Archive for June, 2008

Six great uses for the Web Clip widget

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

If you use Mac OS X Leopard, you’re probably aware of the Web Clip widget. This is a new type of widget that lets you display part of any Web page right on your Dashboard. To use it, simply visit a Web page in Safari, then click the Web Clip button in the toolbar:

Drag the mouse around to highlight the area of the page you want to capture, then click. You can then fine-tune the area with the resize handles, and click the Add button in the top right (or simply press Return) to create the widget. Now, whenever you switch to your Dashboard, you’ll see that area of your chosen Web page right there in the widget.

If and when the Web page is updated, the widget updates too. This makes Web Clip very useful for any Web page content that gets updated frequently, such as news and sports results pages.

Here are a few tips for using Web Clip:

  • You can go back and edit a Web Clip widget. Click the little ‘i’ button in the bottom right corner of the widget to flip it round, then click Edit. The widget flips round again, and you can click and drag with the mouse to reposition the Web page within the widget. You can also resize the widget at the same time. Nice.
  • The widget reloads its “page” every time you enter the Dashboard, but you can also reload it at any time by clicking it and hitting Command-R.
  • If the page you’re clipping is text-heavy, and you want to make your widget as small as possible, first use Command and – (minus) to make the text smaller in Safari, then clip the page. The widget remembers your selected text size. You can then revert to your normal text size in Safari.

So that’s how you create and use a Web Clip widget. What sort of things can you use this feature for? Here are 6 of my favourite uses for Web Clip:

1. Weather forecasts

A classic use for Web Clip. Visit the weather forecasting site of your choice – for example, Weather Underground or – find the forecast for your local city, and turn it into a widget. Of course, the Mac comes with a built-in Weather widget, but by using Web Clip you can get much more specialized info. For example, I’m in Sydney, Australia, and I like to have the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s Sydney Radar Loop on my Dashboard, so I can see where the rain is right now:

Sydney radar loop in a Web Clip widget

(By the way, speaking of the BoM, if you happen to be in Australia then check out TheBom Weather Widget – it’s lovely!) (more…)

Does Adobe hate the Mac?

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

I’ve been pondering this question for a while now. I think that the folks at Adobe probably don’t hate the Mac, but they do seem to have a preference for Windows. Here’s why.

Exhibit A: Windows-style UI elements in Mac Photoshop

I’ve been using Photoshop since around 1995 (even written a nice book about it) so I feel like I know this beast inside out now. I’ve used both Windows and Mac versions heavily, and the Mac version is full of little Windows UI quirks. For example:

  • Non-standard shortcut to bring up the Preferences pane (Command-K, not the standard Command-,). Just because Windows users have to suffer from the lack of a consistent Preferences shortcut, why should Mac users have to do the same?
  • Non-standard shortcut to hide Photoshop (Command-Control-H, not the standard Command-H – fair enough in a way, as Command-H is used to hide stuff within Photoshop).
  • Non-standard shortcut to switch between document windows – i.e. Control-Tab, not the standard (and much less finger-twisting) Command-`. This one really bugs me.
  • The odd shortcut that only works in Windows (I’m thinking of Alt+I, then hold Alt and press D to instantly duplicate an image – a quirk that relies on Windows’ keyboard shortcuts for menus).

Exhibit B: 32-bit Mac Photoshop CS4

Photoshop CS4 will be 64-bit on Windows, 32-bit on Mac. ‘Nuff said. (Although Adobe blames Apple for this.) (more…)

100th post! Yay!

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

Well, it had to be done. 🙂

Two years later, and still going strong! What started out as a diary of a Linux-to-Mac switcher has gradually evolved into a general blog about using Macs day-to-day.

I must say, I’m thoroughly enjoying writing this blog and, judging by the number of readers, you’re enjoying reading it too! I’d like to say big thank you to everyone who has read and commented on my ramblings over the last couple of years. Having such a good audience really makes writing this blog worthwhile.

