Mac Apps I Use

It seems like every time I read about the applications someone uses on their Mac, I find a new gem. So we are going to start a series here to share some of this information.

What I do: I am currently a system administrator with a development team at IBM, and just finished an Agricultural Business degree with a minor in computer science, and I am a photographer. My MacBook sees a wide range of use.

Apple Apps I use:

Safari: I like webapps, and live in my browser. When I first started on the Mac I clung to Firefox for a while, but with time grew to prefer the integration of Safari. I never used a ton of plug-ins on Firefox, so I didn’t miss much with Safari. I quickly got used to the way Safari handled things like auto-completion, and for some reason I like the way WebKit renders. Finally with Safari 4’s speed and new tab “Top Sites” feature, I was sold. However, I love Google Chrome, and when it comes fully to the Mac, I might switch.

iTunes: I love iTunes. I know many hate it, but it just works for me. As with most Apple products, the advantage is in the details. Things like various ways to customize your view, and I love the new Genius playlist feature. iTunes is generally speedy, and I love the fact that the rewind, play/pause, and fast-forward keys on my MacBook work no matter what. Windows never did that without trouble.

Terminal: The one sentence explanation of why I run a Mac is the “it just works” of Windows on a Unix base. I have just grown too accustomed to the Unix command line to go without it. And for development and system administration, there aren’t really many alternatives. Some people prefer iTerm, and I used it off and on in the 10.2 and 10.3 days. But Terminal with Leopard integrates perfectly into the system, supports tabs, and I stick with a modified “Homebrew” theme with semi-transparency. It sounds like eye-candy, but when you can pull up a documentation page with IP addresses or other information, and run your terminal right on top of it, things get done quicker and more accurately. I recommend looking into alternative fonts to keep things easy on your eyes. Hivelogic recently ran a good post on programmer/console fonts, my current pick is Inconsolata.

Spotlight: I am typically very organized about my filesystem, but I find Spotlight to be very useful for speed. I ran LaunchBar through a trial period, and preferred it, but it wasn’t worth the cost to me when Spotlight does 95% of what I want LaunchBar to do. I hit Cmd-Space and type the first few letters of the app or file I want to launch, and bam, its done. My obsessive compulsiveness on the computer leads me to mostly keep files off of the desktop, and minimize apps in the dock, so a launcher is perfect.

Time Machine: This should have been invented a LONG time ago. It should exist on every major operating system. For years geeks have been writing rsync scripts to do this, but why someone didn’t create a simple interface for “everyman” to use this, I don’t know. But it is a lifesaver. I still don’t do a good enough job with off-site backup, but at least I know I’m covered unless a metor hits my house, or some other terrible thing.

That is about it for built in stuff. There are some system utilities that see a little bit of use, but not enough to be considered my choice. I like TextEdit, but between TextMate and full blown word processors, it doesn’t see much use. I will pop up dashboard once in a while to check the weather, but my iPhone serves that purpose most of the time now. And I use Leopard’s quick look often, but that is less of an app and more of an OS function.

Third Party Apps I use:

Acorn: I had considered buying Acorn before it was in the latest MacHeist bundle, but with it in the bundle it was a slam dunk. It is a great little app for minor image work. I kinda think something like this should be included with the OS, but on the Mac, Acorn does it. A similar app on the PC is $49.95.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: Photographers have a number of choices for RAW image organizers, but the two most popular are Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, and Apple’s Aperture. I don’t really remember why I picked Lightroom, but I have tried Aperture since, and I was disappointed. I think it is just a matter of picking one and getting used to it. Aperture does offer better integration with iPhoto and the ability to build books and cards for Apple’s printing service. Lightroom offers great integration with Adobe Photoshop. $299

Bean: I love Bean. I wish I had more reason to use it. It is lightweight, well featured, and has a clean design. So many free OSX apps are Linux/Windows apps shoehorned onto the Mac, but Bean is not. The Windows/Linux answer to Bean is Abiword, which is a great product, but Mac fit and finish is almost always better. $Free

