iRooster 2.0.3, by sixDollarChimp
Posted: 21-Nov-2004

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: sixDollarChimp Type: SHAREWARE

Reviewer: Hazel Valera Class: PRODUCTIVITY
     
$9.95   Download

Overview
iRooster is a Mac OS X utility that lets you skip over the inane DJs, talk radio, and commercials you suffer through every day in favor of your personal music collection. Wake up to the best music in the world: your own. iRooster allows you to quickly and easily create iTunes alarms to wake you up in the morning. Create a special playlist in iTunes for waking up, or use any of the pre-existing iTunes playlists: iRooster will play back your Library, smart playlists, and normal playlists. You can even let iRooster pick a random playlist for you! You can create an alarm for tomorrow morning, or you can create a repeating alarm that will wake you up on certain days at different times. Imagine waking up to your favorite compilations from your iTunes playlists and never be late again!

System Requirements

  • Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later
  • Mac OS X 10.3 or later for automatic wake from sleep
  • Requires iTunes 3.0 or higher


Setup
Installation was easy: Download iRooster from the internet, and Safari automatically expanded the .tar file to a .dmg file and then mounted the iRooster image and opened the folder. From there, I just dragged the iRooster program to my Applications folder disk. The entire process of getting iRooster setup took me less than three minutes. iRooster is shareware, so for 14 days you get to use all of its features for free. If you like it, you pay a shareware fee of $9.95. Purchasing the software is done directly within the iRooster application using the eSellerate purchase plug-in. The only downside of that is that there is not an auto-fill function like there is when registering on a web browser.

Features

  • Snooze control
  • Automatic unmuting
  • Automatic Wake-From-Sleep (including booting up your Mac on Panther)
  • Wake up to a random playlist
  • Tight integration with iTunes
  • Support for iTunes's Visualizer

In Use
After reading the product description on Apple's web site, I was very excited about trying the iRooster. For my first test, I wanted to create a one time alarm for the following morning.


Setting the alarm time and playlist

After double-clicking in the iRooster window, the alarm editor is displayed. It defaulted to a one time alarm and had the following day's date already in it. I clicked into the hour field, changed the start time to 7:00 AM. The editor displays all my iTunes playlists automatically, and I picked my Jazz playlist to wake up to.



iRooster with my new Jazz alarm set

The next morning I woke to the sound of a gentle song with a nice tempo that gradually sped up, motivating me to get up and start getting ready. As my playlist continued to play, I got ready for work, ate my breakfast and found myself in a motivated mood. iRooster triggers iTunes to open up and begin playing the playlist in the background, and iRooster displays an alarm window showing the currently playing song. Before I walked out of the door, I went to my computer and clicked on "Stop Alarm". This closed the alarm window and triggered iTunes to quit. iRooster has very nice integration with iTunes.


The iRooster Alarm/Snooze window

With success on my initial test, I then set this same wake-up time and playlist for each week day and made it a repeating alarm. I also set up another repeating alarm for the weekend. With these two alarms in place, my entire week is set.

Having had no problems setting up my desired alarms, I then explored the software further for this review.

iRooster's preferences provides tabs for Alarms, Display, iTunes, and Snooze. Under Alarms, you can change the default alarm time, the default iTunes playlist, and the volume. The volume settings is not the actual iTunes volume, so to ensure the volume you desire, you'll need to go into iTunes to make volume adjustments. There were some checkboxes as well, and iRooster displays help text when you hover over a preference option which was nice. For example, hovering over the last checkbox (Automatically wake computer...) displays "Your computer will automatically turn itself on when your alarm is ready to go off. Requires Mac OS 10.3 or higher". Normally "wake" means waking from "sleep" mode, but the help text indicates that it can wake from the computer being off, which is a very nifty option.


iRooster Preferences

The Display tab allows you to change the opacity of the main iRooster display, whether to put the display on top of all windows, use a blinking clock separator, and whether to make iRooster the active application when an alarm goes off. The iTunes tab provides an option to show the iTunes visualizer and an option to hide iTrip Stations playlists. The Snooze tab allows you to set snooze times of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 or 30 minutes, or disable it altogether. It also provides an option to quit iTunes when stopping an alarm. The latter option really didn't have anything to do with "Snooze", and probably would have fit better under the Alarms tab or the iTunes tab.

