The Apps We Use: Jacob Penderworth

There’s so many apps in the App Store and elsewhere for the Mac, there’s no way anyone could use them all. We sure don’t. Each of us on the Mac.AppStorm team has our favorite apps that we use for work and more every day, the apps that have stood the test of time for us. We thought you might like to see the Mac apps we each find most important, so we’re starting a new series. Jacob’s first, with his favorite apps, and check back next Wednesday for another of our writers’ favorite apps.

And now, over to Jacob:

Here’s my formulaic morning: Get up and eat breakfast, then open my MacBook Air and start work. What is “work”? That depends on the day. Sometimes it’s writing industry-related news, other times it’s reviewing the latest FarmVille clone, and once in a while I get to do a roundup. Today happens to be one of those roundup days, and I’m excited about it because I get to share some cool stuff with you.

Have you ever wondered what a writer here uses for his daily duties? It’s time to find out, starting with my personal Launchpad of top hits.

For Writing

First, I’ll show you what I use to get my reviews and other articles composed. Spoiler: I do not use any WordPress apps because I prefer the Web experience.


Unsurprisingly, I have a distraction-free Markdown editor as my main tool for writing. I even use this as a replacement for TextEdit, often jotting down quick thoughts or paragraphs in it and then picking them up later. Byword has become my main text editor for my computer, and I hope it always will be. Using Markdown, it becomes the easiest way to format an article without ridiculous shortcuts and unnecessary buttons throughout the user interface.

I often use the dark theme with Cochin 17pt font. The wide theme is a lot better than medium because it actually takes up most of the window and I feel like I’m editing a full page rather than a single column. I also immediately move the article to iCloud after creating it and rename it to something applicable so I can keep my documents organized.

This app may be $9.99, but it’s worth every penny if you’re looking for a solid Markdown editor.

If you’re wondering why I don’t use iA Writer, it’s because I never really liked the iOS apps for it. They just don’t appeal to me, and all those big formatting buttons seem a bit overboard. I prefer something more streamlined with buttons that look like they’re part of the UI, not a foreign addition.

Price: $9.99
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Metaclassy

For Email

Every writer, businessperson, and responsible person checks his email daily. It’s not just a good habit, but a necessary one for most jobs.


I know, it’s a very outdated email client and isn’t going to last because Google bought it. That doesn’t mean I can’t still use it in my daily life. I still haven’t found a better email app. Apple’s own Mail doesn’t work well for me because there is no shortcut to archive a message. I did manage to create my own, but Option + A wasn’t working as well as the delete key. So, I decided to just stick with Sparrow.

The first great thing about it is simplicity. It’s focused on your messages and conversations with people. I really like the inline quick-reply using Option + R because it doesn’t distract me from my mailbox. I can still see incoming messages as I reply to one, and I like that. On top of that, the app just looks nice. It has pull-to-refresh, uses CloudApp or Dropbox for better attachments, and even integrates Facebook to give you a picture of the person you’re talking to. I don’t personally use the Facebook feature, but it’s definitely nifty and looks a lot cooler than Mail’s boring plain text.

As stuck-in-the-past as that all sounds, I really do love Sparrow. Maybe .Mail will hold something better, but until it releases I’m going to keep using this lightweight app. It’s never gone wrong before and I’ve been using it every day since it was first released.

Price: $9.99
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Sparrow by Google

For Performance

It’s good to keep your Mac running smooth. It’s better if you can keep it in like-new condition all the time.


I visit a lot of webpages in a day, so my caches are filled quickly. Instead of going through every browser and erasing them, I just open up MacPaw’s CleanMyMac. It quickly and safely removes all my temporary files so my Mac will continue to run smoothly. Since I also install a lot of apps to try them, I need to remove them once in a while as well. For that I was using AppCleaner, but since CleanMyMac 2 (releasing soon) has it as one of the headlining features, I just decided to make use of the all-in-one utility. Don’t get me wrong, AppCleaner is great. CleanMyMac is just much more high-tech. It even tells me about leftovers from old apps.

I’ve found MacPaw’s utility to be a weekly go-to for keeping performance good on my computer. It’s also one of the most well-built pieces of software that I own.

