This post is part of a series that revisits some of our readers’ favorite articles from the past that still contain awesome and relevant information that you might find useful. Though, over the past year, a few things have changed, so check for the updates below, too.
This post was originally published on June 21th, 2011.
Like most Mac users, I have mixed feelings about the Mac App store. For app users, the App Store makes it easier to find and manage apps all in one place, but largely eliminates the flexibility of free trials. New developers probably enjoy the increased visibility of being in the App Store, but likely lament about the slow acceptance process and numerous restrictions.
Though it seems like most Mac app developers are following the crowd to the App Store, there are still some real gems out there that haven’t made the switch. In this round-up, I’ll go through an incomplete list of fantastic apps missing from the App Store that are worth straying to the browser for. (I’m not including free apps or popular, well-known software like the Microsoft Office or Adobe Creative Suites.)
iStat Menus is a powerful system monitoring app, which makes realtime status information about your Mac easily accessible from your menu bar. iStat menus is highly customizable, letting you control exactly what information you want displayed, and how the information will look in your menu bar. iStat Menus can monitor CPU usage, battery, memory, disk usage, network activity, hardware temperatures and more. Personally, I use it to keep track of CPU usage from the menu bar, so I can quickly find out which processes are slowing down my computer and how demanding my apps are on my computer’s resources.
Bjango has decided not to offer their apps for download from the Mac App until it overcomes what they perceive to be significant shortcomings. Their position is cleverly outlined in their timeline of a hypothetical app released through the app store. It’s an interesting, well-argued article, check it out!
Now in the App Store!
1Password can keep track of all your login information for the myriad websites and services you sign up for, and makes them all accessible through one master password. I’ve been using 1Password to keep track of web logins, software licenses, bank information and more for the past six months or so, and couldn’t be happier with it. In addition to the copy-and-paste interface, 1Password integrates with your browser (it plays better with some browsers than others, but it’s pretty seamless in Chrome and Safari) so that you can fill out forms and passwords with a few clicks of the mouse, without having to rely on your browser’s own less-than-secure password storage. Agile Bits also created an iPhone version of 1Password that syncs with your Mac, but I personally haven’t found myself using it much.
I got my mother a 1Password license for Christmas, and she never stops telling me how much time and frustration it saves her!
Originally, 1Password couldn’t be featured in the App Store because of the way it integrates with browsers, but today its in the App Store and even complies with Apple’s new sandboxing requirements. Best of all, if you buy it from the App Store today, you’ll get a free upgrade to iPassword 4 when its released.
Developer: Agile Bits
CleanMyMac is a handy utility that scans your Mac for any unnecessary files and data, and makes it easy to delete anything you don’t need. CleanMyMac eliminates unnecessary language files, universal binaries, caches, logs, and more. You can pick and choose what you want to keep and delete, and it makes sure you delete files permanently and securely.
One of my favourite features of CleanMyMac is the uninstaller: when you drag an application to the trash, CleanMyMac pops up and asks if you want to delete all the extra files that accompany it, so you don’t have any leftover junk from your unwanted apps.
CleanMyMac might not ever show up on the App Store because they offer a 6-month license option for half the price of the lifetime version, and I don’t see Apple supporting that kind of pricing plan at the App Store. Plus, it requires far too much access to your system to comply with the App Store’s requirements. CleanMyMac’s developer did make a simpler app, CleanMyDrive, that’s on the App Store and can clean external drives of junk.
Here at Mac Appstorm, we frequently extol the many virtues of Alfred, the powerful Spotlight replacement that lets you search your computer and the internet, launch applications, do calculations, and (way) more. The Powerpack extends Alfred with additional, powerful features that take Alfred one big step further. The Alfred Powerpack lets you perform actions on the files you find, like copying, moving, emailing or opening, in addition to it acting as a mini iTunes controller, allowing you to search recent documents and clipboard snippets, launching terminal controls and commands, and more.
The Alfred Powerpack lets you do many of the common tasks you perform on your Mac without lifting your fingers from the keyboard or navigating through the Finder. The basic version of Alfred is an indispensable tool for casual and power users alike, but the Powerpack adds a whole extra level of geeky productivity that makes Spotlight look archaic.
Alfred is available for free in the App Store, but so far the Powerpack is only available for download through the website, and the App Store version can’t be upgraded to Powerpack. Alfred’s developers have promised to make the Powerpack available at the App Store in the future.
Price: £15 (around $23.50, depending on the current exchange rate)
Developer: Running with Crayons
Since tabbed browsing has become the standard in web browsers, I can’t help but think tabs should be everywhere. In my opinion, any app in which you often have multiple windows open should have tabs (iWork and Microsoft Office, I’m looking at you). The Finder certainly falls under this category for me, and though a tabbed Finder seems like the next logical step to me, I was disappointed to see no Finder improvements at all in Lion.
TotalFinder is an attempt to correct this oversight, bringing Google Chrome-like tabs to the finder. The basic functionality is pretty much what you’d expect: the tabs work like they do in Chrome, and you can easily drag-and-drop between them.
In addition to the tabbed browsing, TotalFinder also offers a split-window mode, cut-and-paste, system-wide Finder access through keyboard shortcut, and finder organization.
Developer: Binary Age
Like TotalFinder, Path Finder brings tabs to the Finder. However, Path Finder also packs in a heap of additional features and is marketed as a fully-featured Finder replacement. Path Finder adds pretty much any feature you wish the Finder had, like dual pane browsing, sorting and filtering, and breadcrumb navigation. My favourite feature of Path Finder is the “Drop Stack” which is like a temporary folder in the sidebar where you can place files as you relocate them.
I used Path Finder for a long time, but recently switched to TotalFinder because Path Finder doesn’t support Dropbox, which is a total deal-breaker for me.
I don’t know if apps like TotalFinder or Path Finder will end up in the App Store, I’m guessing they probably tweak the OS a lot more than Apple is comfortable with.
Now in the App Store!
HyperDock brings Windows 7-style window previews and snapping to OSX, showing you a preview of open windows when a dock icon is hovered over, and snapping windows to corners or sides of the screen. HyperDock’s window preview feature is handy, but personally I think it needs a bit more work.
Like I said before, I think tabbed interfaces are key, and HyperDock only shows you the different windows open in each app. I rarely have more than one window open at one time in an app, but usually have a fair number of tabs going in Chrome, Photoshop and Coda.
HyperDock does support tab previews for Safari, and the developer says support for other browsers is on the “to-do list.” I switched from Safari to Chrome a couple months ago, but the HyperDock integration with Safari is really slick, and I could see myself using this app a lot more if it worked with more browsers.
HyperDock also features window snapping, similar to apps like Cinch or BetterSnapTool, which works intuitively and just as well as Cinch for basic window management, but doesn’t have quite as many customization options as BetterSnapTool.
As it turns out, HyperDock made it to the App Store after this article was originally published, though it is slightly more restricted. Good thing is, you can choose if you want to buy it directly from the developer for more features or get the App Store’s convenience.
Developer: Christian Baumgart
Kaleidoscope is a powerful application that allows you to compare documents and review changes easily and quickly. Kaleidoscope works with pictures and with text files, and uses different comparison methods for each. When reviewing a text file, the app highlights changes, deletions and insertions in different colours, allowing you to easily see how a file has changed. This feature seems aimed at developers, with support for version control through Git, Mercurial and Subversion.
I’m not much of a developer, but I found the text file comparison really useful for writing and editing purposes. Rather than using Word’s “track changes” feature, which shows changes all in one document, Kaleidoscope highlights changes in a much more understandable way, with both documents side-by-side.
You can also compare images in a number of ways, but I found the most useful comparison method was the “split” view, which lets you control the angle the images are “split” at, allowing you to compare whichever portions of the image you wish.
Kaleidoscope has gone in and out of the App Store as noted in the comments, but it doesn’t seem like it’s coming back now. The good thing is, you can still get it from the developer!
Concentrate is an interesting little app: it helps you eliminate distractions by letting you set various actions to be excecuted while you’re “concentrating.” Actions include launching and quitting apps, blocking websites, opening documents, running scripts and setting off various reminders.
When I was in school I used Concentrate frequently, and my favourite features were the spoken or Growled reminders: I had it set up so that a Stephen Hawking voice would berate me every half hour or so, and a Growl message would remind me to save changes every few minutes.
Some of us need to be forced to concentrate, and can’t be trusted to stay away from distractions, and Concentrate really helps keep you on track. Though I’m not in school any more, I still launch Concentrate every once in a while when I really need to get something done without the constant temptation of the internet.
Another academic app, Papers helps you find and organize academic papers with ease. Papers is designed for anyone with an overflowing digital library of research papers, studies and the like, using automatic metadata detection or manually added information to organize your papers.
I used Papers in school to keep track of endless anthropology articles and assignments, and it was a lifesaver when it came to writing research papers. Mekentosj recently released Papers 2 with some fantastic new features that I haven’t really had a chance to delve into, like support for many different document types, unified search, coverflow interface, word processor integration and more. Papers is a brilliantly handy app for students, and I imagine it would be indispensable for researchers.
Price: $79 (Student discounts available)
Though this roundup is far from exhaustive, it shows how many great apps can be found outside of the App Store. Some of the developers of these apps have held back from releasing App Store versions because of their own negative opinions of the platform, others wouldn’t be able to get their apps approved, but they’re certainly still worthwhile apps, and their lack of inclusion in the App Store in no way reflects lesser quality.
What are your thoughts on App Store distribution? Do you think these developers have made mistakes by not taking the platform seriously? With the number of apps in the App Store increasing every day, can these developers still compete?