A selection of favourite Mac apps

Looking back at my 2013 with regard to Mac applications, one thing that has struck me is how stagnant it has been. If we put aside the Games category, my purchases have been scarce overall, and there hasn’t been any particular ‘whoa’ moment or remarkable new application to enter my workflow. One possible exception could have been Everpix, but we all know how it ended. (If you don’t know what Everpix was, check this brief review I wrote not long before the company shut down.)

So I thought I’ll take the chance to mention a few essentials I’ve been relying upon for a while, the majority of which are tried-and-trusted applications you’ve certainly heard of, but there are also a couple of little unsung heroes.

I’ve talked about this batch of utilities in detail two years ago in What I use: the essentials. I still use and greatly enjoy these applications and I really couldn’t work without any of them. TextExpander, Dropbox, f.lux and Hazel in particular are what I consider ‘mission critical’ apps.

Other long-time favourites

What would I do without Bare Bones software? I’ve been a happy user of BBEdit since version 3.0 and it has been my text editor of choice ever since. When I go back to my vintage Macs, it’s often to write in BBEdit. On my main machine I find I use TextWrangler more, but I turn to BBEdit for more complex projects and when I need to handle very big text files. When it comes to powerful search & replace tools and multi-file searching, BBEdit’s prowess is unparalleled.

It started as a Bare Bones product, then Rich Siegel gave it a home of its own: Mailsmith is a versatile email client I use on a daily basis together with Mac OS X’s Mail app to handle a bunch of secondary email accounts. I love Mailsmith because it deals with thousands of messages without a problem, and because I can perform very fine-grained searches, a really useful feature when you’re subscribed to a few interesting mailing lists and you need to find a particular email buried in your archives.

My image handling and editing needs are fulfilled by Graphic Converter (€34.95 / $39.95), another essential I’ve been using since version 3.0; and Acorn ($49.99 or $29.99 if you upgrade from a previous version). With these two powerful-enough tools, I really don’t need Photoshop. Recently I even discovered that Graphic Converter can handle vector files (I rarely deal with them, that’s why it took me so long to figure it out). Both these app are worth every penny.

To watch videos I still rely on an old version (0.6.8) of Movist which, despite being more than three years old, still works fine under OS X Mavericks. When Movist fails to handle a certain video file, I turn to VLC, of course. To convert video files, instead, Handbrake is a must-have tool.

The only social networks I’m active in are Twitter and App.net. For Twitter, I was a Tweetie user since the beginning, and used it until it no longer worked. But another long-time favourite client has been Twitterrific, which I use both on my Macs and iOS devices. It serves me quite well — though I think it’s time for an update of the Mac client — and I see no reason to change. (For App.net I happily use Wedge. Others prefer Kiwi, which is more feature-rich and polished, but for my needs Wedge is just fine.)

Another long-time favourite, which I’ve been using since the Mac OS 9 era, is of course Transmit. On Panic’s site you can read: “You need to transfer files. Maybe to an FTP or SFTP server, or the cloud via Amazon S3, or using WebDAV. You maintain a website, do backups, or upload photos. You need Transmit, the #1 Mac OS X FTP client.” It’s all true. Transmit is the most reliable and delightful FTP client I’ve ever used, and another of my ‘mission critical’ apps.

Speaking of mission critical apps, I simply cannot function without MarsEdit. If you write a blog, you need MarsEdit, period. And its developer, Daniel Jalkut, is a gentleman. Friendly, kind and helpful. A pleasant interlocutor. 

To handle PDF documents, I’ve been using Skim for longer than I can remember, and I think it replaced Adobe Reader in my workflow somewhere between version 7 and 8 of Adobe Reader. I also use Mac OS X’s Preview more often since it started to get better (from Mountain Lion onwards). I still rely on an old version of Adobe Acrobat Professional on my Power Mac G4 Cube when dealing with difficult PDFs that give me a hard time with text selection and whatnot.

Another great, dependable little utility I use frequently is Thomas Tempelmann’s Find Any File. As I wrote in this old article, When I need to perform searches that dig deeper into the system, or I need a more readable & customisable search results window, I resort to Find Any File, which I love because its UI is based on the Find File application in the Classic Mac OS, and also because it lets me search for files even inside application packages and in places of the System where Spotlight is not allowed to snoop. I’ve used it since it was in early beta, and has a permanent spot in my Dock.

I can’t emphasise enough how amazing Icon Factory’s Xscope app is. Even though I’m not a Web designer or developer, in so many circumstances Xscope has proven useful to measure on-screen elements to perfect the look of my humble website, or to extract the colour values of an element I needed to replicate elsewhere for consistency.

To remove apps I no longer use, or demo/trial versions of software I download and don’t find useful, I still rely on AppZapper. I also use it as a search tool, especially when I need to know where an application keeps all the usual related luggage that gets disseminated in various folders during installation or after the first launch. (Read this old article for more information.)

Recent entries

As I said, 2013 hasn’t been a year of great Mac software discoveries for me. But a few nifty apps worth mentioning are:

  • Glui — A simple, lightweight, and very useful app to capture and annotate the frequent screenshots I take, whether I need to feature them on my blog or send them to a developer for feedback (and even interface localisations). Before that, I used to rely on LittleSnapper by Realmac Software (now Ember), but Glui is really fast and well-designed, the perfect tool when you quickly need to take a screen capture and add a note on the fly.
  • ReadKit — After Google discontinued Google Reader, I could no longer use my beloved Reeder, so I started looking for alternatives. ReadKit is a capable replacement. If you come from Reeder, ReadKit has a familiar interface, and it connects to a lot of services (Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, Pinboard, Delicious, Feedly, Fever, NewsBlur, Feed Wrangler and Feedbin), so that you can have “everything in one place” as the website says. I particularly love using ReadKit to read and navigate my increasingly huge Pinboard archive.
  • Mou — For a specific project I’m working on (which I hope to announce very soon), I needed to have a text editor with Markdown capabilities — side-by-side preview, most importantly — and I found Mou to fit my needs quite well. I’ve also heard great things about MarkDrop if you’re looking for this kind of software. MarkDrop features, among other things, full Droplr integration.
  • DaisyDisk — An amazing tool to scan and explore my Mac’s internal and connected disks, it has proven to be essential to discover a lot of junk that was taking up precious gigabytes. Thanks to DaisyDisk, I’ve successfully reclaimed more than 35 GB on an external drive in a specific occasion where I had to salvage some files on a failing hard drive and I didn’t know where to copy them. I can’t recommend it enough.

Special mentions

  • Raskin — Raskin is the only application I use to navigate the filesystem on my Mac other than the Finder. Read my brief review for more information.
  • Disco — If you still handle optical discs and need a reliable tool to burn CDs and DVDs, I suggest Disco. Works with both PowerPC and Intel Macs. It’s not developed anymore, but it still works great and I never encountered any problem with it. Read my review for more information.

And that’s it, I think. I may have forgotten something, but these are really the key third-party apps I use, most of them on a daily basis. For questions and/or suggestions, you can reach me on Twitter and App.net (I’m @morrick on both), or send me an email. Happy 2014 to you all, dear readers!

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!