Proposed update to Growl notification system

October 5, 2007

There’re several things in Growl notification display behavior that I think might be improved.

First of all, it’s a new “close” button implemented in version 1.1. It only appears when you hover a notification and lets you close the message you see no need to react on. Not even mentioning a degraded look of notifications (tastes differ) the button has a serious disadvantage as it requires quite precise positioning that eliminates the advantage. So what? Easily: just recall the Fitt’s law and let one click a larger area like the whole message… By assigning the right click to this action you let the thing be done without extra complexities. Is “right-click to close” an obvious action? No. Just like any idiom it has to be learned, but once learned it may become very handy. Arguments for are that some applications like QIP (Windows) or Google Notifier (OS X) already use the same approach successfully and both have very large user bases.

The second thing is the way Growl displays notification pool. Right now the mechanism is quite primitive, so when there’re just too many messages they may take all the screen space available thus interrupting you from work. Having a dedicated area for displays might improve situation a lot. I.e. let’s say messages can only take a single row with a maximum height of 50% of screen height. Now you may be sure that no matter what happens messages would not cover your workspace if you have it outside a suggested area. Besides, now we know that if notifications come from top-right they bottommost message is always the latest one.

Once again, this approach is already adopted by other applications.

The third improvement would work great with the second one. As we have limited our screen space, let’s make notifications use space more effectively. Now, when one of displayed messages disappear, the “hole” is covered by shifting other notifications, thus making sure the order remains intact and no message would “accidently” get into the hole. As a picture is worth a million words, here’s (270 Kb) a Keynote demo of suggested behavior and QuickTime (2 Mb) version of it for those who doesn’t have the latest iWork. The idea is also not new and is used in applications like Google Talk.


GUI prototyping for OS X: makeing life easier

October 5, 2007

Just for ones who are interested I provide a link to my OS X GUI design stencil I use for my own prototypes. It’s currently work in progress and still retain large portions of WireframeShapesAngles it’s based on (make sure to check the original, it’s pretty useful by itself). Future versions should have more controls, dialogs and other ready to use stuff, but if you’d liked to finish the work, feel free to do so.
stencil preview

So, here’s a link. Download and enjoy, it’s less than 100Kb anyway 😀


Icon search engine

August 10, 2007

One more offspring of Web 2.0 era: Iconfinder icon search engine.

It lets developers and designers find free icons with certain metaphors. Pretty useful stuff if you don’t mind an idiotic logo. I’m not sure how legally clear the icons it founds are (although many are claimed to be released under GPL or CC), but for me it’s an interesting metaphor evaluation tool.


Some interesting Mac freebies you might have not even heard about

May 11, 2007

If you have lready worked on a Mac, you may know that a «serious lack of software» for OS X problem is overestimated. Yes, there’re much less programs for Mac than for Windows, but still you may easily find a good alternative to what you’re used to.

No even mentioning great bundled applications like Garage Band or iTunes, I’ll pay my attention to some «not that well known» programs, some of which might be very useful for switchers.

So, let’s welcome our guests…

Alarm Clock

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As the name says, this is an alarm clock. A little application, that sits in your menu bar and lets you quickly set alarms, stop-watches, timers and whatever else to wake you up from your sleep. Simple, elegant, uses iTunes library for chime melody.

Aurora

Another alarm clock. This time without timer or stop-watch, but with a bit more features and prettier UI. May wake up your computer from the sleep as well. Downside: menu bar icon is dull and merely readable.

BackLight

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Small and useless freeware letting you set any installed screensaver as a Desktop background. If you have some spare resources to waste, go get it 🙂 In fact, it’s more suitable for surprising friends than for any real usage. But there’s always a free minute for fun… 😉

Calq

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Simple menu bar-based calculator. Just hit a hotkey (or click menu bar icon), type an expression and press [Enter] to see the result. This might be useful if you deal a lot with math but don’t want to use Calculator.app or prefer more elegant solutions. Anyway, a very handy tool.

Camino

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Got used to Mozilla Firefox but get scared while looking at it in OS X? No problems, just try Camino, which has a better, Aqua look. And yes, the engine is still the same: Gecko. Probably the best Firefox alternative for OS X.

Cog

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Ever wanted to listen to a single tune without loading iTunes monster or messing with the library? Just load Cog and feed it a file. That’s it: a simple streamlined audio player good for «just playing» some tracks. Might be really handy in some cases.

Desktop Manager

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Ever wanted a Virtual Desktop Manager for OS X? Here it goes… I’m not really sure if one is really needful for Mac, but Linux switches might be lacking this functionality. The program has some usability issues, but anyway, it’s usable.

