Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pimp my shell

When I switched over to Ruby development, I said goodbye to Eclipse and IDEA. I was never one to shy away from a terminal so the transition back to a text editor (I tend to use TextMate and ViM) and iTerm was an easy one.

At ThoughtWorks I worked on one client project at a time, and maybe one or two open source ones. Now at Relevance there are weeks when I work on four client projects and a half dozen open source projects (thanks to open source Fridays). To make things more difficult, I've got a mix of Subversion and Git projects.

To ease the transition back and forth between projects I:

None of these was especially difficult but each of them has improved my shell environment. Thanks to Alan Cooper and Edward Tufte, I am beginning to understand that good usability doesn't necessarily require difficult technical solutions. Indeed, coming up with each idea and a seamless UI for it was harder than implementing it.

The features described above came down to making my shell environment:

  • Tell me about my current context.

  • Adjust based on the context.

I think that part of the reason we use MacOS is because it does some of this for us. It changes the menus based on which app is in focus. CoverFlow gives us a visual indication of where we are in the stack of files we're looking at. Maximizing a window only maximizes it as far as it needs to in order to horizontally fit the content.

What else do you think your shell environment should do for you? Why?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Opening emailed Office documents

How hard can it be? I upgraded to Office 2008 SP1 on my work laptop (I only use iWork on my home machine) and now I can't seem to open Microsoft Office documents that have been emailed to me. How could they break this? Well, long story, and I'm actually more interested in fixing it. So, following these steps did it for me:

* Download MisFox, then double-click on "MisFox.prefPane" to install
* In the MisFox system preferences pane pick the File Mappings tab
* Scroll down the list till you find "Word Document" and the .doc file extension
* Double click on that line to open the editor
* Set the Creator Code to MSWD and the File Type to W8BN
* Check "Resource Fork is Significant"
* Repeat last steps for Excel, setting the code to XCEL and the type XLS8
* Repeat for Powerpoint, setting the code to PPT3 and the type to SLD8

Thanks to my colleagues at ThoughtWorks for figuring this out.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Unexpected utilities

There are many things on the Mac that just work so well that you hardly think about them, never mind looking for a utility that improves them. And then you stumble across a utility and after a short while you wonder how you lived without it before...

One of these areas is unarchiving. You just double-click the archive file in Finder and something runs in the background that opens it. What else would you want? Turns out you want The Unarchiver. Not only does is support more archive formats, including the dreaded StuffIt ones, but it also deals with the already supported ones better.

Another area is software update. Apple's Software Update works well, the big packages from Adobe and Microsoft have decent updaters, and, more surprisingly, most application written by indie developers have good and consistent update functionality. The latter is actually thanks to the excellent Sparkle framework. If you are a developer check it out. That said, what else could you ask for? Download and use AppFresh for a while and you'll know.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Widening Columns

One of the things I find myself doing all the time is making columns wider in Open and Save dialogs. I have a bunch of file names that are really long (the downloadable names of my presentations), and I find myself grabbing the little handle at the bottom of the column a lot to widen the column. Last month's MacWorld to the rescue. You can double-click on the little abraded area at the bottom of the column and it will resize the column to accommodate the longest file name.

Going one step further, you can right-click on the abraded area and get a pop-up menu that lets you choose one of three options: Right Size This Column, Right Size All Columns Individually, and Right Size All Columns Equally, as shown here:

Try as I might, I couldn't get a keyboard shortcut to stick for this (normal keyboard shortcuts don't seem to work in Open and Save dialogs). If anyone can, I'll be grateful. But this is good enough: rather than resizing by hand with the mouse, I can let if figure out the correct size (alas, still with the mouse).