Friday, November 19, 2010

My favorite things. (13 useful operating system enhancements for AppleMacintosh) (Power Tools: Beating the System).

Nature Wallpaper, originally uploaded by Sachin Tomar's.

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Although 1992 brought some impressive new products--Retrieve It!, Guaranteed Undelete, and Connectix PowerBook Utilities (CPU), for example--mostly it will be remembered as the year of the upgrade. It was the year comfortable old friends such as Now Utilities, QuicKeys, StuffIt Deluxe, and MacTools were rejuvenated. Each of them has been improved, updated, and modernized so completely that, if you haven't seen them in a while, you'll be shocked at how good they've become.

Here's a baker's dozen (in reverse order of preference) of the best utilities released this year. But before I begin, let me warn you that this list is neither scientific nor fair. I picked these products because they are the ones I like and wouldn't dream of using my Mac without. And I wasn't very fussy about release dates either--a few of these products came out at the end of 1991 but weren't widely available until this year.

13. Wallpaper. Wallpaper (Thought I Could, 212-673-9724; $59) is a clever control panel that lets you replace your boring gray desktop with a pattern with pizzazz. Wall-paper lets you display, create, edit, and save as many cool 256-color or black-and-white desktop patterns as you like. There's even a randomization feature so you can have your Mac automatically change patterns throughout the day. And in case you aren't feeling creative, hundreds of patterns are included with the program and you can download hundreds more from on-line services such as CompuServe and America Online or get them by subscription from Thought I Could. It's not much of a utility in the traditional sense (it won't improve your productivity a whit), but I guarantee that Wallpaper will make looking at your monitor much more fun.

12. Retrospect. Backing up your work doesn't have to be a pain in the you-know-what; all you need is a good backup utility. My choice is Retrospect (Dantz Development, 510-849-0293; $249). It's powerful, fast, and reliable and does just about everything you need in order to back up or archive your precious work. It supports floppy-disk drives; removable-media drives such as SyQuest, Bernoulli, and read/write optical; plus almost every tape drive in existence. Although its interface is sometimes quirky, once you've created a backup script, you can run it with a single command. I use it with my DAT drive, and it's nothing short of wonderful.

For what it's worth, two other backup programs just missed making the list--DiskFit Pro (also from Dantz, $125) and Redux Deluxe (Microseeds, 813-882-8635; $149). Both are superb and less expensive and easier to use than Retrospect. Neither is as flexible or powerful, however, and although Microseeds is considering tape-drive support for Redux Deluxe, neither one currently supports tape drives.

11. Hard Disk Toolkit. Hard Disk Toolkit (FWB Software, 415-474-8055; $199) is a SCSI-utility package that gives you total control over your hard- and removable-disk drives. It allows you to customize almost every aspect of formatting a disk, perform true SCSI partitioning, execute extensive diagnostic and benchmark tests, and so on. Although many people are satisfied with the formatting software that comes with their drive, if you're a tweaker, you're going to love Hard Disk Toolkit. It's powerful as all get-out, and its interface is much better than that of its chief competition, Silverlining, from La Cie. It also kicks the stuffing out of Silverlining in the documentation department--Hard Disk Toolkit's 250-page manual is so good that FWB should consider selling it even without the software. It contains some of the best and most accurate information I've ever seen about SCSI devices and SCSI chains.

A less expensive (and less comprehensive) product is Drive7 (Casa Blanca Works, 415-461-2227; $79). It's easier to use than Hard Disk Toolkit but lacks its depth and breadth. On the other hand, if you don't care about tweaking every last parameter, it's very good. Like Hard Disk Toolkit, it can be used with most brands of hard drives--even SuperMac DataFrame and LaserFrame drives--which is something no other formatter can claim.

10. MacTools. MacTools 2 (Central Point Software, 503-690-8090; $149) has quickly become my favorite data-protection tool. If you used a previous version of MacTools, you're probably a bit skeptical. And you should be--earlier versions were not very good. But version 2 has been totally rewritten. It's a stellar upgrade that includes several unique features you won't find in Norton Utilities for the Macintosh. My favorite is that you can undo any disk-recovery action if it doesn't work. That alone is worth the price of admission. Although both Norton Utilities and MacTools can undelete files, optimize disks, and fix many hard-disk problems, I now find myself turning to MacTools first.

That's not to say that Norton Utilities isn't a good product. It is. If MacTools doesn't do the trick, I try Norton Utilities. But with "sidegrades" from Norton Utilities to MacTools 2 priced at only $59, owning both makes a great deal of sense.

9. Diamonds. OK, so it's not a utility--it's a game. But it's a really cool game from a small company you may not have heard of, so I'm sneaking it in. Diamonds (Varcon Systems, Inc., 619-563-6700; $49) is the most addictive game I've played since CrystalQuest--it's the perfect combination of easy to learn and difficult to master. When you finally do master one level, you're presented with another even tougher one. It's like those potato chips--betcha can't play just once!

8. ALSoft Power Utilities. AlSoft Power Utilities (AlSoft, 712-353-4090; $129) combines two essential utilities and five bonus programs for a reasonable price. Essential utility No. 1 is MasterJuggler, my favorite suitcase manager. It lets you access fonts and sounds (and DAs under System 6) without actually installing them in your System file. Essential utility No. 2 is the disk optimizer DiskExpress II, which defragments and optimizes disks quickly and safely. I've used it for years and have never had a problem with it.

