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23 November 2005

Nerd Factor X Linkpimpin'



MacOS X Essentials

A while back I posted a list of Windows XP essentials, and promised a MacOS X equivalent. Chris’ recent purchase has finally prompted me to make good on this promise.

Unlike the windows list, most of my OS X essentials are actually part of the operating system or at least a pre-installed application. So this isn’t so much a list to remind myself what software to install when performing a from-scratch operating system install. Instead it’s more a list of apps to recommend to other MacOS X users, sorted by category. With gratuitous use of icons, stolen from the very applications themselves. Here we go.

Web Browser

Camino IconSafari IconI am caught in a joint-custody arrangement between Safari and Camino. Currently favouring Camino due to its amazing rendering speed, but there are a few things I miss from Safari like its simply stunning typography. Try out either of these, they are first-class browsers, compatible with almost all sites out there.

Oh, and Firefox is great too.

Launcher Thingy

Quicksilver IconSorry, I can’t think of a better category for the wonder that is Quicksilver. Which is a shame because it’s absolutely an essential part of my MacOS X desktop. If you’re not familiar with this app (or the equivalents), or have been living on another operating system, just bear with me.

Here’s the deal. It catalogues everything that you might want to access. Type a hot-key and up pops a dialog box. Type a few characters from the name of the thing you want to access, hit return, and bam! You’re there. Applications, contacts from your address book, songs in iTunes, bookmarks, tons of other things. Want to get the phone number of your accountant? Four keystrokes. Often-used bookmark? Maybe a couple of keystrokes.

I’m not doing it justice. Try this: It’s GUI and CLI - together at last!

Hmm, OK, that didn’t work either.

Put it this way. My hotkey is set to control-space and I am constantly hitting this key combo on my windows box trying to do stuff. It has so quickly become part of my fingers’ muscle memory that I am frankly amazed. I can think of no higher praise. This so needs to be part of the underlying OS.

Don’t forget to look at 43folders for lots of Quicksilver tips.


Mail iconThe annoyingly-generically-named Mail application that comes with OS X is the easy winner for email duties. For whatever reason I resisted adopting this application as my main (personal) mail application of choice. However I’m glad I finally did, it just does everything right. Handles multiple accounts, powerful filtering, sane editing, and easy navigation. And it looks purdy.

Mad props to Eudora Mailbox Cleaner for importing all my old email from Eudora and Thunderbird. I now have mail archives going back to 1997, all instantly searchable through spotlight.

The only thing I could wish for is more automated mailing list management (subscribe, filter, unsubscribe).

Text Editor

Emacs iconEmacs, of course. Currently favouring the Aquamacs distribution, for its Mac-like customisation. But there are plenty of other options at the moment, possibly too many!

Aquamacs is not perfect, but the developers are amazingly responsive.

Light duty text editing with TextWrangler or (more often than not) the built-in emacs in a terminal window.

RSS Aggregator

NetNewsWire iconNetNewsWire, all the way. The killer feature for me is the synchronisation with Bloglines. If I’m at my Mac, I get a wonderful Cocoa GUI. If I’m away from it, I still get to read my subscriptions through the Bloglines web interface. It’s a great example of the web/desktop hybrid application that I’m always banging on about.

NetNewsWire does a great job of handling the podcasts where I want to pick-and-choose which audio files go into my listening queue. For example, not everyone on IT Conversations piques my interest, and NNW lets me download only those who do.

Lastly there is the highly-cool “diff” feature that lets you see when a post has been updated, with the changes marked up. Very handy, I wish bloglines had this!

Not all is perfect though, mainly due to limitations in the bloglines API. Hopefully now that Brent is now working for a bloglines competitor (?) they will get the web and desktop (and windows!) applications even more seamlessly integrated.

File Transfers

Interarchy iconI have been an Interarchy user since it used to be called Anarchie (as in “an archie” client, yes that archie). It’s a great tool for transferring files around the place, with tons of features. I use it for mirroring this blog.

It has a major advantage over command-line utilities like the (supplied) curl and (easily available) wget in that it respects the system HTTP proxy settings. But this is like praising the typography on the label of a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

It does FTP, SFTP, HTTP. It does scheduled and automated transfers. It mirrors from a local directory to remote server and back again. It’s scriptable from both AppleScript and the command-line. It even has a network traffic monitor.

I like Interarchy a lot. Others prefer Transmit, which also looks great, so take your pick!

Blog Editor

Marsedit IconI know, I’ve been promising a review of MarsEdit for ages now. Looks like I’m never going to do it properly, so here’s a half-arsed attempt.

