One of the things I often have to do on my Mac as part of my work is to take screenshots – both as part of producing articles, and to explain via email how to carry out certain tasks in order to assist my private clients.
When I first got my Mac, I was happy to discover that OS X had a built in way to take screenshots, both of the entire screen, and of a subsection of it. It was pleasing to discover that the process for doing so was more intuitive than the Windows way.
Recently though, I have had a need for more functionality when it comes to screenshots, so I had a search for cheap apps to help me. I never expected to find something as fantastic as I did for no money at all.
Enter Skitch, a wonderful free app from the people behind the popular Evernote.
Skitch is a great example of why I love my Mac. It’s one of those programs that’s just so pleasing to use. Activated by a keyboard shortcut, the program instantly produces some crosshairs so I can take an accurate screenshot, and the shot then appears in the program’s interface, where it is super-quick to make annotations and add arrows and circles.
Once done, you simply drag a perforated part of the program window to wherever you want to save the screenshot.
Skitch offers plenty of more advanced features as well, such as the ability to save screenshots online for sharing, and add frames and shadow effects. Best of all, it seems to work seamlessly with the Windows installation that I have running as a virtual machine courtesy of Parallels – making this ideal for me when I need to screenshot a process for clients who still do things the Microsoft way.
I have also ended up using the program for other purposes. As it is so quick to access with Command+Shift+5, I have used it to grab portions of maps from the Web, and even to save a recipe I need to print out, without having to print out a whole Web page.
Skitch is such a perfect app, it’s a wonder that it is free – but like all the best things in life, it is. Download it now!
Just over three months have passed since I purchased my MacBook Pro, and I’ve noticed signs that I may be becoming a bit of an Apple fanboy.
So, what are the signs? Well, first off, my brother-in-law visited last week. He works in IT and is one of life’s technical people. He is also “a PC,” rather than “a Mac.”
I found myself showing him Mac stuff: touchpad gestures, how quickly I can swipe across to access my Windows virtual machine, how cool the Mac App Store is…..
This is strange for me. I have worked with computers for years, and, as such, I am jaded and have a tendency to act like a grumpy geek when it comes to new hardware. I am usually reluctant to talk about computers, after being ground down by having to have the same conversations with clients again and again and again. Suddenly, though, now I have a Mac, I want to talk computers again.
Now, today, I gleaned through Facebook that a good friend of mine is off out to buy a new laptop. I have raved about my Mac to him before. I REALLY want him to tell me he has purchased a Mac when he returns from his shopping expedition.
Now, my MacBook Pro isn’t perfect. As anyone who has read past posts on here will know, I am not a fan of OS X Lion, and I find file management on this computer more awkward than it was under Windows….but…..all of this is cancelled out by the fact that I work every day on a machine that is a joy to use. I don’t think I have every owned something electronic where the honeymoon period has lasted this long.
It’s for that reason that, without realizing it, I have started trying to spread the Apple love to anyone who will listen. So far, I am delighted with this purchase….and that, coming from a very cynical techie, is a pretty good endorsement. Oh dear, I think I’m turning into an Apple fanboy.
Image Credit: viewology
As regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve not been quite as happy with the performance of my MacBook Pro since I installed
OS X Lion, and as a long term Windows user, I have missed the ability to “get under the hood” of my laptop to clear out old files and tweak performance.
The time had come for a good clear out, and coincidentally, I was approached to give the MacKeeper application a go – it couldn’t have come at a better time.
MacKeeper is a utility suite that reminds this long-term geek of suites such as Norton Utilities from “back in the day.” The suite contains a range of cleanup tools, as well as utilities for backup, encryption, file shredding and a range of other bits and bobs. It also links to antivirus (which I am still happy to risk not using on my Mac) and a subscription based antitheft service, which can allow you to trace your Mac if it is stolen, photograph the culprit and bring him to justice!
I’m sure at some point I will have use for these other features, but for now (and for the purposes of this short review), my area of interest was the cleanup tools included in the suite.
After a quick and easy installation, my first port of call was MacKeeper’s “Fast Cleanup” section which scans your Mac for cache files, logs and unused languages to clear drive space, much like the Disc Cleanup utility on Windows machines. This goes much further though, providing a detailed analysis of what can be removed, and fine control of things you may wish to exclude.
