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.


  1. Yep, I pretty much use every single one those, except recently I binned off XMarks in favour of Chrome’s similar offering (when it looked like Xmarks was a goner) and I never got on with Growl.

  2. I agree with every single one of these. Looking forward to reading about the other 25.

    It’s worth pointing out that Dropbox and 1Password work hand-in-hand, too. My secure 1Password database is stored in my Dropbox folder, and as such is accessible by 1Password on any of my computers, or from the 1Password app on my iPhone. Very handy.

  3. Here are a couple I can’t live without (maybe you’re planning on bringing these up later):

    If you have a newer Mac with the new trackpads, jitouch (free trial, $6) is absolutely a must. Lets you define tens of gestures beyond Apple’s built-in ones and lets them trigger almost any condition you want.

    Pixelmator ($29) is for anyone who wants to do photo editing but doesn’t need something as heavyweight as Photoshop. This one suddenly became insanely popular thanks to the App Store.

    If you’re a programmer, you need MacPorts: it gives you access to dozens of Linux/Unix programs, libraries and packages that have been ported to OS X and (joy of joys!) it lets you install them from the command line like in Ubuntu: just do “sudo port install ” and you’re done.

  4. Please carry on with this and tell us more. Also I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on the cloud — when you do and don’t use it. Thanks.

  5. This is a great post and I like the sounds of these other suggestions too. I’m going to get Pixelmator right away.

    Mark, I remember whenever I’d look at your computer when I visited the top strip would look like Nascar with all the menu bar extras!

    1. Also, if you buy Pixelmator, get it through Mac’s App Store. Have you tried App Store yet? It’s so convenient.

  6. “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.”

    Yes, please. I’d love to know this.

  7. Why use 1password instead of Keepass? (KeepassX for OSX). Its free, and it does _everything_ you mentioned in that paragraph, as well as what didymos commented on, dropbox sync on iphone. Oh, and I believe it is open source.

    1. Why use 1password instead of Keepass? (KeepassX for OSX). Its free, and it does _everything_ you mentioned in that paragraph, as well as what didymos commented on, dropbox sync on iphone. Oh, and I believe it is open source.

      Just guessing here:

      Perhaps because check list features are not everything and some are willing to pay for attention to details? Perhaps because the awesome browser integration?

      Since Adium has already been mentioned… I want to add Handbrake, Sparrow, OmniGraffle,TextMate, Silverback and Transmit to the list of awesome Mac applications.

      1. “Perhaps because check list features are not everything and some are willing to pay for attention to details? Perhaps because the awesome browser integration?”

        Open source means the code can be fully audited, how do you know 1password actually paid attention to details other than the GUI you see? Keepass also has ‘awesome’ browser integration, as well as additional plugins that are community driven.

        For those worried about keyloggers, Keepass has onscreen keyboard as a solution.

    2. KeePass doesn’t integrate with browsers like 1Password does. With 1Password, I just hit Command-\ and it populates the login form in my browser with my info. It works with Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and a ton of lesser-known OS X browsers.

      1Password also has phenomenal integration with Dropbox for syncing your passwords across multiple computers and devices – including Windows, Mac, Android and iPhone/iPads. Also, in case you need access to your passwords but don’t have a copy of 1Password handy (or are on an unsupported OS like Linux) – the password file also includes a Javascript/HTML-based user interface – just open it up in any Javascript-capable browser and you can decrypt your password file (with the right passphrase of course) and look up your passwords then & there.

      Also, 1Password is made in Canada. I was also made in Canada. I like supporting Canadian businesses so I’m happy to give them some money for their hard work.

      In summary: KeePass is great if you’re frugal or just don’t have $40 to spend. But if you do, then 1Password is entirely worth that $40.

      1. Thanks Micheal, sounds like KeePass is to 1Password like GIMP to is CS5… worthy for free alternatives, but just that… (for now).

  8. “I installed about 30 applications that I consider essential for the kinds of things I do”… yeah. I used to do that when I got a new machine. A better way is to install those programs as you need them. This helps you shed crap you think you need but dont actually use.

    Also, firefox sync is better than xmarks. switch to it during the ‘omg, we cant do this any more’ crap.

    1. Also, firefox sync is better than xmarks.

      Xmarks and I have never gotten on. Thanks for the alternative suggestion.

      1. The Xmarks and Firefox sync aren’t two versions of the same thing. The whole point of Xmarks is to synchronize your bookmarks *across* browsers, so that your Chrome, Safari (Mac), IE (Windows), and Firefox bookmarks are the same. Firefox sync only syncs your Firefox bookmarks between two or more copies of Firefox. As far as I know, Xmarks is the only utility that actually works cross-browser.

        1. Thanks for the clarification, but I find I can’t even get Xmarks to work as well as I’d like between different Macs…not even cross-platform.

