I dislike the Downloads folder

Mac OS X features a Downloads folder in the user’s home directory, which is where Safari deposits downloads by default. I quite dislike it, and change the download destination to the Desktop right away. Here’s why.

Files downloaded to the Downloads folder are often forgotten. Not only does this consume storage space quickly, but those files are stored out of sight. It’s easy to forget about files acquired during the hustle and bustle of work. Worse is forgetting the task associated with that file, should you fail to capture that aspect on paper, in an app, etc.

Searching the folder is another headache. You can’t, unfortunately, sort by date of download. On Windows you can, as the “last modified” file date as displayed by Explorer represents the date that the file was downloaded. A simple sort will help you find that PDF you downloaded last Tuesday, for example. On the Mac, “Last Modified” could mean the last time a change was made to a given file.

It’s my practice to tell Safari to place all downloades on the Desktop (Safari > Preferences > Save downloaded files to). That way I’m forced to look at each file daily, decide what is, determine what action needs to be taken (including throw it away) and take it.

Alfred for Mac has replaced Quicksilver for me

I’ve spent the past two weeks using Alfred as a Quicksilver replacement with great success. This app, still in beta, is much more than an app launcher. With the “Powerpack” installed (£12), it becomes quite robust and useful.

I’ll have a full review up at TUAW this week, but until then, here’s a spoiler: I like it. A lot.

Mac OS 10.7 Lion’s secrets

I’m going to go on record and predict that the release of Mac OS 10.7 Lion will be a watershed moment for the desktop OS. The brief preview that Steve Jobs offered during the “Back to the Mac” was only the TIP of the tip of the iceberg.

You’ll notice that Steve didn’t boast about “100 new features” as he’s done in the past. Nor did he show too much. Go back and re-watch the video. His demonstrations were brief and succinct.

The event’s title was a fun play on words. At first, I assumed Apple was re-directing the consumer’s attention away from iOS and back to the Mac. But no, the message was that Apple’s iOS developers are applying what they’ve learned to the desktop OS. Expect Mac OS 10.7 to be even more iOS-like than you imagine.

I’ve said this before, but Apple excels at the process of observation, reflection and application. Its developers and engineers are eager to learn what they can, evaluate the outcome of that learning and apply the best lessons to future products. Almost no one does that as effectively as Apple.

For example, consider the gradual proliferation of touch input across the product line. The iPhone was announced in January of 2007, and became available in the U.S. in June of that year, releasing Multi-touch to the world. In 2008, the MacBook Pro got a button-free, glass trackpad with gestures support. The first small step had been taken.

In October of 2009, Apple released the Magic Mouse, which is basically a Multi-touch surface on top of a mouse. In June of 2010, Apple released the Magic Trackpad to bring touch to desktop machines. Now, every Apple computer is ready for touch input.

Meanwhile, the iPod touch was introduced in September of 2007 and the iPod nano gained touch support in September of 2010.

Additionally, consider the synergy that’s occurring among Apple software. The MobileMe web apps resemble their iOS counterparts. The iLife ’11 apps offer full-screen mode and support for swipe, pinch, zoom, etc. via the input hardware previously discussed. Plus, a Mac App Store is about a month-and-a-half away.

Finally, the biggest hint of all stands before us like Arthur C. Clarke’s monolith. The iPad is the most significant glimpse of the future of the Mac OS that we have. Let me be clear about this: I’m not talking about a synthesis of operating systems. Both the Mac OS and iOS will continue to exist. Just expect the best of the iOS to find a home on the Mac.

At this point Apple is three years into the refinement of iOS since the public release. Be assured that Mac OS 10.7 still has many secrets to share, and when it’s finally released, will blow us away.

Using Apple’s Preview as an image editor

Recently I was looking for a lightweight image editor. After auditioning great candidates like Acorn and Pixelmator, I realized that Apple’s own Preview offers nearly everything I need. Here’s why and how I’m using Apple’s built-in PDF file viewer.

Nearly every image I post to TUAW must be resized and/or cropped. Often I’ve got to change the file type as well. Frankly, those three functions represent the extent of my image editing needs. I realize that I’m in the minority on this, but surely there are others.

I’ve got Photoshop CS3 on my MacBook Pro, but it’s too powerful a tool for my modest needs. “Like swatting a fly with a Buick,” as my father would say. For years I used ImageWell from Xtralean Software. It’s now at version 3.7.6, and quite different than the old app I used to love. A simple crop, resize and rename isn’t so simple anymore.

Fortunately, Preview makes these tasks a breeze. Here’s how to perform each.

Resize


From the Tools menu, select Adjust Size. A slip appears with several options. You can apply a set of pre-determined dimensions to your image, including (in pixels):

  • 320 x 240
  • 640 x 480
  • 800 x 600
  • 1024 x 768
  • 1280 x 1024
  • 1280 x 720
  • 1920 x 1080

You can also create custom dimensions across pixels, percent, inches, cm, mm or points. Finally, you can change the resolution (pixels/inch or pixels/cm), scale proportionally and resample the image.

Crop


Click the Select tool in the toolbar and choose Rectangular Selection. The cursor turns into crosshairs. Click and drag to highlight the section you’d like to crop. Finally, select Crop from the tools menu (or hit Command-K).

There are many other options in that Select tool, including an elliptical selection tool, a lasso and a “smart lasso.”

Change file type


From the Save As slip, you can convert your image into any of the following formats:

  • GIF
  • ICNS
  • JPEG
  • JPEG-2000
  • Microsoft BMP
  • Microsoft Icon
  • OpenEXR
  • PDF
  • Photoshop
  • PICT
  • PNG
  • SGI
  • TGA
  • TIFF

At TUAW, I typically use JPG. A slider lets you adjust the final quality or compression (where appropriate) and displays the resulting image’s size.

There’s a lot more to this great piece of software. For example, you can annotate a PDF file by selecting Annotate from the Tools menu or clicking the Annotate toolbar item. This will let you add shapes, text and Sticky Note-like notes.

The color adjustment menu is extremely useful. Use it to adjust an image’s exposure, contrast, saturation, temperature, tint and sharpness, or add sepia.

Finally, the Inspector provides a wealth of information at a glance, like creation and modification dates, DPI, dimensions, resolution and more.

Of course, it can’t compare to the apps I mentioned at the beginning of this post. You can’t work in layers, for example. But don’t dismiss Preview as a mere PDF reader. It’s one of the many useful tools that comes with every Mac. With a little exploration, you’ll find that it’s more powerful than you thought, and maybe all you need.