Category Archives: Software

Mount Multiple Disc Images for Free with Virtual CloneDrive

Please insert disc! I mean it! Insert the disc now!

If you grow tired of programs that demand the presence of a physical disc, you can bypass that requirement by running the disc virtually.

Virtual CloneDrive, by SlySoft, is a free program that allows you to mount and run disc images so that your computer will think they are physical discs. This is handy when an application checks for an inserted disc, such as installing/running software or playing a video game.

Virtual CloneDrive supports most popular image formats, including ISO, IMG, BIN, UDF, and CCD files. You can choose which file types to associate by default upon install.

You may have to reboot after installation (or after adding additional virtual drives). As of the most recent version (5.4.1.1), Virtual CloneDrive supports up to 15 virtual drives. Wow!

To mount an image, just right-click on one of your virtual drives and browse to the Mount option. You may then choose your desired image.

If you need some help determining which of your drives are the virtual ones, you can enable the Virtual Sheep option to give your drive(s) a nice sheep icon.

Virtual CloneDrive works with every version of Windows from 98 through Vista 64. I haven’t tried it yet on Server 2008, but I suspect it will work fine.

I really like this free tool, but if you want to try an alternative, I suggest MagicDisc. Daemon Tools used to rule this roost, but they upset a lot of people with the bundled inclusion of spyware in version 4. I’ll stick to Virtual CloneDrive.

Oh, and if you need to convert Nero NRG images to ISO, see my tip on using IZArc2Go.

10 Great OS X Applications for the Web Developer

One of the things I think of every single working day is how great a platform OS X is for software development. Now, take that with a grain of salt… I do development in a LAMP dev shop running Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl/PHP, but we’re running some enormous sites (LowFares.com, IdentityTheft.com, and Low.com). All of those technologies are open-source, and (in my opinion) very well suited for serious commercial sites. Java is fine if you need to send a man to the moon, but it you just need to say “Hello World!”, you’re still might be dealing with a rocket launch…

Peanut Gallery Java Pot-Shots

.NET isn’t any better… every .NET shop I’ve dealt with has had horrible down-times and massive release delays… but I digress…

Why is OS X Awesome for Software Development?

  1. Exposé — this feature saves me 30 to 45 minutes per day (yes, I’ve timed it). It’s unbelievable how much time you can save if you can quickly get between documents and apps.
  2. The BSD Subsystem — if you’re working with Linux/PHP/Perl/MySQL, it saves so much time to have OS X’s Terminal right there with a Unix variant under its hood. No need to emulate with Cygwin or go remote with Putty. You can test your Apache config or database queries without ever having to connect to the network.
  3. My Mac Runs Windows! — I can test my web pages in all major browsers by flipping between OS X and Parallels Desktop running Windows, or by using VirtualBox.
  4. It’s Not Windows — ha ha… I had to slip that one in. Sorry if you’re suffering through XP. I mean Vista. I mean the NT kernel.

Top 10 Applications for Software Developers on OS X

Ok, on to the main event. Here are ten great applications for a software developer working in OS X. These are the applications that have found an integral place in my workflow. Not all of them are free, but I have tried to list a free alternative when appropriate. I’m not recommending you get ALL of these, but depending on what exactly you’re doing, you might want to try out a handful of them.

iTerm: A Better Terminal

1. iTerm (Free)

Link – iTerm

This is to the command line what Firefox is to browsers: if the Terminal is IE, iTerm is like Firefox. It is simply a better Terminal. It allows tabs and bookmarks for those of you who log into multiple servers.

TextMate: a powerful interface and editor2. TextMate ($57)

Link –TextMate

I do like Smultron a lot (it’s free), but TextMate’s interface is preferable to me. It’s similar to a full-featured IDE such as Eclipse (which is also free) because it gives you a full folder-structure view in its document drawer (something that Smultron or TextWranger do not).

One thing – unlike Eclipse, TextMate is lightweight and fast without ump-teen Preference pages. If you need an IDE, give NetBeans (free) a try.

Transmit: a Powerful FTP/SFTP client with a great interface3. Transmit ($30)

Link –Transmit

Although there are free FTP clients out there, Transmit has one of the best interfaces because it incorporates Mac OS X’s column view. To be fair, I have had some problems connecting to certain servers when using Transmit, but I don’t know enough of the firewall internals to know why one client performed better than another.

If you prefer a free alternative, my recommendation is Cyberduck (free).

Sequel Pro is the sequel to CocoaMySQL4. Sequel Pro (Free)

Link –Sequel Pro (Free)

There are only a couple of choices when it comes to GUI MySQL interfaces for OS X, the other big one being Navicat (they have a lite version that’s free). The other popular choice for a long time was CocoaMySQL, which is still available for 10.4 users, but development on it has been abandoned and the project has moved over to Sequel Pro (the sequel… get it?) Sequel Pro offers an improved interface for 10.5 users (I prefer it to Navicat).

