure if this is due to a fresh install, but it feels very responsive and peppy – hooray! Jeff Croft found this too.
  • One of the best features of Safari RSS, which no one seems to have mentioned yet, is the way it handles pages it can’t find. No longer do you get a sheet which you have to ‘OK’. Just a error message displayed in the browser window – just like every other browser, and its so much less irritating for it.
  • Safari’s in-built RSS reader is actually much better than I expected. It now occupies a tab, rather than using the separate, overlayed window that was shown in the preview demonstrations. Great for small amounts of feeds, but lacks features such as mark as read/unread functions to make it practical.
  • NewsFire is faster again, and it doesn’t suffer from the constant crashing that 10.3.9 was causing it to do. I’m torn between this and NetNewsWire yet again, and NewsFire is winning at the moment.
  • I love being able to add the ‘unified toolbar’ look to Omniweb (using Interface Builder), without resorting to shapeshifter themes. I guess this has the potential to be overused in future apps, but personally I love this clean, less anaemic, look.

In contrast there are only a few negative experiences:

  • Mail’s new toolbar icons. What were Apple thinking?
  • To be able to use signatures in Mail, they have to drag and dropped onto the relevant account icon in the signatures preferences. Trouble is, no accounts were showing up, and the only way to get to show up was to remove them all and add them again.
  • I really miss uControl. So far, its the only app I’ve found that either doesn’t work or hasn’t been updated for Tiger. If anyone knows of a similiar app (Sidetrack isn’t quite the same thing), that uses a keystroke and mouse movement to emulate a scrollwheel – I’d love to know about it.
  • Dashboard is slow to startup, but once you let all your widgets load, switching to it is real quick.
  • When opening a new safari window, the focus used to go straight to the location bar, not any more. Grrr! – not anymore – strangeness!
  • Word hinting that I used every day in Safari (alt-escape after typing a few letters) is no more. Does anyone know the new key combo?” – again, back to normal, more strangeness!

Tiger style for NetNewsWire

Just what the world doesn’t need right now – yet another spotlight style for NetNewsWire! There are many fine ones already available on the interweb, but none of them were quite how I wanted them to be, so here’s mine.

Here’s an overall shot (I just wanted to show you how nice NNW looks with a minimal-no-toolbar approach). Click for a full-size image:

screenshot of NetNewsWire

I couldn’t think what else to call it, so for the moment its an egotistical self-named style. Any suggestions?

If you’d like to give it a spin, download the style here: hicksdesign.nnwstyle.zip, and double click the file to install it (thanks to Jason in the comments for pointing out this easy install route). Please Note, you must have the beta of NNW 2 of NNW 2 Lite for this to work. User stylesheets are not supported in earlier versions.

Update. Brent Simmons has asked me to produce a version without the fixed header and footer. Apparently, there is a bug in WebKit where scrolling goes too far when you have fixed elements. So here’s a fluid version with no fixed elements:

hicksdesign-fluid.nnwstyle.zip

What's in your menubar?

Last year, the question was being asked around mac blogs, “Whats in your dock?”. Now I feel its time to ask the same about menubars. With so many apps using menu items, I find my menubar is becoming just as crowded as my dock.

This is mine after a recent prune:

menubar

  1. Burnout Menu to handle to-do lists (I’m currently trying a demo of this)
  2. xScope to measure and sample colours
  3. GMail status
  4. Synergy for controlling iTunes (these are the xScope style buttons)
  5. IC-Switch because I always change my mind between Safari/Omniweb and NewsFire/NetNewsWire
  6. Applescript menu
  7. Airport
  8. iSync
  9. Volume
  10. Show Character palette
  11. Battery power
  12. Quicksilver need I say more?
  13. Calendar Clock replaces the standard date/time with a drop down calendar and to-do lists.

Whats in yours? Get a screenshot, upload it to your site and drop the img in here. Please use Textile as HTML img tags are stripped out). Tell me about any of the more unusual apps that you’ve got hiding in there. The maximum width of the comment area is 355px, but don’t worry too much – if it breaks the layout, it breaks the layout.

FTP files from skEdit using Transmit 3

Here’s a quick tip for skEdit users who prefer Transmit 3 for their FTP needs. With Transmit 3’s new ‘Dock Send’ feature, you can send files directly from skEdit. As long as your site is set up to use Dock Send, just drag the file directly from skEdit’s file view onto Transmit’s dock icon, and it will upload it where you need it! This cuts out a few steps and makes the whole process a lot quicker.

Omniweb wishlist II

Since my first Omniweb Wishlist, 2 of the wishes have happened, RSS feeds now open in new tabs, and its merged with the latest webcore. Since then, 5.1 has been released, and the list has grown somewhat.

I use a mixture of Omniweb and Safari all the time now. Nowadays, Firefox only gets opened up for DOM inspecting or javascript debugging, and Camino hasn’t been used in over a year. The main thing that makes me use Safari is that its interface is a whole lot easier on the eye than Omniweb. OW has the all features I want (apart from find as you type, which I get from Saft), but after prolonged use, areas of the UI make me long for Safari. It’s probably just the designer in me, but I desire a little more ‘OS X slickness’ that other apps have. The tab drawer and bookmark manager feel just right, but other areas let it down for me.

So here are a few wishes.

Interface tweaks -remove the drawer?

When I have Mail, Ecto, xPad and others open, I get a bit sick of flippin’ drawers everywhere, and long for a simplified outline like Safari.

Here’s an idea. Apps like Ecto and NetNewsWire have started adopting the interface evolution shown in the Tiger version of Mail, and its worked well for them. The fact that Apple has removed the drawer from Mail makes me wonder if many other apps will continue to use it? Anyway, here’s a mockup of how Omniweb could look with these sorts of changes:

screenshot - click for larger image
Click for full sized mockup

As you can see, the tabs become more like a sidebar. This screenshot also includes mockups of other wee interface changes I’d like to see:

  • Download Manager – Aqua alternate row striping to differentiate each item, and larger file icons, as in Safari, NetNewsWire 2, Transmit 3 and Unison.
  • Favourites Bar – No folder icons or shadow. A bit more safarish I guess.

RSS Reader

Omniweb’s RSS Reader is so almost there as a useful aggregator. It has more features than you might expect from an in-browser solution, but its drawbacks are:

  • The only way to read excerpts is to view the feed bookmark with ‘site info’ showing.
  • Omniweb doesn’t seem to handle large amounts of feeds very well. With 150+ feeds, my bookmarks refuse to synchronise with .mac (but works fine once they’re removed). There were also other performance issues until I deleted all the feeds.
  • You can’t set a frequency to update feeds globally. If you have ‘never’ checked in your preferences, each feed you add has a daily frequency applied to it despite this. So if you only want to check manually, you have edit the preferences for each feed individually.

This is how I’d like to see RSS incorporated:

  • Keep them as bookmarks, but treat them separately. In the same way that you can view bookmarks as a tab, have the ability to view RSS feeds in a tab, with a simple 2 or 3 paned interface, like the bookmark manager. All the information is already there – source, headline, dates, excerpts, I wonder if it would be hard to bring them together in a new interface?
  • Have the preference to pass auto-detected feeds onto your default RSS Reader if you don’t want to use the in-built one.
  • It’d be great if the dock menu didn’t hide feeds over a certain amount. The greyed out ‘more’ doesn’t allow you to see the rest of the feeds. NetNewsWire overcomes this by scrolling if it needs to.

Other functionality I’d love to see at some point

  • Find as you type – FIrefox has an excellent implementation of this, but currently Omniweb will only do this with links. (There is a hidden preference which you can enable via the terminal, but its not something OmniGroup have worked on, and it will only find the first instance of your search term)
  • I’d like a better idea of when Omniweb is doing something. Whether its still checking RSS feeds, synchronising bookmarks or whether those activites have finished. The Activity window tells you this, but I would find a Growl message more useful. Growl is already an excellent system wide notification app, and many apps have started using it. There are many apps already supporting Growl.
  • Apply custom CSS files per-site in the site preferences.
  • Drag and drop tabs between workspaces in the workspaces window. So if you have some tabs that you want to move to another workspace, you can move them, or alt-drag them to copy them across.
  • Open a search in a new tab. The Location bar supports this with cmd-enter, but not the search field
  • Saft has a great feature whereby a search is triggered by selecting a different search engine from the search fields drop down menu, rather than having to additionally press enter.
  • A preference to always show the tab drawer. When new windows open drawer-less, and then shift as tabs are opened, is mildly annoying. (I always have the drawer on the left).
  • A preference to disable the focus rings around the search box.

Bugs

No application is perfect, and everyone has their list of pet hates they’d rather were fixed sooner rather than later. This is mine.

  • The pixellated search bar after resizing the window
  • Moving bookmarks and folders in the bookmark manager creates a duplicate. This one is really starting to annoy me.
  • View Source: This still has the bug whereby you sometimes get the external css file, or even garbage code instead of just the HTML.

Everyone’s a critic eh?

So yeah, a long list. Don’t get the wrong impression though, its still very much a favourite. I’m just looking forward to seeing what Omnigroup do with it next.

2 OS X Questions updated

Sometimes, no end of searching can find the answers your looking for. Indulge me a while, and answer if you can!

  • Does anyone know of a way to attach a powerbook in target disk mode (assuming that Airport would be too slow) to my G5, and work from it’s home folder, instead of the one on my G5? Remote Desktop would sort of do this for me, but it seems like a expensive solution for just 2 computers. I guess I’m looking for a powerbook equivalent to the ‘Home on an iPod” idea, where my powerbook has all the files.
    Simply connecting the powerbook to my monitor isn’t that simple, as I would have to get a ADC to DVI convertor and use up the only firewire port on the powerbook. Sure, I have a Firewire hub, but there are other issues there.

FIXED : Thanks to Ole. I’ve now booted up from the powerbook, by starting it in target disk mode, and then booting the G5 with the alt key down. I choose the other machine and boom! It works a treat! I can also access any files on the G5, as well all use all the devices attached to it. This is perfect, apart from one bizarre side effect. iTunes will suddenly ask for authorization to play your iTMS music, and then when you reboot as just the powerbook, it asks you again! Therefore using up your 5 computer limit in no time. Eek!

  • Has anyone had issues using the Apple Wireless Mouse? The movement on mine is decidedly odd and jerky, even with full batteries. Is this just how they are – do people put up with this for the benefit of wireless? Or does everyone else’s move as slickly as their USB mouse?

Even as I post this, I have the nagging voice in the back of my head saying ‘Ask Shaun Inman…’.

Return of the iPod

hicksdesign iPodLast December, you might remember that I was having problems getting my iPod to mount on my G5. Having tried all manner of fixes – resetting firewire ports, restarting iPod, rubbing Marmite into the play/pause button whilst simultaneously placing a paper clip into the headphone socket for 3 seconds, singing The Safety Dance at half speed. Nothing.

After giving up hope of ever getting the little bugger to show itself to iTunes, Finally I’ve found a solution that works, thanks to this post on the Apple forums. Thank you Stefano Stefani, you rock (as the kids say).

Has Santa moved to Rhode Island?

This morning I received a letter from someone in North Kingstown. I say letter, it was actually a blank piece of paper along with no fewer than four shiny new window stickers of that oh so beautiful new BBEdit Icon I’m a fan of:

Old icon Old icon Old icon Old icon

Whoever you were, I appreciate it! Let me know who you are, so that I can send you a 10-pack license for Comic Sans.

Hicksdesign theme for Omniweb 5

For that <1% of the Hicksdesign readership that use it, here is the Hicksdesign theme for Omniweb 5.

Download the theme here

Screenshots

Please note, I am using Nathan Skinner’s Tiger Theme, in these screenshots:

Overview (click for full sized image)
overall view

Toolbar (click for full sized image)
customise toolbar view

Download Manager
download manager

Preferences
preferences

Status Bar
status bar

Source Editor
source editor

Background

This has been a personal project since February, and even though its not finished, I feel the need to get something out as a starting point. The thing is, there are so many flippin’ icons in Omniweb, and while I don’t want to change them all, I do want to change a lot of them. The goal here (as always) was not to create a highly original theme. I just wanted something that blended into OS X as much as possible.

Originally, the theme was a redraw of my Camino theme, but I tried a straight rip-off of the safari/finder style buttons, and found that I much preferred this look. This is now the main style, but the rounder ‘iTunes’ style is there as an additional installation option. The rest of the icons are partly inspired by Stephen Horlanders icons for Firefox (mainly the history and RSS feed icon), but I’ve redrawn these myself, rather just steal them!

I have also supplied a ‘restore’ installer if you want to revert back to the original icons.

Also in the download, is a folder called ‘Goodies’, which contains extra applescripts, web badges, workspaces and a very simple shapeshifter theme, to remove the shadow on the bookmarks toolbar. Most people will probably like to keep the shadow, and even those that aren’t, probably wouldn’t go to the extent of installing a theme just for that. In short, if you want to use it, its there.

Huge thanks to Buzz Anderson of SciFiHiFi who answered my plea and set me up with Iceberg project files for creating the installer. Thanks Buzz!

Icons still to do:

  • The small bookmark icons
  • The large bookmarks image in the tab drawer
  • Main toolbar icons – Mark Page/Next Mark/Previous Mark

Updates and feedback

I intend to add more replacement icons to this set in the future, as well a improve the existing ones. I’ll be posting details of updates to my ‘OS X Browser News’ section, so the RSS feed will let you know when new versions are uploaded.

I’d particularly like your feedback on the status bar icons. Should they be in colour, or stay grey, or a combination of the 2? I can’t decide, but I’ve gone with mainly grey icons in this release. If you do like the theme, but there is a particular button that you use that I’ve not covered yet, let me know.

Update – I’ve done a quick to revision to solve a couple of issues people were having. Please re-download.

Lists of 2004

It’s that retrospective time of year again. Looking back over all the highlights of the year and recording them for posterity.

Albums:

Antics by Interpol

  1. Antics by Interpol
  2. Everybody Makes Mistakes by Starflyer 59
  3. Good news for people who love bad news by Modest Mouse

Quite simply, I’ve not been so excited, enthralled and addicted to an album as I have with ‘Antics’ in a long time. ‘Everybody makes mistakes’ didn’t actually come out in 2004, but I didn’t manage to get a copy until this year, and I’ve played it to death, so in it goes. Then end track “The Party” is a perfect song to finish the day on. Honorable mentions go to Wilco’s “A Ghost is Born”, Tanya Donelly’s “Beautysleep” (again, not actually released this year) and ‘I am the Portuguese Blues’, also by Starflyer 59 (which was released this year).

