I’ll update this as I update my software usage habits, and also keep a running list of other sites that have posted such lists. If you have a list and want me to add it here, send me your URL.
So, without further ado, here is a list of software I use on a daily or regular basis. All prices are in U.S. dollars.
Path Finder ($34) : The truth is this is a client of mine, but I had been using this file manager / “finder replacement” long before I ever worked for them. I love the Finder’s refinement, but find it woefully underpowered. Path Finder fills all of the feature gaps that the Finder has, and much more. There’s an integrated text editor that can open Word documents, PDF viewer, de/compression utilities, disk image creator, and most useful to me, a built-in terminal window. I never use Apple’s Finder now.
Mail.app (Free with 10.3) : I’ve tried really hard to find another email client that did everything I needed, and am still looking. That said, OS X’s Mail client does enough of what I need for now to make the cut. If Mailsmith ever gets off its duff and adds IMAP support, though, I’m gone.
BBEdit ($179) : Speaking of Barebones, their famous text editor that “doesn’t suck” is that, and so much more. I created my first HTML pages using BBEdit over five years ago, and have been using it ever since. For overall text editing goodliness, BBEdit rocks my world.
On a related note, I have been evaluating CSSEdit ($24.99) and Style Master ($59.99) for editing Cascading Style Sheets and haven’t made a decision on which one is better. I’ll save the winner and my thoughts on both for another post.
Adobe Photoshop ($649 / $169 upgrade) : Is there anything that even comes close? No, there isn’t. The “Creative Suite” version of Photoshop is just the cat’s meow, and makes working with graphics a joy. The bundled web graphics program Adobe Imageready CS is also impressively mature. Between the two of these, why would you want to use anything else for serious graphics work?
iTunes (Free) : Music is a huge part of my life, and iTunes has replaced my stereo as the number one place where I get my daily fill. Out of all of the so-called Apple “iApps”, this is easily the most polished and solid of the bunch. I don’t have very many applications that I leave open all the time and this is one of them. Add the great Synergy into the mix to control iTunes, and display album art in a sweet-looking bezel window as the songs change, and you have a massive winner.
NetNewsWire Pro ($39 - free version also available) : Everyone and their grandmother seems to be talking about RSS and newsfeeds these days, and I could care less as long as I have this application to read them in. This is one of those programs where everything is incredibly well thought out; the UI, the functionality, and the overall feel of the application is excellent. I’m beta testing the next version of NNW and it’s just incredible.
POPFile (free) : POPFile is a collection of perl scripts that works as a big filter / organizer for email. It uses the same filtering mechanism as Apple’s Mail and the equally essential SpamSieve (“bayesian” filtering), but allows you to create all kinds of “buckets” for your email. POPFile can then add an email header or prefix to the subject which can be used as a filter rule in your email client.
I have buckets for personal, client, mailing list, student, and of course, spam email set up, and after a short period of training POPFile knows with high accuracy (99.4% for me) what bucket a particular incoming email belongs in.
The biggest benefit of this is that I can switch to another email client quickly, and only need to set up a small number of filters in the application to filter email to the correct inbox. Considering I receive anywhere from 25 to 150 legitimate emails a day, plus hundreds of spam emails on top of that, this is like manna. I’m a firm believer in the primary email organizational rule “Keep thy inbox empty”, and POPFile helps make this simple. I can also copy my install of POPFile to another system and immediately have all of my buckets and settings on the new machine. And, it’s free!
Default Folder ($25) : Mac OS X is a very powerful, well-designed operating system, but there are still some niggling problems. Its Open / Save dialogue (OSD) windows are one of them. Before Mac OS 10.3, the OSD windows were anemic at best, providing no history of previously used folders, no way to delete or rename items, and extremely poor keyboard navigation.
Default Folder remedies all of these issues, and adds in some productivity-boosting features such as the ability to jump the OSD window’s location to any currently open finder / Path Finder window, a configurable history, excellent keyboard navigation, and much more. Some day, if Apple is smart, they’ll buy this application outright from its developer and integrate it into OS X. Until then, this is a must-have purchase.
Desktop Manager (free) : Linux and Unix users have been used to the concept of having multiple work areas for a long time, but this functionality has been a long time coming for Mac OS X. The concept of multiple work areas is simple: it allows you to have different applications and windows open in different workspaces, which you can jump back and forth to with ease.
For example, I have three workspaces: a web-browsing space, where I run my Web browsers and NetNewsWire; a work area, where I run applications like Photoshop, BBEdit, Flash or other work applications; and an Email / Tunes space where I run my mail clients and iTunes. I can set these applications and their windows up in each workspace as I like, and then jump between them with a simple quick key. This makes things much easier as I can keep the multitude of windows I have open at any given time more organized and easier to find.
