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10 Programs I Can't Live Without...All New for 2007!

You can smell the excitement as even more Mac programs get their due By Kevin Schmitt

2007 is finally upon us, and with the dawn of a new year comes a merciful end to the scourge of top ten lists that anyone with access to any sort of media outlet seems to spew forth. So, in the same hypocritical breath, allow me to present the fourth installment of our occasionally continuing series of not-quite-new but nonetheless battle-tested (and don't forget inexpensive!) Mac programs that I, your host for and author of this wildly self-important exercise, currently can't live without.

Before we begin, though, I'm going to do something I have yet to do in any of the previous installments: institute a rule. With PowerPC a dead chip as far as Apple is concerned, the rule is that this year's set of programs have to run natively on Intel-based Macs (either as a Universal Binary or an Intel-only program). So without further ado, here are my current favorites, in no particular order:

1) Parallels Desktop/Boot Camp

With the advent of Intel Macs, I wholeheartedly agree with (and sheepishly embrace) the conventional wisdom that Windows is the new Classic, and the most convenient way to run Windows (or Linux, or whatever other x86-based OS you may have) on your Intel Mac is Parallels Desktop. Sure, VMWare Fusion is certain to emerge from beta to assert itself in the coming year (which is good), but for right now Parallels is the bee's knees (as the children no doubt say these days). At close to 80 clams, it's by far the most expensive item ever included on one of these lists, but if you have to run Windows, it's worth every red cent. Parallels is adding new and ever-cooler stuff to Parallels Desktop at breakneck speed, and the latest builds include features like drag-and-drop copying, lightning-quick suspension and restoration, the ability to run from a Boot Camp partition, and the absolutely killer (and kind of eerie) Coherence mode (fig. 1).

As for Boot Camp, it ably takes over for Parallels Desktop when it comes to gaming or running 3D applications or any other situation that calls for a fully native Windows install with full access to all of your Intel Mac's hardware. For me, it's Parallels for testing things like CD ROMs on various flavors of Windows or looking at Web sites in IE, and Boot Camp for those programs like LightWave or After Effects (or other such programs with no current Universal Binary build) that need room to breathe. Either solution is good for specific needs, but by using both you're more than covered when it comes to getting your Windows on.

Parallels Desktop
Developer: Parallels
Price: $79.99
Available for download at: http://www.parallels.com/en/products/desktop/

Boot Camp
Developer: Apple
Price: Free
Available for download at: http://www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/

Figure 1

2) Audio Hijack Pro

In a nutshell, Audio Hijack Pro lets you record just about any sound from just about anywhere on your system, from external input like microphones to the output from any installed application. I was first turned on to Audio Hijack back when I was doing an After Effects project for a client, and the only format that some of their archived audio existed as was RealAudio. Ugh. But Audio Hijack saved the day, allowing me to "hijack" RealPlayer and then recording the audio directly to a format I could work with. Audio Hijack Pro (fig. 2) ups the ante considerably, offering podcasting-specific functionality (like adding music or sound effects to your audio, iChat/Skype hijacking, and multi-source recording), timers and scripts (useful for scheduling the recording of Internet radio shows), and on-the-fly encoding to MP3, AAC, or even Apple Lossless format. Of course, if your needs are more basic, a "regular" version of Audio Hijack is available for half the price, with a handy $16 discount on Pro if you need to step up. Either way, it's highly likely you'll find all sorts of uses for Audio Hijack (Pro or otherwise) in your day-to-day production workflow.

Developer: Rogue Amoeba
Price: $32
Available for download at: http://www.rogueamoeba.com/audiohijackpro/

Figure 2

3) PDFLab

Ever needed to combine multiple PDF files into a single PDF? Or what if the reverse is true, and you need to slim down a PDF file into a few select pages? I've answered "yes" to both questions more times than I care to count, and PDFLab works wonders both ways (fig. 3). There's not much to say about this simple and highly effective utility other than the fact that smooshing together or busting apart PDF documents is made as simple as drag, drop, and click.

Developer: Fabien Conus
Price: Free (donations accepted)
Available for download at: http://www.iconus.ch/fabien/pdflab/

Figure 3

4) Perian/WMV Components for QuickTime

QuickTime is a fantastic media framework, but there's an awful lot of video floating around out there that can't be natively played in the QuickTime Player. Free third-party players like VLC (a past "10 programs" honoree) and MPlayer can and do help tremendously, but adding more playback functionality to QuickTime Player is never a bad thing. Enter the two plug-in packages which make up number 4 on the current list: Perian is a suite of several plugins that add native playback of Flash, AVI, DivX, and a slew of other video codec types to QTP, while Flip4Mac's WMV components pick up Perian's slack by adding Windows Media playback into the mix. You won't get 100% perfect playback, as you'll likely encounter the odd file which will refuse to play nice, but you'll be a whole lot closer to the Holy Grail of all-encompassing Mac playback with these two packages installed.

Developer: The Perian Project
Price: Free
Available for download at: http://perian.org/

WMV Components for QuickTime
Developer: Flip4Mac
Price: Free for basic WMV playback
Available for download at: http://www.flip4mac.com/wmv_download.htm

5) Renamer4Mac

The title of this neat little app pretty much says it all: it renames files, and, with just the right amount of Prince-like conjunction-butchering, it's "4" the Mac. Drag files in, set your renaming preferences, and go to town (fig. 5). Simple, elegant, and perfect for the tons of renaming I need to do (which is seemingly always after the latest in a long line of hideously named 1800-frame LightWave sequences is done cooking).

Developer: Werner Freytag
Price: Free (donations accepted)
Available for download at: http://www.power4mac.com/renamer/

Figure 5

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