8 Mac Apps to Embrace Minimalism

We posted earlier this year about how to clean up your Mac, but today I thought it would be interesting to share a selection of applications that can really simplify your Mac experience. While being “minimal” isn’t everything – and nor is it for everyone – it’s a fun exercise to try from time to time.

We’ll be considering applications that help you take notes, use the Dock and Finder less, quickly share files, and search easier. Even if you don’t buy into the minimal philosophy, there may be something that you find very useful!

Notational Velocity

Notational Velocity

Notational Velocity

Let’s start with an application I’m rapidly becoming very fond of. Notational Velocity is a simple utility for storing text notes, searching them, and automatically keeping them in sync with your iPhone and a web service called Simplenote.

If you regularly make text notes, and don’t need anything more powerful with image support, Notational Velocity is an absolute must-see. It’s also completely free.

Developer: Open Source
Price: Free

Instapaper

Instapaper

Instapaper

More of a bookmarklet than a standalone application, Instapaper lets you save a webpage with one click for viewing at a later date. All formatting is stripped away, so you’re left with just the main body and text of the article.

The post can be viewed on your desktop, or automatically synchronised with an iPhone/iPod touch, or Kindle if you prefer.

Developer: Marco Arment
Price: Free

Fluid

Fluid

Fluid & Google Docs

Although I’m not completely in love with Google’s interface, there’s something very reassuring about knowing all your data is stored safely on their servers. Using Fluid in combination with Google Docs is a brilliant way to simplify what’s stored on your hard drive, and make your documents accessible from anywhere.

Fluid can essentially create a local application for a particular website, complete with it’s own Dock icon and specific browser instance.

Developer: Todd Ditchendorf
Price: Free

WriteRoom

WriteRoom

WriteRoom

If you’re a writer, WriteRoom is definitely worth giving a try. You may not fall in love with it, but the simplicity and lack of distraction offered is impressive. The interface strips away anything else on the screen, providing you with a virtual “room for writing”.

It’s possible to create documents directly within the app, or use it to edit text from other software on your Mac.

Developer: Hog Bay Software
Price: $24.99

Quicksilver

Quicksilver

Quicksilver / LaunchBar

Both of these apps (or the similar Google Quick Search Box) provide a way to quickly search your computer, launch and control applications, or perform various actions on files. It’s a way of interacting with your computer using on the keyboard, stripping out various steps in any particular task.

Although QuickSilver is no longer in development, it’s supported by a large community of Mac users and many different plugins are available.

Price: From Free to $32

Adium

Adium

Adium

My personal approach is to throw away all the disparate instant messaging applications on my system completely – I don’t use IM on a day-to-day basis. The slightly less radical alternative is to use Adium; a functional, all-in-one client for your Mac.

Not only does it work with almost any chat network, the interface is very easy to customise. It only takes a few clicks to have a completely zen-like messaging setup.

Developer: Open Source
Price: Free

VLC

VLC

VLC

Although it may sound unusual to have a video player in this roundup, VLC is a fantastic exercise in simplicity. It’s capable of playing almost any video format you throw at it. All complexity is removed, and you’ll never be asked to install a codec or download an extra piece of software.

Developer: VideoLAN
Price: Free

TaskPaper

TaskPaper

TaskPaper

Another application from Hog Bay Software, TaskPaper is probably the simplest to-do list app you could imagine. It has much in common with Notational Velocity, with a natural interface and a equally well-designed companion iPhone app.

Rather than require you to change the way you work, TaskPaper is versatile enough to be used however you see fit.

Developer: Hog Bay Software
Price: $29.99

Other Minimal Tips

Here are some more useful tips and techniques to follow for keeping your system clean, windows uncluttered, and working space as basic as possible:

  • Hide your Dock – It may feel unusual at first, but gives you more screen estate and is still there whenever you need it!
  • Turn off notifications – You don’t need to hear a “ping” every time an email arrives.
  • Minimise windows into application icon – This became an option in Snow Leopard and made me a happy man. It keeps your Dock completely free from the clutter of minimised windows.
  • Avoid menu bar icons – If you don’t use a particular icon regularly, consider removing it from your menu bar.
  • Use Dropbox – It keeps all your files in-sync with a web server, and makes for a brilliant backup service.
  • Disable OS X features you don’t use – If, like me, you never use Spaces, make sure that it’s disabled. The same goes for Dashboard, Expose, and other similar apps.
  • Use iWork and iLife – I’m a huge proponent for using iWork over MS Office. Also, iLife is so well-integrated with the operating system, it makes managing media incredibly simple.

Discovering More

As ever, I’d recommend Minimal Mac as a great blog to follow for all things simple. It’s full of useful tips and hints for using your computer in a different and interesting way.

Also, feel free to share your own “minimal” suggestions in the comments. I’d love to learn about a few new applications that you find useful!


