The 10 Must-Have Apps I Install on Every New Mac

Following my recent post about what’s on my iPhone home screen at the beginning of 2016, I decided to do the same for my must-have Mac apps.

I consider these apps requirements when setting up any new machine — essentially, I feel that I need them to use the computer effectively.

Hopefully this will give others who are looking for new or useful apps some ideas.

1. 1Password


1Password — my password manager of choice for many years. (This one’s also on my iPhone home screen, you’ll recall.)

Strong passwords, of course, are key to protecting yourself online. You should use a different, complex password for every important account. This can be hard, though, if you’re trying to store all this info on your head.

With a password manager like 1Password, you can remember just one strong password, which you use to open the app. Then you can automatically generate ridiculously strong passwords for every account you have within the app, and access those on the fly, no matter which device you’re using.

2. Dropbox


Dropbox — Confession time: I once ruined a one-month-old MacBook Air by spilling a full bottle of Stella Artois beer directly on the keyboard.

It’s a long story. But, BUT! I had saved all of my important documents, images and other files in Dropbox, so I lost nothing — except money and my pride, that is.

Dropbox lets you stores your files in the cloud, so that they’re accessible on various devices.

For example, I’ve long kept many of my basic lists in plain text files, and use Dropbox to keep them synced across my Mac, my iPhone, and my work machine.

3. Chrome


Chrome for Mac — I was a loyal users of Apple’s browser, Safari, for many years. But a while back I switched over to Chrome, which, in my experience, is faster and more reliable, even though Safari looks prettier and is obviously built for the Mac.

One caveat: Some say Chrome is more resource-intensive than Safari, meaning it will drain your battery faster.

4. TextExpander


TextExpander — this app, which I’ve been using for many years, lets you use abbreviations for frequently used bits of text.

For example, if I type “eemail,” the app will instantly insert my personal email address. If I type “eeemail,” it will insert my work email. If I type “ddate,” it will insert “February 8, 2016,” etc.

I also have so-called snippets set up for my home and office addresses, various email signatures, and much more. It’s the kind of tool that is totally indespensible.

5. PDFpen


PDFpen — let’s get this out of the way: at $74.95, this is not a cheap app. But the ability to manipulate PDFs by typing and writing on, and signing them, is nearly magical, and makes the app well worth the price.

I’ve used PDFPen, which is made by the same folks behind TextExpander, to fill out and send back any number of forms, applications and the like.

Forget about printing out and manipulating physical documents — you can do it all digitally with PDF Pen.

6. Evernote


Evernote — Somewhat sadly, I hardly ever use what had been my go-to writing app since 2007: Scrivener.

I used Scrivener to write my graduate school thesis, composed hundreds of stories on it, and even used it to tackle Nanowrimo many moons ago.

The problem: While it’s great if you only ever use on computer, it’s not so great if you want to be able to work on the same documents across machines or devices. (The company behind the product has been saying for some time that they’re working on an iOS version.)

So I’ve increasingly been using Evernote — it’s designed not as a word processor, but as a catch-all for tons of different digital material, from text and images to audio and more. But you can certainly use it for writing.

7. TweetDeck


Tweetdeck — the best way to access Twitter on your Mac. I have several columns set up so that I can access my various Twitter lists — accounts I don’t want to miss, fellow WSJ folks, notifications when people respond to or like my tweets or stories, and more.

Note that Twitter recently released a new version of its Mac app, but I’m sticking with Tweetdeck for now.

8. Spotify


Rdio was my streaming music choice for several years, but when it shut down last year, I switched to Spotify.

I like it a lot — especially the excellent Discover Weekly feature, in which the service automatically generates a playlist of new music for you based on your listening habits.

I mostly use Spotify on my iPhone, but the app also works well on the Mac.

9. Caffeine


Caffeine — this tiny little app does one thing and does it well: it keeps your Mac from going to sleep.

The app lives in your menu bar, and you can simply click it to keep your machine awake if you’ll be away from it from an extended amount of time, or don’t wait it to dim or go to sleep when you’re watching a movie, for example.

  • Cost: free
  • For more and #Protips: that’s all you need to know — it simply keeps your Mac awake!

10. Noizio


Noizio — like Caffeine, this is a small app that lives in your menu bar and has a singular task: to provide background noise.

