Getting the Best Features on both Mac and Windows by Anran Li

"Mac or PC?" Too often, people are compelled to make an obstinate stance on this topic. Truth is, there are a lot of great things to be said about either OS, and we should work with the highlights and shortcomings of each both. To me, the most important features of an OS are the ones that boost productivity. For example, Snapping on Windows and Spaces on Mac OS are two of the most beloved features by users of the respective systems. In fact, these features have their Windows/Mac equivalent via 3rd party developers. In this post, I will introduce three applications that breathe new life into an otherwise too familiar operating system. These applications are just the tip of the iceberg - I hope readers will do their research on how to set up their own cross-system workflow.

A word of caution: installing too many tweaks at once can slow down or cause problems for your computer, so I recommend installing only the ones you will be using often. In addition, this post doesn't cover options for Linux users. (Sorry - but I guess if you are using Linux, then you are probably tech-savvy enough to manage on your own!)

That being said, here are the features that I love most, and how to get it on Windows or Mac: 

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Spaces / Mission Control

Spaces, (AKA Mission Control on OSX 10.7+) is a OSX feature that allows for a user to have additional virtual displays. Using a keyboard shortcut or mouse/trackpad gesture, the display shows a previoiusly hidden desktop. Programs can be dragged to a different . Users can set up four-finger swiping to switch between displays.

How to get it on Windows

Dexpot is a free program that can manage virtual desktops like Spaces for Mac. It even includes an overview feature that predates Mission Control. However, because it has many options and settings, it can be difficult to set up at first. Here is a walkthrough of the settings dialogue, and how to make Dexpot work like Mission Control.

  •  General: the "Number of Desktops" and whether Dexpot should "Start with Windows""
  • Appearance: Change mode to "Program Icon" and you might want to turn off the System Menu entry- Components: I would hide the Desktop Manager components, and take a look at Desktop Preview, Dextab, and Full-Screen (which are tabs at the top)
  • Controls: Change how you want to Switch Desktops. If you are using Trackpad++, I'm pleased to announce that I emailed the developer and he said he would look into a method to allow four-finger swiping to match a custom key (allowing four-finger swiping). If you are using a non-Apple trackpad, you can following the instructions  here to enable four-finger swiping.
  • Switching Desktops: defaults seem to work fine
  • Plugins and Extras: Here is where it gets interesting! To enable the panning animation that is default to Spaces, you can use the "Dexcube" plugin (it's built-in, so you don't have to download it or anything).
  1. Check the box to enable it
  2. Click on "Configure," and set the Effect to "Wall" and the Zoom to "Maximal." You can enable "Multithreading" to make the transitions smoother.
  3. If you are using a high-dpi screen or high dpi settings (i.e. your text size is not set to 100%), you will need to go to the Dexcube plugin .exe file located in
    C:\Program Files (x86)\Dexpot\plugins      for 64-bit Windows and
    C:\Program Files\Dexpot\plugins      for 32-bit Windows

    Right-click on "Dexcube.exe" and check the box for "Disable display scaling on high DPI settings" Dexcube takes a screenshot of your desktop when creating the transition effects, and this setting will make sure it scales properly.

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Alfred / Quicksilver

While this isn't a built-in Mac tool, it is definitely worth mentioning. If you use any of these tools, then you must be pretty tech-savvy, so I won't explain much further. (Link to Alfred) If you don't use them, I wouldn't worry about it too much. Basically, they help you open programs and do tasks faster, such as Google Search or create new folders, etc. You can even create your own scripts to do things such as block social networking sites for two hours or clean out the downloads folder.

Windows Equivalent

Window's 8's built-in search feature isn't too bad, but I still prefer the snappiness of Alfred (I am sharing my friend's Super-User account, and I can't remember how I used computers before meeting Alfred. While there are a number of alternatives, I prefer Launchy because it is well-documented and is easy on the eyes. You can download a number of skins to match your version of Windows. You might want to customize the Catalog to "Include Directories" for files you want to open often, but make sure it isn't checked for the Quick Launch and both Start Menu folders. Also, make sure you change the depth settings (how many sub-folders you want Launchy to search. I recommend no more than 5, since the scanning will take too long. BTW, here is a modern Windows 8-based theme for Launchy.