I was pleased to find that my initial scan revealed that I had 1GB of disc space that could be easily reclaimed. I also very much liked the right-hand panel, offering beginners an explanation of each feature, as well as links to support, tutorials, manuals and live-chat – giving the app a very modern 2011 style feel!
The duplicates finder within MacKeeper is also a very powerful tool. Powerful perhaps to the point of being dangerous for a novice user. The scan of my Mac revealed 8GB of duplicate files, and my first look at the list was a bit overwhelming. Choosing to delete the older copy of every file could be a recipe for disaster; so instead, I had a manual look through, on the advice of the online product manual.
A quick look through, sorting the list so it began with the largest files, showed me some interesting information. For example, I had an entire folder of large video files in two places, so doing away with one copy quickly freed up several GB. I stopped due to lack of time once I was down to files of less than about 40mb, but I know there is still much more I could do to free additional space space.
I REALLY like the duplicates finder, and will be using it again next time I get short on disk space. This is a very powerful tool though, with potentially disastrous results if it isn’t used with care.
The other cleanup features were useful too. The Disc Usage tool provides a graphical representation of where space is in use on the disc, making it easy to find folders that could be trimmed down. The Wise Uninstaller allows you to easily remove all traces of a program, something I admit to liking because it is a little bit more “Windows-like” for those of us who can’t quite believe every bit of a program has been removed after dragging an icon to the trash!
After working through the great cleanup features of MacKeeper, I proceeded to use Mac OSX’s Disc Utility to reset my permissions and reset the SMC after a reboot. The overall result? A Mac with several GB more hard drive space, which, so far, seems less flaky than it had started to become. That, to me, makes MacKeeper worth every penny. The only problem I still have is that boot up time is still nowhere near as quick as Snow Leopard. Come on Apple; let’s have the .2 revision of Lion please!
After the results I had with MacKeeper I am happy to give it my personal recommendation.
Well, it happened. I downloaded a trial of Office 2011 for Mac.
It’s a shame I had to really, because I had been more than happy to use Pages (in fact I am using Pages right now to type this).
However, one of my writing jobs requires me to never use passive voice in my text, and Microsoft Word’s grammar checker gives me the facility for this to be checked as I go. You see “to be checked” in the previous sentence IS passive voice, but Pages doesn’t care…
I’m a bit disappointed, because I don’t like Office 2011 massively so far. Oddly, when everything in Mac OS X looks more stylish than Windows somehow, the Word ribbon interface manages to look uglier than it does in Windows 7. What an unusual “achievement.”
It also feels a tiny bit sluggish compared to Pages, although this could be down to it being the first day of use – templates saving for the first time etc.
I’m going to stick with it, and will probably end up buying it, if only for the passive voice bit I mentioned above, but when I do it is going to sting a bit that I had to do so for one tiny feature, when I am not even going near 99% of the features I have ended up paying for.
Another interesting thing came out of all of this….I haven’t even bothered to click on my beloved Outlook yet. Part of this is that I’m not sure I can be bothered to wait 24 hours for all of the mail to download from my hosted Exchange account when I don’t know for sure I will be keeping it but, I must admit, a bigger part is that I am quite happy using a combination of Mac Mail, iCal, and the occasional visit to Outlook 2010 in my Windows VM to update task lists. I have less functionality with this combination, but I still have the functionality I ACTUALLY NEED. Funny how things turn out.
More on Office 2011 coming soon when I have time to play a bit more.
I really like the new Mac App Store, which brings the idea of an iPhone-style one stop shop for buying programs onto desktops and laptops running MAC OSX.
Everything is done within the Mac App store – choosing the programs, buying them using an Apple / iTunes account, and installing the apps themselves.
Now, as a self confessed geek, I know very well that it is possible to find little programs to do almost anything using Google and a Windows PC, but the process is far more difficult. You need to check compatibility, read reviews from several sources to check you’re not inadvertently downloading malware, and then download the installer before running it to finally load the software. On the Mac app store, all the information is in one place, and reviews from other users can stop you from wasting time downloading a dud. Even better, the store contains everything from tiny free utilities, to full blown graphics suites and video editing packages.
