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Utilities for Switching on the Cheap
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Instant Messaging

It took me a long time to see instant messaging as anything other than a toy. But now I use an AIM client every day for serious work. And for serious work, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything better than Adium. Adium is free (as in beer) and is distributed under the GNU General Public License.

Adium was designed to be fast, with low CPU usage. Even its interface is compact, using a minimum of space. It uses a unique tabbed interface to help you keep track of multiple chats.

Screen shot.
You can jump between chats without cluttering your workspace thanks to a nifty tabbed interface. ID's have been blurred.

Adium by Adam Iser
Free; distributed under the GNU General Public License.

Similarly, the log viewer (File--Log Viewer, or Cmd-L) presents a neat interface for viewing previous sessions by person and date. I really appreciate this, as my biggest complaint about instant messaging in the past has been that information is too ephemeral, and it was sometimes difficult to get key bits back after closing a window. Adium's log viewer solves this nicely.

Screen shot.
Adium's log viewer makes it easy to retrieve key bits of information. You can jump to different log files by selecting the person in the drop down box at the top and then selecting the date in the left column. ID's have been blurred.

There are some subtle interface features in Adium that I've also come to appreciate. The bouncing squawking bird icon in the dock is one of them. In AOL's AIM client, I could be typing away in email, but a message from a Buddy would suddenly appear, and I'd be typing away in that window instead. Oh, the embarrassment of sending a co-worker a string of x's and o's meant for an email message to my husband. In Adium, the bird on the dock flaps its wings, bounces, and squawks, but you aren't switched over into Adium automatically until you do so intentionally. If the squawking bird sounds "cute," it is. But the more I've used it, the more I realize that it's a great interface feature as well. It gives you a chance to finish a thought or an email message before dealing with something new.

Even though Mac OS X now comes with its own iChat client, Adium is full of useful and thoughtful features. And since it's free, there's no reason not to give it a try. The only drawback to Adium is that it's strictly an AIM client. If you need to chat with users on other services, you're out of luck. (In that case, you may want to try Proteus.)

Uploading files -- SFTP clients

When I switched to Mac OS X, it was pretty important to find a good SFTP client. Otherwise, how would I get those lovely banners up on the server? It's true that I could do this from the command line using scp (for more scp info, type man scp in your terminal window), but it's just not that efficient. It's much faster for me to drag and drop a file called 111-vbdotnetcore.gif than it is to remember how its spelled, let alone remember where I put the darned thing.

I actually tried three programs for SFTP. Each one has its own advantages and limitations, but each also offers a free trial period. I tried RBrowser, Gideon, and MacSFTP:



Trial Version


RBrowser (basic)


20 days


RBrowser (professional)


20 days




yes -- w/nag screen




15 days



RBrowser available in two versions: a $29 basic version and a $49 pro version. The basic version supports FTP and SFTP, while the pro version includes remote file system browsing with UNIX, SSH, and SCP. Other features supported only in the pro version include direct secure file transfers between remote hosts with SSH/SCP and SSH access through firewalls with tunneling.

When you connect to a server with RBrowser, you get a window showing the remote host as well as a window showing your local directories,pretty standard stuff. You don't have to use that local viewer, however, you can also drag files from a Finder window into the remote directory.

Screen shot.
RBrowser's local viewer shows several file attributes by default, but you can also drag and drop from a Finder window.

In addition to the standard file transfer features, RBrowser lets you open, edit, and save files all on the remote host. You can make changes to files without downloading them to your local drive and then re-uploading them again. I find this a convenient feature when I need to make a quick change to a graphic file.

Screen shot.
You can choose to open a file in its default application, or you can use the tools viewer to choose from among all relevant apps.

Rather than configuring the program to open certain file types with specific applications you choose, RBrowser gives you the opportunity to search your hard drive to add applications automatically. Instead of opening all graphics files in Photoshop to edit, for example, you might simply want to open one in a Web browser to view or to display the dimensions. With RBrowser, you can do this easily without a lot of configuration steps.

RBrowser is a little powerhouse of features and works very well, but in day-to-day use I was sometimes frustrated by slow response in the interface. Sometimes I seem to need to click down and hold before dragging a file over to the remote view window. I asked Robert Vasvari, the creator of RBrowser, if he had any comments on this and whether or not this might be improved with the new Finder in Jaguar. He said that some of RBrowser's refresh troubles might come from issues in the current Cocoa dragging kit. Some of this may be fixed in Jaguar, and that has been, in fact, my experience. Updating to Jaguar seemed to make these problems disappear.

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