  9. As if Mac’s growing market share and its users irrational belief in the security of the system wasn’t enough, 1password is exactly the sort of thing that will inspire malware programmers to develop for Mac more. All your sensitive information in one convenient package!

    Now I can see how storing credit card information and such can be useful, but the “Strong passwords” thing is bunk. Any password is only as secure as the location they’re stored. If all your passwords are accessible from one login, then they are all exactly as secure as that login. Might as well just use that login everywhere.

    1. You obviously don’t understand how 1Password works. The only place that your passwords are stored is on your local computer. There’s no website to login to. Yes, if you steal my 1Password password *and* my laptop you have access to everything, or even if you can somehow get the password and the password file in which 1Password stores all my encrypted information. But it’s a lot more difficult to steal this file *and my password* than it is to steal any one of: this file and my password, my google password, my facebook password, my amazon password, my gawker account password, etc.

      If you use the same password for everything, then stealing any one of those gets you access to all of them. If you use 1Password, then stealing my 1Password password *and* my laptop gets you access to all of them. Stealing any single password gets you access to only that site.

      1. But isn’ t this basically the same as just synchronizing the keyring of macosx through .me? The keyring additionally (to login information and certificates) lets you store private notes in a secure way, so what is the advantage of installing third party tools for this?

    2. Not all attacks are equally likely. An attack on a website in which you are using a humanly memorizable password is much more likely than an attack on your encrypted and well isolated 1password database. With 1password you can easily generate wickedly cryptic passwords. Maybe a keystroke logger could reveal your 1password access to malicious code, but if you take basic precautions against it you aren’t likely to have one.

    3. I don’t use 1Password, but I do use a similar program. It’s true, the entire password safe is encrypted with a single password. That password, however, can be a long unguessable one (really! For years, I used “WhenInTheCourseofh^^anEventsitBECOMESnecessary”).

      This enables me to use random 8-10 character strings as passwords for web site logins.

      OK, single point of failure – if someone keyloggers me, they suddenly have access to all of my passwords. On the other hand, if I use individual passwords and someone keyloggers me, they only have the passwords for the sites I actually use frequently. Not much of a win.

      In the event my notebook gets swiped, I have to trust the encryption of the password safe (which, I suppose, is questionable). But it will discourage the average thief. If a serious opponent wants my passwords, they’re going to get them. They could blackmail me, beat ’em out of me, use Tempest monitors to read my screen remotely, or so on. I’m not trying to protect against hostile governments, though, just the opportunist script kiddies and their scripts.

      So the key, as it were, is in not getting keyloggered. I try to practice safe computing. I have FlashBlock installed, and don’t have AdobeReader installed. I run anti-malware on my machine, even if there are fewer Mac threats out there. I don’t run cracked or torrented software. I use HTTPSEverywhere in my browser. I use OpenSSL to encrypt stuff like my Quicken data.

      Am I safe? Marginally, I suppose. Security and convenience are always trade-offs.

  10. is better then 1Password for the same reason Xmarks is better then standard bookmarks: it’s hosted in the cloud and will automatically sync between multiple browsers and multiple machines.

    Client side encryption/decryption make it nice and secure too.

  11. Thank you for this list, especially for Xmarks.

    As for a password-storing app, I use LastPass at work and at home. It’s free to use with a basic account, and the Premium version is only $1 per month. Really useful, especially for sharing logins without having to share the actual password itself. Your individual passwords are all encrypted and can only be viewed by you (although, of course, if someone somehow finds out your LastPass password, that could be a problem).

  12. I prefer LastPass over 1Password (cross-platform w/ mobile versions – $12 / year for access to mobile version). Greatly customizable password generator for highly secure passwords on websites that don’t allow certain characters or cases. In addition, it allows for multi-factor authentication (premium version only) and one-time passwords if you want to login from an insecure location. Furthermore, LastPass only stores your encrypted data on their servers; they never see your key to decrypt the data. Check out Security Now #256 for an in-depth analysis

    I also suggest SpringPad ( over Evernote. I have used Evernote for quite some time as my virtual cookbook. I was never quite happy with it for that purpose. I stumbled upon SpringPad while searching for an alternative to Delicious when there was the leaked info about it being shut down (I now use it for bookmarks since it easily imported all my Delicious bookmarks with tagging intact). In addition, you can create multiple “projects” so I have all of my recipes organized into one project (and shared with people). I just prefer the formatting SpringPad does with data to the more basic Evernote formatting.

