Mac OS X "must haves"
This is a list of software which I consider to be pretty much a "must have" on any Mac I own. I'm not mentioning here command-line apps like Git, tmux and Vim — which I also consider to be essential — but am instead confining myself to GUI apps only.
Basically, this is the stuff that I end up installing on every machine that comes into my possession, and which I would be sad about if it ever became abandonware.
Software in this list is either open source, or otherwise freeware/donationware.
This is really the only sane choice on Mac OS X.
Softens your display after sunset, so that you don't have to bathe yourself in the eery, unnatural glow of the computer screen. Somewhat flakey (often doesn't kick in and requires you to manually quit and re-open it to force an update) but at this price you can't complain.
I have some deep misgivings about the decision of Homebrew to take exclusive ownership of
/usr/local, but on a fresh install of OS X, if you're prepared to let Homebrew have its way, there is no simpler/faster way of installing a bunch of necessary and useful command line packages (
mercurial git tmux zsh vim ruby rbenv ruby-build pwgen nginx tree qt pgp rbenv ruby-build is a sample list from the notes on my recent OS X install.
Makes the frontmost application stand out and the others fade into the background; excellent for when you have multiple windows that look alike, or too much screen real estate.
Has a killer feature: after mapping the Caps Lock key to serve as a Control key (using the standard OS X System Preferences), you can use KeyRemap4MacBook to change its behavior as follows. Namely, pressing and holding in combination with another key makes it serve as a Control key, but pressing and releasing it immediately serves as an Escape key (idea from this article). The setting you'll need is in the "Change Key" tab of the preferences ("Change Control_L key (Left Control)" -> "Control_L to Control_L (+ When you type Control_L only, send Escape)"), and is usefully combined with "Key Repeat" -> "Key Overlaid Modifier" of 300ms (down from 1000ms).
Another useful setting here is:
- "Basic Configurations" -> "Key Repeat" -> "Delay Until Repeat" -> 300ms
- "Basic Configurations" -> "Key Repeat" -> "Key Repeat" -> 30ms
Helps you find the mouse pointer immediately when you haven't touched the mouse for a while; pretty much a must-have if you work with multiple displays, where the mouse can get lost.
Dead simple management of notes and text files. Keep everything indexable by Spotlight, and without vendor lockin, while still having access to conveniences like search, tags/labels, and wiki-style links between notes.
The quickest and easiest way to not only take screenshots, but annotate them and share them. It also has some nice frills, like history, and not spewing temporary files all over your desktop (like Mac OS X's built-in screenshot capability does).
This is free but not open source. It hooks in to Evernote.
Awesome open source window management (keyboard control, auto-layout, multi-monitor configuration).
Play back audio and video formats that Apple won't.
Not open source, but free, and pretty darn useful.
When all you've got is a tiny SSD drive, this tool is very handy for hunting down and killing space-greedy files which aren't worthy of preservation.
- http://homepage.mac.com/rominar/net.html (and available on the Apple App Store)
See what's going in and out of your tubes.
Whole-disk backup software that has saved my butt on multiple occasions.
Measure anything on the screen (colors, distances etc). This is the perfect tool for helping you as a web developer to translate a designer's mock into a working web page.
Free to download and use, but paid if you want to get rid of the ads. On a laptop with a small SSD, this is a great way to retain access to a lot of your music, without actually needing to use up your precious drive space.
Hall of fame
These are products I used to use.
Throw windows around your screen(s) with user-definable keyboard short cuts.
Superseded by Slate.
Remembers and restores window locations. Great for when you are plugging into and out of external displays. Not entirely reliable, but even working 90% properly 75% of the time beats setting up all your windows by hand.
Superseded by Slate.
Enables you to independently control the direction of the mouse scroll wheel and the trackpad (very useful if you prefer "natural" scrolling on the trackpad but not on the mouse).
The necessary settings are a little bit confusing, at least for me:
- "Scroll direction: natural": should be turned off in the System preferences for both the mouse and the trackpad (the checkboxes are linked anyway)
- In Scroll Reverser:
- Top level "Reverse Scrolling" menu item should be checked
- Submenu "Reverse Horizontal" should be checked (weird, isn't it?)
- Submenu "Reverse Vertical" should be checked
- Submenu "Reverse Trackpad" should be checked
- Submenu "Reverse Mouse" should not be checked
Uninstalled when I switch back to using a Magic Trackpad instead of a mouse.
We used Campfire at my old work, and this is the nicest way to be in Campfire. The killer feature is the regex-based alert notifications.
Uninstalled on switching jobs.
I used to use it for the disk activity meter, which provides visual feedback of when the solid-state drive on my MacBook Air is actually doing something, and also gave me convenient one-click access to all my volumes as well as showing their current usage and capacity levels.
Superseded by iStat Menus.
Measure how hot your machine is running. Overheating killed my last machine, and I find temperature to be a useful indicator of how hard I'm pushing the machine; it can be a clue that you can afford to turn on more bells or whistles, or cut back.
Superseded by iStat Menus.