Essential Mac Applications

When I made the switch to Mac OS X, I spent a lot of time trying to find equivalents to many of the applications I relied on in Windows. Here is a list of software that I consider essential, in no particular order. I'm sure there is stuff I'm forgetting, but this is a good start.

Office Applications
iWork 09: Apple's flagship productivity suite. Keynote is the best presentation software on the planet, period. Pages is a nice blend of word processing and page layout and I haven't had a need to use the Numbers spreadsheet yet.

Email, Calendar, Contacts
iLife 09: The standard applications that come with every Mac. The biggest adjustment is switching between Mail, iCal and Address Book instead of having everything in one place like Outlook on Windows.

Remote Desktop
Remote Desktop Connection: Microsoft's version of Remote Desktop for Mac OS X.

Font Management
Linotype Font Explorer X: Probably the best font manager I've ever seen on any platform and they give it away for free.

VLC: the video player for everything that the Quicktime Player won't play.

MPEG Streamclip: Very useful video processing application. If you need to convert video from one format to another, this is where I would start.

Graphics Creation
Adobe Creative Suite 4: Still the leader on all platforms. Works the same as Windows with full file compatibility. Kind of spendy and starting to get bloated with features.

OmniGraffle Pro: Diagramming application that is much easier to use than Visio.

Pixelmator: Very streamlined application that can gives Photoshop-like capabilities at a fraction of the cost.

Web Development
Coda: Most awesome web creation tool if you like to mess with raw HTML or PHP.

RapidWeaver: Really nice tool for quickly putting together a site with pre-created templates. The fastest way to put together a nice looking static website with photo galleries, movies, blogs, etc.

Program Launcher
Spotlight: In Leopard, just hitting Command-Space and typing part of the name of an application is my favorite way of launching programs.

Quicksilver: Seemingly simple but with a wealth of depth, it quickly becomes an essential way of interacting with your computer. (With Leopard, I'm not using Quicksilver any longer)

Screen Shots and Screencasts
Skitch: Sweet little screenshot application with an interesting GUI and nice feature set.

Little Snapper: More extensive screenshot application that can snap entire web pages.

Text Editors
Text Wrangler: A free, very capable text editor.

Textmate: a very powerful text editor that developers and Unix geeks rave about. Very useful since it offers syntax coloring and code expansion for a large range of programming languages.

PDF Editing
PDFPen: useful application for editing, marking up, merging or splitting PDF documents. Much lighter weight and easier to use than Acrobat Pro.

Image Viewers
Preview: In Leopard, Preview has gained some great new features and it really takes the cake over any other image viewers I've seen.

Note Taking
Yojimbo: a really clean application that has become the place where I stash everything. I put notes, web clippings, reciepts, serial numbers, etc. and fills much of the functionality of Microsoft OneNote for me.

SuperDuper: Simple yet powerful backup application. Easily creates bootable images and can even backup via block-level differentials for fast incremental backups.

SteerMouse: the standard Mac mouse tracking and acceleration algorithms are whacked, especially if you are coming from Windows. Steermouse gives you control over this as well as all of the buttons on your mouse without having to load crappy Logitech or Microsoft drivers.

The Unarchiver: expands virtually any type of compressed or archived file.

Database Management
Sequel Pro: good application for managing MySQL databases using a native Cocoa application.

Transmit: Top notch FTP program. Great UI and neat features.

Tweaks and Modifications
OpenTerminal: allows you to open a Terminal window with the path of the current Finder window. (Note: drag it to the Finder’s toolbar so you can use it in every window)
KeyFixer: Changes the behavior of the Home and End keys so they behave more predictably (if you’re used to the Windows behavior).

Windows Interoperability
MacDrive: this is actually Windows software for mounting HFS+ formatted volumes. Helpful if you are using Bootcamp.

Laptop Bags: the Winner

Since my last roundup on laptop bags, I ended up exchanging the Booq Boa for a slightly smaller bag, the Booq Folee 2M, since the Boa was just too large for everyday carry. In short, this bag has completely changed my views on what makes an effective laptop case. Two things that I had mentioned that really bothered me are present on this bag: dual carry handles and a large flap opening. Contrary to my expectations, these features are so well implemented that I no longer consider them to be problems. Because the flap does not need to be pulled back to access the laptop compartment or the main compartment, I find it much less obtrusive.

Folee 2M

This case has a surprisingly large carrying capacity. I can comfortably put two large technical books in the main compartment which is useful sometimes. One of my favorite features is the magnetic closures on the main flap as well as the interior pockets. They really help keep the things in place without noisy velcro or zippers. Overall, this is one of the finest bags I have ever purchased and I highly recommend it.

Laptop Bags

I’m a stickler for an effective laptop bag and I’ve gone through quite a few of them over the years. I wanted to share some thoughts on some of the bags I’ve used and whey they did or didn’t work out for me.