  13. LastPass allows me to store my passwords in the cloud and sync them across windows and mac
    Chrome browser sync allows me to sync bookmarks across multiple machines and platforms
    some of my faves
    Adium is a nice, growl using, multiple-platform IM client
    Skitch is the best screen grabbing tool on the planet – almost worth going to Mac just for it
    Notational Velocity is a great popup/lightweight editor – with cloud storage and sync to android/iOS
    TextWrangler is a quality context highlighting text editor

  14. Quicksilver on the mac is good as well. It solves the problem of “Every App Needs to be on the Dock”

    1. @danegold
      after Spotlight was introduced way back when there really hasn’t been that much reason to use Quicksilver. Just map the Spotlight shortcut keys to something convenient (possibly the same as you use for starting Quicksilver, I use cmd-space) and start typing. The application pops up, press enter, bam! Program started.
      I also use this for all my articles and stuff (science articles and journals). Automatic full text search and indexing, and really quick access, all through the built in Spotlight feature.

  15. My reaction to the list:
    1) Obviated by chrome.
    2) Lastpass is free and awesome.
    3) Awesome
    4) So necessary, you don’t even notice it.
    5) Evernote is too clunky for me, I prefer the stripped down functionality of Notational Velocity

    Additions for me:
    Alfred – Spotlight replacement
    Adium – IM Client
    Skim – PDF Reader
    Jomic – Comics Reader
    uTorrent – Bittorrent

    1. Adium is – to me – the best multi-protocol client for the front end of OSX. For IRC, I like X-Chat Aqua.

  16. Please do post the other 25. I don’t understand everything, but the post is a helpful starting point. And I definitely need to give evernote a second look for scanning in stuff to reduce clutter!

  17. The utility stuff I run…
    – Synergy = complete iTunes kbd/menubar control + logging
    – MaxMenus = Windows Start equivalent. Alas, they’ve discontinued it, but CNET still has the latest beta available.
    – Meteorologist = menubar weather
    – SMART Report = menubar hard drive health monitor
    – Mail Appetizer = preview your mail in a transparent window as it arrives; more noticeable than red numbers by far!

    The apps…
    – Google Chrome = Safari rendering engine + slightly more elegant GUI
    – TextWrangler = free and amazingly versatile little plain text editor
    – NeoOffice = MS Office replacement
    – CyberDuck = shareware FTP/SFTP/whatever client
    – SABnzbd+ = worst named, but best featured news downloader ever
    – PS3 Media Server = stream pretty much any video format out there to your PS3 (or XBox 360?)

    That’s all I can think of right now…

  18. Actually, I should add that I don’t understand why people like password utilities so much. Certainly not to the tune of $40 at least.

    They feel like a huge security risk to me, just waiting to happen. I turn autocomplete off immediately. But then again, I also run OS X with a locked Cookies folder so that nothing can ever store standard cookies on my machine across a browser restart.

    If you need secure notes on your passwords, just create a new secure note in the keychain and stick them in there. If you can remember your login password, you can then get to everything else from there.

  19. Good list, you’ve inspired me to look deeper into 1Password, which I always previously passed over.

    A few little utilities I’m in love with:

    Divvy, because window management on OSX still sucks. Being able to finely-griddify my apps via hotkey is awesome.

    Capsee is also handy, shows a notification bezel when you toggle caps lock.

  20. Dropbox, Growl and Evernote are absolutely on my list, and I make more use of Dropbox and Evernote every day. Dropbox, in fact, helps me with your #1, bookmark syncing. Because I use Opera almost exclusively, I’ve found that the bookmark solution can be elegantly solved by placing Opera’s book marks in my Dropbox folder, for each of my machines. Voila!

    Incidentally, Opera also dictates my replacement for 1Password, which is LastPass, since it offers an Opera extension and 1Password doesn’t.

  21. I received a macbook air from work and I had to set it up from the ground floor (and I actually had to do this more than once since the genius bar had to reinstall OSX).

    1) I install dropbox first.

    2) Then 1password (I love it and the interface and it’s iphone/ipad apps are great). Plus dropbox syncs 1password data.

    3) Then firefox, and I sync my extensions via a dropbox file that periodically backs up my firefox extensions. I like chrome, but Firefox has all my favorite extensions.

    4) Evernote (Springpad is okay, but Evernote has awesome search functions)

    5) Extensions I can’t live without: Hazel, Flip4Mac, Growl, Perian, Dashboard Kickstart

    Those are the core applications. After that I just do customization:

    10) Transmit

    11) Speed Download

    12) Path Finder (excellent finder replacement)

    13) Text Expander

    14) Overflow

    15) Scrivener

    16) Iwork suite

    17) Office suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint)

    18) Houdahspot

    19) Taskpaper (and Simpletext)

    20) Skype

    21) VLC

    17) Papers

    18) Istat Menus

    19) Flip4Mac

    20) Cuteclips

  22. I love this post, please continue with the series. Here are a few of my favorite apps not mentioned:

    AppCleaner – Gets rid of attached files when deleting an app

    Bean – Lightweight word processor, more useful than TextEdit but not as bulky as Word or Neoffice

    Caffeine – Delays computer sleep for with a click, with adjustable time limits

    Flux – adds a tint to the screen during nighttime hours, stopping the bright LED lights from messing with my sleep patterns

    Jumpcut – Great clipboard manager

    Notify – Email notifier that sits in the menubar

  23. “That way, my Safari bookmarks are the same on my MacBook Air as they are on my iMax.”

