Category Archives: App of the Week

App of the Week: Mountain Tweaks

About a year ago, OS X Lion was released for the Mac.  It brought many great features to Lion, some from iOS and some brand new.  However, it changed up a number of things that annoyed some users.  An app called Lion Tweaks, which I reviewed for a previous App of the Week post, was released to help users tweak Lion to their liking.  With the release of Mountain Lion for the Mac, developer Fredrik Wiker has come back to help us tweak.

Mountain Tweaks is a new app that does essentially the same thing as its older brother with a few improvements.  Mountain Tweaks works to be compatible across both Lion and Mountain Lion, making it a one stop shop for Mac users.  Mountain Tweaks is organized into 4 tabs: “General”, “Lion Tweaks”, “Mountain Lion Tweaks”, and “Restore”.  The settings under each tab are as simple as selecting Yes or No under the setting you wish to alter.  The general tab shows several settings that range across multiple versions of OS X.  According to the developer, most of these settings can be used on Leopard (10.5) and Snow Leopard (10.6), as well as Lion and Mountain Lion.  These include settings like enabling a 2D- dock, disabling local Time Machine backups, hiding Spotlight search, and more.  The Lion tab shows items specific to the Lion system such as disabling Auto-Save, enabling Airdrop on old machines, changing the look of Address Book and iCal to aluminum, and more.  The Mountain Lion tab similar changes you can make to Mountain Lion, such as disabling Gatekeeper.  The Restore tab simply is a giant button that allows you to reset all the things you changed through Mountain Tweaks to their original states.

The app states that many of the tweaks available to Lion are also available to Mountain Lion, but only a few work the other way around.  The app has a wide selection of tweaks for Lion and for Mac OS X in general, but there aren’t very many for Mountain Lion at all.  However, Lion Tweaks didn’t have to many either but now has quite a few tricks up its sleeve.  It’s safe to say we can expect the same to come from Mountain Tweaks in future updates.

Mountain Tweaks is available for OS 10.5 and later, though it is best run on OS 10.7 and OS 10.8 (Lion and Mountain Lion respectively).  While it is a free app, the developer does ask for donations if you like the software, which I did.  You can check it at http://tweaksapp.com/app/mountain-tweaks/.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email us at easyosx@live.com.  You can also check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen.  And be sure to check us out on Google Plus.  Thanks!

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App of the Week: NetSpot

WiFi is a great technology, one that tends to be under-appreciated until we find a place that doesn’t have it or that we can’t get into.  WiFi broadcasts out into a room or building, allowing any number of devices to connect to the Internet through the airwaves.  But WiFi is not perfect and can be impeded by things like metal mesh in the walls, furniture, etc.  Sometimes a room can have an excellent connection in one space, while being practically a deadzone in another part of the room.  NetSpot is a nice little app that can help you determine what the WiFi is like in a room.

NetSpot is pretty straightforward.  When you launch the app, it will ask you for a map.  If you’ve created or already have a layout of the room you’re going to be analyzing, this is where you can load it up.  These maps can just be simple JPEG’s that you’ve created in Photoshop or another similar program.  If you don’t have a prerendered map, NetSpot will let you draw a map of the room in app, render a sample map, or let you create a blank map.  A blank map is simply a blank square with no set lines marking furniture, floor plans, or any other markings besides denotations of the length and width of the room.  Once you have chosen your map, you give NetSpot the length and width of the room.

Now comes the fun part; you take your Mac around the room, marking your stopping points on the map and letting the app scan the area.  NetSpot uses your Mac’s WiFi antenna to scan the area and detect the number of WiFi networks, the relative strength of them in the room, interference points, etc.  The more points you mark in the room, the more points NetSpot scans, and the more accurate your results.  One you have trodded around the floor carrying your Macbook, and potentially looking silly to any family

NetSpot generated map showing the number of access point available in my workroom. It seems like this room doesn’t have a whole lot to worry about.

members or coworkers, NetSpot creates a visual map of the WiFi and various signals in your area.  It also shows you which areas have the most interference and noise.  You can even see which WiFi signals are strongest at which points in the room.  Once you’re done, you can save it as a special NetSpot file to explore later or share with other NetSpot users.  Fortunately you can also export it the various maps as PDF files to distribute to everyone, to hang up in an office, or deliver to an IT person.

Unless you have a Macbook Air, walking around the room with your laptop may seem awkward and cumbersome.  It would be cool to see an iOS counterpart that could work with the Mac client.  Carrying something like an iPhone or iPad around a room would certainly make it easier.  And when creating a blank map, I don’t get any gridlines to help me make sure I’m measuring in the most accurate way.  That being said, the app still has a really straightforward user interface and makes it easy for anyone to understand the maps.  I also have to gives props to the developers though, they are really good about answering emails and helping users solve their problems.  A good app is greatly complemented by helpful developers and community.  Whether you’re setting up a new WiFi network or wanting to improve you’re current one, NetSpot makes for a great little tool for helping you get the most out of your WiFi.

