The Essential Mac #2: Utilities

There are a number of essential utilities that I use on my Mac.

DropBox

DropBox synchronizes a folder structure from my Mac into the cloud. Unlike Apple’s iCloud facility, files can be accessed and used by multiple programs. Files can be accessed from the DropBox website. Even more importantly, this same file structure is replicated to my PC at work, and my iPad. In fact, I’m writing this on my iPad with a Dropbox-synchronized text editor (Byword). It will be on my Mac almost immediately.

Alfred

Alfred is a productivity app that allows you to quickly launch programs, search and open files, search the web, play iTunes, and more. It’s shocking how much this program can do, all keyed off a single hotkey. And that is the key- the keyboard. Yes, you can pull open your Applications folder to find an app, or bring up Launchpad and find an app that way. But I can type CMD+SPACE to bring up Alfred, then type ‘iMovie’ and Alfred finds it before I can finish typing the whole word. It works with programs, files, tracks in iTunes, websites, 1Password logins (see below), contacts, and just about everything else. My hands can fly over the keyboard and open up files and applications far faster than clicking around on the screen. The program itself is FREE on the Mac App Store, but the 15 pound PowerPack is well worth the cost (that’s not a typo, the software is built in the UK).

1Password

1Password is a password vault program. It stores all of your passwords in a single massively-protected file, which can be synchronized across machines on DropBox. There are versions of the versions of the software for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android, as well as an HTML5-based version you can access from any browser. This program gives you no excuse not to create and use different passwords for every website you visit. It’s fully integrated into Safari, Chrome, and Firefox as well. I can go to a website, hit COMMAND+, and it automatically fills in my password information (once the vault is open, of course). Not only is it safer, but it’s easier- you only need to remember one password.

Evernote

I have an interesting relationship with Evernote. I’ve gone through periods where I love it, and gone through periods when I hated it. Currently we’re back together and dating. Evernote allows you to synchronize text, photos, websites, and other documents across multiple machines and devices. Most of the time I only synchronize text, and the advanced text formatting options just get in the way. It also costs $45/year for the privilege of accessing data on my devices when I’m offline. I’ve considered switching to just a directory of text files on DropBox, but it’s hard to beat the convenience of Evernote. I’ve been expanding my usage of it lately, and now Evernote is the repository for all kinds of random project information that doesn’t belong in my OmniFocus task database.

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