Archive for category Freeware

Qwiki, Hitpad, Zite & Flipboard: The next generation of iPad info apps

In only one short year, the iPad has changed the way we consume internet information. Wikipedia, RSS, Twitter, and other online sources of info and input are not new, but who isn’t sick of scanning through endless streams of text headlines? The iPad provides a great platform for users to get this kind of info in a media-rich way, and the latest batch of apps (all free!) makes that experience even more enjoyable and exciting.

Qwiki is a brand new app which makes interacting with Wikipedia much more lively. While Wikipedia takes the traditional paper-bound encyclopedia and adds not only the mass-authoring dimension, but also the online searchability of the information provided. Qwiki takes a leap forward by making Wikipedia more like a tv/video program. It takes the various images associated with a topic and shifts focus from one image to the next all the while a pleasant computer voice reads out the summary text from the Wikipedia entry itself. For most of us raised on TV and other kinds of active media, this is a lot more engaging than having to read each entry for ourselves. It even makes me want to browse around Wikipedia even more than before. For those who are interested in more detail, there are links to the actual Wikipedia page as well as other relevant sources at the end of the readout, so people can click to open those within the browser.

Hitpad a slickly-designed aggregator of info from a few different sources. Across the screen it displays columns for News, Twitter, Videos, Web and Photos. Each column pulls from various sources to collect different types of info and media about the topic in question. On the left there is a trending topics bar which allows users to discover topics which are popular on the internet at the time (according to Hitpad, anyway). Once you click on one of those topics, the columns all repaint with info and media relevant to the topic you’ve selected. While the trending topics are mildly interesting, I often prefer to look up other topics, so the search bar allows me to enter my own. Hitpad will pull together info and media from across the internet for topics that I query as well. So far I don’t find Hitpad as useful as the other apps simply because the limited number of topics (or the additional steps required to enter my own topics) make it slower to get info that is of interest to me. However, Hitpad brings back all kinds of media results which the other apps don’t, and the interface is extremely well made and fun to use.

Zite and Flipboard are similar apps that aggregate from your RSS feeds (specifically whatever you’ve subscribed to using Google Reader). Both apps use the iPad’s touch interface to allow you to swipe the screen to flip pages and tap on articles arranged in grids in order to read more. They both take images and fill the grid with them in order to increase visual appeal, and they both make use of the folders you’ve set up in Google Reader to organize feeds by topics. The one main difference is that Zite will also seed articles from other feeds that you haven’t subscribed to or selected (which got them in a bit of trouble from some publishers of those feeds/sites). Nevertheless, this feature is both a plus and a minus in my books for using Zite over Flipboard. When I run out of new posts on Flipboard, I’ll probably fire up Zite to find more posts to read. However, I prefer Flipboard on a regular basis because it’s less cluttered by feeds that I didn’t actually subscribe to. (I know it’s a bit of Catch-22, but that’s how I feel, OK?) Regardless, both are very nice to use and make reading RSS feeds much more of a pleasure than NetNewsWire and other similar apps ever did.

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My Favourite Free iPod/iPhone apps

When you get to the point of having many screens of iPod/iPhone apps (I’ve got eight pages going right now), you really know the important ones because they’re the ones on your homepage. They’re the ones that you use on a regular basis, maybe even day-to-day. Surprisingly for me, most of these are actually free on the App store. They’re not all new or recent, but they are definitely my go-to apps. Here are a few of my favorites:

ShapeWriterWriting Pad a.k.a. ShapeWriter

Surprisingly I think my favorite free app is one that does something that the iPod already does out of the box — type notes and e-mails. The twist with ShapeWriter is that you move your finger around the keypad to spell out your word. For me this is much better and more efficient than the tapping of the virtual keypad on the native iPod mail or note app. It’s actually even kind of fun. Sometimes there is a possibility of multiple words so ShapeWriter gives you a few choices to select from. When you’re done typing, or rather sliding, words you can either save the note or you can export it as an e-mail to the Mail application (which is a weird kind of loophole in the “No cut and paste” problem with iPhone/iPods, anyway). I find this very handy and I use it for all my typing on the iPod where possible.

