Series: Software Gift Ideas
Software gift suggestions from TidBITS readers
Article 1 of 9 in series
Your Roots are Showing -- Genealogy has taken hold of several of our relatives in the past year, and if anyone in your family might be interested, David Kanter's suggestion is idealShow full article
Your Roots are Showing -- Genealogy has taken hold of several of our relatives in the past year, and if anyone in your family might be interested, David Kanter's <email@example.com> suggestion is ideal. "If any Mac user is into genealogy work, point them to Leister Productions' Reunion 6 for the Mac. This brand new version is a brilliant, made-for-the-Mac product that help you organize family information and produce a wide-range of charts and reports which you can tailor to your needs. Although Reunion is easy to use and its default settings serve most users, the program is also extremely flexible. Even genealogy veterans using another program should look at Reunion - it can import (and export) data using the GEDCOM format, so converting an existing database into Reunion is usually an easy process. Back in January, Macworld gave Reunion 5.02 a 4-star rating (with the other two programs getting just 2-stars)."
Computer Cooking -- They may be one of the most stereotypical computer uses, but recipe databases can be helpful. Molly Bullock recommends Computer Cuisine, "which has been great for helping me track my recipes. I've tried similar commercial programs, but this one is the best I've seen. And best of all, it's $10 shareware! The menus are easy to use, and it has over a thousand recipes included. (Just last week I tried the homemade recipe for eggnog and it was great!) I like the layout and design of the database - it looks great, but note that you need FileMaker Pro to use it."
An Alternative Word Processor -- If you're interested in trying something a little different in the word processing world, you might find that you agree with James Beinke <firstname.lastname@example.org>. He writes: "After reading the TidBITS article about Nisus Software offering an earlier version of Nisus Writer for free, I downloaded it and have found it fills a special niche. The page layout feature is especially useful for creating booklets. The online help is good. The price of upgrading with manual can't be beat."
Stating the Obvious -- Peter Jones <email@example.com> offers an obvious idea. "So far, no one has mentioned the one Macintosh-oriented gift that would seem to be a natural: Mac OS 8.5. Under $100, even including shipping (or run out to your nearest retailer for a copy)."
CD-ROM-based Training -- Dennis McGann <firstname.lastname@example.org> recommends any Personal Training Systems Interactive CD-ROM Tutorial as a Christmas gift. He writes: "I bought the Photoshop 4.0 tutorial when it was offered by MacWarehouse at a deep discount. I wasn't expecting much, but found the tutorial easy to follow and logical. The instructor's voice is also pleasant. I learned a lot and enjoyed it. PTS offers many other tutorials, including QuarkXPress, Illustrator, PageMaker, Word, and Excel."
BBEdit -- Bare Bones Software's popular text editor gets a nod from Steve Hideg <email@example.com>. "BBEdit has become the most-used tool I own. It's wonderful for authoring/editing HTML, C, Java, and other languages (I occasionally use it for AppleScript and Lingo as well). I work at a university, and manage our public labs with RevRdist (by Dale Talcott at Purdue). BBEdit is the perfect tool for editing RevRdist's control files.
"BBEdit is scriptable, too. I'm using it to configure Netscape preference files for users in our labs. Its search capabilities are great, including grep as well as multi-file search and replace. It can open the data fork of any file, and generate hierarchical file/folder listings (just drag a folder into an open BBEdit document). These are just a small subset of BBEdit's features - it's an awesome program. You can get a free demo of BBEdit 5.0 or a copy of the freeware BBEdit Lite from the Bare Bones Web site."
Sundial -- Earl Atwood <firstname.lastname@example.org> recommends the visually stunning Sundial. "It's the original time-lapse desktop picture. You can see what the Golden Gate Bridge looks like at 6 AM in the morning or at 9 PM at night. You can also download a demo."
Starry Night -- Mark Altenberg <email@example.com> recommends the perennial treasure of star-gazers. "Starry Night by Sienna Software is one of my favorites. This program is beautifully designed and easily encourages hours of playing around, viewing the stars and other heavenly objects from any place in the universe and any point in time. It can compel almost anyone to become an amateur astronomer."
Teach for Multimedia Authoring -- David Huston <firstname.lastname@example.org> raves about Teach, a program for authoring multimedia presentations. "Teach is powerful, fast, efficient, easy-to-learn, and fun-to-use program that rivals Authorware in its capability, but is simpler to learn and use. All the effects work via drag & drop, and you can drag hundreds of pre-programmed objects onto your presentations. And, since they're not Java, they work fast! To modify movies, text-boxes, graphics, animations, narration, sounds, and so on, all you have to do is open a few dialog boxes and specify the changes you want for appearance, timing, and interactivity. For ease of organization, all your presentations are organized as book-like projects and subdivided into chapters and pages. Teach organizes your pages automatically - creating a contents list of each page (for the designer), as well as tables of contents of chapters and pages (for the user). I have introduced 12-year-olds to Teach and they were creating their own books within 4 hours. Teach has even more ready-to-use resources that teachers can use to present ideas of instruction in multimedia formats: templates for quizzes, tests, flash cards, Internet use, branching, feedback, and more. It's $49 and you can download a 30-day demo."
Have a Virtual Holiday -- Tongue firmly planted in cheek, Wade Riddick <email@example.com> suggests that you "give the gift that keeps on giving a headache: a PC. Remind your loved ones why they use a Mac, and buy them a copy of Virtual PC. It's a handy product to have around the office: make your coworkers green with envy when you configure your PC to connect to the Internet in six seconds through the Mac side. And that doesn't even broach the world of stupid PC tricks such a gift would open up."
Join the Linux Revolution -- Tom Gewecke <firstname.lastname@example.org>, who has written about Linux on the Mac for TidBITS (and will do so again soon), recommends "a book and CD-ROM that lets you run Linux on your Mac, put out by Prime Time Freeware."
Oodles of Shareware -- A neat present for a new Macintosh user might be a CD from SiteLink. Most of what they offer can be found on the Internet, but trying shareware programs or Kaleidoscope themes from CD is a lot faster than downloading them. Also interesting is the Desktop Vistas CD, which offers numerous high-quality photographs that would be perfect for desktop backgrounds. The best part is that SiteLink's CDs are inexpensive, running around $10. Definitely worth a look.
Article 2 of 9 in series
Put Time on Your Side -- We could definitely use a gift of free time, but in the meantime Fred Miller suggests using MultiTimer Pro to track the time you're currently usingShow full article
Put Time on Your Side -- We could definitely use a gift of free time, but in the meantime Fred Miller <email@example.com> suggests using MultiTimer Pro to track the time you're currently using. "For people wanting or needing to keep track of time spent on any project, from school papers to household computer tasks to client tracking, this is an easy to use valuable shareware program that is worth the $30."
Backup Backup Backup -- Phil Lefebvre <firstname.lastname@example.org> shares our beliefs about maintaining a good backup system. "Retrospect ($150) or Retrospect Express ($50) from Dantz Development is one of those things that everyone should buy when they first get a computer, but usually only buy after a painful lesson. Save them the lesson." Read our series or articles on backup if you need more convincing.
