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Originally published December 18, 2009 at 12:00 PM | Page modified December 19, 2009 at 12:56 AM

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A few good apps for the Mac

There are far more applications and great utilities than I could hope to install and use. In this last column of 2009, I want to highlight a handful of worthy programs you may not be aware of.

Special to The Seattle Times

For years, an argument against using a Mac was that it didn't offer anywhere near the number of applications available for Windows. Of course, counting sheer numbers of apps is meaningless compared with whether the software is useful (an argument that's been turned back against Apple as the App Store for the iPhone and iPod touch increases by the tens of thousands).

What always annoyed me about those comparisons was the perception that Mac software was scarce. In fact, there are far more applications and great utilities than I could hope to install and use. In this last column of 2009, I want to highlight a handful of worthy programs you may not be aware of.

BusyCal. First introduced at Macworld Expo in January, BusyMac's BusyCal ($40, www.busymac.com) has replaced iCal as my calendar of choice. Actually, iCal was never really my "calendar of choice," especially with annoyances introduced in Leopard and Snow Leopard — but it was the easiest program to use for sharing my calendar with my iPhone.

BusyCal fixes many iCal irritations, such as providing a pane in the main window for editing an event's information instead of popping up a dialog. It also includes a List view of your events and a convenient menu-bar icon that displays the day's events without needing to open the application.

But where BusyCal shines is synchronization. It can share events and calendars with other Macs on your network that run BusyCal or BusySync (the company's earlier utility for sharing calendars) or sync with Google Calendar. My wife and I update a shared calendar we created for events related to our daughter; we can both add or edit events without fear of stepping on each other's data.

And because BusyCal uses the same core calendar data in Mac OS X that iCal does, my information syncs easily with our iPhones.

SizzlingKeys. When I'm at my computer, I'm nearly always listening to music through iTunes. But I'm usually using the keyboard for work, so when one of my Genius Mixes plays a song I don't want to hear at the moment, I'd like to skip it without switching to iTunes.

With Yellow Mug Software's SizzlingKeys (free, or $4.95 to unlock pro-edition features, www.yellowmug.com) installed, I press Command-Option-Right Arrow — or whichever key combination you choose — to jump to the next track. When my phone rings, I press Command-Option-Control-Spacebar to pause playback.

SizzlingKeys also offers shortcut keys for changing the iTunes volume, searching for tracks and playlists, muting and "almost muting" to a preset level, and rating songs as they play.

PDFpen. To sign documents that arrive as PDF files, I need to print them out, scribble my signature, and then mail or, worse, fax them back. It would be much easier to simply insert a scan of my signature, but Adobe Acrobat doesn't offer this simple import feature.

SmileOnMyMac's PDFpen and PDFpen Pro ($49.95 or $99.95, respectively, www.smileonmymac.com) offer a lot of features for manipulating PDF files, including converting PDFs and images to editable text, but the one I use most is simply importing my signature.

Labels & Addresses. Now is the time of year when I realize I'm already late in getting holiday cards made. And, of course, determining how the cards should appear is only half of the process. I need to mail them, which means I need to wrangle the contacts in Address Book to print labels.

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You'd think this would be straightforward, but I'm not dealing with a regular mailing list.

I want some labels to appear as, for example, "The Laurence Family" instead of my friend's name, "Andrew Laurence." To do that in Address Book, I'd need to create a separate contact for Laurence Family.

BeLight Software's Labels & Addresses ($49.95, www.belightsoft.com) uses my Address Book data (it also imports contacts from other software), and offers a simple pop-up menu to configure the label; choosing the Family template switches the name to "The Laurence Family" without affecting the Address Book entry.

Labels & Addresses also includes a huge number of images and backgrounds for labels and envelopes. You can also add your own photos from iPhoto, Aperture, or the Finder.

Quite simply, it eliminates most of the frustration from the task of sending holiday cards or other mailings.

Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to carlsoncolumn@mac.com. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/ columnists.

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