Ben Scheirman

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2011 Ultimate Tools List for Mac

In pure Hanselman-style, I present to you the 2011 Ultimate Tools List for Mac.

I posed a list of tools last year when I got my first MacBook Pro. Since then I’ve had plenty of time to find some new gems, retire some old ones, and decided that I should share my list with the world.

In each section, I’ll list why I like each app, whether or not it’s free or not, and occasionally list some honorable mentions that lost out to another app, however is worth mentioning anyway.

Without further ado…

The Big 10 Life Changing apps

These are the must-haves, and are among the first installed on any new machine.

  • Dropbox (free) - Painless file sync between computers. One of the most useful apps of all time. (if you’re going to sign up, consider using my referral link)
  • Alfred (free) - Awesome launcher utility. Sort of like Launchy & SlickRun for windows. (Event more awesome with Powerpack paid addon which gives you file operations, clipboard history, iTunes searching/playing and more). Special mention goes to QuickSilver and LaunchBar, both of which are fantastic.
  • 1Password ($40) - Stop using the same password for multiple sites. Keep all of your passwords and secure notes encrypted in one place. Easily access your passwords using browser plugins. Sync with Dropbox. Even use on your iPhone!
  • Evernote (free) - I use this to take client meeting notes, scan receipts & documents I need to keep, and anything else I think I’ll want to refer to later.
  • Sparrow ($10) - The best desktop Gmail I’ve used. I like it so much, I stopped using Gmail from the browser.
  • TextMate ($60) - The old standard. Still my favorite editor for Rails work. Hopefully TextMate 2 will ship before I’m 40.
  • PeepOpen ($12) - A better file CMD-T file opener for TextMate, MacVim, and Xcode. Does fuzzy searching on path & filename and is insanely fast.
  • Charles Proxy ($50, free for minor use) - An awesome web debugging proxy. Inspect HTTP traffic including request/response, HTTP Headers, format as JSON, XML, Image, files, etc. Even self-sign SSL certs to view HTTPS traffic.
  • rvm (free) - Leverage many versions of ruby and maintain separate gemsets for each rails application. A must have for any ruby developer.
  • Twitter for Mac (free) - Of all the Twitter clients, this is by far my favorite.

General System Apps

These are the generally helpful apps that didn’t go into any other category

  • SizeUp ($13) - Keyboard shortcuts to pin windows to the left side, right side, switch monitors or spaces, minimize, maximize.
  • Chicken of the VNC (free) - A VNC client is a must on any system
  • uTorrent (free) - For those Linux distros & stuff
  • Fluid (free) - Turn your favorite web apps into real mac apps.

Music

  • Rdio ($10/month) - The Mac client to the Rdio service is awesome. Listen to anything you want, even sync to your iPhone for offline listening.
  • Pandora (free) - The amazing internet radio that only plays music that you like. I pay for the Premium subscription to get access to the desktop app and to higher quality feeds.
  • Pandora Jam ($15) (scrobble Pandora with Last.fm, integrate with the keyboard controls & IM clients, and also record Pandora songs, if you so desire)
  • Tracks - Quick, keyboard access to your iTunes Library. I stopped using this once I bought the Alfred Powerpack, because it can do the same thing.

Productivity

Apps to make you faster, more organized, and get more things done. This is a favorite of mine.

  • Things ($50) - One of the most well designed applications on the Mac. Track things left to do in various projects, set due dates, etc. I have mine synching with Dropbox, which works just fine. An update with “true” sync is in the works and should work on iOS as well. Doesn’t do a few things I’d like, such as integrating with iCal for reminders and push notifications on the iPhone app, but all in all, one of the best Mac apps around.
  • The Hit List ($50) - I LOVE this app. I like it better than Things. Unfortunately, I started using it in 2009 and it’s still in Beta. Seriously. The last 20 or so updates have simply said “Extending the beta period”. Apparently they are hard at work at a 1.0 release to coincide with their iPhone app they’ve been working on since early 2010. But at this pace, I wonder if they’ll ever ship.
  • Wunderlist (free) - This app is really nice, however it lacks a lot of the smaller things you’d get from a full-fledged native app like Things or THL. That said, it’s a quick & easy way to share todo lists amongst many devices, the web, as well as share with other people. Recommended.
  • Pomodoro App (free) - If you’re into doing “tomatoes,” or time-boxed sprints of distraction-free, focused work, this app can help you manage it.
  • TimeSink ($5) - Shows you how much time you spend in each app. Answers the question, “How long did I spend reading Twitter today?”
  • MindNode (free/pro versions) - Simple Mind Mapping tool. They even have an iPad app. Great for getting loose ideas down & organizing into groupings.
  • TextExpander ($35) - Create snippets that expand into larger, commonly typed expressions. Useful in email for signatures, or even in code. I use them to easily expand the lengthy property syntax in Objective-C.

File Transfer / Sync / Backup

  • Transmit ($34) - Simply the best FTP app out there. Does SSH, SFTP, S3, and more. It’s fast and beautiful.
  • Cyberduck (free) - Decent FTP program for those who don’t want to shell out money for a tool they use maybe twice a year. Also supports S3 & other cloud drives.
  • S3Hub (free) - Easy, free, access to buckets, files, & permissions on S3.
  • Receivd (subscription) - Send & receive large files between groups of people. If you need to frequently share large files with peers, forget email, forget skype. Use received.
  • Carbonite / Mozy / Backblaze / Crashplan - All of these basically do the same thing: back up your files online in the background. I’ve used Carbonite & Mozy, and I have had minor issues with both. Ultimately I decided that it wasn’t worth the performance hit to do this. I may try this again in the future, and if I do, I’ll try out Back Blaze.
  • Carbon Copy Cloner (free) - Easily clone a drive & restore it later. Seriously easy to use, and completely free.

Editors

  • TextMate - as mentioned above.
  • MacVim - I really want to get better at vim, and occasionally I’ll spend the day in MacVim to keep my chops. I can definitely see some aspects of improvement, but ultimately I’m faster with TextMate.
  • vico (alpha) - An interesting marriage of TextMate beauty and VIM speed & efficiency. It’s early alpha, but definitely one to watch.
  • Espresso ($65) - HTML, CSS, PHP Editor, great for WordPress site maintenance. Sexy UI.
  • CSSEdit ($40) - Powerful CSS editing, live preview, and CSS organization built-in. These MacRabbit guys make a damn fine user interface.
  • TextWrangler (free) - A decent text editor with powerful editing capabilities. A “little brother” to the for-pay BBEdit.
  • Coda ($99) - If I were doing PHP websites full time, I’d probably use this. Crazy powerful, connect to remote sites with ease, lookup documentation, and access the context-sensitive terminal straight from within the app. Oh, and it also has Subethaedit functionality for shared editing in real-time. Epic!

Graphics & Photos

  • Acorn ($50) - An excellent, affordable image editor that can do many of the things a web/iOS developer needs. My current favorite. Still not Photoshop though.
  • Pixelmator ($60) - Another cheap alternative to Photoshop. Does a lot of things well. Similar to Acorn in functionality, though not as minimal in design.
  • OmniGraffle ($99) - Seriously powerful diagramming. Worlds better than Visio.
  • Balsamiq Mockups ($75) - Rapid sketch-wireframing tool. Great way to create mockups to validate a user interface.
  • Opacity ($40) - Great for making icons, buttons, logos, & other artwork. The interesting part: It can give you CoreGraphics code to replicate the same image in code. Also has factories for automatically generating regular size + 2X images for Retina graphics on iOS.
  • Photoshop ($billions) - Still my favorite graphics editor, though too expensive for me to justify a license.
  • Picturesque ($30) - Quickly add rounded corners, reflections, perspectives, & other effects to photos.

Communications

  • Skype (free) - An essential part of our workplace. We use it for chat, remote pairing, and small meetings. Unfortunately, Skype has taken a turn for the worse. I’ll looking for alternatives.
  • Gabble (free) - The only Yammer client that doesn’t suck balls. Adobe Air is a joke, this app brings a native Cocoa UI & is much more friendly to use.
  • Adium (free) - Multi-platform chat client. Not a complete replacement for iChat, though, because it doesn’t do voice & video.
  • Colloquy (free) - Excellent IRC program.
  • Facetime ($1) - Call iPhone 4’s & iPad 2’s. Or call other Macs with Facetime.
  • GotoMeeting (subscription) - We use GotoMeeting for lots of our meetings. Share your screen, invite lots of people, use the built-in VOIP service or allow your clients to dial into a real phone #. Also works on iPad!

Video

  • VLC (free) - Having trouble playing a video format? VLC plays damn near everything you throw at it.
  • Handbrake (free) - Rip DVDs and batch encode videos for playback on your iPad or iPhone. Seriously powerful. Who needs raw ffmpeg?
  • Flip4Mac (free) - Play WMV files on your Mac.
  • Rivet ($20) - Have a PS3 or Xbox360? Stream your movies from your Mac while transcoding weird video formats. This is an essential part of my home media experience.
  • AirVideo Server (free Mac client)- Similar to Rivet, but for your iOS devices.

Audio

  • WireTap Studio ($70) - Record audio from your computer. Even isolate by application! Need to snag some audio from a youtube video? Want to record a skype call? WireTap Studio has you covered.
  • Garage Band 11 (part of iLife) - I love this app. Powerful multi-track recording, software instruments, and powerful effects. I use this all the time to play electric guitar using nothing but the software amps & pedals. Combine with a cheap tube pre-amp and an M-Audio USB interface and you’re good to go!

Source Control

  • GitX (free) - Simple way to view your git log & all of your branches. Doesn’t make your eyes bleed like gitk. Make sure you enable the Terminal command use so you can type “gitx” from your git repo in Terminal.
  • Tower ($60) - If you need a gui for git, look no further.
  • Versions (€ 39.00) - If you’re stuck on Subversion still, this app is a must. Gorgeous UI.

File Diffs

  • Kaleidoscope (€ 29.00) - Wonderfully brilliant file & image comparison tool for Mac. Integrates with Git. Hoping they support merge soon.
  • p4Merge (free) - Decent 3-way merge tool for Git. Sucks the least out of all of the ones I’ve tried.

Office

  • Microsoft Office for Mac ($150) - I use this for Word & Excel. Shitty user interface, but seamless compatibility with their Windows counterparts.
  • iWork ($49) - Not a complete MS Office replacement (though it’s darn close). I mostly use this for Keynote & occasionally Pages. Keynote is amazing. 1200% better than PowerPoint.

Blogging

This is one of the sore spots on the Mac. Nothing really comes close to a Windows Live Writer experience on the Mac.

  • ecto ($20) - I’m writing this post in ecto. I like the custom toolbar for adding your own custom tags, but the UI is a little clunky and has some quirks that I don’t understand. So far the best I’ve found.
  • MarsEdit ($40) - I want to like this app, but I had issues with it. It emitted some pretty horrid HTML and I found it difficult to work with.
  • Blogo ($25) - Interesting newcomer, but I didn’t find it to fit into my blogging workflow.

Databases

  • Sequel Pro (free) - Manage MySQL databases like a pro. Sports a UI that doesn’t suck.
  • Base (£19) - The best app for managing SQLite databases. Sure SQLiteManager for Firefox is free, but it’s awkward to manage databases from Firefox and the UI is terrible. Base is worth the money.
  • pgAdmin (free) - Since postgres is my database of choice these days, I need a good GUI tool. Sadly, there are none. Utterly ugly, but pgAdmin gets the job done.
  • MongoHub (free) - A handful of our projects utilize MongoDB, and MongoHub is my preferred way of interacting with these databases. Also has a MapReduce tool!
  • Navicat Lite (free) - I don’t use this, but a few friends do. Works with many databases.
  • RazorSQL ($70) - Possible the ugliest application I have ever seen. But if you need 1 app for just about every SQL database on the planet, RazorSQL has you covered.

System

  • homebrew (free) - I don’t use MacPorts or Fink anymore. Easily install most OS packages via Homebrew.
  • FreeRuler (free) - for keeping pixels inline. Gives you a pixel screen ruler that is super handy.
  • Digital Color Meter (built-in) - Wanted to mention this one because it is already included on your Mac! Quickly snag a color from anything on your screen. Outputs color as Hex or % values for RGB.
  • Caffeine (free) - Prevent your Mac from going to sleep when you click on the icon. Super-effective, and such a simple idea. I use this at least once a week.
  • iStat Menus ($16) - Monitor your system resources from your menu bar. Better battery meter, bandwidth graphs, cpu/ram/hard disk meters, and more. Completely customizable.
  • Rubbernet (€30) - Detailed analysis of network activity broken down by application. Handy for telling how much bandwidth an app is taking up or for identifying applications that phone home.
  • Xbench (free) - Benchmark your Mac’s performance. I used this to take before/after hard drive scores when installing my SSD.