OS X Browser

Omniweb5

  1. Omniweb 5.1b4
  2. Safari (+ Saft + PithHelmet + Stand + Safarisource)
  3. Firefox

Ah, Omniweb how I love thee. The latest beta build is an almost perfect balance of features and performance. When I use other browsers, it just makes me pine for its doing-anything-with-them tabs, form editor and oodles of other things I can only do in OW. The interface isn’t perfect, but hopefully that’ll be improved in the future. Safari came in at a very close second. Depending on which day you ask me, numbers 1 and 2 can change places). Sorry Firefox, you’re not quite there yet on the mac, although you’re close. Maybe after 1.1? Camino has possibilities, but is still too bare bones for me. I’ve been really impressed by the latest Opera, with its combination browser/email/rss reader, but while being fully featured, it looks like a dogs dinner.

Site design I wished I’d come up with first:

  1. Airbag
  2. Jason Santa Maria
  3. Justwatchthesky

Blog Posts

  1. A story about someone else’s ass – Dooce.
    I cried with tears of joy
  2. Screen Grab confab – Cameron Moll.
    Fascinating insight into peoples work.
  3. I would RTFM if there was an FM to FR – Design by Fire.
    Andrei, I wish you blogged more often.

Events:

  1. The very first Geekend
    A very special time, and we’ve even managed to fit in 2 more before the year was out. Nice to finally meet you all chaps.
  2. Firefox
    I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
  3. Being called the 13th most influential design blogger. I’m nowhere near, but it was flattering all the same, thankyou Cameron.

finally…

Samantha and Daniel

Thankyou Samantha and Daniel. You’re the highlight of every year

Looking forward:

Before the year is out, the family of Hicks is heading out to Sydney for two and half weeks. Its 0 degrees as I write this, and 42 over there. I’m just gonna melt, but I can’t wait. I love living in England, but the weather can really lower your spirits sometimes. It can be like living in Bladerunner – always dark, always raining.

So…

Using the same categories, name your top 3’s!

I shouldn't be allowed near computers

I’ve not had a good time with hardware recently. In the last 2 months, the following has happened:

G4 Powerbook – Tried to defrag using TechTool (yes 10.3 does still need defragging, as it only defrags files under 20mb), managed to corrupt the hard drive, and lost 8 months of digital photos. Now I know I was an arse to try this without backing up first. My freelance work is backed up religiously every night, its just the personal stuff I was slack about.

Tried to re-install the OS using my 10.1 disk and upgrade disks for 10.2 and 10.3. The 10.1 disk no longer worked, so I had to buy a new copy of 10.3 to get the OS re-installed.

G5 – Graphics card died (one whole week after the warranty ran out), no OEM parts available for a few months, so got a third party card which was outputting a signal too powerful for my monitor that it made it switch into standby. A driver upgrade was eventually found, and all was, finally, well.

G4 Powerbook – again. Stopped charging, needed new internal DC connector.

Backup Drive – dropped from a height of 12 inches, and promptly stopped working. Bought a 200gb Firewire 800 drive for less than half the 20gb drive cost me over 2 years ago. Sheesh.

iPod – no longer mounts. Still haven’t solved that one, any ideas gratefully received. It still charges and shows up in system profiler’s list of firewire devices, but no show.

Netgear ADSL Modem – Dies, taking my internet connection with it. No more broadband for me, I’m currently on a restricted dial up connection, and boy do I feel withdrawal symptoms. However, this at least has a good story, as the Netgear comes with a 3 year guarantee, and a replacement is already in the post! When I rang Technical Support, I was straight through to an informed, friendly chap who was enormously helpful. No switchboard – nice one Netgear, I’m very impressed!

Engineers time to attempt to recover data £90
OS X 10.3 £100
Loss of family photos and movies priceless
New ATI Radeon Graphics Cardcard £280
Engineers time to diagnose problem and fit new card £90
New OEM DC Conenctor and engineers time to fit £115
New Firewire drive £120
Total cost *£795*

The only hardware left not to fail is the printer and the scanner. I’m waiting.

The moral of story is, don’t go freelance. Let your company pay for it. Oh, and also, you can’t make too many backups…

Survey Results

OK, time for some survey results. The scores are fairly accurate – give or take the odd distraction from Little Britain. Thanks to everyone for particpating!

App for comps:

( yeah, yeah, yeah, you all use paper and pencil first! ;o) )

Photoshop 44
Fireworks 37
Illustrator 10
Freehand 3
Gimp 3
Xara X 2

With 1 vote, Powerpoint , Quark Express 1 and MS Paint 1 (nice one John!)

Text Editor:

( Or ‘Code Editor’ – pedants! ;o) )

BBEdit 26
skEdit 20
Dreamweaver 16
SubEthaEdit 13
Topstyle 13
TextMate 13
Vim 12
Homesite 11
emacs 7
jEdit 6
Eclipse 4
Textpad 4
HTML Kit 4

With 2 votes were: Notepad, Smultron, Zend Studio, Scite, Crimson Editor, TextEdit , Editplus, Context.

With one vote were: TideText, HyperEdit, Syn, CSSEdit, EditPad Lite, SlickEdit, TSW Web Coder, Arachnophilia, Ultraedit, Notetab, Quanta, Omniweb, Code-Genie, Phase5, GoLive, KATE.

BTW: I’ve lots of suggestions for future surveys. I’m loathe to do them, as it would just get too tiresome, and these were the 2 subjects I wanted to know about. I feel I have to earn the right to do another lazy post, er, I mean survey.

Survey: What Text Editor do you use?

The response to my comping application survey was incredible, but didn’t unearth any hidden gems that I’d hoped. Fireworks MX is still the best one for me, and I’ve been following a suggestion in the comments to restart it every now and again. The solves the sluggishness problem, the same as it does for Safari, and I don’t mind doing it every now and then to keep it running well.

Now then, Text Editors. I feel like I’ve tried every one going for OS X. BBEdit, Textmate, Smultron, Tag, SubEthaEdit and many more. My firm favourite is still skEdit, and I’m shocked that more people don’t use it.

Here are some of my favourite features of skEdit:

  • Project manager window to launch site folders.
  • File view sidebar – makes it so quick to switch between files
  • Auto tag completion (really automatic – no key combo needed)
  • HTML and CSS code hinting – this is a big one. No other mac application apart from Dreamweaver appears to offer this – do correct me if I’m wrong.
  • Easy to create snippets, and set key combo’s for them. ‘Create unordered list nav’ is my favourite. This takes a list of words, and adds the <ul>, <li>, and <a href> tags for you.

One thing skEdit does miss out on is an inbuilt web preview, which other editors had implemented as soon as the Safari webcore became available. The time skEdit saves me is incalculable.

So what’s your favourite? Are you using some obscure shareware editor that I should really check out? Again, the one criteria – must work on OS X.

Full Metal interface

Many users are divided over Apple’s use of brushed metal windows. My personal feeling is that I like it in certain apps, but not others. It’s overuse by Cupertino seems to have given many independent software developers the impetus to use brushed metal too, in an attempt to ‘keep up’. While the Human Interface Guidelines are full of good solid reasoning, it doesn’t help when Apple go against them, and then produce beautiful interfaces as a result. It feels as if the pressure is on – you must use metal for your app to look cool and sell.

I’ve been following what John Gruber has to say on the matter with interest, there are two excellent articles about this subject, and I’ll try not to go over old ground, but there is one argument I’ve not heard before, and it’s the reason I like Safari’s metal interface – differentiation. Take a look at this example of one of my favourite sites in Camino:

Airbag in as seen in Camino

and now in Safari:

Airbag in as seen in Safari...mmmm...