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Weather Eye

This one is just a replacement for your standard Weather app that comes with the iPod. It comes from the Canadian Weather Network and I think it looks better and has more information than the standard Weather app. I don’t know if it covers all of the US cities or other cities around the world, but does a good job with Canada. It’s free, so you can compare it for yourself.

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Check Please

People make fun of tip calculator programs as if they were the losers of the App store. While I wouldn’t pay serious money for them, since this one is free I find it actually very useful. Sure, you could just use your Calculator app to figure out the amount of tip and how much each person at your table owes, but this one does it all for you in a nice-looking, easy-to-use package. I’ve tried a couple of other free tip calculators, but I think this one is the best. There’s a banner ad loaded (actually a few of these free apps have banner ads) but you can still use it if you don’t have an Internet connection, and I don’t think it too distracting.

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Flixster Movies

I’ve tried a number of different movie apps (the kind that give you listings and showtimes), even some that I’ve paid for, and I’ll probably do a comparison post of all of them at some point. The one on my homepage comes from Flixster (the movie-rating social networking site), and you have to actually be connected to the Internet to look at your information (which is a negative) but otherwise I find this one to be the best of them all. Not only is the information very accurate, you can set your favorite theaters, you have Rotten Tomatoes of Flixster ratings, and you can see recent or upcoming DVD releases as well. I think it’s the best designed movie app by far, what it really needs for its next update is an off-line mode for us iPod users.

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NetNewsWire

NetNewsWire is already one of the more popular RSS reader applications on the Mac, and it was one of the first to come out on the iPod as well. You need to set up an online account, where you register all your RSS feeds, but after that it does a very good job of updating and downloading all the latest headlines and even caches parts or all of the articles for off-line reading. It’s easy to use and I find it great for taking my RSS reading onto the subway.

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Instapaper

It may not look like much, but this app is very useful if you browse the web and find a lot of things that you want to read but just don’t have time. Coupled with a web bookmarklet for your browser, you just click on the Read Later link in your toolbar and Instapaper saves the page for off-line reading later. You don’t get any of the graphics or other bells and whistles, so if it’s a lot of fancy pages that you tend to go to, this might not work for you. But if it’s just posts and other kinds of text information, then this is great for saving articles. Just sync-and-go to take those pages with you anywhere. It’s the perfect companion to NetNewsWire.

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Alvin Meets Tivo

tivo.jpgThis blog is normally about switching to Mac, but I needed a place to talk about my experience switching to Tivo, so I figure this is as good a place as I can find (there will be Mac stuff mentioned as well). If you’re reading this thinking, “Switching to Tivo? Does your Tivo have a time-travel feature to take me back to when that was actually something worth reading about?” Well, cut me some slack (you must be living in the U.S., the Land of Media Plenty). In Canada, we’ve only had Tivo officially available for a couple of months. (Many have been using Tivos purchased independently for years.) Now we have official Tivo service in Canada along with the Tivo Series 2 boxes on sale. I hadn’t found much feedback on the web from Canadians who had actually purchased one of these boxes and were using it with one of the local TV services (I use Rogers Cable) so I wanted to put my experiences out there.

As most of you probably know, Tivo is a popular brand of digital video recorder, used for pausing and recording TV programs. Tivo is known for its user-friendly interface and super-handy recording features. I’ve been using the Rogers Personal Video Recorder (made by Scientific Atlanta) since they first started offering it more than 5 years ago. At best, the Rogers box does an acceptable job, but I’ve always longed for the fabled ease-of-use that a Tivo brings. Before I continue, I need to make the obvious caveat that the Series 2 box which is now selling in Canada does not support high definition recordings. From what I’ve read, there are incompatibilities between the Tivo Series 3 box and the delivery devices for HD programming here in Canada. Boo-hoo for all you HD fans out there.

