Monthly Archives: May 2012

App of the Week: Xmarks

This week’s “app” is both a browser extension and an app, depending on the browser you are using.  When I began reviewing browsers, among the things that I hated to lose was my bookmarks.  I have a number of bookmarks for helpful tech sites, quick download access, school resources, or things that just interest me.  I wanted to be able to quickly move these around among the browsers, if not sync them actively between the browsers I was testing.  Xmarks is the premiere service for this.

Xmarks is a browser extension that syncs your bookmarks across your various browsers and operating systems.  It works as extension for Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer that you download and install,

Xmarks for Safari screenshot

while working as an app for Safari on the Mac.  It works amazingly well; just download the extension/app for your browser of choice, create a free account with Xmarks, and tell Xmarks how you want your bookmarks to sync and which ones to sync.  Xmarks will even keep folders of bookmarks organized in the same way you have them in your browser.  Then if you add or delete a bookmark, Xmarks can automatically sync them to your browsers and devices.

But wait?  What if you have different bookmarks on different browsers?  Aren’t you going to lose them?  Xmarks has a plan.  When installing the extension into your browser, Xmarks gives you the choice of either erasing all the bookmarks on your browser and add the ones from Xmarks or instead erasing the Xmarks online profile and adding the ones only on your computer.  Still not happy?  Xmarks still gives you the option to simply add bookmarks from the online library/your local bookmarks to the alternative without erasing any other bookmarks.  And if you accidentally delete a bookmark, Xmarks stores 3 months worth of your bookmarks backups to restore from at your leisure.

Xmarks also has the ability to sync profiles.  This means you can set up certain bookmarks to sync only to certain computers or browsers.  So I can sync tech related bookmarks to my office computer from my personal computer without syncing any personal bookmarks.

While the app acts as an extension on Firefox and Chrome for OS X, Linux, and Windows, as well as on Internet Explorer for Windows, it has to run as a standalone app for Safari on the Mac.  This also means that there is not an Xmarks app for Safari on Windows.  The app actually installs as a Preference Pane in

Screenshot of Xmarks for Chrome.

System Preferences and allows you to synchronize booksmarks to Safari manually while running in the background.  It will not necessarily launch when Safari launches, but can be launched when your Mac starts up.  I believe this may be due to a restriction in how Apple allows extensions to run in Safari, so while I would love to see it as a Safari extension I don’t hold it against them for only making it an app.

There is also a premium subscription for Xmarks.  For $12 a year, you can sync you bookmarks to the Xmarks app on Android, iOS (iPhone and iPad), Windows Phone 7,  and Blackberry, as well as any installation of the Dolphin browser.  It will also give you premium support and a longer backup and restore period.  The coolest premium feature, however, is the ability to sync open tabs between your mobile devices and your desktop browsers, meaning articles you were reading on one device can quickly be read on another.

Xmarks only syncs between the big 4 browsers on the desktop, as well as on Blackberry, Android, Windows Phone 7, and iOS.  This means alternative and smaller browsers, such as Robin, Opera, and others are left without a direct syncing option.  Xmarks does, however, allow users to login to xmarks.com and access their bookmarks from any browser, mobile or desktop.  I hope to at least see an extension for Opera, but I am glad that I can still access my bookmarks in a less direct manner.

Xmarks is free for the basic services, or $12 a year American for the premium subscription.  It works in the Firefox and Chrome browser for Linux, Macs, and Windows, as well as Internet Explorer, and Safari for Mac.  iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, and Dolphin browser apps are available for premium users.  You can download it and sign up at xmarks.com.  If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email me at easyosx@live.com  You can also check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen.  And check out my Google Plus.  Thanks!

App of the Week: Nocturne

OS X has a number of settings for messing with what your Mac’s display.  You can change the brightness, the quality of the display, invert the colors, and change it to display everything in grayscale (basically black and white).  But to navigate to all these settings can take a while, and it would be nice to have a few other features.  Nocturne is here to help.

Nocturne allows you to change a lot of the visual settings on the Mac within the one preferences window.  It allows

Nocturne’s preference window

you to switch between what is called “Day” and “Night”.  Day Mode is the standard Mac look that you already have.  But when you switch to Night mode, the screen changes to the settings you have selected in Nocturne.  You can switch to an inverted display where black colors become white, red becomes blue, etc.  It also allows you adjust the screen to a brighter or dimmer setting and switch to grayscale.  But it can do more than that.

