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Cool shareware for Mac OS X

Bring back your favorite pre-Carbon features.

Mac OS X is a great operating system. And there are some very cool shareware products out there that make it even better.

My absolute favorite is MaxMenus from Proteron. It’s an extremely useful utility that resembles such classic system enhancers for the traditional Mac operating system as Action Menus.

MaxMenus adds flexible menus that are always available in the corners of your screen. They offer easy access to commonly used applications, documents, folders, volumes, preferences, and more. Plus, you can customize MaxMenus to meet your needs.

MaxMenus also offers the ability to link any set of commands on your Mac via a keyboard combination. Just press the key combo while your mouse is over a menu item, and that’s it. You can even assign key combinations to your menus from the MaxMenus preference pane.

The utility is designed to be a nice supplement to the Mac OS X Dock. It’s exactly that. Heck, it even outdoes the Dock in many ways. For example, you can list more applications in a menu than in the Dock because there’s more space. Also, MaxMenus are listed as text and, thus, are alphabetically sorted.

MaxMenus works unobtrusively. It simply places four colored tabs in the four corners of your Mac display. You click on a tab depending on what sort of items you wish to access. The software costs $29.95.

My second-favorite shareware utility for Mac OS X is Default Folder X from St. Clair Software, which also shares some of the traits of Action Files. Default Folder brings to Mac OS X an attribute that Apple should build into its operating system: the ability to rename or trash files from the Open/Save dialog. This is an incredibly useful capability for someone like me who has literally hundreds of files (mostly word-processing documents) on his hard drive.

Default Folder X offers a system enhancement that speeds access to files and folders in Open and Save dialogs. With Default Folder, type the names of files and folders, and they’re correctly selected in the file listing, something OS X doesn’t do correctly yet. The top menu in a file dialog lists the active folder and its enclosing folders, just as it did in Mac OS 9. Apple dropped this feature in OS X, but now you can put it back in. In other words, the top menu in a file dialog lists the active folder and its enclosing folders, as the Mac operating system did back in the day.

Default Folder X lets you rename, delete, and get information on files and folders without leaving the file dialog. It “rebounds” back to the last item that you selected in a folder. This means you can more easily search through the file listing for a particular document.

The utility opens folders for you in the Finder. When you need to do more with a file or folder, Default Folder X can tell the Finder to open the folder shown in an Open or Save dialog. The utility gives you access to windows you have open in the Finder. A popup menu gives you a list of all of the windows open in the Finder. Choosing one from the menu switches the file dialog to that folder. You can also use the utility to jump quickly to recently used and favorite folders. What’s more, you can assign command keys to your favorites to save time.

Default Folder X attaches a toolbar to the right side of the Open and Save dialogs in any Carbon application. The toolbar gives you quick access to various folders and commands. You just click on the buttons to go to your favorite and recently used folders, manage the folders and files shown in the list, and make changes to your settings. You can manage multiple groups of favorites and default folders through the Mac OS X system preferences.

The $34.95 shareware product supports such Mac OS X-native applications as AppleWorks, Office X, Acrobat, Illustrator 10, Internet Explorer, Metrowerks CodeWarrior, Eudora, GraphicConverter, BBEdit, and FileMaker Pro. You can download a demo for a test drive from the product Web site.

MaxMenus and Default Folder X are my must-have add-ons. The following aren’t as essential (not to me, anyway) but they’re either useful or just plain fun.

If you want to tweak Mac OS X in various ways, the folks at Unsanity will make your day with such products as WindowShade X, FruitMenu, Xounds, and Dock Detox.

WindowShade X brings the traditional Mac operating system’s WindowShade functionality to Mac OS X. With WindowShade, when you double-click a window title or try to minimize a window, it will perform an action that’s different from the default Mac OS X behavior (putting the window in the Dock). WindowShade X has three alternative minimize styles: WindowShade, Make Window Transparent, and Hide Application. You can also minimize the window in the Dock if you hold the Control button on your keyboard while minimizing.

