Full screen on the Mac, FINALLY

In today’s “Back to the Mac” event, Steve Jobs highlights some of the new features of the new Mac OS.

The one I find pretty funny is this:

Full-Screen Apps

If you’ve ever been a little frustrated at the half-assed functionality of the green button on each Mac window, you’ll be pleased to know that it now has a useful function. Clicking it will transform the app you’re currently using into a “Full-Screen App”.
Generally, it seems that this has more of an impact than simply enlarging the window you’re currently viewing. The notion of a full-screen app becomes a core feature of the OS.

(from AppStorm)

I mean, I find it odd that it is an “innovation” that required feedback and active use on the iPad to remind Apple designers of its usefulness. The month after I had purchased my MacBook, I installed a tiny little free app called Right Zoom that made the green button on the Mac window function like it obviously (in my mind) should: resize the window full-screen. Having Expose makes it possible to work in full-screen mode and switch between windows without ever minimizing or clicking on anything. So I’m a bit stumped about how Full-Screen plus Mission Control is supposed to be a big update. Maybe a little bit more productive for some, I can see that.

Otherwise, I’m still looking forward to using the App Store (I like the concept of one-click installations and app views) and seeing the other changes that Lion will bring.

The toils of a switcher

I came across this article by a recent Mac switcher and read this:

I’ve discovered that Cmd+` cycles through windows within an application but those options only seem to work when the windows themselves haven’t been minimized. A minimized window seems to fall in to a black hole of sorts, and I’ve yet to figure out how to easily restore them.

It cracked me up because this is EXACTLY what I struggled with early on, and even these days, once in a while. Where does that minimized window go? How can I get it back with a single shortcut?

Well, in the comments section of the post, I saw this:

Neil Demjay
Thursday, October 14 2010
When holding Cmd + Tab to cycle through apps. select the app you want with minimized windows and hold the Option key. This will auto maximize the front window again.

Neat. Look forward to trying this.

Something to get me REALLY excited about writing, another app

As a newbie Apple fan, I eagerly look forward to all the new Apple product releases and spec sheets, as does the entire world of mac fans. (Not that I can afford the new products, but it still makes me feel good to LOOK.) But something else I’ve started to anticipate over the last year is the release of new application versions, especially if it’s an app I use a lot.

Just today, I saw on Twitter that one of my all time favourite apps has just released its new version, I guess its official release now, since it was in Beta (but a very very functional beta) for the longest time. It’s Ommwriter, which I’ve crushed on before.

The new version is called OmmWriter Dāna. What’s different in the new release?

From their website:

Very little. Fortunately. Most changes are too subtle to be noticed or to write home about. But they add to the overall ease of the OmmWriter experience. Some that you may notice are:

  • Monospace font support.
  • Larger text size option to improve accessibility and for visually-challenged users.
  • Access to Menu bar from within OmmWriter by scrolling to top of screen.
  • Ability to create a new file using the file menu or with command + N.
  • Compatible with spaces.
  • Dual screen support that blanks out the second screen when in use.
  • Ability to return to the original text box size (in view menu).
  • New file formats to save to: .pdf or .rtf.
  • Improved user experience with horizontal cursor

It also now comes in 2 versions: the free and the paid. The paid version will have a few more audio and visual scapes to work with, including this one:

New “Blur” background for Ommwriter Dana

The pricing model? The user can choose with the only condition being that the price should end with a 1 (i.e. $4.11 or $11) because the number 1 “is auspicious” in some cultures.

Aren’t the developers a hoot? I mean, how many developers name their application after “the practice of cultivating generosity”? I love their vision, their narrow focus and their no frills approach to their business.

I’m still waiting for the email with the download file so I haven’t had a chance to try it yet but I know it will be a totally cool experience.

Just notes, really

In my endless quest to simplify life, I’ve been increasingly drawn to simple looking software applications that do few things well, and look good.  The look good is aesthetics only, but I find that if the user interface is cleaner, then I am more motivated to perform next actions instead of getting distracted on a button or a function or a border that just seems to get in the way.

A recent discovery that fit that bill, and that I am finding extremely useful, is JustNotes. I had read about it from a Smoking Apples blurb a few months ago and just lately downloaded it. It does what its named after: it’s only for notes.

It’s a super small application, and runs in the menu bar and/or dock, as you wish and has hotkey triggers, always a plus in my books.

It also provides users with a choice of fonts, which is really nice in a free app.

I was initially using it for to-do lists, but I recently started a class, and for the first time in my life, wanted to try working with lecture notes/research/reading notes in a digital format rather than trusty old-fashioned ink and paper. So I starting recording all class related emails and notes in JustNotes. And I wanted to get into syncing. (Normally, I use Evernote and don’t worry about syncing, but I had recently read quite a few articles (i.e. here and here) mentioning SimpleNote and Notational Velocity and that got me thinking about testing syncing out.)

Syncing saved my life. I forgot my macbook one day but the room where we have our seminar is a computer lab and I was able to go online to simplenoteapp.com and get my readings and homework notes.

Other than the “Beta” heading in the frame of the app window, I think this great piece of software has gorgeous presentation as well as terrific functionality. And despite its beta moniker, it has yet to bug out on me.

Good job, developer. If and when JustNotes moves out of beta and becomes shareware, I’ll be happy to buy it AND recommend it to others.

alfred web mac application launch

Application launchers

I’ve read a lot of about application launchers, but no one has ever used them before in our house.

Since my interest in computers and the MacBook took off 2 years ago, however, I have slowly been switching over to using more keyboard shortcuts over mouse gestures and clicks where possible. I find that the shortcuts are way more productive and like getting to pages/windows/the next tab without having my hands having to leave the keyboard.

So, I have been interested in app launchers but have never got around to using them. The ones I read alot about were:

All three of these had quite extensive documentation, and I listened to a very informative podcast about LaunchBar.

As much as I was attracted to a system whereby one could open a new application via a keyboard and not mouse clicks, I never quite got around to installing or using any of them.

Along came Alfred.

I read about it on another blog a few months ago and found  it to be a simple little app that did nothing but

  1. launch applications
  2. find things on the web
  3. find things on my MacBook

Loved the premise and the idea of Alfred, a service to help one out, quietly, unobtrusively, in the background. Like a butler, like its icon, get it?

Well, since installing it, I’ve found it to be extremely handy – when I remembered to use it! I wasn’t in the habit of hitting option-space bar to call up the Alfred dialogue box to implement my searches or to find a application.  It’s a very handy key-combo that calls up a big box in the middle/top of your screen:

Then I could type in the first few letters of any application on my MacBook – usually it would only offer one suggested option, and then I hit enter, and voila, the app is launched. So, the MacBook’s native Spotlight does the same thing, and I was using it to do so for awhile, but honestly, I didn’t like having to look at the upper right hand corner of my screen at very small font to do so. Alfred pops up in big letters in the center of my desktop display and I found this much more attractive as a UI feature.

Another very useful task Alfred performs for me, the one I’ve actually utilized the most, is web search. Press option-space bar, type in the search item, and you are given your choice of three massive web search engines to choose from.

alfred web mac application launch

So far, that’s been sufficient but I haven’t quite gotten around to figuring out how to add other engines, i.e. Amazon Canada, and IMDB, which would be very very helpful for me. In any case, I love the functionality. Pretty simple.

The last thing I’ve used Alfred for is to search for items on the computer, usually documents, but also film clips and some photographs. As I only have about 90 gb of documents and files stored on my hard drive, the search takes place at a zippy pace and pops up with the what appears to be most recent items. It’s handy but not super useful as yet. I still like manually searching down file trees for items.

Anyway, I like what I can do with Alfred, and it is an attractive little app. Has it improved my productivity? The answer is yes so I would recommend this app for sure. Did I mention that it’s free for now? It’s currently in beta, so I look forward to seeing what the newest tweaks will be when the company is ready to release the updated version.

Anxiety: A Lightweight Mac Task Manager

There was a review posted recently on WebWorkerDaily of Anxiety, one of the first task managers I started using on the Mac.  Some of the awesome features of Anxiety highlighted by the review listed below:

Unlike many of the more full-featured task managers, it’s relatively unobtrusive, taking up a tiny amount of screen real estate. The interface to check (and check off) your tasks is always easily accessible via a menubar button, but disappears when not required.

Anxiety presents your tasks as a simple to-do list in a small semi-transparent window that can hover over the other apps open on your desktop. It’s integrated with Apple’s other applications that posses to-do functionality; double-clicking a list item reveals the task in iCal or Mail for extended editing. Simple shortcuts allow you to see your full list externally.

via Anxiety: A Lightweight Mac Task Manager.

I appreciate this review because it pinpoints all the features I am usually attracted to in an app: simplicity, focused functionality, terrific UI and some integration with other native MAC OS applications.

I used Anxiety for about 7 months after I discovered it, but as I started to learn about GTD, I started looking for other options, and about 2 months ago, I switched to Dejumble. I haven’t quite got the hang of using Dejumble yet, but I as soon as I have, I will post my own review of this application.

Apple flagship store, NY

So, I just had my first experience being in a room FILLED with Apple fans.

During our trip to NY, I visited the Apple Store on 5th Avenue.

(picture credit: Dan Herron)

What was it like?

Slow-moving lines. Barely enough room to move. Squished-in bodies. Crowds around the product tables. Lines for the elevator.

At 2 pm on a Thursday afternoon?

