December 28, 2017

Favorite Mac Applications for 2017

I am going to cover some of my favorite applications of the year 2017. I am primarily a writer, which means that the bias of the focus will be on apps which I use to write. Let's get started:

MultiMarkdown Composer Does Markdown Better

MultiMarkdown Composer reached version 4.0 and took over all my writing in Markdown. Customized for writing in MultiMarkdown. Full of little touches which make writing an absolute pleasure. Designed well, implemented perfectly, this is the product which made my 2017 exciting and fun. I wrote about it here.

Bear Conquers Note-Taking

If I was to design the ideal note-taking application, it would look a lot like Bear. It was my App of the Year for 2016 and over the year 2017 Bear has improved on the product to make it an ideal note-taking application. New themes, multi-word tags, infinite tag nesting, tag auto-completion, has enhanced the experience of note keeping in Bear. The only thing it lacks at this point? Typewriter scrolling. This is a feature which developers who write code don't seem to appreciate as much. For a writer, this is a must-have feature. There are two products I use which are constrained by the absence of typewriter scrolling, Bear and BBEdit. They both suffer from that.

iA Writer Manages Your Files and Introduces a New Font

iA Writer has upped its game with the ability to manage your text files in their assigned folders. iCloud support to facilitate the cross-device access to your text files. The ability to add images, and content blocks makes iA Writer an amazing Markdown based text editor. I have written about it here and here.

iA Writer is iconic. Defined by its use of a customized version of Nitti, and the blue thick cursor, the developers of iA Writer introduced a new font to the mix. They wrote In Search Of The Perfect Writing Font – iA, and gave the community iA Writer Duospace. Duospace is my working font in all applications which give me the ability to choose my own font, including iA Writer.

Ulysses Rides the Subscription Wave

Ulysses introduced subscription pricing and it's user base divided into two camps:

  1. Ho hum. Here is my money.
  2. You barmy?

The product continues to evolve. One of the best environments to write in, it is enhanced with the support for Paste from Markdown and Copy as Markdown. These two commands has made it easier to work in Ulysses if you are writing exclusively in Markdown.

One of the arguments for the switch to subscription pricing was the issue of product development. In the old revenue model, important features were held back to be combined into a compelling case for upgrade revenue. In the subscription model, there is no need for such restraint. Features big and small can be rolled into the product when available. I am awaiting table support.

Scrivener Upgrades to 3.0

If you are serious about writing, you have to try Scrivener. They recently introduced version 3.0. It brought with it, a whole host of features and improvements. For me, the important ones were:

  1. Completely redone compile.
  2. Amazing support for MultiMarkdown built in.
  3. Complete modernization and overhaul of the interface.

Scrivener is one of the applications which you can live in. Everything you do in the domain of writing can be handled by Scrivener. I use it for long form writing.

Keyboard Maestro and Alfred Keep Growing Up

Keyboard Maestro released version 8.0 and Alfred went up to 3.5. These are two products which make my computer run. I use them all the time and I can't imagine using a Mac without these two programs being installed.

Though these get a lot of use on my computer, I find myself struggling to explain what they do for me. It might be that they do so much that it is difficult to explain. They do everything. In no particular order these are only a subset of tasks they perform for me.

  1. Launch programs
  2. Open documents with particular programs
  3. Open a set of programs when I first switch on the computer. Open a different set of programs when I work on some other task.
  4. Open a set of URL's when I am in one project and open a different set of URL's when I am on a different project. Open a set of URL's when I want sports news, and a different set of URL's when I want political news.
  5. Select a set of files and perform some action on all of them at once. For instance, select a set of compressed files in the Finder, decompress them and then move to trash the original compressed files.
  6. Start a timer.
  7. Have a set of keyboard commands which let me write in Markdown irrespective of which editor I am using.
  8. Empty trash without leaving the keyboard.
  9. Use typed strings to perform actions in applications. For instance, in Ulysses, to switch to editor only view, I can type, ,edit. To show the library? Type ,libr.
  10. Expand snippets of text into pre-set boilerplate text. Alfred and Keyboard Maestro handle all the text expansions which I used to use with TextExpander.