    What’s an iMax? Anyone?

  24. Firstly, just want to say I’m definitely interested in more of these posts. I’ve got quite a custom collection of stuff on my macbook pro already, but always looking out for more.

    Here ere are a few suggestions of my own. I’ve got plenty more, but these are some of the more interesting and useful ones.

    MiddleClick simply adds a three-finger-tap gesture mapped to middle-click. I don’t know how people use Macs without this – I use middle-clicks all the time, and struggled quite a lot before I found this. Main use for middle click is opening links in new tabs (one handed – useful not only for porn despite how it sounds), but has other applications too.

    Little Snitch is a network monitor that shows you what software is doing what with the internet. Acts as a fine-grained firewall too, so you can allow software some connections but not others (block it from accessing their servers to track you, but allow it to access the general internet).

    Flux adjusts the color temperature of your display according to the time of day. I was skeptical about this at first, but what it does is warm everything up (gradually) as the sun goes down, so in the middle of the night in a dark room it’s much more pleasing to the eye, without having to dim the display. Your eyes adjust to it so the colors don’t look off (if you switch quickly between the settings it will look off, of course). If you’re doing something like photo editing, you can disable it temporarily so your colors are correct.

    Caffeine is another essential, it’s a little coffee mug icon on the system tray, and when you click it it fills with coffee – and your screen won’t lock for an hour (or whatever time you set). I like to have my screen turn off after a very short time, so I can walk away and not worry about it (I have one corner of the screen set to lock the display when you put the mouse there, too). But that’s annoying if you’re doing something that doesn’t involve constant interaction with the computer, and don’t want to have to enter your password every time you use your computer every few minutes.

  25. If you write anything longer than a blog post, you really ought to get Scrivener. It was written by a logically-minded writer who was fed up with the options available and taught himself to code so he could have writing software that didn’t suck. I can’t imagine a more thoughtful design– despite being his first program, it has the feel and feature-set of a remarkably refined piece of software, with zero feature bloat. I think it’s $40 or so. The tutorial is actually worth going through. It does everything you want or need from writing software, from outlining and note-taking using an intuitive index card metaphor, formatting for all the popular submission formats out of the box, and a distraction-free writing mode where all you see is the page in front of you. I really think it’s one of the best pieces of software ever written.

    I use and like omnifocus as well, though it’s downright overpriced at $80 plus another $20 for the iPhone app. Anyone know of another good Mac GTD To-Do app with similar functionality for a lot less, preferably with some sort of decent mobile integration, preferably with its own iPhone app?

    I also use OpenOffice, though the mac version kind of sucks compared with the windows version. The current version is a lot better than its predecessors, with their completly wonky non-mac standard interface and frequent bugs, but it’s still not quite up to snuff.

    I also use Mojo, an old version, before they broke the file sharing to avoid getting sued. It’s a robust music sharing piece of software that’s optimized to interface with iTunes over a wireless network. It lets you cruise through other computers’ iTunes library and download whatever you want, with all the music automatically loaded into iTunes. I keep an old copy in .zip just to email to people when I’m hanging out in the coffee shop or meeting with musician friends. There’s no better way to share files than having someone there to talk about the different music and make recommendations, with the speedy dowloads of the wireless network. My favorite way to steal music, by far. Does anyone know another similar piece of software that you can still easily download and use, maybe with a windows version as well?

    As for media creation, I’m not ashamed to say that I still use the iLife suite. GarageBand really doesn’t suck, and it’s a lot easier to use than the pro software. I very rarely find myself limited by the software when I’m recording music. Mind you, I record live rather than building beats or anything like that, so YMMV. The earliest versions weren’t robust enough, but at this point it does what I need. Same with iMovie. iPhoto doesn’t really cut it compared with Adobe CS, though, not to mention if I want to do vector graphics for logos or make custom pdf forms. Anyone know of worthwhile stripped-down alternatives to CS? I hate paying hundreds for software I only use occasionally.

    1. Thanks for the tip, Grimnir! Have you ever tried Ulysses, which sounds as though it has much the same functionality? I use Emacs for most drafts, but a bit of basic formatting (and easy reformatting w/o XSL hoops) would be nice. I hate, hate, HATE Word; WordPerfect 4.2 was, IMO, the pinnacle of word processing.

  26. For developers I heartily second the above recommendation for MacPorts I will add the caveat that sometimes its better to get the source and build it yourself but usually MacPorts works like a charm.

