What Mac OS X applications do I use?
While in Thailand, I bought myself a MacBook. The (Windows based) laptop I brought violently crashed, yet again, so I figured it was now, really, time to splurge and get something more robust, even though, in gadget-happy Thailand, this meant forking out an amount of cash that could have gotten me two and half Windows machines.
So far, it’s been a bit of a struggle, here and there, on getting the machine to do exactly what I want it to do. For one, it took time to find the right applications to do the job. So far, this is what I’m using.
FTP and File management
Mac OS X comes with a very decent filemanager, Finder. Except, it doesn’t have multiple panes, like the ancient Norton commander. It means that Finder is not always good enough. As a paned filemanager replacement for the Mac, I use muCommander.
MuCommander is also an FTP client and works very well for up- and downloading from one pane to the next. However, I couldn’t get it to work together well with the HTML editor I also use (see below). Therefore, I also use another FTP client, which is single paned, but works very well too. This one is Cyberduck.
For enjoying all the P2P Bittorrent goodness, I use Transmission.
HTML and code editing
Every time I set up a new machine, I try to find a free or cheap replacement for the excellent Dreamweaver. On Mac, I was hoping for some cool Mac only tool, but it was a struggle. I tried Nvu again, which is a promising application and certainly has the feel of Dreamweaver, but for some reason I never get it to open PHP and ASP files. It needs plug ins for this, but they don’t work as they should.
Nvu hasn’t changed at all over the last 18 months or so and a project that addresses that lack of updates is KompoZer. However, there, I had the very same problem, not being able to open PHP or ASP files.
Two alternatives that would be good are Quanta and Bluefish, but both have to be compiled before they can be run, which is not too user friendly.
So I searched around a bit and found a reasonable and small package, Smultron, which works, up to a certain extent. But in the end, I started using Dreamweaver 8, which isn’t free, but does work better than the other applications I tried.
iTunes and Quicktime are nice, but can VLC be beaten? It gives you all the codecs you can dream off straight away.
Still, I installed Flip4Mac and Perian to extend the number of file types Quicktime supports.
Although I was one of the first to IM, back in the day when ICQ was hot, I’m not too prolific an instant messenger. On Windows, I used Trillian to get all my IM clients in one interface. On Mac, Adium does it even better.
Then, there’s also Skype, of course.
I also like Google Talk, but they don’t have a client for Mac, yet.
The Mac came pre-installed with iChat, which seems to be a decent application.
I’m used to Fireworks and, to a lesser extent, Photoshop. I like the idea behind Gimp, but I find the interface annoying, so I’ll probably end up reverting to either of two aforementioned products. Meanwhile, I moved to Gimpshop, which aims to bring a more Photoshop-like interface to Gimp.
Also, like OpenOffice.org, Gimp requires the X11 window manager to be installed, which makes the interface act differently from ‘native’ Mac applications. Not great.
I’ve started using Fireworks again, which doesn’t seem to work that well under Mac OS X, and Photoshop CS, which lacks the photographic tools I’d like to use from CS2 and CS3. But the cost of Photoshop is on the bad side of funny.
Then again, so is the price of the (formerly Macromedia) Studio CS3, which includes Fireworks and Dreamweaver.
For managing my digital photography collection, I used a wonderful Windows application called FastStone image viewer. It’s very similar to ACDsee, but not as bloated, more functional and, the best part, free.
I’ve searched for a similar application for Mac but haven’t found something reasonable yet. The closest I came was GraphicConverter, but that misses functionality compared to FastStone, is less intuitive and not free. Petra, in her comment below, mentions the application QPict, which indeed seems to be useful, in a Picasa kind of way.
A tiny application that at least solves the problem of browsing images through the Finder is Finder Browser.
A different approach to managing your digital photo collection while having access to a series of basic photo manipulation tools is exemplified by Apple’s Aperture and Adobe’s Lightroom. Both aren’t free, in fact, rather expensive at just under 300 dollars, but I’m starting to like Lightroom.
I occasionally use a program to create mosaics. On windows, Mazaika is very functional but a bit clunky to use. On the Mac, I found MacOSaiX, which is very user friendly but doesn’t have the same amount of knobs and levers Mazaika has. One big advantage of MacOSaiX is that it natively can search through Flickr, Google and Yahoo! streams. With Mazaika, I had to write scripts to achieve that and then build my own libraries for each keyword I wanted to use.
For building panoramas, I used the extremely excellent Panavue on Windows. On Mac, an extensive search has now left me with two alternatives. PTgui, which I find rather hard to use, and Autopano Pro, which is a breeze to use, but doesn’t seem to be as accurate as PTgui.
And for getting your photos on Flickr, there’s no better tool than jUploadr.
Both Opera and the pre-installed Safari are decent, and the upcoming Safari 3 is interesting, but nothing beats Firefox.
I’ve been an extensive user of OpenOffice.org for years, although over the last year I’ve moved towards Google docs more and more. Still, Google doesn’t have a presentation package, yet.
One disadvantage with OpenOffice.org on the Mac is that it requires the X11 window manager to be installed, which gives the application a non-native feel, which is slightly annoying.
Running Windows applications and file systems
One of the main, if not the main reason, why it took me so long to switch to a Mac, was the inability to run particular applications on a Mac. Most particularly the threesome Panavue, DCE and Photomatix, all three being image editing applications.
So, now that Macs run Windows through Bootcamp, I figured that was how I was going to do it. But then I stumbled upon a schweet little tool called Parallels desktop, which allows you to run a Windows XP installation inside a window on your Mac OS X desktop. What’s more, it also allows for accessing that external NTFS hard disk you might want to use without converting to OS X’s file system.
Parallels works very smoothly, if you stay inside the Windows window and don’t move between Mac and Windows applications. It even seems the windowed Windows is faster than my old laptop.
For accessing my external (NTFS) hard disk, I experimented with MacFuse, a tool developed by a Google employee. Together with ntfs-3g, it’s possible to access NTFS file systems. In the end, I did manage to get it working, but it was a long road.
Update (November 2007): After a physical hard disk crash, a repair and a reinstall of everything, getting my external NTFS hard disk up and running was a breeze. A few minutes to install macfuse and another few to install ntfs-3g. That’s all it took to access my external NTFS hard disk.
Also, I discovered Darwine, a Wine port for OSX. With Darwine, you can run ies4osx, multiple internet explorer versions.
And the rest
Three enjoyable pieces of software are coconutBattery to keep track of the quality of your battery, coconutWiFi, to track all the wireless networks in your neighborhood and the widget iStat nano, which keeps track of all sorts of hardware related info.
There’s also smcFanControl, which lets you juggle with the speed of the MacBook fan. Whole tribes swear by this application, and with the occasional stories of MacBooks overheating, this might indeed be a useful application.
Then there’s Google Earth and Quicksilver, a replacement for Spotlight.
A nice little video application is Gawker, which lets you create stop motion videos with your built in iSight.
There’s also Paparazzi!, which easily lets you make full sized screenshots of web pages. This is useful if your webpages fall of the screen and you don’t want to stitch successive screenshots together.
Mac OS X has a built in burner but when I tried to burn a DVD with just over 1GB of JPGs, it refused to cooperate. So I’m now trying my luck with Toast Titanium.
There’s also a built in unzipper, but it doesn’t handle .rar files. The Unarchiver does.