OmniGraffle: graphing, flowcharts, and designs5. Omnigraffle (Bundled with OS X, or $100, or $200 – Pro)

Link – OmniGraffle

Imagine Microsoft Visio, but clean and not bloated and well… not Microsoft. If you have to diagram databases or put together product requirements for documentation, this is a beautiful little product that may have come bundled with your Mac. The Standard version can almost get you through the medium and large projects. I haven’t seen anything on the Mac that comes close to what this application offers, and even though I get the feeling that the high price tag is getting validated by riding Visio’s bandwagon, I still think this is a good bit of software.

6. PhotoDrop (Free)

Link – PhotoDrop

This is a very simple app that lets you create droplets for bulk image processing. Each droplet can do things like convert images between formats, perform scaling and cropping, even watermarking. If you are doing web development, this is just a simple (and much cheaper) alternative to running Photoshop’s Save for Web feature over and over and over again. Very, very handy.

unArchiver: never type a weird command-line un-tar statement again.7. The Unarchiver (Free)

Link – The Unarchiver

This is handy if you’re frequently dealing with Zip, Tar, GZip, BZip2, Rar, 7-zip, LhA, and StuffIt files. Yes, you can handle many of these on the command line, but if you’d rather deal with a GUI, this tool is handy.

8. Nvu (Free)

Link – Nvu

This is a complete Web Authoring System for Linux, Windows and OS X. It’s like a free version of Dreamweaver (which maybe you’ve already outgrown?).

It has good support for style sheets and a Javascript console, but one irk is that the tabs that show multiple open documents seem to disappear if you are viewing the HTML source for the document (instead of the “Normal” WYSIWYG view). If you’re beyond the integrated WYSIWYG type of thing, have a good look at Eclipse (Free)… it’s a big framework that does a lot of things, but a number of web developers I know use it for its convenient browsing and previewing capabilities. Eclipse also integrates with versioning software (like SVN), but because it’s heavy-hitting, I only recommend it for more mature users. NetBeans looks to be a lighter alternative to Eclipse, but I haven’t tried it myself.

9. Seashore (Free)

Link – Seashore

This is a lightweight photo-editing application. It’s got all the things in Photoshop that I use frequently (layers, brushes, and exporting for web). It’s got some handy keyboard short-cuts, but it’s missing others.

SuperDuper: Elegant and Powerful Backups10. SuperDuper! (Shareware, $28)

Link – SuperDuper!

This is a popular backup utility. If you’re serious about doing development work, you know there is a lot of effort put into maintaining your valuable code and prior versions of it. You can use SuperDuper to create bootable clones of a drive, too. Hot stuff.

You can use SuperDuper! for free (forever), but the advanced features are available for a $28 fee.


Honorable Mention: Fluid (Free)

I mention this little app because I’ve found it extremely handy over the past couple days. If you compile a site into its own app, you can take advantage of the built-in Apple-tab shortcut to get to it. Another really helpful thing about working within the application-switching workflow is that you can assign the application(s) its own icon. That’s REALLY helpful when you’re working with a dev and a production version of a site… honestly, those simple little things can prevent disaster.

But the real reason I was compelled to mention Fluid is its inspector. It breaks a page down into the html tags, images, and style sheets ridiculously well. In my opinion, the layout of this program is sickly good… IMHO it’s better than the revered debugging plugin Firebug for Firefox. Wow. Yes, really. I’ve never had an easier time tracking down problematic HTML or a goofed up CSS declaration. However, the Fluid-compiled web site seems to have some weird behavior with its caching… you know the drill: make your edits, clear the cache, refresh the page. But sometimes the Fluid version doesn’t refresh correctly. I don’t know if this is something I can configure or if its an artifact of compilation, but I really hope it’s the former. The DOM inspector is just too slick to overlook. For more information, check out Brian’s post about Fluid.

Summary

I hope you’ve benefited from my sharing of this short list. I don’t recommend that you rush out to get all of these programs: some of them may be more relevant than others. If you think one looks interesting or practical, give it a try and see if you like it. Feel free to post your own suggestions about helpful OS X applications for software and web development.

Feature image credit: Guillermo Esteves

I Hate ID3 tags (Part 2)

I think I finally found a good solution to my dilemma.  The best part is, it’s open source and available for windows, linux, and mac.

Songbird

I had tried it in its early beta, and decided to try it again.  It can easily do everything iTunes does (except for all the stuff you don’t want iTunes to do).  Any feature it’s missing is typically available as a plugin.  It has some flaws, but they are already set for later releases (such as CD burning, but heck why not just use infra recorder for everything).  Just take a look at the features and “coming soon” section of the page.

Here is the important part:

The Single Most Amazing Plugin Ever. You can set multiple folders for it display in the folder tree, and it is simple to add content to.

