A Better Finder Launcher is set free

A long, long time ago, in another life time (the 6th of August 2003 to be precise), I released version 1.0 beta 1 of “A Better Finder Launcher”, my entry into the perfect Mac OS X application launcher contest. Back then I was full of plans for all the cool things I could do with that program..

There were already plenty of contenders our there, but I didn’t like any of them. My problem with them was that they did too much. All I wanted was a quick way of launching the applications that did not fit into the dock. Period.

I reasoned that I can’t possibly be the only person on the planet (or at least the Mac) who wanted something quick, simple and effective, rather than something bloated with features that nobody could possibly want, and so I set out to build a radically fast, radically simple and 100% effective application launcher.

As it happens, I was totally wrong about my market analysis. As it turns out, nobody wants a quick, simple and effective application launcher rather than a bloated “launch everything and the kitchen sink” launcher. And certainly the perceived value of a “simple” product is much less than that of a “complicated” product.

A Better Finder Launcher never took off: not even in a small way. Feedback on the product was never more than a trickle and most of the time was about “why does it not do more”, rather than “couldn’t it do this better”.

Development continued in a haphazard manner, driven more by individual user’s requests and my own whims than by market forces 🙂

The fact that Mac OS X 10.4 introduced “Spotlight” and that the QuickSilver (“Less is more” can mean many different things) guys continued to do an impressive job and do it for free, didn’t help the product to flourish either. Still a hard core of loyal A Better Finder Launcher users continued to exist and I was probably the most hardcore of them.

I have long ago given up on making A Better Finder Launcher a commercial success and as a full time developer that means that I can’t really spend that much time on it (people keep sending me bills!). I was often tempted to acknowledge defeat (I have really) and discontinue the product (I will not) for good.

The thing that stopped me from cutting my losses and get out of the launcher market altogether was that hardcore of users. I didn’t want to let them down. Moreover, right from the start, A Better Finder Launcher was bundled with the A Better Finder series of tools and there are thus potentially tens of thousands of avid users out there that I know nothing about; my guess is that it’s more like a hundred or so, but still..

Unfortunately, I know for a fact that many A Better Finder users don’t like A Better Finder Launcher and that they would be much happier if I stopped bundling the program with the series installer. A Better Finder Launcher is a launcher and not a file utility per-se and it never really fitted in that well with A Better Finder Rename, A Better Finder Attributes and A Better Finder Select, which really are pure file utilities. For me, it was a way of adding a free goodie for the existing series owners.

How then do I get myself out of this predicament? Keeping the existing users happy while acknowledging defeat in the larger market?

My solution in the end is simple: As of today, A Better Finder Launcher is no longer part of the A Better Finder Series and it is no longer a paying product. Instead it becomes freeware (which may widen its appeal at least a little bit). I will continue to update the product in the same haphazard way as before and accept voluntary donations; existing users can now consider themselves early “donators” (thanks!) and customers who want the A Better Finder file utilities, but not the launcher, no longer need to “implicitly” pay for it.

I hope this will make the A Better Finder Series more focused, as well as giving A Better Finder Launcher a new lease of life. I’m currently considering changing its name and icon to reflect its new status, but this will need to wait until an icon can be procured, but a plan is already starting to take shape..

As a loyal user, I don’t want “my launcher” to go out on a low, however, which is why today’s 2.2 release features a number of much requested improvements:

  • two user interface modes: run as a normal application complete with menu bar and dock icon, or run as a hot key-only application (no dock icon, no menu bar)
  • improved responsiveness (always a goal)
  • all known bugs fixed

As Steve Jobs would put it “This is best A Better Finder Launcher we’ve ever done and it is really, really amazing.” … and one more thing … now it’s free.

No Big Bang for The Big Mean Folder Machine

For the past 12 months, I have been working on a new product behind the scenes.

The original idea for the Big Mean Folder Machine came to me while sitting in the lobby of our holiday hotel to find some “stuff” on my haphazardly organized laptop. Now usually, I don’t spend holidays slaving over a laptop, but my (by then heavily) pregnant wife decided that this was the right time to sleep 18 hours a day and Malta in winter is well.. like everywhere else in winter..

Over a late machiato and a club sandwich, I started thinking about how nice it would be if everything was as neatly organized as the Apple Developer mailing DVD in the DVD drive.. you know what I mean: “everything in its place and a place for everything”.