NetSpot is a free app from the NetSpot Team a part of Etwok, LLC.  The app runs on OS 10.6.6 and higher (Snow Leopard and later) and can be downloaded from the Mac App Store or from their website http://www.netspotapp.com/.

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

App of the Week: PS3 Media Server

Technology is quickly evolving, game consoles included.  Besides becoming more powerful devices, gaming consoles are increasingly becoming the media centers for many homes.  All three major consoles have YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu Plus access, and Xbox and PS3 are gaining more services every year.  The PlayStation 3 can easily access any servers on your home network, but it takes a little set up to get that media directly from your Mac.  PS3 Media Server helps bridge that connection.

First thing to note is that PS3 Media Server is not necessarily for the faint of heart.  While the actual connection part is very simple, the settings to optimize and customize the connection are many and aren’t so straight forward.  Most people will not end up using the majority of options.  Setup works like this: first enable “Media Server Connection” on your PS3 under Network Settings and make sure your PS3 is connected to your home network, ethernet or Wi-Fi will do just fine.  Then connect your Mac to the same network and launch the PS3 Media Server app.  You may need to take down your Mac’s firewall for the initial setup, as I did, but afterwards you should be able to run the app with the Firewall enabled.  Then select the media folders you want to allow your PS3 to connect to; I chose my Pictures, Movies, and Music folder, as well as my Dropbox folder.  The only other settings I messed with were telling the app not to let my Mac go into Sleep mode when streaming and to adjust the audio to only play stereo sound rather than 5.1 surround sound.  After you finish tweaking, hit Save, and then Restart Server

When you return to your PS3, you can now go to the Music, Video, and Pictures tab and view your media through there.  If for whatever reason you don’t see the Mac’s folders, hit “Search for Media Servers” in any one of the tabs, then select your Mac when it pops up. As the names suggest, you can only look at pictures in the Pictures tab, video in the Video tab, and music in the Music tab.  While you’re in these menus, you can create playlists, create slideshows, and even copy the media to your PS3’s hard drive.  I would recommend doing this all over an ethernet connection rather than Wi-Fi because it is a faster and more stable connection.

Music and pictures played smoothly and cleanly.  Videos did all right, though I noticed times when the video would have to stop and buffer, but this was usually a result of my Mac being in a weak Wi-Fi zone.  Quality was pretty good during streaming, as I noticed very little quality degradation.  Likewise, copying of my Mac’s 6-gig Music folder to the PS3’s hard drive took about 1-hour over my network connection.

Probably the biggest negative about this app is the fact that it is not the most straight forward to set up.  Its look is somewhat intimidating if you don’t know what you’re doing, but the developers who support this app are constantly helping people to make sure you get the best results.  The community has several plugins to make your Media Server better, such allowing you to browse and stream content from Mac Smart Folders.

One last thing about the app is that it is a Java app.  This means that you will need Java on your computer to run, which many of the latest Macs don’t have at the moment.  To update your Java, click the appropriate links at the bottom of the article for your system.  PS3 Media Server is a free app available for OS 10.5 and later (Leopard and later).  It also runs on Windows XP and later,  Fedora 11 and later, and Ubuntu 8.10 and later.  You can check download the app at http://www.ps3mediaserver.org/.

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

Java for Leopard (10.5): http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1359

Java for Snow Leopard: (10.6): http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1550

Java for Lion (10.7): http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1515

App of the Week: Flutter

If you want to pause your music or video, you can hit the pause button on your Mac, or navigate to the app and turn it off with your mouse and keyboard.  Then you have to do the same thing to start playing again.  Flutter takes a different approach.  Flutter’s creators basically said they got tired of controlling their media with a keyboard and mouse.  What better way to control your media than with gestures?

Flutter uses your Mac’s webcam to allow you to control your music or video playback.  While your media is playing and Flutter is running, just raise your hand in front of the camera.  This can be done any where from a foot to about 6 feet from your Mac.  It worked surprisingly well even up to about 5 1/2 feet (about 1.67 meters), but beyond that it became rather irregular in response.  I found the optimal distances to be between 1.5 and 3 feet.  The app has a fairly good horizontal angle for gestures at about a little over 30 degrees.  Vertical angles were not as responsive, but being slightly above the camera was better than being slightly below it.  The app did a very good job at seeing the differences between an open palm and a fist, as well as other hand gestures. It took a minute to get used to where my hand needed to be at first, but pretty soon I got used to its angles and could gesture without having to look at my Mac.

