Choose your browser

I’ve long wished for a flexible, well-integrated tool that would give me complete control over browser choice when opening links. A couple of new applications now in public beta meet this need quite well.

Choosy

ChoosyThe first is a preference pane application called Choosy from developer George Brocklewurst. Once you make Choosy your default browser, you can then use this tool to direct links to the browser of your choice. Choosy can serve up only browsers that are currently running, or it can offer up all browsers regardless of whether or not they are open. You can also arrange your selected browsers in order of priority via the preference pane and choose an option called ‘use best open browser.’ This will open up the link, as expected, in an open browser that is highest up on your prioritized list. I settled on the option to have Choosy present me with a choice of all browsers, regardless of whether or not the browsers are running (this option presents a nice floating menu similar to what you see with the familiar command-tab). It looks the developer has big plans for this little app: check out his development roadmap. He hasn’t yet announced how much Choosy will cost when it ships.

Highbrow

HighbrowThe second is called Highbrow from Helium Foot Software. This tool offers many of the same features as Choosy, but there are substantial differences (the most noticeable of which is that it’s not a preference pane). Once you place this app in your applications folder and run it, Highbrow appears in the menu bar (and automatically creates a login item without prompting…I personally prefer to be asked). Since it runs in the menu bar, Highbrow is faster than Choosy when you wish to change your default browser on the fly. The app offers three main options: you can select a default browser from a list of all of your preferred browsers; or you can choose to have your links open up in whatever browser you most recently used (something which Choosy doesn’t offer); or you can have Highbrow ask you which browser you’d like to use to open up a link (similar to Choosy, via a small floating window). Unlike Choosy, it does not offer you a choice among current open browsers. Highbrow will cost $14 (with a $12 introductory price. No details on how long this discounted price will be available once it’s released).

Which one is best?

I tested both out and decided to go with Choosy for now. While both tools do the job, I prefer the way that Choosy works invisibly in the background. It also offers more customization options in an interface that is a bit more polished than Highbrow. If you are the type of person who likes menu bar apps (my menu bar is already quite full), or prefer to manually change your default browser per user session, try Highbrow. If you prefer to select from your currently-open browsers, or always want to choose from among a user-defined list of your favorite browsers, Choosy is a nice, unobtrusive option. The good news is that you can try both out for free to see which one works best for you.

Why Bother?

Why would you want to choose your browser when opening up a link? Web development is a primary reason: it’s often useful to see how a page renders in different browsers. Beyond that, here are few other reasons I like to choose different browsers on different occasions:

Firefox plugins. Sometimes I receive a link in an email and I want to save it in Delicious. I want to send that link to Firefox in order to take advantage of my Firefox Delicious plugin. At other times, I choose FireFox to take advantage of plugins geared towards web development, such as web developer.

OmniWeb power. I often like to use OmniWeb to take advantage of some of this browsers powerful features. For example, this browser allows me to set per-page site preferences, save multiple pages into groups for easy retrieval later on, and set up search shortcuts so I can quickly search a particular website right from the search bar. I also prefer the tabbed thumbnail views of all my open pages.

Safari speed. Sometimes I choose Safari when I’m casually browsing because it’s quite fast.

Fluid. When I’m using Fluid (which I use for my work web-based email so it appears as a stand-alone browser application), I usually prefer to open up links received in my inbox with other browsers instead of in another Fluid window.

A few other apps

Here are a few other (semi) related apps worth a look:

Bookit. This is a handy advanced bookmarking application that allows you to keep all your bookmarks synchronized across all of your browsers (and across multiple computers using .Mac). It costs $12.

IC-switch. This free application sits in your menu bar and allows you to change your default browser, emailer, FTP client, and RSS reader on the fly in one location.

RCDefaultApp. This is a free preference pane that allows you to set the default applications that open for URLs, file types and extensions, and a whole lot more. It’s a must-have little management app.

MacUpdate launches new bundle

Drive Genius: Well-regarded tool to save a dying hard drive, fix a corrupted one, or to keep a disk optimized. Once you download this app, you can create a fully-legal bootable disc. I own one copy of DiskWarrior. Looking forward to compare and contrast these two tools.

* RapidWeaver: Already own two copies of this excellent web creation tool. Hoping to gift this license. RW now costs $80, so this is a good deal.

* Default Folder X: A superior open/save tool for the Mac with seamless integration. I’ve wanted this for quite a long time.

* VirusBarrier X5: My wife is going to use this on her laptop. You get a year of virus updates with it. I use the free ClamX AV, occasionally.

* MacGourmet Deluxe: This one is going to my spouse. There are many positive reviews for this app. Not sure why it’s called ‘Deluxe,’ since there are no other MacGourmet offerings (i.e. non-Deluxe).

* Little Snitch: Great tool to manage/monitor outgoing network activity. I own a multi-user license of this for all my Macs. Hoping I can gift this or give it away on this site.

* iVolume: Never heard of it, but I’ve found that I generally like German-made Mac software. Might be useful. This tool corrects the volume levels for your iTunes songs so that all play at the same level. Suprisingly, this feature is not built into iTunes.

* KeyCue: A tool to help you find, learn, and remember menu shortcuts in all of your apps. Excellent aid for those who rely on keyboard shortcuts. Yes, I want this.

* MacPilot: Easy access to tons of terminal tweaks and optimizations for your Mac. Looking forward to trying this out. For those who buy the bundle, Koingo Software (developer of MacPilot and other apps) is offering a steeply discounted upgrade ($30) to their $100 ‘Utility Package,’ which includes free lifetime upgrades, and licenses to every application currently on their website. Not a bad deal.

* WhatSize: Allows you to see what files are eating up all of your disk space. Not sure if this will be any better than the free (donationware) tool I currently use (Disk Inventory X).

* iDive : This is an app from Aquafadas, a French company. Apparently it’s a video organizer. I’ll be curious to try it out. I love PulpMotion by these developers (a very unique app picked up in a previous bundle!). This one only goes to the first 10,000 bundle consumers (was originally the first 5,000, but was increased apparently).

The offer ends on Dec. 19. You can also choose to gift a bundle to someone else. You might have trouble accessing the site. It’s getting slammed with traffic right now.

The main question everyone is asking on the forums is about giving away licenses for the apps they already own or don’t want. The short answer is that you must either buy the whole bundle, or gift the whole bundle to one person. If you buy the bundle, you get licenses tied to your name. There would be nothing stopping you from giving away that license, I suppose. For the apps I’d like to give to others, I’m going to write to the developers to see if the registered name could be changed. I recall doing this with Parallels when it was offered in a previous bundle, and it worked.

Stay tuned for other apps over the holiday season. MacSanta may be coming soon. We may also soon see a new Macheist and another ‘Give good food 2 your Mac‘ bundle from Europe.

A telework tale

So, I now have the opportunity to telework once per week. I must say that I like it. Imagine that. But what makes it so great is not so much working in very casual clothing (that’s a nice way of saying ‘pajamas’), but that I can work on my Mac using tools that I know and rely on.

The thing is, I spend much of my workday at home or the office using the same basic tools: DreamWeaver, PhotoShop, and a text editor. So if I use the same basic software in both environments, why am I so much more efficient at home? Here are some of the reasons I came up with:

1. Launchbar

Launchbar is an application launcher, calculator, easy file opener, etc. It does many, many things. I’m still learning hidden tricks and tips to get more out of this excellent, lightweight application. I expect it to be on any machine I use. When it’s not, I get cranky.

2. TextExpander

If you type the same thing over and over again, TextExpander is a godsend. Use it to assign shortcuts to any text you want. I use it for everything from inserting a redirect link to adding a signature block to inserting an image. You wouldn’t believe how much time this tool saves.

3. PathFinder

Finder is anemic. Windows Explorer makes me want to cry. PathFinder rules. One feature I particularly like is the ability to save tab sets. I have about five tabs that I like to have open when working on this site. I have three folders I like to have open when working on office projects. I can save each workflow in distinct tab sets, open each up with a click, and I’m ready to go. Having just upgraded to the new PathFinder 5, I’m also digging the split-pane view. At any rate, the main thing I appreciate about PathFinder is how utterly, completely customizable it is. I have honed it over time. It’s uniquely adapted to me. It’s a weapon. I love that.

4. Spaces

I’m a recent Apple Spaces convert. I didn’t think much of it for the longest time, but I’m glad I gave it another look. There are two camps when it comes to using Spaces. Some like dividing up apps into different spaces and some like dividing up tasks within different spaces. It’s a subtle difference that you won’t really get until you try out both ways. Some may wish to stop reading this paragraph now to prevent a headache. If you want to learn more about the options in Spaces, read on.

To be fair, even if I was using a Mac at the office, I probably wouldn’t be able to install many (or any) of the third-party applications listed here due to IT policies. Still, it’s worth pointing out how much utility and efficiency result from third party apps. And to be fair regarding my PC use, there are a couple of tiny free PC apps that I use in the office which do contribute quite a lot to my productivity. One is called EditPad. It’s a lightweight text editor that sits in the system tray. It offers tabbed pages and does a nice job of stripping out formating on text so I can pop it into a web page. The other is called HotKeyz. This lets me remap my keyboard (I use the Dvorak layout, and this lets me reassign keys so I can still use Qwerty key combos). Unlike the Mac, Windows does not have a built-in Dvorak-Qwerty alternate keyboard layout. What a shame.

