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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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Apple Releases 802.11n AirPort Express

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The venerable AirPort Express now sports 802.11n, the fastest flavor of Wi-Fi, while weighing in at a light-on-the-pockets $99 in the United States. Apple released its revised compact base station today. The AirPort Express can also stream music from iTunes over a network through a built-in combo analog and digital optical audio port using AirTunes, a protocol that Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil extends to allow any streaming audio output from a Mac or Windows system (see "Airfoil Plays Home Audio Wirelessly," 2008-03-10).


The AirPort Express was introduced in 2004 as a cheaper alternative - at $129 - to the then-pricey AirPort Extreme Base Station (introduced the previous year at $299), while adding the audio streaming option. When the 802.11n AirPort Extreme was released in February 2007 at the current $179, the AirPort Express remained in the catalog with no changes, except a drop in price to $99.

The 802.11n draft standard, currently certified by industry trade group The Wi-Fi Alliance, has reached enough equilibrium that you should be able to mix and match so-called "Draft N" devices with the certified label from different manufacturers. Increased range is a key advantage of 802.11n: multiple internal antennas can extend the distance by which you can get a useful signal by a factor of two to four (Apple is claiming just "up to...twice the range").

The AirPort Express is among the cheapest devices to handle both the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency bands. The 5 GHz band is notably useful because of the relatively low usage by consumers; the 2.4 GHz band is in heavy use by Wi-Fi networks, shares its space with other purposes, and has less spectrum allotted to it than the 5 GHz band.

The new version of the AirPort Express still has the same limitations as the old: the built-in USB port handles just a single printer that you can share over a network. This 802.11n model can't share hard drives or multiple printers; for that, you still need the $179 AirPort Extreme or a $299 (500 GB) or $499 (1 TB) Time Capsule. Apple promises that up to 10 users can access the base station at the same time; 50 can ostensibly simultaneously use an AirPort Extreme or Time Capsule.

The AirPort Express also includes just 10/100 Mbps Ethernet, which will shave off the top possible speeds available with 802.11n. In my testing of the AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule with gigabit Ethernet, I found that using 100 Mbps Ethernet could shave as much as 50 percent off the the top rate and impose other internal speed limitations among Ethernet and Wi-Fi devices.

 

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