My OS X Software Setup

It’s been about 13 months since I detailed various OS X apps and software packages that had caught my eye as I transitioned from Windows to OS X, so I believe it is time to review that list and expand upon it. I would definitely appreciate your recommendations of other applications to check out , and am also more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

I will add detail where I can, with the goal of publishing this post quickly and expanding upon it over time. I may make this a series if it grows long and/or detailed enough to warrant it.

Pre-installed / Part of OS X

Every Mac comes pre-installed with some amazing software, and I highly encourage you to check it out. Here are some of those apps that I use regularly.

Mail.app

MAil is surprisingly powerful as I noted when I made the switch from Thunderbird. I haven’t looked back since.
Cost: Free

iTunes

Simply the best music player on any platform. If you haven’t played with Smart Playlists you are missing out on one of the most important features.
Cost: Free

iCal

The built in calendar application is as simple or feature-rich as you want it to be. It interacts with the address book and many applications.
Cost: Free

The Keychain & Keychain Access

There is no need for a separate password manager as you can easily tap into the one that the system uses. Even better, you can secure other sensitive data such as credit card numbers, PINs or important notes.Check out this great walk-through to see the power of the Keychain. The important thing is to set up separate keychains with unique passwords to ensure that logging in, which will unlock the system keychain, doesn’t unlock the keychain you use to store other sensitive data. Using separate passwords will also ensure that if someone manages to get access to your machine in a logged-in state, or learns of your password, they are unable to get to other sensitive information.
Cost: Free

Address Book

The address Book is an unsung hero of the OS, as it unifies all of your contact information across applications, ensuring they all have and use the same data. It also ensures that your contacts are searchable.
Cost: Free

iChat

I don’t use iChat too often, preferring Adium’s capabilities for day-to-day instant messaging, but every so often its great to kick start a video chat with someone. IT is super-simple to initiate and works surprisingly well. This must be a wonderful tool for independents and small firms that do not have a single office.
Cost: Free

The Console

The console is an invaluable tool for developers of all stripes, and for the power user trying to track down a system problem. It can be found in the Utilities directory within the Applications folder.
Cost: Free

Boot Camp

This is solely for Intel-based Macs. Boot Camp lets you boot straight into Windows. Beautiful! That said, I’ve opted to erase the Boot Camp Windows partition, preferring to use Parallels, which runs within OS X. As I don’t need to run any powerful Windows-only apps, and I don’t run any Windows games, I found that I just wasn’t using the functionality.

General

Quicksilver

This is a must-have for anyone doing more than checking e-mail and browsing the Web. Quicksilver make it simple and fast to search for anything on your system and then do something with it, or to it. For example, I can keep things as simple as typing the letter ‘m’, which pulls up a quick search of anything on my drive with that letter in it (don’t worry, Quicksilver is smart, and prioritizes the list), which brings up Mail.app as the first result. I simply hit enter and my e-mail program is launched. Two seconds and done, without having to move my hands to the mouse. For a more interesting example, I can type a period, which brings up a text box in which I write a note. I can then hit the tab key to decide what I want to do – I can have the system automatically create a text document with the note, send it to my To Do list application, or display it on screen in a large font, so I can see it across the room. I can also use it to look up contact info without opening the Address Book. This really should be built into OS X.

Cost: Free

The Optimized Build of Firefox, a.k.a. Bon Echo

Cost: Free

Growl

This is another great utility that should be built into OS X. Growl isn’t actually used directly, instead it provides a platform for “applications to provide you with new information, without you having to switch from the application you’re already in.” It allows you as the user to customize the presentation and ensures the notices are consistent across all applications. Examples of usage are download notifications from Firefox and FTP clients, Twitter update notices and information about the song that just started playing in iTunes.
Cost: Free

Witch

Witch provides a granular alternative to the CMD-Tab combination of application switching, making it easier to shift to different windows within the same app or access minimized windows. It has other window-manipulation abilities too, though I haven’t tested them as of yet.
Cost: Free

Actiontastic

While I have read Getting Things Done, I haven’t gotten into the whole GTD habits as deeply as so many others, but I have picked up some tips that make life a lot easier. I now follow the core practices for my basic project management and to-do lists and lucked out when I found Actionatastic, a great GTD app that works well for me and works seamlessly with QuickSilver and iCal. This will be even cooler when actionatr debuts, providing the capability to modify the tasks on-line and synced up with Actiontastic.
Cost: Free

iTerm

I like iTerm over the built in Terminal as it has a tabbed interface which is invaluable in Web Development.
Cost: Free

Parallels Desktop

Parallels is simply amazing, and with each new release impresses me even further. Not only can you run another operating system (or multiple) within a window of OS X, you can eliminate the window altogether, eliminating the separation. This is great when I’m debugging a problem between browsers, as I can run copies of IE 6 and IE 7 right next to Safari and Firefox for OS X. For those folks in an environment that requires Windows-only apps, it is a perfect compromise.
Cost: $80

Adium

The best instant messaging client on any platform. I really wish it was available on Windows as I would drop Trillian for it in a second.
Cost: Free

NetNewsWire

NNW is a great RSS reader, though I tend to use the Web version far more than the desktop version as I can access it from anywhere. Luckily, the purchase of NetNewsWire guaranteed that the two are synced up.
Cost: $30

Twitterific

For those who use Twitter, this little app makes life much easier. With its integrated Growl support and ability to set the time between updates, you can see what your friends are up to whenever they post an update.
Cost: Free

iBackup

What a great backup application! I use it to run regular backups of my system. It allows me to choose what I want backed up, and it only copies files and directories that have been modified since the last backup. I’ve set up two tasks – the normal backup that ensures I always have a copy of my files on an external drive, and a rolling archive that takes a copy of the backup and creates a snapshot, allowing me to keep older versions of files around.
Cost: Free

PandoraBoy

As I discussed on my post Pandora on My Box, this is a great little app that brings the joy of Pandora out of the browser, encapsulating it in a small app.

Web Development & Design

TextMate

A powerful text and code editor that continues to reveal more features and capabilities as I use it. as their site puts it, “TextMate is not an IDE but by using its powerful snippets, macros, and unique scoping system, it can often provide features that even a language specific IDE lacks. It has enough project management features to keep most users happy, but is otherwise kept lightweight with a clean and minimalistic GUI.” Depending on how you like to work, TextMate may not be your cup of tea – it is purely a text editor, do not expect the ability to drag pictures around or resize DIV with your mouse. If you prefer a more visual interface, check out Panic’s Coda, which recently debuted and looks amazing.
Cost:

Headdress

Headdress makes it simple to work with virtual hosts on your Mac, which is invaluable when you are developing sites locally prior to pushing them to production. With Headdress you do not need to worry about file paths changing when you upload, as each site is treated separately, accessible through separate URLs (using port numbers). I used the demo version of Headdress for quite a while as I was only working on two sites at the time. Then I started to dig into other code branches and realized that the convenience that the app brings to my life was well worth the small amount of cash, so I bought it. Not only is this a great app, the guys at Twinsparc are genuinely good folks.
Cost: Free for two sites, $15 for unlimited

MAMP

MAMP is a handy package that allows you to effortlessly install Apache, Mysql and PHP on your Mac and start the servers with just a click of a button. It doesn’t screw with the built-in functionality that ships with OS X. This is an indispensable tool for PHP Web Development.
Cost: Free

Locomotive

Locomotive provides a super-simple way to install a Ruby on Rails development environment. It eliminated a lot of stress I experienced compared to the first time I set up RoR on my box and had to resolve all of the configuration hoo-hah. If you are interested in Ruby on Rails, download this app, it will make life much much much easier.
Cost: Free

Adobe Creative Suite

I currently run CS2, though I beta tested Photoshop CS 3 and was blown away by its performance on my MacBook Pro (the CS2 apps were never compiled for the Intel-based Macs, so they run slower than they should). The new palette system was a major step up for those of us on laptops.
Cost: Ranges depending on the apps/package you choose

Yummy FTP

I tried out a bunch of FTP apps early on, and as I wrote in my post about Yummy FTP, the app is “fast and has a wealth of features, including FTP Aliases with Autorouting to make it easy to upload files without opening a connection to the server and then navigating to the proper location. Sweet! The smooth integration with other apps (like TextMate for remote editing) and the command line are just a couple of other features worth the price. Yet, even with all of the functionality it packs, Yummy FTP feels good to use – unlike so many apps from my Windows past.”
Cost: $25

The Console

Yes, this is a repeat, but I want to ensure you see it if you’re a developer. The Console provides a handy way to keep an eye on your log files as you are writing/debugging server-side code. It works with all of the different log files you may deal with (Ruby on Rails, PHP, Apache etc.) I open it automatically when I start working on PHP or Ruby code.
Cost: Free