So, the difference in how Spaces works is defined by checking or un-checking a preference labeled ‘When switching to an application, switch to a space with open windows for the application.’ If checked, you will automatically be transported to a space with existing open window for the given app when you select that app (with command-tab). Unchecked, you are not transported to another space when tabbing to an app. Instead, the app is simply selected within that space. You then have the option to open a new window of that app within your space. Alternatively, you can click on the dock icon of that app to cycle through the open windows of that app within different spaces. Note that if you’ve set up some of your apps to appear only in certain spaces, this won’t work as expected. In this instance, selecting an app will not change spaces; but creating a new instance (or page) of that app will transport you back to the space you defined for that app. The solution, then, is to not pre-define your apps to only work within a particular app. Confusing, yes.

I’ve settled on the later workflow, opting to make each space task-specific, instead of app-specific. I don’t have any apps assigned to particular spaces. That way I can have, say, two different TextMate windows open in two different spaces, which is nice when multi-tasking.

Either way (app- or task-based Spaces) works, though. Try both out. What I would really like is to have control on a per-app basis so I could assign a few apps to work only in one space, and other apps to work on a task-management basis within any space.

At any rate, I’ve finally got Spaces set up in a useful way. I think it can get better, but it’s a lot better than what I have on my Office PC…which is basic tabbing through apps. It annoys me to no end that I can only cycle forward through apps on Windows using command-tab. Stupid.

5. TextSoap

I’m also fairly new to TextSoap, but it’s growing more useful by the day as I learn how to harness its power. If you deal with a lot of text coming at you from various sources and in various forms (and you need to reformat it for the web or to meet some other style guideline), then TextSoap might be a tool for you. You can use it for simple tasks like cleaning those annoying > marks in emails, or you can learn some regex and really work magic on your text. Warning: not for faint of heart. I’m at the stage where I can’t do much (ok, anything) with regex, but I’m giving it a go. TextSoap is still very powerful, though, when you use the more than 100 text cleaners pre-loaded on the app.

6. Hazel

I like Hazel more and more. It’s a nice way to automate filing of documents, music files, app downloads, etc. Whenever I download anything to the desktop (or drop a file to the desktop), Hazel takes care of filing it away in the right place for me (it automates color labeling of folders, too). It also has a feature to remove the plist files and other miscellaneous crap associated with a file when you move it to the trash (meaning you no longer need an additional tool like AppZapper). It also takes care of emptying my trash at predefined intervals. Like TextSoap, it’s one of those apps that takes a some commitment to learn and set up to your individual preferences, but it pays big dividends.

7. Color-Labeled folders

Such a simple thing. How I wish I could colorize some of my Windows folders. When you are looking at a list of dozens upon dozens of folders, it sure is nice to have a few of your favorites color-coded. I know there’s that ‘favorites’ thing in Explorer, but I hate it. Can’t say why. Just hate it.

8. OmniWeb

OmniWeb is not a free browser, which might turn some people off. It shouldn’t. It’s an amazing browser. Worth every penny. And it’s only $15. I bought it a couple of years ago, and haven’t had to pay an upgrade fee yet. I most rely on OmniWeb’s ability to save groups of pages for easy retrieval in what OmniWeb calls a ‘Workspace.’ For example, I have four sites that I generally need to have open when working from home. All I need on OmniWeb is open up the ‘work’ workspace, and all my chosen pages open up. I have about a dozen such saved workspaces for different workflows. I can also take snapshots of pages at particular places. This is handy when I want a site to open and display at a point other than the top of the page. The ad-blocking is also top-notch. As are the per-page setting definitions … for instance, I set up my father-in-law with the top five financial sites he likes on OmniWeb. Since his eyesight is poor, I adjusted the text size for each site so it was as big as possible without breaking the site. Every one of his favorite sites could handle more or less text size increases. With OmniWeb, I set the optimal large text size so the page still looked good, and it remembers each setting. Brilliant. OmniWeb also has a shared bookmark folder to access bookmarks easily across user accounts. There’s much more. It’s an incredible browser. It’s fast, too.

9. QuickLook

I expect QuickLook to be on all the machines I use. When it’s not, I find myself hitting the space bar repeatedly in frustration.