Now the reason why I don’t keep a tidy hard disk is the same as for everybody else.. it takes time to organize “stuff” in the first place and once you have an organization it’s forbiddingly time-consuming to change it.

“What about the poor people at Apple or anybody else who needs to ship electronic deliverables and wants to make a good impression?” I wondered. “How long does it take them? How many people does it take to produce effortless organization?”

Surely those guys have a clever build script that does all the work for them.. or maybe they don’t… or maybe there are at least a few people out there who do not.. wouldn’t they appreciate a nifty little tool that does it all for them according to their own “recipe”?

This is how, the Big Mean Folder Machine was born. The basic idea was to help you create a neat folder structure for your files to fit in snugly and copy (or move them) over into the new structure. All this with the bare minimum of fuss.

Now, once you start thinking about it there are all sorts of situations, where this kind of tool would be useful. How about your 43GB photo collection that you can’t backup because it simply won’t fit on those tiny 4GB DVDs? Why not break them up into 4Gb “chunks” first? How about organizing your photos by year, month and (why not?) by file type? The possibilities are endless.

Now something I’ve learned in the past decade of developing A Better Finder Rename is that you never know in which direction your software is going to evolve over time.. at least if you are listening to what your customers actually want.

The design challenge for an application like this is to produce something that people can actually understand without having to read a lengthy manual. Good user interface design demands that you as the designer have a very detailed understanding of exactly what people want to do with the tool. iPhoto is a good example: it makes the features that people are most likely to want to use, easy and accessible and it hides away the “advanced” features where they are unlikely to get into the way of the casual user.

Now this is hard to do with a new tool for which nobody has an existing mental blue print.

Moreover, file utilities typically perform tasks that appear to be very straightforward at first glance, but that reveal themselves to have lots of hidden complexities that may or may not become a problem. Last but not least, you want total control over the end-result..

My solution to this design challenge was simple. Instead of attempting to create an all-singing-all-dancing user interface without much user feedback to go on, I’ve kept it simple and concentrated on getting the internals right. This has resulted in a simple step-by-step “assistant-style” interface, with each step being explained as you make your choices. Over time this will no doubt evolve into a “control center” interface that will satisfy even a big mean control freak like myself..

This brings me to an important part of my development philosophy: “Don’t design for what you don’t (yet) understand”.

It’s all the rage on the internet these days to find a 1.0 release, give it a spin, find a minor problem or gap in the functionality and then write it off “as junk”, but a 1.0 release is only a beginning, it’s not an end!

It’s the developer’s best (and first!) attempt at the problem. The question really then becomes “is it good enough for now?” and “will it improve over time?”.

A lot of the 1.0 mania is due to the “old” way of developing software: you make a big boxed version of something and then leave it alone for the next 3 years until version 2.0 comes out. In the meantime, you do your best to avoid hearing what your customers have to say (= complain about) and so pretty much guarantee that version 2.0 will be exactly the same (only more so) as version 1.0.

This is emphatically not the way I do things: I get something out early (before it gets too difficult to change things) and start listening to user feedback. Then I improve the software based on that feedback at regular intervals (say 4-6 weeks). As the tool and my understanding of what people really use it for matures, more fundamental changes become necessary, so there is probably a re-write or two in the offing..

Today’s first beta release then, is the beginning of a feedback-driven development process, so if you have any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms please share them with me at reiff@publicspace.net.

Finally, there is the matter of the name.. until last Sunday, the product was going to be called “Big Bang”, playing on the idea of exploding (and why not, imploding?) your file collections, but then I saw that freeverse have a whole collection of electronic board games for the Mac that all begin with “Big Bang” (they don’t look half bad by the way).. so it was back to the drawing board.

In the end, my struggles to communicate what the tool will actually do when it’s finished, lead to the new name: “Well, it’s like a Big Mean Folder Machine!”. At long last a fun name for what I hope will be a fun product..

Before you ask: the current styling and artwork is a left-over of the Big Bang concept and will be replaced with bigger and meaner artwork very soon.. as a result, today’s first public beta release is going to be on the quiet, understated, side.. a link on the website and a blog entry.

I hope you’ll find The Big Mean Folder Machine a useful addition to your tool collection.. if it looks at all likely that it could do something that would be of value to you, please do let me know, so that one day soon it just might..

