Mac OS X


For information, tips, and examples of use of this very handy image editing tool please visit: Pixelmator graphics tool zone.

A printer-friendly 300dpi version of the Webel IT Australia logo for business cards was composed in Pixelmator, with very slight bevel effect, and slightly more pastel coloured letters than in the original web version:

ImageMagick (convert)

From ImageMagick®:

ImageMagick® is a software suite to create, edit, compose, or convert bitmap images. It can read and write images in a variety of formats (over 100) including DPX, EXR, GIF, JPEG, JPEG-2000, PDF, PNG, Postscript, SVG, and TIFF. Use ImageMagick to resize, flip, mirror, rotate, distort, shear and transform images, adjust image colors, apply various special effects, or draw text, lines, polygons, ellipses and Bézier curves.

The functionality of ImageMagick is typically utilized from the command line or you can use the features from programs written in your favorite language. Choose from these interfaces: G2F (Ada), MagickCore (C), MagickWand (C), ChMagick (Ch), ImageMagickObject (COM+), Magick++ (C++), JMagick (Java), L-Magick (Lisp), Lua, NMagick (Neko/haXe), Magick.NET (.NET), PascalMagick (Pascal), PerlMagick (Perl), MagickWand for PHP (PHP), IMagick (PHP), PythonMagick (Python), RMagick (Ruby), or TclMagick (Tcl/TK). With a language interface, use ImageMagick to modify or create images dynamically and automagically.

Although the user interfaces for ImageMagick are rather clunky compared with other image editing tools, there are time when it is very useful to have its command line capabilities to manipulate an image or sets of images - such as command-line driven batch processing - and this is where ImageMagick really shines. It can sometimes offer a quick command-line rescue for a task that another tool can't handle.

It is sometimes simply known as convert, because that's the best known of the command line commandsit offers.

It is also handy to have programming language interfaces to it, so that, for example, images can be manipulated on-the-fly on a web server in the PHP language.

The easiest way to install it on Mac OS X is as a MacPort:

sudo port install ImageMagick

GraphicConverter tool for Mac

GraphicConverter is a must have for anybody working with graphics on Mac OS X, no matter what other tools you use for graphics editing, drawing, or image manipulation. It is a "Swiss Army Knife" for graphics manipulation and conversion, as well as basic editing, but it's strength is in conversion.

It can, for example, apply color conversion from RGB screen color to CMYK for printing, and it can even import color profiles, and it can display CMYK separations !

TIP: Adobe offers ZIP bundles of ICC color profiles for Mac and Windows, which include the popular USWebCoatedSwop.icc color profile.

OpenOffice Draw (Apache)

Over the years I have found Apache OpenOffice Draw to be an extremely handy drawing and illustration tool, and it is far more stable than it was in the past.

Given that it is free and that Adobe Illustrator is very expensive, this is a serious alternative for a wide range of drawing and illustration tasks. It is perfectly well suited to composition of business cards, brochures, posters etc. (as long as you are composing the more complex graphic elements in another tool). It can even handle SVG vector image import.

It is particularly good as far as text manipulation and precise page layout, layering, and element selection, positioning, and sizing are concerned, and in this respect it is much easier to use than say Pixelmator and The GIMP, which are really overgrown image manipulation tools, not drawing tools.

The Webel IT Australia technology services business cards were composed using OpenOffice Draw:

GIMP graphics tool zone

The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is a free, open source image and graphics editing tool with a flexible scripting facility. It is available for Linux, Mac and Windows.

The original 72dpi Webel animated GIF logo from about 2000 was developed
using some (rather keen) GIMP/Perl scripting. Watch out PIXAR !

The GIMP is not as full-featured as Adobe Photoshop, and not as easy to use as Pixelmator for Mac, and the interaction is not very Mac-like, but if you have patience you can certainly generate high quality graphics with it. It is definitely not very convenient as a drawing tool (it is not as handy as Adobe Illustrator or even OpenOffice Draw), it definitely belongs in the image manipulation family, although it has some handy pattern generators and some plugins that do help with drawing.

One of the best comparison articles I've found is GIMP vs Photoshop vs Pixelmator - Graphics Editor Shootout (Feb 2012) by Nathan Greenstein with some comparison tests and score tables.

I have found it over the years to be less than robust on Mac.

If you are going to install it on Mac, I highly recommend the extended bundles (offered per Mac OS X version) at GIMP on OS X rather than the stock GIMP builds at the main GIMP for Mac downloads area.

Pixelmator graphics tool zone

Pixelmator is a handy competitor to Adobe Photoshop. While not as full-featured, it is massively cheaper, and the feature gap is closing.

Certainly it seems to be more robust and easier to use in many respects than the free GIMP, although GIMP does seem to have more plugins and FX (like text-bevelling and bump-mapping).

One of the best comparison articles I've found is GIMP vs Photoshop vs Pixelmator - Graphics Editor Shootout (Feb 2012) by Nathan Greenstein with some comparison tests and score tables.

A printer-friendly 300dpi version of the Webel IT Australia logo for business cards was composed in Pixelmator, with very slight bevel effect, and slightly more pastel coloured letters than in the original web version:

Mac OS X: audio engineering plugins

From Wikipedia: Virtual Studio Technology:

'Virtual Studio Technology (VST) is a software interface that integrates software audio synthesizer and effect plugins with audio editors and hard-disk recording systems. VST and similar technologies use digital signal processing to simulate traditional recording studio hardware in software. Thousands of plugins exist, both commercial and freeware, and a large number of audio applications support VST under license from its creator, Steinberg.'

