Keeping up with important email, text messages, app updates and other notifications and alerts can be tough -- especially when you're bombarded with notifications from many different places. Here's how to consolidate all your notifications into one unified, customisable system so you can stay on top of what's important and ignore what isn't.
Some of your apps constantly throw sounds, popups and other notifications your way when you'd rather they stay quiet, while others stay in the background when you wish they'd notify you of important events. If you want to manage the chaos, you can use an app like Growl to put all your notifications in one place and make more sense of the noise.
Growl for Windows is a clone of the popular Mac notification app. It integrates with the other programs on your system and sends notifications on their behalf. You can customise where notifications appear, which ones make sounds, what sounds they make, and even push notifications from your computer to your phone. It's lightweight, stays in the background, and can be as loud and detailed or as silent and out-of-the-way as you want. Here's how to set it up and tweak it so that you're sure to get every important notification you need, and can forget about the stuff you don't.
Set Up Growl for Optimal Notification Management
Some of you may already have Growl on your system. However, you may not have really delved into its settings and made it the best that it can be, so even if you're familiar with the program, we recommend going through the initial setup again in case we talk about anything you missed. If you've never used Growl before, download and install it from this page before continuing.
Start up Growl and right-click on its system tray icon to access its preferences. You'll see a few settings on the "General" tab that you can tweak right now -- I like to start Growl at login, use "None" as my default sound, and consider myself idle after 180 seconds. While you're here, you can also head to the Display tab and choose the appearance of your notification. You can choose from the default list or download custom themes from Growl's website, as well as choose the area of the screen where Growl notifications appear. If you want to explore the other settings and get acquainted, now is a good time to do so. If not, read on to start setting up your apps.
Set Up the Notifications and Apps You Want in Growl
Right now, you probably don't have a ton of apps listed on the "Applications" tab. Growl does automatically integrate with a few apps, like Handbrake, but for the most part, you'll need to install other small utilities or browser extensions that add your favourite apps with Growl (in some cases this can sometimes clutter up your system tray, but shouldn't be a big drain on resources). We highly recommend checking out these:
Gmail Growl sits in your system tray and sends new email notifications to Growl. It supports multiple accounts, Priority Inbox (so you don't get notified for unimportant emails), and will even show contact images if you donate a few bucks to the developer, which is nice for seeing if an email is important at a glance. If you aren't a Gmail web user, you can also grab a plugin for Outlook, Thunderbird or Postbox instead.
Pidgin GNTP is a Pidgin plugin that can send notifications of incoming messages when Pidgin is not in focus. You can tell it to stop sending notifications depending on your Pidgin status, as well as get notifications for your buddies' status changes, topic changes in group chats and more (which you can turn on or off in Growl's preferences).
System Monitor sits in your system tray and can notify you via Growl of low disk space, network availability, low battery and more. You can tweak a lot of its features through a configuration file, which is pretty simple to tweak (and has instructions on doing so inside the file itself).
Android Notifier and Notify Pro forward notifications from your Android or jailbroken iPhone, respectively, to Growl on your machine. Essentially, it allows you to silence your phone when you're at home and get notifications for calls, SMS messages and more, right on your PC.
uTorrent Notifier notifies you of new and finished torrents in uTorrent.
Sick Beard, our favourite TV show downloader, actually has Growl support baked right in. With a bit of setup, it will let you know when downloads have started or finished. To see how to set it up, check out these instructions.
PhonyBalloony sends all of Windows' bubble notifications through Growl, so things like Windows Updates, connected networks, and even Dropbox will go through Growl for easy management. After installing the plugin, you can enable it by going to Growl's preferences, clicking on the Network tab, and checking the "Subscribe to notifications from other computers" box. Then, hit the green plus sign, choose "Route windows System Balloons Through Growl", and click Save.
These are a few of our favourites, but be sure to check out Growl's compatibility page to see the full list of compatible apps and plugins.
Customise Your Settings, App by App
Now that you've got a few apps registered with Growl, let's see about tweaking each app's preferences to get the best experience.