The Mac version of this app support iTunes, QuickTime, Spotify, and VLC Media Player.  It can be used even when the media app is run in the background, meaning your can be typing an email or moving about and not have to actively be using iTunes or any of the other apps.  Flutter can only be used to run one of

Flutter is great, but it may feel awkward at first. Also, you may look weird if you try this in public. (image from flutterapp.com)

those apps at a time, and it will tell you in a notification which app it is controlling.  When you switch media apps, Flutter will pop up the notification acknowledging the change.  I do like this pop-up, but I wish it had a way to integrate with Growl instead and pop up with the rest of my notifications.

You can set Flutter to turn on when you login, but Flutter also has the option to be running without the webcam active.  This is a great setting to save battery life and not having to turn Flutter on manually every time I wanted to watch a movie or listen to a song.

Flutter is not fully baked yet, as the app makers note it is in the early stages of development.  The clearest example of this is that Flutter only supports one gesture: an open palm in front of the camera to pause or play your media.  For this app to be better, it needs more gestures.  I’m sure we can expect more gestures in the future, perhaps like raising or lowering of my hands to raise and lower the volume, or other gestures to rewind and fast forward songs.  I commend also the starting lineup that Flutter supports; iTunes and QuickTime make sense, and Spotify and VLC (two very popular Mac media apps) are great additions.  Hopefully we’ll see other media apps, like MPlayerX (my personal video player choice) will be added in the future, or even control of web videos like YouTube.  On an aesthetic note, I’d like to see the Flutter app have an option for a black & white menubar icon rather than the colored option.  Lastly, because the app uses your camera, your Mac will run hotter and use more of your battery while the camera is active.

Whatever the future holds for Flutter is certainly bright and makes for a futuristic like feel to the Mac.  Flutter is available for Mac OS 10.6 and higher (Snow Leopard and later).  Flutter also runs on Windows 7, but it should be noted that the Windows 7 client only supports iTunes, Spotify and Windows Media Player (why it does not support VLC and QuickTime for Windows, I do not know).  It is currently in Alpha stages and is free from the Mac App Store and from their website, flutterapp.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: Found

Cloud management apps are a new category of programs that are really gaining steam.  These apps are made to help users sort through the many cloud services they use to find files they need.  People who use these services, which include Dropbox, Google Docs, Microsoft Office Live, Evernote, and more, don’t like spending long hours searching for that one paper or picture they remember saving but can’t remember where they put it.  Recently, the app Found has garnered a lot of attention on the Mac for its abilities.

Found is a very light and fast app that helps you search through your Mac’s hard drive and various cloud services to find any files you are looking for.  When you first launch Found, you will need to login to the cloud services that you want it to look through.  After logging in, Found runs through a quick indexing process so it can see what is in these accounts and bring you speedier results.  It went through my Dropbox account rather speedily.  From here, you can click on the app’s menubar icon (which can be switched from colored to a more traditional Mac theme) or tap the “Control” button twice to bring up the Found sidebar.  You’ll be presented with a large search bar at the top of the window, and your connected services just below it.  Just type the name of the file you’re looking for, and Found will show you all files with that name, word, or tag in a simple list.  It even sorts the files it find by service, name, and type.  When you select that file, Found will allow you to get a preview of the document or picture you’re looking at, or listen to the song or video file.  The only file type that it didn’t preview for me was a Flash video file I had, but since that is not a common file type on computer hard drives, I wasn’t bothered by it.  You can either launch a file, or drag and drop the files into other apps like Finder or Mail.  And it works when you have another app in full-screen mode as well.

Having Found search through your Mac’s hard drive as well as your cloud services is wonderful feature, preventing me from having to switch between Found and Spotlight for searches.  Further encouraging this is Found’s ability to launch apps; since Found indexes your Mac’s Application folder, it can launch any app in that folder.

The app’s preference interface is great in more ways than one.  It’s very straight forward and easy to use, but also provides you the ability to learn about the app.  From the preference pane, you can launch the demo video to explain how the app works, as well as access the FAQ’s concerning the security of Found’s connection to the cloud services you use.  I do find it misleading that they have a tab called security for this, but no actual security settings.  The FAQ does clear up concerns about security, but it would be nice to actually see some form of security settings.  Also, the Preference pane at this time does not yet let you set custom folders to search through on your Mac’s hard drive or any of the cloud services.  This is a feature that will be included in the future based on the notes, so I await its arrival.

Currently the service only works with Dropbox, Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Docs for cloud services, so it could use some expansion.  Based off some of the website info, more services will be added soon, such as Evernote and LinkedIn.  Found has started off with some great and popular services, and it handles them very well, but I would use this app more once some other services are integrated (Evernote is probably first on my list).

Everything considered, Found needs some expansion but has a great start and is something I look forward to be developed further.  Found is a free app for OS 10.6.8 and higher (Snow Leopard and later) and is available in the Mac App Store.  You can find out more about the app at foundapp.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!

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