Mac News Review

How to Use Dropbox, Alternatives to Apple's Mac Apps, Web Growing More Bloated, and More

This Week's Apple and Desktop Mac News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2012.01.02

Mac notebook and other portable computing is covered in The 'Book Review. iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in iOS News Review. All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

News & Opinion

Software

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News & Opinion

How to Share Files with Dropbox

Macworld staff editor Serenity Caldwell has posted a new Macworld Video tip explaining how to set up a Dropbox account so you can exchange files of all sizes with your friends and family.

If you're not using Dropbox, why not? I wonder how I ever got along without it, using Dropbox to dynamically and automatically sync files among three production Macs and an iPad. With Dropbox, you store anything you want synced in a Dropbox folder, and the rest is handed automatically, with file edits and additions updated live. (We also use Dropbox to sync files on three production Macs at Low End Mac headquarters. It is so much easier than anything else we've used. dk)

Best of all, Dropbox is free and starts you out with 2 GB of data storage. To sign up, go to dropbox.com, download the Dropbox software (supports iOS and Mac OS X 10.4 on up). Drag the app to your Applications folder, open it, and you're in business.

There are two default Dropbox folders: Photos and Public, the latter which allows you to drop any file into it and receive a URL that you can forward so other people can access and download the folder contents even if they don't have their own Dropbox account.

Dropbox is the quintessence of how the Cloud should work.

Alternatives to Apple's Ho-Hum OS X Apps

Lifehacker's Thorin Klosowski articulates what has been my general impression now for nearly 20 years of Mac usership: I love the Mac OS, but Apple's productivity and utility software, much of it which comes bundled with OS X and is no hardship to have available, tends to be ho-hum mediocre at best. As Thorin observes, while most of these application are at least passable, they typically lack the feature set power users need, being easy to use for beginners, but the second you want to do something more complex or challenging with it, you're out of luck.

Consequently, aside from some utilitarian use of TextEdit, my entire suite of production applications and Web browsers is pretty much third-party - and has been since the beginning.

Lifehacker's editors have compiled a list of their favorite replacements for the usually workable, but generally boring OS X default software, some examples being:

  • Using Enqueue, Songbird or Spotify instead of iTunes
  • Using Chrome or FireFox instead of Safari
  • Using Lyn or Picasa instead of iPhoto
  • Using NeoOffice or Google Docs instead of iWork
  • Using VLC, MPlayerX, or Perian instead of QuickTime

And so forth.

Publisher's note: I would add Camino as a nice alternative to Safari and good old discontinued AppleWorks 6 as a top choice for a productivity suite, with the caveat that it is not compatible with OS X 10.7 Lion. And let's not forget Bean, the freeware OS X word processing program (see info on Bean 3 below).

Of course, if you stop using iTunes, iPhoto, and the like, you won't have automatic sync with your iPhone or iPad.... dk

How to Use Your Mac as a Wireless Router

MacInstruct's Matthew Cone explains how you can turn your Mac into a wireless router for your home or office, a useful capability if you have cable or DSL service but no wireless router. Cone shows how to connect several computers or devices - such as an iPhone or iPad - to the Internet via your Mac's wireless network.

Publisher's note: This can be a great way to repurpose an older Mac. dk

Webpages Gaining Bloat and Sluggishness at an Alarming Rate

Living in an area where power outages are not uncommon, I find myself obliged to revert to dial-up Internet at times, and it seems to get slower than ever, so it's not surprising to have my subjective impression quantified by a BBC report on a study of the Web's top 1,000 sites by the HTTP Archive, finding that the average page is now about 965 KB in size, up a whopping 33% from the same period in 2010 when the average page was a relatively svelte 726 KB.

The article notes that analysis suggests the bloat is attributable to image-heavy layouts, user demand for more interactivity - meaning more JavaScript, as well as background tools used to watch what happens when people visit a site, pointing out that big pages generally take longer to load, which can mean visitors get frustrated and go elsewhere if a page takes too long to appear, and that the need for optimization and page-slimming will become more acute as more and more people browse the Web via mobile devices, with mobile data networks taking us back to dial-up-esque throughput.

Software

Bean 3: A Free Word Processor for OS X

Bean 3PR: Bean 3 is a small, easy-to-use and free rich text editor and lightweight word processor designed to make writing convenient, efficient and comfortable. A bugfix version 3.0.2 is now available.

Lean, fast and uncluttered, Bean starts up quickly, has a live word count, page layout mode, fullscreen mode, regular expression search/replace, multicolumn text, inline graphics, detailed statistics, and much more, and its user interface is easy on the eyes. While MS Word, OpenOffice, etc. try to be all things to all people, sometimes you just want the right tool for the job. That's Bean's niche. For example, Bean doesn't do footnotes or use stylesheets and is only partially compatible with Word's file formats. Also, it allows inline graphics, but not floating graphics.

Bean 3

New in Version 3 are an optional single-window tabbed interface layout, template documents with boilerplate text, a split view, a two-up layout view, freeform headers and footers, plain text editing, and other improvements.

Bean 3

Bean features:

  • live word count
  • make template documents with boilerplate text
  • freeform headers and footers
  • page layout view (optional 2-up)
  • alternate colors option (e.g., white text on blue)
  • split-window editing
  • full screen editing
  • date-stamped backups
  • selection of text by text style, paragraph style, color, etc.
  • find panel allows regular expressions (pattern matching)
  • all of Cocoa's good stuff (dictionary, word completion, etc.)

Bean natively reads and writes these file formats:

  • .rtf format (rich text)
  • .rtfd format (rich text with graphics)
  • .bean format (identical to .rtfd)
  • plain text (Unicode and legacy)
  • .webarchive format (Apple's web archive format)

Bean 3

Bean transparently imports and exports these formats:

  • .doc format (MS Word '97, minus images, margins, and page size)
  • .docx format (Word 2007, minus images and some formatting)
  • .odt format (OpenDocument, minus images, margins, and page size)

Bean can export all of the above formats to these formats:

  • .html (web page format)
  • .pdf
  • .doc compatible (with images intact)

New in Version 3.0.2:

  • Fixed a problem where text fields did not accept digits after ',' used as a decimal.

New in Version 3.0.1:

  • Totally rewritten, with many new features. Requires OS X 10.5+
  • Drag-resize of edit view in draft mode now works (oops).
  • Tabbed editing
  • Ability to resize the width of the draft edit view within its window
  • Plain text editing

System requirements:

  • Bean requires a Mac with a PPC or Intel processor running OS X 10.5 Leopard, 10.6 Snow Leopard, or 10.7 Lion
  • An older version (2.4.5) is still available compatible with OS X Tiger 10.4+

Tex-Edit Plus X 4.9.10 Beta Released

It's not every day that developer Tom Bender releases a new version of what is probably my favorite and most-used Mac productivity application, Tex-Edit Plus, and over the past couple of years updates have been thin on the ground.

Happily, the powerful little styled text editor is so solid that there has been little to be desired, anyway, and it has continued to be my general purpose mainstay text application with no complaints. I rarely find the need to switch to a full-featured word processor. However, OS X 10.7 Lion and the end of Rosetta support for PowerPC code posed some challenges, which Tom has been addressing.

Tom tells me that the latest TE+ 4.9.x betas seem to run fine on both PowerPC and Intel Macs, supporting Mac OS X versions 10.4 through 10.7+. He says he's tried to minimize the formatting loss when moving between PPC and Intel documents (although more complex docs can be ported using RTF, if needed). Tom also notes that the speedup when upgrading from Rosetta-dependent to Intel-native TE+ is surprisingly dramatic for some operations.

I've been using an earlier builds of the TE+ 4.9.x beta since late summer, with very good success, and this new one seems even smoother and quicker. And Tom's right - it's a lot faster than the old Rosetta dependent build.

New in this latest TE+ Version 4.9.10 beta are:

  • Updated Automator actions so they function properly on Mac OS 10.7 Lion
  • Recompiled to allow use of G3 on Mac OS X 10.4
  • Fixed a bug in txt clipping file name
  • Fixed an RTF bug. If a picture-containing RTF document is saved, the pictures are now drawn correctly by other word processors (e.g. Word) (Tom had previously added a scriptable prefs switch to allow use of RTF as default document format. Note that RTF does not support all "normal" document data (sounds, movies, window position, etc.).
  • Fixed a couple of small bugs, including one involving the "uniform styles" AppleScript property.
  • Improved behavior of "save" command, to minimize appearance of the "save as" warning when editing non-native text documents (e.g. html files).

Requirements

  • PPC or Intel
  • Mac OS X 10.4 or later

Tex-Edit Plus is $15 uncrippled shareware

Mini vMac: Emulate Early Macs

PR: The Mini vMac emulator collection allows modern computers to run software made for early Macintosh computers, the computers that Apple sold from 1984 to 1996 based upon Motorola's 680x0 microprocessors. The first member of this collection emulates the Macintosh Plus.

Mini vMac running on Mac OS X
Mini vMac running on Mac OS X.

Mini vMac began in 2001 as a spin off of the program vMac. It was originally intended to be of limited interest, a simpler version to serve as a programmer's introduction to vMac. But vMac hasn't been updated in many years, so Mini vMac may now be considered its continuation.

The Mini in the name means that each emulator in the collection is as small and simple as possible. The meta program and data that generate the emulators (the Mini vMac build system) is rather bigger. Besides the Macintosh Plus, there are also emulations of the Macintosh 128K, 512K, 512Ke, SE, Classic, and SE FDHD. Work is in progress on Macintosh II emulation. There are also numerous other options.

Mini vMac running on Linux
Mini vMac running on Linux.

Mini vMac requires a ROM image file to run, and so can be legally used only by those who own a 680x0 based Macintosh. This leads to the question, if you need to own the real computer to use it, what is the use of the emulator? First, a real Macintosh won't last forever. It is common for the power supply to fail. It is still legal to use the emulation after the real computer breaks. And second, the emulation is more convenient than the real thing. It is much faster (on modern computers) and you can use a better screen, keyboard, and mouse. And it is easier to transfer files between the modern computer and the emulator.

Mini vMac 3.2.3 is now officially released (with no change from the final beta, as usual). The Changes file lists what has changed since Mini vMac 3.1.3.

Versions of Mini vMac are available for Mac OS X on Intel, OS X on PowerPC, OS 9 and earlier on PowerPC, and OS 8 and earlier on 680x0 Macs. Versions are also available for Windows and 32-bit and 64-bit Linux distributions.

Twisted Pair Menu Bar Ethernet Connection Status Menu

xTwisted Pair

Twisted PairPR: Costa Technologies' Twisted Pair 1.0 provides dynamic information about your Ethernet connection. Twisted Pair lives in your status bar, giving you at-a-glance information about your wired network connection, obviating the need to dig three levels deep in System Preferences.

Twisted PairIf you're running Lion, you can enable AirDrop on your wired connection to easily transfer files between Macs on the same network. Twisted Pair also includes commands to turn the interface on and off and to enable or disable Air Drop on the Ethernet connection.

System requirements:

  • Mac OS X 10.6 or later
  • 64-bit processor

$1.99

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