Along with a few games (reviews of which will be coming soon), and copies of Apple’s Pages and Numbers applications (the MAC OS answers to Word and Excel). I’ve downloaded a little selection of free Apps, which I am going to talk about briefly here:
Facebox Pro is a handy little app which runs in MAC OS X’s top status bar, giving me an instant one click glance at my Facebook, including the newsfeed and my own profile, without having to use a web browser. It’s a great app, but unfortunately I am a little too conditioned to checking Facebook every so often USING the browser, so I tend to forget it’s there.
The same goes for Twitter Inside, which works seamlessly (although it got in a muddle when I connected using a hotel wireless network). All of my Twitter updates instantly are available from an icon at the top of my screen. Now I just need to actually remember to click up there to get to them instead of opening Google Chrome.
Mailtab for Gmail has gone into everyday use more than both of the above. It works in exactly the same way, by giving me access to by Gmail from the Mac status bar. It also shows a little red asterisk and goes “donk” when I have a new message, and has turned out to be really useful. I really dislike using Gmail via IMAP as it is nasty and sluggish, so I haven’t bothered setting up Mac’s Mail or Outlook to interface with it. Also, 75% of my Gmail messages relate to spam comments being posted to my blogs, so most of the time I only want to glance quickly at my Gmail inbox. Mailtab for Gmail gives me exactly what I need…and it was free as well. Highly recommended.
Disk LED may seem a strange one to long term Mac users, but being able to see when your hard disk is busy is something I have always found useful. If your computer freezes, it is handy to know if the machine is busy with disk activity, or if the cause is something else. Disk LED simply gives me a little graphic on my status bar showing how busy the hard drive is. That’s it, plain and simple…..and I wouldn’t want to be without it, as the Mac’s hard disc is beautifully quiet and with no status light. It’s nice to know what’s going on.
QuitsAppsMBI is my other nod back to my Windows days. The OCD side of me likes to clear my virtual desk several times each day, and I have found that on a Mac it is quite hard to work out what is still running, without carefully looking for dots underneath applications on my dock. QuitsAppsMBI gives me a simple drop-down list, and I can quit out of anything I no longer need with one click. I use it all the time, and it helps to keep my machine running quickly, not wasting resources on programs I am not using.
These free apps I have found on the App Store have really helped me to tailor my day-to-day experience of Mac OS. The only danger, I think, is that the plethora of available apps may lead me to overload my MacBook Pro with stuff I forget to use (like the Facebook and Twitter apps mentioned above).
I remember the days before fast Internet connections, when us geeks used to get all of our apps (or applications, as they were called before Apple destroyed the last three syllables), from PC magazine cover discs. I always tried everything, wanting the best value for money from the magazines. It was fun. So is the Mac App Store. More app reviews coming soon.
Last night, I was truly, truly wowed by my new MacBook Pro. As someone who has worked in the IT industry for many years, it can take a lot to impress me. Well, last night, I was truly blown away.
A bit of background. I recently purchased a Traktor Kontrol S4 DJ controller, about which I am sure to write more in the coming weeks.
I have spent many hours mixing tunes and listening to the output on my computer, as we had yet to buy a suitable sound system with an auxiliary input. We live in an apartment, and our musical needs are catered for by a small but perfectly decent sounding Yamaha iPod dock (albeit one sadly lacking an aux input).
Listening to music last night, I said to my wife that it seems a shame that we need a new stereo just to play the tunes we mix via the laptop. My wife suggested looking to see if an adaptor existed which would turn my iPod dock connecter into an auxiliary input, either a jack plug or a twin red and white RCA.
I hadn’t thought of this, and it made my mind go one step further. I must be thinking the Apple way now, as what I thought was: “I wonder if there is an app……”
And there is. In the form of AirPhones. Just two minutes later I had downloaded it to my iPod Touch for a bargain price. I opened the Airphones app and plugged the iPod into my dock. Then, I went to my MacBook Pro and downloaded the server application. Another 30 second job.
I then hit a snag, as it seems AirPhones doesn’t yet work with 64 bit Macs, but I quickly learned that I could boot my MacBook Pro in 32 bit mode by holding down the “3” and “2” keys while I booted up. Two quick points here: I must admit the need to reboot would have annoyed me in Windows as I would have wasted a good while waiting for the system to start up again…so far my MacBook Pro reboots are really quick. Secondly, the geek in me really likes the keyboard shortcut for 32 bit mode…
Anyway. After booting up in 32 bit mode, AirPhones worked and instantly informed me that my iPod touch was on my wireless network and wished to connect. Seconds later, all the sound from my Mac laptop was coming out of my iPod dock in the next room.
