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Alan's Favorite Things

by Alan Zisman (c) 2002
First published in Low End Mac, February 4, 2002

No, not "raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens." But these are a few of my favourite things, at least to spruce up OS X.

Apple is claiming that there are over 2,500 OS X applications. A quick peak at their list shows that lots are shareware or freeware products available for downloading. Here are some that I've found to be keepers:

TinkerTool installs itself as a System Preference and adds a nice set of enhancements if you like to tinker with your user interface. Everything it does could be done from the Terminal command line -- if only you knew how -- but this makes it so much easier. Among many options, you can position the dock, enable a dock shadow effect, and set the minimize effect. As with recent versions of the classic Mac OS, you can set your scroll bar arrow placement and set the system fonts You can turn multimedia CD autoplay on or off. A cute effect is to set transparent Terminal windows. And showing hidden and system files shows all those Unix-geeky files accessible within Terminal but normally hidden by the Finder. Free.

Another System Preference is WindowShade X. It's a nice add-on for fans of the classic OS window shade effect, where double-clicking on a window's title bar collapses the window to just the title bar. This lets you restore that effect under OS X -- and also set the action for the minimize button, and optionally use Control + double-clicking in the title bar to make a window transparent. $7 shareware.

Another little utility from unsanity.com, and this one's free: Shadowkiller is especially handy for users running OS X on underpowered G3s: as the name suggests, it simply lets you turn OS X's window shadows on or off. Turning off the shadows frees a surprising amount of processor power and makes a perkier (if less 3-D) system all around. Free.

Quitling is another System Preference that restores a classic feature that many miss in OS X, in this case, the Application Menu in the right-hand corner of the Menu Bar. Quitling takes the classic Application Menu to the max, letting the user set its appearance and the actions that will take place when icons are clicked in a variety of ways. It can be also be used to AutoKill and AutoStart background processes. $10 shareware.

One of the behind-the-scenes tricks of the classic Mac OS is window buffering. That's why Mac arrow cursors don't flicker the way that the arrow in Windows may seem to. Apple left this feature out of OS X's classic emulation. As a result, classic windows are painted white and slowly update. Classihack is a little utility that turns classic window buffering back on, improving speed and appearance. The program points out "Apple likely left this feature disabled for a reason," but they and I haven't found any problems is turning it back on -- but use at your own risk Free. 
 



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan