MARCH 30, 2004
Ten Programs I Can't Live Without (This Week, Anyway)
The latest list of free/cheap Mac OS X apps that make life a lot easier
Kevin Schmitt

It's been a while since I wrote any kind of "what's on my desktop" article, and while the whole exercise may seem like an ego-driven one, it's actually offered as a means to shine the spotlight on some of the smaller developers out there who are really doing some top-notch work in the hopes that they can keep doing it. So, without further ado, here is the 2004 version (in no particular order, despite the numbering) of 10 programs I can't live without.

1) iKey
I was a huge QuicKeys fan on both OS9 and Windows, but QuicKeys X is way overpriced (especially for upgrades). At first, my macro utility jones was satiated by Keyboard Maestro, but as that product appears to be stagnant with no Panther update in sight, I finally stumbled upon iKey (formerly YoupiKey). In a nutshell, iKey gives you complete control to assign hot keys or menu access to any number of processes on your machine, from mouse clicks to menu selections to the execution of AppleScripts. You can even combine commands into sequences, and limit commands to certain applications (fig. 1). It's exactly what I remember loving about QuicKeys, but with a much lower price tag.

Developer: Script Software
Price: $20 Shareware
Available for download at: http://scriptsoftware.com/ikey/

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Fig. 1: Here in iKey's Editor panel, I've got a bunch of HTML tags mapped to shortcut keys that are only for use in SubEthaEdit.

2) MacBiff
For those of you who swear by the IMAP email protocol as I do, there's a fantastic little utility that makes the experience even more satisfying. MacBiff is a tiny app that sits in your menubar and checks your IMAP account(s) for you (fig. 2). It can alert you to new messages in any number of ways, checks for mail securely through SSL, features a tear-off window, and can even grab new message headers for you. In effect, MacBiff frees you from having to have your email program open all the time, in addition to bringing some of those cool "live feedback" functions Mail.app provides to other email programs that aren't quite as integrated into Mac OS X.

Developer: Branden Moore
Price: Free
Available for download at: http://www.forkit.org/macbiff/


Fig. 2: MacBiff is currently showing me that I have a message waiting, where it's located in my IMAP hierarchy, what the subject is, and who it's from.

3) Anything from Unsanity
OK, sure. Including the entire Unsanity line of "Haxies," as they're known, pushes the overall program count past ten, but who cares? When a company is putting out so much quality stuff across the board, they get their own special place. From the classic Apple Menu resurrection utility FruitMenu to the simplicity of keyboard shortcut mapping found in Menu Master to the downright fun of ShapeShifter (fig. 3), there isn't a weak player in the bunch. And I haven't even mentioned WindowShade X, Metallifizer, Clear Dock, the ingenious Application Enhancer architecture...need I go on? I've purchased several Haxies, each of which I use, love and cherish every day.

Developer: Unsanity
Price: Ranges from free to $20 (depending on Haxie)
Available for download at: http://www.unsanity.com/


Fig. 3: From left to right: FruitMenu brings back the Apple Menu with a ton more options; ShapeShifter lets me enjoy my favorite OS Themes (currently, Max Rudberg's Milk); MenuMaster makes remapping keys as simple as pulling down a menu, hovering your mouse over an item, and choosing the key combo.

4) GraphicConverter
This Swiss Army Knife of graphic format wranglers easily takes the prize for having the most features for the price. GraphicConverter packs hundreds of goodies into an inexpensive package, from obscure image support (fig. 4) to batch reformatting to file browsing to TWAIN scanning. Updates are frequent, each one bringing a slew of new features. I remember back when only DeBabelizer could do the image gymnastics GraphicConverter now does the only difference is that DeBabelizer was (is) ten times the price of GC for what amounts to a pretty similar feature set.

Developer: Lemke Software
Price: $30 Shareware
Available for download at: http://www.lemkesoft.de/en/index.htm


Fig. 4: It's almost sickening how many image formats GraphicConverter supports. And this isn't even the whole list.

5) QuickImageCM
This is a handy little Contextual Menu plug-in that gives you, as the name suggests, quick access to any image type (single or multiple images) directly from the Finder through a simple right/Control-click. QuickImage not only lets you view images, it gives you format conversion, thumbnail addition and subtraction, and basic manipulation options. It even has a few filters you can play with (fig. 5). Development seems to have stopped, however, and while the site lists it as not entirely compatible with Panther, I've had no real issues. So get it while the gettin's good.

Developer: Pixture Studios
Price: Free
Available for download at: http://www.pixture.com/macosx.php


Fig. 5: Basic image manipulation, including filter application, can be performed right from the Finder with QuickImage CM.


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