    I also suggets Fugu for secure file transfer and Smultron for a basic code editor with syntax highlighting.

  27. This is a very informative article. Since I use most of these (1Password, Dropbox, Evernote) it makes me think I’ll like other suggestions as well.

    One truly excellent program, that always makes my app cut is Skitch. I find myself using it constantly.
    Skitch is the perfect image Swiss Army knife for creative web types, where Photoshop is just overkill. Skitch makes it dead simple to take full screen grabs, smaller screen shots, convert image files and add annotations to an image like arrows and text. It is also excellent for sharing images, you can upload and get a link to share with just one click. There is a free version, and you can get a years subscription with more features for $14.95.

  28. It’s funny how many of these things people “can’t live without” I manage to live without just fine. I’ve never even *heard* of some of them, and others I’ve found not particularly useful myself. Meanwhile nobody’s even mentioned my most important bit of software that I use everyday: MacVim.

    It just goes to show these things are all based on personal preference and aren’t absolute truths.

  29. Yes, please post the rest of the list. And I’m curious to know what you (and other Mac users) are using for virus protection.

  30. Another vote for 1Password. I tried LastPass and it was not as nicely integrated, or played as well with websites as 1Password. The cost of entry, specially if you have multiple OS systems, and mobile phones can be a bit high, but once you actually decide to go for it, it’s awesome. I was a bit put off by the price, but now I couldn’t live without it and I feel it’s worth every penny. I really tried to like LastPass, and I used it for a few weeks, but I found myself going back to 1Password and purchasing a license for it.

    I also love Evernote, and I prefer it over SpringPad. Evernote does OCR even on handwritten notes. After a meeting, I take a picture of my notes with my phone and send it to evernote. It automatically reads my squiggles and indexes them. I do the same thing with pictures of whiteboards, etc. It’s priceless.

  31. I’m always trying to find one app that does the job I’m currently using. Keep up the posts, I’d love to hear about the next 25. The Comments are helpful too, keep spreading the evangelical open source love! For my part, +1 for chrome bookmark syncing and dropbox for anything else you’ve ever needed in more than one place… Filezilla I find is waaaay faster than cyberduck for FTP transfers and I use spark daemon to assign my own keyboard shortcuts. Cheers!

  32. I just started using Flux, and my sleep cycle has really improved. I am also a fan of the fact that it’s free and available for Mac, Linux, and Windows.

  33. “If a serious opponent wants my passwords, they’re going to get them. They could blackmail me, beat ’em out of me…”

    If you don’t know your own PWs then a serious opponent can’t beat them out of you.

    If, for example, you use an arbitrarily long key on a dongle AND a PW to form your key to unlock your encrypted blob, and inside the encrypted blob are a bunch of longish random char PWs that you couldn’t remember even if you wanted to, then to render those keys “unrecoverable” all you need to do is lose the USB dongle.

    This is what we called this “the thames river scenario” for BitLocker:

    1. If you’re dealing with a *serious* adversary, this is only good if your encrypted information is so valuable that you’d be willing to be tortured to death over it.

      Unless you can prove that you can’t provide the passwords, not knowing them will not protect you, and that’s going to be very difficult (read: impossible) to prove.

      It makes me feel extremely fortunate that I am not in a position to need or have access to life and death information.

      1. I’m with you on the “avoid having things worth dying for” front. But I’ve also built security systems for exactly those people. The river “Thames” isn’t a random naming.

        So, yeah.

  34. Let’s see…

    Flip4Mac, Perian, VLC, JView,
    Flash (Yeah, I know, but I NEED Flash!),
    Unachiver, Open Office, SimpleComic,
    Wineskin, and Transmission.

    Oh yeah, and…
    Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space!
    (Happiness is a warm Particle Vortex Cannon.)

  35. Apps I couldn’t live without:
    * Quicksilver – launch or switch to any app in a few keypresses (somewhat obsoleted by Spotlight though)
    * Witch – alt-tab between the windows of an app (in an alt-tab-y sort of way, rather than in the cycling way that option-` does). I have it set up so that option-tab switches applications whereas Alt-tab switches windows within an application, which means I can get wherever I want very quickly.

    Another very useful app is Writeroom, which is a full-screen wordprocessor that displays the text and nothing else, to minimise distractions.

  36. I don’t think a lot of people realize that you can organize the contents of the Applications directory hierarchically to help keep things sane. In fact, you can even move app binaries while they’re running with no ill effect. I keep no apps in the Dock, so all it shows is what’s actually running at the moment. I dragged the Applications directory into the Dock and launch programs by clicking on it and drilling down, a la the Windows Start Menu. (As you can see my categories don’t perfectly encompass everything; like everything else in life, it’s a work in progress.)