Desktop Manager achieves this functionality perfectly, with extremely low system resource usage, a stable and user-friendly interface, and beautiful transitions as you switch work areas. You can even use the Fast User Switching “rotating cube” effect, which makes Windows users in the vicinity gasp with envy. Heh. Add to that the fact that Mac OS 10.3’s neat-o Exposé feature works independently in each work area (only showing the windows currently open in the currently active area), and the fact that Desktop Manager is free, and we have another major winner.
(Also see Codetek’s Virtual Desktop - I haven’t used this, but have heard good things, too.)
Being one of “those types” that work the web means having to test web pages and sites for cross-browser compatibility. This means having a plethora of web browsers installed on my computer. That said, there are two browsers that I tend to use most frequently, and a third that I’m currently evaluating as a possible addition to this group. They are:
Safari (free with OS X): This is my current default browser. There’s things that really annoy me about Safari, but running Safari in conjunction with Hao Li’s über-essential $10 Saft plugin (which adds a ton of incredibly useful features to Safari) is rather nice.
Pros: Fast page loading and rendering, fairly standards-compliant, responsive development team.
FireFox (free) : Oh, how far the Mozilla browser project has come. Two years ago Mozilla was bloated, slow, and overrun with bad interface decisions. Now, with the release of Firefox to the public, things have completely changed. Firefox is fast, beautiful to look at, has the famously precise Gecko rendering engine for near-perfect page rendering, and can be extended with many different features (such as ad-blocking). Development is on-going, but progress has really picked up this year.
Pros: Fast, looks great, supports add-on extensions to add new functionality, very standards-compliant, fast development.
Cons: Still has ugly, non-Mac OS X form widgets, slow startup time, still a bit rough in some areas.
OmniWeb 5 Beta (Price TBA) : Omnigroup recently released public beta versions of this renown web browser to much fanfare. Once a beautiful browser with sublime text-rendering but atrocious standards support, OmniWeb has blossomed in the past year with its integration of Apple’s Webkit, which provides the same rendering engine as Apple’s Safari.
Currently in beta, OmniWeb 5 is still quite flaky and isn’t really what I would call ready for public consumption. Still, there are a lot of really innovative ideas in this browser, and it’s one I’m keeping my eye on.
Pros: Lots of useful features not found anywhere else, fairly good standards-support, excellent integration into the OS.
Cons: Quite slow page loading and rendering, doesn’t use latest Safari rendering engine, crash-prone, unpolished. Hey, it’s a beta.
This is a catch-all for three programs that I’ve come to rely on, which I jump back and forth between as new versions are released. All three are part of what you would call Abbreviation Searchers: You hit a special quick key and then start typing a couple of letters and the application returns matches.
For example, if I started typing “PHO”, these applications would probably return results like “Adobe Photoshop”, “iPhoto”, “http://www.photo.net”, and “photography mark.doc” amongst others. I would then hit return and the application would either launch or open the selected item.
Once you’ve tried a keyboard launcher application, you’ll never go back. I now involuntarily twitch for the trigger keys whenever I sit down in front of someone else’s computer; they’re baked into my brain now. All of these applications are amazing, but each one has its pros and cons.
Launchbar ($20 for home-use) : This is the first keyboard launching application that started it all, and is still an amazing piece of software. Hit your trigger keys and a small drop down menu appears, where you can quickly match typed abbreviations to almost any file and application type under the sun. The Launchbar 4 beta expands Launchbar’s cataloguing abilities threefold and is even more worthy. There isn’t as much functionality in Launchbar as the others - it’s a launcher and it does that very, very well - but for ease of use, Launchbar wins.
Butler (Donationware) : Butler has abbreviation searching capabilities, but pumps it up and adds in a cornucorpia of extra features that are equally useful. You can manage bookmarks, extend your clipboard with a built-in clipboard buffer that retains previous clipboards for easy access, control iTunes, trigger shell and actionscripts, and tons more. The interface is not as polished or as integrated as the others, but this is made up for with Butler’s impressive customizability. Butler is the most powerful of the three applications.
Quicksilver (Free) : This is my current favourite of the group. Quicksilver couples Launchbar’s ease-of-use with Butler’s extensibility, and puts a gorgeous, Mac OS X interface on the whole shebang. You can choose between a bunch of different interfaces for Quicksilver, but the most impressive is the “bezel” option, which pops up matches in a semi-opaque floating window ala OS X’s volume and eject notifications. It’s all very slick, and boasts a good cross-section of Launchbar’s and Butler’s functionality. The biggest con is that it’s still in development and can be flaky, but overall I think this one is the winner.
Spell Catcher ($40) : One of the great things about Mac OS X is that applications can leverage a built-in spell checker. The problem is that many applications either cannot, or do not have support for the integrated spell checker, or have their own dictionaries that are separate from the system ones (Microsoft Word, anyone?).