I don’t know about you, but I find the Safari one much more pleasant to look at, because there is a clear demarkation between what is the browser, and what is the web page. I haven’t done a survey, but I’d be willing to bet that a large majority of web sites have white, or at least pale backgrounds. In the standard aqua coloured window the distinction isn’t as immediately clear. I’m not sure why this thinking doesn’t extend to other areas such as text documents, but there it is. I like differentiation.

(Having said all that, one thing that does give me that differentiation in a non-metal app, is the grey tab background on my safari style tabs for Firefox…

Airbag in Firefox

I find that the darker grey is just enough to create a visual separation.)

Optimized Firefox for G5's

Last week, I linked to a guy who was producing optimized builds of Firefox specifically for Powerbook G4’s. These unofficial builds were noticeably faster, almost blinding. Now, Neil Lee has gone and cooked up a build just for G5’s too.

Grab the build from here, which also includes Kevin Gerich’s pretty widgets as standard!

Unfortunately, this coincides with my G5 being taken in to Oxford Macintosh Solutions (my local lifesavers) to have its graphics card poked and prodded, so I haven’t been able to try it out myself yet. I’m hoping a free advert might help with the bill…

Red Channel

Stop the red channel

When I use Photoshop, I want apple-1 to show the file at 100% (or ‘actual pixels’), just like every other adobe application I use. I don’t want to look at the red channel.

Photoshop CS has a nifty feature allowing you to customise its keyboard shortcuts, but guess which command isn’t listed?!

I beg of you, has anyone found a way around this?

Textmate - first impressions

I never thought in my days using Dreamweaver, that I’d be excited about a new text editor coming to OS X. However, I’ve been looking forward to trying out Textmate, as some very bold claims were being made about it. These claims irked me a bit, as it seemed to ignore some very good text editors already available, such as skEdit, SubEthaEdit and, of course, BBEdit. I use all 3, with the emphasis on skEdit (especially for writing css).

So, today Textmate is out, and a surprising number of people have written to me, asking me what I think of it. I found this a little odd, maybe everyone knows I’m a new software junkie, willing to try out every new release of anything. Anyway, I thought I would post my initial thoughts here. This will be slightly unfair, as I’ll be comparing it to other editors that have time to mature and develop.

First, starting with the positive, What I like:

  • Project view in a drawer. This is something I would like skEdit to adopt, particularly the function buttons at the bottom of the drawer giving access to things like adding new folders. my only complaint here is that the text looks slightly cramped compared to other drawer displays.
  • ‘Folding’: Tags or css rules can be collapsed and expanded to hide them. This is something I can imagine myself using quite a bit.
  • Clipboard history: A nice idea, and works similar to Quicksilver’s function with the same name

What I don’t:

  • Preferences: Or rather the lack of them. Settings are meant to stick, but thats not a behaviour I’m comfortable with. The first thing I do when first open any new app is look though the preferences and see what’s available.
  • Fonts: Despite the fact that a standard system font panel is included as a menu item, only fixed width fonts are supported. I’m one of those bad people who like to code in Lucida Grande, and it looked awful. Apparently, support for non fixed-width fonts is not planned in the future either. If this is case, the font panel should be removed.
  • The icon. I feel bad for picking on BBEdit 8.
  • I didn’t find the snippets function as easy to use as skEdit. I prefer setting key combos to trigger my snippets.

Features I missed from other Text Editors (with the proviso that I may have missed these somehere):

  • Code hinting was the thing that turned me onto skEdit. It speeds up coding so much, I’m not sure I could go back to not using it.
  • No code navigation. BBEdit, SubEthaEdit and skEdit all provide a single menu for jumping to a particular tag or css rule.
  • Images aren’t previewed when selecting them in the project view, but you get garbled code instead. It should either preview them or not display anything at all.

So will it replace skEdit as my main development tool? No, but, I get the impression that Textmate is aimed at serious programmers, people who deal with ruby/perl and the like, not those like me who just want to bash out HTML and CSS. skEdit is still the right tool for me, but I’ll keep an eye on Textmate.

Sage on OS X

I’ve had a few rasied eyebrows about the fact that I illustrated the Firefox icon, and I’m ‘not using the damn thing’. I’ve tried, believe me I’ve tried to like Firefox, but it still jars against me the way its so un-native. It looks great (thanks to Kevin and Stephen), but doesn’t act or feel like an OS X app. The grey opaque menus, little behavioural quirks, lack of interaction with the services menu, non-native widgets, no spell checking. It does allow you multiple undos in textareas though, which is a plus. Maybe the Mac Aquafication release will solve some of these issues (whenever that comes out…).

However, something that’s attracted me back to using Firefox in the last few weeks has been the Sage RSS Reader extension. With a little tweaking to make it look more like an OSX’y, I now have what feels like my ideal Browser/RSS Reader combination:

Sage RSS Reader extension, OS Xified

I love the idea of combining an RSS Reader with a browser, it makes sense to me (unlike, say, bundling a browser with an email client). I’d tried other solutions, such as Feed on Feeds, but stopped using it fairly quickly. It didn’t work well as a sidebar bookmark, and would often time out on the second feed. This is where Sage comes in, an RSS Reader thats designed to be used in the sidebar.

Feeds seem display to fast enough, and the interface even gives you the option to choose your own CSS for the feeds display, via the settings options.

Adding feeds is very easy, find a site you like, and Sage’s autodiscovery will list all the available feeds in a drop-down sheet. Future versions of Sage plan to integrate with the recent Live Bookmarks feature. The other advantage is that if you use something like the FTP Bookmarks Sync extension, its easy to keep your list of feeds synchronised across machines, as all your feed URLs are stored in your bookmarks.

One small suggestion I have is to remove the icon for ‘no updated feed’. Normally Sage would display an icon next to every feed, but removing this one will make it much clearer what is and isn’t updated, and which is returning errors. This is what I’ve done on my copy and you can see this in the screenshot above.

So far, Sage is the only thing that’s tempting me away from my favourite Omniweb 5 and NewsFire combination (which is just superb). I’m still not sure if it will replace it entirely, but at the end of the day, I just enjoy playing and fiddling.

How to install the Hicksdesign styled Sage

  1. Download the replacement Sage files
  2. Quit Firefox if it’s running
  3. Locate your Firefox profile folder: UserName >Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles/xxxxxxx/chrome/ folder.
  4. Copy and paste the contents of ‘Add to userChrome.css’ to the userChrome.css file. If you’re using my mods for the toolbar icons, you must paste the sage css code somewhere after that.
  5. Copy the ‘sage’ folder to the chrome directory.
  6. Restart Firefox. This will have applied all the mods, apart from the display of articles. Under Sage’s ‘Options’, choose ‘settings’, and then where it says ‘Custom Style Sheet’, click browse, and select the sage.css file in your profile folder. UserName >Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles/xxxxxxx/chrome/sage/sage.css

You’re done!

