A Few Good Utilities
Some easy ways to save key and mouse strokes

by Deborah Shadovitz

The chances are you got your Mac to make life more productive — and it probably has. But as great as it is, there are things Apple could do better. Fortunately, smart programmers who see what could be better usually step up to the plate for us, creating programs that add to the Finder’s functionality. These programs usually fall into the category we call "utilities." Over the years you may hear of or try several utilities. Some you may adopt for a while then decide you can live without. Others fall into the "to cry for" category as John Wallace of PowerOn Software calls it.

There are three kinds of utilities: font, trouble-shooting, and general everyday-use utilities. This month I share a few stroke-saving general utilities I miss — and cry for — when they’re not installed on the Mac you’re working on.

Automating text

Starting with the obvious, how many times per day do you type your own name, your address, your company’s name, your email address, or a standard signature block? My own answer is zero — as can be yours. SpellCatcher (formerly Thunder 7) is best known as a universal dictionary and thesaurus, but to me, its glossary expansion function is the real gem. Thanks to this feature, I simply type my initials and my name appears. Likewise "mya" — three simple keystrokes — expands to five lines of text providing my address and phone numbers, complete with carriage returns and tabs. Since SpellCatcher is able to work with any program you tell it to, you can use your custom shorthand combinations within any program on your Mac — even to name folders in the Finder. If you often type specially formatted words such as WEB-FM or WebSTAR, you’ll find yourself silently thanking SpellCatcher’s programmers everytime you type your simple shorthand combo. Here’s a tip: When entering a glossary item, press Option-J to place carriage returns.

The glossary performs another important feat by automatically correcting words you commonly type incorrectly. It starts with a common list of words and allows you to add your own. You probably remember the Word 6 ad that showed "TEH" turning into "THE." That was pretty cool, but it was limited to Word 6 — not much help when you mistyped within your email, illustration, or database program. With SpellCatcher you don’t have to worry about your common typos.

Of course, SpellCatcher’s dictionary is nothing to ignore, especially if you repeatedly use client or customer names. (There’s nothing worse than a misspelled name when that name is your client’s!) With SpellCatcher you can add the name once and ensure it’ll be acknowledged in each program you use. When no longer needed, you have only one place from which to remove the name. And of course, SpellCatcher comes with medical, legal, engineering/scientific, HTML, and computer-terms dictionaries, which can each be turned on or off. It also knows abbreviations and contractions.

SpellCatcher’s interface isn’t exactly intuitive. However, the manual is good and C&G’s excellent staff is there to help — especially if you find them at a trade show. SpellCatcher is a product of Casady & Greene <casadyg.com> and sells for around $49. (It’s no newcomer to the Mac, by the way, having been around since 1985.)

Contextual Menus Control

OS8’s Contextual Menus are true time-savers, but you need to press the Control key while clicking — but we’re talking about saving keystrokes here. Enter FinderPop, which lets contextual menus pop up without your control-click. Simply click and hold your mouse button instead. FinderPop also allows you to add commands to your contextual menus and to move files more easily. It does more too. Check it out to see its value…

While on the subject of contextual menus, I must rave about CMTools. This simple extension creates folders within the Contextual Menu Items folder in your System folder. By adding aliases of your favorite applications into these folders, you create extra contextual menus. With this simple freeware, your popup contextual menus can launch applications, open files within alternative programs, change creator codes, move files, copy files to specific locations, compress or decompress files, and more. Together with FinderPop, almost anything you need to do is one click away.

The most recent versions of FinderPop and CMTools can be found by doing a search at www.versiontracker.com. Both are freeware.

Efficient File Opening and Saving

How many mouse clicks do you lose every time you save a file? Even when saving into a folder that’s open and on-screen, you have to navigate within your Open/Save dialog box until you reach your destination. And even when saving to a folder you save to day after day or saved to just an hour ago, you have to do the same redundant navigation. Prior to OS8, PopUp Folder and Super Boomerang provided solutions to these extra steps, but both "broke" under OS8. PopUp Folder won’t be developed any further. Now Utilities‘ fate is uncertain, and it was known for stability problems even in its heyday. At any rate, Action Files has stepped in as the hero of the efficient Opening and Saving.