If I’m being distracted by various sounds when I’m working on my Mac, I simply throw my headphones on and choose one of Noizio’s ambient sounds — I especially like “Paris Cafe” — and work away.

  • Cost: Free.
  • For more and #Protips: that’s all you need to know — it simply provides background noise!



The iPod-ification of Khao San Road

I was in downtown Bangkok’s Banglamphoo district yesterday afternoon, and I figured I’d drop by Khao San Road to see how it’s looking these days. You may remember that I penned a New York Times travel story in 2007 about how Khao San Road, long a gathering spot for backpackers, has become increasingly upscale.

I hadn’t visited the area in about six months, and at first, everything seemed normal: There were vendors selling offbeat T-shirts, various travelers were drinking beer at outdoor cafes, and a young woman was sitting on a curb, getting her hair braided.

But then I saw this, which I must admit took me by surprise:

Yes, that’s a recently-opened iStudio shop — a Mac re-seller — on Khao San Road. I went inside, and can report that the shop sells the full range of Apple gear: routers, desktops, laptops, iPods, and even the iPhone. Here’s another pic:

I also noticed, further down the street, that in addition to pirated music CDs, which have been available on Khaosan Road for many years, there’s now at least one vendor selling bootlegged computer software.

And then there’s this:

There were at least two stalls where vendors were selling movies and music that could be downloaded directly to iPods, mobile phones, or computers. You can see, here, that the sign says “Music & Movie — Load to iPod.” (For the record, this practice may not be particularly new. And it may not be unique to Bangkok: A friend in the know tells me that this downloading service has been available in Phnom Penh for some time.)

So these new, digital offerings — the iPod-ifcation of Khaosan Road, if you will — means that if you’re a backpacker and you want to upgrade your aging iPod, let’s say, or even purchase a new iPhone, you can do so at one end of the street. Then you can wander a few hundred meters down the road and load the device up with pirated flicks and tunes. And there you go: You’re set for the rest of your journey.

Depending on your perspective, I imagine this is either scary, surprising (or not), or totally cool. Maybe it’s some combination of all of those.


iPhone 3G coming to Thailand on Jan. 16

This story came out nearly two weeks ago, but I thought it would be of interest to readers here in Thailand.

Reuters: “True Move to unveil iPhone 3G on January 16”

BANGKOK, Dec 24 (Reuters) – True Move PCL, Thailand’s third largest mobile phone firm, said on Wednesday it planned to sell Apple Inc’s (AAPL.O) 3G iPhone in Thailand from Jan. 16, a key driver which should boost revenue next year.

The deal will make True Move, a subsidiary of True Corp TRUE.BK, the first operator to sell the new phone in the fast-growing Thai market.

Shares in True Corp TRUE.BK, which owns 75.26 percent of True Move, surged 17 percent to close at a near two-month high of 1.65 baht. The overall Thai market .SETI was down 0.3 percent.

True Move will sell the 8GB model for an upfront payment of 6,999 baht ($202) and monthly fees of 1,199 baht. Customers are required to use True Move services for at least 24 months, it said in a statement.

(Thanks to BL for the tip.)


Happy iCal Day

Caution: Mac Geekery Ahead

Today* is iCal Day: the one day of the year** when the iCal icon’s default date, July 17, is accurate. iCal is Apple’s calendar application; some call it quirky, but I love it for its simplicity.

*It’s also my pal Lee Lefever‘s birthday. Happy birthday, Lee.

**Insert joke about Macs being “glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults” here.

Related posts:
10 Tips for New Mac Users
iPhoto Tweaks: Getting the Most Out of Apple’s Image Editing Application
Scrivener in the New York Times Magazine


iPhoto Tweaks: Getting the Most Out of Apple’s Image Editing Application

I generally like using iPhoto, Apple’s default image management and editing software. But with nearly 8,000 images in my library and limited RAM and hard drive space, opening the application and its accompanying 20 gigabytes of data was taking an eternity, and even basic tasks were becoming unwieldy.

I’ve now figured out a better way to manage my images using iPhoto. The solution isn’t revolutionary, but it’s working well, and I figured I’d share my new setup in case you’re facing a similar issue.