Some Omniweb 5 tricks you might not know

  • This is my favourite! Pressing Enter will trigger any ‘next page’ links. When looking through search results in photo libraries, this feature is a god send.
  • Option_apple_b will open up the bookmarks manager in a new window, even if you have it set to appear in the browser.
  • Option clicking a toolbar bookmark folder highlights the name for editing.
  • Double clicking a tab will close it, and open that page in a new window
  • Double clicking the sites favicon will open the site in a new window, without closing the first instance.
  • Double clicking a bookmark toolbar folder will open all the bookmarks in tabs. Dragging the folder to the tab drawer does the same.
  • Drag a finder-level folder onto the window to reveal its contents. This has the added benefit of revealing the iPod’s hidden music folders too! (thanks Sean)
  • To export the page as one long PDF with no page breaks, type option-shift-command-s. Holding down option while exposing the File menu will also reveal this menu. (Thanks to Nick Matsakis)
  • If you select some text before outputting to pdf, it will be saved with the highlighted text.

Newsfire 0.1 beta

There seems to be more choice of RSS readers for OS X than browsers these days. Stalwarts like NetNewsWire (my favourite) and Shrook, are sharing the aggregator pool with relative youngsters like Pulp Fiction.

David Watanabe (who created the P2P app Acquisition) has released the very first public beta of ‘NewsFire’, an RSS reader that takes a slightly different approach. Rather than imitate the Apple Mail style interface, you get a single minimal metal window that makes it feel at home with Safari.

Newsfire window

It positively drips with OS X beauty – not just in the visual effects, but in the way the interface is pared down to the minimum. Its delightful to use. There are few things I’d like to see added, with the only change to the current set up to make the site name the larger headline (this is currently smaller grey text, while the most recent article is a large headline). It is still very much a beta (features/functionality not final) but its certainly stable. Its shallow, but I love the way that news feeds reorder themselves – the same effect used in iChat when buddies change status!

Download NewsFire from here

Safari grinds to a halt - culprit found

Hmm. It looks as if Zlog had this problem and I’d like to know if anyone else has too. Safari seems to have a problem with usage over time. The more I use it, the slower and unresponsive it becomes. Resizing the window takes the patient of a saint. Clicking on toolbar bookmarks has a 4 second delay, and it really has to think hard about showing you a menu item. Whats that all about? Does Safari need a sit down with a cup of tea the same as I do? The simple fix is the quit out, and relaunch. Everything is back to normal, until later in the day when I start to notice it slow down again. Grrr. Not so bad when you’ve got Saft reopening your last used tabs for you, but I still shouldn’t be having to do it. I have wondered whether this has anything to do with the various plug-ins for Safari that I’ve installed, so I’d particularly like to hear from anyone who runs Safari in its clean, naked form. update – It seems that after a length of time Safari will slow down, until you relaunch it, but that it was Saft that made this a little worse. Fiddling with caches of pages/history/favicons made no difference, but removing Saft from the input managers folder did. Its a bit of an arse using Safari without Saft, but the speed difference was incredible!

New Safari Stand features

Sorry, this will the be the last browser post in a while – promise. Stand for Safari has been updated to work with v1.2.3 (v125.9), and has added some nice new features.

First of all Doug Bowman pointed out that there is an english translation page for Stand here. That makes life easier.

You can now replace either the Bug Report, Autofill, Add bookmark or Home buttons with an ‘Action’ button. This gives you a drop down menu with the following options:

Action menu

(Note: This menu now includes the ability to view HTTP headers, cookies for that site (with another option to delete them) and a selectable menu of all css and images etc from that page – amazing!)

Workspaces can now be opened in new tabs as well as saved, and you can make ‘labelled bookmark separators’ by adding a folder with the following title:

-:-label here.

This adds a greyed out text label – nice.

Menu label

Another nice feature I’ve discovered is that you can get the history and bookmark searches to display within the browser window rather than in a smaller, separate window. To try this out, drag and drop these links to the toolbar: “History search”:safaristand://jp.hetima.history/ and “Bookmark Search”:safaristand://jp.hetima.bookmark/.

You can also add RSS Feeds. Create a Bookmark Collection called ‘Stand Bar RSS’ and bookmark feed URL’s there. You can then read these feeds in the ‘Stand Bar’ under the ‘R” menu. While I probably won’t use this feature, its good to know that there are developers wanting to add value in this way.

Stand Bar RSS Feeds

When you combine Safari, Saft and Stand you get one very good browser.

Omniweb 5 wishlist

Now that Omniweb 5 is finally released after many months of beta releases, we now have a sturdy, feature filled Webcore based alternative to Safari. For anyone that uses a lot of tabs, OW is godsend, but I’m left with just a few niggles that I would love to see changed in the next version:

  • Preference for ‘Always show tab drawer’. When you have tabs set to open on the left, its annoying when new windows shift when the tab drawer opens.
  • RSS feeds to open in new tabs, not windows.
  • Improve the look of the download manager. Safari gets this right. Its particularly bad when OW is downloading. The text is badly compressed. Just ugly.
  • Use the latest webcore (this is planned for 5.1)
  • Remove the ‘image well’ shadow from the bookmarks toolbar, or introduce a Tiger style Mail.app look. I’ve actually created a shapeshifter theme just to remove this shadow. I know, you don’t have to tell me I have no life.
  • Ability to save the current set up as workspace, rather than having to create a new space and set it all up first.

I also think the documentation could be a little less waffley and childish. Humour is a difficult one to pull off – and with the PDF manual I felt myself saying “For goodness sake, just get on with it!!!”.

Apologies for yet another browser related post.

Native (looking) Firefox OS X widgets

(File under ‘obsessive browser theming’)

Following on from the previous post, I’ve made some improvements to the form widgets CSS for OS X. Phillipe pointed out to me how to add background images to tags by setting the border to solid 0px white, and the background colour to transparent. So, buttons, textfields and textareas can now look like this in Firefox:

New form widgets in Firefox

If you’d like to have a go at implementing this, you can download all the images and css here. All you have to do is put the files into your Firefox profile directory:
(users> you> Library> Application Support> Firefox> Profiles> yourprofilenumber> chrome>).

Pros:

  • The button includes an active state that shows the dark graphite colour when the button is clicked. I’ve also removed the dotted inner ring around the button text when its selected.
  • I’ve also used original OS X resource files to make the button images. This means they have alpha transparency and will ‘sit’ on any coloured background.

Cons:

  • To acheive the button look, I’ve taken an approximate ‘average’ size button. This won’t scale when the text size is increased, or the text is too large for the button. You’ve got about 100 pixels and thats it. Its enough for phrases like “Google Search” but not quite enough for “I’m feeling lucky”.
  • Also, if a webpage has already got some styling associated with widgets, then things get a bit messy.

So its a step closer, and it does make a difference to using Firefox. Any PC reader (and maybe many mac users) probably don’t get why this is so important. Select menus, radio buttons and checkboxes are harder to alter though, so there’s a task for someone with more time than me!

OS X Browsers news feed

To avoid alienating too many readers with my OS X browser talk I’ve added an extra sidenotes type section to the journal, with it’s own RSS Feed. Here is where I will now post all information about new browser releases, themes and such like. (I’m loving this Textpattern ‘set it up in 10 seconds mullarkey!). This is a trial run – lets see if I can keep it updated, and if anyone’s interested!

Shiira theme

Screenshot of my shiira theme

To install this set, all you have to do is go to Shiira’s icon preferences, choose ‘load icons’, and navigate to the ‘ShiiraIcons.plist’ inside the Hickstheme folder. This will load the main toolbar icons. If you want to use plain folder icons to clean up the interface (along with some other improvements), these have to copied manually into > Shiira (ctrl-click to choose ‘show package contents’)> contents> resources>. Just a replacement icon for icon preferences is yet to be done.

