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Friday, 30 May 2008

Q [kju:]

Q is a mac port of QEMU, an opensource emulator. It allows you to get most versions of windows, linux, dos and freeBSD running emulated in mac, certainly worth trying before buying VMware or Parallels. You can also use it to run live CDs.

How it works:
Initially you need to create a partition for the 'Guest OS' to reside on. These can be compressed but if you are having problems (I did with win98) you can use an uncompressed .raw file. You can then configure how much RAM you want to give it, which audio, graphics and video cards you want it to emulate and choose whether a disk image or your real optical drive is used for the virtual CD drive. 
Launch the guest OS with the CD in your drive and follow its installation procedure. The OS can run in fullscreen or window mode, and Q even works with your laptop trackpad, including right click and scrolling.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008


Secrets is a pane for your System Preferences that combines all the hidden settings you've wanted to be able to change, but haven't got round to researching. Options include automatically expanding the save and print dialogue boxes, making the arrows in iTunes point to your own library, and changing the login window image. Secrets updates itself from the internet and includes secrets for most commonly used programs as well as general system preferences.

HowTo: Convert MP3s to Audiobook

Many iTunes users will have audiobooks in mp3 format, ripped from CDs or downloaded free. The problem with these is that iTunes treats them as music files and includes them in the Party Shuffle playlists. This tutorial will show you how to make iTunes treat them like Audiobooks, so you can keep them separate from your music and even adjust the play speed.

The only difference between audiobooks and standard m4a music files is the file extension - audio books are named '.m4b'

To convert your audiobook, first you need to ensure that they are in m4a format. Select one of the files in iTunes and hit cmd-i to bring up the inspector. At the bottom of the information window you can see the files path and name, including the extension.

If the extension is .m4a, your files are ready for renaming, and you can skip this next part. If they're mp3, you'll need to convert them:
  1. Hit cmd-, (comma) to open up iTunes preferences. Navigate to the advanced tab and select the importing button. 
  2. Change the drop-down menu Import Using: to AAC Encoder and change the setting below to Spoken Podcast. Now close the preferences window.
  3. In iTunes, select all your audiobook files you want to convert. Right-click them and choose 'Convert selection to AAC'. (This process may take a while)
Now locate your m4a files using Finder ([home directory]/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/...) If you've converted them from mp3 you can delete the original mp3s to save space.

The final step is to rename them all from .m4a to .m4b files. You can use this workflow file to do it for you (open up the file and hit run in the top-right hand corner of Automator), which asks you to select the files and converts them all in one go. 

Once you're done, drag all the files into iTunes, and they should now be listed under the Audio Books panel. (You may have to delete the originals from your music library)

For the reference, free audiobook sites include LibriVox, Audio Books for Free, Books Should be Free or, for the biblically inclined Faith Comes By Hearing.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Warzone 2100

Freeware RTS games seem in short supply, so Warzone 2100 is indeed a rare find. The gameplay is similar to Total Annihilation, except players research components for their vehicles and then use these to design their own unit types. This game was originally commercial, but was released under GPL in 2001.

Tip: To set resolution go to /Users/[name]/Library/Application Support/Warzone 2100/config and edit width and height values.


What attracts many users about macs is that almost everything works out of the box - but, once it's out the box,  you may not need everything that's installed on your system by default. Monolingual frees up disk space by letting you remove unused language packs from your hard-disk - most users never require Burmese or Catalan for day to day use.
Another wonderful simplification of installing programs is the universal binary - support for all system architectures put into a single file. However, OS X doesn't remove the architectures you don't need from the universal binary, so you often have unused PowerPC executables sitting round on your Intel machine, or vice versa. Monolingual lets you choose which architectures you want to keep, and it will get rid of the irrelevant ones, potentially saving hundreds of megabytes of disk space.

Sunday, 25 May 2008


Houdini is a tiny program that lets you toggle hidden folders in Finder. If you are a semi-advanced user and want quick access to hidden folders, without having to remember their paths or having them clutter up your display, Houdini lets you select an individual hidden folder to access using a save/open style dialogue box, and then opens it up for you in Finder. Houdini can also toggle hidden folders in one click, and even create hidden files and folders for you - just drag a normal folder onto the icon to hide it.

Flip4Mac WMV

Flip4Mac generally create commercial WMV (windows media video) conversion applications, but to help advertise their products have released a free WMV codec for quicktime on mac, that lets you watch WMV movies in your browser as with any standard quicktime file.

