Top 5 Free Apps for Mac

The Mac App Store makes shopping for software fun.  Here are my picks for the top 5 free apps for the Mac.

  1. Caffeine:  Fading the screen to save power is a good idea, but sometimes you don’t want that to happen.  Caffeine keeps your screen awake with a single click.
  2. Text Wrangler:  A darn good text editor from the makers of BBedit.  I like it almost as much as UltraEdit.
  3. Ringer:  Take any song in iTunes and make it a ring tone. It uses a waveform view that makes it easy to pick out the right snippet.  Options allow fade-in and fade-out.  At the end, it drops the results right back into iTunes to be transferred to your phone.
  4. Stuffit Expander:  An easy to use toolbox for dealing with all of the file compression and archiving formats.
  5. MiroVideoConverter:  It converts video formats. It’s a lot easier to use than ffmpeg and gets pretty good results.

I’m always looking for things that make my computer easier to use. What apps do you recommend? What’s on your list?


*The apps were free when I downloaded them.  They may no longer be so.

Anti-Virus on my Mac – Planning for the low probability event

Despite the large number of people who say that (1) there are no viruses targeting the Mac and (2) even if there were, the Mac's near perfection would prevent them from infecting any machines, I believe that there is stuff out there and it's just a matter of time before someone develops a really effective bit of malware targeting Macs.* It's debatable whether one needs an antivirus program on a Mac, but on a cost/benefit basis, it seems to me that one ought to be protected.

I'm currently testing the free Home Edition for the Mac from Sophos.  It seems to have a fairly light footprint and doesn't seem to interfere with normal processing.  I did tell the auto-protect subsystem to ignore the VMWare files. There's no point in scanning those, and I'm using a Windows AV program inside the Windows XP virtual machine.

I had previously tried the Norton Internet Security suite. That stayed on my computer for about 12 hours.  It was intrusive and it noticeably slowed the system.  It was difficult to turn off the parts I didn't want (e.g., firewall) and conflicted with TimeMachine and mail. These problems are not present with Sophos.

The biggest plus I see is that Sophos is very up front about supporting an open user forum.  The first step in the installation takes you to the user forums so you can see if others are having problems before installing.  I learned that there was a problem with TimeMachine, but it was fixed in a recent update. That's good stuff to know.  It also demonstrates that Sophos is staying on top of the user comments and complaints.


* The folks at Sophos, who clearly have something to gain, have several videos detailing existing threats to the Mac environment.  Other warnings are here and here. According to at GigaOm, "The reasons why Macs don’t get many viruses are as much based on luck and market conditions, as they are on inherent security."

Inevitably, something will go wrong: A plan for backup

A while ago, I wrote a piece about the need to backup your home computers.  After tweaking the full-backup script on my desktop today, I thought it would be useful to update the information. 

Before we get into it, I hear you say, “But Steve, I’m not technical.  I don’t understand about scripts and I have a PC.”  For you, I recommend either Mozy or Carbonite.  Both are “set it and forget it” systems that, for about $55 a year, will backup your computer into the cloud and keep that backup current whenever it is connected to the internet. Installation is trivial and both have excellent technical support.

I’m backing up 4 computers with four backup methods:

  • Fedora Linux Desktop
    • backup of my home folder to a Linux server
    • backup of entire file system to external USB drive
  • Apple MacBookPro
    • backup of entire file system to external USB drive using Time Machine
  • Sony Vaio notebook (MS Vista)
    • image backup of hard drive to external USB drive
  • Fedora Linux Server
    • backup of entire file system to external USB Drive

The Sony Vaio image backup uses CloneZilla.  CloneZilla is a free product that works like Symantec Ghost or other commercial image backup programs. I boot the computer from the CloneZilla CD, plug in the external USB drive, and create an image of the hard drive.  I use image backup because I’m protecting this system from a failing hard drive. The most likely restore scenario is a “bare metal restore”, not a file restore.

The Linux systems use a simple rsync script for full file system backups. It’s attached below. The main file, “do-backup”, does the backup.  The companion file, “do-backup-excludes”, excludes certain virtual parts of the file system from the backup. Restores are easy because the file system is duplicated (through 5 iterations) on the backup media.  Files can be restored by a simple copy or by using rsync.

I backup my desktop home directory to the server using a script based on rdiff-backup.  Unlike my do-backup script, rdiff-backup uses a combination of rsync and diff files to produce a backup with multiple increments. Restores from increments other than the most recent backup must use the restore functions of rdiff.

The Apple MacBookPro uses Time Machine for backup and like most things Apple, it just works.