Recommended OS X Apps

This list is a work in progress. Although it focuses on Mac OS X Software, I will add other platform software as I find it, or it is recommended to me. I do not make any money for these endorsements (although I wouldn’t be adverse to making some as long as I follow FTC guidelines and mention it and that I would actually recommend the product without compensation of any sort. I should probably mention that Coda 1 was added to the list long before they invited me to private beta test Coda 2. If you work for a company who makes any of these products, I would probably love to beta test new versions.

If anyone reading this has any apps that you can’t live without, are among the first ones you install on a new system, or find improve your computing experience/workflow dramatically, mention them in the comments. You can also link to me if you have an article about an app. I will of course do a sniff test (make sure it isn’t a thinly veiled advertisement and answers the important “Why” it is must try app). Here are my recommended apps that you I think you should do yourself a favor and check out — especially if its use sounds like it might help you in your computing setup.

Security Minded Software

While it is true that an out of the box OS X install is more secure than an out of the box Windows install, it doesn’t mean a Mac is not still potentially vulnerable. Anyone who tells you this or that OS is 100% secure hasn’t looked into the matter very much. With that said, it’s time to start taking pre-emptive measures to protect yourself and your computer.

Little Snitch by Objective Development Software GmbH. $30 (3 hour per boot trial)

In this day and age, you need to protect your system from unwanted data transfer: that’s where Little Snitch comes in. Little Snitch is a network monitor and gatekeeper, that allows you to control each app’s access to your network, and lets you define rules on the fly, without leaving your working application. A must for any OS X user that cares about security or anyone that wants to know what apps are using your bandwidth or what servers they’re connecting to.

1Password by Agile Bits, Inc. $35 (30 day trial)

1Password is simply the best addition you can make to your computer. If you have many accounts at different web sites, a lot of software or private notes to keep track of, 1Password is both liberating and encourages better security practices. It is not often you get something that make a process better, easy and faster in one shot: 1Password is that shot. It is well worth the money in the time and hassle it has saved me, especially when I forget my password for sites I rarely visit. The Browser plugin works across many popular browsers, and does more than just passwords.

It has a place to store those software registration keys one always gets and loses: 1Password is taming those secure notes and other unruly things as well. It has a strong password generator, and can tell you how strong your password is as well. It will store IM login info, Database server logins — you name it. Also, if you need to take your passwords with you there is a nifty iPhone/iPod app as well as an Android app. It will also store identity and credit card info as well.

The best thing is it doesn’t take any effort to configure it*. It simply pops up in your browser once you install the program and the plugin and offers to store your passwords once you set a master password for its keychain. Then to enter the password you just click on the “1P” button and choose your login.

Oh, and it also does Windows.

*unless you want to use it with Dropbox, in which case it’s really easy to move one file.

Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac by Sophos (Home Edition is Free)

These days crackers are getting closer and closer to releasing a full fledged OS X virus. So far all threats have been trojans though, and an unsuspecting user might download something such as innocent as a picture (or plug in a BadUSB device) or as potentially dangerous (such as a cracked commercial app) and install it not knowing what else they’re getting. Trojans can cause just as much havoc on your system and privacy as a virus because the only difference between the two is that a trojan tricks the user into installing it. This app will not only spot OS X malware but also Windows malware. While most AV apps use significant processor time, this one is relatively frugal about CPU usage. So do yourself and your PC loving friends a favor and install this to eliminate one more attack vector. [Update: I tend to discover and dispose of Windows malware at least once quarterly, and OS X malware maybe yearly. But to be fair, I tend to stick to the well lit corners of the internet.] To emphasize that this app is useful, Sophos AV for Mac has detected less than 5 Mac specific pieces of malware and over 30 Windows-centric pieces of malware since I installed it about about 5 or more years ago — email attachments being the usual medium, and hostile site content increasing in the last 2 years.)

UI Enhancements

Apple set the bar in terms of GUI design, but they’re guiding principle of simplicity limits them a bit. Luckily for us, a few software developers do not agree when it comes to advanced users, and have developed ways to control our system with speed and ease. Here are the essentials of those efforts.

Alfred by Running with Crayons Limited Free (15£ for the power pack upgrade)

I have been using Alfred for over 2 years now. After initially trying it for 4 months, I realized I should pay to encourage updates and bought the power pack — even though I do not use many it its features (but when I do they’re worth it). In its free incarnation it is simply one of the best launcher and search apps on any platform. I quickly learned how to customize the search feature without the power pack to make it search DuckDuckGo (my preferred search engine) by simply making the prefix “?” Add to the DDG’s site search and adding DDG’s  bang syntax “!<site abbreviation>”  means that a quick keystroke (I remapped command-space to pull up Alfred) makes a search and direct page access disgustingly easy. For instance, for the manual page for PHP’s mysqli class  typing [command-space]? !php mysqli which takes me directly to http://www.php.net/manual/en/book.mysqli.php. or [command-space]? !video realistic mario takes me directly to youtube http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=realistic%20mario

If I want to open an app or a file, I just type in the name. I mapped opening the containing folder of a file or app to “ff”. So, opening Scrivener would be [command-space]Scr[return] and opening a folder named “jquery” I would type command-space]ff jq[return]. Given the flexibility of Alfred combined with DDG means no more trips to google or any other search for that matter. I purchased the power pack to see what else Alfred can do — play music, trigger terminal commands, and even allows one to make complex workflows with scripts and more, etc., but even free it is far superior to what most text launchers can do. If you know of an even better launcher, let me know. Also, as I update this I notice Alfred Remote is coming to iOS… intriguing!

BTW, with Yosemite around the corner, it looks to be copying Alfred utility, but I am sure Running with Crayons will still exceed Apple’s imitation because of their fundamentally diverging philosophies on UIs.

Default Folder by St. Clair Software. $34.95 (30 day trial)

If you want to save time and avoid clicking around the open/save dialog boxes, buy this program. Here is why….
I have been using Default Folder X since before the “X” was added (meaning since OS 9 or earlier days). And it is one of the first extensions/utilities that I load on any new systems I get. It has survived many other finder enhancements I’ve used through the years, and I consider it indispensable.

In short, it saves a lot of time by allowing you to navigate the open and save dialogs much quicker than you can do it without Default Folder. Even with no setup the “Recent Folder” menu speeds your navigation. Also, the ability to click on any open folder in the Finder also saves an incredible amount of time.

The integration with the OS is practically seamless, and the stability is amazing. Not once in the past 14 years has it ever crashed or caused a crash with frequent use throughout everyday.* In the few cases where the OS was updated and an incompatibility was discovered with Default Folder, it refuses to load and lets you know why. Then it is usually a simple matter to go to the developer’s site to get an update to the latest version (if you turned off automatic update checks or the update was between checks).

Bottom Line: Power users, people who don’t like to waste time or those that want an easier way to do things should do themselves a favor and buy this application. You will wonder how you ever lived without it. And I am wondering why Apple hasn’t purchased the application and integrated it into the Finder itself so everyone can enjoy the power of it.

*I had one crash after I wrote this, but I chalk that up to the software using non-standard open/save dialog calls.

Total Finder by BinaryAge $18 (14 days trial)

This is a Finder enhancement that adds tabbed windows to the Finder and allows you to display 2 different directories/folders side by side in the same window. Occasionally there are minor hiccups but nothing major so far. Well worth the price if you’ve ever had to rearrange messy finder windows or move files between folders.

Internet Chat

Adium (open source software)  Free

If you’re like me, you have more than a few Instant Message accounts. Adium handles everything from AIM to Yahoo IM (including IRC and SoNet messaging from Facebook and Google). Among the apps that can handle multiple IM services, this is the among the best on any platform and offers practically every IM or chat service known. It is usually stable, fast and updated regularly. In addition to that, it is highly customizable which makes it shine even more. Since it’s free, you can’t go wrong to simply try it.

The one caveat is that it sometimes has problems doing file transfers.

Writing/Coding

Scrivener  by Literature and Latte Ltd. $45 (30 day trial)

I had been looking for a good writing app that could also store URLs and allow me to write chunks of articles freeform and then reorganize them in an outline and polish them: Scrivener does all this and more. It even allows you to “trash” pieces but still saves them in its own trash so you can go back to them later for reference or to salvage them.

I tried Mellel, which is good, but Scrivener uses a slightly different approach which is more in line with the way I would like to work. Not only that Scrivener is much more polished visually and includes a built in tutorial teaching you how to quickly ramp up to really use the application much faster than anything else with its feature set that I have seen.

At the current price of $45, I think it’s a steal. I am very impressed by it and intend on buying it ASAP. In a word, “Wow!”

Usually I also have criticisms for applications, but in this case I have none, which is truly rare for me. I can’t think of any more features to pack into this application. It is obvious the developer of this application built it so he would have a great writing tool at his disposal. I say this because it is often those that want to use the application to get their work done that not only include all the features they’d like, but also take the time to make them easy to use and continually polish the application.
Bottom Line: Scrivener puts practically everything else out there to shame.

Coda 2 Panic, Inc. $99 (no period trial listed)

I’ve been using Coda for a many years now and it’s made my life a lot easier. I used to edit in BBedit and then upload in Transmit. Then BBedit got FTP, so I thought I was set, but then I found Coda. Once I learned to set it up properly with all the paths (local and remote) set up, it was so incredibly easy to update my multiple sites I immediately bought it. I learned the ins and out of it and have really grown to love this app. It has saved me a ton of time, and I would buy it again. ($99 is not that much compared to BBEdit and Transmit combined.)

So, with that comes my criticisms:
#1: No code folding. It’s been at least a year since I requested this feature. the devs replied, “Wait for Coda 2.” that was a year ago. (Also, I wrote the previous sentence almost a year ago…) This Feature is in Coda 2.
#2: Too easy to upload files to the wrong place because of lack of enough visual feedback. I could be editing on the server or the local copy and I sometimes mistake which I’m looking at. Also, without setting up paths, it’s a chore to upload. (Still)
#3: The app should try to auto detect the proper paths to sync up if both directories are populated, and if it fails you should be able to navigate to each directory and click one button to edit your config file to fill in the path info for the site. (Still)
#4: Split pane could be easier to use. It’s not very intuitive. (Still)
#5: I’d like to list local and remote directories side by side if I wanted to. In Coda 2
#6: I’d like to be able to have one window contain all the sites I’m working on and be able to control-tab through them rather than have to open separate windows. (multiple Windows are possible.)

Utility

Cabon Copy Cloner 4 by Bombich Software, Inc $40 (30-day trial)

CCC is my go to app for regularly scheduled backups. Sure there is TimeMachine. But I do not like the way it stores backups, and the linear and narrow interface it gives users to access their backups. But it is not just for backup. It can synchronize files between two computers and even clone your boot drive. Given that it is a full featured backup solution that costs nothing (Aside from ads from Other World Computing {a reputable Mac Hardware shop for decades and my personal favorite} and a few others.), I can’t recommend it any stronger. If you do not backup, it is only a matter of time before you lose irreplaceable photos or things of great sentimental value — not to mention important records or business documents. The main interface is fairly simple and advanced users can delve deeper and discover great power under the hood. You can filter out files from backup using file types or other criteria, schedule backups to run and gracefully suspend themselves if the remote volume is not available and resume when the remote volume does come online. Not only that the developer helped me with a problem that wasn’t even his. Which leads me to my next recommendation.

Diskwarrior 4 by Alosft $99/$49 upgrade (No Demo, but trust me on this one)

I found DiskWarrior back at a MacWorld Expo (in 1999 I think). I walked up to a person at the booth, and told him I had a portable hard drive that an RPG (Baldur’s Gate) corrupted with a crash while writing to the HD with my save game file I had worked weekends on it as well as a lot of other things that I would like back. If his app fixed it, that I would buy it on the spot. I had tried Norton, Techtools and a few other applications, but short of a cracking the disk open with a hex editor, none of them could be recovered. And I didn’t relish the idea of spending the next week search and rebuilding the files. He was confident that DiskWarrior could help. He plugged it into his laptop and ran it. In less than 10 minutes DiskWarrior had reconstructed the file directory, and even offered a preview to confirm all was well. There was my save game file, and all the other files just as they were before the crash.

True to my word, I bought it and have never regretted it. Through the last 10 years or so, I have saved a few hard drives every year or so from having to be formatted and rebuilt and have paid for 3 upgrades (usually less than $40 per upgrade). Some of those were mine and some belonged to family, friends or clients. Diskwarrior continues to be updated with each OS release that has file system changes. Alsoft only updates the apps when it needs to be updated, not as a cash grab. My original serial number still works for updates. And thanks to Diskwarrior and Mike Bombich (of CCC above) pointing out it wasn’t his app but that file directory was slightly corrupted, I avoided another time consuming HD rebuild and backup restoration. If the physical media is working properly, Diskwarrior can probably rescue the software in a fraction of the time and effort it would take to wipe and reinstall and re-configure everything. I keep the CD (and CD drive) in my Computer bag at all times just in case. There is also a USB stick version available for purchase as well for Macs without CD/DVD drives.

Pacifist by CharlesSoft $20 (unlimited use-delayed trial)

Pacifist is a great little utility which allows you or open a DMG file such as an Os installer, etc, and pull out single fiels or entire applications. It’s fast, clean and does the job it says it will. If you ever need to get or want to just pull out an Apple App (or a file out of any DMG/Installer) without going through the whole lengthy install procedure this is the App for you. I have used it to retrieve iChat when the original application got corrupted and Safari as well. Well worth every penny. There’s nothing close to it on the market to this day. (If you know otherwise, let me know.)

Hazel by Noodlesoft $25 single license (14 day trial. household 5-user license $40)

Hazel is what the MacOS folder actions should be. It will automatically tidy up files in folders you specify and move them to the appropriate folder after a period of time you define. I use it to keep my downloads folder and desktop manageable. In my downloads folder, I have hazel color code files for freshness, and more some 3rd party DLs to their appropriate places. On my Desktop, it moves images to the ~/Pictures/DesktopPix directory, and in moves text, .doc and pages files in ~/Documents/TextDocs.  I bought this for my sister after trying it out for a while, and finding it exactly what she needs to organize her hectic file situation in her downloads and desktop folder.

Update: Hazel 3 just came out and the new features make it even “more better.” [SIC]

Audio Utilities

PowerTunes by Fat Cat Software (Free Trail, $20)

I found PowerTunes a year late. It finds missing files in iTunes, finds orphan files in your music folder, and readds them to iTunes and can split or merge iTunes libraries, as well as find exact duplicates and allows you to quicly compare and manage fixing things. Had I had it the prior year, I could have avoided spending weeks reorganizing and cleaning up a 20K+ song iTunes library that I have been porting with me between systems since Apple bought Cassady & Greene’s SoundJam and used it as the basis for what became iTunes. I wish C&G would have survived the shift to Unix. I imagine that if they had, PowerTunes would have been a product worthy of their moniker. Can you do what PowerTunes does without PowerTunes? Of course. But my clean up went from weeks to days, literally. It cuts the constant window switching and relinking broken file links and cleaning out of all those orphaned files not in iTunes’s library but still in its folder with simple scan and click to select how to fix. As mentioned it also manipulates libraries: merging, spliting or create new or new duplicate libraries to work on so you can have all libraries customized by purpose — casual listening, reviewing, selecting lower bitrate versions to sync from one library to iOS devices while keeping the lossless library pristine,etc. PowerTunes can also move the media folder (similar to TuneSpan but not quite the same. TuneSpan is great for moving parts of a library, BTW.) and embed Album Artwork. It is a lean mean iTunes sorting machine. It can get a bit slow with large processes, but the stability is impressive.

I recommend PowerTunes if your Library is a mess. And I bet that if you have switched machines, or otherwise let the weeds of neglect grow in a large or older iTunes Library, you will find PowerTunes indispensable if you care enough to try to clean your library manually.

All apps are compatible with the latest release of OS X (10.7.3 currently) except Pacifist (Pacifist {and Pacifist 2} seems to work fine now).

There are more such as Dropbox (cloud backup/sharing), Airfoil (Airplay Audio for more than just iTunes), SimpleMind (brainstorming/mindmapping), Skitch (screenshots to web in a few clicks), Fantastical (Menubar iCal access), iStat Menus (menubar system monitoring enhancement), Moom but I’ve run out of time….

Full disclosure: I make no money or receive any other perks from recommending any of these apps. I do however get an additional 250MB of storage on Dropbox if you use that link to sign up! (If you want to cheat me out of the space, then go to Dropbox.com directly to sign up, but know that your karma might be negatively affected.) Read the “Will review for Toys” page if you would like me to review your product. I will review products following FTC guidelines, and my endorsements/recommendations are not for sale under any circumstances.

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One thought on “Recommended OS X Apps

  1. Nice list. Like the Karma bit :) No Call of Duty 4 in your list? Sure consoles have this covered, but pretty amazing on Mac OS all the same!

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