It looks like the most popular topics are the software reviews and Mac tips, so I’ll continue to produce more of these in the coming months.

If you have any topics you’d like to see covered in this blog, please write and let me know! You can contact me (Matt) via the contact form, or simply post your comments below. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

How to really show off your wallpaper

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

I admit it: With my hunt for nice widescreen wallpapers, and my reviews of DeskLickr and Desktoptopia, I’ve gone wallpaper-mad over the past month. I now have a collection of over 100 gorgeous desktop images, with new ones coming in all the time. Somehow, though, having these beautiful images lurking behind my Mac windows – occasionally revealed with Exposé via the F11 key – doesn’t do them justice.

So how to make my wallpaper more front-and-centre? Ideally I’d like some sort of utility that faded my windows away when I’m not really using my Mac, revealing the wallpaper behind. Then I was hit by an attack of the blindingly obvious: Use a screen saver!

(This tip is not rocket science. But it took me a while to think of using a screen saver, so maybe it’s not that obvious. 😉 )

Luckily the Mac ships with the ability to display one or more images as a screen saver. I already had all my wallpaper images stored in a ~/Pictures/Wallpapers folder, so it was just a case of choosing Apple > System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Screen Saver, then opening up the Pictures screen saver in the left-hand list and clicking Choose Folder. After selecting my Wallpapers folder, it appeared in the list:

And that’s it! I set the screen saver delay to 5 minutes, and now I get to see my lovely wallpaper images in all their glory whenever I come back to my Mac. And because the images are already designed to look great on the desktop, they make for a fantastic screen saver. Simple but effective.

By default you get the old Ken Burns effect on the images; to turn this off click Options, then deselect the Zoom back and forth and Keep slides centred options. Now, when your screen saver kicks in, it’s almost exactly as if your windows have simply faded away. (And your menu bar. And the Dock. And mouse pointer. Err, and any icons you happen to have on your Desktop. But you get my point.) (more…)

Desktoptopia review: Free, ever-changing desktop backgrounds

Monday, June 16th, 2008

I recently reviewed DeskLickr, a nifty, free menu bar app that regularly feeds your Mac desktop with lovely Flickr images. It’s nice enough, but it does have a few drawbacks, as I mentioned in the review.

There’s an alternative to DeskLickr, though, and it’s also free: Desktoptopia. It does a similar job to DeskLickr, downloading new desktop images every few minutes. It installs itself as a preference pane rather than DeskLickr’s approach of a stand-alone app. Personally I like the preference pane idea more. As with DeskLickr, you can set how often it grabs a new image, and also pause the current desktop image or manually fetch a new image.

What makes Desktoptopia great

Desktoptopia’s key difference is in how the desktop images are sourced. Whereas DeskLickr draws its images from public Flickr photostreams, Desktoptopia’s images come from a hand-picked selection on the Desktoptopia website. Users can upload new images, but only the best make it past the selection process. This gets round DeskLickr’s problem of displaying low-quality images, or images that just don’t work well as wallpaper. The quality of the Desktoptopia images is very good indeed, and they nearly all make fantastic desktop backgrounds.


Who will buy OS X ‘Snow Leopard’?

Friday, June 13th, 2008

The next version of the OS X operating system10.6 “Snow Leopard” – was quietly announced at WWDC08 at the start of this week. Unlike previous versions, 10.6 will not focus on new features (though doubtless there’ll be a few here and there). Instead, Apple have decided to concentrate on making the OS leaner, meaner and all-round nicer. (Maybe this is how they came up with the name: It’s a slicker Leopard, but they’ve frozen the features. Feature freeze? Snow? Never mind…)

They’ll do this by:

