Sunday, July 27, 2008

The little icons in the upper right

So if you take a look at my little MacBook, you'll notice that I have quite a few little icons up there that aren't the stock Apple stuff. Since I had so much fun writing my mini-reviews of mini-iPhone apps, I thought I'd write some mini-reviews of these mini-apps!

Picture 2.jpg
This is all about mini, I guess...

Though this is probably the subject of another blog entry where I focus on my big applications, I don't actually have a single Microsoft product installed on my Leopard instance. There naturally are some on my virtualized PC (duuh, like the instance of XP itself). I take a little bit of pride in this, not so much for some sort of political anti-microsoft reason, but rather because I enjoy the pursuit of the optimum application to suit my needs rather than just running the thing that comes standard and that everyone else uses.

But anyway, I said that was a different rant for a different time...stay on target, Strauss!

As we move from left to right, the first icon is for Jumpcut, a little multi-level clipboard tool that I use. It let's me copy up to I think fifteen different items into the clipboard and through a user selected hotkey (I use Command-Shift-V because of its feel of being a "super paste" keystroke) it will call up a popup menu that lets me select which of the items in my clipboard I want to use. I can also grab the item from a dropdown off the menu bar. It doesn't handle images at all -- just ignores them -- so you can only go one level for graphics, which is irksome. I sometimes vacillate and use YouControl's excellent, much more customizable and full featured clipboard tool instead, but nominally I like lightweight applications focused on doing one thing and doing it well. In general, this is an area I'm not quite finding the "right" app -- I want something that possesses the desired lightweight elegance but offers just a little more functionality (images!).

Actually, where I would really like this capability is on my XP machine at work. I frequently am composing emails that have anywhere from two to a half-dozen http: and mailto: links in them. Copying and pasting the addresses is a real back-and-forth process. I'd love to prowl our intranet, collect all the necessary links (most of which are long and ugly because they are .aspx calls to SharePoint -- so don't go suggesting that I just remember them!) and the past them in to my mail document one-at-a-time without needing to swap applications.

But, alas, I don't have that ability.

To the right is Adium -- which always makes me think of Sara Maclachlan's song "Adia." It's a chat tool -- a replacement for iChat that lets me manage multiple chat clients at once. Great app -- and free. Coupled with Growl for notifications it does everything I need a chat application to do. I suppose if I was in a Mac-only community and wanted to share video, it might not be the tool, but for my multi-platfom circle, I like the flexibility.

Picture 3.jpgThe musical notes relate to iTunes. Surprised? Not really! Its CoverSutra, a nice and fairly customizable little instant access application. Since my MacBook has pause/play, fast-forward/rewind, and volume controls right on the keyboard, I don't like to clutter my screen up with the full iTunes application. CoverSutra provides popups of song changes, instant access to my playlists, and lightweight customizable controls for everything I can't already do from the keyboard. A lot of folks seem to use Synergy for this, but for some reason I am plagued with relentless crashes when I try to use it...besides, CoverSutra is far better looking!

The mail icon is Mail Unread Menu, a quick display of what I have in my mailbox. It'd show the number of emails since I last had Mail in front and the number of mails that are unread. The dropdown shows the subject. It also allows for composing a new message and checking mail without bringing Mail to the front.

Next along is SlimBatteryMonitor which is pretty self explanatory. It is a battery monitor. And it is slim. And rather customizable to change colors and do nice things. The only reason I use it is because it is so slim and saves space given how many other things I'm packing in to the upper right corner of a 13" screen!

Picture 5.jpgFrom the battery on through to the clock (and the end of the custom icons, obviously) we see the panorama of iStat Menus, a beautiful little system monitoring tool fro iSlayer. These folks develop some beautiful applications, most of them as Dashboard widgets, though, and I really don't use the dashboard at all. But this app is a wonderful and very customizable menubar tool that allows monitoring of everything from power consumption to temperature to memory usage to date and time. I used to use the fantastically powerful YouControl for a lot of these functions, but the sheer beauty of iStat won me over -- and drove a bit of a re-evaluation of some of my other menubar choices.

Picture 4.jpgPresently I'm monitoring my power consumption, my CPU temperature, my memory usage (horizontal scrolling bar), my CPU load (two horizontal scrolling bars -- one per core), and an attractive little date/time. Any of these representations drops down for more detail, including some that are only of interest to the obsessively geeky.

Things wrap up with Apple's Spaces, WiFi, and Spotlight icons. These all work...well...OK. They are all applications without an alternative that I've located. They are all applications that provide necessary functionality. I'd love to get rid of the Spotlight icon -- but still be able to access the search application via my keyboard shortcuts. I sort of can through LaunchBar, but I also like to directly to a Spotlight search when I know that I'm going to be after file contents, dictionary definitions, etc. But all the approaches for getting rid of that magnifying glass also kill the tool. Bummer. The others are just kind of clunky, but they do the job.

So those are my little icons in the upper right.

I'm still looking for a couple of improvements. I'd like a way to launch Spotlight from the keyboard without having that irritating little magnifying glass there. I'm not entirely happy with my clipboard solution. I'd also like some sort of ability to control Fusion from the menubar -- to select a given virtual machine and either suspend or resume it. I also wish that I could more freely re-arrange these little doohickeys, but I'm making it work for now. Its a tweaking space -- an area of my computer that I am perpetually playing with just a little. And its fun! I hope you check some of these guys out and, if you like, support the developers who are helping keep third party software alive on the OS X platform!

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