Using a computer is often all about events and communication. Changes are always occurring, data is being received, tracks are changing, and news is pushed to you. All of these events occur in a bunch of different applications, and each has a specific way of letting you know that something has happened. It could be a Dock badge, a popup window, or even an audible alert.
The problem with this setup is that, as a user, you’re constantly bombarded with notifications from different areas of your screen, grabbing your attention in different ways. Growl aims to solve this by providing a central system for managing events. It integrates with a huge range of apps to provide a single, simplified way to receive notifications.
Setting up Growl
Growl is a free download and, once installed, resides in your System Preferences pane:
A number of different settings are available relating to how Growl starts up, and where it resides in your system. There’s also a useful option to temporarily hide all notifications. You can select which corner of your display is the default starting position for all messages, allowing consistency between every application.
The ‘Network’ tab allows you to configure Growl to receive incoming notifications from other computers. Alternatively, you can send messages from the current computer to another – providing it is running Growl and you’re authorized to do so.
Integrating with Applications
The key reason for using Growl is the wide variety of applications with which it can integrate. A full list can be here, though a few notable apps are: Mail.app, Gmail, SpamSieve, Firefox, Adium, Skype, Transmit, Dropbox, Transmission, MarsEdit, NetNewsWire, NewsFire, Twitteriffic and a huge array of System and Unix apps.
Once installed, supported applications should automatically recognize that Growl is present and appear in the preferences window. Little or no configuration is required for most apps, and you can be up and running in no time.
Certain applications require a particular Extra before notifications can be sent to Growl. These include Mail.app, and also if you’d like the ability to be notified about hardware changes (adding/removing USB devices, network connections etc). These are fairly simple to install, though do create slightly more clutter on your system.
A number of different notification styles are available, customized with various transparency settings and colour options. If you use multiple monitors, it’s possible to specify which one you’d like notifications to appear on. A few style examples are Candybars, Brushed, and Smoke:
Other interesting options include the ability to automatically send an email notification or an SMS message (providing you have an account with Clickatell). A different route is to have notifications spoken audibly to you, although this didn’t work brilliantly during testing.
A number of additional styles are available to download from the developers, though they are now beginning to look a little dated. An update with a few slightly more modern and professional styles would certainly be well received.
Growl provides a fantastic tool for collecting all software and hardware notifications in one place, displaying them in a consistent and attractive style. It’s a shame that helper software is required to support certain types of message, as it would be great to have everything included within the main app. It goes a long way towards simplifying your desktop and – short of disabling any form of notification – helps to minimize the distraction caused when you’re trying to concentrate on a task.
It’s completely free and definitely worth checking out. If you don’t like it, uninstallation is as simple as running the script provided with the original download.
Do you use Growl or are you content with different application notifications?