First Aid Anywhere -- Bob Williams <email@example.com> suggests buying a gift that can also turn out to be a gift to yourself. "If you help friends or family when they have Mac problems, get them Netopia's HouseCall. Buy them the Patient, then whenever there are problems, you can work on them from the comfort of your own home or office using the Doctor (which is free). As I prepare to move to the other side of the country, buying several copies for folks was one the first things I did to prepare." Jeff Carlson reviewed HouseCall for us in TidBITS-493.
Type in Your Style -- David Huston <firstname.lastname@example.org> recommends Strider Software's TypeStyler for the amateur art director on your list. "I am a big fan of TypeStyler, which has been revived from its former Apple IIgs days of glory. It allows you to create almost all the special type effects the pros use for printing and Web use easily and instantly. It will save your files in practically every known format. If you want to add immediate eye appeal to your documents or Web sites, with a minimal learning curve (a couple hours at most), then this is an ideal application."
Like, Colors, Wow -- For artists or anyone looking for a legal hallucinogen, Peter Miller <email@example.com> writes, "I highly recommend Eric Wenger's ArtMatic, a very cool (and very inspirational) complex image generator. Graphic artists and animators could probably even get productive with it!"
Mac Macro Might -- Fredrik Jonsson <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes, "I would like to recommend the macro program KeyQuencer, by Alessandro Levi Montalcini. A good macro program is very important factor for my productivity. With it I can adjust my Mac to a great extent, and adapt it to me instead of the opposite." For more about KeyQuencer, see Matt Neuburg's "KeyQuencer - QuicKeys Quencher?" in TidBITS-351.
A Second Look at OneClick -- Christian Heurich <email@example.com> writes, "Whether you used OneClick in the past and despaired at version 1.x's incompatibility with Mac OS 8.5 and higher - or if you've never used OneClick at all - I would like to recommend OneClick 2.0. OneClick is a scriptable macro utility that's compatible with current versions of the Mac OS, and there are many authors contributing their add-ons and utilities to WestCode Software's efforts. The constantly growing source of useful component additions is one of the stellar aspects of OneClick. It offers additional ease of use, utility, flexibility, and extensibility to a great tool - the Macs you use. Hey, it works." For a review of OneClick and more thoughts about macro programs in general, see our article series "Mac Macros."
Tip for Taps -- Allan Moult <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes, "Here's a lifesaver gift for anyone using a PowerBook with a trackpad: TapGuard ($5 shareware). Although I love using the PowerBook G3, there's one frustrating aspect - it's too easy to tap the trackpad accidentally with your thumb or shirt sleeve and select a swath of data that gets deleted with the next keystroke. TapGuard makes your computer ignore the trackpad clicks if you've pressed a key in the last one-sixth of a second. This is typically plenty of time to trap any unwanted clicks. When TapGuard ignores a click, the menu bar flashes."
Looking Down from Above -- The SETI@home project uses computer processing time to search for life in outer space, but Ed Holloman <email@example.com> suggests a method for peering at the goings-on at home. "I found a cool screen saver called Planet Earth from Lunar Software, which displays a three dimensional model of the earth with real-time night shadows and clouds. It can be set to display a pop-up when you pass the cursor over a city, displaying the name and local time (the longitude and latitude are also available). Planet Earth comes with a database of cities, and you can add your own locations - I added the North Pole so I'll know when Santa is about to leave and whether he'll be delayed due to cloud cover." Planet Earth is $30 shareware.
No. More. Staggered. Speech? Bob Williams <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes, "Two words: voice dictation. IBM's new ViaVoice would make a wonderful gift for anyone who does a lot of text entry, or suffers from RSI symptoms. It also includes an active noise-cancelling headset/microphone." Although it's a brand new product without a track record, there's no denying the appeal of continuous speech recognition on the Mac!
Tight Genes -- David G. Kanter <email@example.com> writes: "I'll endorse Leister Production's $90 Reunion 6 for the Mac for any Mac user who is either already bitten by the genealogy bug or considering jumping into the genealogy fray. Reunion 6 remains a brilliant, made-for-the-Mac product that help you organize family information and produce a wide-range of charts and reports that you can tailor to your needs. Although Reunion is easy to use and its default settings serve most users, the program is also extremely flexible. Even genealogy veterans using another program should look at Reunion - it can import and export data using the GEDCOM format, so sharing data with others is usually an easy process."
Article 3 of 9 in series
Build It, and They Will Beep -- David Huston is after our own hearts in recommending software which enables users to make their Macs do that they wantShow full article
Build It, and They Will Beep -- David Huston <firstname.lastname@example.org> is after our own hearts in recommending software which enables users to make their Macs do that they want. "A great gift for your Mac-using friends is the little-known Swiss Army knife of multimedia authoring, iBuild, which enables just about everyone to produce professional multimedia projects with next to no effort. iBuild teaches you and provides drag & drop examples you can use as you go - you can learn 80 percent of its features in just a few hours, and (to make things even easier for newcomers) iBuild offers four different levels of complexity, so it doesn't assault you with scads of tabs and palettes which turn out to be sadly confusing and frustrating. As you learn more, you access progressively more sophisticated batteries of features.
"For example, my son was having trouble with his spelling tests at school, so I used iBuild to construct a spelling quizzer that plays back my recorded voice for the words and hints, scores each page, and then tallies the results and presents them as a dynamic bar graph. The quizzer also sends me a report of how he does each day via email. This took me three hours to build, tops. Things like this can be done with HyperCard, SuperCard, Flash, Director, and the like, but you better learn their scripting languages fast. My project required no scripting or programming, just easy selection of object properties (although iBuild uses AppleScript as its scripting language, so if you want to do programming, you can). And iBuild has this great advantage over competing products: it costs just $20!"
We Be Jammin' -- Lorin Rivers <email@example.com> recommends Casady & Greene's SoundJam MP: "I like SoundJam because it's a multi-purpose tool for playing music, sharing music, and all-around enjoyment. The CD player is good, and the MP3 player is awesome, as is the ripper, which converts CDs or other audio to MP3 format. Casady & Greene updates it often and a version of it is even available for Mac OS X Public Beta. Buy a copy for the music-loving Mac geek on your list today!" SoundJam MP costs $50, while SoundJam MP Free is available for free and offers all the features of the full version for 14 days, after which it still continues to provide playback and a subset of SoundJam's other features.
Keep It in the Family -- The end-of-year holidays often center around family activities, and David Kanter <firstname.lastname@example.org> recommends software that helps sort out families and their history. "I'm back to endorse Leister Productions' Reunion, the $90 family tree software for Macintosh. Reunion remains the preeminent tool for genealogy on the Mac - and is head and shoulders above any other program on any platform! Reunion is an easy-to-use, flexible program which helps you organize family information and produce a wide range of customizable charts and reports. Even genealogy veterans should look at Reunion - it can import and export data using the GEDCOM format, so converting an existing database into Reunion is usually easy. Version 7 adds a host of new and enhanced features from which even beginners will benefit, and which warrant an upgrade from an earlier version."