'VST plugins generally run within a digital audio workstation (DAW), to provide additional functionality. Most VST plugins are either instruments (VSTi) or effects, although other categories exist—for example spectrum analyzers and various meters. VST plugins usually provide a custom graphical user interface that displays controls similar to physical switches and knobs on audio hardware. Some (often older) plugins rely on the host application for their user interface.

VST instruments include software simulation emulations of well-known hardware synthesizers and samplers. These typically emulate the look of the original equipment as well as its sonic characteristics. This lets musicians and recording engineers use virtual versions of devices that otherwise might be difficult and expensive to obtain.

VST instruments receive notes as digital information via MIDI, and output digital audio. Effect plugins receive digital audio and process it through to their outputs. (Some effect plugins also accept MIDI input—for example MIDI sync to modulate the effect in sync with the tempo). MIDI messages can control both instrument and effect plugin parameters. Most host applications can route the audio output from one VST to the audio input of another VST (chaining). For example, output of a VST synthesizer can be sent through a VST reverb effect.'

From Wikipedia: Audio Units:

'Audio Units (AU) are a system-level plug-in architecture provided by Core Audio in Mac OS X developed by Apple Computer. Audio Units are a set of application programming interface services provided by the operating system to generate, process, receive, or otherwise manipulate streams of audio in near-real-time with minimal latency. It may be thought of as Apple's architectural equivalent to another popular plug-in format, Steinberg's VST. Because of the many similarities between Audio Units and VST, several commercial and free wrapping technologies are available (e.g. Symbiosis and FXpansion VST-AU Adapter).'

'Mac OS X comes with Audio Units allowing one to timestretch an audio file, convert its sample rate and stream audio over a Local Area Network. It also comes with a collection of AU plug-ins such as EQ filters, dynamic processors, delay, reverb, and a Soundbank Synthesizer Instrument.

AU are used by Apple applications such as GarageBand, Soundtrack Pro, Logic Express, Logic Pro, Final Cut Pro, MainStage and most 3rd party audio software developed for Mac OS X such as Ardour, Ableton Live, REAPER and Digital Performer.'

From Quick Tip: How to Manage VST and AudioUnits Plugins in Mac OS X (2010):

'VST and AudioUnits (AU) are the two native plugin formats for Mac OS X. Although there are other DAW specific formats for plugins, VST and AudioUnits are more common and compatible across various DAWs like Cubase, Logic, etc. There is an abundance of VST and AU plugins for expanding your DAW and building your collection of effects. However, it can be difficult to know how to get those plugins running on your computer. Especially if they are free and do not come with installers or instructions. I’ll help you get those files in the right places and make them appear in your plugin stacks.'

'The plugin folder is nested in the Macintosh HD Library. There are usually a minimum of two Libraries on your Mac, one in Macintosh HD and another in your user account. You should only place the plugins in the Macintosh HD Library so that it can be accessed by all users on the computer. The usual location of the folder should be:

/Macintosh HD/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/
$ ls -1 /Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/


How to Install VST Plugins

1. Unzip the downloaded file if it is an archive like .zip or .rar. You should only see a file with a .vst extension. This is the actual file required for the plugin.

2. Move the .vst file to the VST folder in your audio plugins folder.

3. If your DAW is running, close it and restart it. When your DAW starts up, it will rescan your plugins folder and detect your recently installed plugin.

How to Install AudioUnits Plugins

1. Unzip the downloaded file if it is an archive like .zip or .rar. You should only see a file with a .component extension. This is the actual file required for the plugin.

2. Move the .component file to the Components folder in your audio plugins folder.

3. If your DAW is running, close it and restart it. When your DAW starts up, it will rescan your plugins folder and detect your recently installed plugin.

Other Plugin Formats

You might come across another folder labelled VST3, this is for VST3 plugins which are not as common as of yet. They can be identified with the .vst3 file extension. MAS is used for MOTU Audio System. HAL is Hardware Abstraction Layer and you should not be needing to change anything there.'

Plugins for Audacity

Note: Audacity is a 32-bit application so won't see 64-bit versions of VST plug-ins, even on 64-bit operating systems.

From VST Plug-ins:

'In current Audacity (and legacy 1.3.8 and later), VST effects are displayed with full GUI interface (where provided by the plug-in), and without need of the VST Enabler. This has been made possible by use of an open source VST header.

When Audacity is first launched, an "Install VST Effects" dialogue will appear which lists VST plug-ins detected in the Plug-Ins folder inside the Audacity installation folder and in other system locations. Press OK to load the chosen plug-ins. Prior to Audacity 2.0.4, the scan happened automatically with no choice of which effects to load. Your VST effects will appear in the Effect menu, underneath the divider.

When you restart Audacity again it will reload the plug-ins it detected last session, as stored in the plugins.cfg file in the Audacity folder for application data. This avoids slowing down each Audacity launch by scanning for new plug-ins. So if you add more VST plug-ins later, you must go to the Effects tab of Audacity Preferences, check "Rescan VST effects next time Audacity is started ", then restart Audacity. If you subsequently remove any VST plug-ins, they will automatically be removed from the Effect menu after restart, without need for a rescan (as long as you are using 1.3.10 or later).'

From Audio Units:

'This page describes support for Audio Unit effect plug-ins in Audacity. Audio Units is a plug-in architecture developed by Apple and is only supported in Audacity 1.3.1 and later on Mac OS X.


Audio Unit support

Audio Unit (AU) support is available in Audacity 1.3.1 and later - Audacity scans for available AU plug-ins each time it launches. AU support is enabled by default, but it can be turned on or off by clicking Audacity > Preferences: Effects then under "Enable Effects", uncheck "Audio Unit". Restart Audacity for changes to take effect.

Audio Unit "MusicEffects" are supported in Audacity 1.3.14 and later. This class of Audio Unit supports audio input like pure "Effect" AU's but has the ability to use MIDI input to set effect parameters. Audacity doesn't yet accept MIDI input, so although MusicEffects should work fine as audio effects, parameters need to be set manually. Examples of MusicEffects are all those from DestroyFX, Ohm Force and SFXmachine, plus FXpansion Snippet, Tobybear MadShifta and u-he MFM2.

Like VST plug-ins in current Audacity, Audio Units display their full GUI interface by default, where one is provided. If interface difficulties arise, Audio Units can be limited to a tabular interface with sliders by unchecking the option "Display Audio Unit effects in graphical mode" at Audacity > Preferences: Effects. Once again, restart Audacity for changes to take effect.

.. You can find a useful list of third-party AU plug-ins (free and demo/paid-for) on Hitsquad.

To add new Audio Units (AU) plug-ins, place them in:




and restart Audacity. As always, ~ means your home directory. Audacity will not load Audio Unit plug-ins from the Audacity "Plug-ins" folder. '

From Nyquist Plugin-ins:

'Audacity supports Nyquist effects on all operating systems, and includes a number of Nyquist plug-ins. You can download additional Nyquist plug-ins, edit their behavior, or even write your own. Nyquist Plug-ins are merely plain text files which can be opened and studied using any simple text editor.


We host a large collection of Nyquist plug-ins for use in Audacity


On Windows and OS X, place new Nyquist plug-ins in the Plug-Ins folder inside your Audacity installation folder and restart Audacity. Your installation folder is usually under C:\Program Files on Windows computers, or under Mac Hard Disk > Applications on OS X.

On Linux, place new Nyquist plug-ins in one of the following locations:

- /usr/share/audacity/plug-ins if Audacity was installed from a repository package

- /usr/local/share/audacity/plug-ins if you compiled Audacity from source code

- ~/.audacity-files/plug-ins which is a per-user directory for which super-user privileges are not required (Note:

- The .audacity-files folder is not created during installation so must be created manually)

- in a Nyquist directory specified in the AUDACITY_PATH environment variable.

Restart Audacity then new plug-ins will be visible in either the Effect Menu, or sometimes in the Analyze or Generate menus. '

From Wikipedia: Nyquist (programming language):

'Nyquist is a programming language for sound synthesis and analysis based on the Lisp programming language. It is an extension of the XLISP dialect of Lisp.

With Nyquist, the programmer designs musical instruments by combining functions, and can call upon these instruments and generate a sound just by typing a simple expression. The programmer can combine simple expressions into complex ones to create a whole composition, and can also generate various other kinds of musical and non-musical sounds.

The Nyquist interpreter can read and write sound files, MIDI files, and Adagio text-based music score files. On many platforms, it can also produce direct audio output in real time.

The Nyquist programming language can also be used to write plug-in effects for the Audacity digital audio editor.

One notable difference between Nyquist and more traditional MUSIC-N languages is that Nyquist does not segregate synthesis functions (see unit generator) from "scoring" functions. For example Csound is actually two languages, one for creating "orchestras" the other for writing "scores". With Nyquist these two domains are combined.

Nyquist runs under Linux and other Unix environments, Mac OS, and Microsoft Windows.'

From Ladspa Plug-ins:

'LADSPA (Linux Audio Developers Simple Plugin API) is an audio plug-in standard originally developed on Linux, but which can be ported to Windows and Mac too. Audacity has built-in support for LADSPA plug-ins.'

Mac OS X: some audio engineering apps and tools

These are in addition to: FFmpeg: command line and GUI audio/video conversion tool: audio references

Most are known to run on Mac OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.5 as of 2013.


- FLAC tools: official command line tools for FLAC format.

- X Lossless Decoder (XLD): super little free GUI app for Mac OS X, can handle FLAC and ALAC and some other lossless formats, as well as converting from say FLAC to lossy formats like MP3 or AAC.

- Free Audio Converter (FREAC) GUI app: free audio converter and CD ripper. Features MP3, MP4/M4A, WMA, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, AAC, and Bonk format support, integrates freedb/CDDB, CDText and ID3v2 tagging.

- Max: CD ripper and encoder that supports FLAC and some other formats.

Sound editors

- If I want to do anything exciting involving my own music I use the absolutely awesome Ableton Live for recording, editing, composition, and mastering. (BTW Ableton Live 9 supports multitrack recording up to 32-bit/192 kHz.) I can be engaged for professional audio services: visit Ableton Live (audio).

- Sometimes for post-processing or certain tasks I also use the audio editing in Final Cut, and I likewise offer professional media services for it: visit Final Cut video and audio editing and production.

But sometimes it is nice to be able to load a simpler audio editor for a quick fade-in/out or normalisation job, or just to make a quick recording.

