My essential Mac applications, part 2

I recently bought a new iMac computer, and I installed about 30 different programs on the first day. Yesterday I described the first five programs I installed. Today I'm describing the next batch of five applications I installed.

(I actually installed two other applications that I'm not going to bother reviewing: Adobe Creative Suite 5, and FileMaker Pro 8. I feel everyone knows enough about these programs that I don't need to describe them.)

6. dragon-logo.jpgDragon Dictate (Cross Platform, about $150 on Amazon). I wrote about Dragon Dictate in December 2010, so I'm just re-running my comments here. It's a lot easier for me to talk than it is to type, because I'm a pathetically clumsy typist. The last time I tried using a speech-to-text application (1998 or so), the training took much longer and the accuracy was terrible. After hearing Alex Lindsay of MacBreak Weekly sing the praises of Dragon Dictate, I decided to give it a try. It is fantastic.

The application costs $150 on Amazon, which may seem steep, but it comes with a nice Plantronics USB headset. It took only about five minutes to train the application to learn how I speak. It's magical seeing my words appear on the screen almost as fast as I utter them. I think I would probably be too embarrassed to use DragonDictate in an environment where other people could hear me talking to my computer. I work alone in a home office, so there's not really a problem with that. (My 7-year-old-daughter has overheard me using it, and now she likes to tease me about it: "Hello period my name is Mark period new paragraph I am really a robot exclamation point".) I'm so pleased with DragonDictate's accuracy, and how it saves wear and tear on my hands and wrists, that I am sold on it and never want to go back to typing.

bean.jpg7. Bean (OS X, free) This free OS X word processor was written by James Hoover, a programming hobbyist and fiction writer. James wrote bean by reading a webpage called "Lean Word Processor Specifics" by Marten van de Kraats and teaching himself Objective-C and the Cocoa frameworks. Bean is a fast and slick application that can read most Microsoft Word documents (it doesn't handle footnotes or hierarchical styles) as well as RTF and HTML formats. It displays a live word count at the bottom of the window, which is essential for me when I write and edit articles and columns. Its full-screen mode makes everything on the desktop disappear except for a blank screen and the words I'm typing. I find this to be an excellent way to tune out of everything else and concentrate on editing a MAKE magazine story. (You can read more about the origins of Bean here.)

Bean looks simple and spare, but it has a lot of useful functions under the hood that are found in high-end word processors. I can insert pictures, add headers and footers, see invisible characters, and zoom the size of the text.

One day someone will send me a Microsoft Word document that Bean won't be able to open and then I will have to install Microsoft Word onto my iMac. That will be a sad day indeed -- I can't stand Microsoft Word because it is a sluggish, bloated, processor-hogging POS and its stench will contaminate everything else on my hard drive.

text-expander-logo.jpg8. TextExpander (OS X, $34.95) This universal utility lets me type a short abbreviation that gets instantly replaced with a larger chunk of text. For instance, when I type "mf," TextExpander knows to convert it to Mark Frauenfelder. I often need to e-mail someone a large bloc of boilerplate, such as MAKE's submission guidelines, strings of HTML, addresses, driving directions to my house, my bio, my digitized signature, my headshot, my sig file, etc. I just enter a two- or three-letter abbreviation and TextExpander takes care of the rest. It is also available on the iPhone and iPad. I bought it, but it doesn't really work the way I would like to and so I don't use it.

r-name.jpg9. R-Name (OS X, free) When I'm working with a group of related files, such as a bunch of photographs, or a series of text documents, I find that it's easier to deal with them if I give them all the same name followed by a dash (for example, photo-01.jpg, photo-02.jpg, and so on). The easiest way to accomplish this is to use a batch file renaming program. And the best batch file renaming utility I've tried is called R-Name. It's a free program that was developed by a fellow in Japan named Tagaya Yoichi. Unfortunately it looks like Yoichi's site and R-name are no longer available. After quite a bit of searching around and I found a place to download R-Name. Here it is, but since it's not an official source I can't vouch for its security; for all I know it could be loaded with malware. NOTE: I just made a batch renamer service with Automator by following Boing Boing reader Andy Vanee's instructions. I like it even more than R-name. Thanks, Andy!

alarms-logo.jpg10. Alarms (OS X, $15). This nifty utility is on my menubar. When I remember something that I need to do at a certain time, such as pick up my daughter from school, meet my wife for lunch at a restaurant, turn off the burner under a boiling pot of pasta, or call someone, I click on the alarm icon. A timeline appears at the top of the screen, pushing everything else on the desktop down. I then add the task to the timeline and slide the task back or forth to set the trigger time. When the task is due the menu bar icon flashes and the application makes a "ping." I can snooze the task for 5 min. by shaking my mouse back and forth. If I continue to ignore the alarm, it gets louder and louder.

A streamlined version of alarms called Alarms Express is available in the Mac App Store for $7.99. I think it has the same features as the $15 version, except it won't sync with iCal, doesn't support Growl, and doesn't offer customizable keyboard shortcuts. But I don't use those features; if Alarms Express had been available to me at the time I made my purchase, I would have bought it instead of Alarms.

Tomorrow I'll present my next five essential Mac apps.