A few remarkable Mac apps
The following is a list of some of the Mac applications I live in every day. They are the precious few I couldn’t live without, and that contribute to my Joy of Mac each day. They are listed roughly in order of affection.
First on any list is LaunchBar. This little utility single-handedly revolutionizes the way I use my Mac. It is an application launcher, quick file finder, phone dialer, e-mail starter, and more. If there’s something I need my system to do, LaunchBar will usually get me there in less than five keystrokes.
For freeware addicts, there is Quicksilver which is also excellent. In fact, Quicksilver is somewhat better designed than LaunchBar. I had switched to Quicksilver for six months, diving into all its arcane and nifty features. However, as time wore on I gradually used less and less of Quicksilver, until finally their daily feature sets became equal. And LaunchBar can do that subset much faster, and more reliably, than Quicksilver can. I got tired of resetting Quicksilver a minimum of twice a day, dealing with random stalls, missing icon previews, etc. LaunchBar is fast and almost never fails me.
DEVONthink Pro is an information database. You can drag almost any common type of textual file into it, and it will index it and provide a built-in viewer to view the contents. This makes it easy for me to keep all the PDFs and web pages and text files together that relate to my recent researches. But that’s not where the power ends. This app is too deep to do justice to it in one paragraph, but suffice it to say that in terms of my data, I practically live in DEVONthink Pro, using it to hold and search and correlate almost everything I collect from various places around the Web.
RapidWeaver is what I made this website with. It’s easy to use, but very customizable. I need a tool like this because I’ve found that unless something is nearly effortless to do, I can’t “keep up” with it. RapidWeaver is almost entirely responsible for me actually writing new content for this website.
The next runner up for sheer joy of use is 1Passwd, a password manager for most web browsers on the Mac. It can also be used to conveniently store “secret notes” which are viewed using the 1Passwd application. I’m currently using 1Passwd to manage 145 web passwords and 137 secret notes. Even though I have a different, random password for nearly every service I use on the web, 1Passwd makes them all equally effortless. And better: when I come to a form that needs my name, billing address and credit card info, 1Passwd can fill in all those fields with a single keypress. The daily utility of this little app is amazing, considering I first thought it would be superfluous next to Apple’s own Keychain application.
I’m a backup maniac. At any given time, I like to have about five different backups of my data, here, there and everywhere. ChronoSync has the best interface for backing my data that I’ve found so far. It’s still not my ideal, but it’s fairly easy to use, keeps generational archives of replaced backup files, and has a good status indicator. It’s main downside is that it’s unusably slow when using network volumes, but I’m hoping they get that fixed someday.
Minuteur would win every award I have for just plain cuteness and intelligence of interface on a small scale. It’s just an egg timer, but I use it any time I need an upcoming alarm or countdown timer. You just run the app, type in some numbers, and it starts. Almost all its functionality can be driven by the space bar, return key and the number keys, in very intelligently thought-out ways. After using it for several months, I found it well worth the donation the author asks for.
QuicKeys is one of the more expensive utilities I use, but given that I use it literally thousands of times a day, I can’t complain. The whole point of money is to translate your efforts into efforts made on your behalf; by that metric, QuicKeys is worth every penny of its hefty price tag. At the moment I have nearly fifty macros active on my system, customizing all kinds of applications that otherwise would require lengthy, repetitive mousing and keyboarding.
I use SSH a lot, and SSHKeychain makes password management with SSH completely effortless. Even better, it integrates with Apple’s Keychain, so that if I shut my laptop’s lid, even my SSH keys are locked. And even better, it’s completely free!
I’m a bit of a security nut, which is why I love Little Snitch, a network monitoring app by the same people who created LaunchBar. Whenever an application tries to talk to the Internet for the first time, Little Snitch gives me the opportunity of allowing or denying the connection. It has been extremely helpful in learning what goes in inside my machine when I connect to the Net. You’d be surprised sometimes. For educational value alone it’s worth running it during its three hour trial period.
Path Finder is a Finder replacement for the Mac that is far nicer to use than what the Mac comes with. I find the default Finder to be pretty unusable, which had forced me to do all my file manipulation in the Terminal, or Emacs. But Path Finder brought me back to a world of efficient mousing and easy to read graphical displays.
VMware Fusion is a virtual machine emulator for the Mac. It lets you rather other Intel-based operating systems, like Windows XP, Linux, BSD, Solaris — even OS X itself if you do enough searching on the Web to figure it out. I love virtualization technology, and I use this app every day. Sometimes I have multiple virtual machines running as psuedo-servers so that I can test out changes in client/server type code.
Merlin is a project manager in the style of Microsoft Project. Until I found Merlin, I never had a good way of making estimates for clients, keeping on task with those estimates, or of providing regular updates of the current projected date based on work done so far. Merlin, despite its initial complexity, made it truly enjoyable to manage all of this detail in a way that was easy to communicate to my clients.