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Ian Tromp

Ian Tromp is a freelance writer who lives in Birmingham, England. Among other publications, he is a regular contributor to MacFormat.

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There are a number of mammoth picture editors that can do just about anything with an image. Then there are a few very effective smaller-scale apps that have a lot of power while remaining simpler to use – a personal favourite is Acorn. But if you’re someone with only needs to work with images now and then – a blogger looking for attractive embellishments for your texts, or someone maintaining a personal website – even Acorn might seem complicated.

That’s where Acqualia software’s Picturesque comes in: it’s super-simple to use, and delivers excellent results without requiring much knowledge about design, or prior experience of working with graphics.

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When I first started using Twitter, I relied on the browser interface, and that seemed good enough. And then I discovered Twitterrific, which provided a better-designed and more enjoyable experience. And then I got an iPhone, and – as they say – that changed everything. After a few hours using the original version of Tweetie, I found it very difficult to use any other client, either on the desktop or my iPhone. Thankfully, not too long afterwards, Atebits released the desktop version of Tweetie, and all was well in Twitterland.

This status quo remained for a long time: Tweetie on iPhone, Tweetie on desktop. But then things changed. Specifically, Twitter bought Tweetie. A few months passed, and then a new version of the iPhone app was released. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t like it – but I know I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. The King had been deposed. A recent update to the desktop version changed little, and I found myself wanting a change – I decided to leave behind the world of Tweetie-now-become-Twitter…

And so began a quest for a new Twitter client – really for a clutch of Twitter clients: for iPhone, Macbook, and iPad. This market is pretty full now, and I’ve tried most of them. Here I’m going to give a tour of Kiwi, which is a fairly recent addition to the list of desktop apps available.

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“Tinker, v.: attempt to repair or improve something in a casual or desultory way, often to no useful effect.”

If I could get back just some of the time that I have spent tinkering with computers over the years, I think I might be able to extend my lifetime quite significantly. One of the great things about OS X is that it actually requires little tinkering (and yes, some systems do require quite a lot of it!).

If you simply hand over control to the operating system, things will generally run quite smoothly. This does, though, also mean giving up on some choice, and so some freedom.

There are many apps available that help you to change various aspects of your Mac’s appearance and the way it generally runs. One of the best, and widest known, is Marcel Bresink’s TinkerTool. Join us after the jump as we explore what this app can do for you.

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Apple made a controversial change in Snow Leopard. It’s a fairly system-level one, though, so perhaps the majority of users will not have had any issues with it – but it’s made some experienced Mac users pretty unhappy. What’s changed is the way in which files open when double-clicked.

It used to be that OS X embedded what’s known as a Creator Code in new files, so that the system knew to open files within the applications that made them. Rob Griffiths published a discussion of this behaviour, and the changes in Snow Leopard, in Macworld back in September last year. Have a read of that piece, and the lengthy comments that accompany it, if you want to understand the issue better.

I haven’t been impacted by this change to a great degree, but one of the applications that comes up in discussion of ways of fixing the change, and giving back more control over what applications open files, caught my eye. Michel Fortin’s Magic Launch is a Preference Pane that lets you manipulate file-opening in ways that allow you a great deal of flexibility.

It solves the problem of Creator Codes being removed, but it also adds some excellent functionality, and that means it’s well worth a look even if you’re untroubled by the main issue it addresses.

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When I wrote about Leech a few weeks ago, I made a few comparisons with YazSoft’s Speed Download.

Some of the comments on that review asked why anyone would use a download manager when most modern browsers have excellent download management built in. I thought the answers given were quite convincing, and it seemed that quite a few people do already use such apps, or might be in the market for one.

The short version of my own feelings about Speed Download is that I’ve never gotten on with it, though I own a licence and have used it on and off for the past year or so. But since there is a demand for download managers, and since Speed Download is well-known and widely used, I thought it would be worthwhile giving it another look and seeing whether or not my assessment was fair.

Join us after the jump for a walkthrough of its capabilities, and my personal judgement of whether looking at it again has changed my view of Speed Download.