Rainmaker’s Spell Catcher remedies this by providing a truly system-wide spell checking system that also integrates with Mac OS X’s internal dictionaries. This means every application uses the same dictionary, and also that every application, no matter whether it has its own or not, can be checked for spelling errors quickly and easily. Add to this a built-in thesaurus, foreign language spell checking (e.g. French, Spanish, German, Italian), and an incredibly handy, customizable Shorthand Glossary (e.g. type “fwiw”, and Spell Catcher automatically expands that to “for what it’s worth”) and Spell Catcher becomes an essential tool for anyone who works with text.
Mellel ($29) : It’s as inevitable as spam that at some point everyone who uses a computer will have to do some word processing. Obviously, the elephant in the middle of the room here is Microsoft Word, which up to this point has been a rather crashy, buggy affair on Mac OS X. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a student (or myself) scream “Noooo!” as another critical document was lost after Word decided to crashed. The mantra “Save often” takes on a new urgency under Word.
I discovered the joys of using Mellel for word processing earlier this year, and have never looked back. With its aqua-licious, well-thought out interface, powerful, no-bullshit toolset, excellent compatibility with Word (via Mellel’s support for the Rich-Text format [RTF], and OS 10.3’s ability to open basic Word documents), and frequent updates, Mellel relieves the angst and stress of word processing under OS X. At only $29, this is a steal, and highly recommended.
WeatherMenu ($5) : Heck, I’m Canadian, which means like everyone else up here I’m obsessed with the weather. WeatherMenu helps to feed that obsession by delivering up current conditions and 10-day forecasts not only for where I currently am, but also for other cities around the world, all from the convenience of the Mac OS X menu bar. Weather envy is a sad, sad state of mind. There are many other applications available that have similar functionality (WeatherPop and Meteorologist come to mind), but WeatherMenu has been the most consistent and accurate of the three. You can’t beat the price, either.
Instant Messenging Clients : I rely on instant messaging to stay in touch with clients, old co-workers, friends in other cities, and students. Part of the problem has been that everyone uses different instant messaging services - some use MSN, others are on AIM or iChat, and a few are on Yahoo messenger or ICQ. I also have separate MSN accounts - one for students, and one for personal use - and often need to be logged into both of them at the same time.
Proteus ($15) is a gorgeous, completely Mac-like chat client that allows you to connect to multiple instant messaging services using multiple accounts simultaneously. This means I can be logged into all of the various IM services my friends use, plus be logged into my student and personal MSN accounts all at the same time. Considering how many applications I would need to have open to accomplish this without Proteus, this feature alone makes it worthy. The fact that Proteus is also beautifully designed and quite stable is icing on the cake.
Another chat client that supports multiple services and multiple logins is the open source Adium X, which is also worthy of attention. I happen to prefer Proteus, but Adium is equally good, and preferred by many.
iView Mediapro ($160) : As a designer, I have mountains of images, fonts, PDFs, video and audio clips, and other documents piled up in my hard drive. Finding a particular item could easily become an exercise in frustration if it wasn’t for iView Mediapro. iVM has been around for quite some time now, and shares some surface similarities with other digital asset management programs such as the more common iPhoto (free). iView Mediapro catalogues a ton of different file formats, and then presents a fast, easy-to-use interface to preview, edit, manipulate, sort, and present your files.
The price is expensive, but iView Mediapro’s feature-set is so rich, and so comprehensive that it’s worth the price. Being able to quickly find a particular font out of thousands of fonts, or easily create slide shows and HTML galleries of digital photos makes this application totally worthy. Consider it to be the missing Pro version to Apple’s iPhoto.
QuickImageCM (free) : For quick image previewing and editing, developer Hide Itoh’s QuickImage CM is essential. It allows you to quickly preview an image or group of images by control- or right-clicking on them and selecting “Show Image”, and also allows you to resize, convert, and perform some light image editing on them without having to launch another application. You can also batch rename selected images, and much more. It’s incredible that this is freeware, and absolutely invaluable.
Snapz Pro ($69 with movie capture / $29 for image capture) : Mac OS X comes with built-in screencapturing abilities: shift + command + 3 for entire screen, shift + command + 4 for a selection (it’s amazing how many people don’t know about this). For most people, this will be more than enough. I take a lot of screenshots, however, and the tool of choice is Snapz Pro.
Snapz Pro is the BMW of screen capture software. Not only can you shoot selections and full screens, you can also capture objects (menus, drawers, windows), set the image format before shooting, add drop shadows and watermarks to screenshots, create thumbnails on the fly, and much more. Plus, if you pay the extra $40 for the movie capture version, you can also capture beautiful quicktime movies (with audio) of anything happening on your screen. This is perfect for things like creating instructional “how-to” videos for software or web applications. If you find that Mac OS X’s built-in screencapture isn’t enough, check out Snapz Pro.
There are many other applications that I use on a regular basis, and new discoveries every day. I’ll keep updating this list as new additions are added to my toolkit. If you have an application that you think should be on this list, please leave a comment, or let me know.