- Audacity is a free, open-source, cross-platform audio editor for Mac, GNU/Linux Windows etc. It's not the world's best audio editor (especially not for MP3 or AAC because it imports, processes, then reexports with a small quality loss rather than say direct MP3 editing), but it has lots of FX and plugins and is sufficient for experiments, quick edits, and some post-processing, as well as wave analysis. As of Nov 2013 on OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.5, I find it far more stable than it used to be. Given that it's free, there's an awful lot that you can do with Audacity.

- To use Audacity with MP3 you will need to also install the LAME MP3 encoder, it's easy.

Internally Audacity works in uncompressed audio in 32-bit floating point by default, and offers up to 96kHz sample rate. You may simply import, edit, then export changes (losing edits), or save edited audio in its native AUP multi-file project folder format. In order to play the results in other programs, you must always export to another well-known format, and it supports nearly every format you will ever need.

- There is an unofficial Wave Stats plugin for Audacity that performs excellent wave analysis over regions of about 30s length, which is enough for you to explore the difference between dBFS RMS and max peaks.

To learn how to install Plugins for Audacity (and most other audio editors) on Mac OS X visit: Mac OS X: audio engineering plugins.

- From Rogue Amoeba for $32: Fission:

'Crop and trim audio, paste in or join files, or just rapidly split one long file into many. Fission is streamlined for fast editing. Plus, it works without the quality loss caused by other editors, so you can get perfect quality audio even when editing MP3 and AAC files. If you need to convert formats, Fission can do that too! You can rapidly export or batch convert files to the MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless, FLAC, AIFF, and WAV formats.'

I tried the free demo for file splitting on silences, not bad.

Here are some other editors I have not yet tried, but they might be worth a go:

- TwistedWave is available for Mac ($79.90), iPhone / iPad ($9.99) and online. TwistedWave for Mac is available as a fully functional 30 day demo. Can handle audio at a resolution up to 32-bit and 192 kHz sampling rate. Includes batch processing with silence detection for splitting long recordings into many files. Can perform pitch correction, pitch shift, and time stretch.

- NHC Software offer the Master's edition of WavePad for $59.95 (includes VST plugins and SFX library), however:

'A free version of WavePad audio editing software is available for non-commercial use only. The free version does not expire and includes most of the features of the normal version. If you are using it at home, you can download the free version here. You can always upgrade to the master's edition at a later time, which has additional effects and features for the serious sound engineer.'

Supports sample rates from 6 to 96kHz, stereo or mono, 8, 16, 24 or 32 bits.

There are dozens of other sound editors for Mac, but as far as I can tell, unless you are working on some real original music composition with something truly professional like Ableton, all you need is Audacity (free).


- Well obviously iTunes: plays most formats including WAV, AIFF, MP3 and AAC, likes compressed lossless ALAC, but does not play lossless compressed FLAC directly (yet). But that is not so bad because ...

- Fluke app: small OS X utility for listening to FLAC files within iTunes, without having to convert anything.

- QuickTime Player: although mainly known as a video player, is very useful for playing audio files (with a simple audio player GUI mode), and it also has a nice file info display with bit rates, sample rates etc. QuickTime is especially useful when you don't want to pollute your iTunes library with audio test files. Just right click and "open with .." then choose QuickTime Player instead of iTunes (or even set QuickTime Player as default for that audio file kind). However, as far as I can tell, QuickTime Player 10.2 still does not play FLAC.

- From Mac Software to play and convert FLAC:

The following software will play FLAC files without any requirement for modification - simply download, install and start using the current version.

- Cog:

- Play:

- VLC:

- Songbird:

- Bigasoft Audio Converter:

- From Audiofile Engineering for $US 19.99 Fidelia: Premium Music Player:

Fidelia is a high-definition audio player for sophisticated music lovers. With support for all contemporary audio file formats and an elegant interface that focuses exclusively on music, it gives users the power and the freedom to organize, customize and savor their digital music collection at the highest possible fidelity in any circumstance. If you've invested in premium audio hardware, you should have the best audio software.

Plays FLAC. Has adjustable real-time dithering.

- From Sbooth for $US 33 comes Decibel:

'Decibel is an audio player tailored to the particular needs of audiophiles. Decibel supports all popular lossless and lossy audio formats including FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, Musepack, WavPack, Monkey's Audio, Speex, True Audio, Apple Lossless, AAC, MP3, WAVE and AIFF. For lossless formats such as FLAC and WAVE, and for Ogg Vorbis and specially tagged MP3 files, Decibel supports gapless playback with seamless transitions between tracks. Decibel processes all audio using 64-bit floating-point precision, providing the highest possible playback quality for files sampled at all bit depths.'


Pro Level is a simple little $US 5 app with various VU-like digital monitors and some nice simple peak and clip hold settings, but you will need SoundFlower to shunt whatever stream your are targeting back through as an audio input source before it will see it (compare with Audio Hijack below, which you can also use to monitor system audio or any application's sound output directly).

Spectre: real-time Studio Multi-analyzer from Audiofile Engineering for $US99:

'Spectre is a multi-instrument real-time audio analyzer for Mac OS X. Designed in Cocoa from the ground up, Spectre proudly takes advantage of Quartz, OpenGL, CoreAudio, and other solid OS X interface features. Flexibility & Precision. Spectre focuses squarely on live audio analysis by offering 17 different multi-channel and multi-trace meters. Each meter can have any number of traces or indicators, and each trace can have it's own number of input channels, gain, mixing, filtering, ballistics and color (including transparency).'


- A likely "must have" for audio fun on a Mac is SoundFlower:

'Free Inter-application Audio Routing Utility for Mac OS X. Soundflower is a Mac OS X (10.2 and later) system extension that allows applications to pass audio to other applications. Soundflower is easy to use, it simply presents itself as an audio device, allowing any audio application to send and receive audio with no other support needed.

How To Use Soundflower

Soundflower presents itself as one of two audio devices (2ch / 16ch). The 2-channel device is sufficient for most situations. To send the output of one application to another, select Soundflower as the output device in the first application and Soundflower as the input device within the second application. If an application does not allow you to specify audio devices, you can make Soundflower the default input or output device inside the Sound panel in the System Preferences, or with the Audio MIDI Setup utility application. The 16-channel device is provided for more complex routing situations, and can be used with more than two applications simultaneously if the applications support audio routing to any channel, as Max/MSP does.'

But some of the functionality you might achieve with SoundFlower is more easily achieved out-of-the box with a good "hijacker".

Audio stream hijackers

"Exploring" and recording your (Mac) computer system's and applications' music sources (including online radio):

- Audio Hijack Pro (at around $US 32) is an absolutely super bit of software. You can record nearly any source (including any application) on your Mac, or full system audio. You can record Skype, Facetime, or anything you choose to "hijack", such as a particular web browser playing online radio. (Oops, I said it.) It has a very rich set of FX too, including tapping into all available VST and Apple FX, and you can customise nearly everything, including recording format, bit-rates, levels, schedule recordings, split recordings on-the-fly according to silence detection (with adjustable parameters). You can even use it to shunt audio around your system bus. Amazing !

- Also by Rogue Amoeba there is a new mini-version called Piezo, which unlike Audio Hijack Pro passes the restrictions to enter the Apple App Store. It enables you to record audio from any application, but you have restart the app every time after hijacking before a recording can start.

- To be fair I should also mention SoundTap (Mac and Win) from NHC Software, who also have a super kit of other audio apps. It is however not nearly as powerful as Audio Hijack Pro, but it's enough to tap a bit of your computer's sound quickly.

- And also Snowtape:

'Listen to internet radio. Record the music. Schedule radio shows. Edit songs and get album artwork. Export to iTunes.'

Hang on. Record the music ? From internet radio ? Ooh aah, that's naughty !

- And also Fstream for Mac. 'Listen to and record online radio easily'. Also available as an iPhone radio listening app.

No wonder so many online radio streams deliberately keep under 128kbps !

Some other audio apps and tools

- patch-based real-time audio and video synthesis. From the Max/MSP family. PureData is amazingly powerful and very clever. See also the Puredata synthesis zone for some examples. I am a huge fan of the PureData project; May Miller Puckette and the PureData/GEM community be blessed.

To see how I use PureData synthesise music and visuals from triaxial accelerometers to make real-time body music (gestural synthesis) see the Drancing project.

- MP3-Info is a very handy little app:

'MP3-Info is a clever companion that helps you organize your music collection. It is essentially a Plug-in for the Finder and iTunes. MP3-Info displays valuable information about audio files, such as their duration, the bitrate, important MP3-Tags, such as the artist, the title of the song, lyrics, cover art, and some more. That saves you a lot of time managing your song collection. It also shows these information for AAC files created by iTunes, and WAV, and AIFF files.'

- I haven't tried it yet, but AudioFinder sounds amazing. Can preview any audio file and give metadata and stats on any audio file direct in the Mac Finder.

- From TuneSweeper:

'Quickly find and remove all duplicates in your iTunes library. Remove missing iTunes files. Add additional music on your computer into iTunes.'

- FREE from AudioSlicer:

'AudioSlicer is a Cocoa GUI application for Mac OS X that finds all silences in an audio file and allows you to split it into several smaller audio files and to name/tag them properly. For now only MP3 is supported but other audio formats may be added in the future.'

A review of Mac OS X timesheeting/tracking applications: Billings vs iBiz (and now Studiometry)

STOP PRESS: am now (partially) including Studiometry in this comparison.

Since I (Dr Darren) work primarily as a consultant for Webel IT Australia, and primarily (these days) with Mac OS X, I've been on the lookout for a really good timesheeting application. Unfortunately, neither of the timesheeting applications reviewed here (iBiz and Billings) is even close to really good, even if, for some reason I can't possibly fathom, Billings is "award winning". I certainly did not vote for it (although I do offer some discerning five-star votes here). This story is about the lesser of two evils Evil, and currently Billings is less evil, but only just, and it is missing many features that are successfully implemented in iBiz. I hope this dynamic, living, evolving review helps to change that, because I have now given up on iBiz, and I want Billings to come up to speed. I hope that this sometimes scathing review helps you save some of the time that I wasted already !

Neither iBiz nor Billings offer solid time data integrity, and since TIME=MONEY Cash, they do not offer financial integrity. I've found I have to watch the invoices generated by these applications like a hawk, and I in fact use the far more robust and highly recommended Wink Mind Your Own Business (MYOB) for the final invoicing and for the financials.

WARNING: Do NOT trust either iBiz (at all) or Billings (yet) to manage your financials !

The developers of iBiz and Billings do not seem to have understood Model-View-Controller properly (if at all), nor the importance of persistence of report generation parameter/variable state Puzzled, being of course the 2 things I need most as a consultant using time-tracking software, all day, every day.

And sadly, neither iBiz nor Billings at the time of writing comes even close to successfully integrating with iCal on Mac OS X, which renders them near useless in some important respects. Angry

So both applications earn from me a big fat yet partly rotten Golden Raspberry for Poor Software (which means not ripe yet, and yes, the concept is completely stolen from the award of the same name for bad movies), and I offer a humble sticking-out-of-my -tongue Tongue and a perpetual farting sound with a bad miasma, one each for each application for these shocking behaviors:

  • iBiz: for hogging consistently up to 90% of the CPU of my Mac Book Pro, most irritating, because the developers do not understand threads, priorities, processes and processors, quite sad really for people dealing with time keeping.
  • Billings: for offering a global setting for only letting one timer at a time run, which DOES NOT WORK, so that the entire integrity of time data management, and therefore of generated invoices, is corrupt.

These raspberries dated 17th Jun 2010 can't be undone; Billings and iBiz have earnt them permanently forever, for releasing software with such awful unripe stuff in them.

So far, I've found the support for iBiz pitiful (especially considering that I am helping them for no money), and the support for Billings far more helpful, even if some of the suggestions made in replies are clankers (such as suggesting that, since they only write full day events to iCal, I can adjust those by hand in iCal, which is probably the silliest, most time wasting idea I have heard in over 30 years working with computers).

To developers of software applications everywhere. Dr Darren says:

Your customers are NOT your happily unpaid beta testers ! Test the !@#!@# things yourselves, first, properly, before wasting our time (and your own, too).

Enough freestyling already. The rest of this Webel review is database-driven thanks to Drupal™ CCK custom types and Views. My aim is single: shock the software houses that develop time-sheeting applications for Mac OS X into finally getting their act together, so they will stop WASTING MY TIME !

The table below compares many Features of iBiz and Billings (and some features of Studiometry); to view a single table for app please visit:

Sorry, the application column below is not sort-clickable, most other columns are.

Application Featuresort icon Dr Darren's Vote Test result Remark
Billings (Option to enforce) only one timer runs at a time.

It "beggars belief" that the single most important feature for time data (and thus money) integrity fails this simple test (which I performed on Billings 3.6.1, and MarketCircle obviously did not). Leaves me with a very bad taste and them with a "golden raspberry" for untested, unripe software Tongue These people should be paying me for saving their arses, instead of "winning awards".

iBiz (Option to enforce) only one timer runs at a time.
iBiz Access contributing items and their property sheets directly from reports

No, the reports are "static", and the developers do not understand Model-View-Controller. There should be an option to "freeze" reports if that is needed. (This very useful feature should be well known to users of MYOB.)

Billings Access contributing items and their property sheets directly from reports

No, the reports are "static", AFAIK one can't get from the reports back to the items that contribute to them. (This very useful feature should be well known to users of MYOB.)

Billings Access stored timesheet data by SQL

Billings uses SQLite3, so you can easily get at your precious data by connecting to the Billlings .bex output files (used for backups) with any good SQL client like Navicat or RazorSQL (the Netbeans SQL Plugin failed on this at the time of writing Jun 2010). It is easy to therefore create custom web reports using, for example, PHP.

iBiz Access stored timesheet data by SQL
Studiometry Access stored timesheet data by SQL

Not as far as I can tell. And there does not seem to be any export of time data, only of computed financials.

Studiometry Associate project with local files

The make this one easy. Drag n' Drop local files onto a files pane. Well done.

iBiz Column-delimited data export (easily imported into spreadsheet applications)

The text export is a god-forsaken mess combining different types of data and without clean columns. Can't be real in 2010.

Billings Column-delimited data export (easily imported into spreadsheet applications)

The text export is in tab-delimited columns, but I found it has in some places double-tabs, and I could not load it into OpenOffice3 or Mac OS X iWork Pages. The devil Evil knows why they did not just CSV, because only a fool would try to read that output as plain text. (However, one can connect via SQL client to the SQLite3 dump instead.)

iBiz Convenient and quick editing of job event title and notes

The iBiz web site claims "Faster Editing and Entry", but in fact I found that sometimes when editing just the title of a job event entry in the property box took over a second sometimes for the cursor to move along, and highlighting made it grind to a halt. I'm giving this a fail (the feature exists but is not as claimed). Do not believe the hype Tongue

Billings Convenient and quick editing of job event title and notes

Seems to work, and works while event is active without killing the app. One has to go to a separate Comment tab to enter notes.

iBiz CPU usage efficiency

Appalling. The iBiz version 4.1.1 typically hogged 90% of my Mac Book Pro with 2.5Ghz Core 2 duo, rendering it and all other applications unusable. Clearly not tested properly, put me off this app forever. Awful ! Angry

Billings CPU usage efficiency

I wrote mid Jun 2010: "At the moment of posting this I am running Billings on a Mac Book Pro with 2.5Ghz Core 2 duo. Billings is taking about 2.1% CPU with one timer running. I can live with that." I revoke that 20 Jun 2010, it is hogging my CPU with just 1 timer running (see attached image) and why on earth does it need 1GB virtual memory ?

iBiz Customisable reports


Billings Customisable reports

Definitely one of the strengths of Billings; lots of different ways of viewing the same underlying data.

