Apps you can't live without

by Giles Turnbull

There are some applications that I just can’t live without.

A week or so ago, I performed a complete re-install of my main working computer. Part of the process included going through my Applications folder and trashing every app that I just didn’t need, cutting it down to the bare minimum. As it turned out, I only ended up keeping half of all my existing apps in the new set-up.


Nigel Coke-Woods
2007-04-27 06:55:29
Am I the only human on earth who does not get on with Quicksilver? Launchbar, yes, but all that tabbing and typing of shortcuts seems so slow to me.

My choice is TextExpander.

2007-04-27 06:58:56
Why use MS Office? why not NeoOffice? We have 80 Macs in our office from MacPro Octos to older candy iMacs, I have removed M$ Office from all of them and replace it with Neo Office, and we almost never have issues.
2007-04-27 07:00:18
Agreed on Quicksilver and Textmate. I also need to add VPN software from Cisco and Citrix client software to connect to work (a virtual Windows machine unfortunately).

I also love Journler. This app seems to have leapfrogged Yojimbo and I use it for all my notes and organization now. I also keep an IMAP folder on my .Mac Mail dedicated to serial numbers for software which makes reinstalls much easier.

Beyond this, I find keeping the machine as clean as possible and using the default apps (Safari etc.) keeps the machine running fast and stable. There's so many "hidden" features in OS X and the default apps I've found just learning these tricks can make all the difference.

2007-04-27 07:06:24
are you seriously directing my attention to software like "national velocity".
i had a look at the website... which prevented me from even trying it out.
Erica Sadun
2007-04-27 07:18:49
For me, it's Quickeys. I've been using it since the '80s: my entire Mac is Emacs-keystroke-enabled.
2007-04-27 07:41:30
PathFinder - I just love it. It's the Finder on steroids, done right, etc. Don't complain about that the Finder lacks this and that if there's a perfectly great replacement out there - just go download it !

NetNewsWire - from which I'm posting this now. Although, I'm not forcing myself to only open this app once or twice a day because it's just TOO distracting.

Quicksilver - although I only use it for app launching. I'm guessing that the app launching capability of Spotlight in Leopard will supplant this for me.

Kevin Buterbaugh
2007-04-27 07:43:46
Nigel, no you're not the only human on earth who doesn't use Quicksilver. I've tried it and trashed it. I don't understand what the fuss is about.

I also agree with Steve - why use M$ Office? NeoOffice is a much better choice and you avoid giving money to an organization that, no matter how many billions Bill Gates gives to charity, will never be able to come remotely close to compensating for the harm it has done to humanity.

So what apps do I immediately load? Firefox, Thunderbird, NeoOffice, and iTerm. From the optional Apple installs, X11 and the Developer Tools (including Xcode).


2007-04-27 08:28:56
Steve, Kevin: I use MS Office only because NeoOffice runs too slow on my G4 PowerBook. Slower than Office, at any rate. When I get round to getting my hands on an Intel Mac, I expect to be making more use of NeoOffice.
2007-04-27 08:30:22
Core: don't judge the app by the web page. NV is the fastest text-storage app around. It does just one thing, but my goodness it does it well.
J Lane
2007-04-27 08:33:21
Just curious, why do you bother with TextWrangler if you've got TextMate installed? What are the compelling features that one has that the other doesn't?
2007-04-27 08:37:01
Why use MS Office? I tried to use NeoOffice, but the first doc I opened was from a client who loves using 'Comments'. The difference between Office 'Comments' and NeoOffice 'Notes' is that NeoOffice replaces the Note/Comment with a tiny rectangular marker; you need to hover over it to read it. Not user-friendly, not productive.

A 95% product, unfortunately, is just that - a 95% product.

2007-04-27 08:37:50
Quicksilver, TextMate, (does latex count?), PDFView, and Camino and I'm pretty happy. Everything thing else is either one of the built-in apps (Mail, iTunes, Terminal), or online (gmail, gcal, Hiveminder).
2007-04-27 08:37:51
Why use Jumpcut? Quicksilver has a clipboard rembering tool and a shelf to store arbitrary snippets. What does jumpcut do that these do not?
2007-04-27 08:43:04

As Andy mentioned and in case you aren't aware, after you invoke QuickSilver, press Command L and you'll see the clipboard. Type the corresponding number or double-click an item to paste.