Price: Free to try, $14.95 for 6 months, $29.95 for lifetime
Requires: OS X 10.4 or later
Developer: MacPaw

For Browsing: Chrome or Safari?

Some dock icons.

Some dock icons.

This one has been quite the affair. I used Chrome up until Safari got iCloud tab sync, then I switched to Apple’s browser to use that feature on my three devices. I even forgot about Chrome and removed it from my dock, only using it once or twice a week for little things and maybe some different Twitter accounts here and there. Honestly, I didn’t see a need for more than one browser, other than the occasional extension.

Then Safari started to get sluggish. I cleaned it up with MacPaw’s software and scrubbed until there was nothing left but the original software. Still, it wasn’t working as well as it did when Mountain Lion first released. When I opened a new tab the browser would crash; there were some weird graphical glitches; and I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore. Since I sold my iPad last month, I thought it might be best to switch back to a Google browser.

The most visited section of Chrome.

The most visited section of Chrome.

Chrome has been a lot more stable for me whenever I’ve used it. In fact, the only time I remember it crashing was when I used the developer build. Well, that and the time I had a CR-48 (the first Chromebook). Regardless of the small issues, Chrome hasn’t failed me and Safari has multiple times. I liked the idea of using an Apple browser, but I just couldn’t get it to work well enough so I jumped ship.

One of my favorite features in Safari.

One of my favorite features in Safari.

If things get more stable in a future update, I’d be glad to try Safari again. Right now, it’s just not ready for primetime in my world.

There are a few things that I miss from Safari. One of them is Reader, which I used daily. I’ve found that I can replace that with Readability though, so it’s not too big of a deal. The other is the browser’s Top Sites page. I really liked pinning things there for quick navigation and I wish Chrome had something like that, rather than “apps” and “most visited”.

For Reading


A writer should do lots of reading, right? I’m actually not much of a reader when it comes to books, but I do enjoy my RSS feeds and daily news articles. For said perusal I’ve been using Leaf, a lightweight RSS reader that I reviewed just last week. It’s grown on me and I don’t mind the lack of Readability/Instapaper support as much as I thought I would (I don’t really use it that often anyway).

I’ve enjoyed using this app because of its looks, simple functions, and stability. There’s nothing more to it than that. When I’m home from work at night, I pull out my MacBook and do a bit of reading with Leaf. If there were an iPhone app, I would gladly replace Reeder with it.

Price: $3.99
Requires: OS X 10.8 or later with a 64-bit processor
Developer: Rocky Sand Studio

For Cloud Storage: iCloud or Dropbox?

Now the big one. Nowadays, everyone’s excited about this “cloud” business. But really, which one is best? Since there are too many choices outside the walls, I’ve decided to stay inside my confine and choose between Dropbox and iCloud. But I’m actually not choosing between them, because I use them both.

Byword's iCloud sync.

Byword’s iCloud sync.

When it comes to Byword documents, Dropbox is not my go-to resource because storing a file isn’t as quick as it is with iCloud. You have to navigate folders, and I don’t need to do that. So for this, I use iCloud. Yes, I could use Dropbox because it does work well and the iOS app supports it, but I don’t want to go through the hassle of navigating to my Dropbox folder every time I need to save a new document. If the developer were to add a nice simple user interface to it, or automatically save to a folder in my Dropbox account, I’d switch immediately.

The Dropbox menu.

The Dropbox menu.

That’s actually all I use iCloud for. Dropbox is my main storage facility for everything else, from invoices to old emails in PDF form to my source code for my websites. I keep everything in there because it’s a secure place that I can always access, whether I’m at home, on someone else’s computer (using a Web browser), or flying across the pond with only my iPhone. I like that iCloud has this versatile application as well, but I prefer the Dropbox approach.

For Scheduling

An event in Calendar.

An event in Calendar.

I’ve always had a large problem with staying on task. Whether it’s writing an article or a message to a friend, I can’t always seem to pay attention fully. To keep myself on a sort of schedule, I plan my day out in Calendar. I add articles that I need to write, give myself a good amount of time to do them, and then move on to the next task. After a lot of practice, I’ve discovered that this is the most effective way to organize my day. I definitely get a lot more work done using Calendar with notifications than I would if I tried to remember it all myself. The app at least eliminates one area of procrastination.

For Notes

I’ll make this quick because there are way too many note-taking apps available for the Mac. I don’t use any of them. Apple’s Notes app isn’t bad, but I don’t prefer to have a bunch of stuff in it. Instead, Simplenote is my favorite scribble-pad. I throw ideas into it, make lists of cool things I find around the Internet, and even have my own font book (a list of fonts I like) going. Simplenote has been the most reliable notes service I’ve ever used and I don’t even need an app for it. I think it’s nice to keep things mixed up a bit. Why have all native apps when you can enjoy the fun of a Web one?

For The Dictionary/Thesaurus

A word to describe music I like.

A word to describe music I like.

A writer must have his tools at hand, and OS X’s Dictionary is actually the best thing I’ve ever used. Many people don’t even know it’s there. The little book gives you access to Wikipedia and even British English versions of the dictionary and thesaurus. I’ve found it extremely useful in my daily writing because its searching is instant, meaning that you can type a character and a result will pop up. I also enjoy having the Look Up feature in my browser and other apps.

Did you know you can tap a word with three fingers and OS X will define it?

There’s no reason for Microsoft to not include something like this in Windows.

For Entertainment: VLC or Age of Empires III?

Three good entertainment apps.

Three good entertainment apps.

It’s the end of the day and I want to watch Skyfall again. Since I ripped the Blu-Ray I got from, I now have an MKV file, which iTunes can’t play. Besides, why would you want to open it in iTunes? Instead, I use VLC for all my video files. It’s a very light application that does everything you could ask for — even free Internet streaming.

One of my favorite games on the Mac is Age of Empires III. It’s a classic, I know. I really love conquering the world once in a while. I beat the campaign more than once and now I just do a few quick matches with the queen of England. It can get really hard, so at least there’s a challenge left. The strategy is to build walls, then a church, and then upgrade your walls to stone. That’ll keep them out!

For You

What are you using for your work on the Mac? Do you think my choice of apps is good; do you have a suggestion for me? We’d love to hear all about your collection in the comments.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about what apps I use and why. See you around!


Add Yours
  • Hey!

    Thank you for sharing which apps you use with us. I agree with most of your choices except using VLC. Don’t get me wrong, VLC is nice but it hasn’t hardware acceleration. As I see that you use a MacBook Air. Especially on laptops I would use mplayerx over every other player cause it saves lots of battery. VLC uses about 50-60% of your CPU while playing a 720p video, mplayerx just 8-10%.
    You can do the math on your own.

    Another reason to use mplayerx instead of VLC is that you can forward single pictures like in QuickTime.

    • Well that’s interesting. I always just used VLC for compatibility. I’ll have to check out MplayerX. Thanks for the recommendation!

      • It only really matters for H264 video. I just tested this with a few video files:

        720p WMV ~2000kbs
        MPlayerX: 25%
        VLC: 21%

        MP4 XVID in AVI container ~4000kbs
        MPlayerX: 6-7%
        VLC: 20-22%

        1080p h264 in MKV container:
        MPlayerX: 6-10%
        VLC: 50-60 %

        1080p h264 in MP4 container:
        MPlayerX: 15%
        VLC: 65%

        1080p h264 in FLV container:
        MPlayerX: 6-8%
        VLC: 60%

  • I’ve written on my blog about several must have apps and most of them are basically the reason to how I managed to finish anything during the day.

    – Bartender
    – Concentrate
    – Tadam
    – Alfred
    – Postbox
    – SelfControl
    – Fantastical
    – Musicality
    – Day One
    – RescueTime
    – TextExpander
    – Calendar
    – Evernote
    – Dropbox

    Those are my productivity apps I use daily and I wouldn’t get anything done without them.

  • Maybe when you use iOS devices, you don’t get the full glory of that, but Chrome has had Tab sync for some while now (and the iCloud sync is fairly new in comparison).
    For notes/todos, I use wunderlist just because it looks best but that’s a matter of preference.
    Ever since I switched to the Gmail web interface, I tried several mail apps – thunderbird, sparrow (and some other “new player” which everyone raved about) and I couldn’t really find them as easy to use.