Barry Wainwright <email@example.com> recommends GedItCom: "GedItCom is a full-featured customizable genealogical database program. It's Mac-native, but unlike Reunion (and similar databases) it uses GEDCOM as its native file format (so there's no importing, exporting, or translation required) and it can handle tags to any depth of nesting. It costs $50 and is worth every penny."
Calendars in the Background -- Overwhelmed by PIMs? Check out Brain-Sucker Productions' $10 shareware Background Calendar, which returns to a low-tech approach to calendaring. All it does is create a picture for the current month using the fonts, styles, and colors you select, after which it tells the Appearance (or Desktop Pictures) control panel to use the calendar image as a desktop picture. It can even draw on top of your existing desktop picture. Want to add notes to specific days? Just use Apple's Stickies utility, which ships with every Macintosh. Cleverness doesn't always mean fancy code, and as the Background Calendar Web page says, everyone needs a calendar, but not everyone needs a scheduling program.
Article 4 of 9 in series
It's fun to be wowed by hardware, especially in the Macintosh world where industrial design is a driving force. There's just something about gadgets that plug in, connect to, interact with, and work alongside our MacsShow full article
It's fun to be wowed by hardware, especially in the Macintosh world where industrial design is a driving force. There's just something about gadgets that plug in, connect to, interact with, and work alongside our Macs. But it's important to remember that it would all be molded plastic and silicon if not for the software inside. On the Mac especially, software tends to have a long shelf-life, which could be one reason we didn't receive many gift recommendations this year - raise your hand if you're still using Microsoft Word 5.1! Be sure to also check out the gift suggestions from previous years, including the TidBITS Talk discussions that prompted them.
The Door Swings Both Ways -- After you've used always-on Internet access, it's hard to go back to connecting via modem. However, a computer that's always connected to the Internet is also a machine that's potentially susceptible to attack from other computers around the world. To keep an eye on incoming and outgoing traffic, Keith Holzman recommends software from Open Door Networks. DoorStop, which is licensed to Symantec and sold as the $70 Norton Personal Firewall for Macintosh, is simple to install and administer, and keeps intruders at bay. (A $300 Server Edition of DoorStop is also available for Mac OS servers.) We're also partial to another software firewall, IPNetSentry from TidBITS sponsor Sustainable Softworks.
Keith wrote, "I also like Open Door's Who's There?, which takes the information from the DoorStop and Norton Personal Firewall log and lets you see what domain the would-be intruder is trying to do, even making it simple for you to send an email to the intruder's ISP. A single user license is $40 for Mac OS 8 and later, and $50 for Mac OS X."
Print Explosion -- If you're still looking for a gift for the sort of person who's constantly making little flyers and signs in a word processor, check out Nova Development's $60 Print Explosion Deluxe. It helps those who aren't fluent with more general programs create greeting cards, invitations, labels, calendars, t-shirts, business cards, posters, banners, and more, and includes a vast number of fonts (500) plus clip art graphics and photographs (90,000). Print Explosion works under Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X, where we tested it after downloading the necessary 2.0.2 update that provides Mac OS X 10.1 compatibility. We were able to make an invitation with a number of graphics and text blocks, although the process was rougher than would be ideal, with problems entering text into the Project Assistant that helps you start projects, an occasional crash that caused us to lose changes (though it didn't affect any other applications), and some generally quirky behavior. Make sure the recipient will be able to print from Print Explosion, though that's less of a problem with Mac OS X than it was a few months ago (Epson released some drivers for more color inkjet printers, although some people have had troubles printing if Classic is running).
Silicon Chef: Allez Cuisine! Adam and Tonya have had a kitchen Mac for almost as long as they've had a kitchen, it seems, providing quick access to recipes and other information on the Internet. For those who want to use a Mac to store their own recipes, Mary Naylor suggests buying Inaka Software's Computer Cuisine Deluxe 3.0. "I tried using MasterCook in the past, and it is not as good as this shareware program (which works under Mac OS X as well as Mac OS 8 and later). I think this is the only recipe program for the Mac that can work with Mac OS X, but I'm not sure. It has really nice graphics, includes 1,000 recipes, and only costs $20. I'd recommend this for someone who wants a nice program at a small price. And try the homemade eggnog recipe... it's great!"
Article 5 of 9 in series
It doesn't matter type of Mac you own, old or new, you're running a wide variety of software. This year's suggestions ranged from software that makes you more productive to enhancements that tailor your Mac experience to your own tastes. Don't assume that software gift ideas from previous years are irrelevant just because almost all new development is being done for Mac OS XShow full article
It doesn't matter type of Mac you own, old or new, you're running a wide variety of software. This year's suggestions ranged from software that makes you more productive to enhancements that tailor your Mac experience to your own tastes.
Don't assume that software gift ideas from previous years are irrelevant just because almost all new development is being done for Mac OS X. Classic programs from the past are often still available and run fine on the older Macs that so many people have.
ArtMatic -- Computers and art have had a long history together, and Peter Miller suggested a program that you can use to generate your own beautiful images. "Although this is a repeat suggestion from me, from quite a few years back, U & I Software's ArtMatic is worth a new look. ArtMatic is a kind of visual synthesizer that allows you to make astonishing images and movies at any resolution. It has an interface that is unique and simple to explore but offers an incredible depth of experimentation (the software is written by Eric Wenger, one of the developers of KPT Bryce). There is nothing remotely like it.
"ArtMatic 3 was just officially released and is now fully Mac OS X native (there's also a Mac OS 9 version). It's a very different beast from when I last suggested it, now incorporating a keyframe animation system, 3-D effects, amazing and flexible professional level RGB colour-manipulation, the ability to import and process still pictures and QuickTime movies, and lots more. The trial version is fully functional but save-disabled. Take a look at my ArtMatic galleries to see what you can do with this great tool."
CandyBar -- Steve Jobs may want to lick Mac OS X's Aqua interface, but for those people out there who would prefer to take a big bite, Nik Friedman offered CandyBar. "Jazz up your loved one's computers with CandyBar from The Iconfactory and Panic. It lets you change all your system icons to beautiful holiday icons (or others). At $13, it's cheap, too!"
ThinkFree Office -- Turning from the delightfully frivolous to some serious productivity, Tom Gewecke offered this idea. "ThinkFree Office is a Java-based, Microsoft Office-compatible suite of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation graphics applications. It works on both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. Depending on your needs, Think-Free Office could be a good alternative to Microsoft Office because it costs only $50 and includes a year of free online upgrades."
A Jaguar Kitten? Having just made the jump to Jaguar himself, Maarten Festen wrote, "If your loved ones are still on Mac OS 9 and have an appropriate computer, give them Jaguar this Christmas. Toss in some extra RAM and it'll feel as if you've given them an all new computer.
