App of the Week: CNET TechTracker

One of the most important things with software is making sure it is kept up to date.  The more apps you have, of course, the harder it is to keep it all up to date.  Apple’s software, and a few others, update through the built-in Software Update, and apps bought through the Mac App Store can be updated through there.  But there’s other software that won’t auto update, or that aren’t in one of these modules, such as Firefox, Skype, Flash Player and more.  How do you make sure you keep all of them up to date?  One way is to go through CNET’s TechTracker.

CNET is one of the most respected names in tech journalism, but they also host the popular that not only lets you look up Mac software, but Windows, mobile apps, and web apps.  They also have a free tool called TechTracker.  After making a free account with CNET, you download the TechTracker app (that same account allows you to comment on articles, enter into prize drawings, and more on their website).  You log into the account after installing the app, and it scans all the apps on the Mac and compares them to its app repository.  When its done, it will tell you how many apps are out of date, and then direct you to a specially made webpage listing all of your apps and at the top the ones that need updating.  If the apps needing updates are ones you don’t want scanned, you can tell the webpage to hide the apps either until the next update, or permanently.  From then on, TechTracker will scan your computer either every 4 hours, daily, weekly, or monthly and notify you of new updates.  Most of the time, it will scan as soon as you turn on your Mac on, which can be annoying when you have no Internet connection and the app complains.  If you get TechTracker Plus, which is a paid service, TechTracker will automatically download the updates you need so that you can install them later.

The only issues I’ve found with the entire system is that occasionally it says I need an update that I’ve already installed, which can be kind of a pain.  Also the app’s preferences need to be adjusted from the pan it created in System Preferences, rather than TechTracker having its preferences within the app.  The only other thing is that some apps, usually newer or some lesser known apps, aren’t in the list, and neither are some big name paid games, such as MineCraft.  The list may not be comprehensive, but the majority of my apps outside the Mac App Store are there and the app is pretty reliable otherwise.  You can check it out at;msg3371189.  It is available for Macs running OSX 10.5 and higher, as well as Windows XP and higher.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email me at  You can also check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen.  Thanks!

What is iCloud?

With the release of iOS 5 and OSX 10.7.2, the two operating systems have bonded like never before with iCloud. But what exactly is it, and what does it do?

iCloud is Apple’s replacement to MobileMe. Through iCloud, you’ll use your Apple I.D. to sync data between your iOS 5 device and your Mac running 10.7.2 and iTunes 10.5 (or Windows XP or higher machine). Without all three of these, iCloud won’t work to the full extent. You’ll also be able to see your data on So what’s going to be synced? Well you’ll have the option to choose between all of these, some of these though will only be Mac specific, but we’ll get to that in a minute. You get 5 gigabytes of iCloud storage for free, though you can pay to go up to as much as 50. Paying also gives you iTunes Match, allowing iTunes to scan and match up to 25,000 songs you have in iTunes and stream that from the cloud.


