Archive for category Freeware

Widgets are wonderful

In my ongoing quest for free software, I rediscovered the world of widgets on my iMac. (I had tried them for a while on my Windows PC before, but dropped them because of suspected technical problems.) Widgets are tiny programs that do essentially one function. You can put them on the Dashboard (it’s like a screen overlay) like so many fridge magnets–magnets that are connected to the internet. They are often cutely designed as well. Mac OS X comes with a bunch of standard widgets, but there are plenty out there that can be downloaded for free as well. Here’s what I’ve got on my Dashboard so far:

  1. Standard Weather, Clock, Calculator, Sticky Notes and Calendar widgets for all that kind of info (I think they’re self-explanatory).
  2. A bunch of “look up” reference site widgets to quickly access: Google, Internet Movie Database, Wikipedia, or a dictionary/thesaurus, Yellow or white pages, or my own Address Book (the funnest one is logoSearch, which retrieves eps graphic files of any logo from Decepticons to United Nations based on a keyword search).
  3. Movie widgets: I would have loved a widget to give me movie times (but alas the ones out there don’t work for Canada), but I do have one that shows me the top ten movies of the week, and another that automatically connects to the latest online movie trailers
  4. Word of the day – displays a new word (with definition) from dictionary.com each day
  5. iCal Events connects directly with my iCal calendar to list a week’s worth of upcoming events/appointments
  6. POP shows me a number representing how many new email messages I have (this is for POP accounts. There are better widgets for Gmail and other webmail systems). I don’t really rely on it because I don’t find it to be very accurate.
  7. Changesomething widget presents a tip each day from changesomething.org – little things we can do to be healthier and live better

Widgets are definitely an optional part of the system, but they are one of the things that can make computing (especially on a Mac) fun.

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Open Source: An adventure in free apps

As part of my iMac plan, I a) didn’t want anything more to do with Microsoft and b) didn’t really want to pay for software but c) didn’t want to rely on pirated software either (um … not that I ever did … heaven forbid!). So, that left me with two options: for some purposes, I could use the great software that comes with the iMac out of the box (I love the new iTunes, but I’ll save that for a post of its own); and for others, before I got the computer I did a lot of research on the free, open-source programs that are out there for the Mac (here’s a really good, simple web site for that http://www.opensourcemac.org/). So it’s been a week since getting my iMac and I’ve been busy getting all my software set up. Here’s the story:

Web Browser

The very first question is obviously which browser I’m going to use. It’s the gateway to the Internet (where all the other software is going to come from). Apple’s own browser is Safari (which didn’t seem to bad), but I had to replace it almost immediately with Mozilla Firefox for the simple reason that it wasn’t compatible with my email or blog apps (I already mentioned this in a previous post).

E-mail

At first I was happy to use Apple’s Mail application. There was the ability to use filters on incoming messages, it seemed pretty comprehensive, but there were two things that I missed from Outlook XP. Number one: I missed the preview window on the right hand side. At work and at home I had been having the preview windows on the right, so I was used to having the email display nicely in a page-shaped window. Mail (like many email programs) displayed the preview in the bottom half of the screen, so I could only see a few lines at once and I kept having to expand the bottom window at the expense of the inbox listing at the top. Along came Mozilla Thunderbird:

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In addition to having support for the right-frame preview, the folders were organized in a tree structure more like what I was used to with Outlook, more so than Mail was. So that’s app switch #2.

 

Office suite
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So since I have a no-Microsoft policy, I was in a bit of a quandry with regard to Office software. Everyone’s always talking about MS Office for Mac and how it’s very good and just like the Windows version, but I was not convinced. It may be good, but I don’t want to be in Microsoft’s pocket for anything. I decided to try on of the open source office suites and decided to try Neo Office, since it has the more Mac-like appearance. It was easy to install, but I have only used it a few times so far. I have opened Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, and PowerPoint files (not really a full blown presentation) and all seem to come out OK.In reality, my need for an office suite at home is not that much. At work we’re all used to MS Office and we feel like we want to use it at home, but I don’t really need the full power of Excel to track some minor expenses, or the full features of Word to type up a vacation packing list. While Neo Office supposedly has a lot of the features of MS Office, I’m not sure if I’ll ever put that to the test.

Other stuff

I’m still planning to grab a whole bunch of other open-source applications for: personal finance tracking, RSS reading, picture editing (I couldn’t see any way in iPhoto to resize a simple screen cap for this blog!), graphics editing, desktop publishing, possibly music editing (I tried Garage Band yesterday and couldn’t figure out how to get into a music editing mode).

Plus, I’ve fallen in love with Widgets (which I had already used before with Konfabulator on Windows) but I’ll save that for another post as well. There’s still some more work to be done (I haven’t migrated all my old emails over yet) but it’s only been one busy week since I got the Mac. I’ve done pretty well, I think.

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