App of the Week: join.me

More and more, meetings are being held over the Internet as a cheaper and more efficient way to get projects done and share ideas.  Likewise, screen sharing is becoming a greater part of these meetings.  And while some apps have screen sharing built-in, such as Skype, they just don’t hold up as well as dedicated screen sharing apps, which tend to cost a bit of cash.  So when I need to teach a lesson with screen sharing, I use join.me.

Join.me is a free screen sharing solution made by LogMeIn, so the quality of the app is exceptional.  To share one’s screen, the presenter must use the free app.  Upon launching the app, you are presented with two large buttons: one says “Share” the other “Join”.  Hit the share button, and then you can share your screen with anyone by giving them a 9 digit code listed just above the settings.  The viewers (you can have up to 250 viewers at a time) can then enter the code on their own app, or go to the website and enter the code in there.  Likewise, the code is in the form of a link that you can email or post for anyone to click and view.  Note that you can only view from the website, all sharing must be done from the downloaded app.

The app keeps a very sturdy connection.  I’ve used it for many presentations with an active Skype video call, Preview, as well as Mail, and my Twitter client open at the same time with no crashes or lagging in the presentation.  The presentation is very clear, clear enough for people to read the text on my screen.  Join.me also allows you to pause the

join.me presenting my screen

presentation at anytime, as well as share files over the connection, use a text-based chat, switch the presentation between multiple monitors, and more.  By upgrading to the Pro version, you also get the ability to switch who’s presenting with one of your viewers, meaning that multiple people can share multiple plans from multiple places.  You also get access to international and conference lines, a scheduler, and more.

As for problems with the app, they are really minor.  The app does not fit the Mac style, but the look is very simple, and still looks great.  In this case, I’m glad for a less Mac-ish feel.  Plus, this helps it stick out from the other apps, helping to remind me that the app is running.  Of course, I can’t forget that it’s running because it sits on top of every window on every desktop on my Mac. While I don’t mind that I always know when it’s running, it doesn’t help that I have to move it if I want to access to a browser tab, a button, a setting, etc.  There’s really no way around this, expect maybe to make the window fade into more translucent state when not the selected app.  But as I said, this a minor grievance for an app that does its job very well.  I would say it needs VOiP capabilities, but those are currently in beta testing.

If you’re looking for a cheap yet effective screen sharing solution, give join.me a shot.  Join.me is a free app for Mac OS 10.5 and higher, as well as Windows XP and higher.  There is an app for iOS and Android, but it only functions as a viewer not as a presenter.  It is made by LogMeIn and is available for download at join.me.  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 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 http://wakaba.c3.cx/s/apps/unarchiver 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 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!

App of the Week: Sleipnir

In recent years, the number of web browsers available for Mac has grown in recent years.  Some have tried to stick to a Mac-like theme, or follow the path of Chrome and take a more minimalist design.  And then some take a wholly different path, like Sleipnir.  Sleipnir is a web browser that has been on Windows for a while and gained a devoted Japanese following in the process.  Named after an 8-legged horse from Norse mythology, it looks about as strange, but has plenty of speed.  Having used for a short while on Windows, and its release just last week from beta (or release candidate as the case may be), I decided to give it another go.

Sleipnir looks completely different from any other browser I’ve yet to see.  It has a really clean interface up top and can integrate well with Lion’s full screen mode.  The tabs are integrated into the top of the browser, hidden inside the title bar with the back and forward button.  Don’t see a URL bar to type you web address?  On the right side the site’s name, HTTPS status, reload button, and a download icon/manager, much like Safari 5.1.  Click on the URL, and the URL bar opens up and lets you get to the site you need.  WHen you’re done, it retracts back to a smaller size, returning a title bar.  I have to say that as strange as it is, it actually feels like a design choice that Apple could have made themselves.  Interestingly there are a couple seeming design flaws in it.  While I had the option to show a bookmarks bar, I never could get it to show up.  Sleipnir also has no Home button, even though you can set a homepage, which is a rather strange setting for a browser.

