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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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!