Parallel Desktops

8 months after switching here are my favorite applications

As I’ve now crossed the 8 month time frame since I got my first Mac it’s time to update the applications that I use regularly. When I made my switch I made a real effort to find native Mac replacement applications for everything I use and for the most …

As I’ve now crossed the 8 month time frame since I got my first Mac it’s time to update the applications that I use regularly. When I made my switch I made a real effort to find native Mac replacement applications for everything I use and for the most part I have been successful in that.

I’ll list these applications in the order in which I find myself using them and will include internal OS X applications as well. Many of these applications are related to the way I am using my Macs now, which is starting up a new company. I am doing lots of development, marketing messaging and content creation, building spreadsheets, etc. and am in front of my Macs anywhere between 12 and 16 hours a day.

This my friends is the life of an entrepreneur in start up mode.

I am completely addicted to the Spotlight / QuickSilver / LaunchBar model of activating applications and documents and more importantly tying them together in helpful ways. Virtually everything I do starts up with Command-Space and LaunchBar has proven to be a solid and stable companion for me.

I would be severely limited without Spaces. The ability to have my windows arranged properly for each of the tasks at hand is incredibly powerful. Running on a Mac Pro or even my MacBook Pro with 12GB and 4GB of memory respectively means I can keep everything up and running and get to it in an instant.

Though I still use and like Safari I spend the majority of my time in Firefox. I have Foxmarks installed and it keeps my book marks synchronized between my Macs and my Ubuntu workstation. The add-ons for Firefox are incredibly helpful, especially those that help in web based development.

Once again, I nearly forgot to mention 1Password because it fits so seamlessly into my workflow I often forget that it’s there. Between remembering my passwords but also securely keeping track of my sign-up information and credit cards, 1Password helps me complete most forms very quickly.

Since I work from my home I keep in touch with my friends and family through instant messaging. With accounts on AIM and Google Talk I can use Adium to consolidate it into a single application. I like the compact way it presents itself and the ability to quickly search through previous conversations gives it an edge over iChat.

I have several e-mail accounts and the Mail app does a decent job of consolidating them into a nice, single place. Though the IMAP performance with Google’s Gmail can be trying at times, I like the interface for Mail and enjoy the integration is shares with the Address Book.

Preview / QuickLook
One of the things that I love about OS X is that it includes a very nice file viewer in Preview. I don’t have to load Adobe’s bloated Acrobat Reader in order to see PDF files and it handles many of the formats I need easily. I lump QuickLook in there with it though it’s more of a Finder extension than an application. Being able to simply select a file in the Finder or on the desktop and hit the space bar to see a quick preview is very handy.

I’ve long been a big fan of true programmer’s editors and TextMate is one of the best I’ve used. The best part of TextMate? The numerous bundles available to make the most of everything programmers do on a regular basis easier. Since I’m doing my development work in Ruby on Rails I’ve gotten heavily into the great bundle available for TextMate. We’re also using Subversion as our source code management and the bundle for it in TextMate is great.

I recently wrote about how I’ve set up my office phone around using Skype and I’ve really enjoyed using it. Occasionally I have problems with calls to land lines, though that’s pretty rare. Combining Skype with LaunchBar is a game changer in my mind; my productivity around phone based activities is easily triple what it was with a conventional land line and it costs a fraction of what it used to be.

Address Book
The address book–especially since it synchronizes with my iPhone—is great. I also love that it is accessable from within LaunchBar, allowing me to simply find a person in the address book by hitting Command-Space and entering their name, then selecting one of the contact models I have for them (phone, e-mail, etc).

Since adopting the iPhone I also switched to using iCal as my full time Calendar. The integration between the iPhone and local iCal makes it very convenient.

I am one of those people that likes to have music in the background most of the time and with iTunes 8 and the Genius playlist feature I find myself exploring my music collection far more than I ever did before. Combine that with syncing up my iPhone and it’s a great application in my book. I added GimmeSomeTunes to iTunes and now I get more cover art and I get a nice pop-up with song changes showing the current artist, title and cover art.

I often find myself trying to look through older videos I’ve collected from a range of different video camera formats over the years and always seem to be able to play them with VLC. Though the video quality is not as polished as some other viewers (QuickTime for example) it always seems to be able to view the file, which is what I really care about.

RSS feeds are how I stay up on current events in technology, finance and sports news and NetNewsWire provides a great way for me to keep everything in one place. I wish the built in browser supported Flash and video so that I didn’t have to open some pages in Firefox but other than that little nit I always have NetNewsWire up and running.