  • Apps: When you download apps, they’ll automatically be synced through iCloud to your Mac. When iTunes opens up, all the apps you’ve downloaded will be synced to it through the web. App data will also be synced, meaning that your 3 stars in Angry Birds will also be stored.
  • Photos: With iOS 5’s Photo Stream enabled, you can have photos taken on your iDevice or from your computer streamed and synced from the cloud. These are synced across all your iCloud enabled devices. Not every picture you take is automatically sent to the cloud, only if you enable Photo Stream. 1000 are stored at any given time in iCloud.
  • Music: Through iCloud, all your iTunes music is available for download on all your devices. Any music your purchase on one device can be automatically synced, or you can selectively choose what songs sync to what device. You can also redownload past purchases you’ve made through iTunes onto your devices. For iTunes Match, where you can stream your songs from the cloud, will be $24.99 a year.
  • Books: Any books you’ve downloaded through iBooks will be synced through iCloud and available on all your devices, as well as any book marks and the last place you were in a particular book.
  • Contacts and Calendar: Contacts and calendars on iOS 5 will be synced through iCloud, available on the website, and synced to your main computer. On Mac these will be synced to Address Book and iCal respectively, while on Windows it will sync to Microsoft Outlook.
  • Mail: Signing up through your Apple I.D., you get a free It will be synced through Apple’s Mail & iOS’s Mail App. You’ll also be able to check it on the iCloud website. That is also free, though it counts toward your storage.
  • Find my iPhone: Available since iPhone 4, Find My iPhone has moved to You can still use another iOS 4 or higher device to track your missing device, but now iCloud is the web home of tracking your iDevice
  • Notes, Reminders: Notes and Reminders from your iDevice will also be synced through iCloud, You won’t be able to see them outside of your iDevice, but they will sync across your iDevices.
  • Backup: iCloud lets you back your iPhone into your iCloud account, just like it does when you plug your iDevice into your Mac and run the sync feature in iTunes. Next time you get a new iDevice running iOS 5 or later, all your stuff will be downloaded onto that new device through the Wifi.
Mac specific: Of course, Apple included some special bonds between iOS and OSX Lion. Here are some of the new powers
  • Safari Bookmarks: You can sync your bookmarks in the desktop Safari with the mobile Safari, and vice versa.
  • Documents in the Cloud: Using iWork for iOS and iWork for Desktop (Pages, Keynote, and Numbers), users can sync, read, and work on documents by sending them through iCloud. You can also check them out by logging into This does count toward your 5 gigabyte limit.

While iCloud is still new and the real test will come in the near future as more people use it, iCloud still seems like a worthy and logical upgrade for all iOS users.

App of the Week: DashExpander

DashExpander icon (courtesy of Kapeli)

If there is one thing that Mac users tend to do a lot, it would be writing, whether it be in email, a final, or that script to your award-winning movie that you’ve never finished.  As such there are a variety of text expansion apps for the Mac, probably more than any other operating system.  What is text expansion you may ask?  Text expansion is the process of using a program to connect an abbreviated phrase with a longer body of text.  So if I constantly am filling out my qualifications for a job in emails, rather than constantly type out those qualifications, I can attach a phrase like “job qual” to a program, which would then fill in those qualifications whenever I type that phrase.  The catch is that almost all of these text expansions apps share another feature: a high price tag.  It’s not that these programs aren’t worth the money, just that I can’t afford to pay $35.00 for an app that changes text around (no offense).

DashExpander fills this void by being free, but the ability to get the job done.  After installing the app, you open up the snippet creation window either by tapping “Open” in the optional menubar icon, or by using the keyboard shortcut “Option+Spacebar”.  The window has 4 text boxes.  The top box is the name of the snippet, the second being the abbreviation of the text, the third is the text you want it to become, and the bottom box is how you want to tag it.  Tagging isn’t necessary, but it helps if you need to search for one of your snippets later.  I

Snippet creation window

found the window a little confusing to use at first, but after a while it was pretty easy to use.  A nice little feature in DashExpander is the ability to create fields in the expanded text.  Say if you need to fill out the date and want to put it in a snippet, you can type _word_ (fill in “word” with whatever text you want) and then you’ll be able to quickly jump to that field & fill it out post expansion.  The app is very light and responsive, both when being used and just sitting in the background.  It’s very easy to use and setup; the preferences are only to startup at login and for a menubar icon.

Besides the initial confusion with snippet setup, the only complaints I have are merely about the icon.  For one thing, I’d like to have option for a black & white menubar icon, rather than always having it in color.  And to be honest, the dock icon is a little bit creepy.  I like the Cheshire cat idea, but something about it just doesn’t look right.  But for a free, effective, and responsive app like this, I can’t really complain.

DashExpander is a free app from Kapeli and is available in the Mac App Store.  You can check out more at  DashExpander runs on OS 10.6 and higher.  If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email me at  You can also check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen.  Thanks!  (P.S.: This last paragraph was almost completely typed via DashExpander)