Ask the Mac.AppStorm Editor #14

It’s time for another “Ask the Editor” post. A big thank you to everyone who sent in their questions, it’s always a pleasure to help out the awesome community of Mac users.

Today I’ll be offering some advice about moving libraries to external drives, password protecting folders, and finding a solid TeX editor. Read on and see if you learn anything new!

I’m looking for a simple/easy/minimalist note taking app that I can launch with a hotkey, work with and then quickly hide.

- Andy H

I shortened Andy’s question a little but you get the gist from the passage above. Essentially, he’s set on having a very simple note app that doesn’t have a lot of fancy features and distractions. One that he can get in and out of instantly and without much effort.

The first thing that comes to mind is a helpful and affordable little app called SideWriter. Instead of being activated by a keyboard shortcut, SideWriter hides quietly off the side of your screen activates on hover just like your dock. Saving is automatic and you can both drag notes in as well as export them. It’s super simple and extremely convenient. I think it may be just what you’re looking for.

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SideWriter

An alternative that I personally use every day is JustNotes. This awesome utility is free and lives in your menu bar, but can also be activated via a keyboard shortcut. The interface is simple but still very attractive and it has just enough features: tags, search, Simplenote sync, etc.

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JustNotes

Some more great options for simple note apps include Notational Velocity and its more powerful cousin nvALT, both of which are free, minimal and high on the list of Mac user favorites.

How do I password protect individual folders on my Mac?

- Richard Benson

This is a great question. Mac OS X has lots of built in features for creating different users with different permissions, but as far as grabbing individual folders and files and throwing a password on them, there’s a huge feature gap. I personally think this is a pretty basic task that should be super easy, but amazingly enough it just isn’t.

The official solution that you’ll hear most is to use Disk Utility (located in the Utilities Folder) to create a secure disk image from a folder. To do this, open Disk Utility, go to File>New>Disk Image From Folder. Then grab the folder that you want to password protect, select your encryption and choose a password.

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Using Disk Utility to create a secure disk image from a Folder

Once you’ve made the disk image, opening it will require your password. This will then mount the folder as a drive and you will have access to its contents.

Call me crazy but I think this process sucks. It’s a pain to work with and is really just a workaround and not a true answer to the problem of password protecting folders. For this reason, I can’t recommend the app Hider enough. This app couldn’t be simpler: drag in files and folders and you’re done. The app will then keep these files hidden away from prying eyes make sure that if anyone does find them, they can’t get into them.

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Hider: the better way to password protect your files

At $9.99, some complain that this app is overpriced, but I say that’s a bargain for keeping your private information safe. They could easily charge twice that and it would still be worth it.

I noticed that there are tons of different front-ends for TeX and I got a bit confused. TeXShop, Lyx and Scribo seem to be the most popular choices but I would like to know if you can recommend any of these or other apps for editing LaTeX documents on the Mac?

- Christoph

I must admit that a few months ago I had no idea what TeX was, but these days I hear more and more about it all the time. For those who don’t know, TeX is a typesetting system that dates all the way back to 1978. In function, it’s a lot like a markup language such as HTML or Markdown. To use it, you type in plain text while inserting little code snippets that serve as special formatting indicators. Once you’re finished, you “render” the document, which turns the plain text and code into a great looking, nicely formatted document. TeX is mostly used for technical documents and writing. In fact, one of its main benefits is the ability to render nicely formatted mathematical formulas.

Your question comes at a perfect time because it just so happens that we have a review of Lyx coming up in just a few days from AppStorm author James Cull. Lyx is completely free and packed with more functionality that you’ll know what to do with. It’s currently at the top of our recommendation list for where to start with Tex editors. Check back soon for the full review!

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Lyx, a TeX editor

Didn’t See Your Question?

If you asked a question but didn’t have it answered today, don’t worry! I’ll do my best to get to it in a future week. I love a challenge, so feel free to ask some weird and wonderful questions…

If you’d like to submit your query, you can do so here:

Thanks for reading, and let me know if you agree or disagree with anything I mentioned today!


  • Joe

    nvALT. Cmd+Spacebar = a window the surfaces from the bottom of my screen to just about a quarter of it. All my notes (100s of them) are within a couple of key strokes of being visible.

    Unreal simplicity and minimalist appeal. This is the most powerful and useful note taking app for the OS X platform- bar none.

  • carles

    Notational Velocity!!!

  • Tessa Thornton

    Before my current obsession with Evernote, I loved using Sidenote http://www.chatelp.org/?page_id=5 for quick notes

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      I remember this app! Old school but still a great utility.

  • Regis

    To the guy who asked about editing latex documents, take a look at Latexian. It has a great interface, live preview and other bunch of other nice features, and is fully integrated into lion.
    http://tacosw.com/latexian/

  • Inksim

    Hider literally hides a folder, but doesn’t protect it, and the hidden contents can be very easily revealed even without the password. It may meet some needs, but is not an ideal answer for someone who tries to password protect their folders.

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      From the product description: “folders will be hidden, protected by password and stored in a safe place”

      • Inksim

        All it does is creating a folder starting with a dot and placing files in it. The folder and inside files are NOT protected and can be seen easily.

  • http://drezha.me.uk Drezha

    About LaTeX, Lyx isn’t really a LaTeX editor as it embellishes the code with it’s own bits and pieces. My RA uses it and it struggles to read my native LaTeX code that I write by hand. Likewise, he cant just send me his LyX file.

    For LaTeX, I recommend either Texmaker (which looks a bit rubbish, thanks to it’s cross platform roots) or Texpad which is on the Mac app store and is by far the best Tex editor I’ve come across on the Mac. The small price is well worth it.

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Thanks for the insight, we’ve got Texpad in our sights for a future review as well!

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