Mac OS X tools recommendation

Updated August 21st, 2009

Built-in Applications

I run iCal, Address Book, MobileMe Sync and pretty much love them. Until I switched to an all Gmail setup, I ran Mail.app happily with the following customizations:

  • A Widescreen Plugin for Mail.app, great for MacBook screens or my wide screen monitor at home.
  • Mail Act-On, for Mail.app as well which basically allows you to fire a rule manually through a shortcut. MailActOn is very practical for sorting email, moving it to different folders, teaching spamassassin’s bayes filters, … I used to use it but I kinda of gave up on it. It does what it is supposed to do well but I guess I am not in dire need of what it does.

Since moving to Gmail for all my mail, I use PostBox if I need a rich client. I found Mail.app to be underwhelming UI wise, with Gmail folders. For web based Gmail access, I use Firefox 3.5 and Better Gmail 2.

For web browsing, I just can’t seem to commit. I switched Safari 4 for a while when Firefox 3.5 was still in Beta but for a few days now, I have been back on Firefox. I check out Chrome/Chromium every now and then to see how good it is. Not good enough yet.

Instant Messaging, Chat

Forget brand specific applications (AOL Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, Google IM, MSN Messenger) and use Adium. Open source, powered by libgaim, it supports all major protocols (including Groupwise which I used to need), is highly customizable, scriptable and has a booming community. Adium was missing Skype integration but there is now a third party plugin available though it still requires the standalone Skype client to be running.


Where did my hard-drive space go ?

An age old problem, solved for me by WhatSize. Others like OmniDiskSweeper, Disk Inventory X or Liquifile but WhatSize works for me. I have been checking out DaisyDisk and I might make the switch eventually.

RSS viewing

The awesome NetNewsWire was the best I found. Recently as Newsgator abandoned their online product and now syncs with Google Reader, I moved my RSS reading to Fever until the NetNewsWire is out of beta and I can see they worked out the limitations imposed by Google Reader.

NetNewsWire is pretty great with support for smart searches (i.e. give me all the entries that contain the word mono but are not found in Monologue), scripting, custom css, subscription to feeds generated from scripts , entry flagging (keep forever) syncing and Newsgator (so I don’t have to read an entry twice, at home and at work, keeping only one set of subscriptions). As a result, I never used Bloglines or Google Reader. I had wanted to install Fever to test it out and I am pretty happy with it. We’ll see how that plays out.

IRC

While I still use Mice iRC when I need to do DCC sends, I have switched to Colloquy which does for IRC what Adium does for IM (scriptable, customizable, …). I don’t _love_ Colloquy but it does the job. Sometimes I have to revert to a command-line based tool such as irssi.

Terminal.app replacement

Sure, the old Tiger Terminal.app was fine but iTerm really shines. I got too used to tabbed terminals during the two years I lived and breathed Linux (ask me about long term lung damage) and iTerm does the trick. It’s really slick and stable. I also like how it warns me that something happened on another tab.

It also has a full screen mode, if you’re into that sort of thing. Apple updated their Terminal.app application with Leopard and it’s really pretty good (Tabs !). However, I am so used to iTerm that I keep using it at work where it’s installed and configured. I occasionally use Terminal.app when iTerm gets funky with keyboard mappings which happens occasional.

Application Launcher

In my opinion Mac OS X has one major shortcoming, out of the box, and that’s application launching. Sure, it comes with a Dock full of applications but I never found it a great way to launch applications because eventually I run out of space.

So I keep my dock empty (except for running applications of course) and now use Google Search Box. I used to use Quicksilver to launch any and all applications. Quicksilver does a lot more than that and I invite you to try it out.

I myself switched to qsb because QuickSilver development seemed to slow down and the application was a little overkill and buggy. I understand its main developer now builds qsb. There are quite a few others available such as Trampoline, Overflow and LaunchBar. Try them out, see which one works best with your style. Leopard also brought Spaces which can help with application switching. I never got into Virtual Desktops myself so I don’t use it.

A few years back I wish Gnome had that for I did struggle with launching applications, switching between them. Alt Tab and Desktops just don’t work well for me.

TextEditors

This is a controversial subject, I’ll be concise. Emacs and vi are fine (I use them) but when it comes to a full featured editor (or multi-language IDE), TextMate is pretty damn amazing though as an occasional user I can’t justify the comparatively high price.

Productivity Tools

Drawing Marchitecture

Omnigraffle, beats the old Lighthouse Design Diagram consumed and forgotten by Sun

Taking notes

I haven’t found a note taker that I really like yet. Most tools are just too bulky. Tomboy ruled on Linux and is finally maintained on Mac OS X.

It took so long though that I looked for other tools and started to use Evernote. With native Windows & Mac client, a very decent web client and an upcoming (today ?) iPhone application, it works pretty well. It’s missing two key features of Tomboy, its compactness (which I miss) and hypertexting (which I can do without) so I’ll go with that for a little bit. Tagging and web storage/synchronization are pretty helpful in maintaing notes across the office, home and the road.

Running Windows

Yes, sometimes you have to run Windows (or Linux or whatever), that’s the reality of things. I was a big fan of Parallels Desktop for Mac when it came out but I feel that it’s caused issues on my systems. It did most of what VMWare Fusion does today before VMWare did. But I now feel that Fusion does it better and faster. Parallels had made my laptop sluggish and lauching any VM would slow everything down to a crawl. I run Fusion 2.x of my Mac Pro and Mac Book Pro with great results. Keep in mind you have to have a lot of memory for things to run well.

Torrenting…for jam band concerts download

As powerful as Azureus is, it’s not stable enough for me and consumes too much resources, Xtorrent had taken his place but while I paid for it, it’s very rarely updated and David Watanabe its creator never answered any of my emails. Needless to say I regret paying $25 for it. I now use Transmission which gets updated very regularly, is free and feature rich.

Spam Killing

Used Popfile (at home on server) to do both IMAP and POP. Mail.app Junk mail control just didn’t seem to work for me. Since then, I changed to a custom set up with my own IMAP server (dovecot), procmail/fetchmail and SpamAssassin. I was very satisfied by this solution but I felt that spam killing was an uphill battle best left to the experts and I moved all my mail to Gmail applications.

FTP, SSH/SFTP, WebDAV, Amazon S3

Cyberduck – it just works. It’s AppleScript-able, does Bonjour, SSH/SFTP, WebDAV, Amazon S3, fast, easy to use. Sure you can use Transmit and others but Cyberduck really does the trick for me.

NNTP – Usenet group reading

Unison – best news reader I found on Mac, close to the best on all platforms IMHO (Check Audion from the same company if you don’t want to deal with iTunes).

DVD grabber

Handbrake (GPL) to copy my DVDs onto my HD and compress them to MP4 for viewing on the plane and at the hotel. MediaFork recently forked the code due to the HandBrake’s lead developer long absence. But they merged back recently and we’re waiting for a new and better version soon.

Video player

VideoLan (GPL) – a great cross platform video player – probably still rules all but with the advent of codec packages such as Flip4Mac and Perian the QuickTime movie player does a decent job. I like NicePlayer unobtrusive interface though.

Video file conversions

VisualHub was capricious and did not always produce the results you hope for. After looking at alternatives such as FFmpegX and Mpeg StreamClip, I went back to VisualHub. It did the trick, got updated regularly and was worth its price but it was all of a sudden abandoned. I still use it though its codex are showing their age. Evom might replace it in the future but HandBrake will work on all sources, not just DVDs, soon.

SSH agents and tunneling

SSH Keychain for I getting tired of using command line for ssh agents and tunneling very quickly

Geeky tool of all geeky tools

Geeky Tool – you know you want it !. I use it to display my console.log on my desktop, stock charts, weather, calendar, date and internal/external IPs. Very convenient.

Election System

I recommend the popular vote. I have yet to hear a reason why the electoral college system still makes sense today

Buy them if you use them

A lot of those are shareware, I did end up paying for most of them. Let me know what you think of the new list.