When switching to Night mode, you can set Nocturne to display everything in a certain tint of colors, such as setting white to display as red.  Why is this important?  Besides making the screen look as if you were looking through older 3D glasses, color blind users can actually set it up to assist them in discerning colors on screen.  However, this feature only allow you to adjust the way black and white appear on screen to be various shades of colors rather than any color changes.  This might make it a little harder to adjust the screen to your liking, but it’s a cool feature to have nonetheless.

One other feature that’s really cool is the ability to invert the menubar.  Instead of having a standard gray menubar, you can change it to a cool black menubar.  I don’t know why it is, but I always like the few apps that had a black window; it nicely contrasted with the stoplight (close, minimize and zoom buttons in the top left hand corner).  Having the menubar black as well looks pretty cool feature, even if I can’t do the same with the window elements themselves.  Since it is inverted, though, selected utilities in the menubar are yellow, rather than blue or white.  The drop down menus also remain their standard white/blue palette.  One bug with this feature deals with how Nocturne handles full-screen apps in Lion.  In my tests, when I had inverted the menubar and went into a full screen apps, like Pages and Keynote, the place where the menubar normally resides would remain black , even when the menu bar was hidden.  I hope to see this bug addresses in future updates.

One last interesting feature is the fading menubar.  OS X allows you to set the menubar to be translucent

Note how the top of the ads are cut off.

or completely opaque.  Nocturne allows you to fade out the menubar completely or partially when not using it.  Then when you take move you mouse over it, the menubar springs back into full view.  While this is a really cool feature, it doesn’t actually provide you any extra screen room, which can be a bit confusing if you’ve completely faded it out and are expecting to drag a window to the top of the screen.  I realize this isn’t as much a bug as the fact that the menubar has turned invisible.

Overall for anyone who wants more control over the visual tweaking of their Mac, especially when it comes to the visually impaired, Nocturne is a wonderful app to check out.  There are still a couple of visual issues that I hope to see tweaked, but overall a pretty nifty app.  Nocturne is a free app available from Blacktree.com.  The most recent version is available for OS 10.5 and higher, but OS 10.4 (Tiger) users can still download the 1.0.6 version.  If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email me at easyosx@live.com  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!

Could OS X Be Your Next iPad?

There have been several times where I have looked at my Macbook’s screen and thought, “OS X would look pretty cool on a tablet,”.  Tim Cook, however, recently shot down that idea.

Tim Cook was asked about a Macbook/iPad hybrid.  He said, “Anything can be forced to converge, but the problem is that products are about tradeoffs, and you begin to make tradeoffs to the point where what you have left doesn’t please anyone,”.  Steve Jobs mentioned that when designing the new Macbook Air, Apple had explored touch screens on their Macs.  Compared to a mouse/trackpad and keyboard combo, however, the touchscreen on a laptop or desktop just doesn’t flow.  Touch screens don’t want to be vertical.  After using a propped iPad to watch YouTube videos, I can understand why; without some sort of backing, the device gets pushed back by your fingers when propped vertically, risking be knocked over.  And when you have to do it constantly, it begins to feel tenuous.  Pausing a video by tapping a vertical screen or switching to your email doesn’t feel the same as it does with a keyboard and mouse.  I can’t imagine serious photo and video editors trying to manipulate precise cuts and effects with their fingers, no matter how much they would look like Minority Report.

But all of this been the talk of a touchscreen laptop, much like the current wrap-around laptops, or what Microsoft has been planning with Windows 8.  But what about a pure tablet?  What about a Mac-Pad?

Reasons for the Mac-Pad:


When Apple released the updated Macbook Airs, they said they had been experimenting with  touch screen Macs.  They said, however, that it was a hassle to constantly have to reach up toward the screen to move stuff around.  But the example picture they used showed a standard Macbook

A touchscreen Mac or a tablet Mac?

Pro, not a tablet.  I agree that a laptop with a touchscreen could cause problems, though a touch screen iMac might be cool.  But we could apply the same thing to iOS at the moment.  Many cool iOS appsand features would seem a lot more trouble with a mouse than on a touchscreen.  While the trackpad can mimic many of these, it just doesn’t feel as immersive as a touchscreen. If a touchscreen Mac could succeed, the best would be in an iMac (or subsequently an Apple Display) or an iPad-like touchscreen only Macbook (hence the name Mac-Pad).