2007-04-27 08:46:43
Andy: I just prefer Jumpcut. The only thing it offers that QS doesn't is a Menu Bar icon for swift access to the list of clips.
2007-04-27 09:01:43
Did you know that Quicksilver already had clipboard history functionality built in? Also, I would add TextExpander to this list and, of course, TextMate.
2007-04-27 09:31:22
No overlap here, as it happens - I haven't got any of those, Giles. I have had Camino in the past, but I haven't got round to putting it back on since my last reinstall. I am at present enjoying the WebKit nightlies, however, which will handle some sites that Safari can't. As for the rest - I wouldn't want Quicksilver, and I have to admit I haven't heard of the others.

There are some third-party apps I like to have around. I like Textmate and Transmit. NetNewsWire is an old favourite. And Mellel is a very nice wp program. I'd always install those. There are a handful of others, including the ripper/encoder Max and a couple of other audio-related applications. And I like to have Yellow Mug's archiver, YemuZip, because it can make zip archives that don't have Mac-specific files in it: I don't want to be emailing people on Windows or Linux zip archives with stuff that's no good to them in there.

2007-04-27 09:43:54
I have to have the following installed too: TextExpander, EagleFiler, and TinderBox
2007-04-27 09:52:43
There are 2 types of Quicksilver users. Those who think it's a launcher and trash it soon after. I liken these users to people who on spotting a Ferrari has a cigarette lighter note that their matches do the same job. The other type of user notes that with judicious use of the clutch, accelerator pedal and steering wheel in fact a Ferrari is much more than a cigarette lighter.

A few of my favourite QS uses are typing trigger 45 to rate a playing iTunes song to 4.5, ctr-opt-cnt-> anytime to skip to the next song, F8 to place the two front finder windows side by side, F7 to put them top and bottom,F6 to make one fill the screen, command-esc-DIR to open the present window in the Terminal, command-ESC SC to scale an image, then m to mail it.

This way of working doesn't suit everyone but it saves me a lot of time.

Bill Berry
2007-04-27 11:19:47
quicksilver, textpander (still using the original) and textmate are virtually perfect and in-use all the time. but what strikes me are the classes of apps that are all imperfect, leaving me undecided and constantly switching. one example includes macjournal, devonthink and yojimbo. all have their plusses and minuses, and leave me wanting an app that includes only the best features of all three.

a more egregious example: the browser. safari is fast, the latest webkits even better. but i have to use firefox because of the plugins, like firebug, despite being sooooo slooooooow. camino is certainly fast, but where are the mozilla plugins? and the biggest downer of all is the fact quicksilver can access my browsing history in safari but not in camino or firefox. how about one perfect browser?

2007-04-27 11:39:16
I'm a Jumpcut fan too, despite using QS - it takes fewer keystrokes to paste, and the interface is, funnily enough, more QS-like than using the QS clipboard.

Also, I increasingly rely on OmniOutliner for taking notes, making todo lists and planning pieces of writing - nothing I couldn't do in a text editor, but it feels quicker and cleaner.

Andreas Bachofen
2007-04-27 11:57:57
Nigel, I'm with you, too. I tried QS about five times because I just thought there ought to be something wrong with me, I usually like all the shortcuts to make my mac even more productive. But QS uses too much memory, crashes to often and is even slower than spotlight on my 1.2GHh G4 with 1,25 GB RAM. And it's not real-time, if I install a new programm, it's not in QS, but in Spotlight.
Gustavo Delfino
2007-04-27 12:02:10
I find MenuMeters essential.
2007-04-27 12:18:39
iTerm is an absolute must for me. As a switcher from the land of Linux just does not cut it. I need tabbed terminals, mappable ansi colors, robust profile management, and the fullscreen mode just geeks me out :)
2007-04-27 13:40:59
DragThing, Mailsmith, BBEdit, Path Finder, TextExpander, OmniWeb, Keynote, OmniGraffle,
2007-04-27 13:41:23
DragThing, Mailsmith, BBEdit, Path Finder, TextExpander, OmniWeb, Keynote, OmniGraffle,
2007-04-27 14:14:48
Well, I do a lot of media work these days, so the big one for me is going to have to be (and this is obvious) Photoshop. The swiss army knife of the digital media world, it is irreplaceable. I use other image management and design software, but in a pinch I could do any of their work with just Photoshop.
Michael Ball
2007-04-27 15:32:45
I dunno I dont find QS necessary, it seems like an extra app to have open - and it does what spotlight does

