After three months, what’s really being used

One of the goals I have with this blog is to give you some perspective on how my experience with a Mac changes over time. Today it’s been exactly 3 months since I bought the MacBook and over that time I’ve played with what seems like hundreds of applications, though only a few of them have actually stuck. I did the same thing after I had the MacBook for 3 weeks and it’s changed a bit since then.

So here is a list of the applications I use heavily on my Macs. Note that since I have a Mac Pro as my primary desktop I use a slightly different mix of applications on it than I do on my MacBook, which is now my meetings / travel machine.

I spend a lot of time in my web browser and Safari continues to be my browser of choice. I have Firefox on my machine and use it for some non-Safari sites at times but by default I look at the web through Safari glasses. I love the performance from it. This is not a knock on Firefox; I’m a huge fan of that browser and really like where the Mozilla folks are taking it. For some reason on my Macs I just seem to gravitate to Safari.
I have had some crashes on Safari lately, especially when I’m pushing it hard, opening several tabs that have lots of Flash based components. This is a pretty new thing and I’m not sure if this is a function of a defective build of Safari. If it continues I may well switch to Firefox full time.
Though it’s a relatively new addition to my application list, 1Password has quickly risen to the top. I honestly didn’t think I’d use it as much as I have. I love that I can jump between my two browsers (Safari and Firefox) and can still get immediate access to my login credentials wherever I happen to be. It has my profile so it can fill out forms for me quickly and it also is a nice place to securely store my information. I still need to work up a decent strategy for keeping both of my Mac’s 1Password data synchronized without having to buy into .Mac though.
I switched from iChat to Adium a little over a month ago and have loved it. Adium is a fantastic little application for integrating chat from AIM and Google and has the customizability I need to make it work exactly the way I want it to. It can’t do the video portion right now but since my daughter got tired of the video chatting capability it hasn’t been as much of an issue. I do shut down Adium and fire up iChat if I need to do the video chat thing, though I’d love to do that directly in Adium.
VMware Fusion
I’ve written quite a bit about how I’m using VMware Fusion. For the $79 I paid it’s been, dollar for dollar, the best value for me being a recent switcher. What do I like so much? I’ve got a nice little 21GB VM that contains Windows XP and my entire development environment on it. When I moved it from my MacBook to my Mac Pro I had to re-authenticate Windows XP (and use one of my other license keys since I now am running it on two different machines), but I had my entire environment up and running within about 10 minutes. It was glorious not having to rebuild the entire development environment. This is more a function of VMs in general but it’s just fantastic to be able to do that.
Fusion is pretty slick because I can use it in a variety of different ways and the performance I get from it, whether it’s on my little MacBook or my Mac Pro, is outstanding. I guess you could lump Windows XP / Visual Studio into this mix too.
I really struggled with iPhoto at first, coming from Picasa on Windows. iPhoto and Picasa are similar enough that I expected them to work the same, though there are some major differences that take getting used to. I think I’ve gotten to a point with iPhoto that I’m much more comfortable with it now and when I got the Mac Pro I actually stopped using Picasa on my Windows machine and moved everything over to iPhoto. iPhoto has worked fine for the kind of quick photo editing I need to do – I don’t usually need global changes to pictures, just quick touch-ups here and there, red-eye removal, level adjustments and cropping. iPhoto is fine for that stuff.
I’d really like more power in the slide show department. I’ve bookmarked FotoMagico as something to evaluate but haven’t gotten around to it. Outside of the basic photo editing I mention above I really just need the ability to create compelling slide shows and match them up to a soundtrack easily.
I don’t know what to say about this program other than it works great, does exactly what I need it to do and helps me quickly scan through the news and blogs that are important to me. I have not put NetNewsWire on the Mac Pro – that activity is handled exclusively by the MacBook because keeping up with my news feeds is something I really want to keep current (ie. what I’ve read and what I haven’t).
Update: Several people mentioned that you can synch NetNewsWire through the free Newsgator service. I set it up to use that and am now happily using NetNewsWire on both machines. Thanks very much for the tips folks!
I recently purchased a TextMate license, getting tired of the nag screen and realizing that I really did like it. I love powerful text editors and TextMate fits the bill nicely. I know that only a couple of people reading this blog will get this reference but it reminds me a lot of Brief, my favorite editor from the DOS days. Don’t ask me why, it just does, and that’s actually a huge compliment. I find myself turning to it often. The fact that it has built in templates for just about everything means I’m pulling it up for more and more things now. I’m playing around with Ruby on Rails again and TextMate appears to be a great editor for that language and framework.
I’ve been an iTunes junky for years and now that I have the Mac Pro as my primary desktop I moved my music collection over from Windows. My music moved fine but my playlists got pretty hosed up, mostly because when I did the move I reorganized what was a complete cluster-muck (yeah, I know, wrong letter) of file locations into something resembling and orderly list.
Microsoft Office
I am using a trial of MS Office for Mac 2008 and I think that’s what I’m going to end up purchasing, though I’m going to shop around for the best price. I need a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software and have been happily using Office on the Windows platform for well over a decade. I’m one of the few people that grew to like the last version of Office for Windows and many of those design principles appear to have been carried over to the Mac version. This is influenced in no small part because I’ve had people send me some DOCX files that didn’t render very well in the trial version of Pages that I was hoping to use, leading me to go with something I was pretty confident would work.
On the downside it is pretty sluggish and is just different enough from the Windows version that I have to hunt and peck through it to find some things but it does work.
iStat Menus
This was one of the first tools I installed and it has become a part of the way I use my machine. Having the CPU meters, the network I/O monitor and the quick Memory and HD gauges is wonderful. I feel like I know what’s going on with the machine at all times. If you care at all about the status of your machine I highly recommend iStat menus. Oh yeah, it’s free too!
Though at first I simply used the Connect to Server function in Finder to hit FTP locations I quickly outgrew it. I saw several recommendations to try out Cyberduck and really like it. FTP applications to me need to be as simple as possible – all I really need to do is quickly push a couple of key files up to my different web locations and Cyberduck makes that very simple.
Gmail Notifier
Since I’m a Gmail junky and still use the web to access my account, the Gmail Notifier is something I reference all the time.
So there you have the applications I currently use every day, all the time. There are lots of other features that I use too (like Time Machine, Spaces, Spotlight, Preview, etc), but I really think of those as OS X features.
I also have other applications that I use infrequently like iMovie, VLC, Audacity, Burn, HandBrake, iStumbler and Journler. Each of these applications are important to me, I just don’t use them on a daily basis. This is more a function of my workflow right now than anything else though. As I mentioned earlier, this will change over time.
I have had so many people recommend QuickSilver to me it’s unreal. I have downloaded it and watched several videos on it’s use, I just haven’t actually installed it and started playing with it. I’m sure if I do I’ll become attached to it, especially if my 1Password experience was any indication. My only hesitation is that I know it will change my work habits quite a bit if I adopt it the way others have.
So what am I still looking for?
I would love to find a replacement for Microsoft Visio – hell, a Mac version of that would be wonderful. It’s great for logic flow diagrams and I also use it to mock up my UIs quickly.
A detailed replacement for Microsoft OneNote would also be nice. It’s what I’m using Journler for but I haven’t found the application that has the kind of features I want out of OneNote. I think the strongest feature is the tabbed UI model it uses – it really is slick.
I won’t get into the development platform issue right now since that’s worthy of several posts.