Studiometry Default currency choice known to all newly created timers
Billings Default currency choice known to all newly created timers
Billings Documentation easily navigable

Bless their souls in the 21st century, the index of their PDF is not hyperlinked to the chapters, and the chapter/structure overview failed (at least in Mac OS X Preview on Leopard).

iBiz Documentation easily navigable
Billings Easily select all job events within a subset of projects

I simply can't believe they don't have this. See online support suggestion quicktime movie for how you are expected to do it, namely multi-select all "Slips" for a given project each time. Clumsy, impractical, error prone, and painful if you have to regenerate a report often, especially if one has to select a number (only) of projects for a given client.

iBiz Easily select all job events within a subset of projects

They almost got this right under Advance Invoice, however one has to reselect the subset of projects each time, i.e., there is no proper persistence of the chosen project subset parameter.

iBiz Easily start/pause/restart timers (without completing/closing job event)
Billings Easily start/pause/restart timers (without completing/closing job event)
Studiometry Easily start/pause/restart timers (without completing/closing job event)
iBiz Easy access to start/stop timestamped logging of job sub-events

Nice optional display in right pane with clear start/stop indicators.

Billings Easy access to start/stop timestamped logging of job sub-events

Under the slip properties editor one can bring up an editable time log, but not embedded in the main view.

iBiz Editable log of start/stop of job sub-events

Not as far as I can tell.

Billings Editable log of start/stop of job sub-events

Yes, under properties dialog for a "Slip" (cumulative job event).

iBiz Export reports (not invoices) as PDF


Billings Export reports (not invoices) as PDF

Yes via PRINT (then Mac OS X handles it).

Billings Filtering and sorting of job events by date across projects and/or client

This is where Billings is particularly strong.

iBiz Filtering and sorting of job events by date across projects and/or client


iBiz Financial information cent-accurate

Definitely not. For some reason the data walks away, there are bad rounding errors somewhere.

Billings Financial information cent-accurate
iBiz Generate invoice/report for a given fine-grained period (hh:mm accurate)

And the choice is persistent between report and invoice generations.

Billings Generate invoice/report for a given fine-grained period (hh:mm accurate)

AFAIK sadly missing for invoices, i.e. it does not detect which job events ("Slips") are within a chosen time bracket, one has to painfully select each Slip (check a checkbox) from within a table of slips (the line items of which are BTW not able to be opened to the Slip properties box). The invoice creation Slips table does not even have a "select all" feature for the Slips, a real time waster.

The report generation has date filters, but only day-accurate (not hh:mm).

Billings Hyperlink job event to external resource as URL

C'mon guys, it is the 21st century, we use links. Look at iCal events !

iBiz Hyperlink job event to external resource as URL

As in iCal. Not in iBiz AFAIK.

Studiometry Hyperlink job event to external resource as URL

AFAIK one can't link to a remote URL for a web site page, (howevever one can drag files onto a pane to create convenient file links to local files).

Billings Job event groups with weighted time and service rate averages of sub-events

Sadly missing and sorely missed.

iBiz Job event groups with weighted time and service rate averages of sub-events

Very useful feature, done well.

Studiometry Newly created timer knows project/client through context or selection

This one really bugs me. Even when a project within a client is selected (and thus a context for the client is available) the new timer dialog asks me to choose the client, offering All Clients by default (which of course could corrupt timesheeting data easily if not changed). This is really annoying when creating lots of timers.

Billings Newly created timer knows project/client through context or selection
Billings Newly created timer knows project/client through context or selection
Billings Option to show unbilled items in reports (and/or invoices)

Has an option "For your eyes only" for each Slip (which then shows an eye icon near the total in line items), and one can show such unbilled items on some reports, however one can't AFAIK show unbilled items easily together with billed ones on an invoice. I mostly don't want "For your eyes only", I want plain ol' unbilled, so that I can show myself and clients what they are NOT paying for (example, lots of time spent debugging Drupal modules that can't be billed). I want to be able to easily show unbilled and billed side-by-side, at least in reports (not necessarily in invoices, but I'd like that, too sometimes).

iBiz Option to show unbilled items in reports and/or invoices

This is nicely displayed in reports as greyed out service items next to normal billed ones, for those job events where "unbilled" is selected. AFAIK, one has to, in order to send this to anyone (which I often need to do to show clients what they are NOT paying for), take a screenshot of the report.

iBiz Pie-charts and percentages of time spent by project/client.

In case you like this kind of visual overview, can be handy.

Billings Pie-charts and percentages of time spent by project/client.

Not AFAIK. It might be there somewhere.

Billings Reliable export of start/finish job event data to iCal

Billings only exports (for reasons I can't fathom) timed events to iCal all day events, which is next to useless. Their support wrote to me: "you can edit the event in iCal to show the time range you would like it to. " This might just be the most disconnected, unrealistic software support response I've ever received. Sorry, how should I spend my time after spending money on an "awarded" time-tracking app ? Tongue

iBiz Reliable export of start/finish job event data to iCal

iBiz completely mangled my iCal entries Angry (and if you Google "iBiz sucks" you'll find I'm not alone). Whatever you do, switch OFF iBiz to iCal "integration" in both directions. Do not even bother to test it. Let their developers test it this time ! And maybe they should change this claim on their site:

'With a completely new iCal sync engine, iBiz 4 takes a leap forward in management and scheduling of billing, projects, job events, to do lists, alarms and more.'

Piffle Tongue !

iBiz Tag completed job event by completion state: like PASSED, FAILED, etc.
Billings Tag completed job event by completion state: like PASSED, FAILED, etc.

OPEN FEEDBACK: Expose Spaces: poor comparison with the KDE window manager and other windowing issues

This page contains, describes, or reports suspected ERROR(S) in content, a specification, or a tool !