  37. I’m a self employed graphic designer so a lot of faves are related to that kind of work.

    Default Folder X – $34.95 – is awesome – biggest most useful feature – it has a recent folders function which remembers what folders you were working in across apps, so you can be working in PhotoShop, change into InDesign and bring up the place dialogue box and goto the recent folders option and it’s just there. Stores up to ten most recent folders. It’s a HUGE time saver if you handle lots of folders and files across programs.

    MsgFiler $8 plugin for Mac Mail. Simple little app which lets you invoke a keyboard command to file messages in folders. Feature which makes it awesome – you can use the same box to type the folder name and click on go-to to take you to that folder. So good.

    You Control: Tunes – $Free – simple menu bar controller for mac – I know all apple keyboards have the playback controls on them (and for a long while my bluetooth apple keyboard’s playback controls didn’t work at all) but i’m so used to this it’s hardwired in now. It does other stuff, but for me it’s just nice having the controls up the top for some reason.

    Name Manger $10 – really simple easy to use file renamer – if you deal with lots of files this thing will fill you with joy the first time you use it. Nicely made.

    On the Job $39.95 – FANTASTIC bit of software, for time tracking and invoicing. Very similar to billings 3 on first inspection, but simple streamlined interface is just a joy to use. Once i started using this I never looked back. The beauty of good time tracking is that it makes it so easy to see if you’ve won or lost money on a job. It’s a doddle to setup templates too.

    Freedom – $10 donationware – internet blocking software – just set the time period and you’re offline – internet won’t work until time has elapsed or you restart the machine. Super handy for when you need no distractions.

  38. I’m quite surprised not to see Skitch mentioned above: Their web-site describes it thus, “You’ll love Skitching because it’s fast. Screengrab anything, add a note and share – your online camera & pen.” As a leader of a distributed team, I’m forever taking screenshots, annotating them, and posting them into group chats.

  39. Skitch! I LOVE Skitch for being dead easy and lighting fast. Great for quick photo editing for a presentation. I second LastPass — I used 6 different devices, I can take my passwords with me.

  40. please do post more.

    startupsound.prefpane is pretty much the first thing ever for me on a new mac, it allows you to disable the annoying “chord” sound on startup. i love it.

  41. This just made me look under my own hood and see what i have going on. Great thread. As a user who is not extremely tech conversant but aware of what I need from my machine, this is my top ten list:

    Little Snitch
    Adobe CS
    Things (though i am about to kick it off as of yesterday)

  42. I understand everyone’s love for Evernote, but I just can’t bring myself to get past it’s shortcomings. Mainly: the proprietary html wrapper file format, it’s inability to play nicely with everything else on your Mac and the $45 a year for real functionality.

    Instead I use Together (or EagleFiler as another option) and keep my library in Dropbox. This way, everything is still a normal file in Finder and accessible wherever and whenever I need it on any device. As a bonus I get better capture options and one less service to keep track of.

  43. Great post: lots of new things to check out.

    Love Evernote and Dropbox and just discovered the soothing glow of f.lux. I also like Notational Velocity for the way it syncs with Simplenote.

    I’ve just moved from Keepass to Lastpass for passwords; so far so good, better than opening up a separate app each time I forget my passwords

    For bookmarks, it was always Delicious, but now that the future there isn’t assured, it’s Diigo. You can import all your old Delicious bookmarks into Diigo pretty easily. Takes a day or two for them to do it if you have heaps (I’ve 2000+)

    Current task manager is Wunderlist (syncs across the iphone, the mac, and windows)

    Now that I’m pretty much living in the browser its less about applications and more about the apps! CHROME, and what extensions I need. Currently it’s Instapaper, the Amazon Wishlist App, Readability, Shareaholic, Feddly and Awesome Screenshot.

    Looking forward to the rest of the list.

  44. Weird. My first apps to install were Firefox, Thunderbird, Skype, and Adium. I freaked out once and installed Gimp. VLC because Quicktime doesn’t play anything.

    OSX already comes with a terminal app.

  45. Very much agree with some of those mentioned above. Here’s my “just formatted harddisk, it isnt my computer until I install these” apps and extensions:

    – Dropbox!
    – Dropbox!!
    – Dropbox!!! (because it is the only place I save files on my computer, apart from the crap in my Downloads folder)
    – MenuMeters (because it’s nice to know if someone is thrashing your network/processor)
    – Perian & Flip4Mac (because people still insist on using archaic codecs)
    – VLC (because quicktime sometimes fails to read a video or subtitles)
    – Growl (because it should be part of the OS)
    – Alfred (because it fixes all the problems with Spotlight, isnt as grim as quicksilver, and is free)
    – Chrome (because I like the way it feels, compared to the others)

  46. I’m adding (apart from things above)

    – Cyberduck
    – Alfred
    – iLife suite
    – Letterbox (plugin for Mail)
    – MAMP
    – Reeder
    – Things
    – Tweetdeck
    – AppZapper
    – Airfoil

