Ask the Mac.AppStorm Editor #5

It’s time for another “Ask the Editor” post today. A big thank you to everyone who sent in their questions – it’s great to have the chance to help you out with your Mac-related queries and quibbles.

Some of the topics covered this week include assessing the health of your MacBook battery, monitoring network traffic, pausing background applications, and picking a battery charger.

Read on for plenty of handy Mac knowledge!

Is there a free app for the Mac that can monitor network traffic? Net Monitor is a paid version, but paid versions are all I can find.

– James Crawford

We’ve actually written about this topic previously on the site, and there are a few utilities that are capable of monitoring network traffic and bandwidth. Of course, much depends upon the level and detail you require.

For simple monitoring, you can use the Network tab of Activity Monitor. This is fairly rudimentary, and doesn’t offer any advanced functionality (such as exporting logs or viewing historical data). It might do the trick if your needs are simple.

Activity Monitor can report network traffic and usage

Activity Monitor can report network traffic and usage

Alternatively, you could give SurplusMeter a try, which is specifically geared towards monitoring network bandwidth usage over a certain period. Not necessarily the best for in-depth, real-time analysis, but it’s completely free.

Net Monitor, the application you mentioned, comes in at $10. It’s fairly advanced, and isn’t exactly priced out of most people’s budget. Unfortunately, there isn’t an equally capable application available completely free of charge (as far as I’m aware!)

Do you recommend any brand of batteries or charger for the Magic Mouse? What factors affect battery life?

– Natalia Ventre

The first thing to mention in this regard is that it’s definitely not cost-effective in the long-run to buy “one use” batteries for your Magic Mouse or Apple Keyboard. These devices really chew through power at a rapid pace, and you’ll quickly find yourself spending a frighteningly large sum on new batteries.

A rechargeable solution is the way to go, and I’d definitely recommend considering Apple’s Battery Charger. This comes with six batteries, so you can always have two charging, and plenty left for both your Magic Mouse and Keyboard if need be. It’s priced at $29 – a wise investment in the long run!

There are, of course, plenty of other battery charging solutions on the market, ranging from around $12 upwards. Go for the best quality set of batteries and charger that your budget will allow, as they’ll last longer for each use, and have a longer overall lifespan.

Is there a way to restrict your Mac to only run one program at a time? I’m a photographer, and want to dedicate all my processing power to Lightroom.

– Joe

I completely understand your pain, Joe, and am pleased to let you know that this is definitely possible. Although there’s no way to do this on your Mac by default, as ever, an enterprising developer has already created something to fit the bill.

Head over to St. Clair Software and download AppTamer. After installing it, you’ll be able to select a variety of different applications that you do, or do not, want to be “paused” after a certain inactivity period.

For your purposes, a good idea would be to:

  1. Open up most of your commonly used apps
  2. Check “AutoStop” next to all of them, except Lightroom
  3. Turn on App Tamer when you’re doing serious editing/processing, and turn it off again afterwards (otherwise you’ll probably be frustrated by various applications not running when you’d like them to)

I’d recommend AppTamer for many Mac users who suffer from regular slow-downs, but still like to have all their applications running concurrently. Just be sure not to select certain software that regularly needs to run in the background (e.g. your FTP application will need to upload files while you work on something else).

AppTamer can prevent software running in the background

AppTamer can prevent software running in the background

Which steps could I take to determine whether my MacBook battery is damaged?

– Jose Carrillo

This depends largely upon whether you’re taking about physical/mechanical damage, or just the natural decrease in charge over many month and years of recharge cycles.

For the former, it’s definitely best to take your MacBook into an Apple Store for someone to take a look at the hardware. If it’s just a drop in charge that you’re noticing, there are a few ways to investigate this further.

I’d recommend downloading and installing Coconut Battery. This handy (and free) application shows you live information about your battery, such as how often it was charged, and how the current maximum capacity relates to the original capacity your battery had when it left the factory.

This will give you a good indication of what state your battery is in, and the type of improvement you would notice if you decide to purchase a new one. We’ll actually have an entire post dedicated to battery calibration coming on Sunday, so stay tuned for more information then!

What project management apps allow me to track projects, clients, time, and complex tasks?

– Eduard M

Sounds like you need an application that can handle an awful lot of different things! For most of what you’ve mentioned, I’d recommend giving Billings a try. It’s priced at around $45, but comes with a very powerful feature set. You can check out our review for a full overview.

For tracking complex tasks, Billings might not be the best solution. I’d actually recommend taking a look at a web application – Basecamp – that goes a few steps further than most simple “to do” list apps for the Mac. It also works well with multiple people, if the project is a collaboration.

Didn’t See Your Question?

If you asked a question but didn’t have it answered today, don’t worry! I’ll do my best to get to it in a future week. I love a challenge, so feel free to ask some weird and wonderful questions…

If you’d like to submit your query, you can do so here:

Thanks for reading, and let me know if you agree or disagree with anything I mentioned today!