I use NeoOffice, but it's presenter is kinda lacking, Journler, Text Wrangler, XCode, Gimp, Aperture/iPhoto, I like the WebKit nightlies too, and FF is useful for those few sites, and I think that's it for apps, but the GMail widget from Google is a must for me.

Michael Ball
2007-04-27 15:35:46
I dunno I dont find QS necessary, it seems like an extra app to have open - and it does what spotlight does

I use NeoOffice, but it's presenter is kinda lacking, Journler, Text Wrangler, XCode, Gimp, Aperture/iPhoto, I like the WebKit nightlies too, and FF is useful for those few sites, and I think that's it for apps, but the GMail widget from Google is a must for me.

adam alexander
2007-04-27 16:35:49

Love the little apps that do one thing really well:

  • Spirited Away: hides the apps you arent using

  • SuperDuper!: easy backup scheduling

  • MenuCalendarClock: access to iCal through your menu bar

  • xScope: tools for any pixel/interface/web designer, aint nothin' like it

  • Uno: no more brushed metal!

  • CSSEDit: i wish every scripting/markup language had an equivalent (even before it hit 2.0)

2007-04-27 18:12:40
How about Onyx?
2007-04-27 18:45:49
Hmmm. Someone commented that spotlight could be used in place of Quicksilver. I think if you fully use Quicksilver, that's not true, but I thought about how I use it and realized I use it as an application launcher. I did because I thought it was simpler/faster than spotlight. I mean, you search for an application, then have to down arrow in spotlight to select the correct choice to run. But I figured there must be an easier way. Sure enough, if you hold the command key, it hightlights the top choice and you can hit return. Maybe I can drop Quicksilver. Does anyone know any other Spotlight tricks?
Stu Dent
2007-04-27 21:00:18
Primary web browser is Camino.

RSS reader is Safari.

Google Reader is my current beta test--I've spent far more time playing with it than I care to think about.

I've been using Blogspot as a web app since it emerged from beta earlier this year. Blog template's HTML is valid--after a bit of tweaking by yours truly.

Can't live without TextWrangler--a freebie from Bare Bones Software. is my favorite Darwin application.

GIMP on Apple X11 is my favorite ported open source software.

Graphic Converter is refined shareware. When used in tandem with Photoshop Elements, it's a thrifty substitute for Photoshop CS. Your mileage may vary.

iClock brings back functionality lost in the transition from OS 9 to OS X. It's shareware that gives you lots of good features for the price.

Tiger. I've never had a kernel panic. Software crashing on it doesn't require a reboot very often. With little effort I can disable features that I don't like--temporarily or permanently.

2007-04-28 05:38:32
As a launcher, i recommend Namely. It's only 288 KB.
You call it with alt-Esc (configurable) and start typing a fragment of the application's name, not necessarily from the beginning. E.g. to start "iPhoto Buddy" I just type "dd" and hit Return, that's it. It automatically re-scans the application list after a new program has been installed. Plus, it remembers how often you select each program and sorts the hit list accordingly. So, by typing "i", the first match is "iPhoto", second is "iCal", and so on.

Other essential tools: Desktop Manager, MagiCal, Slim Battery Monitor, Temperature Monitor, and Disctop.
Applications: Disk Inventory X, Text Wrangler.

Nigel Coke-Woods
2007-04-28 05:39:00
Gazzer, I get Quicksilver, and I resent your implication that those who don't get on with it are somehow stupid. I have no desire to drive a Ferrari either. I don't even smoke. The problem with Quicksilver for some like me, I suspect, is my mild dyslexia. Quicksilver requires a text based approach, no matter how loose. Dyslexics are more drawn to the pictorial so clicking an icon with the mouse is quicker.
J Evlewt
2007-04-28 05:47:34
I'm very similar to you, Giles. I'll cast yet another vote for Quicksilver. Like the smart folks say, those who realize it's not just a launcher will be amazed.