CodeTek VirtualDesktop -- Chris Pepper's suggestion of a second monitor is an excellent one (see "2002 Hardware Gift Ideas" above), but if finances or desk space preclude adding another screen, consider Paul Schatz's suggestion of CodeTek VirtualDesktop. "For the person with several simultaneous projects or lots of windows: CodeTek VirtualDesktop 2.0.1. This application lets you set up numerous multiple desktops ('work spaces'). It's easy to jump from one to another, or drag windows between desktops. Thus, you can have different projects or applications on completely separate desktops, and you can designate certain items to appear on all your desktops. CodeTek VirtualDesktop is great for reducing window clutter and even if you already have multiple monitors it still works well. Although the price has just jumped from $20 to $40, it's still very worthwhile for people who are juggling many different projects."
Expand That Cursor! Not everyone has great vision, so Saint John mentioned a simple tool that can make using the Mac significantly less frustrating. "RJ Cooper & Associates's control panel, Biggy, brings to the Mac (System 7.5 through Mac OS 9) something that has been sorely lacking since we got monitors larger than 13 inches: a larger cursor. Even for normal-vision users, finding that 16 by 16 pixel arrow on a cluttered desktop can be a hassle; think about a low-vision user. Biggy provides a variety of different pointer, watch cursor, and text I-beam cursors up to 32 by 64 pixels in size. Some are even animated! While many are cutesy, a few are subtle and can attract attention to themselves for that little extra bit of find-ability. Biggy also provides a number of small but useful additional features, such as snapping to the default button, wrapping around the screen, and making the text-insertion bar wider.
"I use Biggy Light, which offers the basic set of cursors for only $30, as opposed to $100 for Biggy. Both versions let you design your own cursors, and I have a number of them available free on my Web site (the third link below)."
LuKreme chimed in, "I know of at least one utility for Mac OS X that enlarges the pointer: Cursor Zoom. That's all it does, but it will zoom up to 4x with fine control over the magnification (the first version let you magnify from 2x to 20x with no granularity; the current version is much more useful). Cursor Zoom is free, so I suggest that installing it for someone as a holiday surprise would be a nice touch."
Custom Shareware CD -- Inspired by LuKreme's comment about installing CursorZoom for someone, Kevin van Haaren expanded the idea. "I was thinking it might be a nice gift to accumulate all the freeware and shareware you find useful or interesting and burn it to a CD-R as a stocking stuffer for your favorite Mac user. Someone with no or a very slow Internet connection might especially appreciate the thought. To boost the value, perhaps pay for a couple of the shareware packages that you know will be useful and include the licenses on the CD-R."
Reunion -- Another perennial gift suggestion came from David Kanter, who suggested the genealogy program Reunion from Leister Productions. "For Mac-based genealogists - or any would-be genealogists - a wonderful present would be Reunion 8, which now runs natively under Mac OS X as well as Mac OS 8.5 to 9.2. Reunion is still an elegant, Mac-only product that helps you organize family information and produce a wide-range of charts and reports which you can extensively tailor to your needs. Reunion 8's enhancements over Reunion 7 are extensive, significant, and meaningful. Even genealogy veterans using another program should consider switching to Reunion to gain its easy interface and fabulous output products. Reunion can import (and export) data using the GEDCOM format, so bringing another genealogy program's database into Reunion is usually an easy process. And for those using any earlier version of Reunion, in my opinion this is a 'do-it-now' upgrade."
Article 6 of 9 in series
Our first inclination when suggesting software is to recommend useful utilities that prove invaluable every day. But software is a big field, with room enough for utility and whimsey, both of which are represented this yearShow full article
Our first inclination when suggesting software is to recommend useful utilities that prove invaluable every day. But software is a big field, with room enough for utility and whimsey, both of which are represented this year. Don't forget to look through software suggestions from previous years; given the longetivity of many software titles and Macs themselves, older software may still work fine on your machine.
Web Info Where You Need It -- TidBITS Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg suggested an inexpensive shareware gift: Alco Blom's pair of utilities, URL Manager Pro and Web Confidential.
"I run both continuously, and use them constantly. URL Manager holds my URLs, and is far better for organizing and annotating them than a browser; plus it is browser-agnostic, so it doesn't matter what browser I use. Web Confidential holds my Web passwords (I use a different one for every password-protected page) and my software registration numbers; it carried those numbers through the Panther upgrade process and made it easy and fast for me to start working again afterwards."
Organize Everything -- Eric Durbrow made this suggestion. "I think Circus Ponies NoteBook 1.2 would be a good holiday gift for two reasons. First, it's a catch-all, elegantly designed application for the person who needs to organize something: photos, family trees, writing projects, and hobbies. Second, it's easy to use, requires little time to master the basics, and has a highly responsive help forum and developer. That means the person you give it to is less likely to call you up and ask you how to get the dohickey to do the do-what. Think of it as a low-maintenance gift."
Think It Through -- Along similar lines, Andy Affleck recommended a note-taking application that can serve as a backup brain: "For me, the best purchase I made this year was DEVONthink PE. Part of my job as a Web designer, project manager, and general accessibility/standards maven requires that I read a great deal of information. I read weblogs, articles, how-to's, etc. in many different areas. I also send and receive metric scads of email. On top of that, the company I work for is highly distributed, so to keep in touch, we use a company-based IRC server, one channel per project. All of my email, IRC logs, and every Web site I find with useful information goes into my DEVONthink database so I can easily search and find what I need, when I need it. I've spent years trying just about every kind of information management tool out there. DEVONthink is the first one that I have found (based on recommendations from the TidBITS Talk list) that actually helped me and complemented my daily workflow. All it needs is a text editor with an outliner so I can use it to take notes directly."
Get Your Gift Back -- Johann Beda suggested something that people usually only think of when it's too late. "I have decided to give the gift of backups - I'm going to buy my family members copies of Retrospect, and set up automated backups of the Users directories on their machines. I suffered a horrible drive failure this summer without good backups and lost virtually all of six months of my digital life - photos, email, and work. Hopefully I can prevent similar disasters for others."
Remote Control -- Once your extended family is set up to be backed up on a regular basis, make sure you can check their Macs or troubleshoot them from anywhere - without the difficulties that can arise from trying to describe problems over the phone. Lorin Rivers recommended two copies of Netopia's Timbuktu, "one for the tech support provider (you), and one for the gift recipient. I'm getting this for my mother, but it's also partly for me because it saves me a drive across town."
Get a GREP -- LuKreme obviously got a glimpse of Santa Claus's list of geek gifts, judging by this suggestion: "What I want someone to buy me for Christmas, so it must be a good gift idea for a certain type of Mac geek, is a copy of BBEdit. It seems hard to explain to someone how a text editor is worth the coin Bare Bones charges, but BBEdit is simply in a league of it's own."