Codec-wise, Perian is another useful set to own, as this lets quicktime play DivX, Flash Video, WMA and many other formats.


It's often ironic that when it comes to doing a maths calculation, computers are the worst medium to do it on - clicking on tiny buttons while the answer is put into a one line text-box seems cumbersome even for simple calculations.
Enter Longhand, an expression based calculator that works out your answers as you type. No searching for buttons to press - to square something just add ^2 to your expression and the answer will update instantly. Longhand will also handle different bases, imaginary numbers and even matrices, and includes a handy command reference to help you find your way around the software. For people frustrated with the built in calculator, this is well worth the download.

Armagetron Advanced

Based on the classic game of Tron, this updated 3D version of the game features smooth and simple graphics. The game is similar to snake, except there are multiple players, and you win by forcing each other to crash. Despite the fast pace, the fluid camera moves and player reflections make it a beautifully crafted game, well worth the download. It can be played vs AI, split-screen or over the net.


Ever had an audio device plugged into your mac which you want to hear through your computer speakers? LineIn is a simple app which lets you do just that. If you have multiple inputs or an external soundcard you can set the input or output to send the sound where you want it to go.

Disk Inventory X

Disk Inventory X helps clear up space on your disk drive in an intuitive  way. After choosing a volume or a folder, it goes through all the files and constructs a cube for each file, the size of the cube reflecting the size of the file (see image left). Cubes are color-coded by filetype, and when selected the delete key can remove the file. It takes a while to analyse volumes so it's best either to do just the Users folder, or go and make a coffee while it creates the image. There are several commercial pieces of software like this, so a freeware one is a rare find.

Saturday, 24 May 2008


If you have a macbook or a macbook pro, you will have a lot of fun with this app which turns your sudden motion sensor into a 3-dimensional seismograph, perfect for measuring real earthquakes, or measuring the gravitational field strength in your part of the world. Axes can be adjusted to show different ranges of motion, and graph images can be exported ready to send off to the National Geographic...

(Also look for SeisMacCalibrate, which lets you ensure accuracy in your readings)

MB and MBP users may also be interested in a motion-sensor based spirit level widget, and netPong, a network based game of pong where you tilt your computer to play.


Warsow is a hidden gem of a first person shooter. Featuring cartoon cyberpunk graphics, speed is the centre of this game, with players able to jump around the maps building speed using a technique called 'bunny hopping'. 

The game can be played versus AI, over a local network, or globally through servers, and a large number of  game modes are avaliable including instant deathmatch or CTF, where each player has a one-shot-kills, slow reloading weapon, making a fast paced game. Another interesting scenario is the 'race' mode, where players do not shoot, but race each other around an obstacle-filled map, trying to build up speed. Overall, a very fun game which plays smoothly, one of the best free FPS games on the net.

Friday, 23 May 2008


Isolator does one simple task - it isolates your current window, so you can work on a document, type an email or edit movies without distractions from the outside world. It sits in the menu bar, and when clicked (or a hotkey is set) it fades everything around your foremost window to a block color of your choice. It also can hide the dock, making this a useful application to have even if you want to work in a maximised window. The developer is working on a new version which blurs the background windows when switched on, so watch this space...

BOINC Manager

BOINC Manager allows you to use your processor's idle time to help advance research for ethical causes. It does this by downloading packages of information about 100MB in size, processing them, and uploading the results to a central server. It is secure, and can be configured not to run while you're on battery, and you can limit the resources and space it uses as well as operating times. 
Causes include Malaria Control, Climate Prediction and protein research projects. Once running, BOINC sits happily in your menu bar and works on any number of causes you select.


I thought I'd start off the blog with this very handy utility, which creates disk images in a flash. It may lack the advanced features of Apple's own Disk Utility, but that is not what it is designed for. The aim is to make creating disk images fast, and it doesn't get much simpler than this drag-and-drop interface.

Of course for advanced users, file systems and formats can be modified, and the whole thing is packaged in a semi-transparent window styled like the effects panels in iMovie and iPhoto. On the whole this is a well-designed, simple app which will speed up your workflow greatly.

Site Launched!

Welcome to OS X Gear, a blog which shows you some of the lesser known freeware OS X apps. If you are a developer and have created any mac freeware, please get in touch and I will be happy to mention it on the site.
Thanks for checking out my blog.