First, I bought an external hard drive and moved all of my photos off of my PowerBook. This was a no-brainer, and I should’ve done it a long time ago. Here’s Apple’s official description of the process. It’s pretty simple. (Note that I’ve got iPhoto version 5; I understand the newer version of the app makes this task even easier.)

Then I used a helpful add-on called iPhoto Library Manager to create a new library that I now store locally on my machine, while the album that holds my thousands of other images lives on my external hard drive. This Macworld article describes, with screen shots, how iPhoto Library Manager works. One thing I like about this application is that it’s very lightweight, and you can launch it and fiddle with your libraries without actually opening the resource-intensive iPhoto itself.

And finally, I happened upon an excellent little app called Image Capture, which I didn’t even know I had it on my machine. It’s a straightforward app that allows you to review, delete, rotate, and save images from your camera or memory card without opening iPhoto at all. This way, you don’t automatically import huge batches of images and then sift through them in iPhoto. Instead, you can simply delete images directly from the memory card and choose the images you want to keep. Then you decide where to save the good pics and then import them into iPhoto.

This detailed overview of Image Capture provides instructions for making the application open by default when you insert a memory card, rather than having iPhoto spring to life automatically.


Scrivener in the New York Times Magazine

Remember Scrivener, the excellent OS X writing application that I mentioned back in July? Virginia Heffernan, in a recent New York Times Magazine story about Mac OS X alternatives to Microsoft Word, gives Scrivener an excellent review:

Our redeemer is Scrivener, the independently produced word-processing program of the aspiring novelist Keith Blount, a Londoner who taught himself code and graphic design and marketing, just to create a software that jibes with the way writers think. As its name makes plain, Scrivener takes our side; it roots for the writer and not for the final product — the stubborn Word. The happy, broad-minded, process-friendly Scrivener software encourages note-taking and outlining and restructuring and promises all the exhilaration of a productive desk: “a ring-binder, a scrapbook, a corkboard, an outliner and text editor all rolled into one.”

(Via 43 Folders.)


Excellent OS X Writing and Project Management App

Scrivener is a remarkably useful Mac-only project management and writing application. I started using it a few months ago, and it’s quickly become a must-have.

First off: if you mostly write memos or simple documents that require strict formatting, then you should stick with Word. But if you’re a Mac user looking for something to help you manage complex writing projects — a novel, a screenplay, a book, or simply a long article — then you should take a look at this application.

For me, Scrivener’s best features, as I go about assembling my writing projects, are: 1) the ability to import and reference multiple documents and Web pages from within the main window; and 2) the split screen feature that allows me to consult two documents at once within that window.

No more toggling between multiple drafts in separate Word documents. No more consulting various Web sites and PDFs and then returning to Word. Everything now lives in one place, and all of my drafts and other materials are organized by folder.

I also really like Scrivener’s look and feel. It’s an OS X application designed and developed by a writer. And the community of users is also lively and passionate.

Here’s a recent Macworld review. And here’s what Merlin at 43 Folders says about Scrivener.

It’s free to download and use for a trial period; 35 smackers and it’s yours for life.

(Cartoon via.)


A Few Technical Notes

A few notes on personal technology, for all three of you out there who care about this stuff:

1. Though I’ve been a vocal proponent of Bloglines (the Web-based RSS feed reader) in the past, I switched to Google Reader a few months back. In short: Google Reader is to Bloglines as Gmail is to Yahoo Mail/Hotmail/AOL.

2. I really like the FireFox add-on called Download Statusbar.

3. CheckBook is an excellent personal finance management application. (Sorry, PC users — it’s Mac-only.) It’s not as robust as applications like Quicken, but that’s okay with me.

4. I’ve mentioned On the Job before, but let me just say it again: It’s an incredibly useful time tracking/invoicing application. (Again, this one’s only available to Mac geeks.)

5. I recently purchased an external hard drive so that I can start doing full-system backups in case my computer’s internal drive fails. (I’ve always done backups of my most critical files, but I want a full-system backup in case the unthinkable happens.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t know that SuperDuper, the (similarly Mac-only) backup program that folks in the know really like, only works with Firewire. My external hard drive only connects via USB. Nevertheless, I found Deja Vu, which seems pretty good so far.