First Impressions

There are very clear setup instructions (in the form of a poster with connection diagrams) and two bags of cables clearly labelled A and B. I’m pretty experienced with home audio/video equipment, but the instructions made it very simple (even including connecting the ethernet cable to allow my Tivo to access to my home computer network). In a snap I was ready to go and there was an on-screen guide to take me the rest of the way. (Oh, I forgot to mention, that before I got going with the on-screen setup, I followed the instructions to activate my Tivo service — which you need to pay for — at tivo.com/canada first. That part was a little odd. Be sure to click the link for Canadian subscribers because a pop-up window shows you how to fill out the form if you have a non-U.S. address.)

So once I got up and running it was very nice to use. The interface was as slick as promised. Lots of soft little chimes and fun graphics. This was a far cry from my Rogers experience with its clunky and primitive interface. The show listings were very easy to navigate and since Tivo uses a semi-transparent overlay on top of the TV image, I could see a lot more information at once. Scrolling was quick and smooth (Rogers is slow and very stilted. Often if you hold down the arrow button you end up going past where you want to get to and then you have to navigate back — whaddapain!) The one oddity I have found with the Tivo listings so far is that it’s not very easy to switch from one day to another. It’s a few clicks down some not-quite-logical submenus to change the date on the listings. There’s got to be a quicker way.tivo2.jpg

Recording stuff

The one big drawback that I was anticipating from what I’d read was that Tivo was not going to be able to decode the digital cable signal directly. I have standard definition digital cable with Rogers, which means that I have a box which changes digital channels for me. When I used to use a VCR, I had to keep it on channel 3 and make sure that when I set a timer to record a show, the VCR would record channel 3 and the digital cable box would change itself to whatever channel the actual show was on. The same kind of thing happens with Tivo. The machine comes with a set of little sticks that you put around the digital cable box and these IR blasters send infrared signals to the digital box as if it were your remote control, changing the channel for you when it’s time to record a show. This was not a problem that I had with the Rogers box. The digital cable tuner was integrated with the recorder, so I could record any channel at any time and the machine would change the channel itself.

Thankfully, Tivo is able to take care of the channel changing for the analog (i.e. non-digital) channels which appear in the lower numbers (up to 72) but the quality is not digital, so the picture is definitely inferior. Because the Tivo Series 2 is a dual-tuner machine, it can record two shows at the same time. However, you can only record one digital signal because your digital cable box can only be showing one channel at a time. Also, if you’re watching TV on a high-numbered channel, Tivo warns you that it needs to change the channel for a recording (if that recording is on a digital channel). All that being said, Tivo does a really good job of making things as painless as possible. You don’t have to worry about which channels are digital and which ones aren’t. You can just let Tivo do its thing for the most part.

Tivo meets Mac

One of the most exciting aspects of the Tivo experience for me was going to be TivoToGo. That’s the feature that allows you to transfer your recorded shows to your computer and from there to your portable media (i.e. DVDs) or devices (i.e. iPods). The catch, however, was that it wasn’t going to be as simple as just copying a file off of the Tivo. Tivo offers some free software, but for the Mac, the TivoDesktop software only allows your Tivo to show photos from your computer on the TV and play your music (from iTunes). While that in itself is a pretty cool set of features, it’s still missing that major video piece. The Tivo downloading feature is (for some reason) packaged within another company’s CD/DVD burning software called Roxio Toast, which costs about $100 (or their smaller program Popcorn, which is about $50). Tivo offers a more complete TivoDesktop application for Windows users (which I tried to run within Parallels on my Mac, but couldn’t quite get it to work). Along comes the open-source community to the rescue: a free program called Galleon (after a few trials at getting the settings right) allows me to download the shows off of my Tivo and allows my Tivo to see the videos on my iMac (make sure you convert video files to mpeg2 if you want to transfer them back to the Tivo). Another little program called Tivo File Decoder allows me to strip away the stuff around the Tivo video files (.tivo) so that other video conversion programs can convert them to a normal format for me to use. Yay! I am now able to truly take Tivo To Go.

