Top Mac OS X Utilities: Restoring Third Party Capabilities
In the first installment of this series on Mac OS X utilities, I looked at utilities that restored capabilities inherent to Mac OS 9 that we had all been accustomed to over the years. For many people though, the full Mac OS 9 experience came not just from Apple, but from a bevy of utility developers who extended Mac OS 9 well beyond the stock configuration. This week I’ll look at a few of the most important utilities that have evolved to bring those capabilities into the world of Mac OS X. We’ve examined many of these utilities in the past; in those cases, consider this compilation a refresher on our previous scattershot coverage.
In an attempt to keep this article relatively short, I’ve held a significant set of utilities for a later article. Utilities like DragThing, LaunchBar, QuicKeys X, Keyboard Maestro, MenuStrip, PiDock, and others certainly count as restoring capabilities offered by third party utilities in Mac OS 9, but when you look deeply at them, you realize that they all basically do the same thing. You can think of them as alternate control mechanisms for operating system functions like displaying and opening files, typing text, restarting the Mac, and more, so I’ll cover them as a group later on.
Finally, a few new utilities have appeared that should have been mentioned last week. I’ll catch up with them at some future point, but in the meantime, check out the TidBITS Talk threads for the latest additions and for utilities that have slipped through my admittedly arbitrary categorizations.
Default Folder X — Apple has never done a good job of making it easy to open and save files, and as Matt Neuburg pointed out in "Apple’s Dirty Little Secret" in TidBITS-601, Mac OS X is in many ways a step back even from Mac OS 9. In earlier versions of the Mac OS, savvy users fixed Apple’s Open and Save dialogs with utilities like Power On Software’s Action Files (the successor to Now Software’s Super Boomerang) and St. Clair Software’s Default Folder. Only Default Folder has made the jump to Mac OS X so far, and in doing so, it has fixed a number of Mac OS X’s Open and Save dialog navigation problems in Carbon (though not yet Cocoa) applications. We wrote about Default Folder X 1.0 when it shipped; it’s well worth it for anyone frustrated by Apple’s clumsy and inconsistent Open and Save dialogs. The just-released Default Folder X 1.1 offers a variety of small feature improvements and bug fixes, including the option of showing free disk space and icons in Default Folder’s menus. Compatibility has been improved with a number of programs, including the heavily used Microsoft Office X. Default Folder X 1.1 is $35 shareware and is a 1.5 MB download.
CopyPaste-X & PTHPasteboard — For most people, Apple’s implementation of the clipboard is sufficient. Select something, choose Copy or Cut, and the selected item replaces whatever was on the clipboard and is ready for pasting. Applications like Nisus Writer and utilities like CopyPaste (reviewed way back in TidBITS-364) cleverly extended the clipboard by making it possible to access multiple clipboards. That functionality has arrived in Mac OS X thanks to CopyPaste-X and PTHPasteboard. Both utilities track recently copied or cut items (20 for PTHPasteboard and between 10 and 200 for CopyPaste-X) and let you paste any one of them into other applications with a keystroke or a click in a palette. Both also save the recently remembered items through restarts, but CopyPaste-X goes beyond this in making these clipboards editable, storing user-defined clipboards permanently for repeated use, and providing full drag & drop to and from the CopyPaste-X palette. If your needs are minimal, PTHPasteboard is probably sufficient, but for a full-fledged multiple clipboard utility, CopyPaste-X is the only way to go. CopyPaste-X is a 1.3 MB download and costs $20 shareware. PTHPasteboard is a 123K download; it’s free, although donations are accepted.
USB Overdrive — Apple ships only single-button mice with Macs, but many people prefer mice or trackballs with buttons, scroll wheels, missile launchers, and so on. Some vendors of these alternate pointing devices have provided Mac OS X drivers (Kensington is a notable example), but for many devices, the only way to bring them into the world of Mac OS X is through Alessandro Levi Montalcini’s USB Overdrive. Currently still in beta for Mac OS X, USB Overdrive lets you program multiple buttons and access scroll wheels, although I suspect he won’t support missile launching. Alessandro is extremely up front about the fact that USB Overdrive is currently a beta, so be sure to read all the release notes and known problems, and send in detailed reports of anything you experience. USB Overdrive beta 4 is a 617K download; it will be shareware when released.
Snapz Pro X — Though the Mac OS has, since time immemorial, offered the capability of capturing an image of the screen, and even though Apple enhanced this screen capture capability to capture just windows a few years back, everyone who’s serious about taking screenshots uses a third party utility. The same truism applies in Mac OS X. There have been numerous such programs over the years, but Ambrosia Software’s Snapz Pro is the screen capture utility of choice for many people, TidBITS staff members included. Snapz Pro X makes it possible to take professional screenshots in Mac OS X; although it isn’t quite as snappy as it was as an extension in Mac OS 9, it’s still the only game in town for screenshots. Snapz Pro X 1.0.2 costs $30 ($50 for Movie Capture); a licensed version also ships for free with most new Macs. The utility is a 13.1 MB download.
Font Reserve & Suitcase — Another area in which the Mac OS has never met the needs of serious users is in font management. With 15 or 20 fonts, it’s not a big deal, but with the hundreds of fonts and font-intensive projects many users have, a font management utility like Suitcase or Font Reserve has always been essential. Matt Neuburg reviewed Font Reserve 3.0 in TidBITS-620; he has a review of Suitcase 10 coming soon. Both utilities help you gather all your fonts from the various different locations Mac OS X stashes them. Then you can group the fonts into sets and activate and deactivate them at will to keep the current set at a manageable size. Font Reserve 3.0 costs $90 with $30 upgrades; Suitcase 10 is $100 with $50 upgrades.