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Snapping was introduced with Windows 7 as part of its "Aero" themed visuals to distinguish it from Vista and XP. It basically allows you to manage multiple windows easily and neatly by "snapping" application windows. If you drag a window to the top of the screen, it will make that application maximize. To the left and right, the window will fill up half of the screen in the respective side. This allows you to multitask with great fluidity.

How to get it on Mac

There are a number of tools, but BetterSnapTool is the one I have been using for the longest time. It is available on the Mac App Store as well as on the developer's website (there are some other pretty nifty tools on his website).

There are still a number of features I haven't covered. In the future, I hope to share more of my workflow to help others work seamlessly between Windows and Mac, including:

how to use one mouse to go between operating systems and computers
how to sync your Desktop across Mac and Windows with Dropbox
how to read NTFS (Windows), HFS+ (Mac), and ExFAT (Both) on Windows and OSX

In the meanwhile, you can do your own research. The key is not giving up!

Microsoft Office crashes when editing Text Boxes/Charts on windows via Bootcamp by Anran Li

If you're running windows (xp, vista, or 7) via bootcamp/virtual machine, this may be of particular interest to you. I noticed that whenver I tried to edit a text box or chart in Microsoft Word or Excel, the program would crash after I finished typing the first letter. If you're running bootcamp, VMware Fusion, or Parallels, you should do the following to ensure your work is safe, even if you aren't using Microsoft Office.

  1. Open Control Panel (In most cases, Start>Control Panel)
  2. If you are in  “View by Category”, go to “Clock, Language and Region" then “Change Keyboards or other input methods” and finally “Change Keyboards.” If you are in "View by Large icons", go to "Region and Language" and click on the "Keyboards and Languages" tab.
  3. Press the button “Add”
  4. Scroll down to “English (United States)” and expand.
  5. Check box “US”
  6. Press OK, then OK, and then OK.

Make Your Own Glow-in-the-Dark Bicycle by Anran Li

(This walkthrough works for making pretty much anything glow in the dark)

I saw a Blackberry commercial(1) showing bicycles with glow-in-the-dark deep-V rims and awesome five-spoke wheels (2) a few months back. Being me, I stopped the video frame by frame, found the number 94 on a spray can, traced the can to Montana Cans, browsed through their entire catalogue, found their "Poltergeist" transparent glow spray paint, did some research on bicycles (of which I previously knew nothing about), found a pretty good fixie, and made my own night bike. That simple.

(1)Be Bold Night Bike



You want a bicycle with glowing Aerospokes too? Well, here's how to modify your current bike to do the same.

I just want to throw out a few disclaimers. First, the glowing in the video is enhanced--apparently, the glowing is not as intense as shown in the video. In my own tests, the trouble was well worth it, though. Also, you can always buy a glow-in-the-dark bicycle from 8bar (update: also offers a glow in the dark model now). If you have a deep-V wheel, I highly recommend the Glo by Rimskin. Finally, check out monkey lights before you are sure you want to embark on this project. 

The below method is the frugal method and not for the faint-of-heart. Still intent on getting that glow? Here's what you will need (in order of appearance):

Recommended materials (none are crucial, in order of appearance):

  • Meticulous carefulness
  • Gloves (prevent finger oils from ruining paint)
  • Painter's tape (for a clean paint job)
  • Acetone or other cleaning agent (nail polish remover will do, removes oil for a good spray job)
  • Paper towel/cloth (to douse in acetone) 
  • (minimum dimensions) 1' long Cardboard tube and 1' x 1' box (to create a stand for your wheel)
  • Spray paint primer (possibly a good idea, though I didn't use one)
  • Sandpaper (to sand the paint after each layer)
  • Half-mask respirator (those fumes!)
  • Warm, dry, open environment/hair dryer (helps paint dry faster)
  • 2x Knog Beetle Lights for each wheel you paint (recharges the glow as you ride)
  • Black-light bulbs (install inside Knog Lights for better effect)
  • Sense of fun

There are a million small considerations and suggested methods to take into account during the process, but the general gist of it is:

  1. Isolate the part to be painted.

    Suggestions: dissemble your wheel to paint it, keep the bicycle standing by placing it upside-down, release or dissemble brakes and other complex forms, keep whatever you remove aligned in the order it came off on the ground, I personally think glow-in-the-dark frames subtract from the end result

  2. Cover with masking tape the part that you don't want painted.

    Considerations: you don't want to spray any part of the wheel where the brakes touch the wheel--it will cause a horrendous sounding screech every time you brake.

