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Mac OS X Services in Snow Leopard

Mac OS X Services let one application supply its powers to another; for example, a Grab service helps TextEdit paste a screenshot into a document. Most users either don't know that Services exist, because they're in an obscure hierarchical menu (ApplicationName > Services), or they mostly don't use them because there are so many of them.

Snow Leopard makes it easier for the uninitiated to utilize this feature; only services appropriate to the current context appear. And in addition to the hierarchical menu, services are discoverable as custom contextual menu items - Control-click in a TextEdit document to access the Grab service, for instance.

In addition, the revamped Keyboard preference pane lets you manage services for the first time ever. You can enable and disable them, and even change their keyboard shortcuts.

Submitted by
Doug McLean

 

 

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Rev: Saving Us From Saver's Remorse

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My main complaint about the Macintosh industry these days is that there are few new products with broad appeal. Internet products do relatively well in that category, but I ran across a product at Macworld Expo this year that should appeal to almost every Macintosh user.

When I worked at Cornell University as a student in the public computer rooms, it was all too common for someone to select an entire document with Command-A (often missing the intended Command-S) and type a letter accidentally, replacing the entire document with that letter. Unfortunately, many people panicked at that point and hit Save, rather than using Undo. With the word processors of that time (1988-1989) those actions put your document beyond all hope, since you'd just deleted your entire document and saved the change. One of the reasons I use Nisus Writer for all of my writing is its unlimited undo capability that works through saves - there's no fear of losing a Nisus Writer document by replacing it accidentally with a single character.

In this respect, the world hasn't changed much since 1989, and we also have programs that save constantly, making it impossible to quit without saving but also making it difficult to experiment without saving unwanted changes. More programs have auto-save capabilities and there are a number of third-party auto-save utilities, but few programs can undo changes made before a save.

Saver's Remorse -- The folks at 6prime call this problem "Saver's Remorse." In essence, when something like this happens, saving has been turned into a negative action, and yet, failing to save frequently is even worse. To help eliminate Saver's Remorse, they came up with Rev, a product that tracks changes made to a file as you save it (or as it auto-saves) and enables you to go back in time to recover work you wish you hadn't deleted. Essentially, Rev is revision control software, something that up to this point has been expensive, complex, and limited to programmers.

Let's take a look at how Rev works. It's an application (it takes up 750K of RAM), so it doesn't add any patches that might decrease the stability of your system. When you want to track revisions to a document, you simply drag its icon into Rev's window. Rev creates a Finder-like outline entry for the application that created the document, listing the document under the application's name. Then you work normally, saving or auto-saving as often as you like. Every time you save, Rev creates a small "diff" file that contains just the differences between the current file and the last saved version. The diff files appear an outline level underneath the document, so it's easy to hide and show the different levels. The diff files are named with the name of the original file plus a time and date stamp.

Diff files take up much less space than complete files because they contain only the differences between two versions of a file. If Rev stored complete copies of files, your hard disk would fill up far more quickly. Rev also helps save space by enabling you to set the number of diff files it retains, deleting older ones automatically once you exceed that number.

Now, assume that you're working in a ClarisWorks graphics document. You want to see what your document looks like without some specific object, so you delete it, expecting to undo the change if you don't like it. But, something goes wrong, and you either save, an auto-save kicks in, or you do something else to prevent you from using Undo. Normally, you'd be out of options unless you had happened to save a recent version of the document elsewhere.

With Rev though, all you have to do is double-click on a diff file that contains the object you regret having deleted. Rev looks at the current file, applies all the changes back to the point where the diff file you selected was created, and creates and opens a completely new ClarisWorks document representative of your original at that time. At that point, you could just copy the appropriate missing piece from the earlier document and paste it back into the current document, or you could throw out the current document and use the earlier one instead.

Auto-save -- Several programs, most notably FileMaker Pro and HyperCard, essentially save every time you make a change, which makes it harder to lose data by forgetting to save. Unfortunately, these programs tend to scare people who realize that an experiment (so, does Delete All work on the entire database or just the currently found records?) could misfire and result in lost data. Rev works fine with these programs as well, although you should set it to make diff files every few minutes instead of every time the file changes, since the files change so frequently.

Some people avoid auto-save utilities for similar reasons - my father won't use one with ClarisWorks because he wants complete control over saving while he's using the graphics module. With something like Rev, he could reap the benefits of an auto-save without worrying about it saving an unwanted change.

That's It -- There isn't anything else to Rev - it's a simple application that watches what you do and helps bail you out if you end up with a version of your document that's not as good as a previous version. Rev comes with online help and a minuscule manual, but there's almost nothing that you can't figure out purely from looking at the interface. I approve when that level of simplicity masks power and a broad appeal to most Mac users.

Rev works with all (as far as I know) Macintosh applications, and is perfect for people who write, edit, create graphics, program, or develop multimedia of any sort. Obviously, Rev is best if you spend a lot of time working in a relatively small number of documents - there's no point in adding a document to Rev's list if you're not planning on working in it over time.

I plan to try Rev with pretty much all the applications I use, other than Nisus Writer, although even Nisus Writer can't undo changes once a document is closed, whereas Rev has no trouble with that situation. I have to edit chapters of my books in Microsoft Word and I frequently manipulate images from my QuickTake camera in PhotoFlash. In both programs I've found myself in situations that Rev could have handled by enabling me to go back to a previous version.

Rev costs $49.95 directly from 6prime, and although you can check out their Web site for additional information, you can currently only order via phone or email. They hope to have online ordering available on their Web site soon.

<http://www.6prime.com/>

6prime Corporation -- 408/252-9828 -- <rev@6prime.com>

 

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