I’ve had the chance recently to play with You Control, which is a software application that is essentially a bundle of small utilities and apps that you may already have running on your system. The idea is that YC (as I’ll refer to You Control from here on out, to avoid any “Who’s on First” type nuances) runs all these things off a single engine, instead of multiple little things all starting and running individually. So what are you actually getting for $29.95 that the multiple free apps don’t offer – and is it worth it?
Back before Menu Calendar Clock, there was a great, tiny, free utility called Pth Clock. Basically it replaced the System Clock in the Menubar and upon hovering over it, the date was displayed. It was simple, but useful for my day to day needs. Well one day it was no longer available, but rather was consumed, upgraded, and offered for sale as part of You Control. There was a lot more there than I cared to use (and pay for) and so I went back to the System Clock (that is until I discovered Menu Calendar Clock – but that’s a story for another day). So my bias began against YC.
The way you work on your computer will really dictate if YC is a good fit for you. You Control incorporates tons of functionality into one package. In my case, apps like Menu Calendar Clock, WinSwitch, Menu Meters, Synergy, Konfabulator, Weather Plugin & Sage plugins for Firefox, NetNewsWire, and Quicksilver are all used in my daily workflow. You Control manages to offer partial functionality – if not full replacement – for all of these applications. I felt much like an old dog attempting to learn new tricks while using YC in place of my long time favorite (and familiar) apps along with their displays and interfaces.
You Control’s information display interfaces offer beautifully clean visuals in some modules but are rather clunky in others. There are a multitude of display options for almost every module, so sometimes you can improve the default look. You can choose the icons that are displayed as the root units, colors, text, and so on. The visual configuration options are seemingly endless. Allowing me to choose and customize my view is definitely a step in the right direction with YC.
There is so much information that YC serves up, that I anticipated a daunting task of configuring it. I was very pleasantly surprised to find the main preferences and setup screen is clean, concise, and gives tips on what each module does. It’s just a great interface for communicating the abundance of information in an easy-to-read fashion.
There are 3 spaces that YC occupies to present you the information you desire: Screen Corners, The Menubar (right or left of the current utilities there), or Hot Keys. If you use the Hot Corners in OS X to activate the various Expose settings, then this method may not be ideal for you. I don’t have anything assigned to the bottom left corner, so I threw a bunch of my YC functionality under that corner. I also chose to run a couple things in the Menubar, but I’ll detail those out in a moment. I didn’t assign any Hot Keys, as I’ve got enough to remember already, and I think it’s counter intuitive when you have to stop and remember which keys to hit.
Performance overall was pretty good. After using it for a couple weeks, and watching the CPU Monitor (in graph format) closely compared to the way Menu Meters showed performance, it seems that YC runs the CPU slightly higher than before I used it. But in YC’s defense, it’s doing a fair bit more than what I was using previously. Plus, I couldn’t bring myself to replace ALL my favorites with YC, so the YC Engine was running parallel to some of the utilities I wanted to keep up rather than replacing with YC functionality (again, more on this shortly). Occasionally YC would quit unexpectedly. I was able to determine that setting a color that was partially transparent, as a divider in a drop down menu would crash it every time I accessed that list. Using a solid color allowed me to see the list again. There were still isolated instances of quitting when I least expected it. My stand alone apps have never been finicky like that…
You can see the full listing of modules and features on You’s website (down the right side). The ones I tested were:
- CPU Monitor
- Memory Monitor
- User Switching
- Home Folder
- Documents Folder
- System Prefs
- News Reader
I tried the Apps module, but the performance hit when accessing that folder was unacceptable. I also opted to switch back to Menu Calendar Clock and Synergy shortly after trying the YC equivalents – they just didn’t cut it for me. (Mostly they were too busy and overly elaborate for my needs.) Your mileage my vary…
My Menubar Modules
Amongst the display options for the CPU Monitor was the graph which is my preference.
The Memory Monitor however didn’t offer a small numerical display like I’ve become accustomed to from Menu Meters. So I opted for the Chiclet Gauge which looks really nice, but doesn’t provide any exact numbers. I’ve found the graphical representation to work well after a transition period. (Old dogs can learn new tricks…)
The User Switching functions almost exactly like WinSwitch. I like having my user icon displayed instead of a name, as it takes up less space. Since there’s not a lot to this utility, changing out for the YC version was something I really didn’t even notice or think about after the fact.
My Corner Modules
I don’t watch a lot of stocks too closely, but it’s nice to have a couple right there and waiting. So just popping my mouse to the corner and seeing the stocks, changes, and company logo was simple and quick.
The News Reader was something that I just wanted to try, but didn’t expect to replace my current solutions. It doesn’t. But if you only monitor a couple of feeds or want to keep an especially close eye on one or two, you might like this. There’s also an option to scroll the feeds through the Menubar. I don’t like mine cluttered, so I didn’t use this option.
The Weather Module is fantastic. It’s very full-featured, and displays in a number of different ways. I’m able to get a 10 day forecast along with detailed current and daily conditions all right there. Very nice for quick reference.
System Prefs can be displayed in Categories or all together in one listing. I liked the concise nature of the category list. I didn’t use it really very much, but the few times I did (rather than the 2nd nature way of doing it via Quicksilver) the response time was fairly sluggish – more so than straight out launching System Preferences by itself.
The Pasteboard is pretty nice. For the way that I work, it’s more useful than the Quicksilver implementation (I know, I’m sorry I spoke badly of you Quicksilver. I’ll make it up to you!) with the way it time stamps each entry and tells me which application the copied content came from. Very nice.
The Documents and Home User folder were just quick pop-up displays of those directories. Nothing too special until you get down to a file level. It’s pretty nice how detailed the information about the file gets. In the end, it’s a lot like the Finder information, but it’s slightly more accessible and useful in YC’s implementation.
I really didn’t like Calendar implementation, and stopped using it pretty quickly. It offers TONS of information and really pulls from iCal well. The issue I had was it was just too much information for what I wanted. Plus, the information display for this module was really poor in my opinion. I can deal with information overload, but at least make it looks good. It was like a maze of drop down menus with additional information…too much for my small brain to handle I suppose.
There really are SO many configuration options. Look, functionality, type of information to display… It’ll take you a couple days to really get everything configured to your liking. And it’s worth it too. There are some really nice ways in which to view your information, and it truly does save you time once you become accustomed to accessing things the You Control way. The flexibility that YC offers is it’s biggest strength, and the most compelling case for spending $29.95 for it.
I found that I could forgive You Software for consuming Pth Clock. You Control is a pretty good suite of useful modules. If you don’t have a bunch of longtime favorites to do all those little things, you should check it out. If you do have a bunch of apps to do these things already, you may still want to try YC out. Put it through its paces and see if it saves you a few CPU cycles by having one engine to run all those little things.
Yes, there are a million alternative applications out there that do the various things that You Control does – Quicksilver is by far my favorite app, and fulfills a lot of YC’s functions if you know how to use it. (And most of them are free.) It’s really a matter of taste. I’m sticking with a couple of my long time favorites, replacing a couple, and adding some functionality that I didn’t have at my fingertips before. Think about this also: Tiger’s out at the end of the week. There are a number of YC’s functions that will become null and void with OS X 10.4, as there are many new enhancements in Tiger that were inspired by 3rd party apps. So you may want to wait and see what happens with You Control’s subsequent versions after Tiger is released. Hopefully You Software will become more aggressive in releasing new modules from their website to keep YC fresh.