    – Slingplayer
    – Tidy Up
    – Renamer4Mac
    – UnRarX
    – VideoBox
    – Flagit
    – MacTracker
    – Flashplayer
    – Delicious Library
    – AIR
    – Adobe creative stuff
    – Onmigraffle

    and because its needed for my work (regrettably)
    – MS Office (ugh)

  47. As mentioned by others, using 1Password with Dropbox ends up doing just as LastPass does, and syncs your passwords “to the cloud”. The added benefit, should you need a password and not have access to your computer (or mobile device if you sync that as well), is that you only need to be able to access your dropbox through a browser. You browse to the “1Password.agilekeychain” folder, and open the “1Password.html” file. And there you have it, a web based version of 1Password, with all data still encrypted, where ever you may find yourself!

  48. Let me join those recommending Lastpass over 1Password. It’s awesome. It can generate a unique password of any length for any site, using or excluding special characters to fit the site’s requirements, and then autofill when you go to that site. They have plug-ins for every browser under the sun, and you can access your password vault online from any computer. I suppose some people might be uneasy about having their passwords stored in the cloud even with good encryption, but for me the slight risk of someone hacking my master password is worth it. You just have to make sure to pick a strong master password.

    For note-taking, I am on the fence between Evernote and Springpad but I am using Springpad more and more and Evernote less and less. Springpad has a much nicer interface and many features missing from Evernote such as a nice task manager, barcode scanning for shopping lists and home inventories (on the mobile app), and many more. Evernote has some advantages, though, such as full text searching of PDFs and even text contained in photos, plus Springpad only has web apps and mobile apps, not a desktop app (although I understand the Springpad web app can be used offline).

  49. I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned FinderPop. It’s a fantastic contextual menu and folder window enhancer.
    Besides that, my must-haves include:

    R (but then again, I’m a mathematician and engineer)

  50. TrueCrypt – A must have if you need to encrypt folders, partitions, drives… really powerful and open source.

  51. KeepPass, LastPass, 1password, Bah! You are all wrong. Any solution which stores you passwords in a file may be unavailable when you need it most. If you’re already using one of those, that’s fine, but for people who haven’t started with one of those, the right solution is PasswordMaker where there is no list of passwords. It uses the power of a cryptographic hash function to generate a site-specific password using a master password. As a result, you can always have your password available as long as you remember your master password even if you’re in an internet cafe on the other side of the world and can’t find your flash drive. It’s free, it’s open source, and there are a zillion different versions available, including a JavaScript version that you can run even if you’re on a machine where you can’t install applications or mount flash drives (so long as it has a web browser).

    1. Firstly, I never have the problem that I don’t have my passwords with me because I have 1Password on my iPhone (synced with my home desktop machine).

      I personally think that the PasswordMaker solution in the scenario you have suggested is far less secure than the “password safe” concept (e.g. 1Password, KeePass, etc). Public terminals like internet cafe machines or library machines should be considered completely untrusted as they could be (and likely are, in some cases) infected with malware or may be running a keystroke logger installed by a malicious owner (who knows?). You are happy to type your master password into one of these machines? I’m not. No way.

      Furthermore, security best practice is to change your passwords regularly, and this includes your master password for whatever password storage/generation method you happen to be using (to mitigate the risk presented by theft of your passwords, which you’ve just increased by typing it into a malware-infested internet cafe machine). Now I’ve only briefly skimmed the PasswordMaker site, but I don’t see any way to be able to change your master password at all. Bad form.

      While I can see that this may be a convenient solution for those who use lots of different machines and don’t want to carry a password safe around with them, but it is definitely not the “right” solution for everyone, as you’ve asserted, and in fact is less secure in many ways than the alternative.

      – An anonymous information security consultant

      PS. I am by no means advocating the “store your password safe” in the cloud solution either, this is also a terrible idea.

  52. I’ll give 3 to 5 free apps and 3 to 5 paid ones that I like:
    – Picasa for Mac… What can I say? I am not an iPhoto fan so it’s Picasa for me
    – MactheRipper – I honestly can’t tell if this one is free or not, as the developer kind of dropped off the radar. Look for version 4.0+ to get great DVD ripping!
    – Gruml – pretty good RSS reader
    -MPEGstream clip – Edit those MactheRipper DVD rips up easily. Win and Mac version

    – Mac Office 2011 – Finally a great, REALLY great version of Office for Mac. Worth every penny!
    – ProPresenter – Great for running a multimedia presentation for businesses, conferences, or church groups
    – Toast – Like the interface and the easy to use menus. Gets the job done for CD and DVD burning

  53. To all Quicksilver/Launchbar fans, why don’t you use Google Quick Search Box? Quicksilver has been discontinued, and its developer now works on Google QSB. Launchbar is $35, while Google QSB is free. Does Quicksilver do something QSB doesn’t? Is Launchbar $35 better than QSB?

