In the fuss over major productivity applications and well-known utilities, it's easy to lose sight of clever programs that make using our Macs easier or better. These tools form a big percentage of the 80 MB (90 files) of submissions the Info-Mac Archive receives each week. They're all freeware or shareware, and most are written by individual programmers seeking to solve nagging problems. We're talking about classic one-trick ponies here, and although these programs may lack universal appeal, if you need their single trick, you'll be a happy user.
The main thing separating the programs we plan to write about in this sporadic column from all the others is that these are the tools members of the TidBITS staff actually use. If we don't use it, we won't be writing about it in this column - simple as that.
GURU -- We used to pride ourselves on knowing the basic specs of all Macs. The Performas eliminated that ability for most everyone, and only recently has the Macintosh line become more coherent. Many resources have appeared over the years to provide information about Macintosh models, and Apple publishes much of this information on their Web site.
However, the tool I turn to whenever I have a question about a specific Mac is the freeware GURU (GUide to RAM Upgrades), written by Craig Marciniak and Steve Jackman for NewerRAM (previously part of Newer Technologies and now owned by Peripheral Enhancements). GURU is a small database with a custom front end and a few cool features; what sets it apart is its focused content. GURU's great for determining what sort of RAM to buy for a given Mac, what type of clock battery a Mac takes, and what video resolutions are possible.
GURU's primary interface is a floating palette with pop-up menus for each class of Macintosh and Macintosh clones. If you're not a floating palette fan, you can also use the hierarchical menus in the Windows menu. Choose a model from one of the menus and GURU displays a two- or three-tabbed window filled with information about that system.
The General Information tab provides basic specifications, including processor type, number of expansion slots, and so on. As Macs age and clock batteries die, the information on which clock battery to buy may prove useful. A dead clock battery can result in a variety of problems ranging from inaccurate timekeeping to a failure to start up; you might be able to save money by buying a battery and installing it yourself rather than taking the Mac in for service.
The Memory tab concentrates on RAM details, telling you what sort of SIMMs, DIMMs, or other RAM modules a Mac needs, plus the number of sockets in the machine. GURU also includes useful items like the minimum speed, the maximum RAM configuration, and which memory modules sizes will work. You can select configurations from a pop-up menu to learn what combinations of RAM modules are necessary to achieve that configuration. With some Macs, you can also access a graphical map of the RAM sockets and populate them by choosing module sizes from pop-up menus; when possible, GURU also shows you how to install the modules to support memory interleaving (which can increase performance slightly).
Finally, the Video tab tells you how much VRAM is installed by default in any given Mac, and lets you figure out how much more you can add and what bit depth that will provide at different resolutions.
One of the reasons I like GURU is that it's been around for years and has been revised constantly to account for new Macs. Every so often I realize I have an old version and pop out to the Internet to pick up a current copy. There's a Web Site button in the About dialog that takes you to the NewerRAM Web site, but I'd also like to see support for the Simple Internet Version Control (SIVC) protocol that Anarchie Pro and other programs use to inform users of updates.
GURU 2.7.1, which is the current version, is a 475K download. If you're curious about different Macintosh models, grab a copy of GURU today.