FruitMenu customizes and enhances the Apple Menu. For example, you can assign hotkeys to your favorite files and folders, use Recent Items implementation that’s purportedly faster than Apple’s default, see your IP Address in Apple menu, and more.

Xounds brings Appearance Manager sounds back to Mac OS X. It will convert your existing Mac OS 8 or 9 soundsets for use in Mac OS X. Though not all event sounds are being played yet in the current version of Xounds, the folks at Unsanity say they’re working on bringing more of them to future versions of Xounds.

WindowShade, FruitMenu, and Xounds cost $7 each. Unsanity’s Dock Detox is a freebie. Dock Detox eliminates application icon bouncing in the Dock when an application is seeking attention. It also includes a development kit for third-party developers to intercept the Dock icon bounce requests and display visual feedback in their applications. Normally, it’s possible to disable application-launch Dock animations, but not animations when an application wants user attention. Dock Detox helps with this problem.

Another freebie is ASM from shareware developer Frank Vercruesse. It’s built for Mac users who miss Mac OS 9’s application switching menu (hence, ASM). The tool installs a menu of open applications at the right end of the menu bar. It offers a variety of options, including a mode that brings all the windows connected with an application to the front when it becomes active. There’s also one that automatically hides windows representing inactive applications.

Also free (though its makers would certainly love for you to donate to their cause) is Duality from Conundrum Software. This utility does for Mac OS X what a once popular program called Kaleidoscope did for the traditional Mac operating system: It lets you give your Mac a makeover with one click by installing collections of alternative interfaces known as “themes” or “schemes.” Apple doesn’t recommend you do this, though I’ve run into no problems.

Our final freeware utility is TinkerTool, another tool for altering the appearance of Mac OS X. It lets you do such things as return the trashcan back to your desktop, implement translucent terminal windows, have all hidden files and folders displayed in the Finder, control anti-aliasing of fonts, and more. Without using the command line, you can also activate such preference options as: enabling or disabling the Mac OS desktop; disabling the animation effect when opening files; setting the Dock position; selecting the Dock animation effect; and choosing the default fonts in some applications. You can download TinkerTool for free (it’s a 145k file) from Marcel Bresink Software-Systeme.

OK, enough of the freebies. On to some things you’ll have to pay for (although they’re reasonably priced). If you’d like to have more than one clipboard (which is very convenient with such applications as AppleWorks), Script Software’s CopyPaste X makes it possible. A clipboard is the system-level tool that lets you copy an item from one application, then open another and paste it there. The Mac clipboard–in both the traditional Mac operating system and Mac OS X–can only copy one item at a time.

CopyPasteX sports the Clipboard Extender, which lets you see and use 10 clipboards that are accessible via a key command, drag and drop, or menu command. The Clipboard Recorder lets you see and use the last 10 clipboards that were copied to; it also acts a stack and keeps a record of your last 10 copies. The Clipboard Editor allows you to edit any clipboard with styled text. You can open and edit any text file. CopyPaste X’s Fuzzy Find function lets you find words even if you don’t know how to spell ’em.

Also, in CopyPaste X, unlike with the Mac’s built-in clipboard, each clipboard can be remembered through restarts. It costs $20, and you can download it from the Script Software Web site.

PocketDock from Pocket Software is a launcher utility for organizing and launching applications, documents, Web links, and e-mail addresses. It’s designed for those Mac OS X users who find the Dock too crowded and who miss the Launcher. PocketDock supports drag and drop (for adding and customizing links, views, and docks) and multiple skin support (nine skins are currently available).

PocketDock lets you create multiple docks, each with its own look. You can move and copy files with and between the Finder. Lastly, you can have quick access to the utility’s links via the Dock, contextual menu support for links and views, skin version tracking to prevent the use of obsolete skins, and bug fixes.

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