Burn: Similar to Bean, Burn is a free, open source OSX exclusive that does things well and simply. Remember what I said about liking Unix earlier? A big part of Unix is the idea of apps that do one thing but do it well. Bean and Burn are like that. $Free

Caffeine: Nice little tool. Start up caffeine and nothing happens, but an empty coffee cup appears in your menu bar. Click on the icon and it fills with steaming hot Joe, and your Mac won’t fall asleep on you. Very handy for doing things like watching videos. $Free

CoverSutra: Some good stuff here. CoverSutra puts the Track, Album, Artist, and artwork for the song you are currently listening to in iTunes on your desktop. Very cool, looks nice. But the killer feature to me is the keyboard shortcuts. At home I have a beloved Apple Extended II keyboard. I like it better than my IBM Model M keyboards, but it lacks those keyboard controls I mentioned above. With CoverSutra I can hit F6, and up pops a box with song info and controls. I can hit the spacebar to play or pause, and Cmd-Right or Cmd-Left to skip tracks. Quite handy. I got mine from an old bundle, but I would pay $20 for it again. $19.95

Disk Inventory X: I remember triple booting Windows 98, NT4, and Red Hat Linux all on the same 500MB hard drive. I remember buying my first 80GB hard drive and wondering what I would ever fill it with. But time moves on. MP3’s go 256K, image files turn into 14bit 10MP RAW, and movies go HD. I now have a 320GB HDD in my MacBook, and recently had to move my photo archive to an external disk because my poor MacBook was packed to the gills. Disk management is tough. Disk Inventory X is a lifesaver. It gives you a visual diagram to show you what is taking up space. See that big block on the right, it’s all those TV episodes you downloaded from iTunes but don’t watch anymore. Back them up and get them off your main drive. Huge help, and $Free.

Dropbox: Speaking of hard drive issues, Dropbox has been awesome. I end up using an extra ThinkPad at home with Linux sometimes, and I keep a Windows ThinkPad in the office for weird issues that need it. I keep all of them hooked up to Dropbox so all of my important info is just a click away. The (possible) downside is that you have to have a separate folder for Dropbox, instead of just telling it to sync your entire home directory, but this can be nice to keep stuff that is too big in it’s own place. The service also provides web access, which is useful when you are using a friend’s or public computer. The 2GB account is free and gives you enough space for the important documents and a few key media files, and the 50GB account will let you keep almost anything short of a large photo collection or music and movies. For many users, 50GB will hold everything. $Free for 2GB, $10/month for 50GB, $20/month for 100GB.

Google Notifier: I was an early user of GMail. I loved the web interface, but wanted the integration a built in mail client provided. I was excited when GMail added IMAP, and used it for a while, but I missed GMails keyboard shortcuts, address book, and speed. Merlin Mann of NetNewsWire: I go back and forth on this. I will use Google Reader for a while, then I will use a desktop news reader for a while. I love the fact that you can plow through feeds with just your spacebar using NetNewsWire. I like the email inbox type view, and how easily it opens up things in a browser window. But I don’t like that it only syncs every half hour, and I often feel like it doesn’t pick up on feeds until hours after they are published. So it is a mixed bag. NetNewsWire is a great product, and allows syncronisation with the iPhone app, the web app, and readers for other operating systems. It comes down to a matter of preference. In truth part of the reason I am currently using NetNewsWire is my continued paranoia about how much Google is keeping my info. $Free Open Office is a really nice project, but has a bit of a checkered past with the Mac. This is a prime example of the issue I mentioned above with open source software. It is often designed with Windows or Linux in mind, and shoehorned onto the Mac. Until the recent 3.0 release, OpenOffice was one of the worst offenders. It only ran in X11. NeoOffice was available, but buggy. This new version isn’t great, and isn’t as Mac-like as I want, but it is much better. It is my current pick because of the price. iWork is a great package, and obviously very Mac like, but it is hard to create something in iWork and use it on another platform unless you export it as an uneditable PDF. MS Office for Mac is ok. It is kinda Mac-like, and mostly cooperates with other platforms, but it is clunky and expensive. I do so much in Google Docs and Bean anyway. So for the few times I need a full office suite, Open Office is good enough. $Free