Subversion

I use Subversion for version control in my local development environment, and it has saved my butt a couple of times already!
Cost: Free

svnX

I use svnX to interact with Subversion instead of relying on the command line.
Cost: Free

FontExplorer X

This free font manager from the fine folks at Linotype, is much more powerful than the built-in FontBook and unlike the expensive font packages (hello Extensis), hasn’t given Sarah, nor I any problems.
Cost: Free

CocoaMySQL

A great MySQL database manager.
Cost: Free

Widgets

It took me a while to discover the usefulness of Apple’s Dashboard and the widgets it contains, but once I found a few of the truly useful little apps I was hooked. They stay out of the way but are available at a key-press. Please note, these are not all of the widgets that I’ve installed, just the ones I find useful. Also, I do not run most of these all of the time as each Widget takes up a bit of processing power, so I’ve indicated my “always on” widgets by making them bold.

  • Airport Radar is a “free and convenient tool for quickly scanning the area for AirPort and other wireless networks.”
  • App Update automatically checks for “updates to your installed software. It supports Apple’s software directory, MacUpdate and Version Tracker. It will present you with a tidy link list of all the updates found, enabling you to read release-notes and download the the updates quickly and painlessly.”
  • Calculator
  • Calendaer
  • Capture is a great tool for snapping screen shots.
  • ColorBurn displays “a new color palette every day, along with the hexadecimal color values for web designers and developers.”
  • ColourMod is a handy color chooser, which works with and convert between Hex, RGB, CMYK, and HSV values.
  • Corporate Ipsum “is a Lorem Ipsum generator Peter Gibbons might use in a TPS Report…if he were a graphic designer and had a need for a Lorem Ipsum generator.”
  • CSS Tweak provides “CSS optimization with the drop of a file.”
  • Dashalytics “offers quick access to Google Analytics statistics.”
  • Dashflix / Dashflix Mini provide a view into your Netflix queue – the only difference is the size of the widget.
  • Delivery Status provides an “all-in-one delivery tracker”for those of us who can’t wait for oru packages to arrive. “The status will update automatically for you, and even count down the days! It also works with Growl to give you pop-up message, email notifications, and more, whenever your package status changes.””
  • Dine-O-Matic is a “fun Dashboard widget for Mac OS X that randomly selects a place to eat out when you just can’t make up your mind.”
  • Gamer Card let’s you see “your XBOX Live Gamer Card”
  • Gas “delivers information from GasPriceWatch.com in order to provide you with the most up to date gas prices available.”
  • Image Shackle
  • iStat Pro is “the ultimate system monitoring widget, consisting of nine sections which can be shown or hidden.”
  • Kuler displays “color themes from kuler (kuler.adobe.com), an online application where members explore, create, and share color harmonies.”
  • MAMP Control makes it easy to “start and stop the Apache and MySQL server provided with MAMP. Also you can switch the PHP versions”
  • Minutes is a “countdown timer widget featuring simple interface, polished graphics and many functionalities”, including iTunes integration
  • Photo Drop let’s you “[d]rop or paste a photo, resize & trim it, and export to another application or widget directly by mouse dragging with outstanding 8 effects. You can also take a screenshot of windows behind Photo Drop (excluding your scattered desktop).”‘
  • SeeSS “is a quick and handy reference sheet for 140 CSS (1, 2 & 3) properties (proprietary extensions are not included). Each property includes information on its inheritance, CSS compliancy, Safari support, all values (including defaults), some examples and an extensive description.”
  • Stop Dashboard “allows you to stop the Dashboard. All running widgets will be removed from memory. Re-enable the Dashboard via F12.”
  • Symbol Caddy keeps “HTML entity codes at your fingertips. Just click the symbol to have the HTML code copied to your clipboard.”
  • Type Cast “allows you to quickly move through font families, styles and sizes using only your keyboard. In addition, Type Cast offers helpful information such as font type, family and can even reveal font files in the Finder.”
  • Unit Converter
  • Weather
  • Web Monitor “[m]onitors your servers or any other web site. The widget checks the response time periodically with a HTTP HEAD request ” I discovered this as I was writing this post, so I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks very useful!’

Apps that I Don’t Use, But Have Good Reputations

There are so many applications out there that it is hard to try every one that I hear about, plus there are certain apps that that app grabs you and there isn’t a desire to check out the others. So, here is a list of software that I’ve heard good things about, but do not have personal experience with, or that I have tried but opted for a different package (you’ll see some great freeware apps in here that I ultimately passed up for an application that I paid for). Give ‘em a shot if you have a chance.

  • Fugu – FTP utility [Free]
  • Cyberduck – FTP utility [Free]
  • Coda – Web development package [$]
  • Open Office – A multi-platform, open source office suite. [Free]
  • Delicious Library – This program harnesses a Web cam (in this case, the built-in iSight) as a barcode scanner. Simply point the camera “at the barcode on the back of any book, movie, music, or video game. Delicious Library does the rest. The barcode is scanned and within seconds the item’s cover appears on your digital shelves filled with tons of in-depth information downloaded from one of six different web sources from around the world.” I’ve wanted to play with this for quite a long time! [$]
  • VirtueDesktops – virtual desktop manager. [Free]

Handy Tips and Hacks for Working in OS X

Here is a list of good things to know in order to improve your workflow and/or enjoyment of the world o’ Mac.

Web Sites

Important Note

All prices listed are accurate at the time of writing, so don’t be surprised if they’re different by the time you hit their sites.

Podcast subscriptions

Here’s a list of some of the podcasts I currently subscribe to, all of which are available via iTunes in addition to the links below. I’ve set up a smart playlist (which I occasionally tweak by hand) to shuffle the shows, allowing me to interleave long episodes and short episodes, providing a nice bit of variety, while keeping the episodes in chronological order per-series.

  • 12 Byzantine Rulers is a great podcast by Lars Brownworth, whose love of the subject is apparent from the first minute. Anyone interested in history should check it out. As noted on the site, Mr. Brownworth’s “passion for Byzantine history has taken him on travels from the furthest reaches of the Byzantine Empire right into Constantinople, (present day Istanbul) the very heart of Byzantium. He has traveled and studied Byzantine history extensively and produced this lecture series giving us an overview of Byzantine history as seen through 12 of it’s greatest rulers.”
  • 43 Folders “is Merlin Mann’s site about personal productivity, life hacks, and simple ways to make your life a little better.”
  • All in the Mind is “Radio National’s weekly foray into the mental universe, the mind, brain and behaviour – everything from addiction to artificial intelligence.”
  • American Experience brings the amazing PBS series to our iPods.
  • APM’s Marketplace provides a perspective on economic and business news unavailable anywhere else.
  • Barbecue Secrets is new to me, but I enjoyed the first podcast I listened to.
  • BBQ Forums is also new to me, but is proving a great addition to the list.
  • Digital Debates from the National Constitution Center is one of my favorites as it provides an hour long Q&A with some of the foremost experts on the U.S. Constitution, the Founding Fathers and the current political landscape.
  • The Engines of Our Ingenuity provides a gret snippet of the history of how culture and our current world was formed. John Lienhard’s stories and perspective are inviting and informative.
  • The Seanachai / How to Succeed are two podcasts from a heluva story teller. How to Succeed in Evil is a spin off of the Seanachai, both are well worth the listening time.
  • In Our Time is an always informative weekly show from the BBC that covers a wide array of historical topics. This is one of my favorites.
  • NOVA ScienceNow brings NOVA to iTunes.
  • NPR: Food provides “the story behind your favorite foods from Morning Edition, All Things Considered and other award-winning NPR programs.”
  • NPR: Sports with Frank Deford is a great podcast highlighting his weekly commentary on NPR that goes much deeper than the normal sports news.
  • On the Media‘explores how the media “sausage” is made, casts an incisive eye on fluctuations in the marketplace of ideas, and examines threats to the freedom of information and expression in America and abroad. For one hour a week, the show tries to lift the veil from the process of “making media,” especially news media, because it’s through that lens that we literally see the world and the world sees us.’
  • Slate Explainer provides great answers to interesting questions in about five minutes. I love mixing these in with the longer podcasts for variety.
  • The International Spy Museum’s Spycast provides “interviews and programs with ex-spies, intelligence experts, and espionage scholars.”
  • This American Life is one of the best shows on radio, and I am exceedingly happy that they finally started publishing a podcast.
  • To the Best of our Knowledge is “smart, entertaining radio for people with curious minds. “
  • U.S. Senator Barack Obama is harnessing technology in his presidential bid, which is exciting for a geek like me to witness. I’m really interested to see how he uses it as the campaign progresses.
  • Radio Lab is downright amazing. Easily on par with This American Life, with a bit more of a science and technology twixt. “Each episode is a patchwork of people, sounds, stories and experiences centered around One Big Idea. On RadioLab, science bumps into culture… information sounds like music.”

Please add any of your favorites via the comments!