My List of Essential Mac Apps

My macbook is the most versatile machine I own, and when one of my friends asked me to suggest some good apps, I couldn’t just send him a list on a text. I just had to write a piece about it.

ESSENTIALS

No operating system is perfect. These are the utilities I install in a fresh setup so that everything under the programs works the way I want it to.

  • Lumen Despite the “dark mode” in the newer versions, OS X still has an extremely white UI. Lumen adds a magic auto-brightness setting that depends on the contents of the screen. Extremely useful when I open Medium in an extremely dark room. No more retina searing.
  • Spectacle Adds Windows-style window snapping, and even more tiling features.
  • Itsycal Another one of my Windows hangovers, Itsycal adds a drop-down calendar and agenda view. It also allows for quick addition of calendar events, which sync with Calendar.app.
  • iTerm2 Terminal is fabulous. You can tweak the hell out of its background and the fonts but it lacks hot-key support and panel tiling. And thats where iTerm comes in.
  • Homebrew Homebrew is the missing apt-get package manager for OS X. Combined with Cask, it has become my de-facto method of installing apps and command-line tools. Except for the three apps I have to download from Mac App Store.
  • AppCleaner Removes all the excess baggage strewn around the system by the app to be removed.
  • The Unarchiver An UI-less archive unpacker utility that merges with Finder and support 7zip, rar and other archives not support out of the box. It has at times opened zip archives deemed corrupt by the archive utility.
  • Quick Look Plugins Adds plugins to quick look.
  • Paragon NTFS Because most of my friends still use Windows formatted drives.
  • BeardedSpice Allows the control of web-based and local players with the media keys.
  • wget GNU wget is the free software package for retrieving files using the popular internet protocols. For larger downloads, or when wget is just not fast enough, I use axel which tries to accelerate the download process by using multiple connections and mirrors.
  • Disk Inventory X Solid state storage has gotten cheap, but not cheap enough, and most of us still tote around 250 gig storage models. Disk Inventory X is an old and free disk usage utility that shows the sizes of files and folders in a graphical manner, making hunting down those unnecessary big files easy. Daisy Disk is a nicer commercial option. You can also just use df and du commands, and avoid installing anything external.

DOCUMENTS

Students spend 99% of their time staring at long (or occasionally square) white documents with

  • Preview The in-built image and PDF viewer. It also previews a host of other file types, some 30+ of them, and has some basic editing tools. Skim is a less refined but more reliable and featured option.
  • Apple Productivity Apps They are free, beautiful and serve well as a basic replacement for Microsoft Office. Unless my file needs compatibility with Office users, I prefer using Apple’s apps.
  • Microsoft Office The industry standard. Office 2016 is extremely usable on the Mac, much better than the previous versions.
  • ShareLaTeX A server-based LaTeX editor and compiler. I find using a Fluid app of the service much more convenient than using a local macLaTeX installation and custom editors.
  • Sublime Text and Atom Probably the two best code and text editors around. Both support a huge list of features with interface theming and plugin support. I have separate setups for writing code, markdown and LaTeX, and keep jumping between the two as interesting plugins drop. You, of course, have vim and emacs if you prefer.
  • Airtable I really like Airtable for acting like a spreadsheet-based relational database system on a laptop, and then syncing to an excellent multi-screen data entry UI on my phone. Its perfect for keeping track of stuff like job hunting, trip ideas, project tracking, etc.
  • Dropbox and Google Drive Ofcourse.

VIRTUALIZATION

Many academic software have moved away from offering mac ports, and as a result, I often have to virtualize Windows and Linux on my laptop.

  • Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion are the best virtualization software available on the Mac. They both have similar features, but I found Parallels to be more fluid with the applications I need. Both offer trial versions, so I would suggest running both before commiting to one. VirtualBox is the open-source standard, and good enough if you are not planning on running graphically intensive applications.
  • Docker is a software containerization platform, which allows me to run images of certain linux software with running a full VM.

MEDIA CONSUMPTION

I can not work to an silent atmosphere, and as such prefer having something playing in the background all the time. I have spent some time searching for picture-in-picture mode solutions, so that I can have videos running in the corner of my screen while I work.

  • iTunes The addition of Apple Music and App Store, amongst other stuff, has made it a bloated UI mess. But iTunes still provides an inbuilt media library management tool (as long as the format is supported), and an extremely battery efficient media player.
  • PocketCast Its a web-wrapper for the Pocket Casts podcast website. Pocket Casts has a beautiful interface, cross-platform syncing and smart playlists.
  • Friendly for Netflix This is a web-wrapper for Netflix that adds an extremely convenient picture-in-picture mode.
  • VLC The free and open-source play anything media player. I have it tweaked to act in a picture-in-picture mode when it is not maximized. It also allows me to stream web and network media.
  • Spotify The mac app is beautiful and streamlined, and can be controlled from the terminal using shpotify.
  • SomaFM The independent Internet-only streaming group of radio channels has a great lightweight mac client. However, I only listen to a couple of channels, and instead launch them directly through a somafm-cli alias on the terminal.
  • Airflow Chromecast is a magnificent device and Airflow allows casting local media on to it without any need of mirroring. If you don’t mind the absence of GUI, use castnow.

MEDIA EDITING

I occasionally shoot photos and videos.

