We’re coming to the end of my first full year of using Mac OS X as my primary operating system. I spent the previous six years using Linux, so I’m very familiar with lots of open-source apps. At the beginning of the year I was curious about which of these would come with me on my journey through the land of Apple. Twelve months later I can tell you!
Keep in mind that this is my list of top freebie apps – the apps I actually use most days for my work, which is mainly writing and editing text on an iMac. Don’t be put off that they are all Mac apps—they all work on Windows too (and all but one also run on Linux). So there’s a good chance your favorites won’t be there. But I’d be interested in reading your list in the comments.
1. Komodo Edit
I spend a lot of time in text editors, writing and editing articles and tutorials. Although I got my favorite Linux editors working on my Mac they looked a little out of place, so I decided to check out the Mac freebie editors and discovered Komodo Edit.
Although the app starts a little slower than I like, once it gets going I really like it. Besides the editing window, I tend to keep two additional panels open. On the left I keep the “Toolbox” open with a list of frequently used macros displayed. These do things like converting the HTML of headings to the way I like it, common search and replace operations, and case conversions.
The other pane I keep open is for “Command Output”. I do a search for all headings (using a macro), and they are displayed in this bottom panel, effectively giving me an outline of the tut or article. I can quickly jump around the document by double clicking the heading I want.
Komodo Edit isn’t the only editor I use though. In the second half of the year I’ve spent just as much time in everyone’s favorite Textmate, and have also been fiddling with the difficult-to-master Emacs, mainly to experience Org mode.
I’ve been a fan of OpenOffice.org since it first came out. But now that I live and work on the Internet I don’t really need a word processor—a text editor is a better tool for my work. I don’t even print any more. The only thing I printed in 2010 was an application form for my daughter’s passport.
But I still use OpenOffice.org Writer most days—but only just. I use it to get a word count for the HTML tuts people send me. Most text editors include HTML code in the word count—I prefer only to count actual words.
Dropbox is an app that becomes more useful the more I use it. Shared Dropbox folders are great way for regular writers to get their stuff to me—especially with files too big for email. I also regulary work on my laptop—I try to escape my home office from time to time. So I store all the tuts that I need to edit in Dropbox so they’re accessible from all of my machines. Very handy!
Where do you put random facts and snippets of information? I stick it in Dropbox, and it’s available on all my computers and devices.
It’s important to use only one app for that purpose. For a while I was experimenting with different apps, and I’d never remember which one I saved something in! This is another app that becomes more useful the more I use it.
This is currently my favorite browser. I love its speed. It took a while for the extensions I rely on to become available, but now I use it for all of my personal browsing.
I like using separate browsers for personal stuff and work stuff. It helps when I use separate Google IDs for work and home, and it’s often handy to have two different browser windows visible on the screen at one time (for example, I can have reference information from a website in one window while typing an article in the other).
I used to use Firefox for my private browsing, and Flock for work stuff. When I switched from Firefox to Chrome for my personal browsing I just kept using Flock as my second browser. Flock has some handy social features, but I don’t really use them much for work. It’s also able to use most Firefox extensions. In 2011 I’m considering switching from Flock to Firefox for my work browsing.
I mainly use Skype for instant messaging, but occassionally use it for “phone calls” (and sometimes video calls) to authors or other Envato staff. And I used it a lot to keep in touch with my daughter when she was away from home for six months. It’s also handy to remind you of people’s birthdays if I’m not Facebook friends with them.
8. The Gimp
As a Linux user (ex Linux user?) I’ve been using the Gimp for years. It’s a very capable image editor with an interesting interface that is quite different in some ways to Photoshop’s. My image editing needs are simple—resizing, adjusting brightness, contrast and saturation, and occassionally editing text. The Gimp does all of those things very well. I still use it every day even though I also have Photoshop installed on my iMac—Photoshop’s interface is quite different, and I haven’t found enough time to play with it enough to get used to the differences.
Similar to the way I edit images, I often need to make small, simple adjustments to an audio file. Someone may have sent me a WAV file that needs to be converted to MP3. Audacity makes this easy.
10. Focus Booster
When I started writing a few years ago, I discovered a strange compulsion to get up and stretch my legs. Constantly. Not all the time—quite often I was able to focus all of my attention on what I was writing—but some days every time I achieved the smallest success (like writing a whole paragraph) I’d want to celebrate by getting a drink of water.
A second issue I was keenly aware of is the need to look after my health by taking regular breaks from typing. Hammering away on a keyboard for hours without a break is a health hazzard!
Focus Booster helps with both of those issues. It is a simple and elegant Adobe Air app that helps you practice the Pomodoro technique, which is to work as focused as possible for 25 minutes, then take a five minute break, then repeat as often as necessary.
When I’m feeling compelled to get away from the computer, Focus Booster helps me to tell myself that I just have to work for another 10 or so minutes before a break. It’s amazing how effective that is, and I get more done. And when I am feeling focused the app doesn’t really get in my way. I can work through a break (or sometimes two) so I don’t lose my flow of thought. Overall I find it a helpful method and useful app.
The app does take up a bit of screen real estate, which is fine on my iMac but a little frustrating on my laptop. I’m currently experimenting with other Pomodoro apps, especially ones that live on the menu bar or system tray.