App of the Week: VLC Media Player

Have a video you need to play, but that default media app just doesn’t cut it?  Is your media in odd and unusual formats that you’ve never even heard of?  Ask any geek or media expert of the most powerful media player, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: VLC.

VLC media player is the self-proclaimed “Swiss army knife of media”, and not without due cause.  It can play any music or video file, as well as a variety of codec without a hitch.  Whether it’s the most common file types, like AVI, WMV, and MP3, to less file formats like Flash, H.264, MOD, and more.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to use it to watch videos on cameras that export their videos into such weird formats.  And of course it can play CD’s and DVD’s.  And you can take any of these files and make a handy playlist out of it.  Need subtitles?  Also not a problem; VLC has extensive subtitle support.

Still not convinced?  VLC allows you to tweak audio and video settings either with presets or on the fly

VLC Media Player

changes.  Furthermore, the app  as the ability to stream video and audio from a variety of streaming sources.  I’ve used it before and the video and audio quality is pretty good, though maybe not as good as streaming it directly from the website.  You can also import video and audio directly from your Mac’s built-in webcam and microphone.

I could really go on about VLC, but let me break it down to the most simple things you need to know.  First, it can play almost any media format you can through at it, can stream media very well, has extensive options for tweaking, as well as third-party extensions to expand the functionality.  And it does it all very well.  And if you have Handbrake with VLC, you can use them to rip CD’s and DVD to your Mac.  The possibilities are astounding.

However these numerous abilities, tweaks, and settings are also a weakness.  Geeks and media-philes will love the numerous options, but the casual user might be overwhelmed by these possibilities.  This includes some of the lingo used when digging through the preferences.  While the settings out of the box are just fine for the average user, anyone looking to tweak or improve might have a bit of a learning curve. Another thing is that even though VLC has a bunch of skins and themes, almost all of them aren’t available for Mac because of lacking themes support.  This is more of an aesthetic choice, and I do like the default look of VLC, but I think these themes should quickly be added to the program.  One last note of annoyance is that VLC, unlike every other media player, opens up a separate window than the default player controls.  Even though the video window does have the controls for playing, fullscreen, etc., it seems pointless that the video should in the same window initially as the controls.

Even though VLC has some quirks, it makes for an amazing media player that should be on every media editor’s or connoisseurs Mac.  It is available for free at for OS 10.4 or higher (Tiger or higher), as well as Windows, Linux, iOS, and more.  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.  You can also check out my Google Plus Page.  Thanks!

App of the Week: ClamXav

I am a fan of open-source, no doubt about it.  Part of it is certainly that open-source stuff tends to be free (LibreOffice, Firefox, just to name a couple), but it also helps bring people together.  Open-source is almost inherently a community activity.  It also means anyone who knows any code can generally take open source software and change it to their needs, so long as they give at least some reference to the original code.  And open-source also tends to lead to innovation.  I see all of these things and plenty of security in ClamXav.

ClamXav is an open source antivirus for Mac.  ClamXav is based on the popular Clamav, a commonly used, open source antivirus on Linux, as well as Windows.  ClamXav takes that engine and lets it run on OSX (hence the X in ClamXav).  But Clamav has traditionally been run as a command line program, simply meaning there’s no easy buttons to push.  ClamXav not only adds an easy user interface, but also has a sentry feature that actively watches your files for any suspicious activity.  The interface is

ClamXav's main screen

really simple, with big buttons labeled for starting and stopping scans, updating the definitions, and preferences.  There’s also a list of quick folders to scan, though you can always set up other scans, even your whole hard drive.  The preferences are also fairly easy to go through and set up, setting up simple tasks like what to do if the app detects a virus, email alerts, scheduling scans, etc.  The app also allows more advanced users to perform tasks like running other command line utilities, install their own antivirus engine, etc.

Performing a scan tells you in real-time any malware it finds, gives them to you in a list, and can be immediately moved to quarantine for review or deleted.  One confusing thing about the scan is that it tells you how many types of viruses the app can detect, but at first glance this almost looks like how many viruses you have on the system, which is simply not true.