A Gift to Warm the Belly -- Sarah Delancey cooked up an idea that helps create more gifts year-round: "I was looking all over for a recipe program for Mac OS X, and found that most programs in stores were either for the PC or not for Mac OS X. So I did some Google searching and found a little program called Computer Cuisine Deluxe. I love it! I have added about 800 of my own recipes now, and it couldn't be better. I have no idea why this program isn't bundled with every Mac. It's a great little program and I will using it as a stocking stuffer for my Mac friends."
VYGR's Landscape Generator -- Peter Miller set his sights on the horizon for this holiday gift idea: "I have often recommended the fascinating apps from U&I Software as stocking stuffers, but this year they have something really hot. Voyager is a unique 3D landscape and scenic image generator (think of a more powerful Bryce). It makes extremely realistic (and surrealistic) landscapes and QuickTime movies at pretty much any desired resolution. Voyager comes with 4 virtual worlds to explore, each about 60,000 square kilometers, the equivalent of three times the size of the Earth. Plus if you're keen, you can build your own worlds in ArtMatic, U&I's extraordinary image synthesizer."
A Monastery in Your Mac -- Matt Neuburg spoke up again with an recommendation that brings back memories: "I'm not sure whether this counts as software, a game, a multimedia experience, a book, or nostalgia. It's 'If Monks Had Macs,' which started life as a HyperCard stack before I even knew HyperCard existed, turned into a Voyager multimedia CD, and is now available cross-platform, thanks to Runtime Revolution. If Monks (as we like to call it) is impossible to describe. It's a truly visionary hyperlinked collection of books, music, art, games, and activities, plus several applications you can use separately, such as a hyperlinked journal-writer and an ebook text reader that works with Project Gutenberg files and other free online books. It's genuine New Media - a multi-dimensional, quirky vision from the mind of an eclectic thinker. If you've been wondering (and who hasn't?) what Chesterton's Father Brown, Heart of Darkness, Schubert, Thoreau, and the Kennedy assassination have to do with one another, this is your chance to find out. I remember the earliest If Monks incarnations with fondness, so this new version, which I have not seen, is on my wish list."
The Gift to Beat -- Paul Atroshenko wrote to recommend a program for the musical among us. "One application which I have used (and fallen in love with) is a music generating program called Easy Beat, by Ergonis, an Austrian company specialising in Mac software. Unfortunately, Easy Beat is not compatible with Mac OS X - it runs best on Mac OS 9.2. As far as I can discover from my music-composing friends who use PCs, there is nothing like Easy Beat for the PC. My friends are very envious." A free demo of the $90 East Beat is available as a 2.4 MB download. Some musical pieces that Paul wrote using Easy Beat are embedded in a few short animations at his Web site.
Article 7 of 9 in series
We're always amused when collating software gift suggestions because of their breadth. The Mac may have less software available than Windows, but there are still far more interesting programs than anyone could ever hope to tryShow full article
We're always amused when collating software gift suggestions because of their breadth. The Mac may have less software available than Windows, but there are still far more interesting programs than anyone could ever hope to try. Here are a few that our readers especially like. It's worth checking out suggestions from previous years as well, particularly for people with older Macs.
Collector's Items -- Many people find themselves, at some point in their lives, collecting something: stamps, or coins, or cereal box toys. For some people, the collecting obsession turns to music, and that's where Jim Kane's suggestion helps out. "I've been a music collector since I bought my first open-reel recorder at 14. I've collected music from interesting radio shows and recorded LPs from libraries for almost 40 years now, building a collection that's diverse and includes artists that I never would have discovered without the introduction provided by 'free' music.
"Today I'm recording streams from several Internet radio stations with the same goal: hearing new artists in my favorite genres. These introductions inform my purchases of CDs, so I rarely make a purchase I regret. This year my collecting pleasure was increased immeasurably by two shareware products: RadioLover and MP3 Trimmer. Both products make it fun to be a music collector in the MP3 era.
"RadioLover records MP3 Internet radio streams as individual MP3 songs, automatically tagging each file with artist and album information. It allows you to schedule recordings and even record multiple streams at the same time, with nice integration with the iTunes radio tuner. It's a beautiful piece of work, and very reasonably priced at $15. For the price of one CD, I have lots of fresh music every day.
"As good as RadioLover is, though, its capability to split a stream into individual song files relies on the broadcast of tag data, which is not always perfectly synchronized with the beginning or end of a song. MP3 Trimmer, another nice piece of shareware, facilitates any cleanup work required. Trim the start, trim the end, or join a pair of files and trim the result. Again, it's beautifully executed, with tons of attention to detail, and well worth the modest $9 price tag."
Hans de Wolf offered another idea for collectors of books, CDs, and DVDs: the $40 Delicious Library from Delicious Monster. "A lot of people may intend to catalog their books, CDs, and DVDs. Sometime. But it is a lot of work. Boring work. I found that Delicious Library is a great tool to help you. It eliminates a lot of the boring work. It uses the iSight as a barcode scanner, and retrieves all relevant information from Amazon. You can even catalog items without scanning or typing in information: for items in the catalog, it can display similar items (same author, same subjects, same artist, and so on), and if you have these similar items you can just drag them into your catalog. The user interface is beautiful, very similar to the iLife software. Of course you can get a list (like iTunes), but there is also an iPhoto-like view in which your cataloged items appear as photorealistic thumbnails on shelves (the shelves are equivalent to playlists in iTunes, or albums is iPhoto). While the software shows great potential, it is still a 1.0 product. There is still some room for improvement: 'Smart' shelves and a way to distinguish items that you own from items that you want."
Lori Brooks-Manas seconded the suggestion, adding to Hans's description, "Delicious Library syncs with your iPod, keeps track of what you have loaned out to people, and is very simple to use. I tried the demo version for about, well, a minute before I bought it. Check it out!"
The Sky Isn't Falling -- Hans de Wolf returned with a second recommendation. "Another nice piece of software is Freefall: a 3D satellite simulator ($30). It shows more than 800 satellites in orbit around a beautifully rendered earth. You can determine your viewpoint: fixed spot above the earth, or fly along with the satellite. Zoom in and out, select satellite, see how the satellites build radio connections to ground stations. If you do not understand the technical stuff, it still makes a very fine screensaver. Freefall is also still a bit of a 1.0 product: it shows great potential but there are some rough edges. Some features you can only access when you have read the manual, and it would be nice if you could save the animation as a QuickTime movie, or export an image in high resolution."
Get SideTracked -- Kevin van Haaren proposed the perfect gift for the PowerBook or iBook user in your life: SideTrack. "SideTrack is a lovely little $15 utility that turns the trackpad on a laptop into an even more functional device. It's primary use is to make tapping the pad a left-click and turning the regular button into a right-click (Control-click). This makes the trackpad so much more usable. Other features I use are turning sides of the pad into scroll areas, and assigning commands to tapping the corner of the pad.
