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Utilities for Switching on the Cheap
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Gideon

Gideon, from Gideon Softworks, is a $25 shareware SFTP/FTP client for Mac OS X.



Gideon's default interface is quite a bit different than that of RBrowser. It presents a single-window side-by-side view that former Windows users (especially those using WS_FTP or Secure FS) may find especially comfortable. Like RBrowser, however, it also allows you to drag-and-drop from a Finder window.

Screen shot.
Gideon's one-window, side-by-side view may be more familiar to folks who used applications like WS_FTP under Windows.

Gideon also lets you open and edit files on the remote host, though it takes a bit more pre-configuring of applications than RBrowser. With Gideon, you can pre-select one graphics editor and one text editor.

In my use, under Mac OS X 10.1.5, Gideon tended to quit unexpectedly every once in a while. In those cases, I was able to simply re-start and continue. To be fair, the Gideon Softworks site does warn: "We would like to remind you that this application is not finished. You may find a bug or two."

All in all, Gideon doesn't quite have the flexibility and power of RBrowser, but it's a very capable, easy-to-use SFTP/FTP client. Since it's free to download and try, it's well worth trying out for yourself. You may prefer its interface to other clients.

MacSFTP Carbon

MacSFTP Carbon is exactly what it sounds like, a no-nonsense SFTP client for OS X. It only supports SFTP. You can't use it to connect to regular FTP clients.

Screen shot.
With MacSFTP, you simply drag-and-drop between the connection window and local directories in the Finder.

MacSFTP beats both RBrowser and Gideon in terms of speed. Files upload quickly, and in general it's a pretty snappy application. If you ONLY need to SFTP files, MacSFTP may be the choice for you. But if you also need to connect to servers which support FTP and not SFTP, you'll get more for your money with either RBrowser or Gideon that let you do both in the same environment. I decided to spend my money on RBrowser.

GraphicConverter

GraphicConverter
by Lemke Software
Shareware, $30US in Europe, $35US in rest of the world; trial version w/nag screen available.

At $600+ for Adobe Photoshop, graphics editing can be a significant hurdle to switching from Windows to a Mac. Adobe won't even let you upgrade between the two platforms. The loyal Windows Photoshop user has to pay full price to move to the Mac. Fortunately, there's a great low-cost alternative: GraphicConverter.

As you would expect, GraphicConverter gives you access to just about any type of graphics files. About 160 different formats can be imported, and you can export to about 45 of those formats. But GraphicConverter does much more, making it a serious contender for its pricey rival. It features a full set of basic image manipulation and optimization tools.

Screen shot.
GraphicConverter has a number of image manipulation tools which may be all you need.

With GraphicCoverter, you can batch-convert images with a number of options, including rotating and resizing, and you can create "catalog" pages--generated html pages with clickable thumbnail images. You can even use AppleScript to automate routine tasks.

GraphicsConverter probably won't be for you if you need to do lots of image creation. But if your needs are more of the tweak-and-convert variety, it may be just the thing.

PixelNhance

PixelNhance
by Caffeine Software
Free.

Even though it's more lightweight than the robust GraphicConverter, CaffeineSoft's PixelNhance offers seven valuable image adjustment tools for absolutely free:

  • Brightness and contrast
  • Levels (Histogram)
  • Color
  • Saturation
  • Tone saturation
  • Sharpness
  • Noise reduction

Each of these tools works great, and surprisingly, the noise reduction filter is more effective than many included with more expensive packages. The one function that's missing, for some inexplainable reason, is image rotate. But that's not a problem if you're using PixelNhance with iPhoto since you can crop and rotate there before making your other adjustments. In fact, the two applications complement each other very well, and you can't beat their combined price.

Screen shot.
PixelNhance offers several ways to enhance your images.

The split-screen view in PixelNhance is a great feature. You compare the effect of your changes to the original image as you work on it. You can even click on the divider to move or rotate it to refine your workspace.

More, more, and more:

The number of good, inexpensive software programs for Mac OS X is ever increasing. If you have the time, it makes sense to try several options for any given task. One of these sites may help you find your own favorite utilities:

  • VersionTracker This popular site lists applications as soon as they are released or updated. Although you can search or browse by area of interest, the daily listings often provide wonderful serendipitous finds. Warning: may be addictive.
  • The Mac DevCenter Open Source Software Directory was originally built and maintained by Jason McIntosh, production software specialist for O'Reilly and Associates. The directory is now monitored by Derrick Story, managing editor of the Mac DevCenter.
  • Native OS X Applications, an easy-to-browse listing from the HyperJeff Network of almost 5000 native OS X software programs.

And whether it's finding the perfect software application or learning the most elegant keyboard shortcuts, the most important way to make a fast switch to OS X is this: find others who are doing the same. I'm incredibly lucky to be in an environment where I'm surrounded by people like Derrick and Rob and Peter There's really no substitute for the friendly guidance of those who have been there. Try a local (or virtual) user group, or perhaps immerse yourself for few days at a conference. You'll be pleasantly surprised how quickly you're dishing out the tips yourself.

Terrie Miller is an amateur naturalist, citizen scientist, permaculturist and writer from Northern Calfornia. Her personal weblog is TerrieMiller.com.


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