Mondo Mac Tips

Mac Geekout Alert!As I’ve previously discussed on this blog, I’ve really been enjoying my experiences with Mac OS X. One of the truly nice things about the OS is that, due to the fact that it is a true UNIX, all of the UNIX toolchains are available for it. Additionally, Apple makes its own development tools available for free, which means that anyone can author software for OS X using well-documented, well-tested and well-understood tools and procedures.
The net result of this seems to be that free (as in beer) and Free (as in speech) software has flourished on the Mac platform, which is a net benefit to power users such as myself (i.e., those who don’t have time to code stuff on their own but are more than happy to use the tools others build, for free *grin*). I’m constantly on the lookout for new and noteworthy applications to toy around with and I managed to stumble across two excellent sites in my recent travels: the confusingly similarly- namedOpen Source Mac and Open Source on Mac. Open Source Mac tracks (with helpful full-color icons) the apps they consider best-of-breed, meaning that you’ll get the best of the best from OSM, while Open Source on Mac attempts to keep track of all natively compiled Mac apps, meaning no Fink or Darwin Ports software gets listed on OSoM. Both sites have led me to quite a few new useful apps, such as Fugu, Handbrake and the wickedly cool Center Stage. (A small shoutout must go to AFP548 for pointing out the excellent Lingon.)
Slightly less interesting, at least from a Politics of Software perspective, are the lists of “freeware” titles that Mac Games and More have compiled. Parts I and V deal with freeware games, parts II and III with generic Mac apps, and part IV deals with “board games”.
On the advice front, Paul Stamatiou has posted two very helpful articles intended to kickstart new Mac owners: 10 Things Every New Mac Owner Should Know and How To Quickie Fix OS X Firewall. They both make quick and informative reads, so head over and give them a look.

Mac OS X Geekage Of The Day

In my experience, Mac OS X has largely been “UNIX Done Right™”, although there are quirks here and there, most of which one would never encounter in their day-to-day computer usage. One of those cases is changing a user’s shortname.
Let’s take a step back. Mac OS X allows users to sign in using either their full name (“Doug Stewart”, for instance) or their system-level short name (“dstewart”, for instance). The first is more newbie-friendly, while the second conserves keystrokes. You can easily edit the long name in the Accounts pane in System Preferences, but, by default, you can’t change the short name. OS X uses that short name for your home directory (/Users/[shortname], by default) and uses it in all of your NetInfo account information, as well as with your system password keychains.
So, what to do if you’ve incorrectly typed in a short name or simply want to change the name (for instance, I wanted to change the default Administrator account on a new box I set up to be “admin” instead of the goofy name I had given it)? Apple’s suggested procedure is cumbersome, lengthy and more than a little scary. Well, Mac geeks, fear no more! The author of Mac OS X Power Tools has written a handy app called ChangeShortName. Just download the .dmg, mount it, run the helper directly from the disk image, enter the short name you want to change and the name you want to change it to and then enter the administrator’s password. You’re done. Easy as pie.
One caveat: this obviously works best when 1) you’re not logged in as the user being renamed and 2) you don’t have a lot of data contained in the home directory of the account in question, as that can lengthen the process considerably.

Mac OS X 10.4.3 Has Hit The Streets

I’ve loved my PowerBook ever since the day I brought it home, although it’s been conditional love. I’ve had all manner of niggling annoyances with the OS and it has taken me a while to get accustomed to the Mac way of doing things. I’ve gotten through the acclimation period, but those nits with the OS itself remained, at least until Monday night.
Two of my chief complaints were that 1) OSX can’t seem to handle remotely-mounted filesystems that aren’t exported via AFP (i.e., NFS, SMB, CIFS, etc.) and 2) Safari was slow, not fully standards-compliant, and prone to slowing the machine down to a crawl when viewing JavaScript-heavy pages, such as Google Mail/Maps/Reader,, etc.
All of these complaints remained firmly in place until Monday night. Apple released the much-anticipated OS X 10.4.3 and, glory be, my complaints were addressed! The complete release notes run down the changes in great detail, but for me, the fact that Safari no longer sucks where JS is involved and that I can now rely upon NFS shares (a staple, in my line of work) were Heaven-sent. Apple even threw in full Acid2 compliance, to boot! I’m an extremely happy man and, for all of you Tiger users out there, if you haven’t updated to 10.4.3, do so immediately.
Bonus for other OS X users:
I stumbled across a meme creation attempt by Om Malik (by way of Ceprix) that asks users to name their top 10 Mac apps. There are some very interesting and useful tools mentioned, not only by Malik, but also by his users, but the one that I’ve gotten the most use out of has been Quicksilver. It’s a bit difficult to describe (Mark Jaquith does an admirable job trying to describe it here), but I’ll give it a shot: it’s like having a Tab-completion pseudo-command line interface for your Mac. It makes getting around my Mac thousands of times easier. Prior to using Quicksilver, in order to have easy access to commonly-used applications, I had three choices: I could drag a shortcut to my Dock and use up precious screen real estate, I could place a shortcut on my Desktop, or I could open a Finder window, drill down to the Applications folder and start the app from there. Now, I simply hit Ctl+Space and type the first few letters of the application in question. Quicksilver then finds the app and, with a tap of the Enter key, I can fire up whatever suits my whims. It also works for visited URLs, documents, filesystem locations, iTunes – all manner of applications, MIME types, and actions. Brilliant!