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Ten tiny and amazing Mac apps you've never heard of

The following is a guest post from Tod Maffin, one of Canada's most influential web and technology commentators. Thanks, Tod! -Ed.

Air Video Server (Mac app is free, iPhone/iPad app is $2.99 or free Lite version) This is a great little app that for people who have lots of videos on their computer, but want to watch them on your iPhone, iPod Touch, and an iPad. Previously what I had to do was to convert the videos to MP4 (often a very slow process), import them into iTunes, and tweak the metadata. Only then could I watch the movies I have on my iDevices. That still wasn't a great solution, since those videos then took up space on those devices.

This app is really a tiny file server that runs on the same computer on which your videos are stored. You can point it to any number of directories containing your videos, including attached servers, and it'll stream them live to any of your iDevices. The other great bonus is it'll convert from basically any video format -- on the fly. Brilliant.

[You might have heard of this one -- we covered it on TUAW back in April, along with workalike competitor StreamToMe. –Ed.]

Appfresh (Free) I've always been an early adopter and, probably to my detriment, I always want to try the latest versions of programs. Appfresh will scan your Applications folder and compare your versions with the latest versions. Within a minute, it'll have a list of programs that need updating. You can always pick and choose which to update - it suggests beta versions, so if you're not up to a pre-release version, you can opt to not update that app.

Keep vigilant, though, for big upgrades to paid programs (i.e., from 3.1 to 4.0) -- they may drop a new version that wants you to pay for an upgrade, leaving you to manually find and re-install the old version (if it's still available on the developer's site!). [TUAW post from back in ought-seven.]

Click the link below for the rest of the list.



Caffeine (Free) Several years ago, I was speaking at a conference in the afternoon and I had time to attend the whole day's events. The fellow doing the morning keynote had his notebook up on the stage and he had slipped out the back to make a last minute visit to the restroom. As his computer had been waiting there through a 15-minute coffee break, his screen saver kicked in. This wouldn't have been a problem, except it was one of those photo slideshows of everything in his iPhoto collection. He didn't have much in there, except racy photos of he and his wife! I've never seen a conference organizer run up to the stage so fast to slam the lid down on the notebook.

Caffeine puts an icon in your menu bar that, when activated, prevents your Mac from automatically going to sleep, dimming the screen, or starting screen savers. It's a toggle switch so you just click it again to go back to normal settings. I use this when my MacBook Pro is sitting on stage waiting for me to get up and give a presentation, so I don't suffer a similar fate. [Covered on TUAW here]

Call Recorder (Skype, US$19.95) This is such a great little app, I tell as many people about it as I can. It's a tiny recording window that pops up any time Skype is activated. Whenever you place any kind of Skype call (Skype-to-Skype, Skype-to-phone, or videocall) it records it as a .mov file on your hard disk. You can tell it to not record calls that are fewer than, say 30 seconds long, and it comes with a MOV to MP3 conversion tool. The problem with that tool, though, is it resets the timestamp of the file. Call Recorder really should offer a save-in-MP3-format option.

I now do all my pre-event client calls using Skype. Once the recording is finished, I just save it into that client folder so I can review it whenever I want. (Another nice touch: It can also save automatically to an iTunes playlist.)

[First mentioned here back in July 2006.]

JumpCut (Free) Whenever I re-install my operating system (luckily, this has been a pretty rare necessity since switching from PC to Mac) JumpCut is the first app I reinstall.

JumpCut is a fast, low-memory clipboard alternative. Instead of using Command-V to paste, if you do Shift-Command-V and keep that combination held down, you can use the cursor keys to navigate between the last 99 things you copied to the clipboard. Release the keys and it pastes your selection in place as if it were the last thing you copied.

Another nice, probably accidental, function is if you use the regular Paste, the Mac will paste using the formatting of the originally copied text. If you use the JumpCut Paste, your pasted text will inherit the destination formatting. [JumpCut was one of Giles' favorite apps in 2008.]

JustNotes (DonationWare) CatherineOmega has been talking up the great little web utility SimpleNote. Simplenote replaces the Notes app on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. When you download Simplenote, you get free access to their web app, so you can access your notes from anywhere. Simplenote really is just a simple online database.

While, of course, you can access your notes by logging into the web site, this service really shines when you access it through simple desktop apps like JustNotes. Catherine uses Notational Velocity on her Mac to access her notes, but I prefer the cleaner UI of JustNotes. Both sit in your menu bar. Click it to see your notes, use the simple search function, and any changes are automatically synced back to the web database, so your iDevices are kept in sync as well. My grocery lists moved here when I first started using them and they haven't left.

The Levelator (DonationWare) If you do any audio work - especially when there are uneven levels - you really need Levelator. This program analyzes your audio file and carefully adjusts the volume of all elements so they're more or less the same. This is a process called "normalizing" in the audio business. The Levelator's normalizing is one of the smartest I've seen -- it even slowly starts to fade up a level in advance of low-level portion of audio, so that you don't really notice any background audio changing suddenly. Very clean and simple operation -- just drag your audio file onto the window.

There are two downsides. First, the program only handles uncompressed AIFF and WAV audio files. You'll have to convert any other files, like MP3, to another format before processing, then re-compress after processing, losing a bit of fidelity, depending on how compressed you've set your MP3 compression. Second (and I know this is picky), you can only drag the file onto the window the app creates. You should be able to keep Levelator in your dock then drag files on top of there, have The Levelator open, process the files, then close. Nothing's perfect in life though, right? [We Friday-favorited The Levelator back in March of 2009.]

RescueTime (Free for basic account) In case you've ever caught yourself on a Friday thinking "Man, where on Earth did this week go?!", RescueTime can tell you exactly where it went. This tiny menubar app quietly watches what you do on your computer - which web sites you visit (um...), which programs you run, how much time you take away from the keyboard, and so on. Then, you can pull a report at any time.

What's even more cool is you can set "productivity levels" for each activity or web site. For instance, when I surf tmz.com, it scores that as -2 productivity. When I'm working on my own web site, it scores that as +1. When I'm in Keynote, that's +2 productivity. You can even set targets - very cool when it emails you to say you just achieved four hours of productive time (which, oddly, makes me want to call it a day!).

RSS Menu (Free) Like most avid blog readers, I use a RSS feed aggregator (Google Reader, in my case) to follow my favourite blogs. But there are a handful of blogs that I want to be alerted as soon as they publish. That's what RSS Menu, another menubar app, does. You just give it the RSS feed URL of the blogs you want to track, and it'll check them every few minutes (you control the frequency). If there's new content, it'll alert you via Growl (and optional speech) - click on the notification and it'll take you right to the new post.

RSS Menu is donationware and can integrate with iTunes podcasts and Safari RSS feeds. [First mentioned on TUAW in January of 2006.]

XSlimmer (US$14.95) Back when Apple switched from Motorola processors to Intel processors, all the applications had to switch as well. The way most developers did this was to distribute a "universal binary" which contained the instructions to run on either microprocessor.

It's been years since any Motorola processors were used to run Macs and there's a good chance you're on Intel. (Any Mac bought in the last five years or so runs on an Intel CPU.) But many apps still contain the universal code. Xslimmer basically checks to see which applications still contain the old code and removes it -- recovering disk space (sometimes a significant amount!) in the process.

Xslimmer is very safe. It has a blacklist of programs it knows about which can't handle removal of the old code, and I have never once had a problem with any "neutered" program. [Previously noted here.]

Bonus: Dropbox (Free for basic 2GB box) Dropbox is basically your own personal hard disk on the Internet. When you drag files to the Dropbox folder on your computer (it looks just like any other folder) those files are automatically synced with your Dropbox folder in the cloud. Then, you can access them from any web browser, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, etc. You get 2GB of storage free just for signing up -- if you haven't got an account yet, go sign up!

[Needless to say, Dropbox is a TUAW favorite of long standing -- we mentioned the public beta back in 2008 and haven't stopped yapping about it since.]


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Software

The following is a guest post from Tod Maffin, one of Canada's most influential web and technology commentators. Thanks, Tod! -Ed. Air...