Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Mac things I wish I had on my PC #2… Exposé

Ok, to be honest I personally find the Windows taskbar buttons a quicker and easier way to switch between tasks than the OS X system, especially when combined with maximised windows when you can't see what's behind.

However Apple came up with a pretty cool solution in Tiger called Exposé which displays all open window as thumbnails. By default its activated by some F keys but you can create hotspots in the corners of the screen which I find more handy.

So for the Windows platform there is TopDesk from Otaku Software which does a straight copy of the Exposé stuff perfectly but also has a few other tricks like a 3D spinning effect for extra eye-candy and the Vista style Flip3D task switching for XP.

You can get TopDesk here: http://www.otakusoftware.com/topdesk/

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Synergy – desktop expansion across physical machines

Using both my PC and my Mac on a daily basis means I tend to have 3 displays running on my desk; dual screens on the PC and one on my MacBook. In amongst the dead hard disks, PDAs and digital cameras that seem to pile up I don’t really have much room for another keyboard and mouse so this is where Synergy comes in.

Basically it allows you to seamlessly use the keyboard and mouse from one machine on another physical machine by moving the mouse pointer off the edge of one display and onto another, rather like dual displays. As I move the pointer across the left edge of my PC it magically continues its movement onto the right side of my Mac display and the PC keyboard becomes the Mac keyboard.

It's a very clever idea for reducing desk clutter and leaving more space for my dead hard disks and coffee cups.

Download Synergy from here: http://synergy2.sourceforge.net/

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Inside a BT exchange

An interesting article from the Guardian details the process of connecting up ADSL in an exchange. It goes some way to explaining why it can take so long to get connected and some of the problems that occur. Click here to read the article.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Wi-Fi Internet Radio - Logik IR100


DAB radios are now mainstream and prices of basic units have dropped below £20. However more recently there has been the emergence of internet radios on the high street. The Logik IR100 Wi-Fi internet radio is exclusive to DSG group (Dixons, Currys, PC World) and was very kindly bought for me by my girlfriend as a birthday present.

The radio uses a broadband connection and I found it very straight forward to scan for my wireless network and enter the WPA key before the Logik automatically connected to reciva.com.

You are then able to pick your stations either by genre or location. Choosing the UK downloaded a list of 507 stations although I believe there are currently about 5500+ from all over the world so you can get your fix of Slovenian folk music of Ukrainian Punk as well as BBC radio. One of the best features is that you can access the BBC on demand service allowing you to listen to recordings from the past week and some older. The IR100 also allows you to play music from your PC across a wireless network which is quite useful for getting my desktop MP3 collection down to the living room although I’m yet to try this feature out.

Amazing sound quality isn’t really what this single speaker radio is about and bit rates of stations can obviously vary but the sound is still very good and can be turned up loud without distortion. A headphone socket on the back can output to a stereo sound system if desired.

In the short time I’ve had the radio I haven’t come across any bugs although I did use the automated firmware update function almost as soon as I switched it on which worked very smoothly. The only minor downside for me so far is the fact you can’t run the radio on batteries, but this does make sense with the power consumption of the processor and wireless transceiver.

At just under £100 the IR100 is a great introduction to wireless internet radio which I’m sure is going to become much more popular in the next few years.

Addendum - 25 September 2007


As pointed out in the comments below the IR100 has dropped quite considerably in price since I wrote this review making it an even better buy. Also, if you've not already seen them, there are further articles about the radio here.

Maximising windows on OS X - MegaZoomer

One thing that often bugs me coming from Windows to the Mac is the behaviour of the zoom window button (the green +). It resizes the window to fit the contents, sometimes making it larger, often making it smaller, whereas on Windows you have a maximise button that expands the window to fill the screen.

I often want the window I’m concentrating on to take advantage of the whole screen, hiding any visual distractions such as the desktop clutter and other applications. I use this function constantly in Windows when image editing, designing layouts, using Office apps, browsing the web, email etc.

There is a strong argument that Apple should at least give users an option to change this behaviour, especially if they are trying to attract more Windows users to the platform. In the meantime I came across this handy little utility called MegaZoomer from Ian Henderson that maximises windows to full screen with a keyboard shortcut (command + enter). It doesn’t work with everything (Word for example) but otherwise appears to work very well and hides all that desktop clutter.

Thursday, 4 January 2007

Mac things I wish I had on my PC #1… QuickSilver

I only recently discovered QuickSilver for OS X which is probably the most useful little app I have come across in a while. Basically it's a combined application/file search and keyboard launcher that you invoke with hotkeys (ctrl + space by default). You then begin typing what you want to find, whether it is an application, contact, bookmark or file and QuickSilver shows you results while you type. It's hugely powerful and customisable and has stacks of plugins to intergrate with applications. For example you can call up contacts in your Apple Address Book, search within a contact and display the results on screen within a few seconds without touching the mouse. Here’s a video I found of QS with the Cube interface in action:



If you do have a Mac take a look at Dan Dickinson’s quick guide to “A better OS X in just 10 minutes” which gives a nice run through some of QS's features.

QuickSilver for Windows?

There are a few similar tools for Windows, one of which is the new Start Seach in Vista, however I don’t think any come close to the slickness and elegance of QuickSilver apart from perhaps Launchy which is free from http://www.launchy.net/ and well worth a look.

Some other alternatives I have come across:

Colibri – Looking very good and obviously heavily influenced by QS but themes and configuration seem limited. I’m not too keen on the preferences being controlled via the search interface as well, I’d prefer just a normal window.

AppRocket - I tried this but it sits at the top of your screen, isn’t as slick and isn’t free.

SlickRun – I was using this before I found QuickSilver on the Mac. It tended to get in the way because it wouldn’t keep its screen position every time I logged in using remote desktop. You also need to predefine your keywords which isn’t as handy as being able to search.

Keybreeze – Formerly PC-Com, I haven’t tried it but the screen shots didn’t grab me compared to QS or Launchy.