The applications listed below contains some names you’ll probably be familiar with, but there’s a reason for that. They’re just superb at what they do, thus very popular.
If you work on a MacBook Pro, you no doubt have your LCD screen set to dim and turn off after a relatively short amount of inactivity in order to save battery charge. This is generally fine unless you’re doing a lot of reading or watching a DVD. Caffeine is a small application that lives in your menubar that solves this problem by preventing your screen from dimming and the computer from sleeping. A click of the coffee cup icon in the menubar prevents your computer from sleeping for a user-specified amount of time ranging from 15 minutes to 5 hours (or indefinitely). Caffeine is a free utility.
I’m a fan of Google’s free Gmail service, in fact I have more than one Gmail address – and each of those addresses has several other email addresses being forwarded to them. Apple’s built-in Maill app is great on the desktop, but I find it a bit clunky for laptop use – and I hate the webmail version. I use Mail on my desktop only as my main email app – and only use Gmail for reading on the road. Mailplane offers multiple account support, drag & drop image support, keyboard shortcuts, a menubar indicator, and a lot more in a simple-to-use desktop application. If you use Gmail heavily, the $24.95 is well worth it.
Apple built-in a text substitution service into Mac OS X Snow Leopard, but it’s really not very robust, and its features are limited. There are several similar applications available, but in my opinion TextExpander is the best. Allowing you to hit a few keys to expand into user-defined text and images can save a ton of time. I have to type the Graphic Mac web address quite a bit, so being able to simply hit the letter TGM and have it expand to the full URL of this site is a huge time saver. If you’re a web developer, writer, or simply type a lot of repetitive text, an app like TextExpander can save you a lot of typing for only $34.95.
My preferred font manager dates back into the early 90s. If you have a large font collection, you must have a good font manager, and I’ve stuck with Suitcase Fusion to do the job. Suitcase had a rocky start back in the day, but has seen many improvements over the years. Suitcase Fusion 3 offers stability, flexibility, font corruption checking, and a newly introduced feature called WebInk. WebInk allows you to use specific fonts in your HTML code – for beautiful web page design. There are other font management applications available, but I’ve found that Extensis keeps Suitcase Fusion up-to-date with new versions of Adobe Creative Suite for auto-font activation more so than other developers. And for large design firms, Extensis offers a server version as well. A single user license of Suitcase Fusion 3 will cost you $99.95.
Microsoft just won’t go away, and neither (apparently) will the Windows Media file format (.wmv). The Windows media file formats have never really worked very well on the Mac, and a few years ago Microsoft simply stopped making a plugin for Mac browsers to read the format at all. Thankfully, Flip4Mac came along and offered a way for Apple’s Quicktime app to read WMV files transparently right in Safari, Firefox, Chrome and more. Most WMV files look horrible, but if you absolutely need to view them, Flip4Mac does the job. Flip4Mac Player is free, but there are pro versions available that offer integration with Quicktime-enabled apps.
Speaking of media file formats not working with the Mac, there are a host of others besides WMV that don’t work. Like Flip4Mac, Perian strives to bring them to the Mac. Perian is an opensource software package that allows Apple’s Quicktime to display audio and video formats such as: AVI, DIVX, FLV, MKV, GVI, VP6, VFW, and a host of other video and audio formats. The beauty of Perian is that it’s all seamless – you never know it’s there. If you find yourself not being able to view or listen to files on web sites, you need to install Perian – which is absolutely free!
For the most part, Apple has made a fantastic OS. But one aspect of the OS that has defied explanation for decades has been their refusal to improve the Open & Save dialog boxes. They just seem so “unhelpful.” I mentioned earlier that I’ve used Suitcase for many years. But the utility with the longest tenure on my Macs is definitely Default Folder by St. Clair Software. Default Folder does so much that I won’t even try to explain it all here. Needless to say, it improves Open & Save dialog boxes greatly with features that Apple should have built-in years ago. Among those features are the ability to set keyboard shortcuts to quickly switch to specific folders (which also work in the Finder – not just dialog boxes), view previews of files, set Spotlight tags for files, and much more. Default Folder X is the very first app I install on any new Mac I get – it’s the best $34.95 I’ve ever spent on a piece of software!
No software list for the Mac would be complete without mentioning 1Password. With virtually every website requiring you to log in with a username and password, keeping track of them all is a daunting task. 1Password does just that and more. 1Password not only remembers your passwords, but auto-fills them on the sites you visit as well. Along with usernames and passwords, 1Password can keep track of your purchasing information such as mailing address and credit card info. Another feature I’ve just begun using 1Password for is keeping track of software licenses and serial numbers. It offers easy entry of the info, plus the ability to attach license files, PDFs and other text files pertaining to the software I’ve purchased (receipts, etc.). 1Password works with virtually all major web browsers, and also offers an iPhone app. 1Password costs $59.95. It’s somewhat expensive, but it’s one of those apps you’ll wonder how you did without once you use it.
Few apps are as important nowadays than your web browser. For years I relied on Firefox due to all the available extensions. The problem with Firefox was that it just kept getting more and more bloated and slow. Safari is faster, and offers a clean interface, but even today offers little in the way of customization via extensions. Google Chrome offers the best of both worlds. It’s rocket fast, offers plenty of extensions, looks good, and is as stable for me as any other browser. That last part is surprising considering I use Developer Builds of Chrome (because I like having all the available features and improvements). If you’re looking to settle on a single browser, Chrome offers the speed of Safari, and the expansion and compatibility with web sites of Firefox.
Note: To download the Developer Builds, scroll halfway down the Chrome download page to the section titled Subscribing To A Channel, and choose the Mac Dev Channel link.
Because I don’t mind living on the edge, I’m always looking for ways to take advantage of every feature the Mac OS offers – even the ones Apple would rather I didn’t. At last count, MacPilot offers over 660 tweaks to the Mac OS and other applications you might have installed on your Mac. There are a ton of apps that customize various aspects of the OS for free (Onyx, TinkerTool, etc.), but none come close to the clean interface and amount of features that MacPilot does. If you’re looking to tweak your interface or functionality of your Mac, chances are that MacPilot can help you. MacPilot costs $19.95 for a single user license.
In part 3 of this series, which I’ll publish early next week, I’ll reveal the last 10 of the apps I love the most. In the meantime, feel free to list some of your favorites in the comments.