Ever become really frustrated with a computer application or tool you feel could have much better designed features ? Well Mac OS X 'Spaces' (the virtual desktop regions aspect of Expose Spaces) is surely a candidate as far as I'm concerned..

Ever been tired and grumpy working still late at night, and sent a frustrated email prematurely to technical support to complain about a computer application you don't like, instead of waiting until the next morning to read of all the instructions calmly and trying things out again first before complaining so much ? Well this email from me (Dr Darren) below is surely one of those.

However, to make amends, here is a demonstration of how breaking complicated technical texts down into sentences and hyperlinking them to analysis (in the spirit of Dr Darren's UML™ Parsing Analysis recipe) can help make a bad thing good. Or at least better.

Besides. Spaces could indeed be much, much easier to use (and it's morning, and I have been reading the instructions).

I'll be demonstrating this live as I work on other things, because I'm starting to use Spaces (again) as I work, but it keeps distracting me, and I end up reading the help pages again and again, which makes it really hard to do real work. I've included some [moderating remarks] in [brackets] and I've indicated thus. Crucial sentences are hyperlinked to detailed analysis and images from: Gallery: snapshots of aspects of KDE3.5 window manager widgets

Please note following also the list of other ISSUES I've identified with Spaces !

Technical support feedback letter roughly as sent to Apple on 13 May 2009

Hi Apple,

After many years using mostly Linux with KDE I switched last year to Mac OS X on a MacBook Pro.

The one thing I've found hardest to adapt to is the way windows are organised on Mac OS X, and Expose Spaces does not help much [yes it does, although it could be much better]. I find KDE Window Manager approach is far superior [and it is] because of at least the following:

1. It should be possible to allocate a specific _window_ from an application to a given space, not the entire application's window set at once ! It should be possible to allocate a specific _window_ from an application to a given space, not the entire application's window set at once ! This is because one main use of such windows spaces is to organise them by project: 1=development, 2=finance, 3=client, 4=personal. Now each of these projects could use 0 or more windows from any number of applications. Especially when organising browser windows - which might provide materials relevant to these different projects - it is particularly annoying to have the window change space !

In KDE it is much easier: one can easily assign (by selecting a _named_ space from a button on the window bar) a given window to any space .. (or to all as "sticky", which you do have in Spaces), and many windows from 1 application can be allocated to different spaces.

If this is possible in Spaces please forgive my critique and let me know how.

2. In KDE when one pulls up the window list one gets a nice VERTICAL 2-level tree with the 1st level a selectable Space _name_, and the 2nd level it the specific window selection list .. with the names of those windows that are allocated to them (with the application of each window clear from an icon, or optionally in appended text, one could use "WindowTitle [Application]"

3. In KDE one can name each space, typically by project, as shown [explained] above.

The cognitive reason this [refers to 1. above] is so important is that while I am working on one project I don't want to be constantly reminded of other topics (alarms excepted), it distracts too much, I find it quite stressy. Especially if one has to look through a list of WindowTitles that are hetereogeneous (to find a window related to the current project, let's say Java coding), it is annoying to have to read about banking, personal stuff, or arbitrary web pages from some search.

4. The horizontal icon-based AppleKey+Tab equivalent is also better in KDE, because it only lists those window within a given space (and those that are sticky), so you stay within the zone.

5. When one clicks once an icon for a Space [shoud say ALT_TAB] in KDE, it gives a selectable list of all windows in that space, with an indicator of whether it is open or not [in (brackets) and greyed out a bit. One does get a passive list of windows per desktop on when hovering over a button for a desktop in the KDE panel mini-pager].

I am really surprised at the lack of these very basic features in Spaces, after only a few seconds working on real projects with Spaces you can see that the current system can't be really useful (unless one is always working with one type of application per project), especially given the number of really good window managers already out there; a little bit more R&D first might have helped.

I would like to say that Spaces is better than nothing, but in fact it is more annoying than just plowing through the full window list in most cases for my work,, except for 'accounts' which I do with MYOB, but even then it jumps spaces whenever I want to switch to an online banking page, which I then have to find in a window list of sometimes 100 !

So please as soon as possible:

1. ERROR: Ability to allocate a Window (not a whole Application) to a Space (or better instructions on how to if already present)..

2. WISH: A vertical Window list with some sub-structure by (named) Space.

3. WISH: Named Spaces, at least as an option or on hover over a Space icon. We have enough to remember already thanks

4. The horizontal icon-based AppleKey+Tab equivalent is also better in KDE, because it only lists those window within a given space (and those that are sticky), so you stay within the zone.

5. WISH: Nested selectable list of Windows (with Application indicator icon) currently allocated to a given space when clicking on the Spaces toolbar icon. . [Or if already possible, please explain how.]

This would save me and your many users lots of stress and save use a huge amount of time. [Which is why I invested a whole day preparing this OPEN LETTER with detailed feedback and examples of features.]

I was told Apple works with customer's feedback and really responds; well I'm a recent Mac convert, please turn me into a Mac evangelist by delivering on this one in an Expose & Spaces upgrade in way that offers an upgrade path for at least Mac OS X Leopard still (so that I can benefit from this feedback).


Darren Kelly (Bondi, Sydney, Australia)

PS: Can somebody please tell me how to really maximise (not just enlarge) a window to fit the entire screen in one click on any window ? Put me out of my misery after one year of pain.

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