Correcting Exchangeable Image File (EXIF) Information with A Better Finder Attributes

Most photo management solutions, including Apple’s iPhoto and Aperture applications, use the date and time that a picture was actually taken rather than a simple file date to arrange photos by date. This EXIF date is embedded in the JPEG files themselves and is unrelated to the normal file system creation and modification dates that you may see in the Finder.

While it’s great to arrange photos by the time they were shot, it can cause serious inconvenience when your camera’s internal clock is out of sync.. your photos will not appear in the correct order and your photo library will quickly become disorganized.

Amateurs and professionals alike occasionally forget to set their camera’s internal clock correctly, but by far the most common problems occur when travelling to another time zone (whether you’re on your honeymoon or reporting from a distant war zone) and when using multiple cameras.

Failing to adjust your camera’s time zone while on honeymoon may mean that the pictures that you’ve taken at breakfast on the 20th of January may actually be filed under the 19th around 10PM. Professional photographers often use a variety of different cameras fitted out with different lenses to cover the same event. Say a wide-angle lens for taking group pictures at a wedding and a 50mm lens for the portraits of the bride and groom. When the clocks of both cameras are out of sync (and when aren’t they?) the “cutting of the cake” pictures will end up interspersed with the “best man’s toast” and can cause a lot of extra work.

Adjusting the EXIF timestamp is by no means easily achieved. This data is written in stone (why would you want to change the time from the actual time to some ficitious time anyway?) and programs that allow you to edit (or better yet batch edit) this timestamp are very rare indeed.

Enter A Better Finder Attributes 4.4 and its ability to easily and conveniently batch adjust EXIF timestamps.

In this short tutorial, we’ll take some pictures and “fix” their timestamps. We’ll assume that we’re using iPhoto, but it could be any other photo application.

Don’t mess with the photo library

The first step is to locate the pictures we want to modify. This point is important, so let’s spell it out in bold:

Don’t modify the timestamp of the pictures that are already in iPhoto!

Work on copies instead.

iPhoto and other photo organization tools arrange your photos into their own folder hierarchy and you should never mess around with this or you risk losing precious meta-data and experiencing problems working with the files.

We have two options:

  • if the photos are not yet in the library, we can perform the changes before importing them
  • if the photos are already in the library, we must first export them before changing them and then re-importing the corrected files

Whatever else you do: keep the original files safe somewhere and correct the timestamp of the copies. That way you’ll never lose a photo.

Importing photos without iPhoto

If you know that the photos have incorrect timestamps, it is probably easier to correct their timestamp before importing them into iPhoto. How can you do this, since you use iPhoto to import the photos in the first place?

The solution is simple. Mac OS X comes with a little known image importing utility that uses the same code as iPhoto itself: Image Capture

You can find this nifty tool pre-installed in your “Applications” folder.

Apple have a brief description of how to use this tool on their Help website and I have covered using it previously in a tutorial on how to automatically give your iPhoto files meaningful names using A Better Finder Rename.

Exporting your photos from iPhoto

If your photos are already in iPhoto, you need to first export them before changing them.

This is easily achieved by using iPhoto’s “File” -> “Export…” feature:


Keep the default values which will make sure that the original files are exported.

Changing the EXIF timestamps

First locate your exported or freshly imported image files.
Then make copies of them and keep them somewhere safe

Now for the sake of argument, let’s say we need to add precisely 6 hours (we’ve crossed 6 timezones) and 15 seconds (this is our second camera and its clock was 15 seconds slow compared to the first camera).

First we launch A Better Finder Attributes. (Just click here, if you haven’t downloaded it yet).

The dialog below will appear:


Now drag and drop your photo files into the preview table on the right:


Then select “Add or remove time from the date a JPEG photo was taken” from the “Action:” popup menu and fill in the dialog with the appropriate values:


Note that you need to check the “I accept full responsibility for using this feature” checkbox before you can proceed. This is another gentle reminder that you shoud back up your files before messing around with them 🙂

Finally click the “OK” button and the EXIF dates are changed:



Optionally delete the photos with incorrect timestamps from the iPhoto library

Hands down the best time to change EXIF dates is before you first import them into iPhoto. If this is no longer an option, you need to decide whether you want to keep the files with the incorrect timestamps or want to permanently erase them.