Screenshot of all the icons

Its finally here.. (or is it?)

any music?

“I’m off to liberate my bank balance. See you next week…”

Such brave words I spoke on Tuesday. As Jeremy, Richard and Tom all found out, bankruptcy need not be feared. It would seem that UK Music store is a little understocked with music. That Apple and the Independent labels couldn’t clinch the deal hasn’t helped. After much searching, I did find some back-catalogue Starflyer 59 albums that I wanted, and for that I’m really grateful.

While I love the speed and convenience of downloaded music, I really miss the packaging. I have a fetish for scrutinising liner notes while listening to the album, and enjoying the time put into the booklets design. For the last 2 Radiohead albums, I’ve spent extra to get the special edition cloth bound book versions. Hail to the Thief came with a large map with their trademark random notes, and they feel like special things.

Ideally, as well as the cover art being downloaded into iTunes, you could at least get a pdf of the CD’s booklet. Or am I alone in this compulsive need to know who did mixing desk duties?

Shiira

As if I didn’t already have enough choice in OS X browsers, along comes another. Shiira is an open source browser, built using Safari’s webkit, that the Japanese developers intend to be “a browser that is better and more useful than Safari”. As it uses the latest verson of webkit, it will only run on 10.3.

The interface, at first glance, looks a lot like Safari. The tabs implementation are almost identical (although tab labels aren’t bold), and the preferences window layout shares many similarities. However, unlike Safari’s interface, Shiira uses a fully customisable Aqua toolbar and bookmarks/history are displayed in a sidebar drawer instead of replacing the window, just like Camino 0.7. Most importantly, it doesn’t have Safari’s elegance or good looks in the toolbar icon department. Take a look at this screenshot and the various icon options being offered. The Jade stone set is the default.

Elements like the icons on the toolbar folders are unnecessary, but like all these things, can be themed however you like! So, to make it more pleasant to use, I’ve thrown together bits from my Camino and Omniweb themes and made a temporary one for Shiira:

Screenshot of my shiira theme

If you’d like to try this theme too, download it here (if your browser doesn’t understand .sitx files, you may have to control-click the link and choose ‘save file as..’). All you have to do is go to Shiira’s icon preferences, choose ‘load icons’, and navigate to the ‘ShiiraIcons.plist’ inside the Hickstheme folder. This will load the main toolbar icons. If you want a plain folder icon, these have to copied manually into > Shiira (ctrl-click to choose ‘show package contents’)> contents> resources>. I haven’t redone all the icons, but the main ones are there

There are several advantages in using Shiira:


  • Re-orderable Tabs. This is my main reason for feeling excited by Shiira. I use this a lot in Ominweb, and I’m looking forward to when Camino gets the function (soon).
  • New Tab button situated to the right of the tabs is quite handy.
  • Its fast. Runs faster than Safari for me, and it’s level-pegging with the latest Camino builds for speed. It seems to use the least amount of CPU of all my browsers.
  • Customisable search bar, out of the box.
  • Option is given to switch between metal or aqua appearance.
  • Pace of development seems quite fast.

It shows great promise, even though the interface might not quite be there yet. On one hand it feels a little basic, but then throws in some great features like the drag and drop re-orderable tabs. Another one to keep my eye on…

a little browser quandary

which one to choose...

For me, choosing a default browser on my PC was very, very easy. Should I use IE with its basic features and crappy standards support? Opera with its flashing ad banners, and messy interface? Hmmm, it’ll be Firefox then.

However, for the last year, I’ve been unable to stick to one browser on OS X as my default for long. I don’t have this problem in any other area – default text editor: skEdit, default DTP app: InDesign CS. No other Mac user I know seems to have this problem – they just use Safari all the way. I flick between browsers as much as 5 times a day, and I’m starting to really bore myself with it. Switching is inevitable, as no one browser will be able to do absolutely everything you want it to, but I would really like to decide on main browser. I’d like to get a life please.

At the moment its more or less a 2 horse race between Saftari* and Omniweb 5, but there is still the occasional dalliance with Camino and Firefox. I’ve been really wowed by the latest Omniweb 5 betas, if you tried an earlier version and gave it up for being too crashy, try it again. At least the latest Opera 7 Mac beta is an ugly duckling, and iCab still doesn’t ‘do’ CSS, so that helps to narrow the choice a bit.

This post was intended to be a bit of personal browser-therapy – admit to my obsessive problem, hoping that you don’t start avoiding me in the street, and invite you to let me know your thoughts. Does anyone else have this problem? Do you have a definite favourite? Let me know. If I can get almost 200 comments for doing a little icon, hopefully you’re all dying to let me know your opinion!

*Apologies if you find my pet name for Safari with saft annoying. I’m not going to stop though.

Saftari

Saft has been updated yet again. It was only a week or so ago when Hao Li added the ability to save and restore windows and tabs on quit. Now, check out these new additions:

  • New feature: Customizable HTTP timeout
  • New feature: Separator in bookmark menu
  • New feature: Control-1 to 9 to popup bookmark menu or open bookmark
  • Improvement: Saft contextual menu items for shortcuts grouped in sub-menus
  • Improvement: Open new tab for shortcut searching from contextual menu when holding down the option key

Look at that second one. Separators! I wrote to Hao Li asking for this feature, but never thought he would actually do it. How good is that?! The guy is putting Apple to shame with his development speed.

So Hao, if you’re listening. Here’s my next request to keep you busy.

extending Safari 2: saft!

One of my niggles about Safari is that I’ve always felt it’s a little short in features. As mentioned before, Pith Helmet (Advert blocking), Sogudi (Address bar searches) and Safari Enhancer go someway to improve it. I want to use Safari – I love its clean, elegant interface and speed, but sometimes it feels a bit lacking.

I’ve been testing and enjoying the radically more stable Omniweb 5 (beta 3) for a few days now, and enjoying its workspaces feature. This reminded me that Safari is about the only Mac browser that doesn’t let you save a group of tabs. However, Saft v6.5 was released today, and amongst its many new features – the ability to save tab groups. I’d never looked into Saft before, as I’m not that bothered about full screen or kiosk mode (which was its original purpose) so I was surprised to see that its developer was busy adding more functionality.

Even better than tab group saving though, is the option to save a browser window – its tabs, window size and screen position. Previously saved windows are accessed through the File menu, as well as the ability to delete saved windows. Saft also features the same shortcut searches from the address bar as Sogudi, but adds those search engines to the google search bar menu as well. Nice.

Add to this PDF export/back/forward commands in the context menu, a preference to force new windows to open as a tab, type-ahead searching and suddenly Safari starts to feel like a fully-featured browser.

The only possible downside to all this, is that you have to pay $10 (£5.89 in UK money) for all this extra functionality. Some may feel its not worth paying to extend a free browser, especially when Apple might get around to adding these features someday. Its up to you, but personally I felt that it was a pittance for functionality that I would enjoy every day.

I’ve asked for bookmark menu separators in the next version – you never know…

Finallly, a quick mention for Safari Sorter, which will organise your bookmarks alphabetically for you.

Adobe vs Greenwich Mean Time

I’m posting this in the hope that I can prevent someone else from losing their mind. The shiny new Adobe Creative Suite ran fine on my G5, but when I tried to install and run it on my G4 Powerbook, the dock icon would bounce for a few seconds then quit. I tried a variety of fixes – re-installation, trashing preference files, repairing permissions, installing under a different log-in. I even rebuilt the Powerbook from scratch in case that might help. Still no cigar.

