Extras I Can't Live Without

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Menu Bar Customizations

Menu Meters

Menu Meters (free) allows you to put small, unobtrusive meters for CPU use, memory, disk usage, and upload/dowload speeds in your OS X menu bar.

MenuMetersMenubar.png -- or -- menumeters.png

The example on the right is how I have set it up. You can click on the individual items to obtain an extensive contextual menu.

iStat Menus

This is basically the same idea, but with a somewhat different feature set. It has its own clock and calendar interface that is really quite nice. I am using both this and Menu Meters now. It is also free.

iStat Menus

sensors.png dateandtime.png


Camouflage (free) hides your desktop icons.


Application Launchers


Namely.app is a small, unobtrusive application launcher that I find so useful I have mouse button #4 launch it. It does one thing, and does it well.


The picture shows how it works; after you type one or two letters, it begins to match with possible completions. It also learns from previous experience.

Finder Alternatives and Remote Connections



This is essentially a free GUI interface for the secure copy protocol (scp) in SSH.


$20 shareware. $10 for academic pricing.


I now use ForkLift for remote connections via SSH. This is safer and more robust than Apple File Sharing, and also works better in a heterogenous environment. If you can connect to a computer via SSH (or other protocols), then this makes it easy.

It also has TABS and Dual Pane mode, and can sort directories before files, which some people like.



"MacFUSE allows you to extend Mac OS X's native file handling capabilities via 3rd-party file systems. It is used as a software building block by dozens of products."


Contextual Menu Enhancements

Clicking and holding the right mouse button brings up a "Contextual Menu." Depending on what you have clicked on (a file, a folder, the desktop), the content of the menu changes. The options available are pre-determined by whomever authored this part of the operating system. Fortunately, there are ways to augment this functionality.

On My Command

I think I originally passed over this free and very useful utility because the name On My Command really irritated me. That was my loss, because this is incredibly powerful. Anything you can shell script, Apple script, python script, etc., can be made into a contextual menu item. The website gives a few thousand examples you can use, learn from, and modify.

One of the best features is that it comes with OMC_Editor, which you will need to create contextual menu items (you are doomed without it). It is fairly easy to use, but I think I have only scratched the surface.


The screenshot is filched from a rather useful tutorial.


ShortCuts is made by the same people who created OMC (above). It is especially useful on OS X 10.6, where the contextual menu items are harder to access, and it also makes it possible to access 32-bit contextual menu items if you are running in 64-bit mode.

"Shortcuts is a Mac OS X application to assign hot keys to contextual menu items. It works only with menu items added by contextual menu plug-ins. Version 2.0 also allows you to display a menu with items added by CM plug-ins."

Services Menu

The Services menu tends to be under-used on OS X. One reason is many third-party applications dump entries into the Services, and the list becomes unwieldy with piles of unused entries.

Service Scrubber

Note that in 10.6 you can edit the services menu itself in the System Preferences keybindings pane.

A free application called Service Scrubber helps you gain control of the list.


Tidy Service

Here's a good one to add, if you ever make web pages. The free Tidy Service allows you to select (X)HTML code and tidy it, ensuring you have error-free, standard-compliant web pages. It de-bugs and corrects your syntax instantly. It will also convert HTML to XHTML, which is a good thing to do.


Equation Service

Equation Service is a program that uses pdflatex to produce small PDF files containing equations and other text. You can either do the input and typesetting in the main Equation Service window and then drag and drop the resulting PDF into your application, or highlight text in the other application and run Equation Service on it by typing command-/.


This service provides 37 functions to convert, format or speak the currently selected text, to insert data or to show statistics of the selection within all Cocoa applications (e.g. Textedit, Pages, Mail, Stickies, Safari or Xcode) and Carbon applications supporting services.


TextExtras is similar to WordServices. TextExtras is a bundle that gets loaded into all Cocoa applications. It adds cool features to the text handling of all Cocoa applications.


I've made an Editors for OS X page that discusses the merits of various options.



My favorite editor is TextMate. I even paid actual money for it.


I've put some further details on a separate page.

Other Options

The Editors for OS X page discusses the merits of various options.



iTerm2 is a free alternative to Terminal.app that I think is vastly superior. I've been using it (and the original iTerm) for several years and can't live without it.


Perhaps its single greatest advantage is tabs. You can have several tabbed sessions running in one window simultaneously.

These are the old style of tabs from OS X 10.2. I still like them the best.

This shows the new style of tabs. They seem to look better on the top. Notice that the tabs display the current and
penultimate directories, while the title bar displays the whole path. I had to program the shell to do this. Links to
examples are given below.

Tab Customization and further information

I've written a separate iTerm wiki section that describes iTerm in more detail. I've also made pages that describe how to customize the iTerm title bar and tabs dynamically, like what is shown in the above screenshots.



Notification Center in Mountain Lion

Mac OS X 10.8 now has a Notification Center.

The older, more pedestrian stuff still works:

In addition to the usual system chimes, it is possible to create notifications (audio or visual) using for example, AppleScript.

AppleScript Dialogue Box

tell application "Finder"
	set r to display dialog "Sample Text" buttons {"ONE", "TWO", "THREE"} with icon caution giving up after 60 default button "ONE"
	set ButtonChoice to button returned of r
end tell

AppleScript Audio

tell application "Finder"
end tell
tell application "Finder"
	say "Hello"
end tell

Unix shell commands

Osascript allows running applescript commands from the shell. Here's a simple example (using zsh "here line" syntax):

osascript <<< beep

OS X unix also has a say command that makes things even easier:

say "Hello"

Finally, I've written some shell scripts for common osascript routines to provide customizable dialogue boxes:



Growl provides a unified and consistent notification scheme. The link provides a good description.

Briefly, it installs a preference pane that lets you customize notifications.


It also comes with a command-line extra that you can install into /usr/local/bin (and a corresponding man page that is very helpful).

Growl and other Applications

The primary functional utility of Growl is that it works in cooperation with other Growl-aware applications, i.e., ones that are either compatible by design, or via plug-ins.

Command-line extra: gowlnotify

I don't make use of most of Growl's features, but one I do like is the command-line extension, growlnotify. For example, I can put this line at the end of a shell script that runs a long job:

growlnotify  -s --appIcon iTerm  -m "The job has completed" 
  • The -s flag makes the notification window "sticky"; it will hang around until you dismiss it.
  • The --appIcon iTerm makes the icon in the window the same as iTerm's icon (the default is Terminal's icon). This is purely cosmetic.
  • The -m "The job has completed" is an example message (change it to something more evocative).

Doing this allows me to start a long job (like a refinement) and to see when it is done, in a comparatively unobtrusive manner. Here is an example:



The Z shell is to unix what OS X is to the rest of the computing world.

I've created a whole separate wiki section called ZSH on OS X. In it you will find a whole suite of customizations to augment interaction between the unix shell environment and the higher level GUI of OS X.

Here, for example, is a picture of a zsh function, gdirs, that enables access of a shared directory stack via a GUI menu:


Terminal-Finder Interactions

These are a set of shell scripts and menu applets written by Gary Kerbaugh that enhance the ability to go from the terminal (or iTerm) and Finder. Click on the applet to open a Terminal or iTerm session and automatically cd to the directory displayed in the finder window, or issue a command to perform the inverse operation.


Browse Man Pages in a Web Browser

The program Bwana turns Safari or any other OS X web browser into a man page browser. I also wrote a zsh function called sman that provides a direct command-line interface:

sman () { open -a Safari man:$1  ; }


LaTex Stuff


I installed the tetex package with fink. There are also several other options for installing it on OS X.


There are several front-ends for LaTex that run natively on OS X. I think TeXShop.app is the best.


TexFog and Equation Editor

TexFog is a free OS X GUI that lets you code Latex equations without having to memorize the cryptic syntax. Latex Equation Editor is a free OS X GUI front-end to Latex and Ghostscript that lets you make trasparent PDF latex-formatted equations. They work well together to allow you to make really nice-looking, exportable equations painlessly in OS X. More information here.

Equation Service is an alternative to Equation Editor.



OcTeX is a free lightweight OS X GUI that is one of the better LaTeX frond-ends for Mac OS X.


Main features include an integrated PDF viewer, error highlighting, custom macros, and syntax highlighting.


Make Unix Root directories appear in the Finder

Make the unix-type root directories visible in the Finder


Flying Buttress is a GUI for the ipfw firewall that comes with OS X. (Shareware that runs for free).


NFSManager: A GUI for setting up NFS (which is very non-canonical in OS X). (Shareware that runs for free).

See also my NFS networking wiki section. NFS in 10.6 is the same as in 10.5, but Disk Utility now provides a GUI interface.


Carbon Copy Cloner makes it easy.

Time Machine makes it easier.


Personal tools