Wednesday, August 30, 2006

DragThing, you make launching... groovy.

Apple's Dock was made to be simple and useful. Drag mostly anything into it and you can launch it from there. But the Dock has some built-in limitations to keep it simple and therefore not useful in all occasions. Launcher applications are a personal thing. They need to behave the way you want them to behave (Oh, behave!) or you won't use it. You want to customize where they appear, how they look and how they function. Like an earlier application in OS 9 called DragStrip, the application I use in OS X is called DragThing from TLA Systems. It makes my heart sing. It makes launching... groovy.

Ok, so it really doesn't make my heart sing, but it does everything I need it to. For example, it lets me organize my apps in categorized layers for easy access. It has a Process dock and Volume dock that shows my currently launched apps and mounted volumes. I can customize each docks to show icons, backgrounds, colors, titles, 3D effects and shadowing -- separately! It can be launched at boot time, and will re-open previously open docks. It even saves backups of your dock settings. Files, folders, volumes -- plus -- windows, URLs and Clip Board items (cool!) can all be added to DragThing. You can modify Item, Layer and Dock Preferences as well, again, individually. What other utility do you know of that comes with its own paint tools?

And again, it's an elegantly designed Mac application, right down to the animated splash graphic (my personal favorite) and psychedelic About screen (wait for it). When you have an application that you use so much that you can't work normally without, you know you have a winner. DragThing should be the new Apple Dock. Only $29.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Go Bananas!

If you remember my previous posting on FontCard from Unsanity, then you will appreciate this next jewel called FruitMenu. It provides the same functionality in OS X as the Apple Menu Items did in OS 9 – that is, to allow you to add commonly used applications, files, folders and disk volumes to the main Apple menu list for instant access. But wait... You can actually reconstruct your entire Apple and Contextual menus, add and remove items, change font size, show icons, show previews and more – all in your menus. I thought it was worth it just for the Apple Menu links, and the fact that you can access a specific Preference Pane just like the Control Panels in OS 9. And it's only $10. Crike!

From the professional and practical functionality of their products to their slick website and even to the design of their application icons, Unsanity is a true Macintosh software company. Another excellent reason to support them by purchasing their products.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Spotlight: Database Publishing

Mailing lists, company directories, product catalogs — any type of "bulk" information that has a uniform structure — belongs in a database. By structure I mean something that can be broken down into records and fields. For example, a simple database of contact information where a record would be comprised of the fields first name, last name, address, city, state, zip and phone number. Or a catalog record with the fields product name, model number, description, price, photo. You can do amazing things with the data once in the database — all kinds of searches, sorting, reporting, estimating — everything except professional graphic design and layout. That is what tools like QuarkXPress and InDesign are for. What if you could marry the two and be able to publish your data to a layout tool? You can using the concept of database publishing.

Quark and InDesign both support a plugin architecture and there are a few companies that offer database plugins. I use XData from Em Software. They have a great walkthrough that explains the whole process here that can be applied to the Mac or Windows version and that also holds true for both XPress and InDesign.

You aren't limited to print publishing, either. Many web hosting providers support MySQL (UNIX platform) and Access (Windows platform) allowing you to add your data to your web pages. In this fashion, you can maintain the data and avoid having to maintain hundreds, possibly thousands of static HTML pages by generating web pages in response to your users' requests. Take a look at one example I developed for wine distributor Hand Picked Selections. Check out the links Find HPS Wines, the Top 40, and Appellations & Varietals. They are all accessed via PHP queries (in the HTML files) to several MySQL tables. And as in the print version, all you need are a few HTML templates to display the results of the query. To change the look of the pages, you simply change the templates.

TeKno Ziz provides the knowledge and expertise to create print and web projects such as these. Please call when you are considering a project of this nature, and I'll be happy to discuss it with you.

The MacGyver of Graphic Apps

There are advantages for professionals to having a full-featured, robust and extremely complex applications like Photoshop for doing certain kinds of graphic work that require $800, hours of training, and the processing power of MIT's Computer Development Lab. Then, of course, there are the rest of us who get by using graphic apps that do many things really, really well. And inexpensively. And fast. And inexpensively. Who would think that a shareware program costing $30 could rival many of the features of Photoshop? Did I mention it was inexpensive? What else could I be talking about other than Lemke Software's GraphicConverter? So much more than the name implies, GraphicConverter should be your default application for opening, browsing, basic editing and translating of your graphics. For a while, it was even included on new Macs, which shows you how much Apple thought of it.

Feature packed? You bet. Like MacGyver whipping out his trusty Swiss Army knife, you can wield it's amazing graphic puissance (look it up) for Liberty, Justice and the American Way.

  • Universal Binary version for Intel-Macs
  • Imports 190 graphic file formats
  • Exports 79 graphic file formats
  • Image Browser (rotate, email, slideshow, batch conversion, etc.)
  • Batch conversion (format, rename, resize, recolor, etc.)
  • Slide show, slide show to movie feature
  • Easy creation of optimized images for the internet
  • Basic images manipulation
  • Enhanced image manipulation
  • AppleScript support
  • Supports Mac OS 8, 9 and X, optimized for G4 and G5
  • Support of new technologies like the JPEG2000 format
  • Acquire images from scanner or camera
  • Corrects "red-eye"

    Holy feature overload, Batman! About the only bad thing about this application I can think of is its lame icon. Well if it's going to save me $770, I'll take it! You should, too. Go to the website and try it out.