10. Things

I rely on Things to manage my to do list. Everything I enter in Things is automatically synced to my iPhone Things app. And all my ‘next up’ to do items automatically sync with iCal and Apple Mail. This app is great, and I look forward to purchasing it when 1.0 is released at Mac World next month.

11. Yojimbo

I haven’t seen a good note/snippet manager for Windows. I’m sure there is one, but I haven’t seen it. There are tons of choices for the Mac. Yojimbo is my current favorite app to collect little items that don’t fit elsewhere. I wish they’d update this app, though. It’s been a long time … also wish they’d come out with the ability to sync and store notes ‘in the cloud’ for remote access, and offer an iPhone version. It’s not perfect, but it blows away what I have on my PC. Which is a vanilla linear text editor.

12. VooDooPad

Like Yojimbo, it’s a place to dump notes, but it’s a different paradigm. It’s an elegant little personal wiki. I use it daily. Check out the free Lite version.

13. Bean

I probably have ten or so text editors of various shapes and sizes. After paying more money than I care to admit (I’m a bit of a text editor junkie) I find myself using the free Bean more often than not. It just works well, and it’s blazing fast.

OpenDNS + DynDNS + DNS-O-Matic

I finally got around to setting up a few services on my Mac related to dynamic DNS hosting. Having done so, I’m asking myself why I didn’t do this long ago.

So, what is dynamic DNS? Here’s a brief and imperfect overview. Let’s start with DNS, or Domain Naming System. This, broadly speaking, is a service that translates hostnames into numbers that a computer can understand, and vice-versa. It’s DNS that allows you to type ‘www.viewfromthedock.com’ instead of a hard-to-remember number like 69.89.31.161 (an IP address). Your computer has an IP address. All the sites you visit have an IP address. Everything that accesses the internet has an IP address.

The thing about IP addresses is that, for a variety of reasons, there are only a finite number of them to go around.

This affects you directly. Because of this scarcity, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) only has a finite number of addresses to pass out to all the computers using that ISP that wish to access the internet.

The result of this shuffling act means that the address of your computer is changing all the time. That makes it hard to get back to your computer if you are remote and need to connect to, say, grab some important documents. Enter the dynamic DNS hosting service.

OpenDNS
The folks at OpenDNS took a look at dynamic DNS hosting and asked ‘What else could we do with this?’ The result is a service that does a number of interesting things. OpenDNS does not provide you with an unchanging, easy-to-remember hostname (actually, it does track your ever-changing IP address, but only for its own purposes). What it does do is serve as your primary DNS server (instead of the DNS server used by your ISP). You don’t need to install any software. You simply need to point your computer (or router) to the OpenDNS DNS servers. Read on if you’re not sure why you should care.

DNS-O-Matic
This is a service owned by OpenDNS which basically does one thing: it transmits your current IP address to whatever services you are using. In my case, it ensures that both DynDNS and OpenDNS get my latest IP address from my ISP.

So what do I get out of this?

– With DynDNS, I can now use my user-created hostname to help me remotely access files on my Mac using SSH (Secure Shell). If I didn’t have DynDNS, I would not know my current ISP-assigned IP address. With it, I always do.

– With OpenDNS, I get a big boost in speed and reliability when surfing the web. In my case (using Comcast), I would often type in a site address and it would take a bit of time for the page to load. Sometimes, nothing seemed to be happening at all. With OpenDNS, I’ve experienced a noticeable difference in speed, and I’ve experienced no delays in page look-ups.

OpenDNS also offers several other added features that make it very worthwhile. Essentially, they’ve taken a basic service (dynamic DNS) and built in a bunch of extra useful stuff built around it. With this service, I can block access to certain types of sites. I get an added layer of built-in phishing protection. I also get sophisticated error-checking (for those times when I type in ‘cmo’ instead of ‘com,’ for instance). For those times that OpenDNS can’t quite figure out what I’m looking for, the service offers helpful suggestions. I can also create shortcuts (e.g., I created one for this site that enables me to enter ‘vfd’ in the browser instead of the full web address). Finally, I can view stats related to all of the visited domains and IP addresses accessed through my router.

DNS-O-Matic, finally, is a simple service that ensures that DynDNS and OpenDNS always have my latest IP address. If you don’t use these services, you may choose to sync your IP address with a whole slew of other similar applications as well. I opted to use this service in lieu of installing the DynDNS client software on my Mac.

All three of these services are currently free. It takes a little effort to set it all up, but it’s worth it. If you have no need for a consistent hostname for remotely accessing your Mac, then you may not need a service like DynDNS. However, OpenDNS is worth the effort for the speed and reliability boost alone.

One final note: OpenDNS collects information about your surfing habits, so be sure to check out their privacy policy.