Monday, January 24, 2011

On Writing a Book, Pt. 5 - The Contract

This is part five of an ongoing series about my experiences while writing the MySQL Admin Cookbook for Packt Publishing. All previous parts can be found under the mysql-admin-cookbook label.

After the initial discussions about the book’s outline which I described in part 2 of this series were underway, talks about the actual writing contract started. Naturally, neither Udo nor I had any experience with publishing companies and the contracts between them and their authors. Add to that the fact that we are both from Germany and had had little to no experience with English legal stuff of any kind - apart from the usual 5000 pages EULAs you just “agree to” by clicking the “go away” button as quickly as possible - and you will probably understand that we were a little nervous about what we should expect.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

TotalFinder - A must have addition to Mac OS X

As a former long time Windows user I have quite successfully (and since Steam has arrived completely) transitioned to the Mac platform. It took some time, but over the past two and a half years I have found replacements and substitutes for most programs I used regularly on Windows for everyday tasks and must say I don’t look back.

Ok, there are some things I installed to make the base system a little more comfortable, e. g. by installing Better Touch Tool or iStat Menus which allow for better leveraging of available hardware features. But other than that - I haven’t made up my mind about TextExpander yet - there is little left to be desired.

Except: File and window management… Say what you will about Windows, but one are where it still runs circles around stock Snow Leopard is window and file management. Aero Peek - docking Windows to the screen edges and having them become exactly half the screen size - is a welcome addition to BTT, and Exposé is also usable. But still, the Windows explorer IMHO is still a better file manager than the Finder.

I cannot even tell you the exact details of what I am missing, but the fact alone that there is no default system shortcut like Win+E which brings up a new Explorer/Finder window is a major downside of the Mac OS.

Quite recently, however, I came across TotalFinder in some podcast (sorry, cannot really remember, might have been Bits und so) and gave it a try. It’s author Antonin Hildebrand took the open source code that is used in Google’s Chrome browser to implement the tabs and put together a nice little piece of software that pimps your Goold-Ole-Finder.

There are lots of features, the primary one being the addition of said tabs to regular Finder windows, which itself already helps to tame the window clutter you normally end up with when using the Finder. Basically, when TotalFinder is installed, instead of opening a new window for each directory you want to use, a new tab is added to the last Finder window that was opened. Of course, you can still have multiple windows, and you can even tear off existing tabs and spawn them into new windows that way, just as you can do with websites in Chrome.

But my favorite feature of all is what Antonin calls the Visor: A configurable hot key slides up a (optionally multi-tabbed) Finder window from the bottom of your screen - similar to the way the iPhone brings up the keyboard. It works just like any other (Total)Finder window and automatically disappears once it loses focus or you hit the escape key (also configurable). IMHO this is insanely useful, because you never have to worry about filling up your desktop with countless Finder instances - they are all nicely kept in tabs, out of sight by default but just a single keystroke away and all at your disposal at the same time. This alone would be a great tool already.

But there’s still more… If you are like me, you like the classic two-column file manager paradigm of Directory Opus or Norton Commander fame, depending on which platform you grew up on. TotalFinder has that, too. Although it does not always work perfectly, probably because it has to be a rather hacky way to integrate this into the OS, I still find the “Dual Mode” a cool feature. It just splits a Finder window, including the Visor, in half vertically and mirrors the source list on both sides. That way you can easily choose two directories to be visible at the same time and move or copy files between them without switching windows or tabs. This, too, is just a shortcut away.

All in all, after two weeks of trying it for 8 to 10 hours a day on my MacBook Pro without a single crash, I can wholeheartedly recommend total finder. And prices between $10 and $15 should not really cause you much trouble, either. Depending on what you like, this is less than one or two iPad games - but TotalFinder is just so much more useful :)