The thing to keep in mind is that my primary machine is a 15” MacBook Pro and that I consider my laptop bag to be my mobile office. Because I travel and give presentations quite a bit, my bags tends to be fully loaded with gear so that I have pretty much everything I need to set up shop anyplace.

I always seek out bags that have a single carry handle rather than two handles that must be clasped together. Lugging around a bag by squeezing two handles together just seems like poor ergonomics to me. I also don’t like bags that have a gigantic flap that must be opened to access the contents. I understand the whole “bike messenger” thing, but I rarely find myself delivering ungainly parcels on a bicycle. If I want to fetch a pen, I don’t want to feel like I’m opening the flap of a tent.

Logitech Kinetik 15” Briefcase
Interesting design and materials in this case. It appears to a rigid case at first glance, but the material has give to it with a soft, rubber-like finish. The bag is designed so that it balances upright when sat down, rather than slumping over on its side. Very nice until you unzip one side of the case that is loaded with gear and it falls over. the semi-rigid materials also means that the bag is always going to be the same size, even if it is empty. The two-handle design almost automatically disqualified this model, but the unusual appearance and materials tempted me to try it out.

Kinetik Briefcase (closed)Kinetik Briefcase (open)

  • Sleek, streamlined look (if that appeals to you).
  • Balances upright when closed.
  • Pretty good interior pocket layout.
  • Must fully unzip a side to get to gear (which might make bag tip over).
  • Semi-rigid materials means that bag is always full size, even when empty.
  • Two carry handles.

Oakley Computer Bag 2.0
Very well designed bag that I have used to travel all over the world. More pockets and pouches than you can shake a stick at. High-tech, rugged appearance with easy access to flat storage on the back. Also comes with a nice mesh bag for storing cables and other messy items.

Oakley Computer Bag 2.0 (closed)Oakley Computer Bag 2.0 (open)

  • Well designed interior storage with many pockets and pouches.
  • Quick access to external pockets with quick-release clasps.
  • File dividers alongside laptop compartment.
  • Solidly built rubberized carry handle.
  • Metal parts of sling strap squeak when you walk.

Oakley Vertical Computer Bag 3.0
Excellent bag that offers fantastic features in a compact package. If you don’t need to carry a lot of files or books, or you travel light, this bag is highly recommended. The slim profile means that it doesn’t offer the same level of protection as other larger bags.

Oakley Vertical Computer Bag 3.0 (closed)Oakley Vertical Computer Bag 3.0 (open)

  • Well designed interior storage with a good selection of pockets and pouches.
  • Horizontal gadget pocket provides quick access to flash drives or other small items with external zipper.
  • File dividers alongside laptop compartment.
  • Useful side pouches and hidden mesh water bottle holder.
  • Nice beefy carry handle.
  • Metal parts of sling strap squeak when you walk.
  • Little storage for books or other larger items.

Booq Boa M
Newest bag in my collection. Nice design, although a little on the large side. Very high quality materials plus water resistance. I’ll be updating this post with my experiences after I get a chance to use it for a few weeks.

Booq Boa M (closed)Booq Boa M (open)

  • Well designed interior storage.
  • Large internal storage capacity for those big reference manuals and other large items.
  • Nice sling strap (appears to be made of seatbelt material).
  • Really comfortable carry handle.
  • A little on the large side.
  • External pocket isn’t as easy to get to as I would like.

Working with AVCHD Video

AVCHD footage is approximately 2 Mb per second which is pretty good compression, especially for HD content. Unfortunately, you can't edit raw AVCHD .mts files on a Mac, even though iMovie 08 and Final Cut Express 4 both claim to "natively" support AVCHD. What they actually support is transcoding of AVCHD footage from the camera to Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC) format on import. AIC files are optimized for realtime editing and they take up about 8 Mb per second* of footage, which uses up disk space pretty quickly.

* These numbers are just based on my personal observations, and compression ratios vary due to the variable encoding rates, but they are in the ballpark for my Sony HDR-CX7 camcorder capturing AVCHD footage at 960 x 540 resolution through iMovie 08.

Editing AVCHD video with iMovie 08

I've been experimenting with editing footage from my Sony HDR-CX7 HD Camcorder in iMovie 08. It seems that some people are having problems getting the camcorder to work properly with iMovie 08 and here is the process that is working for me.

Importing footage directly from the camcorder

  • Connect the dock to the Mac with the USB cable.
  • Place the camcorder in the dock and power it on.
  • You should see a menu asking which method you'd like to use to connect the camera.
  • Press the Computer button.
  • The Memory Stick icon should appear on the Finder desktop.
  • Launch iMovie 08
  • iMovie with automatically detect the camcorder and prompt you to import video.