Desktopple

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A little free brother of Desktopple Pro does only one single thing: it hides your Desktop items. Whatever purpose you choose to use it for: security or taking screenshots I’d recommend removing garbage from your Desktop manually anyway.

Google SketchUp

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An excellent (and free!) 3D modelling application by Google. If you have already seen its Windows version, then you know what it means. If not, go and grab it immediately… With such a streamlined and elegant UI it’s suitable for making textured 3D models in minutes. Surely, it’s not Maya or 3D Max, but for fast and easy 3D sketching you’ll unlikely find a better tool.

ImageWell

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Primitive image editor. You don’t need Photoshop to crop the image or add some text on it, right? For most bloggers’ needs ImageWell’s functionality is enough unless you try to use it for other than basic image manipulations.

iTerm

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Terminal application if you don’t like the default one. It says to be more functional than terminal.app, so you may try these differences. As for me, they don’t matter much: I just like tabs and a different look.

MenuCalendarClock

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Simple Menu bar calendar. Just displays current date as an icon and lets you see the whole month with iCal event dates highlighted on click. Especially handy for people who got used to similar functionality in GNOME/KDE.

Mplayer OSX

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I’ve heard of many people using VLC for Mac to play files QuickTime cannot handle. At the same time there’s a good alternative in the face of Mplayer, its OS X version.

I find it more streamlined, easier (way less options to touch) and more stable overall. It’s not a «must have», but may help you if you cannot watch a freaky encoded movie with QuickTime.

NeoOffice

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Sooth to say I never liked OpenOffice on any platform, especially under Windows for its overcomplicated UI, tons of bugs and other «nice» features. That’s truth: Microsoft Office 2007 leaves competors no chances, but it’s so damned expensive…

Neo Office is a nice attempt to create a decent looking Aqua-style Office Suite on the top of OpenOffice.org.

What’s the difference?

First of all, the look. It looks more closely to Aqua-styled applications although there’re some visual glitches and inconsistent icons. Anyway, nothing close to a trashy OpenOffice.org look.

Next, it requires no X.app installation and works out of the box in OS X environment.

And finally, it does read/write Office 2007 files (although far not as correctly as it should do).

It’s still buggy and quite slow (which seems to be the problem of OpenOffice/StarOffice suite for a long time), but it’s a decent app, taking into account its price 😉

NicePlayer

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Simple player which only worthy feature is letting you watch movies in full screen. UI doesn’t feel that good and feature list is lacking (it uses QuickTime engine afterall), but as a «quick and dirty» solution it’s OK. Especially as the size is tens times less than VLC of Mplayer. Most controls are overlayed, so don’t expect to see them on the shot 🙂

Smultron

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Easy yet powerful text editor. Should be especially handy for programmers, web developers or just power users. The look is easily cured with an icon patch.

SnapNDrag

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Taking into account the fact that OS X lacks decent screen capturing functionality this free tool is very handy. Grabs the whole screen, selected area or a single window. Works with timer and features «drag_the_resulting_image_to_whatever_you_need» functionality. Nags for paid addons a bit, but who cares? 🙂

In fact, all the screenshots featured here have been taken by this utility.

The Unarchiver

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Simple application for unpacking archives.

Good news: it supports a variety of formats, including 7ZIP and even exotics like Amiga archives.

Bad news: does not recognize SITX (damned be StuffIt!) and has little understanding of the existance of password protected archives.

Very handy overall.

Tiny Alarm

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Not yet tired of menu bar alarm clocks? Here’s another one. This time it’s simple to primitivity: select one of predefined time intervals or enter your own and wait. The program’s icon in menu bar visually displays time left.

TranslateIt!

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The basic version of this multilingual OS X dictionary is free. The program is not as powerful as my favorite Lingvo (in terms of both functionality and dictionaries), but the latter is unaccessible for Mac users.

Judjing the look and feel, it’s quite similar to Apple’s build-in dictionary and the main difference is that it supports languages other than English.

uApp

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Although you may quickly remove most applications in OS X by just dragging them to the Trash, they often leave traces of configuration files and other stuff you may find useless. In this case you may need a special application to do the cleaning…

AppZapper is probably the most known one, but it’s not alone. uApp is a free AppZapper clone, featuring very similar functionality for a better price, for free. It might be lacking a sexy icon and «genie» wizard plus some bells and whistles, but it does the work.

Xee

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Blazing fast and useful image viewer. If you find that Preview is missing some needful features and iPhoto is overkill for your needs, then give it a try. The program is really fast and if you wish to view a bunch of files in a folder fullsize you’ll unlikely find a better alternative.