If you choose to erase them, your photo library will be in pristine condition with all photos arranged in correct chronological order, but you could potentially lose changes (effects, etc) to the files that you’ve already made in iPhoto. iPhoto is generally fairly good at dealing with this kind of thing, but I can’t vouch for it.. If you don’t erase the old photos you’ll end up with duplicates (the photo with the correct date and the original photo).

If you choose to remove the files from the iPhoto library, do so within iPhoto (pressing the Backspace key will transfer the selected pictures to the iPhoto trash). Never use the Finder to directly erase files within iPhoto’s Finder folder hierarchy!

Import your modified photos (back) into iPhoto

Choose “File” -> “Import to Library…” in iPhoto, locate your files and confirm the import.


As we’ve seen in this tutorial, changing EXIF dates with A Better Finder Attributes 4.4 is simple, but you have to be careful to let your photo management software know about it.

Most professionals will tend to use Image Capture, sometimes along with a few automatic scripts to import their files onto their Mac because this offers greater flexibility. If this interests you, you might like to read the already mentioned tutorial showing you how to use your own custom naming scheme with Image Capture automation.

I hope you will find this mini-tutorial useful.

Tutorial: Using A Better Finder Rename to import image files from your camera

Photographers, both professionals and ambitious amateurs make up a large fraction of A Better Finder Rename users.

All-in-one photo management and manipulation software like iPhoto assumes that file names are of little consequence and you’ll want to organize your images according to a project structure or meta data. This is fine as long as you never leave the photo management software, but of course you do so for all kinds of reasons: export the files to send to a third party, manipulate your files in a third party application, publish them to a non .Mac gallery, etc., etc.

In all these situations, you’d rather give your image files more meaningful names than IMG_66387.jpg. But how can you do this when all the files are managed by iPhoto software?

There are essentially two solutions: You can give your files meaningful names before importing them into your photo management software or after exporting them out of your photo management software.

Don’t ever try to rename files within the photo management software’s folder hierarchy! Applications, such as iPhoto, keep a lot of information outside of the actual image files and if you rename these files without the program knowing anything about it, you will lose valuable meta-data such as your albums, galleries, etc..

Using A Better Finder Rename to rename your image files after exporting them is trivial: simply drag & drop the files into A Better Finder Rename and let it do its magic.

Renaming the files before you import them is a little trickier.

Many Mac users do not know that you don’t need import your pictures directly into iPhoto. For the true professionals, Mac OS X offers a specialized application that does nothing but import images from your camera (and other image devices): Image Capture.

Image Capture lives in your “Applications” folder. Simply double click to launch it:


Now it’s time to connect your camera and switch it on. iPhoto will probably launch and ask you whether you want to import your pictures. Politely tell it that you don’t need it and quit it for now.

The Image Capture window will now show your camera:


You can do pretty much everything in Image Capture that you could do in iPhoto as far as importing your images is concerned. “Download All” will simply get all the pictures off your camera, while “Download Some…” will let you choose from the thumbnails which ones you want to import. Note that you can also choose which folder you want to import your pictures to. The “Options…” dialog also contains some useful features.

Once the photos are imported to the folder of your choice, you can use A Better Finder Rename to rename them and then import them using iPhoto’s import feature:



But that’s still 3 steps and a little too complicated for you?

Careful examination of the Image Capture window reveals the solution: the “Automatic Task” popup menu. This specifies which program should be run just after file have finished importing.

For now let’s simply choose the “A Better Finder Rename” application as the automatic task by:

  • selecting the “Other…” item in the “Automatic Task” popup menu
  • navigating to the “A Better Finder Rename” application in the “Applications” folder

Pressing the “Download All…” button will now first download all the images from your camera and then start up A Better Finder Rename:


You can now use the full power of the tool to give your pictures more meaningful file names.

You can, however, still go one step further.

It is for instance often convenient to encode the shooting time and date in the file name; that way you always know at a glance when the original picture was taken. If you use this type of naming convention you can take advantage of A Better Finder Rename’s droplet feature.

Droplets are small, independent, applications that automate common tasks. You save a rename action and the correct parameters into such a droplet application and every time you drag some files on the droplet the files are automatically renamed according to these settings.

