MaCinJay’s Musings

another case of inverse vandalism

Posts Tagged ‘Mac

Mailplane brings Gmail to the Mac desktop

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As far as email clients go Gmail has a number of strong points. First, it provides an incredible amount of free online storage capacity (almost six-and-a-half gigabytes), a big plus for people with smaller hard drives who prefer to keep their old email. Second, you can access your mail on any computer with a web browser. Third, it comes with Google’s excellent search engine built in and, last (but certainly not least these days), it has very effective spam-filtering.

It also has a few weak points of course:

  • It’s web-based, which is a show-stopper if you need to access your emails offline. There’s no desktop integration – for example you can’t create attachments by dragging files into a new message from the Finder.
  • Many are put off by the idea of having all their email archived on remote servers although, arguably, this is just as vulnerable residing on their own computers.
  • Users have to put up with advertisements, though to be fair these are very discreet.
  • The minimalist user interface may not be your cup of tea.

Which brings me to Mailplane, an application designed to address some of these weaknesses by integrating Gmail with the Mac desktop. This application sandboxes Gmail to approximate a traditional desktop email client (the email itself remains in cyberspace), which I think is a nice touch.


The toolbar is certainly useful; it saves fiddling about with some of the less-than-intuitive elements of Gmail’s user interface. Most of the toolbar buttons serve as alternatives for those already found in Gmail – “Discard” for “Delete” for instance. However some of these activate features not available in Gmail itself. For example you can easily access photos, audio and movie files by clicking on the iMedia button, then drag and drop them onto the Mailplane window to attach them to new messages. Other nice touches are the Mailplane shortcut in the OS X menu bar and Growl support.

The question is though, is Mailplane worth the $25 dollar price tag? It is after all possible to configure Gmail accounts in Mail, Apple’s free email solution, and enjoy the advantages of a desktop client for nothing. It will really depend on your own preferences. If you want to leave your email on Google’s capacious server farms and like Gmail’s features, but enjoy having it integrated with your desktop, then Mailplane is well worth considering


Written by macinjay

February 12, 2008 at 9:57 pm

Posted in Apple Mac

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Mac OS X: Calculator replacement

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One of the most useful tools in OS X is the Calculator. To be honest though it is a bit limited. For instance, it doesn’t have a percentage function.

Enter R.L.M. Software, which has created several emulations of HP’s well-loved financial and scientific calculators for the Mac. I downloaded the simulator of my own HP calculator, the 10BII. This has all the functions of the real thing, plus a lot of other useful features like voice feedback, register and paper tape views. Not bad for $11.

Written by macinjay

January 23, 2008 at 10:06 pm

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Mac OS X Leopard: Mail

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I’ve tried a few email clients for the Mac but always come back to OS X’s built-in solution – known simply as Mail – due to its superior user-friendliness. On the downside Mail isn’t as fully featured as rivals such as Entourage, which is bundled with Microsoft Office for Mac. However the Leopard version of Mail has a number of new features that make it a lot more powerful.

In the past one of Mail’s biggest shortcomings in my opinion was its lack of a “follow-up” feature; it wasn’t possible to take, say, an invoice sent by email and flag it for payment on a specific date. In the new version of Mail this can done by selecting the relevant text in the body of the message and selecting the “To Do” icon in the toolbar, which creates a to-do note in the “Reminders” section of the redesigned sidebar. (Incidentally the Mail sidebar is – much like the new Finder – reminiscent of the familiar iTunes interface, another example of Apple’s move to a unified theme for Leopard.) After selecting the to-do note a follow-up date can be entered via a contextual menu (activated by CTRL-mouse click).


Granted it’s a slightly long-winded approach, but it does have a certain elegance about it. I also find the new notes feature to be a more convenient alternative to Apple’s Stickies application.

More impressive perhaps is the new “data detector” feature that identifies email addresses, telephone numbers, dates and so on in emails. Again a contextual menu provides the user various options – for example telephone numbers can be added to the address book. Naturally this is far more convenient than having to copy and paste the information.

The new version of Mail also comes with a whole range of useful templates for things like birthday greetings, special announcements and so on, which are a great way of whipping up snazzy-looking messages.

My only complaint about Mail in Leopard are the nondescript toolbar icons; I much preferred the OS X Panther icons, to the extent that I used a third-party application to bring them back when I bought my last Mac running OS X Tiger. Regrettably though the developer hasn’t come out with a Leopard-compatible version yet. I can’t say I regret the sacrifice though because the new version of Mail has so much more to offer.

Written by macinjay

December 13, 2007 at 10:31 pm

Posted in Apple Mac

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Mac OS X Leopard: Finder

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Stacks and Spaces are entirely new applications in OS X. The Finder on the other hand is the most venerable Mac application, going all the way back to the original 128k Mac. Essentially it is the Mac equivalent of Windows Explorer (although there are of course many differences between the two). I won’t bore you with a history of the Finder but those interested can read about it in this Wikipedia article.

Instead I’ll concentrate on the major changes made to the Leopard Finder. First of all the sidebar has been redesigned. It now looks a lot like the sidebar in iTunes, as can be seen from the screenshots below.


