As I walked the streets of a small Latin American town this summer, street vendors sold Spanish translations of movies such as the recently released Pirates of the Caribbean 3—not to mention John Wayne’s The Commancheros. Each item on display in Santiago, Panama cost only $1. As I walked on, staring incredulously at the CDs arrayed on the cheap wood table, I noticed that audio CDs were also available. While uniformed police stood in the shadows, passers-by stepped up and paid their one dollar and picked up a plastic sleeve encased CD labelled with a permanent marker.
As I watched the street sellers display their “warez,” I had to wonder how these sellers decided on which items would be ripped and sold in public streets. Would their selection system be based on the quality and cost of the software or other factors?
What software would I choose to share if I were one of these street sellers? How would I choose what was worthy of being stolen? Or, rather to give it a positive spin, what would be worthy of being purchased? Thinking about this from a “pirate” angle certainly gave me a different perspective.
This article explores some Mac software worth purchasing. And, it includes a list of great Mozilla Firefox add-ons to extend the functionality of your browser, as well as how to easily get videos off the Web.
As educators, violating copyright law is not something that should be encouraged. That is why free, open source software has such a powerful attraction for educators (albeit it is still forbidden fruit due to the impermeable, slowly changing perceptions of district administrators, the financial symbiosis of commercial companies and K-12 education and affiliate organizations). However, some choose to use Macs and Windows computers—and others have no choice—and the question becomes in our copyright conscious society, What specific needs do you have and what software meets those needs? To answer that question, I might follow a process like the following:
- Identify and articulate minimum expectations for software needed. One consideration is built-in collaboration and web connectivity is needed, or not.
- Identify audience and solicit appropriate stakeholder feedback on selection.
- Ask myself what software is available that is free, open source (FOSS) or freeware might be available to meet those needs.
- If no FOSS or freeware solutions exist, consider commercial software alternatives.
- Check to ensure software solution selected works well with other existing solutions and on the network.
- Implement solution with necessary professional learning opportunities and follow-up.
What suggestions or process do you have in place in your district? How do you go about selecting the right tools for the job at hand within the larger context of district needs?
SOFTWARE WORTH PURCHASING
As you can see from the process above, I have moved away from how I go about selecting software to meet identified needs. Before, I started with the commercial application and then worked to find an alternative. Now, with free, open source software, there are so many software packages that commercial applications have become the alternative. They are costly alternatives, not only because of financial burden they place on our institutions but also because they limit our freedoms to innovate with that software as designers, developers, and users. Yet, there are often software programs that have no equivalent, or at least, an equivalent so well-developed that they meet our needs. So, what are these applications?
I posed that question in this way to edu-bloggers via my Around the Corner-MGuhlin.net education focused blog:
“What Mac software do you judge as indispensible and lacks a no-cost/low-cost/FOSS alternative?”
One response from Peter Rock (GNUosphere at http://www.pkblogs.com/gnuosphere/) was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the obvious, “Umm…the operating system!” While the Mac OS is incredible, I was looking for more specific responses.
Here are some of the questions that led me to these software programs. For the record, I have experimented with the trial versions of these software, but I have not purchased them. My mentioning of these products does not constitute a commercial endorsement of these tools, nor do I benefit financially from mentioning them here.
Furthermore, I encourage you to try before you buy, and to evaluate whether these tools will meet your needs. Since these are software tools that enhance your fundamental computing environment, they are appropriate to use in professional, as well as education, settings.
Some of the questions that arose in the course of my work that required me to consider the solutions mentioned in this article include the following:
- How could you easily record what is going on your screen, whether a presentation including embedded movies/audio with audio narration?
- How could you speed up the movement of your USB mouse?
- How can you convert video from any variety of formats to any other?
- How can you setup an FTP server on a Mac?
- How can you easily burn CDs from images (ISO files) or burn CDs to ISO files for storage?
- How can you bulk email folks with a Mac?
- How can you make professional looking diagrams?
- How can you protect your privacy with data-shredding tools?
- How can you set your Mac to empty the Trash Can automatically without your intervention?
- How can you run GNU/Linux or Windows programs on your Mac?
- How do you monitor outgoing Internet connections to prevent unauthorized Web access?
- How do you add the “Ken Burns Effect” to any photo of students, co-workers, friends and family?
- How can you keep your Mac hard drive running smooth without problems?
- How can get Windows 2000/XP/Vista to access Mac-formatted disks such as hard drives, CDs, iPods, etc.?
- How can I easily format text in HTML format for posting via web-based applications, like blogs?
- What easy to use digital storytelling tool could one use aside from the usual iMovie?
How can you bulk email folks with a Mac?
Ever tire of sending out emails one at a time to a large group of people, even though your work is education related? I have. Just recently, I emailed an HTML newsletter on what we’re doing in Instructional Technology to over 3000 staff in my school district. To accomplish that, I used what’s known as a bulk emailer.
No, bulk emailing isn’t just for spammers anymore…it’s also for legitimate uses! While blogs and the ability of that content to be subscribed to is important, email remains the lowest common denominator of Internet use.
You need to know how to do this, and what tools are available to get the job done for a simple reason—as a technology director, staff development coordinator, or anyone who has to routinely mass email work colleagues, it is important that you get the information out. You can listen to a podcast on this subject at http://tinyurl.com/ywqzsh
Download: MacBulk Mailer Pro – http://www.maxprog.com Cost: $59.90
Professional Looking Diagrams
How can you make professional looking diagrams?
“OmniGraffle,” shares Tom Hoffman (TuttleSVC.com), “is without peer.” I could not agree more. A colleague of mine introduced me to OmniGraffle through the work he does. At first, I thought I could design some nice diagrams using Inspiration or Cmap Tools, but the after seeing the interface, I realized that OmniGraffle was one of those tools I would have to purchase in the future for the team at work. According to Wikipedia, OmniGraffle ‘’…may be used to create diagrams of any complexity, flow charts, org charts, and illustrations. It features a drag-and-drop WYSIWYG interface. “Palettes”—groups of shapes to drag and drop, are available as extensions for OmniGraffle, and users can create their own palettes.” (Source: Wikipedia – http://tinyurl.com/ynmm5h).
Protecting Data Confidentiality
How can you protect your privacy with data-shredding tools?
Old hard drives yield dark secrets. They are dark because they were never meant to see the light of day outside your office. Those dark secrets can include student data, confidential data. I periodically shred the free space on my computer’s hard drive to eliminate confidential data. While I do everything I can to safeguard physical access to confidential data stored on my computer (read this article at http://tinyurl.com/23kd9b)–including encrypting it using free tools that limit my liability if the equipment is stolen—at some point, unencrypted data may have been stored on the hard drive by a system process.
Two excellent, low-cost tools can help you with this. Even though you can replicate some of the features of each with free, open source tools, together, both of these applications could make your data-shredding much easier.
- Download: NetShred – http://www.mireth.com/
- Description: Shreds web/email confidential data stored on your hard drive. In other words, it knows where to look to get rid of confidential data that may be stored by your browser, email and other web tools.
- Cost: $19.95
- Download: ShredIt X – http://www.mireth.com/
- Description: Shreds free space on your hard drive, as well as allows you to shred files and folders.
- Cost: $19.95
Taking Out the Trash—Automatically
How can you set your Mac to empty the Trash Can automatically without your intervention?
One of the best features of the MS Windows Recycle Bin is the option to have it automatically empty itself. You drop something on the Recycle Bin, and it can immediately delete the files (not that deletion does not constitute safe-guarding of confidential data; you will still need to use a free tool like those mentioned here – http://tinyurl.com/23kd9b ).
On a Mac, you can achieve both purposes—automatic deletion and data shredding—using Compost from Fastforward Software. It lets you set a time limit on your trash, restrict the amount of content that is allowed to reside in your trash can, and maintain a minimum amount of space.
Running Other Operating Systems On Your Mac
How can you run GNU/Linux or Windows programs on your Mac? Although I recently mentioned these two options before in a previous article, they are worth mentioning again. Both of these applications are required for avoiding rebooting to access Windows or GNU/Linux operating system on your Mac. Instead, you launch VMWare Fusion or Parallels, and you have a window in your MS Windows operating system and programs (or, GNU/Linux distribution if you’re so inclined).
One of these options is essential for folks who love their Mac but occasionally have to run Windows only programs, such as MS Outlook, Publisher, or PhotoStory. While the best solution for speed is using Apple’s BootCamp solution, in a pinch, these two options for running other operating systems on your Mac—with your Mac programs still accessible—will serve you well.