Finally, after having a Damascus Road experience on a MacUser forum, I found the fix, and you’ll never guess what it is. Go into Date & Time>Time Zone and change the setting from ‘GMT’ to ‘London’ (or anything other than GMT). Suddenly, everything opens and works fine.

Go figure.

Extending Safari

Just wanted to share with you my favourite apps for extending the capabilities of Safari – There might be one here you haven’t tried…

Safari Enhancer – Does a whole variety of tasks, but I use it to enable the debug menu (contains a spoof user agents menu), remove the metal skin (looks great in Panther!) and deactivate the cache.

Sogudi – creates search shortcuts to use in the location bar. For instance, to search for ‘skEdit’ on Versiontracker, just type ‘vt skEdit’ into the location bar. Comes with some preset searches, and the ability to add your own.

Pith Helmet – Blocks adverts, particularly annoying animated gif banner ads. Just makes life so much nicer. You can specify sites to always block or never block content from.

Safari No-Timeout – get longer than 60 seconds before Safari times out.

What’s more, these apps are all free. There are some nice people out there.

Incidentally, the new OS X 10.3.2 update, seems to include enhancements Safari or the WebCore, as I’ve just noticed that title attributes now show up as tooltips, as promised by Dave Hyatt. This doesn’t seem to be mentioned in Apple’s release notes. Presumably, this means that the other niceties on his list are now installed too.

InDesign CS

InDesign CS icon

Adobe recently updated their main product range as the ‘Creative Suite’ (CS), and with it, what would’ve been called InDesign 3 – InDesign CS. InDesign is their flagship desktop publishing/graphic design application, created as a rival to Quark Xpress, which had been without competition for years. I’ve been using v3 (sorry ‘CS’) for a few weeks now, and I offer here my initial thoughts.

InDesign 2

For all its negative points, Quark has never been a hungry app. It has a low minimum spec. Conversely, ID2 ran sluggishly on my G4, the beachball was a regular sight. For users with OS X however, running Quark in the classic environment was never a happy experience. Problems with screen redraw were partly solved by a free plug-in, but general erratic behaviour made InDesign a more inviting choice. ID also offered many features tha Quark users could only dream of – Multiple Undos, Open Type support, PDF output, native PSD support, transparency… the list was huge.

Quark still inhabits a price range normally reserved for high-end 3D applications – for less than the price of Quark, you can buy Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat! Add to that the delay of an OS X version and the offensively dismissive comments from Quark’s CEO towards Mac users, and you get a lot of unhappy Quark users converting to InDesign. Judging by the strong Quark presence at this years’ MacExpo, they realise they need to recover some ground.

My main problem with using ID has been that most other studios and printers are still on Quark v4 (released 1997). Printers able to take files as press-ready PDFs tend to only be very large outfits. If I create a design spec for another designer or typesetter, I can’t use ID and expect them to buy new software and learn it. Hopefully, this will become less of a problem in the future, as PDF workflows become more commonplace. For now, I use InDesign whenever I can, and resort to Quark when I have to. Anyway, onto the new version…

InDesign CS (or v3):

First of all, the packaging and branding, redesigned by MetaDesign, look amazing. The Creative Suite CDs come in a ‘fat DVD case’, an improvement on the all the seperate jewel-boxes they used to use. However, its seems that what was the last bastion of printed manuals has now given in. The Adobe CS comes with the dreaded ‘getting started’ leaflet with all the manuals provided as PDFs. To their credit, they do include a ‘Video Training CD’, but I couldn’t get this to work. Its sad, Adobe were always the reliable ones. Nothing beats a printed book to get information quickly.

These are the new features I’m excited about:

  • Bleed setup – Its about time this basic feature was introduced, InDesign got there first.
  • Preview separations and flattening – All the stuff that could go wrong at the last stage can be caught earlier, without having to wait for proofs.
  • Mixed ink support - This is something that Quark had been able to do since v3.
  • Speed - The sluggishness of ID2 is much improved. Page zooming was a particular problem area, but now much better.
  • Options palette – There is now a Photoshop style options bar at the top, giving easy access to all the common tools. This is context-sensitive, and changes depending on the tool you’ve chosen.
  • Side palettes – these can be hidden and shown like drawers on a single click, which helps de-clutter the palette frenzy. The only downside is that the palette headings are vertical, and those ‘in the background’ are very hard to read.

All of these features work exactly as you expect, and make working in ID that little bit easier.

The downside:


According to the manual, you can save files back to InDesign 2, but they have to be exported as ‘InDesign Interchange Format’ . ID 2 users then have to install a Scripting plug-in and the XML Reader plug-in. These are apparently downloadable from the Adobe site, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. Then I found this little note after a lot of searching on the Adobe site:

Saving InDesign CS documents for use with InDesign 2.0
The InDesign CS user guide and help documentation includes information on using the InDesign Interchange format export option to save documents for use with InDesign 2.0. This information should be disregarded, as this export option does not support InDesign 2.0 compatibility. Opening InDesign CS documents is not supported in InDesign 2.0.

Eh? ‘This information should be disregarded’?! A polite way of saying “we cocked up’! So if you want to use InDesign CS, you’ll have to wait until your suppliers/repro houses have caught up!

However, an Illustrator eps can be saved for previous versions, using ‘export as illustrator legacy eps’ (read ‘save as some old crappy thing’). Incidentally, Illustrator CS is also noticeably snappier, apparently this is something that was addressed with this upgrade. Its still my preferred illustration package to Freehand.

Summary

InDesign has continued to be more refined and powerful with an emphasis on elegant typographical control and integration with other Adobe products. In short, this is one of the few upgrades I’ve bought recently that I felt was really worth it. Just one major flaw: no way to save files back to version 2. Surely they’ll have to do something about this if they want to encourage more users to convert to it.


Oh, and a printed manual would be nice…

OS X web tools

Firstly, BBEdit 7.1 is out and has a rather nifty addition. If you have Safari installed, you can preview your pages live within BBEdit, all thanks to Apple making the WebKit Framework available. I’ve just tried this out, and it works like a dream! As edits are made to the code, the preview gets updated. You don’t have to save or hit ‘refresh’ as in Dreamweaver. BBEdit 7.1 is a free upgrade for users of 7.0.

Then there’s a relative newbie, xScope from Artis & Iconfactory, a veritable swiss army knife of 6 useful tools for measuring and visualising screen measurements, positions and colours. Artis have been pushing these tools for a while, but now they’re revamped with an iconfactory-designed interface, and is all the better for it. In particular, I like the fact that you can access tools by a discreet menu bar icon, as well as hot keys or the dock. Tools can also be hidden in the same way. I’m such a sucker for Iconfactory applications – they know how to create software with eye candy.

The collection is excellent, and I found the crosshair tool a quicker way to take measurements than the ruler. What’s pleasing is that all the tools are transparent, without being illegible. You can also play a little game with the ‘loupe’ tool if you switch on ‘avoid mouse’ and then try and click the floating window. I really don’t get out enough…

G5 and Panther

My transition to a G5 and then finally Panther has gone easier than I expected. Everytime I upgrade I always cross my fingers and hope that everything will still work. More often than not a few applications can longer work under their environment.