How quickly this all happened let me open-mouthed. Quite literally, the time that elapsed from thinking “I wonder if there is an app?” to my sitting mixing tunes completely wirelessly, with the sound being sent over the airwaves to my docked iPod touch at the other end of the room was no more than 5 minutes. This clever little app has saved me the price of a new sound system, and there seems to be no perceptible sense of latency whatsoever.
It’s not perfect. The sound gets crackly if I go and play with the iPod while sound is being sent to it. The quality, although perfectly acceptable, is clearly not going to be the same as it would be with a fixed cable, and the software really needs to be updated for 64 bit mode soon. All in all though, this is a fabulous solution, and one that this cynical geek / part time living room DJ is very happy with indeed.
Well well well. Not sure what to make of this. Due to a bit of a debacle with gaining access to my accountancy software (more on this in my previous post), I ended up ditching the 64 bit Windows 7 virtual machine on my MacBook Pro and reinstalling a 32 bit version.
First off, it installed an awful lot quicker–but, more interestingly, when I ran the Windows Experience Index to confirm the performance, it was dramatically better, particularly for graphics performance. Is Parallels perhaps missing good 64 bit graphics drivers?
The other factor. My previous 64 bit VM was set to use 2GB of RAM and 2 core threads, this one has 1GB and 1 core. I´m not complaining, but this performance improvement doesn’t make that much sense does it?
Rather glad I took the time to switch to the 32 bit Windows 7 now!
I´ve hit my first real snag. One of the programs I needed my Windows 7 virtual machine for is Microsoft Office Accounting 2009, the application I use to manage my accounts and invoicing for my business in the UK.
I know I need to move away from this program at some point, as it is no longer supported, but it does what I need it to do, which is basically just invoicing and credit control, and all my historical information is in there as well as nicely designed invoice and statement templates.
All went smoothly to start with, with the program installing quickly to my Windows VM via Parallels desktop. Sadly after my data appeared to restore I got an error saying “incompatible locale between company database and application. Logon failed.”
Turns out that I really should have checked this out first. Office Accounting 2009 is incompatible with 64 bit Windows 7.There´s no workaround as far as I can see. Should have read the manual!
It´s not the end of the world. I needed to move to another product anyway at some point, and I can´t blame my move to Mac as this would have happened on a new Windows PC anyway as most now come with 64 bit Windows. Of course I could just ditch my 64 bit VM and set up a 32bit one instead, but what I have is working well-and I mean really well. The hours I would spend redoing last night’s work would probably be better spent finding a suitable product to migrate to on the Mac.
I have installed a demo of Billings, which is cheap and looks good, but it only allows me to set up one company, and I really need a separate one for my business here in Portugal. Looks like I´m going to be spending some time redesigning templates and learning a new accounting package. Ho-hum.
I don´t think my new Mac likes me that much this morning–I seem to be asking too much of its 4gb of RAM.
I awoke to all 120gb of my music and media having been copied over and ready to add to my iTunes library. All of the software updates were also ready on my Windows 7 virtual machine.
Continuing yesterday´s theme of making my new machine work hard for its money, I am giving my MacBook Pro plenty to do. As we speak, iTunes is adding all my media to its library and Office 2010 is installing onto my Windows 7 Parallels VM from an install file on an external USB drive. At the same time, I am typing this text into Apple´s Pages App and have Google Chrome, Skype, my new Facebook app, and the Mail application open. The Mail app is still pulling lots of data from the web to populate the folders of my hosted Exchange account.
It´s fair to say the Mac is struggling a bit with this workload, taking up to 10 seconds to switch between Windows. However, it is not unusable despite this I/O load and given that it is running OS X and Windows 7 Ultimate at the same time, I can´t really complain. I hope that once I have finished importing data and installing software that it will settle down to a more consistent speed. I will definitely be increasing my RAM to 8GB in the hope of making a significant difference.
20 minutes later: With the Office install now completed, I have a lot of my speed back, which is reassuring –it seems that having both operating systems running in parallel (see what I did there) is a reality even with just 4GB of RAM. So far, I am rather impressed.