Monitoring Internet Connections
11. How do you monitor outgoing Internet connections to prevent unauthorized Web access?
With its acquisition of the Macromedia suite of tools, Adobe has suddenly become THE set of tools to use if you are into MySQL/PHP and web page development. Unfortunately, a slight problem with Version Cue3 was reported with the Adobe Creative Suite 3 that involved turning off your Mac’s firewall, which could have nasty results.
No one should depend on a proprietary system’s operating system (e.g. Mac or Windows) to monitor and let one know of outgoing and incoming network connections. You SHOULD know what your computer is doing, how it’s connecting to the outside world, not just blithely trust it. As a device, and as the Adobe example shows, it can be compromised by software. Since most application installers require you to grant administrator access during installation without being transparent about what is happening, you could be setting yourself up.
Little Snitch monitors outgoing network connections. When a program tries to access the network, displays a dialog permitting the user to allow or deny the connection and asks whether to set up a permanent or temporary access rule for future connections of that type. You can also setup specific rules for particular applications via your Mac’s System Preferences panel.
The trial version of Little Snitch works for 3 hours before shutting down. To get it going again, just restart your computer.
Working with Images
12. How do you add the “Ken Burns Effect” to any photo of students, co-workers, friends and family?
Larry Stegall—an independent videographer—shared with me a neat tool he uses. The tool is LQ Graphics’ Photo to Movie, which enables you to add the Ken Burns Effect to any photo, then save it as a movie. When you go to the LQ Graphics web site, you can actually see what this looks like with a demo video. Photo to Movie is able to dramatize your photos and convert them into a movie that zooms and pans across your photos, blending them together while moving from one photo to another.
Two other neat image tools are available that recently came to my attention. The first is Picturesque, a $20 image-enhancing application that can work with individual images or in batch mode. It is ideal for customizing images for the web since it can add reflections, soft glows, shadows, delicate curves, strokes and fades to your images.
The final image tool worth taking a look at is Skitch, a product still in beta. A New Zealand teacher, Allanah King (http://allanahk.edublogs.org/), brought it to my attention as I was soliciting applications to share with you. Rather than being an image enhancer, it allows you to take snapshots of what you have on your desktop and then share that easily via the Web. The idea is you take snapshots of the work you are doing—designing a logo, encountering a problem to take a picture, configuration screen—then you are able to add notes, circle items, etc without changing the image itself.
Sharing and Getting Videos Off the Web
There are many tools available for getting videos off the Web, as well as sharing them online. Although this article is primarily about Macs, I am including cross-platform tools below. This is one of the most often asked questions—How do I get video off the Web, especially sites like YouTube?
Get and Play Video
- Play Video: Democracy Player – On Mac/Windows/Linux, you can play that FLV file.
- Get Video: Firefox Add-on Unplug
Web Tools to Grab Video
- Vixy.net – Allows you to paste a URL in, then save the movie to whatever format you want.
- KeepVid.com – Allows you to paste a URL in, then save the movie as FLV file…you can play the file with Democracy Player.
Disk Defragmenting and More
13. How can you keep your Mac hard drive running smooth without problems?
When our collection of Macbooks arrived at work, I immediately ordered DiskWarrior as a general purpose tool. I had experience with DiskWarrior. However, one of our resident Mac gurus (ex-Systems Engineer for Apple) Larry Stegall pointed out a new tool, Drive Genius. Another tool is Micromat’s TechTools Pro.
These tools help clean up the bloat, fix file permissions, fix corruption on OS X volume structures, improve application performance and verify system integrity (whatever that means). In short, they fix problems when they are small rather than overwhelming you when they get bigger and meaner. If I had to point to any one software tool as a must-have, buy it now from this article, I would have to point you to one of the three options below. Yes, it is that critical you have one of these, especially if you are deploying lots of Macs or just have one at home or work.
Another program you might want to throw on your bootable USB Flash drive is TechTool Deluxe. I have it because I purchased the Apple Care Protection Plan. It’s described in this way:
TechTool Deluxe is part of the AppleCare Protection Plan for Macintosh computers. It is based on Micromat’s powerful TechTool Pro diagnostic and repair utility. TechTool Deluxe checks the major computer components covered under the AppleCare Protection Plan. It is available only by purchasing an AppleCare Protection Plan for a Macintosh…TechTool Deluxe can also repair many of the problems it finds.
Of course, on reading the web site, it appears I didn’t get the best of the two TechTools available (Deluxe and Pro). The TechTools Pro version apparently can do more than the Deluxe version. If one needs that functionality, you may have to invest in Drive Genius, which seems to beat out DiskWarrior and TechTools Pro.
By the way, you will definitely want to combine these utilities on a bootable USB Flash Drive rather than use the slow-loading, bootable CD that these vendors will send you. Make yourself a Mac OS X bootable USB Flash drive with your favorite utilities loaded on it! Booting off an OS X CD isn’t fun. You have to remember to push the “C” key down upon startup of your Mac, then wait what seems forever. What if you could skip those troubles on your new Intel Macbook? You can, of course, if you use Subrosasoft’s Das Boot. It allows you to…
…take any third party boot CD (such as those shipped by SubRosaSoft.com Inc, Prosoft Engineering Inc, Alsoft Inc, or Micromat Inc) and quickly create a bootable diagnostic device that contains any of your own utilities you may wish to install. You can use your device to boot and repair Mac OS X computers* as needed without erasing it and taking away your ability to use it for other purposes such as playing music, or watching videos. With the help of DasBoot™ you get to carry all the tools you’ll need with you. But unlike expensive third party alternatives, you’ll have plenty of space left over in case you need to recover data.
Using Alsoft’s DiskWarrior as a starting point, I was able to make a bootable OS X USB Flash drive with DiskWarrior, as well as a few other utilities. But the best part about it was that the process to create a bootable USB Flash drive didn’t take that long…and starting up from the USB Flash drive was MUCH faster than off one of the vendor provided CDs.
This is a major time-saver for anyone with an Intel Mac(book) and buying a 1 gig USB flash drive just for this purpose is worth it.
Put one or more of these hard drive optimization tools on a bootable USB Flash Drive (1gig for example) using the no-cost, Das Boot (available at http://tinyurl.com/2zcymh).
Reading Mac Drives On Windows Computers
14. How can get Windows 2000/XP/Vista to access Mac-formatted disks such as hard drives, CDs, iPods, etc.? Although I format my external drives in FAT32 format (read about this online at http://tinyurl.com/3yv5qo) for wide-based compatibility, I suppose that some day I may give in and format them in Mac. While this is not likely since I run GNU/Linux on all my computers, some of you Mac-lovers may prefer to format your external devices, as well as media, in Mac format. To access those on a Windows computer, you may want to invest in MacDrive, recommended to me by fellow educator, Larry Stegall.
- Download: MacDrive 6 for Windows 98/2000 or MacDrive 7 for Windows XP/Vista^
- Cost: $49.95
15. How can I easily format text in HTML format for posting via web-based applications, like blogs?
If you are a writer that interacts with web-based applications (e.g. blogs and more), then you know how critical it is to be able to format text as HTML. However, finding the right application to get the job done is tough. No one word processor gets the job done, and so you end up shuffling between text editors and learning more about HTML than you ever wanted. Allanah King suggested Dejal’s Blog Assist would get the job done. Some of its features include the following:
- You can simply select and copy some text into the clipboard, choose a suitable operation from the menu, then paste the result in the desired location. The text will have been transformed like magic. For example, copying hey and choosing Bold will result in hey – the HTML tags for boldface text, wrapped around the original text.
- Includes support for web and e-mail links, bold/italics/strikethrough/etc, LiveJournal tags, and more.
- Download: BlogAssist – http://tinyurl.com/2d3nvz
- Cost: $9.95 for individual user
16. What easy to use digital storytelling tool could one use aside from the usual iMovie?“Comic Life,” shares Tim Stahmer (AssortedStuff.com), “is a terrific story telling tool. It’s a very fast and easy way to layout photographs (great integration with iPhoto) and add captions for an album.” Tim goes on to say that, “I’ve also seen Comic Life used by kids to create storyboards for other projects they were working on. And, I think the full version still comes free with every new Mac.” For Windows users interested in Comic Life, be aware that a Windows Beta version is now available. The Comic Life web site shares that it is a super-quick and easy way to create astounding comics, beautiful picture albums and enticing instruction booklets to name a few of the many possibilities. From the examples circulating, there is no denying Comic Life’s appeal.
The question is bound to come up. Do I recommend each of these software products for purchase? The answer is an unqualified YES. If you are going to be working on a Mac for an extended period of time, I encourage you to invest in these tools as you need to. My goal here has been to share them so that when the need arises, you will know what to do. I want to save you the trouble of having to settle for more expensive, less capable solutions than those mentioned here.
Subscribe to Around the Corner-MGuhlin.net