Open up Growl's preferences and click on the Applications tab. You should see a list of applications in the left sidebar. Click on an app to customise its preferences. We'll use Pidgin as an example here.
In the middle, you should see a list of notifications that the plugin is capable of sending to Growl. On the right, you have preferences for that type of notification. You can turn it on or off, tell it to display in a different part of the screen, tell it how long to display and more. So, for example, if I didn't want Pidgin to notify me of every buddy that signs in, I would click on "buddy-sign-in" in the middle pane, then change the "Enabled" dropdown to "False" on the right side.
The two other things I usually like to tweak are "Sticky" and "Sound". Making a notification sticky means it will stay on your screen until you actively dismiss it. This is perfect for when you're away from your computer, so I change this to "when idle" for things like email, low disk space or other things I'd want to see as soon as I sat back down. To dismiss a notification, just right-click on it.
When it comes to sound, I usually like to add a small sound to my notifications so I know when something important has happened. Giving a different sound to each notification is great, so I can tell whether I just got a work email, a personal email, a text message or a finished torrent just by the sound. Growl's "Sound" dropdown will list all sound files in your system media folder, usually
C:\WINDOWS\Media, so if you have custom sounds you want to use, just copy them to that folder and they should show up in Growl's preferences.
Add Your Phone to the Mix
Lastly, while you probably get a lot of these notifications on your phone already -- like email, text messages and so on -- there might be some you only get on your computer. If you want to know when your torrents have finished, for example, you can push those notifications from your computer right to your phone with Prowl (if you're an iPhone user) or Notify My Android (if you're an Android user). Here's how to set them up.
To forward notifications to your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, head to prowlapp.com and register for a new account. Download the Prowl app to your phone while you're at it. When you're ready to set it up, do the following:
- Go to prowlapp.com, log in and click the "API keys" tab in the top right corner.
- Under "Generate a new API key", add a note (something like "Whitson's Desktop Computer") and hit the "Generate Key" button. Leave this page open.
- Open up Growl's preferences and go to the Network tab. Check the "Forward notifications to other computers" box and click the green plus sign under it. Choose "iPhone via Prowl" from the list.
- Enter a description (like "Whitson's iPhone") and paste in the API key you got from Prowl's web site. Check the box that says "Only forward when idle or away", so your phone isn't bombarded with notifications while you're sitting right there.
- Click Save and close Growl's preferences.
From now on, whenever you're idle or away as specified in Prowl's preferences, any notifications will be forwarded directly to your phone. You can change your notification preferences for Prowl from Settings > Notifications, but you can't change them on a per-app basis. You can, however, give different sounds to different Growl priorities, if you want to have different sounds for certain apps (note that you'd have to change their priority in Growl on you PC, too).
Notify My Android
To forward notifications to an Android phone, head to Notify My Android's homepage and register for a new account. Download the Notify My Android app from the Android Market, too, then do the following:
- Go to your Notify My Android account settings, and click the "Generate New Key" buton under "New API Key". Leave this page open.
- Go to this page and click the "Install Now" button to install the Notify My Android plugin to Growl.
- Head to the Network tab of Growl's preferences and check the the "Forward notifications to other computers" box. Then, click the green plus sign under it and choose "Forward to Your Android Device" from the list.
- Enter a description (like "Whitson's Thunderbolt") and paste in the API key you got from Prowl's web site. Check the box that says "Only forward when idle or away", so your phone isn't bombarded with notifications while you're sitting right there.
- Click Save and close Growl's preferences.
From now on, whenever you're idle or away, any notifications will be forwarded directly to your phone. You can change the ringtone Notify My Android uses in its preferences, and even give different sounds to different Growl priorities, if you want to have different sounds for certain apps (note that you'd have to change their priority in Growl on you PC, too).
There you have it. It may seem like a lot of work, but it actually shouldn't take long at all to get everything up and running to your liking, and once you're done, you'll be on top of everything (and less annoyed by the notifications you don't want). Have any of your own tips for keeping all your notifications in order? Share them in the comments.