I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Good/Free Mac Software

Casey is about to join the addiction and needs some help with software choices.

Multi-protocol IM. I think Adium is the answer, but I’m open for alternatives

Adium is the standard. Use it. But please don’t use ugly visual settings.

Easy DVD Backups. I think I’d heard that Handbrake was good. I’m looking for something like DVDShrink.

Handbrake is the best tool I’ve ever seen to convert DVDs to AVI/MP4/M4V. But it won’t do a DVD-compatible MPEG-2 .VOB recompress like DVDShrink. I’m sure that’s possible on OS X, but I’ve never wanted to do it, so I don’t know which program does that.

But do you really still want DVD transcoding? If you have an Xbox 360, a PS3, a modded original Xbox, or an Apple TV, you can just play the MP4/AVI files from your computer directly onto your TV.

I was completely into DVDShrink and DVD piracy back when it was new (2002), but I haven’t burned a video DVD in about 2 years now. I have no reason to.

Browser. Is there really any reason not to use Firefox?

Sure, there are reasons. Safari is much faster, far less buggy, maintains a better native interface, and integrates better with the OS.

But Firefox’s shortcomings aren’t severe, and Firefox has those extensions that everyone loves. I use Firefox, but I waffle sometimes and switch to Safari for a few days. They’re both excellent browsers.

Virtualization. Most people I know with Macs swear by VMWare Fusion. Does anyone use Parallels that wants to weigh in?

I use Parallels, but only because I bought it before Fusion came out. I’ve seen Fusion, and from what I can tell, they both share most of the important features.

Parallels is buggier, but usually adds cutting-edge features first. VMware’s release schedule is more conservative, but their implementations tend to be more stable and mature.

I don’t suggest leaving Parallels running all the time on a MacBook. It’s a massive resource hog.

The only reason I launch Parallels anymore is to test websites in IE. It’s great for that. But you shouldn’t be using too much Windows software — you’re not just switching for the pretty eye candy, you’re switching for the excellent Mac software ecosystem.

The only significant reason for most people to use Parallels is for Microsoft Office. The Mac versions suck, and the Windows versions under Parallels/VMware are actually much faster than the Mac-native versions.

Network/CPU Monitor. I like to be no more than a glance away from some feedback on network usage (as in, how quickly am I currently uploading/downloading) and CPU usage. That feedback can be graphical, but I need something. A dashboard widget seems reasonable for this, but is there anything that exists in the upper-right area, where the clock is? What is that area called anyway?

It’s called the menu bar. You want MenuMeters.

I also suggest: