My essential Mac applications

I recently got a new iMac (the 27-inch model) and instead of copying over the SuperDuper backup from my previous computer, I decided to add applications as I needed them. (I took the advice of Leo Laporte, who once said that when he buys a new computer, the applications have to "earn their place" onto the hard drive). On the first day, I installed about 30 applications that I consider essential for the kinds of things I do.

Below are the first five applications I installed, in the order in which I installed them. If this post proves to be of interest, I will write about the other 25 applications I installed that day, in a series of subsequent posts.

Note: This is mainly about Macintosh software but some of the applications and utilities I describe below are available for Windows and Linux. (If you aren't interested and you are reading this from the front page of Boing Boing, press the J-key.)

xmarks-logo.jpg1. Xmarks (Free, cross platform). This browser plug-in synchronizes my bookmarks across all the different computers I use. That way, my Safari bookmarks are the same on my MacBook Air as they are on my iMax. It also backs up my bookmarks, so I can recover them in case they accidentally get zapped.

1password-logo.jpg2. 1Password ($40, cross platform). When I first heard about this password-storing application, I couldn't understand how it could be worth $40. After all, most browsers can save passwords for you. But after using the trial version of 1Password for a couple of weeks, I understood why so many people swear by it. What I like about 1Password is that it generates strong passwords consisting of random characters and fills them in for me. When I visit a website that requires a password, all I have to do is press a button on my browser and 1Password enters my user name and my password and logs me in. It can also fill forms with my address and credit card info. 1Password comes in mobile versions, too, so I can access my password-protected websites on a friend's computer. I also used 1Password to print out a list of all my usernames and passwords and put that list in a safe place so my wife can access my online accounts in case I get hit by a bus.


dropbox-logo.jpg3. Dropbox (Free or $100 year, cross platform). A wonderful service that stores my files in the cloud and syncs them to my different computers' hard drives. If I am using a net-connected computer anywhere in the world, I can access all my Dropbox files via its web interface. The other great thing about dropbox is that I can copy things into my Public folder, and share the files via a URL (Example: the first chapter from my book, Made by Hand).

growl-logo.jpg4. Growl (Free, OS X only). This utility runs in the background and generates pop-up notifications when certain things happen, such as when I receive a direct message on Twitter, an e-mail message comes in, Dropbox completes a synchronization, an FTP upload is completed, and so on. It can be annoying and distracting to have Growl messages pop up every couple of minutes, so I use the preferences to select which applications I want notifications from.

evernote-logo.jpg5. Evernote (Free or $45 year, cross platform) I use Evernote to capture all kinds of information from many different sources. Like Dropbox, Evernote stores everything in the cloud and syncs to your my drives (I can choose which files to keep off the cloud, for security reasons). I use the iPhone version to take pictures of interesting things that I want to file away for later reference. I use the desktop version to save webpages and portions of webpages relating to stories and book ideas I'm researching. I remove the staples from user manuals for tools and appliances and run them through my ScanSnap S1500M scanner and save the files to Evernote. I save all of my bills and medical records on Evernote. The keyword searching is lightning fast, and because Evernote OCR's everything I put into it (including handwritten notes and text that appears in photographs) it's really easy to find what I'm looking for. I use Evernote many times a day, both at my desk and when I'm out and about. Once, when I was in New York, my bank needed some documents that I had previously scanned into Evernote. I quickly found the file using the iPhone Evernote app and e-mailed the PDF to the bank. It's an incredibly useful application.