TextMate: I love me some TextMate. If it wasn’t for the fit and finish and simplicity of great Mac apps like iTunes and TextMate, I would probably be on Linux. But for some reason, Mac apps are just better. They manage to be simple enough to be used by a new user, but allow enough customization and buried options for a power user to eventually put to use. TextMate is like this. A dead simple text editor at first, but as you learn the shortcuts and bundles, it is as powerful as any. The fact that there is such a community around it, and a great plug-in system to extend it really puts it over the edge as a “killer app.” Luckily a little bit less expensive than it was a year or two ago since the dollar is now stronger against the Euro. As of today it will run you USD $56.

The Unarchiver: An unsung hero. I rarely see this app mentioned. Like 7-zip on Windows I install it on every fresh box, and never think about it again. With the Unarchiver I just double click on a .zip, .rar, etc. and it opens right there. I never even think about it. But if I install a new system and forget about it, I quickly realize something is missing. It is so seamless the first time I went without it I thought I had missed an OSX system update or something. And best of all, it is $Free

Things: This one is tough. I haven’t been using it enough lately. And when you don’t take the time to open it and use it, Things is a bit useless. The feature set it there though. I can tap Ctrl-Opt-Space to open a quick entry box, bang in what I need, and it is in my inbox. It syncs with my iPhone, where it has a great (although not system-wide) entry box. It allows fairly granular but simple catagorization. I got a copy of the Hit List from the latest MacHeist, but haven’t tried it yet. However I expect Things will continue to be the winner for now. $49.95 on the Mac and $9.99 on the iPhone.

Transmission: Another open source, Mac centric app. There is also a Linux version, but the developers either write it for OSX and then port it to Linux, or they do a heckofa job with the Mac version. It is a clean, simple, but powerful BitTorrent client. $Free

Transmit: I used CyberDuck for a long time. I would almost suggest CyberDuck over transmit because it is free. CyberDuck is open source, and again, made for Mac. But something always felt clunky with CyberDuck. As a system administrator and computer science student, I spent a lot of time in an FTP client, and I just decided it was worthwhile to pay for Transmit. It is a great app, and is even more simple but powerful than CyberDuck. Like TextEdit, there just isn’t anything like it on other platforms. Panic just ran a 50% off sale last week on Transmit and all of their apps, but if you didn’t get it then, it will run you $29.95

Tweetie: Unless you live under a rock, you probably heard about Tweetie for Mac being released a while ago. The iPhone app is loved and one of the most popular iPhone twitter clients. The Mac version brought along a great package of the right features. Highly reccomended, $19.95.

VLC: The do-everything media player. Useful for any random video formats you come across on the web. I first discovered VLC when all of the Windows DVD players were clunky and expensive. I could install VLC for free without digging up the CD that came with my DVD-ROM. It was faster and had a better interface than any of the other junk out there. VLC somehow is free and open source, and has a great interface on Mac, Linux, and Windows. They do a good job of providing the performance, usability, and looks that few do on all three platforms. $Free

WriteRoom: WriteRoom provides a distraction free environment for writing. For the ADD sufferers like myself, it can be very helpful. I’ll start writing and I get a new email, or my feed reader shows some new info coming down the pipe, or I see someone come onto IM, and I get distracted. I own a few typewriters that I used to use when I needed to focus, but then you have to type or scan it back into a computer. So WriteRoom was the answer. If you need it, it is worth every penny. $24.95

That covers the bulk of my day to day software. Not everything, but most of the things that are either the most important to me, or that I think people may not be aware of yet. There are several thing that are on my machine, but are either minor enough or well-known enough I didn’t bring them up, so I will leave a partial list as “honorable mention.” Adium, Calaboration, coconutBattery, Espresso, Spirited Away, VMWare Fusion, Growl, SteerMouse.

I am a software developer, photographer, musician, and new father. I plan to write some useful real life tips and tricks, along with commentary on Apple.