Top Ten Mac OS X Freeware/Shareware Applications | October 15, 2005
Here are my current top ten OS X freeware and shareware applications. What are yours and why?
Growl and GrowlTunes
Growl is billed as a “global notification system for OS X”. What that means is that when an application performs or finishes performing a function, it will inform Growl. Growl then passes that info onto the user by displaying the info in an unobtrusive floating box. Growl works with lots of apps so you can set it up to do things like notify you when new mail comes in, or downloads are completed.
I mostly use Growl in combination with GrowlTunes to display song details whenever the song changes in iTunes. I found that I was listening to iTunes music collection in rotation, never knowing the name of the artist or song that was currently playing. With Growl, whenever a new song comes on, a little floating transparent box shows me the name of the song, the artist, cover artwork and star rating.
Quicksilver is a fantastic application that all OS X users should have. Quicksilver does a whole bunch of advanced things, most of which I don’t know about. However I use it as a way of quickly launching applications, finding contact details and occasionally finding files or websites. When Spotlight came out I though it would be a Quicksilver killer, however in comparison, Spotlight feels like swimming through treacle.
When I hit control space and start typing, Quicksilver pretty much always finds what I’m looking for, in an instant. When I hit command space and start typing in Spotlight, it takes a couple of seconds to think about things before results start to slowly appear. The results jump around loads so I’ll go to click the top result only for it to change and take me somewhere else! Spotlight is great because it searches inside docs, and would be particularly handy if I started tagging my docs. However I just don’t like the sluggish responsiveness and find Quicksilver a much more pleasant and predictable experience.
X-Tunes is a really nice, simple iTunes controller. Hitting alt space brings up a floating panel that displays basic song details and lets me stop, jump forward or back in the playlist, or change volume. IF a song comes on that I don’t like, I simply hit alt space and then the forward arrow. If the phone rings I just hit alt space and enter, pausing the track. Once I’ve finished on the phone, the same combination starts the track up again. Simple but very effective.
I’m not sure why I like this application so much, as its just an FTP client. In all honestly its probably got a lot to do with the big, chunky dump truck icon. However it is simple to use and does everything an FTP client should. There is also a rather nice widget for Transmit that allows you to FTP files to s pre-specified location without having to launch the app and log-in. Its not hugely useful, but I like using it anyway, if only to see the truck logo animated, bumping along the road as its delivering your files to the server.
It seems that a lot of people have jumped ship from this app of late, and are using one of many new RSS readers around. I’ve had a quick look at some of these other apps, but none of them seem to offer anything compelling enough to make me want to switch. Net Newswire has a simple and intuitive user interface, and pretty much does everything I want in a feed reader.
Not that I actually have enough time to read my RSS feeds at the moment. Every time I open Net Newswire I have 800+ unread feeds. I’ll spend an hour going through my feeds, reading the quick reads, marking uninteresting posts as read and saving the interesting ones for later. However there never is a later, so the number of interesting unread feeds just keeps building. At some stage I really think I’m going to have to take a week off work, just to read my feeds.
Lets face it, Apple font book sucks. Its OK for previewing fonts, but is totally impractical for managing large font collections. So I was fantastically pleased when I found this app. Doubly so because its free. The app basically works like iTunes for your font collection. You can drag fonts around, group them, preview them, enable them and disable them, all in a familiar and intuitive interface. Very nice.
A great free text editor from Bare Bones Software. I don’t need the full power of BBEdit so this little app is perfect. It does everything I need in a lightweight text editor.
I have to admit that I don’t use xScope that much; but when I do, I love it. xScope provides a series of Photoshop like tools for your desktop. You can set up guides, measure things with the ruler, zoom in to layouts and check colours with the eye-dropper. I most use it when I’m debugging my CSS, using the zoom and ruler tools to measure gaps in layouts to see what is going on.
VNCThing isn’t sexy, but I find it really useful, particularly in combination with Browsercam. Being a Mac user, I don’t have a Windows box to test on. I used to use Virtual PC, but it tends to be really slow, and anyway, the version that I had broke when I moved to a G5 iMac. Version 7 apparently works on a G5, but I’m a bit annoyed that the copy I bought just stopped working when I moved processors and I have to upgrade for it to work again. So instead I use Browsercam.
Most people use Browsercam simply to take screenshots. However the killer feature for me is remote access. Using VNCThing I can VNC into any of their boxes and test not only my layout, but also the interaction. And amazingly, its faster using a remote computer over the Internet with VNC than it was using Virtual PC on my desktop. Go figure.
Lastly I really like Omni Graffle. Again, its one of those apps that I feel I don’t use enough, but that is probably because I’m not doing much IA at the moment. This is the perfect app for doing all your site mapping, wireframing and any other IA work. Its basically Visio done well. I’ve not tried the latest version, but from all the reports I’ve read, its even better. Check it out.
Posted at October 15, 2005 12:06 PM