Saturday, March 24, 2007

Lifehacker's Best Mac Apps - Part 2 of 3

If you haven't already, you should start out reading my first post of this series — "Lifehacker's Best Mac Apps - Part 1 of 3".

Picking up where my first post leaves off, let's take a look at Lifehacker's picks for 7-10:
  1. The Unarchiver icon


    Oh how I wish this app was top-ten-worthy.

    VirtueDesktops aims to bring virtual desktop functionality to the Mac. I use Linux at work 8+ hours a day and when I come home to my Mac the one thing I really miss is virtual desktops.

    Hmm. How to explain virtual desktops... Take a look at your computer screen. You've probably got a bunch of windows open. Now think about what tasks you are working on and how all those windows relate to your tasks. For instance, maybe one task is "e-mail", another is "IM", and a third (apparently!) is personal web browsing. So you might have a window showing your inbox, another window for an e-mail you are composing, a third window for your buddy list, maybe two or three IM conversation windows, and, say two web browser windows.

    What if you could group those windows by task, so when you are working on your e-mail, all you see is that inbox window and the composing window? And then you want to switch tasks to personal browsing. So then the browser windows are shown but the e-mail windows get hidden. That's the idea behind virtual desktops.

    At work, I have nine virtual desktops. Desktop #1 usually contains "TODO list" / "issue tracking" type information so I can reference it through out the day. Desktop #6 has my IMs. Desktop #8 has my e-mail & calendar. Desktop #9 is where I keep all my personal browsing should I find myself with 5-10 minutes to kill while some other task is processing. The remainder get filled with whatever tasks happen to crop up throughout the day.

    Unfortunately, VirtueDesktops falls drastically short of the OSX virtual desktop nirvana I'm looking for.

    To start with, it's buggy. And if it crashes (which it does), there's no way to access windows that were on desktops that aren't the currently displayed desktop. (Yikes! - I know!).

    The second issue is that the Mac UI is set up using a very different paradigm than Windows and Linux, which makes virtual desktops difficult to implement. Under OS X, windows already have a "parent" - they belong to their application. So, if I have two Safari windows, it gets complicated to put them on different virtual desktops because which desktop does Safari then belong to? If that doesn't make a lot of sense, read John Gruber's excellent tangential rant which is under the heading "Wildly Tangential Digression on the Idea of Eliminating the Application-Centric Paradigm" on this post of his blog.

    One of the improvements that will be in Mac OS 10.5, "Leopard", will be Spaces which is going to be Apple's answer to virtual desktops. It will be very interesting (to me) to see how they implement this. I think they are going to bind applications to "spaces" (in their demo video they state: "or click any icon in the dock to jump straight to the space where that application is open." That's probably a smart approach, although it's still going to keep me from "OS X virtual desktop nirvana" because I can't have some of my Safari windows containing, say, technical references, open on one "space" and other Safari windows containing, say, personal browsing open in another.

  2. The Unarchiver icon

    The Unarchiver

    This is another selection where I think "I've been getting along without using this just fine...".

    Most of the formats The Unarchiver apparently supports, the Finder's built in "Archive Utility" already supports natively. If you have a .tgz file, for instance, just double click it in the Finder and you're all set. No need for another app.

    The one format this app supports that makes me tempted to move to it is .sit. StuffIt Expander (the default application one would use for .sit files) has turned into a really annoying program to use. For a while it felt like they were releasing updates to it every week and then the program nags you about the updates every time you run it. (It's 2007, if your program is going to have regular updates, is it really that hard to make it update itself instead of nagging me to go download a new version [and making me provide my e-mail address every time]!?)

  3. VLC icon


    Are I indicated in part 1, the VideoLAN Client media player would certainly make my top ten list.

    If you have some sort of video file, chances are it will play in VLC. The effort that's gone into making the program Mac friendly shows too, from the UI to it's support for AppleScript. VLC is a sold app every Mac user should have installed.

  4. iTerm icon


    Another app I wish was worthy of being on the top ten.

    iTerm is a terminal emulation program similar to the built in but with some added bells and whistles, like tabs.

    Like virtual desktops, a tabbed terminal program is something I have on my Linux workstation at work and long for on my Mac. So, towards the hope of having this feature, I've played with iTerm. Unfortunately, a comment on the forums from March '03 continues to be true: "iTerm is slow as hell." (Plenty more people complaining about iTerm's lack of speed over here.)

    As long as iTerm is noticeably slower to me than, I just can't make the switch.

Continue to Part 3...

No comments: