Hardware :: Software :: Links :: Hints


I have always liked Apple computers. I learned to program as a little kid on an Apple IIe. Since then, I have had a number of macs, including a Mac SE, Performa 6214, and an iMac G3.

As an early graduation gift to myself, I bought a Dual 2.5GHz G5 Mac with 2GB RAM, 320GB hard disk space and a 23" widescreen LCD display. Apple delayed my order 3 times and I had to wait over 2 months to get it, which was extremely frustrating and made me resolve to never preorder an Apple product again. Then it had a problem with its fancy liquid cooling system so I had to send it back and get a replacement. But now that it is here and working, I love it. It is a beautiful computer that continually impresses me with its speed. As shown to the right, even my cat approves.


As I've started using a mac for my primary computer, I've slowly been finding software that fills various needs I have. This list contains software that I've been really happy with.

  • Fink - One of the best parts of Mac OS X is that it can run open source Linux programs, including X11 apps like xemacs, gimp, octave, and R. Fink manages a large set of applications that have been ported to work under darwin and keeps them in a separate directory on your computer so it doesn't interfere with the Apple maintained system. Fink is a must-have.
  • Desktop Manager - I like the Mac OS X desktop environment and expose is a nice tool to find a specific window, but after using Linux for years, I've found that I can't work effectively without virtual desktops to manage groups of applications. This open source application performs the task beautifully.
  • Quicksilver - An application launcher similar to launchbar that is cheaper, has a beautiful interface, and is amassing an impressive set of plugins to let it access everything from iTunes playlists to a calculator to the command line programs head and tail. It is one of those programs that after using it for a while, you won't realize how you managed without it.
  • Saft - An amazing plugin for Safari that gives you many many missing features, including automatically saving the open set of tabs. Saft is great and is well worth the shareware fee.
  • Synergy - A tiny app that puts iTunes controls in your menu bar, gives you global iTunes keyboard controls, and optionally shows album art when a new song starts. It even downloads the album art itself! I use this with a Griffin PowerMate for the ultimate iTunes experience.
  • iPhotoToGallery - Great iPhoto plugin to export photos from iPhoto to the excellent open source photo web display software gallery. This plugin is what convinced me to move my photo collection into iPhoto.
  • iVideo - One problem with iPhoto is that it cannot handle videos. This reasonably priced program duplicates the iPhoto interface but works with any videos that Quicktime can handle.
    UPDATE: The new version of iPhoto can organize videos too, so even though iVideo has some nicer features, I'm using iPhoto for this task now since I really like having everything in one place.
  • PDF Browser Plugin - Nicely executed pdf plugin to view pdf and ps documents within Safari. They also offer a Word plugin to view the text from Microsoft word documents.
    UPDATE: The new version of Adobe Reader includes a Safari-compatible pdf plugin that includes the ability to search a pdf document, so I am using that now.
  • SSH Agent - A nice little program that allows you to start an ssh-agent for all your terminals so you can ssh/scp to remote machines without typing your password. Plus, it has the cutest icon, as shown to the right.
  • SuperDuper - A simple backup utility that lets you create a bootable copy of a drive. I make a daily mirror of my home directory to protect against disk failure, but I also perform weekly backups of my entire system. This software does this easily and quickly since it only copies what has changed, and knows which mac files should and shouldn't be copied to make a bootable copy. I tried a few other apps to make bootable copies, and I found this one to work the best.
  • Open Terminal Here - A simple AppleScript that adds a button to your finder window to open a terminal at the current finder location.



Focus follows mouse

Although I understand the confusing user interface issues caused by focus follows mouse behavior in a system that uses a command bar attached to the top of the screen instead of the window, I still would like to use focus follows mouse in some cases. For example, one of my virtual desktops contains all of my X11 programs, where focus follows mouse is very natural. To activate focus follows mouse for X11 apps, type in a terminal:
defaults write wm_ffm true
To go back, type:
defaults write delete wm_ffm

You can also get this behavior with the standard Apple Terminal using:
defaults write FocusFollowsMouse -string YES

Better xterm

The default xterm started from Apple's X11 is very basic. One way to add functionality is by setting default command line options. For example, to add a scrollbar, go to X11 -> Applications -> Customize... and replace the command for the terminal with
xterm -sb

A (perhaps better) way to modify your xterm behavior is through the .Xdefaults file. For example, to get a scrollbar (and increase the history length) whenever you start an xterm, put the following in ~/.Xdefaults
xterm*scrollBar: true
xterm*saveLines: 1000

Then run
xrdb ~/.Xdefaults
For more .Xdefaults settings (colors, font size, window width, etc.) type 'man xterm'.

Run X11 apps from Terminal

If you want to run X11 apps from the Apple Terminal, you need to make sure X11 is running and your DISPLAY environment variable is correctly set. If you are running csh or tcsh, you can add this to your .cshrc file:
if (! $?DISPLAY) then
setenv DISPLAY :0.0

Save Safari tabs

I like Apple's Safari browser a lot, but one feature it's lacking is an ability to save the current set of open tabs for the next time you open the browser. Check out this hint on for a set of applescripts that accomplish the task.

UPDATE: I recently discovered Saft, an amazing plugin for Safari that gives you many many missing features, including automatically saving the open set of tabs, so I no longer need the above scripts. Saft is great and well worth the shareware fee.