Email


Grab Bag

  • Delicious Library ($25) - A seriously cool library application for keeping track of your books, music, movies, & software. Integrates with the iSight camera for bar code reading. Definitely a must-have.
  • PhoneView ($25) - Read files from your iPhone without iTunes. Has additional features that work with Jailbroken iPhones.
  • iSale ($24) - Sell things on Ebay with style.
  • SousChef ($30) - Cool recipe management for Mac. Easily paste in recipes, identify the various sections, and it parses ingredients, instructions, and yield as well. Drag a picture from the web & drop it on the recipe to assign an image. Also has a mode with gigantic text that you can read from across the room (works with the remote!)
  • Cross Loop (free) - Remote tech-support with other Mac & Windows computers over the internet.
  • Celestia (free) - Take a trip to Neptune, visit other galaxies, and take a look at stars. Cool 3D program, great for kids.

Screencasting

  • Screenflow ($99) - Of all of the screencasting programs, I found this one to be the most joy to use. Easily record screen, iSight camera, and audio (both from system audio & mic). The editing features were easy to use and included some really cool effets.
  • iShowU Classic ($20) - Cheap and effective. Easily record a small section of the screen. This is what I used to record all of the episodes for the Tekpub iPhone Series.
  • Camtasia ($99) - I got a free license to this from my MVP. It is a good contender. I didn’t like it at first because it wasn’t possible to just record a small section of the screen. Apparently they’ve fixed it. If you’re familiar with Camtasia on Windows, you’ll probably feel right at home with Camtasia for Mac.
  • KeyCastr (free) - Of course during screencasting it is usually helpful to show what keystrokes you’re using. KeyCastr does that beautifully.

Screen Capture

Capturing your screen (or a portion of it) is built-in to the Mac, but occasionally you want to mark them up & share them quickly on the web.

  • LittleSnapper ($30) - A good way to quickly annotate pictures, keep a library of shots, and share them on the web.
  • Skitch (free) - Also good (feature-wise), but I dislike their non-standard UI immensely.

Virtualization

  • VMWare Fusion ($80) - Run your VMs with ease.
  • Parallels ($80) - My current Windows VMs are in Parallels (mostly because Parallels was faster and had better DirectX support, thus games worked better) but nowadays VMWare Fusion & Parallels are pretty much equivalent). I just happen to own both.
  • Virtual Box (free) - If you need free virtualization software, look no further.

General Development

  • MonoDevelop (free) - For when I want to write .NET code without opening a VM. Also used for MonoTouch & MonoDroid.
  • HTTP Client (free) - A fantastic HTTP workbench. Essential when dealing with HTTP APIs.
  • SOAP Client (free) - If you are unlucky enough to have to work with SOAP web services, this little app can help you.
  • Gitifier (free) - A nifty tool to notify you when people push code to your monitored git repositories.
  • HTTP Scoop ($15) - Recommended by Kevin Lee. A great HTTP traffic inspector.
  • Charles Proxy - As mentioned above.

iOS Development

  • AppViz ($30) - Analyze app store sales & reviews. I use this to keep track of my app income for tax purposes as well.
  • iOS Simulator Cropper (free) - Capture screenshots of the iPhone/iPad simulator for use on websites or the app store. A must-have.
  • iConify (free) - drag one 512px image & spits out every possible icon size needed for iOS development. Also handles the regular/retina resizing.
  • CodePilot ($30) - Adds some nice productivity enhancements to Xcode 3. Apparently they’re working on an Xcode 4 version.
  • MoGenerator and Xmo’d (free) - Automatically generate sensible classes from your Core Data model. with xmo’d, it generates it whenever the model changes.
  • App Resigner (free) - Stuck with an ad-hoc build of app that was signed without your device included? Resign it in a snap!
  • Sound Stage ($5) Quick & Easy way to make iPhone app trailers (hat tip to Kevin Lee for this one).

Phew! That’s a big list. I’m sure that I’ve left out some gems, so if there’s something blatantly obvious that I should have included in this list, please feel free to leave a comment.

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