iLive Mac
Macs are not just another computer, they are a way of life!

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Widgets on the Desktop

I love widgets.

Obviously the Mac community does too, judging by the rapidly growing number (and diversity) of widgets available on the Internet. There are now widgets that do everything from tracking sunrise times to reviewing restaurants, and even bizarre ones like a simulated lava lamp.

My only gripe with widgets was that Apple confined them to their own "layer" (Dashboard). Maybe Apple viewed widgets as the children of the software world and banished them to play together outside, so that they didn't get in the way of the "grown-up" applications on the desktop. Maybe they just didn't realise how useful some of these widgets would be in day-to-day tasks.

For instance, I live in Australia but trade on the US markets. My trading platform displays the market time on some screens, but not others. When trading, I need to be aware of how long until the market closes. The World Clock widget is the perfect solution, apart from having to activate Dashboard every time I want to check on the time.

Well, it turns out that with a little bit of hacking you can get any widget you like to stay on the desktop, just like any other application. Simply open up a Terminal window (this application can be found in the Utilities folder) and type the following at the prompt:

defaults write com.apple.dashboard devmode YES


You then need to restart Dashboard for this to be effective. That generally means either logging out and logging back in, or restarting the Finder (using Force Quit under the Apple menu). Note that this setup will need to be done in each user account on your Mac that wants to be able to put widgets on the desktop.

That's the setup done. Now, whenever you want to bring a widget onto the desktop, simply follow these steps:

  • Activate Dashboard (usually F12)
  • Click and drag on the widget you want, moving it slightly from its current location
  • While still holding the mouse button down, deactivate Dashboard
  • Release the mouse button

Now the widget will take its place on the desktop just like any other application. If you want to return the widget to its home, simply follow the reverse procedure:

  • Click on the widget and drag it to a new location
  • With the mouse button still down, activate Dashboard
  • Release the mouse button to return the widget to the Dashboard layer

The World Clock is just one of the many widgets that can serve a useful stint on the desktop. Why not let me know what use you find for this hack by adding your comments to this post.

BTW - This hack is just one of the many useful tricks I found in the book "Hacking Mac OS X Tiger" by Scott Knaster. Check out the link in the sidebar to see what other gems it contains.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

MacTel - Peer Pressure or Masterstroke

Macs on Intel chips - if you had suggested that to a Mac owner 2 years ago you would have been laughed down (or worse). Now it is a reality. But what does it really mean for Apple and the Mac user community?

When the move was first announced around 12 months ago, many of the Mac faithful (including myself) were asking questions like:
  • Had Steve Jobs lost his mind?
  • Was Apple forced into the move by Corporate bullying?
  • How could Macs maintain their competitive advantage on the Intel platform?
  • Would Macs even survive the move to Intel?

With the benefit of more information (and some time to adjust to the initial shock), things don't seem nearly so grim. In fact, it is shaping up to be one of the best moves Apple could have made.

Firstly, the Intel chip being used is not the Pentium chip that was available at the time of the initial announcement, nor the Centrino that most PCs use now, but a brand new chip not yet seen in PCs. The Intel Core Duo is actually two processors built on the same chip. And far from the initial expectation of slower, bulkier laptops, the new MacBook Pro is thinner and up to 4 times faster than its predecessor.

Will PCs eventually use the same chip? Only time will tell.

Will Windoze be as good as Mac OS if they do? Unlikely!

The difference has always been, and will continue to be, in the way that Apple and Microsoft handle advances in technology.

Apple have a track record of being willing to implement completely new architectures (both software and hardware) in order to make the most of new technology as it becomes available. On the hardware front, they did it with the move from the original Motorola chips to the Power PC chips. On the software front, they did it with the move from System 9 to OS X. The key has been in the provision of seemless integration layers that ensure that existing software continues to run. This allows users to upgrade to newer, more powerful software in their own time, without feeling pressured into it.

Microsoft, on the other hand, have a track record of hamstringing new versions of the Windoze operating system in order to ensure existing programs still run. While this also spares users from having to upgrade programs immediately, it also robs them of the full power that would otherwise be available in the new versions. You can bet that Microsoft will not be able to make full use of the power of the new chips for some years even if PC manufacturers started using them now.

With this in mind, I think this move could prove to be one of Steve Jobs' best ever.

Now consumers will see both Macs and PCs running on Intel chips, yet Macs will be faster, more reliable and graphically superior. And if the move to Intel succeeds in lowering the cost to be competitive with PCs, which must have been part of the motivation, then we are likely to see a lot more users switching to the Mac. Especially on the back of the popularity of the iPod, which has already got more people considering a Mac.

Personally, I can't wait to get my hands on a new MacBook Pro.

Why not let me know what you think - take the poll in the sidebar.

Friday, January 13, 2006

What is iLive Mac?

iLive Mac is my little corner of the digital universe where I get to tell everyone how great Macs are.

Let's face it - Macs are the coolest computers available. Pretty well always have been, and probably always will be.

I fell in love with the Mac way back in 1987 - back when the operating system, applications and data files all fitted on the one floppy disk (Yes, before Macs even had hard drives!). I have been a devoted follower ever since.

Over the years I have proudly showed off my Macs to family and friends, especially to those who still thought only IBM compatibles could do "real" work. Many of them saw the folly of their previous ways and converted to Mac. Even my wife, who originally resisted, has now become a Mac devotee.

With all the Mac knowledge I have amassed over the years, I thought it was time to start sharing it with others. Through this blog I will be regularly sharing:

  • Tips and tricks
  • Cool applications I have found
  • Hints on switching from Windoze
  • Opinions
Feel free to drop me a line if you have any comments/suggestions on this blog, or if you have a Mac question that you would like me to answer.