"I only use vertical scrolling, but horizontal is available too. I run my finger down the left side of the trackpad and the window scrolls down, just as with a scroll wheel mouse. I'm right handed so the left side of the pad doesn't get much use, this feature never gets in the way of my normal mousing. You can assign scrolling to left, right, or both sides of the pad (or top/bottom for horizontal scroll). Tapping the upper left corner of my pad activates Expose for all windows (same as F9). Lower left is Expose for the current application (same as F10). All settings are per user, so if one user doesn't like trackpad clicking they can turn it off."
News Junkies -- Thanks to Robert McGonegal for thinking of those of us who don't have nearly enough time in the day. He suggested an RSS newsreader, which can make it fast to browse the headlines on numerous Web sites. "There are several good Mac newsreaders to choose from, but I recommend the full version of NetNewsWire ($40). I've bookmarked about 200 Web sites which, despite occasionally having very interesting content, aren't worth my time to visit on a regular basis. By using NetNewsWire I can find out in about 10 minutes if any new content on those 200 sites is worth loading into my Web browser. As I skim through the newsfeed list, the Web pages I select load in the background and are waiting for me. It's almost like TiVo for the Web.
"A nice touch to the gift would be to use the newsreader's Export function to make a custom-tailored list of which newsfeeds you think the recipient will be interested in."
Software Utility Belt -- Perhaps we're weird, but we love utilities - the little applications that provide helpful features and modify the standard ways in which we use our Macs. David Weintraub clearly thinks so as well, considering the four utilities he suggested.
textSOAP from Unmarked Software: $25. If for nothing else, textSOAP is great for straightening out and requoting email messages. It works like a charm in Apple's Mail, but not so well in Eudora. It cleans up DOS/Unix/Macintosh end-of-line problems, rewraps and unwraps paragraphs, changes capitalizations, etc. (Andrew Laurence agreed with David's assessment of textSOAP in general, but prefers the Eudora plug-in.)
Path Finder from Cocoatech: $34. Path Finder is Finder replacement. Extra features include a built in Terminal application and the capability to display Word, RTF, PDF, and text files in the preview pane without launching another application. My favorite is the Drop Stack that allows me to drop a bunch of files I'm moving and copying into a spot on the Path Finder window before I actually perform the move. It's packed full of all the features that Finder should have had in the first place.
LaunchBar from Objective Development: $20/$40. LaunchBar eliminates the need for placing all the applications I want quick access to on the Dock. [David isn't singing the praises of LaunchBar sufficiently here; it's a utility that lets you tap Command-Space and then type a few characters from the name of an application, file, folder, volume, URL, or Address Book entry to open the item. It's a brilliant application, and is improving significantly in version 4. I almost can't use a Mac without LaunchBar any more. -Adam]
GraphicConverter by Lemke Software: $30. I'm not a graphics person, but I still have to pull GraphicConverter out every once in a while just because program "A" has the picture in one format, and program "B" insists it must be in a different format. GraphicConverter can import about 175 formats and export about 75; it also provides a host of basic image manipulation features.
The Contemplative Mac -- Adam here. A word you seldom see applied to software is "thoughtful," and in this case, I mean it literally, as in "full of thought." But I can think of no better label for Brian Thomas's "If Monks Had Macs," an interactive multimedia CD-ROM title that defies prosaic description. It's packed with original texts from the like of Henry David Thoreau and G.K. Chesterton, highly readable essays and critical analyses, a visual exploration of Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Tower of Babel painting, a telling of the story behind an underground newsletter called The White Rose from an underground student resistance group in Nazi Germany, and far more. A playful sub-current swirls through everything - there's an illustrated medieval text adventure game (you're a monk, needless to say) in which you find cards for a solitaire game. A journaling application helps you record your impressions and musings as you meander through the application's many byways. "If Monks Had Macs" started out life years ago as a HyperCard stack (now converted to Runtime Revolution, supported by a separate ebook reader), and that retro aesthetic now merely adds to the whimsy. The $30 program works in both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X, as well as in Windows 95 and later, making it the ideal present for anyone with a healthy intellectual curiosity.
Article 8 of 9 in series
Apple may be bundling more software with the Mac every year, but that hasn't prevented independent developers from rolling out excellent independent applications, a number of which were recommended by readers this yearShow full article
Apple may be bundling more software with the Mac every year, but that hasn't prevented independent developers from rolling out excellent independent applications, a number of which were recommended by readers this year. Many recommendations from previous years are undoubtedly still useful as well, so be sure to check them if you're hunting for the perfect piece of software for that special Mac someone.
A Remote View of the Outside World -- You may not have a window in your office to see what sort of weather is blowing in, and even if you did, you wouldn't be able to see into the future. Don O'Shea suggested a pair of programs that tell you everything you need to know. "We have been surprised and pleased by a wonderful weather reporting program, Seasonality, by Gaucho Software. It's $25 for a single license and $30 dollars for the family. We keep the locations of others in our family in the list. Also, EarthBrowser from Lunar Software provides a global view with hurricanes, volcanos, earthquakes, webcams, and (ta da!) iceberg tracking. It's a misnomer to a call it a browser. It's more like EarthScrutinizer. All this for the paltry sum of $20!"
Channeling Ken Burns -- Apple has taken the pan-and-zoom effect popularized by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and added it to the Mac OS X screensaver, iPhoto slideshows, and iMovie. But some people consider Apple's implementations a pale imitation of Ken Burns, which is why T. P. Hazard recommends the $50 Photo to Movie from LQ Graphics. He noted, "I was impressed by how easy and powerful it was (one can even add voice using its built-in record feature). Plus, you can use an online code, PTM122505, to save $20." Though he knew little about it and no one chimed in on TidBITS Talk, he's also considering buying a copy of Freeverse's $30 Comic Life, which turns digital pictures into comic books, for his 8-year-old nephew.
Lick Your Library! Dave Charlesworth wrote, "Got a ton of books or DVDs or CDs? Want to have fun cataloging them? Think about getting Delicious Library ($40), and use your iSight or webcam to scan the UPC barcodes! (You can key the UPC or ISBN or title by hand until you unwrap the webcam too.)"
Food and Movies -- No, we're not talking about nasty popcorn with fake butter, but about a pair of programs from the Little App Factory, recommended by Andrew Cohen. He said, "I've become a fan of two fun and affordable programs by Little App Factory. Netflix Freak ($15) lets you manage your Netflix queue in ways that are not available on the Netflix site. For example, you can re-order your queue by selecting and dragging multiple movies. Or you can add notes or custom categories to any movie. Connoisseur ($20) is sort of iTunes for your recipes. You can type in your own recipes, sort them, categorize them, and scale the servings. You can also download free recipes from an online catalog."
And They Never Die -- Adam here. If you've always liked the idea of keeping tropical fish but could never get over the hump of taking care of them on a regular basis, you can now have a no-maintenance "tank": Allume Systems is selling the $25 Aquazone Seven Seas Deluxe for the Mac now. It's both a stand-alone application (where you set preferences) and a screensaver. It comes with 40 different species of fish, 20 different tanks, and lighting conditions that change throughout the day. I love the idea of Aquazone, but speaking as someone who does keep fish, it's not as realistic as promised with more than a couple of fish, at least not on my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4. This program really wants CPU power to model the fish and light and everything, so although it needs only Mac OS X 10.3 or newer running on a Power PC G4, I'd recommend a G5-based Mac for best performance.