OmniGraffle Pro
I used to use Visio on the Windows platform and when I switched to Mac I needed to find a replacement. OmniGraffle does exactly what I need and has proven a fantastic tool for creating wireframe renderings of the application pages I then build. There are a lot of templates available for it and I’m also using it for building data models.

I picked up iWork and have become completely committed to using Pages. I find it much easier to deal with than Word though there is a bit of a learning curve if you’re a heavy Word user like I am. I really like the layout controls in Pages and the overall UI is far less complex.

I am rather reluctantly using Numbers. I say reluctantly because I’ve found the transition from Excel to Numbers much harder than the transition from Word to Pages. Excel has so many little quirks that I’ve become used to that are not in Numbers that I find myself constantly having to think about what I need to do instead of just doing it, which is unlike most of the other software I use on my Macs. My current use of spreadsheets is a bit infrequent so I don’t have too much time to spend learning it.

Though it can be a bit quirky at times it’s open source and free, which means it costs FAR less than Adobe Photoshop. My needs are minimal and I use Gimp mainly to clean up images and in some cases combine a couple of images on different layers. Version 2.6 was just released on October 1 though I haven’t bothered to build it myself so I’m still using 2.4. Sure, it requires X11 and is not a traditional Mac UI but it works really well and the price (free) is unbeatable.

Terminal / Bash Shell
Between using SSH to pop into my remote production servers and using the shell to run Rails commands I spend a lot of time in the shell. I always have several tabs open in the terminal, either ready for a command or running a local server so that I can easily monitor status.

iStat Menu
Whether it’s because I need to see where memory is being used quickly or to see the temperature on my MacBook Pro, iStat Menu gives me instant updates. If something is acting strange on my machine a quick glance at the menu bar tells me what’s up and one click later I can see what all the activity is about.

I’ve found myself using TextEdit more and more lately. When I have a quick list that I need to keep or need to push some relevant notes to the task at hand up I’ll just pop open TextEdit and scribble away. Small, fast and included in the OS; what’s not to like.

Though it took me a while to get adjusted to using iPhoto instead of Picassa on Windows, I have made the transition. I love the integration with the rest of the OS as well, especially with drag and drop targets and the ability to select my background image directly from my iPhoto catalog.

When I need to move blocks of files to my remote servers I tend to grab Cyberduck and transfer away. It has simple, no-nonsense interface and it does what I need when I need it.

MySQL Tools
Between the MySQL Administrator and the MySQL Query Browser I have pretty much everything I need to work with my local copy of MySQL without having to resort to the command line. If you do any local development and run an instance of MySQL on your machine then you should have these tools at your disposal.

VMware Fusion / Windows XP
As my development efforts have come along I’ve needed to pull up my product in Internet Explorer and VMware gives me a great way to do that quickly. On my Mac Pro I’ve found that it’s easiest to just keep it running all the time so that I can get to Internet Explorer quickly to do some testing. I still prefer Windows XP over Vista, if for no other reason now that it’s memory footprint is smaller.

Time Machine
Always running in the background, Time Machine is not an application I actively use very often but when I do it jumps right to the top of my list. I’ve had files that were not under version control that I horribly mangled and was able to get back because TM was there to catch my mistake. Now if I could just get that stupid Time Machine error to stop I’d be a happy guy.

On My Shortlist
I’ve found most of the applications I need but I still have a couple more to get through. On the development side I would still like a decent XHTML / Web editing tool. To this day the best general purpose HTML editing tool I’ve ever used was HomeSite on the Windows platform and it has set the bar for what I am looking for. I’ve played with the evaluation version of Coda and it’s pretty close but before committing to it I would like to get more feedback on what people like and recommend. I just need a lightweight editing surface that can help build up the XHTML code with helpers, perform quick previews, decent XHTML reference, etc. I like to write in the actual code, not in a WYSIWYG style design surface.

The second thing I am looking for is a decent financial management package. I bought iBank and have been using it and while it is an attractive Mac centered UI design it could be a lot better. A friend recommended I take a look at Jumsoft Money. If anyone would like to share their experience with that, or anything else in the personal finance category, please drop in a comment.

By David Alison

I bought my first Mac almost 24 years ago when DOS ruled the world. I didn't keep it too long though. I was just kicking off my career as a software engineer and needed to go with PCs. I bought my 2nd Mac in February of 2008. I didn't expect that I would find myself using the machine as much as I have. It's not that I hate Windows (well, I pretty much hate Vista but XP is a fine OS), it's just that I find myself constantly playing with this machine.

I'll share with you here my experiences of making the move from Windows to Macintosh. I still have a foot in both worlds, hence the name of my section.