One of the big things I like about ClamXav is the fact that it can not only detect Mac malware, but also Windows malware.  You might wonder why this a big deal; Windows code won’t run on Mac, so Windows viruses won’t affect that Mac OS.  The main reason having an antivirus that scans for Mac and Windows malware on the Mac is to prevent what is called the “downstream effect”.  If a Mac gets a Windows virus, the virus can’t do anything because neither the Mac nor Windows understands what the other is (it’s like two people having a conversation in two different languages, or trying to build something when you can’t read the instructions).  However, the virus could be transferred accidentally from Mac to a Windows computer via an email, a bad link, a flash drive, etc.  And if you have friends and family that use Windows…i think you get the idea.  While this means that ClamXav takes longer to scan your hard drive than if it only searched for Mac malware, I think it’s a worthy trade.

All this being said, there are a couple of things to note.  First, the version in the Mac App Store is different from that being offered on ClamXav’s website.  The main differences are that the Mac App Store version does not allow for user virus engines, but more importantly it does not come bundled with Sentry.  Sentry basically is the active scanner that comes with the normal version of ClamXav, and scans your files as they come in, much like any other antivirus would.  There are other problems however; ClamXav tends to be especially heavy when scanning your hard drive, and tends to noticeably take a few hours.  If you run this scan, it’s generally easier just to let the scan run while you leave your Mac to do something else.  Another problem is ClamXav tends to have a few false positives when scanning.  Almost anytime when I scan, a scholarship website email that I use is constantly flagged as a trojan horse.  This seems like something that needs to be fixed.  The only other problem is that when app is done scanning, it tells you the viruses found, and the number of viruses it can scan for.  These are both good, but when you are doing a quick look over, seeing the “viruses scanned” and a number in the tens of thousands is a little disconcerting until you read the fine print.  It would be better if the program could make this a little more clear.

All in all, ClamXav is still a good antivirus, especially for those who are diehard open-source fans.  I would recommend getting ClamXav from the official site, rather than the Mac App Store.  It is available for free either way, though a donation is requested.  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.  You can also check out my Google Plus Page.  Thanks!

App of the Week: The Unarchiver

Long ago, developers created packaging systems for sending large files between computers.  If you’ve ever downloaded a program or other large file from the web, then you know what I’m talking about.  These packages have endings like .zip, .dmg, .rar, etc.  All of these are designed to easily and safely send large files across the web.  Your Mac, of course, comes with a simple unzipping utility, though you tend to only see it when unzipping a file (that little loading bar that says “unarchiving…”, that’s part of it).  But Archive Utility can’t do everything; sometimes you need a little more power, or have an odd file type that you need to work with (especially for developers, modders, or anyone who plays Minecraft).

The Unarchiver, as its name implies, is an unarchiving tool to replace the built in Archive Utility.  It’s simple, unintrusive, and easy to setup.  After installing the app, you’re presented with a simple window listing all of the file types that The Unarchiver can open.  Putting a check mark next to any file types means that The Unarchiver takes the role of unarchiving that file, rather than any other app (mainly Mac’s Archive Utility).  You can just select all the individual file types you want, or select them all at once with the “Select All” button.

The main preference window

Or you can deselect them all with the “Deselect All” button.  Personally, I like to let The Unarchiver take care of them all.  And that’s pretty much it; you don’t have to mess with anything else.  You’ll only see the app if you want to edit the preferences or when you actually unarchive a file.  It may seem like the app doesn’t offer much, but that’s practically the point.  It does one thing (or at least the same thing over multiple files) but it does it quickly, it does it right, and it doesn’t get in your way.  If you really want to change some things up, you can go to the extraction pane and edit how and where it extracts the file.  You can also tell it what to do with the archive file when it’s done extracting.

Now at this point some people are probably thinking, “Why should I bother with this program when my Archive Utility works just fine?”.  For some people, the built-in app is fine.  But I like The Unarchiver for several reasons.  Besides being faster and simpler than Archive Utility, The Unarchiver has a few other tricks other its sleeves.  It can handle opening other file types that Archive Utility can’t handle, such as the older StuffIt file, but also more common file types like ISO’s and BIN disc images (which I use when burning Linux discs).  It also has the power to open some .exe files, which are Windows installation files.  I  sometimes run in to these files and I don’t always have a Windows computer around.  And through all of this, it can handle other encoding protocols so that I always have the proper names and information when I work with these files.

I really can’t complain about this app in any way.  If I had to ask for anything, I wish it had a built-in archiving tool, but I guess that might go against the name and introduce other problems.  Besides that, I can’t argue with anything else in the app.  It’s fast, simple, and does exactly what it says it does.  If you want to check it out, it’s available for free at or from the Mac App Store.  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.  You can also check out my Google Plus.  Thanks!