Even with the speed and functionality of the iPad, there are still things that iOS struggles with.  The office suites on iOS still leave much to be desired, as well as photo and video editing.  Likewise, there are still a few websites that are using Flash or have yet to be optimized for a mobile device and don’t function properly.  My father was applying for a job online with his iPad, but he couldn’t bring up the job application because the pop up window was oversized and could be zoomed out to fit on the screen.  Internal company websites are also not optimized generally for mobile devices, and likely will take time to move in that direction.  Having a laptop is nice for this, but some can be bulky to carry around and opening them just to wait on the OS to load can be a hassle, especially in very mobile professions, such as construction, medicine, etc.  Having a tablet with a full-blown desktop OS would alleviate many of these problems.  We’ve already seen it in Windows and Linux in the past and present.  Likewise, both Ubuntu and Microsoft have already talked about tablet optimizing their operating systems (see Windows 8).  Having the full power of OS X at your disposal in the convenience of an iPad.

Reasons Against the Mac-Pad:

The Mac-Pad already has some drawbacks.  First is the screen.  A 10-inch screen looks great on iOS, but OS X would begin to feel cramped.  One only has to look at the 11-inch Macbook Air to see that.  Likewise, if a Mac-Pad wanted to keep the same specs as the 11 inch base model of the Macbook Air, it would likely be as thick, if not thicker than the iPad.  For a 13 inch screen, and better specs, it might have to go bigger, especially given the heat it would have to disperse.  If a user had to render a large video or picture file, or try some high end gaming, the Mac-Pad could overheat faster than an Air or Pro.

All this jacks up the price noticeably and could hurt the chances of it coming to market.  But let’s pretend Apple did succeed in making a Mac-Pad and solved the heat dispersion issue, the thickness, and how to keep the price down.  Let’s pretend it replaced the 11-inch Air with the Mac-Pad, and kept it at the base price of $999.  I imagine that while some Apple fans would buy it, and a couple of mobile professionals might buy it, but I have trouble believing that the public might buy it.  What would prevent them from spending a few bucks more and buying a better, full blown Macbook Air, or even a Pro?  Or they could save a few bucks and buy an iPad, which for the average user can serve many of their needs just as well as a Mac.  Even buying the most expensive iPad from Apple is still cheaper than the cheapest Macbook.

Likewise, some of the design flaws would be inherited from the iPad and have to somehow be accommodated.  The iPad has (that could be moved over to the Mac with little trouble) the power button, a volume rocker, and the mute/screen rotation switch, as well as the charging port.  Even

Patent sketch of a Mac-Pad (courtesy of tabletpcreview.com)

though Apple can be known for being radical and taking items out of their computer before the mainstream does, even they wouldn’t be crazy enough to sell a Mac without a USB port (at least, not yet).   They would have to integrate it into the Mac-Pad, which would add to the thickness and weight, as well as potentially hurt the clean-cut design of a Mac-Pad.  They could go with external dongles, but while dongles are not essential for an iPad to really function, doing the same with a Mac doesn’t sound ideal in the least.

One last reason is the touchscreen integration itself.  For this, I only have to turn to iOS and Android to prove this point.  When iOS was created, it was built to be a touchscreen from the ground up.  Almost every facet was designed to use the touchscreen, which is why iOS has been very good at giving fluid motions and quick responses to the touch of your fingers.  Compare this to Android: Android was built on a keyboard and mouse interface originally to compete with its original competitor, Blackberry.  When iOS came out, the game changed, and Android had to gain touchscreen abilities.  Unfortunately, to integrate touch the same way iOS does, a good portion of Android would have to be rewritten.  And as time has gone by, and Android has become more ubiquitous and more apps have been brought to the platform, that has become harder to do.  So Android had to add touch capabilities on top of the OS as it already existed.  While this gave it the ability to use a trackpad in things like the Asus Transformer, it meant that touch responsiveness has been an issue.  Bringing this back to OS X, trying to get the same fluidity of touch from iOS to OS X would only be the same play on a different stage.

Conclusion:

Do I expect a Mac-Pad?  No, certainly not any time soon.  More realistic is some hybrid between iOS and OS X.  Is the idea still cool?  Yes.  But then again, maybe I missed something.  Maybe there’s a better reason for a Mac-Pad that I missed.  Do you have a better reason that it could or could not exist.  Let me know below.  Leave a comment and tell us what you think.  Email me at easyosx@live.com  You can also check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen.  And be sure to check out my Google Plus.  Thanks!

App of the Week: GrandPerspective

Sometimes I look at my Mac’s hard drive and wonder what is taking up so much space.  After cleaning out caches, deleting apps, and searching the many of the ins and outs of my Mac’s hard drive, I still have a lot of hard drive space being taken up.  I had never really used hard drive visualization tools before, but I decided to use one, and the first app that came to mind was GrandPerspective.