The other utilities included in the package--partitioning software, an Apple-menu enhancer, a disk-diagnostic program,--a screen saver, and a disk-activity indicator--are pretty good but not nearly as spectacular or useful as MasterJuggler or DiskExpress II.

7. Guaranteed Undelete. If you've ever dragged a file to the Trash, emptied it, and then regretted what you've done, you need Guaranteed Undelete (Utilitron, 800-428-8766 or 214-727-2329; $79). It's a control panel that guarantees you'll be able to untrash recently deleted files. Simply hold down the Command key, and--poof!--the Empty Trash menu selection changes to Recover Trash, and a hierarchical menu lets you choose which file or folder to undelete. Even better, Guaranteed Undelete also lets you erase confidential files, select individual items you want "emptied," and specify when the Trash should be automatically emptied (for example, hourly, on disk eject, or at shutdown). It's the best, fastest, and most dependable product of its type, and it's simple to use.

6. First Things First. If you've ever forgotten an appointment (or even to take the trash out on Tuesday night), you're going to love First Things First (Visionary Software, 503-246-6200; $69). The only thing it does is remind you when things need to be done, but it does that beautifully. Basically, it's a clock--either in your menu bar or floating on your screen as a nifty icon--that keeps track of things you need to do. It's extremely easy to use and great looking as well. When a reminder comes due, a sound plays and an in box appears on-screen. You double-click on the in-box icon at your convenience to view the reminder. You can even print your reminders. Other programs include pop-up reminders, but no other appointment program is as inexpensive, elegant, and easy to use as First Things First.

5. CPU. Connectix PowerBook Utilities (Connectix, 800-950-5880 or 415-571-5100; $99) offers a cornucopia of useful utilities for PowerBook users. It gives you complete control over the processor, display, and hard drive so you can stretch the battery pack's life. It also includes password protection, an LCD screen saver, a cursor locator, and a comprehensive menu-bar display. One of its best features is Keyboard Power, which lets you choose any menu or dialog-box item from the keyboard without using the trackball.

Other PowerBook utilities have been announced, but this was the only one shipping at press time. It's impressive and has worked beautifully so far. Unless something a lot better comes along, this is the one I'll use.

4. Retrieve It! Retrieve It! (MVP Software, 415-599-2704; $129) is one of the bright new stars of 1992. It quickly finds any text in any file on any mounted disk. I have thousands of files, so I love programs like this. Until recently, I used a similar program, On Location (ON Technology, 617-876-0900; $129), to search for text inside my files. On Location is faster, but Retrieve It! is more powerful. Like On Location, it lets you peek at the text within any file and copy text it finds, without launching the program that created the file. The big difference is that Retrieve It! can perform Boolean searches, which lets you define very specifically what you're looking for--for example, you can have it find Sculley and Apple but not Pepsi or have it find Sculley within 50 characters of Pepsi.

3. StuffIt Deluxe. The competition was fierce in the 1992 compression wars, but StuffIt Deluxe 3.0 (Aladdin Systems, 408-761-6200; $120) is what I use. Although AutoDoubler and DiskDoubler from Fifth Generation Systems (800-873-4384 or 504-291-7221; $79.95 each) are strong contenders, the StuffIt Deluxe package (now including SpaceSaver, which automatically compresses files on your hard disk) is stronger. No other compression or archiving program is as easy to use. For example, to stuff a file, you simply add the suffix .SIT to its name. To unstuff a file, you just delete the .SIT suffix. Although it's easy to use, it's also incredibly deep and powerful, with a built-in scripting language and extensive support for Apple events. Another nice feature is its ability to decompress several file formats (AppleLink packages, Arc, Compact Pro, DiskDoubler, PackIt, and--Zip, among others). If you need a compression program, my advice is to check this one out first.

2. QuicKeys 2. QuicKeys 2 (CE Software, 515-224-1995; $149) is a great macro program. Just about anything you can do on a Mac can be automated and executed with a single keystroke, using QuicKeys 2. Three new features--Instant QuicKeys, QK Icons, and SoftKeys--make the latest version (2.1.2) the best yet. Instant QuicKeys creates a complete, powerful QuicKeys environment when you first install the program; QK Icons makes a double-clickable miniapplication out of any QuicKey macro; and SoftKeys lets you select as many as ten QuicKeys macros, pop them up on-screen with a single keystroke, and then choose the one you need. This is one of the tools I use most often and one I wouldn't dream of living without.

1. Now Utilities 4.0. If you use System 7, you simply must get a copy of Now Utilities 4.0 (Now Software, 503-274-280; $149). It's the best, most comprehensive, and most useful collection of system enhancements I've ever seen. NowMenus creates submenus on your Apple menu, launches files instantly, adds keyboard command equivalents to any menu item, and does much more. In my experience, it beats every other Apple-menu enhancer hands-down. SuperBoomerang is the greatest thing ever to happen to an Open or Save dialog box--it lets you move instantly to any file or folder and keeps track of which files and folders you've used recently. Once you've tried it, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it. Now Utilities' other components are NowSave, StartUp Manager, WYSIWYG Menus, Now Scrapbook, and Now Profile. Now Utilities is, without a doubt, the most powerful, useful, and helpful utility package on the market.

Source Citation
LeVitus, Bob. "My favorite things. (13 useful operating system enhancements for Apple Macintosh) (Power Tools: Beating the System)." MacUser 8.12 (1992): 257+. General OneFile. Web. 19 Nov. 2010.
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