One point of difference from Giles: MS Office? There's one piece of bloated rubbish I trashed and never want back.

Daniel Lawson
2007-04-28 18:44:05
I've tried QuickSilver several times, and just can't get into it myself, either. The One Application Without Which I Feel Like I'm Missing Fingers is Nuevos. Apple-ESC and I get a dialog box to search google or whatever else I want to search. Beyond that, TextWrangler and a handful of services I created with ThisService are indespensible to my work flow, and I'm amazed how rarely I don't have Excel open. You can have Word, for all I care, but I can't find a spreadsheet that beats Excel, as much as I might want to. NetNewsWire is great, but I'd likely get more work done if it weren't installed. Nuevos and TextWrangler are the big ones, though.
2007-04-29 12:47:33
+1 for Transmit, that I constantly use to move stuff around (from our groupware server via WebDAV onto my desktop, from there onto a test unix machine via sftp...)
2007-04-30 09:15:36
Not big on QS either. I love Butler though. And it has the clipboard that I can put up in the menu bar to watch over my last (x) copies.

Also need TinkerTool and CyberDuck.

2007-04-30 10:56:37
Another vote for Butler here. I have QS installed on my laptop, but find I only use it as a launcher. With Butler, I use quite a few of the features. Other apps that must be installed are BBedit, Firefox, Yojimbo, TextExpander, Transmit, SuperDuper, and Sidenote.
2007-05-02 02:47:02
Fully agree with Camino & Quicksilver. Camino was a difficult love. At the start I preferred Safari (for aparent speed) and Firefox (for the addins and so on). But Camino has so many simple but nice things, that it ended as my browser of choice.

But no Jumpcut for me... I use instead the ClipBoard Plugin for QuickSilver. I just learned the trick of the autohiding, and now it is soooo convenient.

Douglas Goodall
2007-05-11 16:59:42
Why on earth would you take a perfectly good "clean" Macintosh and install MS Office. For me that would be a "last resort" and something I would only do under the more dire of circumstances. I keep one Windows box around for that kind of thing. What is the point of owning a Mac if you are going to mess it up with Microsoft software?
2007-05-11 17:05:59
Just wanted to add my voice to those who also don't use QS. I did have it installed and was using it frequently but then it started crashing and when I wanted it it was never there. So now I do without it and, to be honest, never notice the difference. I think if you do a lot of repetitive work at the file level - coding, web design etc. - QS is probably very handy. But for me, it's not. I spend my workday in MS Word (for compatibility with clients) Scrivener, Intaglio, Safari, and Mail, and my evenings in NetNewWire, Photoshop, and the iLife apps. I find TextExpander to be essential. FlySketch too. Like using Curio. And am trying hard to like CRM4Mac.
Marnen Laibow-Koser
2007-09-13 16:20:35
It depends what I'm using the computer for. But generally:

* Safari, preferably Safari 3. Firefox may handle a few more websites, but I don't like its UI nearly as much.
* TextWrangler, if I'm doing any programming.
* NeoOffice/J.
* TextEdit. I love its RTF features for those times when I don't need a full-featured fancy word processor.
* Fire (or, now that Fire is dead, Adium).
* GraphicConverter.
* Adobe Reader and/or PDFViewer, so I can have a decent browser plugin for PDF files.
* X11.
* Apple devtools.
* Fink.
* Pseudo.
* Growl.

If I install Firefox, I absolutely must install FireBug and PDFViewer. Web Developer and Greasemonkey are important too.

Unlike a lot of people, I like and don't see any particular advantage in iTerm. I rarely have more than 4 terminal sessions open, so tabs aren't a big deal for me.

2007-11-18 19:49:15
Many have mentioned many. TEXTEDIT is one the most useful ones. Here is one trick: Open TextEdit. IN a new document press COMMAND+SHIFT+T ... open any folder containing any amount folder and files, COMMAND+A and COMMAND+C go to TEXTEDIT and COMMANC+V voila! A full list of your files in text format.
P.S. You should do the first part and put the document in PLAIN TEXT first. If not it will try to past actual files and data.