  • Making it easier for developers to code apps for multi-core processors, using a technology called “Grand Central”
  • Introducing Open Computing Language (OpenCL), which lets applications use the Mac’s GPU (graphics processing unit) almost as an additional CPU
  • Increasing the RAM limit to 16 terabytes (16,000 GB) – a limit not likely to be reached anytime soon
  • Including QuickTime X, which will run all your latest codecs much more smoothly (so they say)
  • Making Safari run JavaScript “up to 53 percent faster” apparently – which will be good for all those AJAX-driven websites
  • Reducing the OS’s footprint (i.e. the hard drive space it takes up). This has caused a bit of controversy as many think this means dropping support for PowerPC Macs, but this remains to be seen. Maybe they’ll ship 2 versions: one for Intel, one for PowerPC?

One new feature they are announcing now is full support for Microsoft Exchange using the Exchange Web Services protocol. This will let Mail, Address Book and iCal play nicely with Exchange servers. (more…)

Firefox 3 review

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

The latest major version of the Firefox web browser – 3.0 – is due out any day now. I thought I’d download 3.0 Release Candidate 2 – which is near as dammit to the final release – and take it for a spin.

I must say, I assumed Firefox 3 was going to be much like Firefox 2, with a few tweaks here and there. Nothing could be further from the truth. With version 3, Firefox has had a major overhaul, both on the inside and on the outside. Let’s take a look.

First impressions

As you can see from the above screenshot, Firefox 3 looks much more like a proper Mac application than Firefox 2 did. It has the Leopard grey gradient toolbar, and the shaded tabs look lovely. (Speaking of tabs, I love the way the tab bar scrolls smoothly left and right if you have a lot of tabs open. Very slick.)

It behaves more like a Mac app, too. It uses Growl to notify you of completed downloads and updates, and it also uses standard Apple keyboard shortcuts such as Cmd-Shift-[ and Cmd-Shift-] to move between tabs. (Personally I preferred version 2’s less finger-twisting Ctrl-Page Up and Ctrl-Page Down, which thankfully are still available.) (more…)

DeskLickr: Instant Flickr photos on your Mac desktop

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

This is a lovely idea. DeskLickr is a free menu bar app that regularly updates your desktop with photos from Flickr. If you’re bored with the same old wallpaper images, it’s a great way to revitalize your Mac desktop.

Feature-wise, the author’s thought of pretty much everything. You can, of course, say how often you want the image to change, and you can also choose New desktop thanks from the menu bar if you don’t like the current image. A grey floating window shows you info on the current desktop image; if this annoys you (it did annoy me) you can choose to have it hideable under other app windows, or stick it right on the desktop. You can also turn it off altogether using the Show info on this desktop menu option.

It even supports multiple displays (you can choose between having the same image on all displays or a different image on each), and you can make it choose a random image each time, or get the latest published image.

Problems, problems

The main problem with this app is that many photos, while they look great on the Flickr site, don’t make great desktops. Reasons for this include:

  • They’re just too low-res
  • The aspect ratio doesn’t match your screen (especially true of portrait photos of course)
  • They’re too “busy” and get in the way of your desktop icons

DeskLickr gives you a couple of ways to mitigate these problems. (more…)

Ten fun free screen savers for the Mac

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

Everyone loves a nice screen saver – they give you something to stare at when you’re bored, and an eye-popping screen saver is a great way to impress your friends and colleagues when they amble past your Mac!

Here, in no particular order, are 10 free Mac screen savers that I love. Installation hints are at the end, if you need them.


One of my favourite screen savers, written by the very talented Terry Welsh over at Really Slick Screensavers. Take a trip down a wormhole with this psychedelic extravaganza, reminiscent of many a game and sci-fi movie. This one’s pretty CPU-hungry, so if it’s a bit jerky try reducing the Resolution of geometry setting.


A lovely screen saver from Martin Thorne. Beautiful, ever-changing strands of light move across the screen. Strangely hypnotic in a darkened room!


Another saver from Martin Thorne, in a similar vein to Strands. This one features glowing snakes of light darting around the screen. (more…)