I’m really enjoying the Tivo (I’ve only had it for 4 days), and I don’t mind the sacrifice in video quality or the whole IR blaster inconvenience (though I’d still love it if they could integrate digital cable decoding in the Tivo box). I especially love the great interface and the back and forth communication between my computer and the Tivo. Also, compared to my Rogers PVR, it is the difference between something you have to use to something you actually enjoy using. If you’re thinking of getting into the world of Tivo, you’re in for some fun.

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Suping up your iTunes experience

This all started when I was walking down the street with my iPod in “Shuffle Songs” mode. I was totally groovin’ and then suddenly a slow song came on and tanked my momentum. Yes, I know I could’ve just skipped to the next track, but it was kind of a bummer and I thought that there must be a way to make a playlist of only faster songs. There’s a BPM (beats per minute) info field on all my music tracks, but alas none of them have the info filled in. So I turn to the internet for more free software to help me supe up my iTunes/iPod experience.

bpmscreenshot_1.jpgiTunes-BPM Inspector (and Tangerine)

The solution I found for adding BPM information is called iTunes-BPM Inspector. It’s not a new program, but it’s good. A floating window appears with a button that you click while playing a song in iTunes. As you press the button to the beat, the program tells you the BPM of your clicking. Once you reach the correct number (the number turns blue), simply hit Set and iTunes-BPM Inspector will drop it straight into your track’s meta-information. It’s really very easy and iTunes-BPM Inspector even has a little graphic that switches and two little lights that toggle to the beat so you can test that you’ve got the number right. Once all the tracks have their BPM info, it’s a snap to create a smart playlist for tracks that have a certain BPM and up — pure uninterrupted strutting can commence! (By the way, it may seem like a lot of work to do this for each track, but it actually becomes kind of fun. There’s no easier way to get into a song than to tap the mouse to its rhythm.) There’s also a cool program called Tangerine which does all the BPM analysis for you (at a zippy 3 songs per second), but you have to pay $25 for it. For those of you without the time or inclination to do it all manually Tangerine’s an incredibly painless way to go (you might want to check out the free trial).

While we’re on the iTunes topic, I thought I would mention a few other little add-ons that I like to use.

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Sing that iTune!

If you are interested in lyrics, this free little Dashboard widget will grab them for you every time you play a track in iTunes. (It’s a bit of a trick because you have to switch on your Dashboard for it to do the lyric search, but that’s not too tough.) You can follow along with the song as it plays, or the widget also includes the option to write the lyrics to the audio track each time it finds them so you can take them with you on your iPod.
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Amazon Album Art

For those of us fond of album art (especially for using with Cover Flow, where we just can’t tolerate the generic clear square that appears when we don’t have album art for a track), this widget is perfect. Whenever you encounter a track that just doesn’t seem to retrieve any album art using the handy dandy right-click in iTunes (like Madonna’s Grammy-winning album, Ray of Light), just click on this widget and it will go to Amazon.com to retrieve all the different covers that it finds. Click the bar to set the album art in iTunes and voila!

Gimme Some Tune

This is another free program which you can set to run whenever iTunes is on. It will display a semi-transparent window at the bottom of your screen with the track info and album art. If you turn on a setting, it will get song lyrics for you as well. There are many other settings that you can customize to your own style (for example, one option will make the window vanish whenever the mouse pointer runs into it.)

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Bottom line is that while iTunes is a great program to use for your many music needs, there are a number of add-ons to make things even better.

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Widget Watch

One of my favourite part of OS X is the Dashboard. There are always lots of cool, useful widgets for all kinds of convenient purposes. If F12 isn’t becoming one the most worn out keys on your keyboard, you’re really missing out on some great, free stuff.
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iStat Pro

This is one of the best widgets available. It’s not new, but an updated version just came out recently. Basically IStat Pro displays all kinds of useful statistical info about your computer, including CPU usage, memory usage, disk space, system uptime, system temperatures, etc. There’s also information about your network/IP addresses and running application processes (both not pictured above). Even if I don’t quite understand all the more technical info, it’s still great for keep an eye on how your computer’s running. It’s very customizable and displays in a tall or wide configuration and various colour schemes. It all looks quite sleek.

screenshot_2-2.jpgTV Forecast

For TV fanatics like myself, this widget is the answer for finding out when new episodes of my favourite shows will be on, what their episode titles will be, etc. It’s linked into TV.com (the most comprehensive site for info about TV shows). If you click on the name of the show or episode in the widget display, your browser opens up to the corresponding detailed info. It’s as simple as picking your shows and letting the widget do the rest to keep you up to date.

Photo Drop

It’s hard to believe that they could fit a picture editor into a widget, but they have. Granted, you won’t be airbrushing out wrinkles with this tool, but for resizing and cropping pictures without opening a full blown application, this is a really awesome widget. Included are a few special effects, including reflection, shadow, and even pushpin (an image of a pushpin is added to your photo to make it look like it’s pinned to a bulletin board) just for fun. The interface is a bit tricky to get used to, since there isn’t the tool palette that these kinds of applications usually have, but once you learn it, this will become an invaluable tool for quick picture editing.

screenshot_1-2.jpgBackpack

Part of an online service, the Backpack widget allows you to access lists and other pages that you’ve created as part of that service. It’s a subscription service that you need to join, but they offer a free level as well (which is what I’m on). They only allow about half a dozen pages at the free level, but it’s enough for me to use. It allows you to access this information simply and easily from any web browser. The full blown service is full of features for creating some pretty fancy pages, but for me I just create lists of movies I want to see, or things I want to buy, etc. I can add or check off items from all my lists using the widget, and if I click the backpack icon to open the browser, I can reorganize and manipulate my lists as well. Backpack is a great tool for keeping all your little snippets of information stored in one easy-to-access web location.

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Six months with Mac

Do I still believe the hype?

As they say, time flies when you’re having fun. On one hand it’s hard to believe that I have had my iMac now for over 6 months. On the other, it’s hard for me to think of myself back in the days of Windows [he shudders as he types]. (I warn you that I might come across as a bit of a Mac fanboy in this post. However, I realize that most of my previous posts have been preaching to the choir of fellow Mac users, but now I’m going to try to speak to the unconverted, but even so I’ll be singing Mac’s praises. If that’s too much you can skip to the end where I talk about what I miss from Windows, but you’ll be disappointed.)

Am I able to find the right software?

Along with my switch to Mac, I also made the choice not to use any pirated software. I was concerned about that at first because I know folks who have switched to Mac and back (to Windows) when they couldn’t find compatible software. I’m happy to report that not only am I doing fine on the software front, but it’s actually part of the fun. No question about it, there is far more Windows XP software out there than there is Mac OS X. However, when I started this Mac adventure, part of the exercise was to narrow things down to what I really needed to use. We’re not talking about cutting to bare bones, but did I really need five different programs for audio editing, or a million different web chat clients? Just in case, there’s always virtualization, i.e. software that lets you run Windows on a Mac system. Six months in, I still have not found any software that I’m missing so much that requires me to get virtualization software such as Parallels. I’ve found that there is plenty of great Mac software out there.