When combined with Songbird, it solves all the problems the ID3-tag-hater has.  I also managed to install and uninstall enough plugins that it feels like it was made just for me.

Oh, did I mention it has a web browser built in and is fully skinnable?  I might do a full review in the future, but for now, I’m going to go listen to well organized music that I didn’t have to import into a sloppy music library.

Quick Tip – Stop Firefox from Remembering Downloads

This one is by no means difficult, but I often forget about it. I see no reason why Firefox should remember what I download, and it bugs me to see a huge list of previously downloaded files whenever I open the Firefox Download window.

Disabling this feature is simple. Just go to Tools → Options, and switch to the Privacy tab.

Un-check the box next to Remember what I’ve downloaded. Problem solved.

While we’re on the subject, you can also suppress the Downloads window from showing at all when you start a new download. Just switch back to the Main tab and un-check the box next to Show the Downloads window when downloading a file.

An Overview of Free Online Invoice Software

I got tired of tracking invoices for clients using an Excel spreadsheet. I knew there must be some good solutions for on-line invoices, so here’s what I found. All of these had a paid counterpart, and some of the free versions were too limited for all but experimental use. E.g. when they say there’s a limit of managing only 2 clients, that means you have to delete one and create a new client (entering name and address) each time you have to send an invoice to someone new.

Billing Manager lets you easily create invoices
Billing Manager lets you easily create invoices

Billing Manager

Link – https://billingmanager.intuit.com

This is the only service I found that offered unlimited invoices and unlimited clients for free. They are iPhone compatible, which means their site is iPhone friendly (it’s relatively fast), but they don’t have a standalone app yet. I had some serious problems importing my OS X Address Book contacts (see below), and their documentation didn’t help, but they responded promptly to my emails. In order to use Credit Cards and Electronic Checks, you have to set up an account with QuickBooks merchant service, which will run $15/month. One other irk with this software is that it requires you to disable your pop-up blocker for the preview functions to work.

Freshbooks

Link – http://www.freshbooks.com

The free version gives you one login and lets you manage only 3 clients. They have auto-bill gateways so you can charge credit cards using Paypal (yes, even using a basic Paypal account). This looks to be a nice and professional service… they even sent me a nice snail-mail sample invoice welcoming me to my trial account.

Lite Accounting

Link – http://liteaccounting.com

With the free account, you cannot use a custom logo on invoices, and you are limited to 5 invoices per month. They boast the “most affordable” solution, and yes, their full membership is almost as cheap as some of the others’ entry level membership.

Invotrak

Link – http://invotrak.com

They actually have an iPhone app and an OS X Dashboard widget. The free service limits you to 2 invoices per month and 2 clients per month.

Greener Billing

Link – http://www.greenerbilling.com

Their free (dirt cheap) plan offers you 3 invoices per month. Unlimited clients and unlimited staff access is nice… but you can’t send unbranded emails to clients (in other words, when you send an email invoice, it’ll somehow reference Greener Billing… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

In summary, I thought that Billing Manager was the best deal out there for those users who need a basic service (and who aren’t simply evaluating). Billing Manager was the only one that offered unlimited invoices and unlimited clients.

Outlook Address Book CSV Fields

As I mentioned, I had trouble working with Billing Manager’s address book importer. It worked fine for my Outlook address book, but it did not work well with with my OS X Address Book. This is probably because I’ve got it synced with my 10 year old Yahoo! address book (yikes!), and there are some real messy fields in there. So here are the steps you can use to get your address book into Billing Manager’s format:

  1. 1. Unfortunately, OS X’s Address Book Application does not allow for you to export your addresses into a CSV format. There is an Address Book to CSV Exporter linked on the Apple web site, but it won’t work for this task. You need a program that enables you to export a header row. Download the Address Book Exporter by David Martin & Gwenhiver.net. It allows for far greater flexibility. Download it.
  2. Once inside the Address Book Exporter, click on the “Configure Settings”. Check the “Write column titles as first line” — this is your header row.
  3. Check most of the fields (see image). Outlook doesn’t seem to have columns for any Instant Message addresses, so I left those out of my export.
  4. Open the resulting file in Excel (I know I know… groan… I don’t know another way to do this). Open another blank workbook and paste Outlook’s Header Row values (below) into the first row. Two tips here: first remove the commas. Also have a look at Excel’s “Paste Special…” feature. There’s a checkbox in there to “transpose” the paste. This will paste rows into columns or columns into rows.
  5. Copy the columns from your OS X Address Book Export into the matching columns in the Outlook-friendly workbook.
  6. Save the workbook as a CSV file.
OS X Address Book Exporter
OS X Address Book Exporter

Outlook’s Header Row

For the record, when you export your Outlook contacts, these are the fields that show up in your header row:

