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App of the Week: Kickoff (Beta)

One of the great things about the Internet is the ability to get work done and communicate with each other faster and over greater differences than ever before.  If you’re working with a team on a project, whether it be developing your own app, a new business plan, or a school project, you may need an app for those times when you can’t meet your teammates face to face.  Kickoff wants to help your team get work done.

After you make a free account with Kickoff, you sign into the app and start making teams.  You create different teams for different project.  For example, I’m working on a podcast with Reagan on one team, while I have another team for learning to code something, etc.  Then the team maker can invite other users to their team.

Kickoff looks like a modified version of the Messages app introduced with OS 10.8 Mountain Lion.  This is actually a good thing as it’s very clean and straightforward.  On the left is a sidebar that serves as your chat window, with the default chat open being the Meeting Room; this is where you talk to all of your team.  You’ll notice just above the chat window is a tabbed section where you can choose to chat with individual team members.  This is especially useful when you need to talk about something private with them, but also so you don’t bother your other teammates with unnecessary chatter.  You can also tag someone in the Meeting Room chat, so that when you use their name, the chat bubble turns yellow for them to see (and only them).  You cannot delete messages in a chat though.

On the right hand side is the tasks and lists view.  Tasks are assigned to a list made by the team for things that need to be accomplished.  A task maker can assign these tasks as general or to individuals in each list.  Each user then has the option of viewing all task the team needs to complete, or limiting it only their tasks than need to be complete.  Once a task is done, the team member(s) can check it off the list and the task fades away.  The nice thing about this setup is that you’ll only see the tasks for that team and not the other teams.  It would be cool to have an integrated view of tasks, where you could see all of your own open tasks at once sorted by team.  You can, however, drag lists up to the favorites bar next to the “All Tasks” button, so that you have quick access to the ones that are most important to you for that team.  Scheduled tasks are also not available in Kickoff, meaning you can’t assign a teammate a task and a specific due date all within the app.

Kickoff app's main window

Kickoff app’s main window

Kickoff only communicates via chat, though you can drag and drop pictures, videos, documents, and links into the chat window for all to see and access.  Other collaboration tools, such as Citrix Go-To Meeting have video and audio chat built in, as well as screen sharing built in, and Skype has the features of Kickoff built in except for the task manager and assignment features.  I think if the developers can add these features in the future, Kickoff really stand out even more as a collaboration tool.  But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t do an excellent job as it stands now.  Kickoff isn’t trying to be a Skype competitor and be solely a communication tool, rather it wants to be a tool for teams to quickly and effectively communicate with each other and get things done.

Currently, the app is free for the Mac while in beta (OS 10.6 and higher), but the developers say it will be a one time pay app and released in the Mac App Store once it is complete.  An iOS client is also in the works, but as of this writing it has not been released.  We will hopefully give another review of this app when it has been released as a final version, and its iOS companion app.  You can download the free beta in the meantime from http://kickoffapp.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 check out more 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: 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!

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: 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: FBContacts

Thanks to iCloud, it’s easier than ever to sync your contacts and their info from your Mac to your iOS devices, and back.  Facebook also allows people to share that contact info with friends, sometimes more than they realize.  But the information on Facebook is not always the information you have in your contact book.  Facebook users tend to put their birthdays on the social network, as well as other important information, things that tend not to always be in your Address Book.  FBContacts steps in as the intermediary.

FBContacts works by letting you pull your Facebook friends information and add it into your Mac’s Address Book.  The app can pull things like their website url, phone numbers, email addresses, and more.  It also allows you to use your friends’ Facebook profile pictures as the picture in your Address Book.  Of course for this to work your friends have to be posting reliable information, and not saying they were born in the 1800’s or that their hometown is the bottom of the ocean.  If this is the case, FBContacts can pull down that information and add it to your contact information.  Fortunately, FBContacts has you covered; from the information FBContacts pulls from Facebook, you can choose which of that is added to your contacts list.  That way you don’t have a false birthday listed or don’t want to see everyone’s homepage listed as their Facebook page.

Two concerns immediately come to mind: user privacy and contact overload.  For the first concern, people may be wondering about all that information being pulled off of Facebook so easily.  First, I would point out that if you didn’t want it to be widely known, you

A pretty straight forward interface. Of course I’m not willing to show you my Facebook friends.

probably shouldn’t have put it on Facebook.  That being said, however, FBContacts can only pull the information that you allow your friends to see.  This means some of my friends who have more private settings enabled on Facebook won’t have those bits of information synced to me.

The second concern is by syncing these contacts from Facebook, your Address Book could unnecessarily huge.  This leads me to one of the neat features of FBContacts.  The app can scan the names of people your Facebook friends and intelligently match them up with people of the same name in your Mac’s Address Book.  That way you don’t risk having duplicate contacts, or having all of your Facebook friends listed in your Mac.  After sorting through your Facebook contacts, FBContacts organizes your friends into “Matched”, “Collision”, and “Unmatched”.  Matched are all the contacts it was able to match, and unmatched are those contacts that had no listing in your Mac’s Address Book.  “Collision” is a handy feature for when some information doesn’t add up about a contact, or FBContacts is unsure about syncing information about a certain contact.  From there, you can tell FBContacts whether or not sync a person from any of the three lists, and what info should be synced.

FBContacts has to log into Facebook to pull the contact info and scan through them.  This of course means that the more friends you have, the longer FBContacts will take to pull all the information.  There is another problem regarding how you list people in your own Address Book.  I had a few contacts that I only listed by their first name in my Address Book, but I had multiple friends with that same name on Facebook.  FBContacts, unless you catch it beforehand, will attempt to sync all the people on Facebook of that name to that one contact on your Mac, creating some confusing when you see one person’s picture when you’re trying to call another person of that name.  I did note that I had two contacts with the same first name, we’ll say “Beth”, but I had only attached a last name to one of the “Beth”‘s. FBContacts was able to attach the proper Facebook info to the “Beth” with a last name, and did not attempt to attach it to the other “Beth”, a testament to FBContacts relative intelligence.  Also, if your friends don’t have their birth year listed on Facebook, but their birthday or birth month, then FBContacts lists them as being born in the 1600’s.  A rather strange, but humorous glitch to be sure.

FBContacts icon

Overall, FBContacts is a good way of keeping information synced between Facebook and your Address Book.  While the app doesn’t have an iOS counterpart, iCloud syncing of contacts will allow you to transfer that data between your devices.  FBContacts isn’t an app you’re likely to run everyday, or even every week, but good for a sync every once in a while.  FBContacts is made by Lord Of Software and is available in the Mac App Store for $1.99 (American) and runs on OS 10.6 and higher (Snow Leopard and higher).

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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