As promised a few days ago, I come back to you with my list of favorite apps and utilities, only on the Apple side of things.
I’ve been regularly using a Mac(Book (now MacBook Pro)) since about 2007. The initial spark was probably my Apple-phile wife and her Apple-phile family, but the real catalyst was audio. Until I made the switch, I’d been recording on a custom-built PC, but constantly experiencing issues with hardware, and not really liking the software available. The Mac had a reputation for working well with creatives, especially on the music end, so I took the plunge and have been pretty happy since.
Of course, being a general computer geek, I like trying out random apps I see linked in blog posts or recommended by others, no matter the use. Some stand out and get used a lot, while others may be tested and deleted. The former, while still not being all-encompassing, is what makes up the following list.
Again, in no particular order:
Markdown is my favorite lightweight markup for turning text files into RTF without all the unnecessary encoding in the background. Github uses it, too, which I frequent. Mou is a plenty-capable editor for making those files and I love it.
A quick menu bar app to tell ya what’s playing on the eyeToons, with a clever little line-scrapes-across-the-cover-art motif to indicate your position in the song.
I may love my Mac, but I also realize Windows has a significant place on one of the partitions of my MBP’s main hard drive. Usually this is accomplished through Parallels, but when I need the full power of 100% Windows (i.e. I want to play a 3D game on Steam), this little utility gets me there in a snap.
OS X is curiously bereft of much built-in keyboard-controlled window management. I’m a control freak about that stuff, even when it’s just duplicating the built-in window management of Windows 7 (make a window take up 50% of the screen or maximize it at the touch of a keyboard shortcut). DoublePane makes my life a lot easier.
My MacBook Pro has a for-2D-windowing-stuff on-board graphics card, and it has a for-pushing-the-limits-of-3D-stuff “real” graphics card. The OS is usually pretty good about dynamically switching, but when you need more control, GfxCardStatus gives it to you.
MagiCal gives me a little mini-today’s-date on the top menu bar, which drops down into a tiny calendar for the month when I click it. Why can’t OS X do that? I dunno.
Mangles names like whoa. Much like my need to keep my files in an organized structure on Windows, I want my files named intelligently and orderly on OS X. Name Mangler is smart and sleek and does the file naming business using a great interface.
Another gem of an app from Kevin Wojniak, Semulov adds a menu bar app that lets you quickly unmount any volumes you got loaded. This is perfect for me because I use a Hengedock and occasionally need to relocate my Mac from its comfortable grip to somewhere more portable, and I want to nicely unmount my Time Machine drive before doing that, cuz that’s just neighborly, right?
I’m using MacroMates’ sweet app to write this very blog post, and you probably already know how good it is if you’re a Mac user and a developer of some sort. Or maybe you’re using Sublime. Or maybe…like…vim or emacs or something. Whatevs. It’s a text editor and it edits text nicely, even letting you open whole project folders and giving you a tree to navigate it while you edit its innards. Oh, other apps do that, too? Well, TextMate 2.0 is still in alpha and free, so it has that going for it, which is good.
When you need you need to make a presentation on your Mac, with windows and mouse clicks and audio narration, Screen Flow is pretty darn pro. It’s not free or particularly cheap, but it is the real deal for that thing I just mentioned. I once took an online class that allowed us to make screencasts as a way to accomplish assignments, so I found this app and used it and loved it and bought it and use it some more.
Remember that cool Quake-like dropdown console I mentioned during my Windows list of favorite apps? Remember how it took a combination of Console2 (to replace the limited built-in cmd.exe) and AutoHotKey (to tie showing/hiding Console2 with a keyboard shortcut)? On OS X, it just takes TotalTerminal. Boom.
Not a Mac-only app, but worth mentioning now since I use it on OS X much more, Audacity is kind of the industry-standard free audio editing application. It does the job of taking audio and mangling it all up, and then saving it to various formats. Despite using Logic to do all my serious, multi-tracked music projects, Audacity is still a tool that comes out to do the nitty-gritty stuff plenty of times.
The Mac Daddy (ahem) of audio apps on OS X. This is the industrial behemoth, replete with many DVDs-worth of samples and plugin goodness (now all downloadable from the App Store). There are too many yummy sound things to list that I love about Logic and what it comes with, and if you’re serious about aural production on a Mac then you already know this one. Unless you use Ableton, Reaper, Pro Tools, Cubase, Studio-One, or any other DAW software, and then I just sound like a fan boy. Whoops.
If you’re like me, and I guess it’s always possible, then you probably play(ed) a lot of video games in your time. The sounds of the NES and Game Boy and Sega Genesis and the like, “chiptunes” if you will, are like your classic rock. They may even continue to be in your desired music playlist today. If so, Cog is the way to play all those perfectly legal NSFs and SPCs and such. Yes.
For all of your non-chiptune needs, Vox is the Winamp of OS X. Apple’s iTunes is a great app, of course, but it’s a bit bloated, and Vox is there to be your lightweight music player when that’s all your need: to play some music quickly.
A seriously powerful synth and sampler that still has a small footprint and is available not only on Mac, but also on Windows, and iOS. The 1st and 2nd platforms are TOTALLY FREE, as well, so you can get your feet wet before shelling out currency for the portable version. I’ve made whole albums with this thing and it’s kind of a joy to use, especially on iOS. The interface is well-thought-out enough to work on both desktop and mobile, but really shines on the latter. And it’s all made and maintained by one duder. Amazing.
Sometimes I need to route audio from one place to another in the bowels of the OS X sound subsystem, and Soundflower is pretty good at doing that.
Need some lo-fi sound FX for a game soundtrack you’re working on? Or just for fun? Bfxr is a web app that can do that for you, mixing the square waves and filtered white noise to get you lasers and explosions and jump noises. Then, if you want an offline version of the tool to use when you’re outta network, download it for OS X (and Windows).
OK, I think that’s enough. Be sure to check out the source code for the apps I listed that have it available, and help out to make ‘em better. If’n source isn’t available, or you’re not the programmin’ type, at least drop some money on those you use that are free and given away, like gifts to a crowd of strangers we like to think of as The Internet.
The mountains of free code on the web is multitudinous, but while the good will engendered by giving away hours and hours of digital effort is a reward in and of itself, they all probably eat food and like to sleep indoors occasionally, too. Preaching aside, thank you to all the devs who make all the apps I use (and don’t yet use!) and enjoy. Coding is tough, man.