Title, First Name,Middle Name, Last Name,Suffix,
Company,Department, Job Title,Business Street,Business Street 2,
Business Street 3, Business City, Business State, Business Postal Code,
Business Country, Home Street, Home Street 2, Home Street 3,
Home City, Home State, Home Postal Code, Home Country,
Other Street, Other Street 2, Other Street 3, Other City,
Other State, Other Postal Code, Other Country, Assistant's Phone,
Business Fax, Business Phone, Business Phone 2, Callback,
Car Phone, Company Main Phone, Home Fax, Home Phone,
Home Phone 2, ISDN, Mobile Phone, Other Fax, Other Phone,
Pager, Primary Phone, Radio Phone, TTY/TDD Phone,
Telex, Account, Anniversary, Assistant's Name,
Billing Information, Birthday, Business Address PO Box, Categories,
Children, Directory Server, E-mail Address, E-mail Type,
E-mail Display Name, E-mail 2 Address, E-mail 2 Type, E-mail 2 Display Name,
E-mail 3 Address, E-mail 3 Type, E-mail 3 Display Name, Gender,
Government ID Number, Hobby, Home Address PO Box, Initials,
Internet Free Busy, Keywords, Language, Location,
Manager's Name, Mileage, Notes, Office Location, Organizational ID Number,
Other Address PO Box, Priority, Private, Profession,
Referred By, Sensitivity, Spouse, User 1,
User 2, User 3, User 4, Web Page

Did I miss any free invoicing products? Let me know in the comments.

Switcher 2.0 РA Free Expos̩ Clone for Vista/Server 2008

There are number of utilities available that mimic the functionality of Apple Exposé, but my favorite that I’ve tried so far is Switcher.

Switcher 2.0www.insentient.net

Though Switcher has been out for a while, version 2.0 was just released a couple months ago. It adds a number of cool features and is even available in both an executable and a non-installer format.

Here’s the main screen:

Once Switcher is running, call it into action by pressing Win (left) + Tab. If you don’t like that key combo, you can easily create your own.

By default, Switcher is set to Tile view:

Hovering over a tile with your mouse highlights it, and clicking it brings the window to the foreground.

You can also switch to Dock view, which lines up all the windows at the top with the current tile enlarged below:

Pressing Tab will cycle through the available windows.

The third view type is Grid view:

Pretty simple, really. All available windows are lined up straight across your desktop in an orderly fashion.

Switcher works well as an Exposé clone, but it also has a few extra tricks up its sleeve. Here are a few:

  1. Call up a window by number. Just hit a number (1-9) to bring that window number to the front. This works especially well with Grid view.
  2. Quickly close a window by middle-clicking it (mouse wheel button).
  3. Too many windows? Hit Ctrl-F and start typing to quickly search for a particular window.
  4. Hide any window with Ctrl-H.
  5. Only show windows of a particular program by pressing Ctrl-W. This is similar to the F10 button in Apple Exposé.
  6. Want to minimize all windows except a certain one? Just right-click on it. Neat.

If you have Exposé envy on your Windows machine, Switcher is best free tool that I’ve found. Plus, I love that it does not even require installation.

Get Switcher 2.0 – Requires Vista/Server 2008 plus Aero.

Add Gmail IMAP to Thunderbird Without Breaking a Sweat

As you may know, Gmail IMAP and Thunderbird form an awesome combination. As you may also know, setting up and configuring that combo is a time-consuming process. First you have to look up and enter all the required port information. Then you have to look up and follow the IMAP recommended client settings for things like sent folders, drafts, junk, and trash. It’s a hassle, but the end result is worth it.

While I don’t object to anyone going through that process manually for the hands on experience, I’d love a way to do it in seconds rather than minutes. I’m reminded of one of my favorite Garfield quotes – You can bet it wasn’t an exercise freak who invented power steering.

Alas, there IS an easier way. just use the Gmail IMAP Account Setup add-on for Thunderbird. When you install this extension, it adds a couple extra entries to the account setup wizard that will automatically configure recommended settings for IMAP Gmail. Nice!

Here’s the simple, sweat-free process:

First, be sure that you have enabled IMAP in Gmail. Go to the Settings page and click Forwarding and POP/IMAP. Near the bottom, enable IMAP.

Download the Add-on XPI file from the Thunderbird Add-ons page. Now open Thunderbird and go to Tools → Add-ons. Click the Install button.

Browse to find the XPI file that you downloaded and install it. Restart Thunderbird to finish installation.

Now, when you create an new account in Thunderbird, the New Account Setup Wizard has a couple new options.

Next, just add your Name and E-mail address.

And that’s it! The last page of the wizard will simply display your setup information, including SMTP.

That was easy, wasn’t it? No more fooling around with ports and managing folders. I’ve tested Gmail IMAP Account Setup on Windows and Linux, though I assume it also works on Mac OS X.