  • Photos A great inbuilt tool for basic edits, Photos also supports some powerful plugins. However, I never got used to the still adolescent app. I insead prefer Pixelmator for its interface and speed and GIMP because its powerful and free, but advanced editing tools are a very subjective choice.
  • ImageMagick The command-line image-manipulation tool. Many of the free editing tools use it at their backend. Extremely awesome for simple batch edits.
  • iMovie My photo editing needs are simple, and iMovie serves great for putting together home movies. Adobe products set the industry standard, but Apple’s Final Cut Pro X is fast gaining ground for its efficiency.
  • Adapter Handbrake has long been the king of media transcoding, but I was never a fan of its interface. Adapter is just as powerful — atleast for my purposes — and has a great interface to boot, giving me a better set of presets for my conversions. For batch processes, I rely on ffmpeg’s command line capabilities.

EBOOKS

I own a Kindle Paperwhite, and often transfer long pdf, epub and html files over to it to read more comfortably.

  • KindleGen Amazon’s command line tool to convert epub, html and other formats to Kindle-friendly mobi files.
  • Send to Kindle Amazon’s tool to push files to Kindle through the cloud. I don’t have to bring out my cable to transfer files.
  • k2pdfopt General purpose pdf copying/cropping/OCR-ing tool that can optimize and reflow text and images for the Kindle and other small screens.
  • Kindle For the days I don’t have the physical device with me.

CUSTOMIZATION

Its about optimizing the desktop to work faster.

  • Geektool Allows me to create shell-scripted widgets for desktop customization. I am in the process of moving to Übersicht for its lower resource usage and CSS styling capabilities. You can also use BitBar and AnyBar for menubar status customization.
  • SelfControl Allows me to blacklist websites for a certain period of time, blocking access through any web-browser or wrapper app. Once initiated, the blacklist can’t be revoked until the timer runs out, even if the system is restarted.
  • Monit Monit is a Today widget that adds beautiful system monitors.
  • Automator I love creating apps and right-click services to automate a lot if stuff I do on my mac. If the inbuilt functions don’t suffice, Automator can also run Applescript and shell commands to automate aspects of my workflow.

WEB BROWSERS

My work is heavily web-based in the form of course webpages, online collaboration tools, and video lectures. To maintain speed and battery life, I rely on Safari for general browsing. However, Safari often proves to be inadequate for everything else.

  • Google Chrome As an Android user, I am obliged to use Chrome to maintain history, login and bookmark syncing. It also has some specialized extensions such as Picture in Picture Viewer, Video DownloadHelper and Project Naptha which do not exist on Safari. I am waiting for the day when Chrome is optimized enough to become my sole web browser.
  • Fluid App Creates site specific browsers (SSBs) out of websites and web applications. I utilize it to create regular mac apps out of websites that I can’t afford to close as I cmd-W through my open tabs.

MISCELLANEOUS

They don’t fit any major categories, but I still heavily rely on them.

  • Whatsapp The official Whatsapp client for Mac. Also, my primary means of communication with my family. Hopefully, Allo will prove succesful and I will be able to use a Google built web-client soon to replace the phone-routed mess of a client that Whatsapp is.
  • Twitter The official Twitter client for Mac. It is buggy and lacks feature parity with the mobile and web apps, but I can’t justify paying for the excellent Tweetbot with my limited usage.
  • Polymail I usually use Gmail on the web, but some great features, such as email tracking, and a clean functional UI have me occasionally using Polymail.
  • pip The package management system used to install and manage software packages written in Python.
  • Grapher A 2D and 3D graphing software bundled with OS X.
  • youtube-dl A command line program to download audio and videos from youtube.
  • rtorrent A command line BitTorrent client.
  • Subliminal A CLI to a python library to search and download subtitles. It automatically looks for the best synced subtitles, without any effort on my part.
  • Findings A great app to keep track of experiments and simulations. Its a hyper-organized lab notebook.
  • Sketchup My favourite casual 3D modelling app.
  • speedtest-cli A command line interface for testing internet bandwidth using speedtest.net.
  • Nyancat Because nyancat.

TIPS

Some tips for the neophytes.

  • Try out the bundled software Some of the apps bundled with OS X are really good and will satisfy 95% of the users. Do check them out before you start downloading unoptimized standard software such as Adobe Reader.
  • OS X has a built in PDF printer Use it!
  • Automate your workflows OS X has amazing automation support with bash, applescript, python and javascript. Use Automator and download workflows from the web if you are scared of coding. It will cut down on a lot of inconvenient or repetitive tasks.
  • Embrace the command line GUI apps are often resource hungry. Command line tools, in comparison, run in the background, don’t use as much memory, weigh less and can be scripted.
  • Its not Windows A lot of people shift from Windows and expect it to function in the same manner. But, OS X was designed with a different paradigm in mind. Take time to learn how things work in OS X, and you will get work done much quicker.
  • It is OS X OS X offers some great hidden features. Expose and Spaces can reduce the need for multiple monitors for some people, specially who crave hyper-organization. Spotlight is an extremely powerful search/app launching tool. Since OS X is built around simplification of the interface, a lot of the more powerful tools are hidden behind the right-click and the command and option keys.
  • Bootcamp You can dual-boot Windows, and it runs beautifully.
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