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.
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.
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
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.
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Sparrow by Google
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
For Browsing: Chrome or Safari?
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
It’s the end of the day and I want to watch Skyfall again. Since I ripped the Blu-Ray I got from Amazon.com, 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!
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!