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Aging PowerBook Upgrade by a Linux/OS X Geek
Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Startup Items

Of course a large part of customizing a system is the selection of startup items. While you can manually start your applications every time you power on your Mac, invariably you will forget something and then have to wait around while it loads. I added the following to my startup items (under the Accounts System Pref panel):

  • Meteorologist

    Meteorologist is a simple and efficient weather utility for your menu bar. By default, it displays the current weather (with an icon) and the temperature. Click on the icon to see forecasts. Remember, I disabled Dashboard, so I don't use the Dashboard weather widget. Free and GPL licensed.

  • (comes with the OS)

    I interact almost constantly with the Terminal so it makes sense to start it automatically. There are other Mac terminal programs out there such as iTerm, or you could always use xterm. However, the Mac has everything I need and is well integrated with the rest of the OS.

  • Slim Battery Monitor

    Once you start adding items to the menu bar, it gets full pretty quickly. This free application helps by using less space and generally looking nicer than the default battery application. Not a necessary tool, but I like it. Freeware.

  • Desktop Manager and Aquamacs

    I discussed these applications previously so I won't say much here other than that if you use them, then you want to load them on startup so they are ready to go right away.

  • MkConsole

    MkConsole shows that GUI programs actually can follow the Unix tool philosophy. That is to say, it does one thing and does it well: MkConsole displays logfiles on your desktop. I set it to display my system log (/var/log/system.log) in the lower left of my screen. This ensures that I can always see the last few lines of the log below whatever windows I happen to be working with.

    Several Mac OS features make this even more useful. Remember how I set Expose to show the desktop when I flick the mouse to the upper-right corner of the display? This gives me a quick way to see much more of the log: if something interesting scrolls by in those bottom few lines, I can quickly clear my desktop to see more.

    True alpha transparency (see-through windows) also enhances this. I spend most of my time in Aquamacs and the Terminal, both of which support see-through windows. This means that much of my desktop is always dimly visible behind whatever I happen to be doing. Obviously, I set the windows to be only slightly transparent; otherwise, the background images are too distracting. If I suddenly see messages scrolling by behind my foreground application, I can again use Expose to clear my desktop and get a better look. See-through windows aren't just a pretty trick; they actually allow me to utilize my desktop more efficiently. Open source.

  • SSHKeychain

    The Mac OS Keychain enables a centralized password mechanism. When you unlock Keychain (which happens by default when you log on), you gain access to all stored passwords, such as website logins.

    SSHKeychain extends this to SSH keys so it is a Mac GUI equivalent of using ssh-agent and ssh-add to store key passphrases in memory on other platforms. Note that you are free to use those tools if you choose. SSHKeychain simply integrates ssh key management more closely with the Mac OS so it is more convenient. Plus, of course it has a pretty GUI like all good mac apps. Open source.

  • Synergy

    This is one of the few shareware Mac apps I've actually paid for (either because I'm so cheap or Synergy is insanely great). Synergy adds a few iTunes enhancements that I find indispensable:

    • Current song floater: a small transparent window that displays the current song info and the album cover (which Synergy downloads from the web automatically). This pops up on each song change and is very useful if you happen to use Desktop Manager and/or keep iTunes minimized all the time.

    • Keyboard shortcuts for player controls: system-wide customizable shortcuts for essential iTunes functions such as Play/Pause and Skip to Next Track. This way, you don't have to track down the iTunes window every time you want to pause the music.

  • MenuMeters

    MenuMeters provides exactly what the name implies--meters in your menu bar. You can customize it to display various system statistics such as CPU load and network activity. This gives you immediate feedback when a Firefox plugin decides to try and take down your system by consuming all available CPU. Open source.

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