Basically this is a really useful tool for authoring blog posts. Great for those of us who like the long, rambling post (like this one). I especially like the clean, simple interface and the Cocoa integration (eg squiggly red underlines for my many spelling miss-steaks). Although it has helpers to edit HTML tags (including the especially useful “upload image and insert tag” command) it also allows me to edit directly in Markdown, with a preview window that shows me approximately (minus styles) what the resulting post will look like. Couldn’t ask for more.

OK that’s a lie; I could ask for more. And I will. However I understand that MarsEdit is mostly limited by the XML-RPC interface that it uses to communicate with your blog. Hence some features, like server-side draft posts, just aren’t available. Here’s hoping that the forthcoming Atom Publishing Protocol standard will fix most of the problems.

Also a new (and FWICT highly respected) developer who doesn’t have to spend all of his time answering support questions can’t hurt either.

Open Source Software

DarwinPorts is a great way to get an open source source application installed on your Mac. There are over 1000 ports now, all waiting for you to type sudo port install whatever and have the source code effortlessly retrieved, compiled and installed. Also effortless (well, within reason) upgrades. I use it mainly for portable run-on-any-system software, but also for some Mac-only applications.

I never could work out Fink, but that may be because I’m dumb not a Debian user. Give DarwinPorts a look though.

The Bleeding Obvious

Do you really want me to extol the virtues of iTunes? There really isn’t any competition to this amazing application, and it’s easy to see why.

Likewise iPhoto. Just put your photos in there, and it will organise them. As they say, a no-brainer.

For word processing, Microsoft Word is probably the winner. Just remember that WYSIWYG is evil, OK?

The Rest

Some other great utilities that I use. You should too.

  • Growl. It’s a notification tool that other applications use when they want to tell you something without interrupting your flow. File under “should be part of the OS”.
  • Adium. Multi-protocol instant message client. Lovely.
  • SSHKeychain. A must if you use ssh at all (and you should).
  • GMailStatus. Notifies you (via Growl) when Gmail arrives. Google have an official notifier, but this one has done the right thing by me so I’m keeping it!
  • ManOpen. View man pages in a nice GUI? Yes please.
  • VLC. A video player that definitely doesn’t suck. And doesn’t nickel-and-dime you before allowing full-screen playback. In your face, QuickTime Player!
  • MenuMeters. CPU, disk, memory, network usage graphs, right there in your menu bar.

There, that lot ought to keep you busy for a while!


Posted by
2005-11-23 21:59:44 -0600

I would add Fugu as a file transfer tool, it's very good. I replace the standard menu bar clock with JetClock so that I can have four world times easily available. I second the vote for Quicksilver, but I am still running Panther and have been told that Tiger's search makes QS less amazingly better.

For text editing, one must keep in mind that vim is already available, and clearly superior to emacs.

Posted by
2005-11-23 21:59:44 -0600

There is a bit of overlap between QS and Spotlight, it's true. If you want to launch an application, you can use either of them. But QS is just so much better set up for actions other than finding stuff. And Spotlight indexes a lot more of the filesystem than QS does (though it is by no means perfect). So I tend to use spotlight for "find a file containing this phrase" and QS for everything else. Clearly some better integration is called for...

Posted by
2005-11-23 21:59:44 -0600

Despite being a long term BBEdit user, I've come to like TextMate (the editor used in that amazing Ruby on Rails "woops" demo video) a lot.

A few others: OmniGraffle for drawing pretty pictures, OmniOutliner for outlines (until Dave Winer's OPML editor for mac gets a serious facelift), skype for ringing people for free (but don't leave it running), Acquisition for P2P goodness, CocoaMySQL and Chicken of the VNC.

You mention built in apps, don't forget: Calculator is amazing - check out the advanced mode which does everything a programmer needs, Dictionary is just lovely, Automator is incredible but I've only used it twice.

Posted by
2005-11-23 21:59:44 -0600

I discovered and installed QuickSilver yesterday, and have already concluded that it is the best OS tool for any system, anywhere. Simple, but brilliantly done. Demonstrated it at home last night, to the instant response "I don't suppose they do one for Windows?"

Posted by
2005-11-23 21:59:44 -0600

All good recommendations marxy, especially Dictionary and Calculator.

Chris, there is a Windows equivalent (I forget the name), but it was nowhere near as good as QS the last time I looked at it. You can also get a similar effect by training yourself to use alt-ctrl-G to invoke google desktop's search. Again, not as good as QS though..

I'm wondering why the GNOME folks haven't yet copied this for their Desktop?

Posted by
2005-11-23 21:59:44 -0600

On the ftp/sftp side, I've just been turned on to CyberDuck really nice implementation. Check it out.