    Suggestions: remove the tire by prying it open with a flat object like a cafeteria knife (always dull), don't paint over spokes (unless you have thick five, four, or three spoke wheels)--it won't look good

  3. Spray, dry, sand, spray, dry, sand

    Considerations: spray several layers (four or five to be safe), you'll want to wipe down the area to be sprayed with acetone (and wear gloves), sand the area first or applying a primer will help the paint stay on (this usually isn't much of an issue with the spray we are using), 

    Suggestions: stick a cardboard tube into a box and place the axis of your wheel into the cardboard (works well when painting Aerospokes), spray with the nozzle a distance of 1' away from the surface, wait a day before each layer and use fine sandpaper (e.g. 600-800 grit) to lightly sand before applying another layer, 

    : Black wheels and frames don't work too well without UV Knog lights. If you've wanted a new frame color, this is your chance. The spray is transparent, so you can have a underlying color during the day. Keep in mind that brighter and lighter colors will work better.

  4. Put bicycle back together

    Suggestions: if you got those awesome
    Knog lights like I suggested, install them on the fork so that the light is less than inch from the sides of the wheel and faces the painted parts.This will allow the lights to intensely charge the paint as you ride.

Reflection: I bought a deep-V fixie and single rear Aerospoke from to fulfill this dream (medium quality at times, but acceptable and highly affordable). (update: my PureFix was stolen and I switched to State Bicycle for a medium priced fixie--I think they have the best blend of quality and price online). Just assembling and reassembling the bicycle was very rewarding for me. The glow in the dark wheels were very slick, though you really need the UV lights to make it shine.

Use Dropbox as free iTunes iCloud storage by Anran Li


People that might find this useful:

  • People who have more than one computer
  • Those of us who don't buy all their songs from iTunes (e.g. import songs from CDs, download from a 3rd party retailer, or produce their own songs)
  • Family members/friends who want to share their music, videos, and pictures library with each other
  • People frequently travel without their computers and want their music library available anywhere with internet 

If you are manually arranging your music, just skip the steps about consolidating your library automatically. Make sure your iTunes is not automatically consolidating your files on other computers.

Before we begin, I want to introduce Dropbox--a program and free service for syncing files across multiple computers. This service provides an automatic online storage and backup. It eliminates the need for a thumb drive, copying all your files to the computers and handheld devices with your Dropbox account linked. For example, if I type out a word document, I will be able to view it on my desktop, two laptops, and iPhone/iPod/Android phone. There are several programs that do the same thing, but Dropbox is the most reliable and well-known. (Note that the basic free version of Dropbox is limited to 2 GB. However, by following the easy steps on their website, you can increase your storage up to 10 GB for free.) 

Requirements for this how-to:

  • Dropbox account and program (free) (see step one)
  • Internet connection
  • iTunes 9 or above (although newer versions are recommended)
  • Windows, Mac, or Linux computer

To have your entire music library--with the album covers, ratings, etc. readily available and updated automatically, follow the following steps:

  1. Download, register, and install Dropbox. Create one account and install Dropbox on various computers.
  2. Open iTunes, go to File>Library>Organize Library. A dialogue box will appear. Check all the boxes. 
  3. Next, go to Preferences (iTunes>Preferences). On the Advanced tab, you should see a heading called "iTunes Media folder location." Check the two boxes under it and then click the "Change" button on the right.
  4. A dialogue box should appear asking you where you want to copy the folder. Select your Dropbox folder (check your My Documents or user folder on windows and Documents or home folder on macs). Make a new folder titled "iTunes Media" and click OK.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 on all the computers you would like to sync on.
  6. Wait for your entire music library to sync online and to your computers (watch the icon in the taskbar--if it is solid, then the syncing is done)
  7. Go to your new "iTunes Media" folder in your Dropbox. Drag and drop the entire contents into your iTunes window. With the newer versions of iTunes, the files are not duplicated when copied more than once.
  8. Because the files have been consolidated in your "iTunes Media" folder, you can delete all other copies of your music files, including the old "iTunes Media" folder. Just in case, keep those folders in the trash for a while until you are sure your music has been copied successfully!

Considering that Apple cannot allow this feature due to its Terms and Agreement, this is a rather sweet workaround. Plus, you can start using Dropbox to sync your documents, photos, and videos as well (if they are not in your iTunes library).

Need help? Anyone tried this? Suggestions on improving the method?