GrandPerspective is a simple little tool that couldn’t be more straightforward.  When you open the app, it asks you to select a folder or hard drive that you wish to scan.  After selecting what you want scanned, GrandPerspective quickly begins scanning your hard drive for all the files and folders within your selection and how much space they are taking up.  When it’s done, it displays in the files in colored and sized boxes within the window.  The bigger the rectangle, the more space that particular file is taking up.  Just hover over that rectangle, and in the bottom left-hand corner, the name of the file, the size, and its location on the hard drive will be displayed.  The blocks are colored in groups.  So that things like movies and videos that are all in the same folder or cluster are colored the same.

If you want more detailed looks at the files examined, you can always zoom in on blocks and then look at those smaller blocks and files.  And GrandPerspective adds something very important.  After selecting a

GrandPerspective’s tiled block approach

block, you can in the “Reveal” in the top of the window to see where it is in Finder.  Or if you have a file selected, GrandPerspective can open that file in the default app for that file (so Word for documents, iTunes for audio files, etc.).  You can also delete those selected files, though this feature is turned off by default.  It really doesn’t get any simpler than that because that is all that the app really does.

My one complaint about the app is that I wish I could double-click or right-click on a block in the app and have it either show me where the file is in Finder or open in its default app.  Besides that though, GrandPerspective is a really simple and helpful app for showing you visually what’s been eating up your hard drive space.  GrandPerspective is made by Eriban and is available for free at http://grandperspectiv.sourceforge.net/.  Donation is encouraged.  If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email me at easyosx@live.com  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!

Updated May 17th, 2012: Clarifying double-click or right-click for opening a file.  Thanks to Erwin, the app’s maker for requesting the clarification.

App of the Week: Bartender

The more time you spend with an operating system, the more programs you tend to use.  On the Mac, this may mean having more icons on your Dock and in your menubar.  But by using a lot of background programs, your menubar will get filled up with icons (some of them potentially pointless) and clutter it up.  Then if you need to access some of those icons, they can be cut off or hidden because of the program you’re actually in is using the menubar for its own file commands.  If you really can’t cut down on the number of menubar programs you need, then Bartender is worth taking a look at.

Bartender is a really simple yet wonderful app.  It looks at all the programs running in your menubar and allows you to pick the ones you want to display.  You can choose to show the icon in the menubar, hide it in Bartender, or hide it completely from view.  Then if you need to see or access the icon, just click on the Bartender icon in the menubar, and it will open a tray with all your hidden icons so you can access whatever is needed.  The programs will still function if you click/right-click on them, the same way they would if they were still in the menubar.

What makes this an even better app is that it already includes a lot of features most others would have saved for future updates.  For example, you can tell Bartender to hide a program’s menubar icon in the tray, but to show the icon in the menubar if the program updates.  I especially like this feature because it means I can tell when one of the hidden programs is updating.  I can open the Bartender Bar by clicking on the icon, or creating a keyboard shortcut of my own choosing.  And, of course, I can choose whether or

My Bartender layout

not Bartender will have an icon in the menubar or not.  If you choose to have a menubar icon, you not only get to choose from 4 predesigned and very Mac-like icons, you also get the option of choosing a picture of your own as the icon.  All it does is miniaturize your selected picture, but it also means that if you’re creative and want to make your own icon, Bartender makes it very easy to do so.

Bartender only has three things that I don’t like.  First, the Bar that it drops down doesn’t fade away if I click another program, meaning if I switch to my browser after clicking the Bartender icon, the bar will remain on screen.  It would be nice to see this added as a feature in a future update.  Secondly, Bartender will only hide your programs’ icons, but not the Mac native ones.  So while things like Dropbox, your antivirus, etc. can reside in Bartender,  the Mac’s Bluetooth, Volume, and battery icons cannot be moved in.  I don’t mind this to much, as I use their icons enough to leave them there.  Having it as an option wouldn’t be a bad things though.  Lastly, while the default icons are very Mac-like,  the Bar itself is not.  It’s darker than the menubar itself and the other Mac apps.  I’m not too concerned if it can’t match the transparency of the menubar (if you have the menubar set as translucent), but the discoloration when compared to other Mac apps or the solid menubar make it stick out like a sore thumb

So minus one aesthetic touch and a few lacking features, Bartender is a wonderful addition to anyone with a small or cluttered menubar.  It is available for Macs running OS 10.6 and higher (Snow Leopard and higher).  Currently, Bartender is free while in beta.  It will be a paid app once it is out of beta; you can buy it now for $7.50 American or .  It is available from Surtee Studios and you can download it at  http://www.macbartender.com/.  If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email me at easyosx@live.com  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!

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