  • Fantastical
    Pop Clip
    Music Converter
    Total Finder

  • Apps I couldn’t live without…
    Dropbox – essential for having everything accessible everywhere…
    Evernote – seriously my whole life is in here
    Google chrome – never really got into safari… Chrome syncs across all my devices including my work PC
    Quicksilver – easy as shortcuts for everything on my mac
    Window Tidy – super easy window resizing
    Screen float – capture a section of screen & float it over everything else
    Boom – increase the built in sound on my MacBook

    & for mail…. Have tried them all. Currently using Mail App but don’t love that I can’t use multiple tags on my gmail accounts… But like the interface & unified inbox… So just living with it

  • *PopClip : A must have !

    * : I like Dropbox but was looking for some alternatives. totally replaced Dropbox for me.

    *Doo : Totally replaced Evernote for me ! It’s the last great surprise I had on my Mac, discovering this app which do all I needed. In Evernote I had to manually manage my tags and folders… in Doo… no ! I love that !! Just saved a lot of time and headaches and it’s free. Cherry on the cake : I told Doo to scan my local Box folder… and hop we’re in business !!!!

    *Alfred : I tried Alfred some years ago but was not convince. At this time I was already a Quicksilver user and fan especially cause the possibility of creating customs “triggers” and assign them to hotkeys. Then in 2012 I rediscoverd Alfred, gave it a good try, went for the “PowerPack” and was totally overtaken by his usefullness and his ease :-) And I discover it could do triggers like I needed… so I let go Quicksilver and since this time I’m stuck with Alfred. I remember Quicksilver as a really good one… a little bit more complicated than Alfred… but one of the first to be there… it will always have all my respect and my admiration.

    1Password : How to live without ? It’s impossible !! When you try it you keep it. I use it since version 1. Shame on me, I was not paying my licence at this time (ahem…). In fact I used it during some long years… then one day I was downloading 1Password again and start to wonder “I have 40$ on my bank account today, if I spend them I will still be ok, and there i have a software I love and use since years… what about giving this 40$ to the team of developers and in the same time offer me the gift of an official version ?” and boum I paid for it and never regretted my choice :-) Today I’m proud to know I supported the team :-))

  • Thanks for posting on all of these great apps, Jacob. I’ve tried a few of these, but I think I’ll check out the rest later tonight after I get home from my shift at DISH. I would like to suggest another entertainment app for you. It’s called DISH Anywhere, and it streams live TV and DVR recordings over 3g, 4g and WIFI. It is a great way to kill time; last week I got stuck at the DMV for a few hours, but I hardly noticed thanks to the movie I watched.

  • Ctrl-Cmd-A will archive a message in Apple Mail.

  • Files — Path Finder
    Writing — Scrivner
    Browser — Chrome > Safari when chrome breaks (daily)
    Email — AirMail
    Finance — MoneyWell
    Entertainment — MPlayerX
    Cloud — Cubby
    CrapIneedWindozeFor — WIneSkin Winery (games)

  • Thanks for the post! I always look forward to your App reviews.

    Here’s a snapshot of the apps I use on a regular basis:

    NotesTab Pro for notes: . The interface is simple and it syncs beautifully across all of my devices. I keep a lot of random notes on hand for later referencing , I’ve tried many other note taking apps and settled on this one because it syncs well with my workflow, and it feels good to use.

    Bartender: for keeping the menu bar organized as I have quite a number of apps that take up the menu bar space. One of those invaluable apps that keeps things neat and tidy.

    Pathfinder : an efficient way to navigate the finder. With the ability to view two panes at once its super easy to transfer files between different directories without losing your place.

    1Password : another invaluable App. It saves time on logging into password protected sites, and is a great way to manage all sorts of product serial #s , account passwords,

    AppZapper: I’ve been using this handy uninstaller App for many years, and its never failed me yet. Not to mention the retro Martian stungun is a fun icon to have.

    Porthole: sometimes I like listening to Rdio while I work on the computer and prefer it routed through my entertainment speakers via AppleTV. This app bridges the gap between Rdio and my sound system.

    Oh! And Fantastical! : a superb calendar App . That’s stays out of the way, but is there when you need it.