Instead of defining A Better Finder Rename as the “automatic task”, we can use a droplet that we have prepared earlier. In this case, I have encoded our naming convention into a droplet called “Image Capture Automation” and defined it as the automatic task in Image Capture:


Now as soon as I push the “Download All” button, the pictures are imported to the hard disk and once this is finished they are automatically renamed with our naming convention.

Looking for Pentax and Kodak RAW sample files

I am currently working on improved RAW photo format support for forthcoming A Better Finder Rename 7.6 and A Better Finder Attributes 4.4.

The biggest problem at the moment is that I have found it difficult to obtain sample images taken with different cameras.

So far I have been able to successfully test with the following file formats:

  • jpeg (with EXIF)
  • crw (Canon)
  • cr2 (Canon)
  • thm (Canon)
  • nef (Nikon)
  • tiff (camera)
  • raf (Fuji)
  • orf (Olympus)
  • mrw (Minolta)
  • dng (Adobe)
  • srf (Sony)

I think the code should also be able to work with:

  • dcr (Kodak)
  • Panasonic RAW format files

The problem is that I can seem to find any .DCR or Panasonic RAW sample files to test with anywhere on the internet.

If anybody has got a Kodak or Panasonic camera that use these file formats, could you please send me a file or two via email?

You don’t need to worry about the attachment size at my end. Should the files be too large for your mail reader to send I can arrange FTP access to my site for you.

I would really appreciate your help.

Best regards,


MacBreakZ 4 is shipping


Today on the 29th of November after almost a year in development, three public betas and five private alpha releases MacBreakZ 4 is finally ready for prime time.

More than just protecting you from computer-related health risks (repetitive strain injuries, back ache, eye strain, headaches, etc..) the new version makes healthy computing fun. Based on ergonomic principles and almost 10 years of feedback from its users, MacBreakZ 4 makes it easier than ever to get out of bad work habits in order to work more productively and feel better at the end of the work day.

If you haven’t done so yet, check out what all this is about..

A Better Finder Rename 7.5 tidbits

With today’s 7.5 release ABFR is now getting towards the mid-way point to the next major upgrade and it is time to take stock of what’s happened since.

Version 7, of course, was a complete rewrite and that allowed a major step forward to be made. After close to a decade of pretty-much-monthly updates it was high time to do some clean up work.

Looking through the change history since the 7.0 release, a lot of the 14 (!) releases dealt with the fact that version 7 is a stand-alone application as well as a contextual menu item.

The ongoing “Should the Rename Button Quit the Application or Clear the Preview?” saga reared its ugly head again in the recent About this Particular Macintosh (Verdict: “Very Nice!”) review.. if I had one email from everybody who thinks that it should or should not quit, I’d have a lot of emails.. well actually I do.

In version 7.4.5, I thought I had finally settled this dispute by making the behavior configurable along the “Have your cake and eat it” ideology. Now I start getting emails that argue that having to tick or un-tick the check box to change the behavior is a bit sluggish.. ah, well.. how about making both options available via the “File” menu..

Having your cake and eating it with a shortcut key

.. and throwing in a keyboard shortcut while we are at it.

When I rewrote ABFR I left out a few of the more exotic features, some because I reasoned that “nobody is using this stuff”, others were pushed out of the initial scope to make time for more generally useful features.

Version 7.5 should now complete the transition by adding the last missing feature from version 6.9.6: alphabetical sequences are back!

The reasoning behind them is that sequence numbers can take up a lot of space in a file name, e.g. you need 9 digits for the first 10 billion sequence numbers (0..9,999,999,999).

I think this is fine for most people given that your file name can be up to 255 characters long, but it is true that using the 26 letters of the alphabet instead of only 10 digits (suckers) is more compact yet 🙂

In other news, Apple apparently has removed the ability to read mp4 tags of (moderately) “Fair Play”-encoded files from Quicktime and thus the mp3 tag renaming feature no longer works with m4p files. Thanks Apple!

Apple now also seem to be using “bundles” (i.e. files that are actually folders such as OS X applications) for document files in GarageBand and A Better Finder Rename now makes sure that it doesn’t ruin your files by renaming the contents of the bundle as well as the top-level folder.

The “File List” features also see some minor user-requested improvements and that’s all until next month..

ATP Review A Better Finder Rename: Very Nice!

