Mini-App of the Day: BetterTouchTool

BetterTouchTool IconIf you don’t know what BetterTouchTool is, you should read this post. If you have a Mac, you should really read this post. If you have a PC, you should still read this post. It will be worth your time to see what you are missing out on either way. It will also answer why you’d ever want to buy a Magic Trackpad if you are a Mac user and you’re saying to yourself, “Isn’t a mouse better in all regards?” For those of you who know what BetterTouchTool is and currently use it…just glory in your preeminence. ;)

BetterTouchTool is a big reason why I have loved my switch to a Mac for the last 2 years. I’ve always been a PC user. I have nothing against PC’s in general. I had some bad luck with a Dell laptop once, but I’ve seen plenty of Macs crash and burn too (some of you are probably sitting there saying, “You should have bought an HP” or “…a Lenovo.”). Though, those Asus Ultrabooks are looking pretty slick if you want the PC version of a MacBook Air.

BetterTouchTool is a utility designed to give you more control of gestures on your trackpad.  Apple did us a huge favor by making trackpads a lot bigger and by integrating the button into the pad. Genious. Apple also did us a great favor by eliminating (and returning to their old standard I might add) the second button because now if you want those menus, you just tap with two fingers. Also genious. (I realize this is up for debate depending on preference and habit, but if you are going to just argue more is better, I won’t humor you. I will entertain that two buttons–one on the left, one on the right–is just as good.)

So what does this mean? Well, Apple included a few gestures in Leopard, then a few more in Snow Leopard, then a few more in Lion. Maybe they’ll finally have a sufficient amount in Mountain Lion, though I doubt it. BetterTouchTool (BTT) makes up the lack thereof. You can go ahead and turn off most of the default gestures Apple gives you and re-program them how you want. That’s what I did. BTT allows you to add almost as many gestures as you can think of and assign them any number of preconfigured actions or a shortcut key. So now, instead of having to move your cursor everywhere or even reach to your keyboard for a shortcut, you can just use your trackpad.

For example, if you want to open and close tabs in your Internet browser, or go back and forward in your navigation history, you can do that with a gesture. You don’t need to click the button with your cursor or press Ctrl/Cmd + T or Ctrl/Cmd + [. Just program those shortcuts into gestures. This goes for any program.

Since it’s kind of hard to demo this with screenshots because you would need to verify I’m not using the keyboard, I went ahead and made a simple screencast video.

The following video gives you a short idea of how to actually “program” these gestures.

One limitation to gestures is that you inevitably run out of easy to remember and easily executed gestures. There are a lot of different gestures available, but some of them are hard to execute so chances are you will just resort back to keyboard shortcuts or cursor clicking. That said, I would encourage you to not give up after the first couple attempts to use some of the gestures. Putting all five fingers on the track pad and clicking is a little awkward the first time (just like the first time you played Halo and had to get used to the strange joystick combination or the first time you drove stick shift or rode a bike). Naturally, your muscles will adapt and you will react on muscle memory as soon as your mind thinks “Finder” or “New Tab.”

For your convenience and demo-ing. I’ve included a download of my current BetterTouchTool configuration below. I admit there is a lot of room for expansion into other apps I don’t use regularly; however, the basic and most powerful functionality that I need is there and I use it everyday. I highly encourage you to check this out and spend some time customizing it to your needs. It will highly improve your Mac experience.

Download BetterTouchTool.
Download BTT Functionality Demo Video or view on YouTube.
Download BTT Preferences Demo Video or view on YouTube.
Download My BTT Configuration File (you’ll want to remove the .txt extension before importing).

Mini-App of the Day: SmartSleep

SmartSleepSmartSleep is great for those who are constantly on the go, opening and closing their Macbook. SmartSleep gives the user great control over how and when the computer sleeps and hibernates.

Typically, you’ll probably want your Macbook to sleep when you close it (keep the contents of open files and apps that are running in RAM). Sleep is conveniently fast. If you’re a student like me, you don’t want to have to worry about corrupting your hardrive after throwing your laptop in a bag of some sort and running around campus or dropping it on the floor.

However, what if the batter charge is less than 10%? If you sleep your Macbook and the battery dies, you will lose anything stored in RAM that wasn’t previously saved to your hardrive. Thus, you’ll want to hibernate. But keeping track of the battery charge and changing this setting manually is cumbersome. This is where SmartSleep excels. You can set your computer to sleep until it reaches a certain charge level (e.g. 10%), at which point it will hibernate to protect your data in the event your battery dies.

Another nice thing about SmartSleep is it just sits in your preference pane; no extra menubar icons necessary.

If you don’t want to pay for the new version, I’d suggest downloading the older, free version from Softsonic.

SmartSleep Screenshor