I've often said no matter how good a piece of software is, there's someone out there who can make it better. Sometimes a third-party add-on can be so simple that I can't figure out why the developer didn't think of it in the original program. Then, of course, I wonder why I didn't think of it myself. As the great inventor Thomas Edison once said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Well, here's to an idea for which I should have donned the proverbial overalls.
A lot of people listen to music while they work. I like listening to music because it adds some excitement when I'm working on mundane tasks. But one thing that can mess up my flow when I'm getting things done is the need to switch apps to my music software. It's not a huge issue, or something that's going to make me forget my train of thought (usually), but having to stop working in order to switch songs or make some minor adjustment is simply a waste of time. Part of getting work done is getting "on a roll" and being as efficient as possible. The more you have to switch away from the task at hand, the more it's going to slow you down.
Fortunately, some developers realized that a simple music player interface that is immediately accessible eliminates the need to redirect your focus from the project at hand. Though these aren't life-changing apps, my feeling is that once you try them out, you'll never go back to the old way.
FoxyTunes is a Firefox extension that places a simple set of controls for adjusting your music player within the Firefox interface. You have your choice of where the controls are located, so play around with it until it fits your working style. In addition to play, pause, stop, skip, and volume controls, FoxyTunes shows you the name and artist for the current song. If you want more information about a song (though this might be a distraction--watch out!), FoxyTunes offers a button to take you to FoxyTunes Planet for related videos, articles, and pictures, and where you can buy the CD or MP3. This free extension works on both Mac and Windows versions of Firefox, and can be configured to work with almost any MP3-playing software.
Synergy for Mac OS X adds a simple set of controls up in the menu bar at the top of your desktop. This makes it easy to switch songs in iTunes from within any program because Synergy is always at the top of the screen. If mousing to the top of the screen is too much of a distraction, you can even use keyboard commands so your hands never leave the keyboard. In addition to the added convenience, you can set Synergy to bring up an animated window at the beginning of every song with album cover art as well as track and artist info. Though Synergy isn't free, you'll probably be willing to fork over the 5 bucks once you've gotten used to the added convenience and the slick transparent notification window when a new song begins.
These Killer Downloads aren't the type of programs that are going to change your life, but the added convenience is definitely worth the download. Once you get used to switching your music on the fly, you'll wonder how you did without one of these programs for so long.