  • Dan Palmer

    I would like to suggest http://alfredapp.com

    I used Quicksilver for many years, but it is just too unstable on Snow Leopard for my liking. Alfred has only just reached beta, but with frequent releases, I am seeing it grow into something that already rivals QS and will be great at 1.0.

    • Jaymz

      Does Alfred do anything Google Quick Search doesn’t do? That’s what I use and when I tried Alfred I couldn’t see any benefit to changing. What I’d like is the ability (present in QS) to open something in another app… for example select a PDF then chose photoshop and then open.

    • Vincent

      I haven’t tried Alfred but I do use and recommend Berokyo from http://www.berokyo.com/mac/en/index.html

      I’m very satisfied with the app. It looks great on my desktop and let me keep my desktop clean and my stuff at hand. It also searches the web using the main search providers.

      Besides, Berokyo is under heavy development and they release an update with new features almost every month, which is great!

    • Pieter V

      QuickSilver isn’t unstable at all on my SL install…
      It’s even still being developed on Github contrary to popular belief.

  • Alex

    Actually, VLC is quite bloated if you need a player that just works. I prefer Movist.

    • David Kartowirijo

      What’s wrong with Quicktime X, Seems like the most minimalistic player to me?

      • ray

        Quicktime is next to useless without Perian and even then still has some troubles with certain file types. VLC isn’t minimalist but it can handle anything, even if its seldom that I need to open weird file types.

        Also, Ommwriter is a nice alternative to Writeroom; less settings to mess around with.

  • http://thekatscorner.blogspot.com Kat

    I realize that I have a few of these software in my MacBook. I love WriteRoom. It helped me in Nanowrimo last year. Props up to VLC as well. I love it. I haven’t maximized TaskPaper though, goodness knows I should.

  • http://www.mac-guides.com/ macguider

    nice article, maybe Evernote deserve place in it too, its really a great software. And after seeing the Fluid app mentioned for the n-th time I am downloading it, this time for real :) Cheers.

    • http://twitter.com/codykeisler Cody Keisler

      Evernote is far from minimalistic. Compared to Simplenote, Evernote is downright bloated.

  • Daniel

    VLC is minimalist… until you open the preferences dialog :) The only universal and minimalist video player for OS X I know of is Movist… and QT X of course.

  • Joel Drapper

    Have you tried Alfred as an alternative to Quicksilver? It’s so much faster, and cleaner, and overall more minimalistic then Quicksilver.

  • HC

    Boring post. Adium, Quicksilver, Launchbar, VLC? This is for insiders only.

  • Kurban

    For anyone mentioning Alfred or Google QSB as an alternative to QuickSilver, it isn’t. It’s not nearly as powerful enough – the only possible alternative is LaunchBar which has similar capabilities, although I’m not a fan of it. QuickSilver has also released an update for Snow Leopard that has made it much faster and completely stable on 10.6

  • http://blog.zottmann.org Carlo Zottmann

    If you’re into Instapaper and own a Kindle, may I suggest taking a look at my 2-way IP/Kindle sync app, Ephemera? http://goephemera.com/

    It was built with minimalism in mind, too. ;)

  • http://www.duinzand.nl willem duinzand

    VLC may play every kind of movie, but it’s one of the most user-unfriendly pieces of software ever conceived. Just try to add subtitles while playing a movie, you’ll be clicking through screen after screen of advanced options and settings, and then it still won’t show. It’s sad and painful that software like VLC is needed to watch a movie on a mac.

    • Luis Caraballo

      Er… What about just naming both the subtitle and the movie file the same? doesn’t that work for you?

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  • http://evarsamis.com evan Varsamis

    I write many articles about minimalism and tips for minimal macs, you can find my posts here http://evarsamis.com, great blog by the way ;)

  • KsbjA

    There is something “reassuring” about Google having access to all my documents? Yeah, right.

    But a great post undoubtedly!

  • http://www.financialspreadbettingsystem.co.uk financial spreadbetting

    Instapaper is awesome. I love it. I don’t know anyone who isn’t impressed with it. Have yet to try the others yet.

  • http://www.pregnancytimeline.org pregnancy timeline

    Haven’t heard of WriteRoom before but will check it out. Looks like something that will really suit me.

  • doug

    Adium is dead to me. And my OS. Go Trillian (http://www.trillian.im) go.

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  • Darla B.

    I’m surprised that iA Writer isn’t mentioned in the article. It’s a lot more lightweight than WriteRoom (which I have used before, but I’m a devoted user of iA Writer now) and it just supports a minimal setup much more beautifully than even the native TextEdit (which I’ve removed).

    Alfred has undergone major improvements since the article was published and I believe has a lot to boast over its competition. Disclosure: a proud owner of the Powerpack and I have no regrets whatsoever.

    Sparrow is also a very minimal app. It’s not for everyone, but if you want to embrace minimalism, it’s the email client to use!

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