First I discovered that my Apple pro speakers will not work with G5’s as they have a unique connector. You have to shell out £30 for a Griffin iFire adaptor, almost as much as the speakers cost in the first place. It ain’t cheap, but its still cheaper than buying new USB speakers, and the internal speaker in the G5 is tinny to say the least. Other than that, no problems.

Last weekend my upgrade to Panther finally arrived, and it absolutely flies. I’m not sure if its optimised for G5’s, but there is a definite speed increase from Jaguar. For the first time since OS 9, everything feels snappy and responsive. It finally feels faster than my PC. The toned-down pinstripe is much easier on the eye. Although I’m a fan of brushed metal apps like Safari, I find it quite odd in the finder, but I’m getting used to it.

Extensis Suitcase 10 was the only application that wouldn’t work. As I do print design, I wouldn’t consider using FontBook yet. Suitcase will not only auto-activate fonts when opening documents in InDesign, and Illustrator, but it provides a ‘bridge extension’ making the fonts simultaneously active to all classic apps too (in my case Quark 5 is the my only reason for using classic – but its a big one). To get Suitcase to work, I discovered that had all I had to do was dump my previous font database, and re-import all my fonts.

Expose is genius. If you use Clutter to play your iTunes library, you can place all the CD coves on top of each other, and then reveal them all with expose. The only niggle is that it doesn’t show any windows that you’ve hidden. My other favourite addition is fast user switching. Its more than just a flying Borg cube effect – you can set up different accounts for a variety of situations – web development, print design etc. and flick between them quickly.

In short, Panther is the the best upgrade I’ve seen in a long time.

Firebird for OS X

Mozilla Firebird for Mac OS X now has a sweet new default theme created by Kevin Gerich and Stephen Hollander. Until now, Firebird has always looked too ‘PC’ , but many find it the fastest browser on the OS X. This new default theme is beautiful, and well thought out. It makes all the difference and it now looks more OS X than Camino. Firebird removes all the ‘extras’ found in Mozilla, such as email and chat, but keeps the Javascript console, which I find immensely useful for web development.

If you’ve not tried Firebird before, or you’ve been put off by the interface, go and try the latest nightly build.

IE 5 Mac notes

Some IE 5 Mac things I recently discovered:


  • IE 5 Mac won’t float a bunch of <div>‘s, <ul>‘s etc. unless you specify a width for them.

  • When I applied the Tom Gilder image replacement method to elements such as the site logo, Safari added a huge horizontal scrollbar (presumably 1000em wide). This only seemed to happen when the image was within nested divs, positioned absolutely. To get around this, all I had to was add overflow:hidden.

    The reason that the image wouldn’t then show in IE5 Mac, was this extra overflow:hidden rule. As this isn’t needed in all cases, it can added as needed using the commented backlash hack:

    /*  IE 5 hack \*/
    #logo a {overflow: hidden;}
    /* end hack */ 

    My copy of Panther still hasn’t arrived, so I haven’t been able to test whether this is ‘fixed’ in version 1.1. I say ‘fixed’ as I’m not sure this can called a bug.



*Update – this is no longer a problem in Safari 1.1. Huzzah for that, but 1.1 is so far only available to Panther users.

In the dock

Jeremy Keith has posted a screenshot of his dock after an article on O’Reilly. I find Dock watching addictive, so here’s mine.

My Dock

From left to right – Finder, System Preferences, Suitcase, Automatic Backup, Entourage, iTunes, Kung Tunes (IconFactory icon), iChat, NetNewsWire, Camino (My theme icon), Safari, Omniweb, Mozilla, BBEdit, Transmit, Free Ruler, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Flash, TextEdit, Word, iPhoto, Quark 5, InDesign 2, Photoshop 7, Illustrator 10, Acrobat, Acrobat Distiller, iPod it, FreeSnap, Preview, Hicksdesign work folder, project folder, accounts and finally – trash. Everything else is accessed from the menubar with TigerLaunch from Ranchero.

No magnification, no bouncing. I keep a lot in there, but because I do print as well as web design, thats everything I need.

the entourage experience

For ages I’ve been trying to work out why my mac has been running so slow. Its a better spec than my powerbook, and yet that runs much faster and zipper. Last week I felt I’d tried everything else (Disk Doctor, Disk Utility, repairing permissions, defragging, system optimiser etc) and all that was left was a clean install. OS X shouldn’t need this in the way that 0S9 used to. And lo, it made no difference apart from gaining some HD space back.

Today I found out what was wrong. I use Microsoft Entourage, a fantastic application which organizes my life, stores my notes and contacts, keeps track of my jobs, as well providing my email. It started going very wappy. I rebuilt the mail database (start up Entourage while holding down the option key). ‘Rebuilding and compacting 8457 messages’ said the window (I hadn’t done it for a while). Once it had finished (and old database files trashed), not only was Entourage back to normal, but my whole mac was zippy and responsive again.

My wife, who is great believer in archiving old emails, is now laughing at me, “So you can use Movable Type, but you can’t use email properly?!”

Let this be a lesson to you. Rebuild. Regularly.

updates to the camino theme

Aqua Camino theme

I’ve just tweaked my metal theme for Camino to work with Aqua and Panther. It’s essentially the same, but the toolbar icons have been reworked to be brighter and not so heavy around the edges. Its also got a hint of graphite colour just to lift it.


Until the current speed problems with the metal theme and the searchbar are ironed out, I’m using a Panther OS theme from ResExcellence. I’m not normally a fan of these things, but it looks more professional than aqua pinstripes.

welcome the new kid

Another day, another new OS X application. Pixadex is the ‘iPhoto for icons’, and it really is that intuitive. Store, organise and drop icons on to files and folders (no get info/copy and paste). Its a Panic and Iconfactory co-production, so you know its good!

camino lives!

The good news from Mike Pinkerton is that Camino development is still carrying on. Things have been a little quiet of late, but he reports:

“I’ve got a couple people working on the download manager as well as a full bookmark infrastructure rewrite in progress by someone else.”

Now that the hoo-haa has died down after Safari’s 1.0 release (which crashes at least 3 times a day – my latest nightly build of Camino hasn’t crashed once!), hopefully Camino will get a chance to shine. Mike also reported CNETs comparison of Camino and Safari with glee. I hope it continues to cheer him up…

we have found a witch! can we burn her?!

I’ve playing around with a lot of wee OS X software recently. There seems to be far more independent software developers for OS X than there ever was for OS9. A lot of it is downloaded, used once, and then never again. Some however, are just so darn useful that they might get a position on my dock.

Steven f (from panic) has created Web Desktop. This bizarre app, using the WebKit rendering engine from Safari 1.0, allows browsing on your desktop! I felt very strange using it, as if I was doing something naughty, but its great. Give it a go.

URL cleaner from Hivelogic has helped me solve the problem of the safari resources page not validating. It takes your messy urls and encodes them so that the validators don’t get confused. Simple, free and so useful.

Finally, there is free ruler. A accurate way of measuring screen pixels (can also do inches, picas and centimetres). Gone are the days of making a screenshot, opening it up in Photoshop and measuring it.

Clever people. Witchcraft must be involved…

NetNewsWire

I’ve become addicted to NetNewsWire for OSX from Ranchero software – a few months ago I’d never heard of ‘RSS News Feeds’, now its become as important as email. Its fast, clearly designed (clean cocoa interface) and it also lets me edit this weblog. There is a Lite version that you can try, but before long you’ll want the full deal. If I’m preaching to the converted, you can subscribe to hicksdesign here.