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10 Programs I Can't Live Without, 2005 Edition

Time to revisit what's useful at this particular moment By Kevin Schmitt

It's been eighteen long months since I did my first, and admittedly self-indulgent, list of "here's what I use because I'm so scary important" list of cool free/cheap Mac OS X apps. But since it seems a fair number of folks not only 1) read the original article but 2) sent in enough suggestions to spawn a sequel, I figured it was high time to compile another list for 2005. So here we go again: ten more excellent helpers that are deserving of a little good press.

1) MPEG Streamclip

Those people you see walking around with large patches of hair torn from their scalps are probably the folks who have been asked, at one time or another, to turn a finished MPEG clip into something reusable. I used to be one of those people, until I discovered MPEG Streamclip. Before, I had a set of about four different apps I needed to run MPEG clips through in often vain attempts to "demux" them, helplessly spewing out .m2v and .m1a files that were themselves almost never editable. With MPEG Streamclip, I simply can drag a clip onto the window, choose the format to export to (audio, video, or both), and away we go (fig. 1). A word of warning, however: in order to deal with MPEG-2 clips like those commonly found on DVDs, you need the Apple MPEG-2 playback component for QuickTime. Final Cut Pro or DVD Studio Pro users, you're already covered. Otherwise, you'll be out $20 to buy this from Apple, which is a small price to pay for the incredible convenience afforded to you by MPEG Streamclip.

Developer: Squared 5
Price: Free
Available for download at: http://http://www.alfanet.it/squared5/mpegstreamclip.html



Figure 1: With MPEG Streamclip, you don't have to be afraid of MPEG conversion anymore.

2) VLC Media Player

What MPEG Streamclip does for MPEG conversion, VLC does for playback. Simply put, it handles just about any clip you can throw at it. From regular ol' QuickTime movies to VOB files on an authored DVD to Windows Media to DIVX, VLC is a veritable Swiss Army knife for video clips. Hell, even Flash Video (FLV) files can be played back in VLC (sadly, pre-Flash 8 only, but useful nonetheless). Sure, you'll occasionally come across a WMV file that chokes, but for general purpose clip-playing, VLC is pretty hard to beat.

Developer: VideoLAN
Price: Free (also available for Windows, Linux, and just about every platform under the sun)
Available for download at: http://www.videolan.org/


Figure 2: Here, VLC is playing a VOB file right off of an authored DVD. If you've got a clip you can't play anywhere else, definitely give VLC a shot.

3) Iconverter

Mac OS X icons can be things of beauty, but for all the simplicity of cutting and pasting icons in the Finder, the icon files themselves can sometimes be hard to get at. Enter Iconverter, which makes it easy to get icons into and out of OS X icon format. On the "out" side of the coin, you only need to drag an application (or document, or anything that has an icon you want to use) onto the Iconverter window, set the conversion format, choose where it will be saved, hit convert, and you're set (fig. 3). As for the "in," take an image file (preferably PNG with its built-in transparency), check the "Use file contents" option, set the conversion format and location, hit convert, and you'll instantly have an icon file. There's even a batch convert option if you want to blow through an entire folder. Iconverter is a very handy tool for those who work with icons, but it's one that doesn't seem to be under active development. However, the most recent version works great (even on Tiger) and is still available for download through VersionTracker, so make sure to grab it before it ups and disappears on everyone.

Developer: Extraneous Software
Price: Free
Available for download at: http://www.versiontracker.com/dyn/moreinfo/macosx/16468


Figure 3: Finally, I can now extract that wondrous Safari icon I've been longing for lo these many years.

4) CanCombineIcons

The perfect companion to the aforementioned Iconverter, CanCombineIcons (hereafter CCI) pretty much does what the name implies: it can, in fact, combine icons. Drag a couple of icons into the wells, set properties like size, location, color, rotation, opacity, and shadow, and you're left with a nifty hybrid icon (fig. 4). You can also use text in one of the wells if you're simply looking to overlay an existing icon with a label. But truthfully, I don't really even care about the combining part, as the feature that was chiefly responsible for the removal of my ten bucks is somewhat of a stealth one: CCI can take a Mac icon and save it as a Windows .ico file, complete with all of the embedded sizes and color depths that make the various versions of Windows happy. CCI is by far the easiest program I've found to create Windows icons (on either platform), a feat which I'm happy to say puts CCI in the special class of apps that have paid for themselves many times over.

Developer: Infinity-to-the-Power-of-Infinity
Price: $10 Shareware
Available for download at: http://www.ittpoi.com/cci/


Figure 4: CCI making short work of that hybrid QuickTime/grayscale iTunes icon the world has been waiting for.


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Related Keywords:mac os x, applications, utilities, MPEG Streamclip, VLC Media Player, Iconverter, CanCombineIcons, FormsToGo, OnyX, CleanArchiver, Unpkg, DejaMenu, KeyViewer

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