Let Your Fingers Do the Walking -- We're great fans of the keyboard here at TidBITS, and apparently we're not alone. Alexander Hoffman recommended Proteron's $15 LiteSwitch X 2.5, which replaces Mac OS X's built-in keyboard application switcher (invoked with Command-Tab). Dan Frakes concurred in detail, writing, "LiteSwitch is one of those applications whose advantages are easier to see in use than explain, but I'm with Alex on this one: LiteSwitch is a must-have on all my computers. When I use a Mac without it, the built-in Command-Tab function seems clunky. For one, LiteSwitch is quite customizable, both in appearance and behavior; one of the most popular options is choosing which key combination you use to activate the switcher. You can also exclude individual applications from the switcher so, for example, applications you keep running all the time but never switch to don't clutter it. Conversely, you can view background applications in the switcher. When viewing the switcher, you can perform various actions on the highlighted application: hide/show, quit, force quit, or switch to and hide all others. The switcher also supports drag-and-drop, useful for people who hide the Dock. You can right/Control-click on an application in the switcher to perform various actions on it: Get Info, show in Finder, hide/show, switch and hide others, exclude, relaunch, quit, force quit or relaunch, or quit. Finally, LiteSwitch also lets you choose your window layering approach: standard Mac OS X layering, 'Classic' layering (all an application's windows come to the front when you switch to it), Classic layering for the Finder only, or 'single-application' layering, where only the current application is visible."
Track Your Time, Part 1 -- Geoff Hutchison wrote, "I highly recommend the excellent Minuteur, a small, customizable timer for your Mac; donations suggested. It makes it easy to keep track of time you spend on tasks versus time spent on distractions. Definitely a great way to make sure you keep on target for Getting Things Done." The Web site is in French, but a link at the bottom lets you download a version of the program localized in English.
Learn Music on the Web -- Jochen Wolters noted, "Musictheory.net is a Web site that's worth having a look at if you're an aspiring musician. Utilizing elegant Flash-based animations, musictheory.net teaches music theory in clearly structured and well-thought-out lessons. Although some things could have been explained more elegantly - for example, musictheory.net uses a weird Key Signature Calculation instead of covering the much more intuitive Cycle of Fifths - it covers a lot of ground, and the ear-training features for intervals, scales, and chords should appeal even to seasoned musicians. Ricci Adams, the author, has put the whole Web site under a Creative Commons license and offers a downloadable version. Highly recommended for anyone interested in learning the theories behind the melodies."
Give the Gift of Open Source -- It's the thought that matters, not how much you spend. And if you want to spend more time with that special someone, why not give them some open source software, with your services to help install it and explain how to use it? A TidBITS reader who goes by "wdesolar" wrote, "If software is too expensive at any price and you want to explore open source software, install a copy of Fink, along with Fink Commander. Fink lets you install open source software that has been ported to Mac OS X, and Fink Commander is a graphical front end to Fink. Fink Commander is revised frequently because it is young software. For instance, you might use Fink Commander to install Anacron, which runs the Mac OS X daily, weekly, and monthly scripts that the Unix cron utility is supposed to run, but which may not run if your computer isn't on at three or four in the morning. And if you need software that will do the same job as Microsoft Office, try NeoOffice instead. NeoOffice is a port of OpenOffice to Mac OS X, so wave goodbye to the X Window System's ugly fonts."
Time Shift Internet Radio -- Can't listen to your favorite radio program when it's on? There's often an Internet radio version, and with Rogue Amoeba's Audio Hijack Pro or Ambrosia Software's WireTap Pro, you can record your show automatically and listen to it at your leisure on your Mac or iPod. "wdesolar" commented, "To record a stream, for example from NPR, which is playing through iTunes, use Audio Hijack Pro from Rogue Amoeba. Audio Hijack Pro enables you to schedule when a recording should start and end and starts/restarts iTunes, and when the recording is complete, it can transfer the recording to your iTunes library for easy transfer to an iPod. Audio Hijack Pro can record any audio stream predictably and reliably, and beyond that, it's inexpensive." This suggestion started a bit of a firestorm on TidBITS Talk because Audio Hijack Pro can optionally use Unsanity's Application Enhancer (APE) to record audio from programs that were launched before Audio Hijack Pro (the "Instant Hijack" feature). APE has gained a reputation among developers and support people for causing instability, which caused Andrew Laurence to recommend Ambrosia's WireTap Pro instead. However, Audio Hijack Pro users who don't want to use APE simply don't bother with the Instant Hijack feature, avoiding the issue entirely.
Article 9 of 9 in series
The days of worrying about how much software was available for the Mac are long gone, and these days, just trying to keep up with new releases is utterly overwhelmingShow full article
The days of worrying about how much software was available for the Mac are long gone, and these days, just trying to keep up with new releases is utterly overwhelming. That's why we so enjoy being able to present these suggestions from readers - they can help you focus in on some of the best applications. Suggestions from recent years are probably still relevant too, though updates will almost certainly be necessary. If you have additional questions about these suggestions, direct them to TidBITS Talk.
Make a Silly Movie -- Whether you want to give a silly movie as a gift, or give someone else the ability to make silly movies, you might check out the $40 iStopMotion from Boinx. Chik Foo explained it thusly: "I'm a fan of software that further adds value to hardware that we already have. This year, the number of Mac webcams out there must have increased dramatically, since most models of Macs come with a built-in iSight. So after sending each other facial contortions via Photo Booth, try iStopMotion, which allows users to create stop-motion animation resembling that from 'The Nightmare Before Christmas.' It includes onion-skinning and previews. Both are hard to describe, but are useful in the animation-making process. The movies on the site explain it better."
Record Now, Listen at Your Leisure -- Streaming radio is easy to locate on the Internet, but it's harder to find time to listen live. Andy Affleck suggests recording Internet radio in the same way that you'd use a TiVo to record television, using the $16 Audio Hijack or the $32 Audio Hijack Pro from Rogue Amoeba Software. Andy wrote, "There's this wonderful radio show called the Vinyl Cafe, and while you can buy CDs of the show - and I have bought some - the easiest way to follow the show is to listen to it streamed from CBC Radio online. However, I never remember to listen when the show is on. Enter Audio Hijack Pro."
"I cover Audio Hijack Pro extensively in my 'Take Control of Podcasting on the Mac' book and associated podcast because of its utility in recording podcasts - especially Skype, iChat, and Gizmo interviews - but I use it even more for recording favorite radio shows. Once it records, Audio Hijack Pro automatically tags the file and adds it to my iTunes library. I use the Pro version because I keep finding new, interesting uses for it."