In fact the changes to Finder’s sidebar form part of a unified theme that Apple has established for the operating system with Leopard. Which is not to say that the change is purely cosmetic; as you can see the Finder sidebar is now divided into discrete categories i.e. devices (cameras, disk drives etc), shared resources, folders (Places in Leopard parlance) and searches. It is still possible however to add folders to the Places section in the sidebar. In the searches category Apple has thoughtfully included some useful smart folders out of the box, but these can also be added to.

Incidentally, accessing shared resources has become a lot easier in Leopard. When a resource is available on the network it automatically appears in the sidebar. Connecting to the resource is now just a matter of clicking on the resource icon. A big improvement over Tiger here in my opinion, where connecting to other resources on the Network always seemed to be a hit-or-miss affair.

Other significant enhancements to the Finder are Cover Flow and Quick Look.

Cover Flow


In the past the user was restricted to three views in the Finder: icon, list and column. In Leopard there is now another view to choose from, namely Cover Flow. Along with the new sidebar this is another feature that the Finder has borrowed from iTunes and one that many non-Mac users will be familiar with. It enables the user to browse documents, images, folders and applications as if flipping through album art in iTunes. Some purists have questioned its usefulness, preferring the traditional finder views. Personally I think that Cover Flow is a useful addition, especially as an alternative to iPhoto for browsing photos.

Quick Look

This provides a convenient way of previewing a document without having to open its application. Simply select the document in the Finder and press CTRL and the mouse button, then select Quick Look from the contextual menu. Alternatively you can select Quick Look’s icon in the Finder toolbar. (If it isn’t there by default select Customise Toolbar in the Finder’s View menu and drag the eye-shaped icon into the toolbar.)

That concludes my brief review of Leopard’s new Finder. While it wasn’t completely overhauled as some wanted I think that overall the changes represent a significant improvement over the Finder in Tiger.

Written by macinjay

December 2, 2007 at 9:36 am

Return of the Mac

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My worst fears were realised after C3 (the name of the Apple authorised service centre I took my iMac to) eventually diagnosed the problem with my G5. By the way, if you ever have a similar problem DON’T take your Mac there – their service is shoddy. It took them the better part of three weeks to fax me a quote for repairs. Anyway, according to them it was indeed a blown logic board that would cost me close to R8000 to replace.

I had already been agonising whether there would be any point in spending that sort of money to repair it. Due to the rapid advance of computer technology these machines are quickly outdated by newer and better models. For a thousand or so more than the cost of the repairs I could have gone out and bought a brand new MacBook. Much as I love the iMac, it just didn’t seem cost-efficient to revive it. Also now that we are living in a bigger place a laptop is more appealing; it can be carried around the house whereas the iMac was restricted to our study in the loft.

However the MacBook line has a glaring disadvantage, namely integrated graphics. As a result they are not suitable for things like heavy video-editing and serious gaming. The MacBook Pros on the other hand have NVIDIA GeForce dedicated graphics and are prized by more demanding users and gamers. So, after further soul-searching I decided that the MacBook Pro was the computer that I really wanted. I ended up getting a nice deal on a 15″ 2.2 GHz shop demo last week, which I am using to write this post.

I haven’t looked back since. In contrast to my iMac the MacBook Pro handles Leopard with aplomb. I heard somewhere that Leopard had been optimised to run on Intel’s multi-core processors and I can well believe it. The MacBook Pro’s extra RAM (2 GB to the iMac’s 512 MB) also makes a big difference.

No longer am I restricted to using my Mac in the study; now it can go wherever I go. All I need to do now is figure out out to access the Internet using my cellphone as a modem.

In any event the most important thing is that I now have a Mac again after having to make do with my wife’s Windows laptop for the last few weeks. Now I can carry on exploring the new features in Leopard, as I promised to do before I broke my iMac.

More to come…

Written by macinjay

November 22, 2007 at 10:03 pm

Mac nightmare

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After I installed Leopard I decided that it was finally time to upgrade my RAM, as my iMac was noticeably slower. So I bought a 1 Gig stick of memory from a supplier on the West Rand. Of course when I tried to install it that night it wouldn’t fit into the expansion slot, despite me having given the assistant the exact specifications that I needed. In my naiveté I managed to get the module in anyway.

Needless to say, after I restarted my Mac emitted a series of loud beeps. The white light in the bezel came on but the screen remained ominously dark. I turned off the machine and restarted it again after removing the RAM module – same result 😦

So this morning I dropped it off for repairs. The consultant told me that she thought it sounded like a blown logic board, which would put me back between four- and eight-thousand rand. That is if I decide it’s worth fixing; I can buy a new MacBook for less than 10k.

Lesson learned: leave the technical shit to the technicians.

Written by macinjay

October 31, 2007 at 8:24 pm

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So, I bit the bullet and traded in my Mac’s Tiger stripes for Leopard’s spots. I’ll be honest and admit that I was too impatient to back my system up before taking the plunge. After the install I had a bad moment when I thought it had wiped out all my files and applications until I realised that it had rebooted into an empty user profile. I switched into my default user profile and was relieved to find all my stuff.

I haven’t really had time to explore all of Leopard’s features yet. When I do I’ll record my experiences here.

Written by macinjay

October 28, 2007 at 8:08 pm

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