I barely got to hang out in the bags/cases/sundry corner, with the stroller. I’m sure many people were native New Yorkers, but there were LOTS of people from other countries, speaking other languages, who just looked like tourists. I knew I was crazy about Mac, but it was funny to see all the other people in the world who also had the store on their checklist of places to visit in NY.

A sea out there

It’s been just over 6 months since the Macbook and all things Apple have entered my life. Well, that is, physically entered, since I was a wannabe member of the Mac clan for about 2 years prior.

It’s been about 2 years since I really became interested in all things computer tech.

It’s been about 4 years since I became interested in digital media and gadgets.

So, it’s been 4 years since my introduction to digital life and tech and well, the whole world associated with using and learning about technology in our daily lives. I mean, conscious, deliberate use of tech, not the automatic necessity of it from being at a university that requires word processed papers, or at a workplace that uses internal communications software.

In those 4 years, a key concept that has struck me is that one can not easily keep up with the changes in current technology, unless one spends chunks of TIME reading, studying, following the news, and making an effort to learn what is going on. As a consumer and as someone connected to technology as a delivery mode for the product of my work, I am very interested in keeping up with what’s current – but there is SO much out there. So much to learn – jargon, key concepts, slang, the players – and being a generalist isn’t very helpful unless one is a media writer/worker. The sea of KNOWLEDGE is really really VAST.

I’ve learned LOTS, I would say even tons, since 2006 but what does that mean? What I knew last year isn’t relevant today because the software, website, the company, whatever, is on its way to becoming obsolete, or has been phased out, or is now at version 5. Do you know what I mean?

It’s just so FAST.

It’s not a complaint, it’s just my observation that the pace of change is so different from anything else I’ve learned or studied about or had to apply in work or in personal hobbies.

Writing with ease, and then some

I resist getting on the bandwagon about a new product or gadget because who likes to be a follower, led by the nose, packherd, and all that? But one product that was raved about by so many geeks last year that drew my attention and about which I am now firmly one of said pack is Ommwriter.

After installing the program, I was presented with a very very simple interface, no menus or buttons with words of any kind, but a few icons that made intuitive sense either by looking at them, or after clicking two or three of them. It was the neatest 4 minutes I’ve ever spent figuring out preferences and setting my defaults on an application. I don’t want to spoil the surprise if you haven’t tried it out yet. You’ll see what I mean.

But the mark of a good application is that it helps you do what it claims it’s going to. Today at work, I buckled down and wrote a draft letter for something for work on Ommwriter – crunched out the words, got the document written, all the while using a keyboard click setting that made sounds like grains or rain falling onto a surface in an empty room. No, seriously, that’s what it sounded like. Check it out.

The lust for new thing

— when Apple announced its new products yesterday, for example, I spent most of the day drooling, lusting after the large-screened iMac and the new wireless mouse. My pulse actually rises and I get a rush of adrenaline when I think about these new Apple products (even now, as I reflect on it, it’s happening).

This lust is not unique to Apple fanbois like me — we all feel it. We’re all susceptible to advertising — some people lust over new shoes, new clothes, new gadgets, new power tools, new cars, new homes, new bikes, new gourmet food, and so on. We all have our weaknesses, our lust triggers.

The key is to be aware of it. Notice the excitement, the raised heartbeat, the shallow breathing, the adrenaline rush that comes with the lust over a product.

via mnmlist.com

Leo Baubata has identified a malady I suffer from quite frequently. Last year, I spend 6 or 7 hours spread over 3 weeks dreaming about new gadgets, most recently, the HTC Hero. I researched it like mad: specs, video reviews, user reviews, comparing carrier plans and unboxing vids were the prime fodder for my online consumption.

Well, imagine what happened when I found out that my carrier didn’t accommodate a phone switch at this time without an extra $300, which was not in our plans before Christmas. The TOTAL letdown which followed was like a punch in my gut. I was floored, disappointed, and had a sinking feeling in my stomach….for all of 45 seconds on the way back to the car. When my hand touched the handle, I realized that I was about to sink into despair over a gadget, a phone, a THING, that I didn’t really need. My current phone was perfectly capable of doing all the things I needed. My life would not be over because I was snapping photos on a 2.0 megapixel camera and emailing them to Evernote instead of uploading pics from a 5.0 mp one via a mobile Evernote client directly. Seriously.

Five weeks later, I am glad I didn’t purchase the smartphone then. There was no drama post non-Hero purchase and we were able to put the $300 to good uses. But I must add that I do fall off the wagon whenever I see a student (i.e. 19-year-old. 19!) with the latest Android or iPhone. The rush comes roaring. We all have our weaknesses.

It’s true about mac, though – it had the greatest number of followers and fans of any tech gadgets I’ve ever seen. I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I fell in love with a MacBook.