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Saturday, December 2, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Practical Mac | Glenn Fleishman

Bright little stocking stuffers for Mac users

Special to The Seattle Times

Stockings are often stuffed with tiny treasures — in years past, I've paradoxically found Hanukkah gelt in mine — which makes this an appropriate time of year to look at small gems for Mac OS X. These tools that I use regularly have tunnel vision, carrying out just one limited task, but they improve Mac OS X by smoothing down the rough edges that Apple left to others to burnish.

Given that all the for-fee software have trial versions, you might want to stuff a download in the stocking with a promise of a license if your giftee likes the program.

Default Folder: There's nothing I like less than hunting for a document or the folder that contains it. Apple's Spotlight, added in Tiger, is one tool to pinpoint an item by its contents, but it's not yet powerful enough to replace my normal filing technique: creating folders by project nested into folders by client, publication or purpose.

Default Folder's intent is to allow you to keep track of and rapidly return to folders that you use often or have recently visited. After installing the program, you see a set of five buttons on the far right of every open and save dialog box. (You can choose to exclude Default Folder from appearing in programs where it interferes with non-standard file navigation dialog boxes.)

The five buttons each have dropdown menus. The lower four buttons reveal current hard drives, preferred folders you've set to appear, recent folders and folders currently open on the Desktop, respectively. The top button controls behavior, like trashing a selected item, revealing the current folder on the Desktop or creating a new folder.

Information:, $34.95, 30-day trial

TextExpander: I wrote about TextExpander at length back in June, but suffice it to say that I'll trade typing a few characters for a paragraph any time. The utility lets you create typing "macros," which are triggered by entering a shortcut and then pressing a key like Tab or Space. You can also select these shortcuts from a menu. A shortcut might be your mailing address or a thumbnail mugshot; text and images can be mixed, or you can choose to use pure text.

I particularly like TextExpander's short list of tokens that stand in for the current date or time in several formats, or that can move the cursor position. You might, for instance, use the default "ddate" shortcut to drop in the current day of week, month, day, and year.

Information:, $29.95, frequent noninterrupting reminders after 30 days of use

Easy Envelopes: Ambrosia Software makes a pile of games and utilities, but its free Easy Envelopes Widget takes the cake for scratching an irritating itch. The Widget, which appears in Tiger's Dashboard after installation, lets you quickly compose and print envelopes for any size supported by your printer. The tool lets you search the Address Book for entries, or you can paste addresses right in.


Information:, free

Pando: Pando is my favorite of a new class of software and Web sites designed to help you bypass the attachment limits imposed by almost all Internet service providers and Web-mail companies. Most of those firms limit you to attachments totaling 2 to 10 megabytes in size.

And e-mail isn't the ideal way to send large files, either, as e-mail programs are typically much slower than file-handling software at uploading and downloading documents.

Pando is a software package that works in concert with the company's Internet file servers to let you transfer collections of files up to 1 gigabyte in size. Each recipient needs to have a copy of Pando, which is available for Mac and Windows. There's currently no cost for the software or transfers.

Creating a package to send to someone involves browsing for files or dragging them into a window. Enter recipients, click Send and the files are uploaded to a Pando server, and the recipients receive a link to use within their copy of Pando to retrieve the file. (Pando uses distributed downloading, which means that your computer, any other recipient and Pando all act as repositories for anyone downloading the file you sent.)

Information:, free, still in beta testing

Fission: For quick trimming, splitting and fading of popular Mac and Windows audio formats, Fission excels. But the greatest ability of this simple tool is that it can edit compressed audio formats — MP3 and AAC — without a loss of quality.

Typically, if you rip music into one of those formats from a CD or create your own music or podcast and encode as MP3 or AAC, you can't edit without degrading audio quality. Most audio editors decode the compressed format, allow you to make changes, but then have to re-encode the files, which can make a high-quality audio track sound mushy. (If you started with an uncompressed format like AIFF or Apple Lossless, you can trim or cut in Fission and encode directly, avoiding loss.)

Fission can be used to remove commercials from programs recorded off Internet radio (perhaps using Audio Hijack Pro from the same developers), split a long file into several smaller ones and add audio transitions. It's also a good way to create ringtones for phones that can handle MP3 and AAC formats. (It can't work with protected AAC files sold by Apple via the iTunes Store.)

Information:, $32, demo version purposely degrades audio quality of saved files

Glenn Fleishman writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to

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Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company



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