10 Lesser-known Mac apps I couldn’t design without
Like most designers (especially freelance) I find myself in a dependant relationship with the ‘big hitters’ in the design software world. I couldn’t do what I do without the Adobe Creative Suite, but there are plenty of smaller, less well-known apps that I’ve stumbled across in my time that I have come to rely on. They may not all be highly polished examples of software, but they’ve become part of my workflow for any number of reasons ~ usually because I wanted a
cheap free alternative to some commercial software.
The list below shows some of the lesser-know Mac apps that I’ve come to use on a regular basis. They don’t fit into clear categories, so I’ve listed them as they appear in my Applications folder:
This is top of the list because I use it daily to access almost every other app I use on my Mac. It’s a simple, lightweight, discreet shortcut app opener that sits in the menu bar and shows a list of all your installed apps, so if the app I want isn’t already in my dock, it’s only ever two clicks away. You can also set it to ignore certain apps to help minimise the list.
I am by no means a coder, but I occasionally find myself staring blankly at a screen full of code trying to figure out why a certain WordPress plugin has gone screwy. Even more occasionally, I need to compare two files to spot a subtle difference or see where something’s been updated. This is where DiffMerge comes in ~ at the very basic level (that I use it for anyway) it offers a split-screen view of two files and highlights the differences for you. Job done. It does lots of other fancy things, but I haven’t found a use for them yet.
3. JES Deinterlacer
I use Apple’s own iMovie software to putting together family holiday videos, and a while back wanted a better solution to getting smooth slow motion or a decent “sped up” effect. Some searching led me to JES Deinterlacer, which despite it’s cumbersome name does a fantastic job of padding out a video clip to slow it (and the audio) down, or cutting out frames to effectively speed it up. It’s not the same as filming at a really high fps then replaying at a slower speed, but if you have a bog-standard camcorder then this will do the job nicely.
I already have a decent screenshot plugin for Firefox courtesy of Awesome Screenshot, but I still find myself using this app at times when I need a full page grab of a website. The output options are extensive and you can even capture the screen after a delay, handy if there are animations that need loading first.
If you’ve ever needed to show a client a series of web visuals but didn’t want to use the built-in Mac Finder quick preview (space bar), or the slideshow, and using a web browser was too limiting, then Plainview could be for you. Plainview is billed as “a full-screen web browser” and that’s essentially it. You can use keyboard shortcuts or a discreet menu to navigate, and you can also set up bookmarks and run it as a presentation tool, enabling you to show a fully navigable, full-screen website one moment, then a pdf or jpeg the next. Handy dandy.
Bit of a controversial one this. On the upside, it’s an app that stores a whole bunch of sensitive client data such as ftp usernames/passwords, database and hosting details, all in one handy little view. On the downside, it’s not secure. The app itself isn’t password-protected, and the datafile it reads from is not encrypted. That’s a pretty big downside when it comes to client data, but the reason why I keep coming back to this app (after trying other similar apps like KeePass, DropBox, PassPack or others mentioned here) is because it’s so simple to use.
They’ve totally nailed the UX and usability, all X needs to do now is secure the darn thing!
Back in the days when just about every website was made up of ‘static’ html pages, software like Site Orbiter was indispensable when it came to link checking. It’s a web cartography tool that creates a physical map of a site based on the internal linking structure. With the increase of CMS-driven sites it’s a little less useful, but it’s quite fun to leave it trying to catalogue all of Amazon!
My old 2006 MacBook Pro is showing its age a little, partly by throwing a hissy fit when I upgraded to Snow Leopard, and partly by regularly getting hotter than the sun when I load more than two Adobe CS apps! The first part solution to cooling the thing down was to purchase a Targus Chill Mat, which has done a great job. The second solution was to install smcFanControl ~ a menu bar app which helps control the fans of Intel-based Macs. You can set it change speed by default, or if things are hotting up under the bonnet you can crank it up to 11.
I occasionally get a job that requires some product photography, and for a recent job needed a setup where my Nikon D70 was linked through to my MacBook Pro in order to immediately capture and preview the raw images. I considered Nikon’s own Capture software, but thought the price tag was a bit steep for what it does.
Enter Sofortbild, billed as a “tethered shooting” app, it allows you to connect a camera to your computer via USB and do what I described above.
The second best piece of advice I was given about going freelance was to backup my work. Regularly. Then back it up again. And possibly seal it in concrete and bury it at sea. If the latter is not an option, then SuperDuper! should do the job for you. It’s a backup app that can mirror drives and (as was the deciding factor in my case) run scheduled backups of recently updated files to an external drive.
Bonus Entry: The Unarchiver
I’ve put this in as a bonus entry because it’s not strictly speaking true that I couldn’t design without it, but it certainly makes things a lot easier. It does what it says on the tin: un-archives stuff, which includes un-zipping, un-stuffing, un-sitx-ing, un-rar-ing etc etc. A handy dandy little app that everyone should use. And donate towards =)
What apps have I left out? What apps do you use? Feel free to leave suggestions and comments below. Thanks for reading!