    1. To all Quicksilver/Launchbar fans, why don’t you use Google Quick Search Box? Quicksilver has been discontinued, and its developer now works on Google QSB. Launchbar is $35, while Google QSB is free. Does Quicksilver do something QSB doesn’t? Is Launchbar $35 better than QSB?

      Well, first some history:

      Quicksilver was open sourced and the lead developer now works for Google and the Google Quick Search Box app you mention. A few people are still some working on open source Quicksilver but it has been slow and it has lost lots of ground against Launchbar.

      –. — — –. .-.. . -.-. .- -. . .- – .- -… .- –. — ..-. -.. .. -.-. -.- …

      That said, I’m looking forward to using Google Quick Search Box, but as of now it’s too buggy and crashy compared to Launchbar and I need to be 100% certain Google isn’t encroaching upon my privacy (and business trade secrets) when I use such a potentially invasive product. Yes.. yes.. Google will say that they won’t invade your privacy in the FAQ, but what Google says and what they do are proven to be two different things.

      I’m not willing to beta-test and slow down my workflow (for free) for a multibillion dollar company like Google especially when I have privacy concerns (that’s very well-deserved).

      If you want to slow down your productivity with a beta productivity app to help out a giant company like Google, then have at it, beta-tester. I will appreciate it, and I’m certain Google will appreciate it.

      In the meantime, I have work to do now. And, money to make now. That’s why I use LaunchBar. You know how many times LaunchBar has crashed with me using it nearly every 10-20 seconds every day for months and years? Zero. And, latency? None. Zero.

      I don’t have time to play with crashy (and possibly insecure) betas when it comes to productivity apps… I’ll leave that up to you guys to help iron it out first. Lol

      1. Ah, and before anyone says I just don’t understand and know how harmless Google is, I do personally know people that work at Google in Boulder, CO. Some of them practically (literally?) live there at the building (the facilities are that expansive) and don’t get enough real-world experience among their fellow humans. Do I trust such social-retards with my data? Fuuuuuuuuuuuu…ck No.

        Ask yourself, would you trust Facebook with an app like this that keeps such an expansive index of everything you do on your computer?

        Before you answer that, add in having business secrets involved on said computer. And, if you’re a dumbass, don’t answer it either.

  54. I use many of these and am happy for the recommendation for iStat Menus as a competitor for MenuMeters. I’m trying it now, but it’ll have to really stand out to justify $15 vs. free.

    As with The Life Of Brian I find the Dock trying to be both launcher and list of active apps awkward and unseccesful. So I use the Dock on the side of my screen as a launcher, hidden by default, and A-Dock at the bottom of my screen to show currently active apps, visibly by default. The thing I appreciate most about A-Dock is that you can hide/show it with a single mouse click at the very bottom of the screen. Doing that with Apple’s Dock is nowhere near as seamless.

  55. Hi!

    I looked at xmarks and was intrigued to the point where I installed it on one of my browsers. Then I figured out where it worked, and removed it. How it works is fine, my hangup is where it works. Using a server is marvelous, as long as it’s on my server. It is not nearly as good if it only works on your server.

  56. First off thank you for the list it is an excellent jumping off point for those of us looking to upgrade and add to our current software. I agree with all of your listed items with the exception of 1Password. Personally I use an algorithm to create my passwords versus a password keeper. This is an easier method, instantly portable (I use a standard algorithm for all websites so I never have to lookup a password) and meets my needs. I am not saying this is the best or even a better option but it works for me. What I like about it best is I can instantly retrieve all my passwords from any machine without the hassle and potential downsides of syncing software by whatever method is being used. Just a suggestion.

  57. Dropbox and Growl are favorites of both myself and others of the old-school.

    Password applications, I’d stay away from and especially with anything that runs on the x86 architecture because that’s the processor for which bulk and larder of the malicious intrusion and exploit writers are coding.

    Facebook and Google are two Internet entities whom I do not trust and whom I will disclose and share as little personal and computer information as I can get away with. I don’t mind sharing but I DO mind being lied to.

  58. IMHO KeePass is the best password managing program.
    Open Source
    Runs on Window, Mac, Linux & iPhone – It syncs between my iPhone and my Mac.
    I moved from windows to linux to mac – didn’t have to change the program.

  59. Clarification to my previous post above:
    I meant to say that I can’t see any way to change your master password without changing all your generated passwords when you’re using a one-way hashing function based on your master password (and other bits of data). You COULD change it when you change all your generated passwords, but I would prefer to have the option of having different maximum password ages for credentials with different levels of criticality – for example I’m probably not going to log into a dummy gmail account I use for testing once every 30 days and change its password.

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