Review: iPulse, skinnable system meter for OS X

Was at a genetics talk at the university I attend and noticed this cool little dynamic orb sitting in the lower right corner of the screen. It looked like some incrediby little meter, and the speaker obviously left it above his PowerPoint presentation to show it off. Turns out to be the $12.95 system meter iPulse by the ever talented company Iconfactory . You may know Iconfactory for their icon contests, their impressive repetoire of existing icon-sets, and the gifted artists who design there. Well, they make software too!

What is iPulse?

iPulse is an easily skinnable system meter for Mac OS X, kind of like SysMetrix or RainMeter under Windows. It presents system information in a few formats:

  1. A small 2-bar system meter in the Menu Bar.
  2. A desktop floating orb you can size between 32-128 pixels.
  3. An elegant popup that appears when you hover over the desktop orb.
  4. Finally, an echo of the desktop orb in the dock.

As to system monitoring features, I have found nothing wanting. The specifics of what are measured can be found on their site, and include CPU monitoring for various types of tasks, multiple forms of memory usage and access, hard-disk reads and storage used, network data, battery status, WiFi strength, time, calendar… y’know the list. On the convenient and well-labelled configuration panel you can disable any of these meters (WiFi and Battery, which may not be applicable to desktop users, for instance), or configure colors, history, and text-options (for certain meters).

Rather than focusing on each feature individually, however, I’d rather write about what really caught my attention with this app, which would be the interface, of course! You just have to see it operating to feel how this thing works. At a glance, you can easily tell how your system fares in various aspects. The meters in the orb are concentric radial meters, different arcs of circles lying within each other. As such, using iPulse took a little getting used to (about 10 minutes). If you hover the cursor over each arc a handy popup appears providing more detail about the specific info in question – nifty clue. While economizing on desk-space, the dynamic orb conveys a great deal of info quickly while still keeping greater detail just a mouse-over away.

While the orb itself can be set to your desktop, bottom-layer, always-on-top, or window-layered, you can also just view a dynamic replica of it in the dock, fully featured and functional. Even if you opt out of the gorgeous orb you can still get your system-info through a small set of toolbar meters of variable configuration, also skinnable. The info in the menu bar is, of necessity, condensed, but a glance can tell you how your memory and CPU are doing.

Skinning iPulse

After browsing through the beautiful selection of submitted skins (they prefer “Jackets”) on their site and a few of their affiliates, the creative juices got going and couldn’t stop myself from attempting to generate one of my own. Luckily, Iconfactory provides a well-devised Jacket Creation Kit to get you oriented and on your feet fast. An hour after downloading and using the program, I had created my own Jacket, which you saw in the first image of this article. There’s a tutorial in the works to got through the whole process from start to finish that I hope to share in another week.

Now, coming from the background of skinning SysMetrix and Rainmeter, I was a little surprised to find it consisted of just two actual graphic files, one for the floating orb background and the other for the optional Menu Meter. The free-form nature of SysMetrix and Rainmeter, permitting the skinner to place graphics willy-nilly about the skin and include features like buttons, bar-graphs, and skinned clock-hands, was suddenly gone. This was not a bad thing, however. What iPulse may lack in uber-configurability was amply made up for with simplicity and elegance. All the meters have a consistent location in a fixed-space image. The floating orb requires a graphic of 128×128 pixels, and the provided template shows exactly where every meter goes within it.

Template for making the orb, and the orb graphic I made from the template

The meters themselves are painted on-the-fly by the iPulse engine, which uses user-specified colors (transparency permitted and encouraged). Making the graphics employed actually took the shortest amount of time in Jacket creation, the bulk of my time spent trying different color/transparency combos for the various meters. The use of colors and dynamic generation for the meters also means that individuals using the Jacket can tailor it to their tastes very easily, no graphics editor required. Despite the fact that iPulse lacks a free-form skinning methodology found in system meters common to Windows, the structured Jacket parameters facilitated quick skin development that presents a consistent metering experience despite the Jacket being used. All this, while maintaining a rather unassuming desktop footprint. Efficiency in form and design!

Recommendations?

Sure, there are free system-monitoring widgets available for Dashboard and even small freeware apps to do simple system monitoring. None, however, accomplish the “take-it-all-in-with-a-glance” ability that iPulse performs so well. Neither do the others exhibit the customizability of metering or appearance that iPulse does. Without hesitation I would recommend this software to any Mac user, and will be purchasing this for a business partner and friend as a simple and fun gift (with a custom skin, needless to say). It’s elegant, simple, beautiful, and just plain works.

As far as features for the program, I’m more than pleased with what it does already. Something that would interest me is a Dashboard-like Widget “Flip”, where clicking a button on the floating monitor would turn it over like a Dashboard Widget. This way, iPulse About information and perhaps a brief blurb about the skin’s author could be seen. Clearly, however, this is not an actual need, just a wish-list item.

A trivial item: loading skins from preview pane, circumvented by selecting directly from a file-manager itself.

Something I’d like to see from Iconfactory is a chance to earn a license. Several skinning software groups will provide licenses for free to individuals who produce skins that really strike their fancy. Gladiator Software does this frequently for AstonShell and AltDesk as TGTSoft releases licenses for talented skins for StyleXP and StyleBuilder . It’s a small way of rewarding the community and building interest. Regardless, I’ve already set my hand to creating skins for this exceptional piece of programming and intend to continue.

iPulse, by Iconfactory, for Mac

While you’re there, check out their other projects:

You can also download the SYSmeter Jacket I made to test iPulse here. It’s released under the Creative Commons Noncommercial Plus 1.0 License:

...and now

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there is nobody i missed like my bud Richie!! ;)

Dude! How are things going? Always good to hear from you!

fine thanx, wished to meet you one day at Forum, to talk a bit….Please, take a GTalk bud!!

 

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