One of the fun things about Mac software is the world of freeware and shareware. I never really got into that when I was using Windows, but now I have been regularly monitoring sites such as MacUpdate and VersionTracker to find out what the latest program releases are. Mac free/shareware developers seem to follow the Apple philosophy of making the computer experience as fun and easy to use as it is functional. One case in point is a disc-burning utilty called Disco. It’s famous among Mac fans for its graphics of smoke or fire while a disc is being burned, but besides those gimmicks it has a very simple, sleek, drag-and-drop interface that makes it super-simple to use (sorry, it’s not free, but it’s not too pricey either). Also, my previous posts have mentioned Widgets (little programs that run on the Mac Dashboard) and other efficiency applications that are usually free. As far as major software, MS Office is available for the Mac, but I have not yet purchased it (because I’m kind of off Microsoft these days), but I’ve downloaded a free alternative office suite called NeoOffice, which is pretty powerful and good to use. I don’t need to do huge reports or major spreadsheets at home so this program is more than enough, and I’ve saved a few hundred bucks. I use Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird for my browser and email needs, and I also have a whole list of great free (and very inexpensive) software that I use for everything from: managing fonts, editing audio, editing images/photos, cataloging media, checking TV listings, screen captures, burning discs, converting video, playing streaming media, designing web pages, not to mention system utilities for tagging, searching, clipping, and accessing files, and making all kinds of improvements to the system. Also the iMac came with so much stuff out-of-the-box that many of my needs were met. iDVD is great for making cool DVDs (though it doesn’t let you make custom menus), iCal is a very effective calendar program that will remind you of appointments even when it’s not running, and I haven’t even really tried some of the other programs like music editor GarageBand.

Is it truly better to use than Windows?

Mac OS X is definitely easier than Windows for several reasons. For me, the coolest thing is installing applications. Too often in Windows I used to go through the steps (usually there was an installation wizard) and hundreds of little files would be installed God-knows-where throughout my computer. For Macs, I just double-click the installer icon, and when the folder (actually called a disk image) is mounted, drag the new program icon into my Applications folder. The end. To uninstall, just delete the icon from the Applications folder. It’s that easy! That is one of my favourite aspects of Mac. Plus, if I move the application icon to a different subfolder or something, it still works!

File management is pretty much the same as Windows. I drag icons here and there. However, the built in file finder application (called Spotlight) is very good at finding stuff when you don’t know where you’ve put it. Some people don’t like Spotlight, but I think it runs rings around the silly dog that searches files in Windows.

The other thing that’s great in Mac OS X is that programs run independently. OK, I don’t know much about the tech, so I don’t actually know what the programs are doing. However, what I do know is that when a program freezes (yes, it does happen even on Macs), I can right click on the icon and choose Force Quit. The program shuts down and I don’t have to restart the system or anything like that (plus the rest of the system seemed uninterrupted). It’s similar to ctrl-alt-delete on Windows, but far less intrusive.

Are there really no viruses?

I keep an ear out for that stuff. Viruses really suck and they have caused me grief in the past. So far there still don’t seem to be any. No one bothers to write them. Recently there was a contest to hack into a MacBook and someone won it, and before that there was a project where hackers were challenged to present a month of Mac bugs. The great thing is that Apple patches those bugs pretty quickly when found. Even though someone hacked into the MacBook, I’m still not worried. FYI, I don’t run any anti-virus on my iMac. For a viro-phobe like myself, that’s saying a lot.

Do I miss Windows?

Not really. I still use Windows at work, so it’s not like it’s far from my mind. However, I miss certain things that are common complaints of Mac switchers (but they’re really minor). I’ve said these gripes before in other posts, but who doesn’t like to re-complain, eh?

Gripe one: On Mac windows there is a little green button at the top of the screen that is supposed to be like Maximize in Windows. It doesn’t work very well. I don’t know how it decides, but most of the time, the window expands to some arbitrary size, but it’s not the full screen.

Gripe two: Closing an window does not mean closing a program. Often after you’ve clicked the red button to close a window, the program is still running. I think this is kind of pointless. It’s not like programs need so much time to boot up that you want to keep it running in case you need to use it quickly for another file. As a memory freak, I don’t like wasting memory on pointlessly running programs.