Action Files redefines the look and functionality of your Mac’s Open and Save dialog box — making it resizable, scrollable and movable, adding menus full of convenient commands, and displaying file information you are used to having within any folder window. Summarized in a single sentence, it may not seem very impressive, but wait ’til you begin to use Action’s features.

In the case of the navigation scenarios above, there are several solutions. Action places hierarchical menus within your Open and Save As menus in applications for a start. Then within the Open/Save dialog, Action provides easy access to Recent and/or Favorite items from unique Folders and Documents menus, the ability to rebound to the specific file you last accessed in a folder, and easy switching between drives. I love Favorite items. Since recent items are tracked by default, it‘s simple to select it in the menu and press the space bar to turn it into a Favorite. Once done, a Favorite folder or hard drive partition is always available to jump to with one click.

Have you ever begun to open a file and, while in the Open dialog box, realized you needed to check the date a file was last modified? Without Action Files you need to cancel and go to the Finder. With Action Files you simply look at the dates — right there within the dialog box. You can even sort by date with a click to the Date header. If this doesn’t provide enough information, you can Get Info on any file or even do a Find from within the dialog box. Perhaps you’ve been in the middle of opening or saving but had to cancel because you needed information from your open document and the dialog box blocked that information. With Action Files you can remain in the dialog box while moving it out of the way and/or resizing it. Unlike any other movable dialog box utility I’ve found, Action lets the entire document redraw.

Action Files is actually one part of a greater picture. You can expect to see more "to cry for" time-savers from this team. It seems every time I ask these guys for a feature they are already on the job.

Action Files is a product of PowerOn Software <poweronsw.com> and sells for $39.95. If you’re interested in Action Files, feel free to download a fully working 30-day demo. After you purchase it, it’s easy to enter your serial number to continue using Action files.

File Copying

You copy a folder to a disk as a backup to bring to a printer or such. When you later make changes to that folder and want to update your copy, your only option is to replace the existing folder, which recopies everything in it. Recopying tons of files doesn’t exactly waste keystrokes, but it can surely waste time. Your other alternative — to open each folder and compare files, manually copying only those which have changed — is a waste of both time and mouse strokes.

My choice for smart file copying is Connectix’s Speed Doubler 8, which compares the contents of each folder in question and, if you tell it to, copies only the files you’ve changed since your last copy.

Additionally, Speed Doubler 8 provides a quick and easy way to launch or bring forward any application or file. In the control panel, you simply select the application or file, then type the desired key combination. The seldom-used Control key comes in handy for this. For example, I have Control-E launching Emailer and Control-D launching my contacts file.

Speed Doubler 8 sells for around $55 and is usually available in a cost-saving bundle along with Ram Doubler 2. You can learn more about it at <Connectix.com>.

OS Stroke-savers

Of course, Apple has plenty of time-savers, too. The Control Strip brings several control panel functions within a single click, removing the need to navigate under the Apple menu to the control panel. Turn off those you don’t need or expect to need. Then move the rest into a most effective position on the strip by pressing Option as you click a module and drag it.

If you tend to open windows as you search for files and are plagued by clutter as you leave a trail of open folders, try these options. To begin with, pressing Option as you double-click a folder automatically closes the surrounding folder so you don’t have to do so later. If you’re moving a file into a folder and don’t know the path to that folder, Apple’s spring-loaded folders can help. Drag your file and rest it over the drive, volume, or folder that may be the file’s destination. It will spring open. Continue to drag, resting over folders until they open. When you see your destination, release the mouse. Most of the windows close automatically, leaving little cleanup. You’ve filed your document with one click and drag.


I’ve only hit upon a few utilities here. There are many more excellent utilities that can make you more productive on your beloved Mac. Over time I’ll tell you about others. In the meantime you might want to check out your local Macintosh User Group to learn about more.

©Deborah Shadovitz 6-1-1998