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When you own a PC, you need to pay attention to things like defragmenting your hard-drives, installing and updating antivirus, antivandal and firewall software. If you switch to a Mac, you need worry a lot less about such things. I’m not saying you should be complacent, but things generally just work much more easily and straightforwardly.

Your Mac has built-in maintenance routines that run periodically, and – for the most part – you will have a simpler computing experience that requires you to spend much less time under the hood tweaking things.

If you’ve made the switch from a PC, one thing that you might find yourself wondering about is defragmenting your hard-drive. Today we’re delving into that topic, and taking a look at iDefrag. After the jump, I’ll walk you through the app, and conclude with some reflections on whether or not you need it.

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There was a time when having a download manager made a real difference to one’s experience of using the internet. There are places where this is still true. A few years ago, I spent a month in a remote part of India, where I struggled to top 2k download speeds with my laptop’s modem connecting via a fixed line. I literally waited an hour some days just to download a morning’s email.

A download manager wouldn’t have helped all that much with those messages, but it would have made a huge difference if I had wanted to download any software, music or video files.

That’s the most common use of a download manager: pausing and restarting downloads, scheduling them for later in the day, perhaps after you’ve gone to bed, so that massive download can be ready and waiting in the morning. There are now a number of download managers that can do a whole lot more than this. Speed Download has been the big-hitter for a long time, but (though I bought a licence for the app) I’ve never got along with it.

Recently, I’ve switched over to using Leech, which makes no claim to being as powerful, but turns out to be an excellent, lightweight option that might just do everything you need.

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My work requires me to keep confidential notes. I hunted around for some time to find the best way of doing this on my Mac, and tried several different options. What I used for a long time was password-protected entries in either Yojimbo, VoodooPad or Together. Unfortunately, in each case I felt something was missing.

I also tried Espionage. What I liked about this solution was the simplicity of making my notes in plain text files and dropping them into folders, which were then securely encrypted as a whole. I found, though, that I was prompted far too often to supply passwords to unlock the archives it creates so that online backups or other apps could interact with them. What I discovered instead was another app that did a similar job but required far less interaction: Knox.

Knox was already a well-established app when, back in May, it was acquired by Agile Web Solutions, the folks who brought us the excellent (and I would say essential) 1Password. After the jump we’ll walk through Knox’s main features so you can see if it matches your way of working.

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I have tried a number of online backup solutions – among them Mozy, Carbonite, JungleDisk, MobileMe’s iDisk, and CrashPlan. This article is not about those products, but I can tell you that all of them let me down in one way or another.

I hit problems with one of them when disaster struck and I found that I couldn’t actually use my backup files; another was terribly, unusably slow and gave little control over when backups were run; another kept my MacBook’s fan’s running all the time, because the backup app was leaking memory all over the place.

Despite all these disappointments, I do feel that I need an off-site backup (along with my Time Machine and SuperDuper! backups) – it’s an extra line of protection that helps me feel more secure – so I’ve kept looking for a solution that’ll do the best possible job.

For the last few months, I’ve been using Dropbox and, although it’s not expressly designed for the purpose of backup, it just works, and I’ve been very happy with the service. My only complaint is that Dropbox is a little expensive for my needs – after all, I’m only currently using 12% of the 50GB my $10/month buys.

I recently came across Haystack Software’s Arq, and I’m thinking this may be a very good option for keeping online backups running smoothly and seamlessly. Join me after the break for a walkthrough of its features.

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You don’t need this app. There are good guides available on the Apple website to help you get the best performance and extend the life of your Mac laptop’s battery. You can even download from that page an iCal file that will add periodic reminders to your calendar, so that you’re more likely to remember to calibrate your battery. Follow that advice, and respond to the reminders, and you and your computer’s battery will be fine.

I’m on the second battery in my MacBook (which is coming up to its fourth birthday this week). Apparently it’s in quite good health at the moment, though it’s lost 18% of its capacity. You see, I’m not so good at remembering to calibrate it, and because I tend to use it all over the house, it’s constantly being plugged and unplugged, and is drained completely on most days. I’m not so hot on looking after batteries…

And so, though I know I don’t need it, I think Watts is well worth having. Read on for an introduction to this little app that could make it easier for you to look after your laptop’s battery.

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