When setting an alarm, the alarm editor allows you to create a one-time alarm or a repeating alarm. The one-time alarm has an input field for date which is of the format MMM DD, YYYY (rather than the standard format MM/DD/YY). The repeating alarm allows you to pick the days of the week on which you want the alarm to go off. The way the screen is laid out, it appears as though the alarm time setting is associated with the repeating alarm. Common sense tells you that the alarm time applies to either setting, but visually I think it would be better to move the alarm time down a bit so that it does not appeared "tied" to the repeating alarm. The alarm time is set by hours and minutes. When you first open the alarm editor, neither field is highlighted, and using the arrow controls, the hour value changes by default. Clicking into (or tabbing to) the minutes field also allows you to use the up and down arrow to increase and decrease the minutes. To adhere to Apple's standards (aka, Apple's Date & Time preference pane), there should be an arrow underneath the time component that would be changed by the arrow keys even if the field is not highlighted so that there is never any question about which field would change. Likewise, for consistency, the date input field should be using the same rules and format as the Date & Time preferences.

There are some bugs and inconsistencies in iRooster. In one test, I first set an alarm for all days of the week for 9:00, and clicked OK. Then I double-clicked that alarm to edit it, and used the up arrow to change the time to 9:01. Then I decided to type in "30" rather than cycle up to 30 using the arrow keys. However, after clicking OK, the iRooster window now displayed two alarms, the original 9:00 alarm, and then a 9:01 alarm (the 9:30 did not take). Double-clicking the 9:01 alarm, the editor showed 9:30 in the window, but when I clicked the up arrow to change the minutes, it moved to 9:02. Again, I tried typing "30" for the minutes, but the resulting alarm was again wrong. This time it added a 3rd alarm for 9:02. The fact that it kept creating new alarms rather than editing the existing alarm was very annoying, and the inability to manually type the minute value was frustrating. To add to the confusion, the iRooster window had the 9:01 time highlighted and only had space to display the 9:00 and 9:01 alarms. I wouldn't have known that the 9:02 alarm had been created except that I noticed the scroll bar had been activated, and scrolling down revealed the new 9:02 alarm. I looked for (and wanted) to expand the iRooster window down so that all the alarms could be seen, but the window was not expandable.

The work around I discovered for editing the minutes was either to use the arrow keys to change the minutes, or to manually type in the minutes and press RETURN instead of clicking OK. In fact, I must have used RETURN in my very first test, because I discovered this was true of the hours field as well. If you type in a new hour, and click OK instead of pressing RETURN, the hour change does not take.

Another problem is that for multi-day alarms, iRooster does not properly determine when one alarm is equal to another. For instance, I set an alarm for Mon, Wed, and Fri for 8:00. I then created a new alarm for Tue and Thu for 8:00, and iRooster said the alarm already existed, and that I could only replace the old one, or revert to the old one. Because it was a different set of days, it should have seen this as a different alarm. This prevents me from setting different alarms on different days using the same time but with different playlists. Mondays you may want to wake to something different than on Fridays, but you still want to wake up at the same time. The work-around for this problem is to change the start time by a minute or so.

In addition to incorrectly displaying the "identical existing alarm" message in the above example, the prompt itself does not adhere to Apple's interface guidelines. The prompt forces you to either choose "Use Old Alarm" (thereby losing your new changes) or "Use New Alarm" (thereby losing your old alarm). It needs a "Cancel" button.

One other oddity I found is when the alarm goes off, iRoosters does not let you do anything else until you stop the alarm (such as creating or editing other alarms or changing preferences). There really is no reason for this block, and I might want to continue hearing the music, while I make some adjustments to iRooster.

Finally, in one test, when I set iRooster to automatically startup from sleep, the only alarm I had set was for 9:00 AM on Tuesday, yet my computer turned on at 7:00 AM on Monday. I did not want to get up that early. I couldn't figure out how that happened, although I assumed it had something to do with the problem with manual time edits followed by clicking the OK button. For situations like this, I think it would be good to have a log of activity to help figure out what happened. Also, the problem with having Wake from Sleep and not having iRooster startup automatically upon boot up is that my Mac turns on automatically, but then does nothing. These two options should be tied together so that they are either both on or both off.

Summary
The iRooster is a very nifty desktop utility that turns your Mac and iTunes into a versatile and amazing alarm clock. iRooster is very easy to set up, with an array of options, such as a single day alarm or a repeating alarm. There were a number of interface inconsistencies that I discovered, but none of which were show stoppers. iRoosters let me customize my waking up with just a click of the mouse. I really enjoy using iRooster. If it wasn't for the few interface bugs, the simplicity and functionality of this utility would have earned this shareware title a 5 mice rating. I'm optimistic that these issues will be worked out in future versions, and I still highly recommend Mac OS X users to give iRooster a try.

Pros

  • Repeating alarm for multiple days
  • Snooze button
  • Excellent integration with iTunes library
  • Option to automatically turn on computer (Panther only)
  • A great way to wake up in the morning


Cons

  • Bug when manually editing time followed by OK button
  • Volume control is master volume, not iTunes volume
  • Editing alarms creates new alarms instead of changing an existing one
  • Treats alarms on different days with same starts as the same alarm


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice