August 19, 2019
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Author: Ian Beck
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Change the way you and your Mac interact

I wrote this article for another, non-game spot on the net, and figured I'd share it here with my IMG friends, in case people haven't heard of these amazing programs.

Whether you are a casual computer user or a total nerd, two simple programs (Butler and xGestures) can revolutionize the way you use your computer. Here's what the programs do in a nutshell:

Butler: Butler is a launcher; in other words, its primary functionality is to pull up an input box when you hit a key combo (default: control-space) where you can enter the first few letters of a program, preference pane, address book entry, or any number of other things in order to quickly launch them. This on its own is reason to get the program. Of use to this article, however, Butler allows you to create contextual menus with anything from iTunes controls to bookmarks in them. These menus may be accessed from a "docklet" (a miniature dock-looking thing that Butler can position on-screen), from the menu bar (up next to the clock on the right), or pop up next to the mouse cursor with a hotkey (user-defined). Butler is free, although the author asks for an $18 suggested donation if you like it (entirely optional; no nag boxes or anything).

xGestures: xGestures is, quite simply, the best mouse gestures available for Mac OS X. Mouse gestures are an alternative way to control your computer; essentially, you hold down a button (usually right click) and draw a shape on screen. Shapes correspond to a multitude of actions (anything from standard menu items like "Quit" to any keystroke) which you, as the user define. xGestures has a 15-day free trial, and costs a mere $5 to register (no update fees, either).

If you're quick, you may already have noticed the amazing possible synergy between these programs: using Butler, you can create custom contextual menus and assign them hotkeys to appear instantly right next to your mouse. Then with xGestures you can create a simple gesture that triggers that hotkey combo. Voilà! Instant customizable contextual menus you can access without ever having to remove your hand from your mouse.

Here's how to do it:

Butler can be very confusing to use when you first start out. On the other hand, it is very easy to set it up to do just this trick. When Butler first launches, you will see a window with "about" info and "What do you want to do?" buttons. Either click "Customize my configuration" or use the "Configuration" tab at the top of the window. Here is where you will do most of the work necessary to get instant contextual menus.

In the "Customization" area, there are a number of collapsible sections: Hidden, Menu Bar (left, natural, center, right), and Docklet. Feel free to read the explanation of what the stuff is (on the right) and poke around in the various items that are already there to get a sense of the kinds of things you can have in your contextual menus.

Personally, I moved everything from the Menu Bar and Docklet areas into Hidden, since I only really use Butler for application launching (control-space) and xGestures menus. However, if you do this you will be unable to access Butler except through contextual menus, so it's probably a good idea to leave some Butler controls or something in a Menu Bar or Docklet.

To create a custom contextual menu, click the little plus graphic at the bottom left of the window, and add a new container. Name your container (using the area to the right; this will be the name of your contextual menu, which doesn't really matter except for organizational purposes in Butler), and assign a hotkey to it in the "Triggers" tab. Pick something that is fairly non-standard (so as to avoid conflicts with programs). Using two modifier keys is very helpful for this (such as command-option, command-shift, control-option, etc.).

Select your new container in the list on the left, and add whatever you want! Containers within it will be sub-menus, files will launch, and "Smart Items" will do whatever it is they advertise. For instance, you might want to create a contextual menu that gives you access to your Safari bookmarks from anywhere on the computer. After adding the container and assigning a hotkey, you just need to add the Safari bookmarks smart item (+ -> Smart Item -> Browser Bookmarks -> Safari), and then whenever you open that contextual menu it will contain all of your Safari bookmarks, ready to be launched!

One or two contextual menus (or items within menus) that I strongly suggest, given how well they've served me: bookmarks, the Butler pasteboard (stores past clipboard content for easy retrieval if you accidentally copy/cut over it), Butler controls (customize, quit, etc. to allow you to ditch the menu bar item and docklet), Applications, iTunes controls, system commands (shut down, sleep, fast user switching), and preference panes.

Once you have a contextual menu or two you need to set up xGestures. After installing it, open up your System Preferences and choose the xGestures Preference Pane (it may open automatically when you install it). Click the "Applications" tab. Here is where you will add all the gestures that you want to use (be they global gestures or application-specific gestures). Make sure "(Global gestures)" is highlighted, and click the "New Gesture" button. After defining the gesture you want to assign to a given contextual menu, choose "Perform Keystroke" for the gesture action, and enter the hotkey combo you defined for your contextual menu in Butler.

And that's it! Assuming that you've set Butler and xGestures to run when you login, you will be able to access your custom contextual menus whenever and wherever you please. And given the amazing flexibility of both Butler and xGestures you will likely over time find new ways to utilize them to make your life easier. Have fun!

Posted on April 8, 2006 at 11:07 pm
So I'm a big fat liar

Okay, it appears that I won't be updating this blog in the near future. Thanks to assuming greater responsibilities at IMG than I had previously dreamed of, and thanks to other things that have cropped up this summer, I have a lot less time than I had thought I would. So it's definitely Skaak off.

This kind of sucks, as I really would love to post more reviews of shareware (I do love it so). On the other hand, I've got a couple of official IMG reviews of shareware titles out recently (or upcoming) so I guess it's not a total loss.

Ah me. Hopefully someday in the future I'll be able to use this blog as I always intended. But for now, it shall not be.

Posted on July 13, 2005 at 3:51 am
Not necessarily on, but getting warm

At long, long last summer has rolled around and school is over, so hopefully I will be able to start updating this shareware review blog soon.

It has certainly been a long while since last I updated it. I must say I am mildly chagrined.

Posted on May 18, 2005 at 1:20 pm
Feeding Frenzy

Although I haven't yet gotten around to adjusting my scores for previous reviews (I am so lazy), here's a little mini-review of the new game Feeding Frenzy. Nowhere near as complete as previous reviews, but there it is.

Download the demo here.

Mini Review:

Feeding Frenzy is a fun little game, but it's a bit limited. There are only two gameplay types, and there isn't really any save function that I could find which means that you'd have to get through the game in one sitting. It would be nice if you could take a snapshot of the game, quit, do something else, and then resume where you left off. This simple save method would improve the game quite a lot.

On the other hand, it's very nicely polished, and is pretty fun. If you have kids, I would strongly recommend that you run this game by them. It's quite enjoyable, and definitely kid-friendly.

Personally I won't be registering the game; just too little stuff to pay $20 for it. However, I strongly recommend that you at least try the demo, because this game may well appeal to you.

As such, I'm giving this game a 6 (with the new review standards that I will outline in detail soon). Gameplay is fun and well balanced, graphics and sounds are very polished, but it won't appeal to everyone, it has limited potential, and the cost-to-what-you-get ratio isn't very good from my perspective. That said, you still should download the demo and give it a shot if you like arcade underwater action nicely polished shareware.

Posted on February 16, 2005 at 12:06 pm
Hmm, ratings

After arguing mightily in the IMG forums I've decided that I really need to develop a consistent rating scale for my shareware reviews. Looking at the scores that I've given the games I've reviewed, I'm thinking that they could probably be more representative, or at least more helpful.

However, as it is currently finals week this won't be happening for a little bit. Perhaps I'll get a new system and redo the rating that I currently have next week sometime. I would like to start updating this blog a little more regularly.

Posted on December 9, 2004 at 7:48 pm
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