6. Mac For Beginners offers a number of helpful, plain-English tutorials for folks who’re just getting used to OSX.

7. And finally, here’s an amusing rant for those of you who are sick of my Mac fixation. Charlie Brooker in The Guardian: “I hate Macs”:

I hate Macs. I have always hated Macs. I hate people who use Macs. I even hate people who don’t use Macs but sometimes wish they did. Macs are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults; computers for scaredy cats too nervous to learn how proper computers work; computers for people who earnestly believe in feng shui.

PCs are the ramshackle computers of the people. You can build your own from scratch, then customise it into oblivion. Sometimes you have to slap it to make it work properly, just like the Tardis (Doctor Who, incidentally, would definitely use a PC). PCs have charm; Macs ooze pretension. When I sit down to use a Mac, the first thing I think is, “I hate Macs”, and then I think, “Why has this rubbish aspirational ornament only got one mouse button?” Losing that second mouse button feels like losing a limb. If the ads were really honest, Webb would be standing there with one arm, struggling to open a packet of peanuts while Mitchell effortlessly tore his apart with both hands. But then, if the ads were really honest, Webb would be dressed in unbelievably po-faced avant-garde clothing with a gigantic glowing apple on his back. And instead of conducting a proper conversation, he would be repeatedly congratulating himself for looking so cool, and banging on about how he was going to use his new laptop to write a novel, without ever getting round to doing it, like a mediocre idiot.

If there’s one indictment of Macs that resounds with me, it’s that Dr. Who would certainly be a WinTel man…

(Image via.)


10 Tips for New Mac Users

A buddy of mine recently bought a new Mac and asked me for some tips in getting started. As a passionate — though hopefully not obnoxious and only slightly dorky — Apple fan, I offered him much of the following common sense-centric advice. I’ve added a few items to the list I gave him and thought this might be helpful to others.

1. First things first: Purchase and register AppleCare. If you don’t want to spring for it, then at least be sure to register your machine for the standard warranty. Better safe than sorry and all that.

2. Read the user manual — obviously, OS X is easy to use, but it helps to read the book. Duh. The operating system contains some very useful features that might not be apparent.

3. Import your images into iPhoto — it’s super easy to use and very cool. Simply plug your camera’s memory card into your machine’s USB slot and iPhoto will open automatically and prompt you to import your pics. And it goes without saying that you should make the most of iTunes for your music.

4. Use iCal for scheduling. It’s extremely simple — a more elegant version of Outlook’s calendaring feature. Don’t forget that in iCal, you can import and subscribe to public calendars. With one click, I added all of the American and Thai public holidays, for instance.

5. Spotlight is perhaps OS X’s most powerful feature. Just click on that magnifying glass in the upper right corner of the screen to find stuff with Google-esque efficiency. Way faster than navigating through folders using the Finder.

6. Set up Google Notifier for Mac. You do have Gmail, right? Well, what’re you waiting for? Okay then. Get the notifier so you can be alerted when you get new email. Works great.

7. Buy an external hard drive (80 gig or so at least — bigger if you’re into downloading massive amounts of tunes or video.) An external drive, naturally, will allow you to back up all the stuff on your hard drive. It’s rare, but hard drives do fail, and as you begin storing more and more valuable stuff on your machine — documents, photos, music — over time, you’ll want to have a backup copy just in case. Lacie is a good brand.

8. Take advantage of Expose, a feature that allows you to access open windows quickly. For example, you can move your cursor to any corner of the screen and all open widows will displayed at once. Similarly, hitting F11 can be used to hide all of your open windows and display the desktop.

9. On the Job is an excellent Mac-only time tracking application. It’s free to try and $24.95 to purchase

10. And, finally, tinker! Don’t be afraid to poke around and open folders and try out utilities and play around with stuff. Hitting the wrong button will not cause your computer to explode.

Related articles elsewhere:

10 Things Every New Mac Owner Should Know

“10 tips for new Mac users, switching from Windows…”

Basic Tips for New Mac Users


New iPod Shuffle

Apple continues to demonstrate that they just might have the most innovative consumer electronics product designers in the world. Check out the new iPod Shuffle. One gig of memory. 240 songs. 1.62 inches long. 78 bucks. A built-in clip. Wow.