Open up to Mac software

It’s been some time since we covered our favourite Mac open-source programs, and since the open-source software scene moves so fast now it would be a good time to see what’s new, what’s changed and what we use on a daily basis. In a couple of issues time, we’ll do the same for Windows software, since, yes, Simon and I do indeed both use Windows, too (on occasion). What we’re looking at here is only actual open-source software – that is, programs for which you could, if you so chose, download, view and modify the source code. There’s plenty more Mac software that’s free to use, but isn’t open source.

Open up to Mac software

The biggest news on the Mac open-source front for many people will be the fact that Quicksilver has now become an open-source project. At its most basic, Quicksilver (how lovely and old-fashioned to see a product without an unnecessary capital letter in the middle of its name) is an application launcher. Hit the key combination to bring up its window (the default is , but it’s completely user-configurable), type a few letters of the name of the application or document you want to open, hit Return and you’re there. Quicksilver has been around for quite some time, but it’s been widely felt to have stagnated somewhat while its developer, Nicholas Jitkoff, worked on other things. Since it became open source, though, there’s been renewed interest, and we’re hoping a lively developer community will spring up around it.

If launching were all Quicksilver did it would still have a lot of friends, since that feature alone saves a significant amount of time compared to navigating through document folders, or even through your Applications folder if you’re trying to launch an app that doesn’t have a shortcut in the Dock. But, in fact, the program does much more than that. Once you’ve found the file you’re interested in by typing a few letters of its name, hitting the Tab key moves you to the “actions” field, from where you can choose to perform one of a large number of different operations on it – for example, email it to someone else, compress it, copy or move it to a different folder, and so on. Quicksilver can also be told to keep track of the web pages in your Bookmarks menu, so you can open a page just by typing a few characters of its name.

Quicksilver takes some getting used to, and at first you won’t be quite sure why it’s useful at all, but as you discover more of its abilities you’ll start wondering how you ever managed without it. Third-party plug-ins extend Quicksilver, either on their own (there’s a very neat image-manipulation plug-in that allows you to resize images and change their format, for instance) or by giving Quicksilver access to features of other programs.

I prefer to use the mouse as little as possible, thanks to having used computers for so many years via text-only interfaces, and Quicksilver, along with the Mac’s built-in keyboard commands – such as to move between applications and Spaces’ keys – allows me to do more and more of my work without moving my fingers away from the keyboard. We recommend Quicksilver very highly: just give it a chance for a week or two and you’ll be hooked, too.


Want to know what wireless networks are in the vicinity? For complete, comprehensive information, you can’t do better than iStumbler. This application lists all the wireless and Bluetooth networks your Mac can see, and gives extremely comprehensive information about them. This application is definitely intended for professionals: it displays information such as signal and noise strength, wireless frequency, MAC address of the wireless access point and much more. It can show a graph of signal strength, and provides a full log of all the samples it’s taken. If you’re working with wireless networks this is definitely a tool you need in your arsenal, and if you’re just a nosy sort of person… well, it may just be for you, too.

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