This is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list of things I do in Alfred and Keyboard Maestro. These two programs are essential to my workflow. They are improving all the time and the communities around the two are enhancing the product with macros and workflows which make life easier for other users.

Outlining with OmniOutliner

OmniOutliner with version 5.0 decided to appeal to much lower price points. $9.99 for the Essential version and $59.99 for the Pro version made it possible for the product to appeal to a broad swath of consumers. Feature rich, extremely customizable (more the Pro than the Essential), and dedicated to outlines in all their glory, this is a deep product which is always launched on my machine. I love lists and OmniOutliner is where I create them.

OmniOutliner helps me think through things. Decisions have different elements to them and an outline helps me put it all together and evaluate different courses. Which brings me to the next application.

Curio Helps Me Think Things Through

Available in versions ranging in price from $59.99 to $139.99 Curio is an unique program. Mind maps, Lists, Index Cards, Tables, Stacks and Pinboards are all tools which are available in Curio. This is the program which does it all.

I live in Curio. I use it whenever I have to think things through. I use it when I find myself stuck. I start thinking in it, and having no clue where I am going I start putting the random thoughts in my mind in to Curio. Over time, the picture clarifies and if I am lucky, a path comes out of this exercise. There are times when I am not stuck but it is just the opposite, I have too many ideas. It is as harmful to my productivity. I use Curio to show me the way. I start writing in it, I don't think too much, I use the tools to get into Curio the random ideas in my head. The act of writing them down in Curio, clarifies them, simplifies them, helps me break it down to the essence and that gets my mind sorted out and gives me direction and clarity.

Curio is better than a mind map solution like MindNode or iThoughtsX because it does more. It doesn't restrict me to mind maps only, it gives me tools like lists, tables, index cards and others to fit my thinking into. That makes the process easier for me. I can make lists in Curio, I can make mind maps in Curio. Sometimes what I am thinking about is better handled by a table. No problem. Curio does that for me. I love Curio. I wrote about it here.

However, if you are looking for a mind mapping application both MindNode and iThoughtsX are very decent solutions for that need.

myTuner Radio Pro Keeps Me Connected

myTuner Radio Pro is a radio/podcast application available from the Mac App Store. I find myself listening to radio from England and India in it. It reminds me of the shortwave radio I used to listen to in my youth in Calcutta. I had to turn the dial and catch snippets of whole programs from the BBC, or the VOA, commentary on cricket test matches played in Barbados, Wellington, or Melbourne. It was exhilarating hearing sounds from far away, and accents which made my sing-song Indian english appear strange even to me.

myTunerPro is the modern day equivalent of the shortwave radio. You don't need to have minute control over the dial, the antennae need not be powerful, myTunerPro just sits on the menubar giving you access to 40,000 radio stations from 200 countries. It also gives you access to podcasts from all over the world and is always playing something on my computer.

SuperDuper! Lets You Be Safe and Clone Your Hard Drive

I use SuperDuper! to clone my internal hard drive to an external one. It has been working like a charm and gives me the ability to have a bootable backup of my system always available.

People I trust tell me that Carbon Copy Cloner is also very good at this task. I use SuperDuper!.

Both of these programs do the same thing. Gives you the ability to create a bootable clone of your hard drive. After you clone the hard drive the first time, you have the option in both programs to do incremental backups. Incorporate into your clone all the changes that have occurred since the initial clone. This takes a fraction of the time of a full backup. Both of these programs are heartily recommended and are a necessary component of my backup strategy.

Conclusion

We are lucky in the macOS space to have such great products available to us from some good developers. I thank them for making my life better.

Thank you all.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie


macOS


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