Noodle with Music -- For those who like to play with sound digitally, Andy also gave Apple's GarageBand a thumbs up: "GarageBand is another audio tool that I find indispensable. I use it for podcasting and for noodling around at home. I connect a large Casio keyboard, which serves as the family piano, to my Mac via MIDI and create all kinds of mayhem in GarageBand, mostly for my own amusement. A friend of mine, singer/songwriter Robert Burke Warren, uses it professionally to create children's albums (the kind that adults really like listening to as well) under the moniker Uncle Rock, and his latest album, 'Plays Well with Others,' uses GarageBand." GarageBand is free on new Macs and part of Apple's $80 iLife software suite.
Alan Neubert also had a music-making suggestion: "For those looking for basic music notation software, you can't beat Finale Notepad, especially at the price - free."
Give the Gift of Ringtones -- Want to turn your noodling (or any other sound on the Mac) into a ringtone for your cell phone? Mark Hamilton suggested the $32 Fission from Rogue Amoeba Software (you can save if you buy it with, or already own, Audio Hijack Pro). Fission is likely near the top of any Mac-based podcaster's wish list, but you (or your gift recipient) could also - possibly - use it to make ringtones that can then be transferred to a cell phone. Why possibly? You need a USB- or Bluetooth-savvy phone that is capable of accepting free ringtone downloads. They are locked out on most Verizon phones (Wired had a blog post about lock-outs on the Motorola RAZR earlier this year), and you should check a specific phone with a specific carrier before assuming you'll be able to transfer ringtones to it.
Mark noted, "Fission is a great little piece of software. It doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, but what it does - basic lossless editing of sound files and metadata editing - it does very well. There are user-controllable fades at both ends of audio splits, and you can save (through QuickTime) in different audio formats, such as AIFF. The learning curve is pretty much flat. Fission is being pitched, in part, for the ease with which you can turn MP3 and AAC files into ringtones."
Slow Down and Chill Out -- This suggestion has nothing to do with the usual perky advice about remembering to take the time to hang out under the mistletoe, and everything to do with installing software to mess with the hardware inside a MacBook Pro. Casting aside some discussion among the TidBITS staff about whether this would be advisable (our general conclusion: we've heard it works, but it sounds like something you'd disable before calling tech support about a problem with anything), you may know a fellow geek who is truly unhappy about a too-hot MacBook Pro. Tomoharu Nishino explained how to work around the problem without resorting to laptop desks. "A software based approach might be: smcFanControl (free) + CoolBook ($10) = a $10 stocking stuffer."
"smcFanControl allows you to raise the minimum fan speed from Apple's default 1000 rpm. At 3000 rpm my MacBook Pro is still quiet (not noticeable unless you are sitting in a silent room), but about 8-10 degrees C (15-18 degrees F) cooler on average. CoolBook allows you to underclock the maximum CPU speed (in increments all the way down to 1 GHz) and undervolt the CPU. For most daily tasks, I rarely use the 2 GHz CPU at full power anyway, so reduced processor performance as a result of underclocking isn't much of an issue. Undervolting the CPU reduces power consumption (and thus heat dissipation) by reducing the voltage supplied to the CPU. You also get the side benefit of reduced power consumption. With the CPU underclocked to 1 GHz, most ordinary tasks are still quite responsive, and you get an additional 1 hour of battery life."
"You have to find out how far you can lower the voltage without affecting stability (too low and you will get kernel panics) through some trial and error, but once I found a low but stable voltage, the MacBook Pro has been rock-solid stable. The two combined have generally reduced the CPU temperature (as reported by smcFanControl) by 15-20 C, or about 30 F. Now the MacBook Pro runs somewhere in the reasonably comfortable 45-50 C (113-120 F) range, rather than the toasty 60-65 C (140-150 F) range."
Optimize Organization -- A utility that should make using Address Book as a contact-management center more fun is BuddyPop. Mare had this to say about it: "BuddyPop is a tiny background application that you can use to access your address book without opening Address Book. Press a configurable key combination, and a small window pops up. Type some letters and press Return to pop up the best-matching Address Book entry. Click fields in the entry to copy the phone number or email address; send a message with your preferred email application; dial the number (via modem); and perform various other actions, like opening Address Book to edit a entry. BuddyPop also shows caller ID when your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone rings. There is a universal binary version, and it costs only 10 euros (a bit more than $10)."
Protect Passwords -- If organizing passwords has someone on your shopping list in a state of confusion, perhaps password-management software would be welcome. Jochen Wolters recommended Waterfall Software's Wallet as a great choice: "Wallet's elegant interface has the same look and feel as Apple's Address Book, showing a list of groups, the list of entries within the selected group, and the selected entry itself. What makes Wallet special is that, unlike most similar applications, you can create your own groups and freely configure the data fields for entries in each group. For example, the pre-configured credit card group has Type, Number, Security Code, and Expiration Date for each entry, but you could easily add ATM PIN or Emergency Phone Number fields. Additional features include autofilling Web forms in Safari and syncing selected entries with your iPod. Of all the password management applications I know, Wallet is by far the most pleasant to use, and with a price tag of $15, it provides a lot of peace of mind for the buck."
Adam has long used the $20 Web Confidential for keeping track of passwords and other sensitive data, and the favorite of "Take Control of Passwords in Mac OS X" author Joe Kissell is the $30 1Passwd, which integrates nicely into most Web browsers.
Surf Better with Safari -- Any Safari user who is ready to up their power-user rating would likely enjoy Hao Li's $12 Saft. Allen Watson explained, "For the person who spends lots of time surfing the Internet with Safari, Saft is an indispensable plug-in that adds a host of very useful features to Safari, such as saving bookmarks directly into subfolders from the Bookmarks Bar menus (navigate to the folder you want and select Add Bookmark Here); crash protection that restores pages that were open when you crashed; the capability to consolidate open windows into tabs; and so on."
Utilize Utilities -- A handy utility can speed your work or give you a new way to think outside the box about the way your Finder functions. Ryoichi Morita contributed two ideas for giving snazzy gifts in the form of utilities. "I love utility programs. Two of my favorites are Versomatic, which automatically makes a backup copy of your file every time you make a change to it and Path Finder, which is what Apple should have done with Finder." The $50 Versomatic comes from Acertant, and the $35 Path Finder is from Cocoatech.
Give Three Wishes to eBay Devotees -- If that special someone on your list has turned an eBay hobby into a career, help him keep track of everything with AuctionGenie from Luxcentral Enterprises, which costs $50 for a year-long license. Al Woodcock wrote, "I have found eBay auction-management applications for the Mac to be few and far between, and batch insertion virtually unavailable. Just insert your auction information in AuctionGenie's item-by-item records, and you are set to make a fortune. You can also use AuctionGenie with FileMaker Pro 5, which is just what I need. It imports data from my database and with a little work on my part, tailors it for eBay batch insertion. The only drawback is that it does not import from later versions of FileMaker Pro. I hope that will come soon. It is a universal application so it will work at top speed on Intel Macs as well as on others running Mac OS X 10.1 or later."