Mac Tips and Tricks – part 1 – Handy apps and utils

This is the first installment in a series I will be posting about how to get the most from your Mac. I run into a lot of switchers and often get questions about how to do stuff on the Mac. So instead of copying, pasting and updating the same email repeatedly, I can now refer them to my blog 😉

Let me know if there are any specific areas that you would like me to cover in the future.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article (and my whole blog for that matter) are mine and mine alone. Additionally, I have not received compensation related to any of the software mentioned here.

Part 1 – Handy applications and utilities

OS X 10.5.x (leopard) has a pretty nice set of built-in features and applications. But there’s always room for improvement. The following is a list of free, shareware and commercial tools that I recommend.

System Utilities
LaunchBar – A keyboard driven launcher, navigator and general productivity tool. This is the first thing I install on any Mac that I use. Shareware. An alternative to quicksilver, very similar, but some feature differences. Quicksilver is free and will probably work just fine for you. They’re charging a bit more for the latest version of LaunchBar (24 euros – about $31) and it’s probably a bit too much. I got the first version for $12 and have been upgrading since.

Growl – system wide notifications, lots of supporting apps – free

MenuMeters – all your machine’s vitals in configurable displays in your menu bar – free

Adium – All-in-one instant messaging client. Supports a ton of different protocols in a highly configurable app. Free

Google Notifier – If you use gmail or google canendar, I highly recommend this.

Default Folder – Simply brilliant. Besides remembering where you last opened files from on a per app basis and giving hot keys to specific locations, this will allow you to mouse-over a Finder window and have your open/save dialog goto that directory. Just try it or let me demo if for you. Unfortunately, the latest version is a bit expensive at $35.

Network and File utilities:

Chicken of the VNC – handy VNC client for your remoting needs – free

RDC – Remote Desktop Connect. Open a VNC-like network session with a windows box, only faster. The best Mac app that M$ has released, evar.

Parallels – Virtualization for when you have to foray into other OS’s locally. Latest version has coherence and supports most USB devices (even ones not supported by OSX). Commercial.

Toast – CD/DVD burning app. Commercial.

muCommander – General purpose file manager with excellent network features, based on Norton Commander. Free.

Cyberduck – Handy s/ftp app – if you do that sort of thing with a GUI. Free/Nagware.

Laptop Specific stuff
SlimBatteryMonitor – big improvement over the one built into the OS , and free.
Note: I used to have more of these, but the MBP and Leopard have incorporated their functionality.

Dev tools
TextMate – A fantastic editor and IDE. Configurable, scriptable, pluggable. BBEdit is a fading memory for me. Commercial, $54.
iTerm – Replacement for – tabbed interface, uses Linux compatible keyset, bookmarks. – free
CocoaMySQL – GUI for management of your MYSql DBs – free
svnX – GUI for SVN. A little rough around the edges, but stable and useful – free

Data management and prodctivity:

Dropbox – Secure, remote file storage and syncing. I use this for application specific data files and small backups. Free for your first 2BG, pay for more.

Evernote – My current favorite tool. This is the data management solution that I have been trying to find/hack/create for years. It’s a personal wiki/cms with rich formatting, tags, categories and easy importing from email and web. But what really sells it for me are the client apps with syncing and offline use. There are clients for Mac, Win, iPhone and others. They all keep synchronized with each other and allow offline editing. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent trying to solve this problem for myself with combinations of web apps, Mac apps, scripts, etc. Finally I have one place to put all my data where I can access and update it whether I’m at home, work, on the bus or at a coffee shop. The first 40MB a month are free – which is plenty if you’re mostly storing text, like me. You can pay for more.

VoodooPad – A wiki wrapped up in an application. Great for notes, lists, reference, etc. However I think Evernote will soon completely replace this for me. Shareware.

1Password – Secure, encrypted login/password/data storage with excellent browser and iPhone integration. $40, but you can often find it discounted or even free bundled with other apps.

Things – A well designed todo list and task manager, one of the best I’ve ever used. It’s based on GTD, but you don’t have to use it that way. Has an iPhone app that is useful independently and well integrated, but costs additional also. $50 for the Mac, $10 for iPhone.

Skitch – Uber-screenshot tool. Capture screens, edit the images, share them on the web, all-in-one. Free.


Twitterific – Handy twitter client. Free with ads, pay to get rid of them.

VLC – Plays just about any video you throw at it. Can be controlled by the IR remote that comes with your MBP. Cross platform. Free

Graphic Converter – Reads and writes most ANY graphic format. Does decent editing and even has some automation/script-ability. Also a quick image browser. Shareware. If you want something free that does a bit more than iPhoto, try Seashore.

GimmeSomeTune – iTunes extension with great hotkey functionality and some other nice features.

That’s my current list. I’d be interested in your opinions on these. What apps do you use and like?

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sue Massey
    May 18, 2009 @ 15:30:54

    Just wanted to say HI. I found your blog a few days ago on Technorati and have been reading it over the past few days.

  2. retsoced
    May 18, 2009 @ 18:16:39

    There’s some great apps here, plus a ton that I haven’t heard of yet. Even though I have had my laptop for about 2 years now, i still haven’t gotten a lot of stuff for it other than the essentials.

  3. farbige kontaktlinsen
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 09:40:50

    Twitter is really a great invention, but I think blogging is even more important to create some traffic. But I can use some of the tips.

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