There’s a good chance that you’ve made a significant investment in the applications on your Mac – if not in their purchase cost, certainly in the time you’ve invested making sure you’ve got the right apps to suit the way you work.
What would happen if you had to reinstall OS X or just switch to a new computer? Could you easily find your software registration serial numbers and reinstall your favorite collection of apps?
AppShelf aims to help you answer those questions with a ‘yes’ by keeping a list of all your software registration information in a central place, with the serial numbers or license files you need to reinstall if the worst happens.
Installing AppShelf is a simple case of downloading a DMG file, opening it, and dragging the icon to your Applications folder. On first run, AppShelf asks if you want to check for a newer version then upgrades itself if necessary.
Design & Interface
Once you have the latest version of the application, you’re ready to enter the details of your applications into AppShelf. Before you start, the screen shows a default category under which your applications will be saved and a set of Spotlight Smart Folders that help find your applications, widgets and other software whose license details you might want to record.
The default category can be renamed or you can create additional categories if you’d like to file your applications under, say, business, leisure, or other categories.
There is another way to separate your application data. It’s possible to use AppShelf with multiple databases by holding down the option key when you start it.
AppShelf offers three ways of entering your application registration data. You can manually specify an application, you can browse to an existing application, or you can use Smart Folders.
Manual entry is a little painstaking and you’re more likely to use the other methods. Browsing the Smart Folders lets you see a list of your installed applications and choose which ones to import. As such, it’s the easiest way to get started.
Choosing Import, prompts you to choose a category to which the application will be assigned then makes an entry for it in AppShelf’s database.
For each application you store like this, you can record a range of information including price paid, purchase and expiry dates, version, and a link to the application’s homepage URL. The real value of AppShelf, though, is in consolidating serial numbers and license files in a single location.
As well as supporting manual entry of registration details, the recently released version 2.0 of AppShelf adds email scanning. It’s common to receive serial numbers by email when you buy an application.
If you switch to the Attachments tab, you can drag and drop the email you received into this tab from your Mac’s Mail.app. Doing so will automatically extract and store the serial number and email address in AppShelf’s database. This worked impressively well when I tried it.￼
The same mechanism applies to applications that need a file to activate their license; you can attach the file.
Even with AppShare’s easy to use tools, it’s a little laborious cataloguing a large set of software registrations just from the point of view of having to find the original details.
However, if you can get in the habit of recording all new software purchases like this, you’ll soon have your license information collected together in AppShelf. Once you’re in this situation, you can print an attractively presented list of the information you stored if you want to be able to view an inventory of your applications with their serial numbers.
Protecting your Data
Since this application is asking you to spend time entering your data, you might be worried about how safe it is. Can unauthorized people access it and how can you extract it if you ever need to?
The first situation is addressed by AppShelf allowing you to optionally set a master password, which encrypts the database. There is no way of recovering this, so you need to be careful in picking a password you won’t forget or you will be irretrievably locked out from your own data.
On the second issue of being able to move your data elsewhere, AppShelf can export to the almost universal CSV file format, or to a web page, so you can create an index of all your serial numbers. It can also import from rival software LicenseKeeper and RapidoSerial as well as CSV data.
Rival License Managers
As well as dedicated license mangers LicenseKeeper and SecretBox (which replaced the freeware RapidoSerial), you can store your licensing details in more versatile applications such as the popular 1Password.
If you’re really on a tight budget, you could equally save your serial numbers at no cost in your online email account – but with rather less convenience and simplicity than a purpose built tool offers.
If you’ve got sufficient serial numbers that you feel the need to organize your licensing, AppShelf is a low cost and straightforward way to do so. There is a 10-day free trial version you can use and, once you’ve entered your data, it’s probably easier to buy the application than start over again with another tool given AppShelf’s competitive pricing.
Although it’s possible to back up your files manually, it would be nice to see some online storage included so you had more of a ‘file and forget’ situation and you could be confident the information you have gone to the trouble to store would always be easily retrievable.
Online connectivity could also provide a way to reduce the severity of the forgotten password situation which, at the movement, if you choose to use one then forget it, is fatal.