The browser runs off of the Webkit engine, just like Safari and Chrome, making it quite fast.  In fact, I found that it loaded various pages almost instantly, faster than most Chrome or Chrome based browsers I tried.  This is true for very media intensive pages, which it excelled at.  The Peacekeeper browser test showed it faster than Firefox, but slower than Chrome, though my experience felt different.  But this browser is more than speed or looks.  It has some very Mac like features as well.  It

Sleipnir's look and its Peacekeeper score against other major browsers (longer bars are better, Sleipnir listed as Safari 5.1)

has gesture support for those using Trackpads: a two-fingered swipe left or right takes you back or forward in that tab’s history respectively.  A two-fingered pinch in also shows you an overview of your tabs.  You also can organize bookmarks into several pre-made categories, such as shopping, research, and more.  It also has a read it later feature, which I like but I think should be more prominent.  You can also sync bookmarks using the Fenrir Pass to other copies of Sleipnir, including those on other platforms, like iOS.

The iOS version also has some neat features, like Hold to Go, gestures, and touch paging.  Hold to Go lets you press and hold on a link or bookmark to open it in the background.  Gestures include drawing a circle to reload the page, and S to start searching, and more.  Lastly, the TouchPaging feature allows you to scroll through your tabs by flick left or right.

Back to the Mac version for a minute though, there a several flaws that just put me off.  For example, there is no security settings in the Preferences, which would be nice to have.  And while the Windows version has a few extensions, none of them work for Mac.  Full screen in Flash also still shows the menubar, which I have mixed feelings about.  I also would still like that Home button.

Overall, Sleipnir is a really quick and interesting browser that could shake up the game if it gained traction, but it feels like it is incomplete.  But for quick web browsing and a new browser experience, Sleipnir makes for one heck of a ride.  It is available for  Mac OS 10.6 and higher (Snow Leopard and Lion) & iOS (iPad and iPhone).  It also works for Android as well as Windows 98, XP, Vista and 7 (that’s not a typo, it really can support Windows 98).  You can find the version you want at http://www.fenrir-inc.com/ or check out the Mac specific version at http://www.fenrir-inc.com/global/mac/sleipnir.html.

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 Page at https://plus.google.com/107817518299218190319  Thanks!

App of the Week: HandBrake

Every veteran Mac user knows about HandBrake.  This powerful French app is made to quickly and efficiently rip DVD’s (sort of) and convert video files.  HandBrake’s user interface is a little confusing at first, but after the initial shock, you realize that it’s a lot simple than it actually looks.

On top of the screen are the main commands of selecting the video source, starting and pausing the conversion, the conversion queue setting, an activity monitor, along with more settings, and a preview function.  Once you select the video source, you have a variety of options to choose from.  You can edit features in the video type, audio types, the quality settings, the file size, and so much more.  That’s just the basic commands.  If you’re really advanced, you can edit things like the bit- rate, frame rate,

Main window of HandBrake

distortion, and more.  The list goes on and on.  It has the power for video and audiophiles, but the simplicity for people who just want that DVD on their iPod.  Still concerned that it’s not simple enough for your needs?  What if you just want it for a specific device?  In the spirit of Apple, HandBrake has presets for Apple devices, ranging from Apple TV’s, to various iPods, iPhones, even sorting them by various generations.  Of course they have general computer settings, and even Web video optimization.  It can’t be much simpler than that.

Apps can be as simple or as complicated as we like, but if they don’t do the job than what are they worth?  Well, HandBrake doesn’t have that problem.  I’ve converted video files on my computer with minimal, almost unnoticeable quality loss in video.  And audio suffered even less degradation, almost identical to the original video file.  Ripping DVD’s still has some of the best quality of any DVD ripper that I’ve tried so far.  Sometimes it’s close, but I’d say HandBrake edges them out.

This brings up an interesting point about ripping DVD’s.  It is the opinion of many technologists that if you legally bought and own a DVD, then you can rip it for your own personal viewing pleasure.  However, due to pressure, HandBrake cannot directly rip copyrighted DVD’s to your Mac (personal DVD’s, say ones of your last vacation, are not a problem).  However, there is an easy fix: by downloading the free VLC media player, HandBrake will be able to read and rip copyrighted DVD’s.  I do not in any way, shape, form, or fashion advocate ripping of commercial DVD’s for illegal distribution or piracy.

HandBrake is available for OS 10.5, 10.6, and 10.7.  It also works on Linux and Windows (XP or higher).  It is available for free at http://handbrake.fr/.  You can also download VLC at http://www.videolan.org/vlc/.  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.  Thanks!

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 http://kapeli.com/dashexpander/.  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 easyosx@live.com  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)