Gripe three: I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Windows Explorer. I like having a tree structure on the left and file listing on the right. Mac OS X Finder has various different displays of files (one which displays panels of subdirectories) but none of them are very good to use, especially when moving files from one folder to the next. With all the file indexing and searching tools available for OS X, maybe I’m not supposed to get hung up on folders and old-style file management, but I just like to keep things organized that way.

Any regrets?

Not at all. I love my iMac (though there are rumours of a new model coming soon. I guess that speaks to Apple’s ongoing innovativeness, but it’s sad when your computer is not the latest thing), and I encourage everyone, especially home users and people who don’t like to deal with a lot of headaches, to consider taking the plunge with a Mac.

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More Mac Apps

I want to talk about some software that I’ve picked up. I haven’t had too much time to become an expert in all of it, but here goes:

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Quicken 2007 for Mac
You know that I’ve been trying to not pay for software, and it seemed most appropriate not to pay for personal finance software. I tried every program I could get my hands on, from the cute but useless Cha-ching, to Moneydance to Checkbook to Money (not Microsoft) to Cashbox and so on. I tested them by trying to record transactions and assign categories to them; and I also tried to import my transactions from Scotiabank online. Most of the programs just didn’t have much functionality. They couldn’t really do anything and it was difficult to keep things straight (i.e. It was hard to tell one account from another, it was difficult to put categories to transactions, and there was hardly any reporting feature available.) I remembered using Quicken on my first Dell and though I had gone over to MS Money (that was before I hated MS), I remembered that Quicken was pretty good. I looked at the web site for Quicken and it felt like they (like everyone else in the business arena) put a low priority on Macs. In fact, the Quicken.ca web site clearly indicated that if you wanted Mac software, you had to buy it from the US web site. Short story long, I got it and it’s pretty good. It has way more features than any other finance software I tried, and even though it seems to recognize Scotiabank, I haven’t yet gotten it to directly connect (however, it is really easy for me to download my transactions into Quicken and reconcile and categorize them all).The winning feature, hands-down, though is the dashboard widget. The widget allows me to enter transactions directly from the dashboard, so I don’t have to open Quicken every time. This was a bit of a problem for me before because I would start to lose track because I didn’t keep updating my information in Quicken. This makes it so much easier (and you know how I likes me widgets!)

More Widgets
On that note, here are a few that I recently found that are fun and cool.

singthatitune.pngSing-that-iTune downloads lyrics to songs for you as you listen to the song in iTunes. I don’t always sing along, but it’s a fun thing to have. It even puts the lyrics into the music file for you so you can read them any time.

Xcuts is a keyboard shortcut reference that is always there to provide handy quick key combos to do everything you can on Mac OS X. It’s really useful, especially when you’re still new like me and want to use the keyboard shortcuts. Who else is going to teach you?

 

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Quote Conjurer is just something fun for the Potter geek (like myself). It gives you a new quote each day from the Harry Potter canon. Plus, it’s got awesome Disney-style drawings of the characters we know and love. It makes me smile.

todos.pngTodos

Another program I love (and this one’s free) is called Todos. It is just an easy way to get at all your applications. You tell the program to scan your applications and when you activate the program (using a quick key combination like ctrl+option+command+space, then the screen pops up with all your application icons in one window where you can click them to activate. I love it because I don’t have to hunt through my applications folder anymore. They’re all at my fingertips. Cool!

Zuma
Finally, I wanted to recommend a highly addictive game from the makers of the highly addictive game, Bejewelled. It’s called Zuma and the basic premise is that you are at the centre of the screen, shooting coloured balls at the line of coloured balls snaking around you towards the hole (Hole bad!). When you get three balls of the same colour in a row, they disappear and the when the gap closes, you could get a cascade reaction of coloured balls vanishing. Once in a while you get special balls that do things like move everything backward, explode or pause. It’s a really fun game. Windows users can play it free online via PopCap Games), but I could only play the demo. When I found myself playing the demo until 3am (since I knew that once I stopped, I couldn’t get back in). I decided to pay for a licence (something generally unheard of from me). Try Zuma!

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