“About this Particular Macintosh” is a phrase that many veteran Mac users will recognize. In OS 9 it was the menu item that let you produce a profile of your Mac.

The eponymous site and e-zine ATP has been around for so long that it has become part of the Macintosh “ecosystem”. I was obviously delighted when they contacted me a while ago to review the latest version of A Better Finder Rename.

The result is an in-depth review in this month’s issue.

The Verdict:


Ok, I’ll try to wipe that smile off my face 🙂

Poll: Should the “Apply” button become the default button in A Better Finder Rename?

Seasoned A Better Finder Rename users will probably remember the good old days when A Better Finder Rename was “only” a context menu that was neatly hidden away in the Finder contextual menu.

With version 7.0, however, A Better Finder Rename became a full blown “stand-alone” application that may also be launchied via the context menu. This meant that some user interface rework had to be done. Throughout this, I tried to disrupt the working habits of existing users as little as possible.

New users, who have never known the “context menu only” A Better Finder Rename find some of its behaviour a little odd however.

Chief amongst these annoyances is the behaviour of the default “Rename” button. This, most new users feel, should simply peform the rename and stay open. I tend to agree. It’s only logical..

The problem is that when A Better Finder Rename was only a context menu item, it made more sense that it would be behave like the “Get Info” dialog: You make your changes and then the dialog closes, the Finder window shows you the new file names. Neat.

This is the reason why even the latest version 7.3 (for new users “inexplicably”) quits just after peforming the rename.

With the new version I have added an “Apply” button, which performs the rename, empties the preview list and stays open.


Now it is represented to me that this should be the default behaviour, ie. I should get rid of the “Rename” button behaviour and make the “Apply” button’s behaviour the default. Hitting the return key will apply the changes, but not quit the application.

This is of course the request of a user who has not spent the last decade hitting the return key to perform a one key stroke “rename and quit”. My highly scientific “one user poll” shows that 100 percent of existing users don’t want that.

How is a software developer to know which option to choose? Why, he could just ask his users..

So please cast your vote below:

I will probably only change the behaviour if there is a strong (two thirds?) vote in favour of the change..

Changes ahead for the A Better Finder series in 2006

2005 was a year of transition for the A Better Finder series of tools. Most of the year was spent migrating the 60,000+ lines of code of A Better Finder Rename 6 to the brave new world of Objective-C and Cocoa.

I took the opportunity to add many long-requested features, such a detachable preview window, multiple rename steps, etc.. One of the most important changes was to introduce drag & drop installation. The kind people at MindVision have provided me with their InstallerVise installer maker for ten years, but the product was beginning to show its age and its Mac OS 9 legacy.

Enter the 2005 drag & drop style installer. Today all you need to do to install A Better Finder Rename 7 is to take its icon from the disk volume and drop it where you want it. Double-click to start and you're finished. For multi-user installations, simply place the program in the Applications folder and let every user decide which optional features they want to install. This new drag & drop installation is now making its way across the entire product line:

already work on the same principle.

This leaves A Better Finder Select and A Better Finder Creators & Types. Once upon a time, both of these products covered a niche left open by the Mac OS 9 Finder. Today both of them have somewhat lost their raison d'être.

"A Better Finder Creators & Types" allows die-hard Mac OS 9 fans to continue using creator and type codes to associate documents to applications, but this approach, while still supported under Mac OS X, is no longer the recommended way of doing things and does not work with newer applications.

A Better Finder Select allows you to filter out certain files before passing them to other A Better Finder products or it allows you to select them in the Finder; it's functionality is partially covered in the Finder and is at its most useful as a front-end to the other products in the A Better Finder Series.

Is it still really useful to keep them as separate applications? I don't think so. That's why in 2006:

  • A Better Finder Creator & Types' features will be integrated into the new A Better Finder Attributes 4
  • A Better Finder Select's filtering features will be integrated into the preview window of both Attributes 4 and Rename 7
  • A Better Finder Select's ability to pre-select files in the Finder will be integrated into Attributes 4

If you disagree with these arrangements, please post a comment or contact me via email. It is not too late yet 🙂

The advantages I see for you, the user, is that you will have less application clutter, less installation, a smaller download and last but not least will be able to filter out files in the preview window.

Obviously, with the end-of-line of Select and Creators & Types, I'll be offering free cross-grades to the owners of these "late" products.