Miscellaneous Ramblings

My Five Favorite OS X Apps (and Several Other Useful Ones)

Charles Moore - 2009.08.03 - Tip Jar

Making "best" lists seems to be an irresistible compulsion for many of us. Perhaps it's a hard-wired human propensity to try to organize order out of chaos.

In the Mac journalism community, best software lists are a frequent topic.

For example MacTricks&Tips has a Top 100 Essential Mac Applications feature posted, while Smashing Magazine offers its take on 25 Free Mac Apps That Will Boost Your Productivity. MacSpecialist has its Essential Mac OS X Applications, and then there are LBNuke's 20 Favorite Mac Apps of the Moment and Chris Pirillo's Top 100 Mac Apps - and that's just scratching the surface of the genre.

With this entry, I'm going minimalist, picking just five favorite/most essential Mac apps - ones that I actually use every day and can't imagine trying to get along without.

1. Tex-Edit Plus

I use Tex-Edit Plus more than any other application for a wide variety of text crunching chores and find It strikes the sweet spot between lightweight nimbleness/speed and powerful capability. I use it for just about everything, from general text crunching to HTML markup. It's almost infinite customizability and expandability is facilitated by the best implementation of AppleScript support I've encountered in any application.

Tex-Edit Plus is one reason why I thank myself every day for using a Mac, and AppleScript is another. TE+'s AppleScript configuration could hardly be smoother, slicker, or more user-friendly. Scripts, which, if you're not familiar with AppleScript, are sort of mini-applets or macros that automate a particular function (actually, they're more than macros). As TE+ developer Tom Bender puts it: "AppleScript puts the power of these Apple Events in the hands of the ordinary user. It's just another insanely great advantage that we Mac users enjoy."

TE+ also has a nice inventory of text cleaning tools, a decent find and replace engine, and it supports OS X's built-in spellchecker. It's also something of a do-all "can opener" app - able to open a wide selection of text formats to at least give you a look at what's inside.

2. Eudora

I use Eudora - Version 6.2.4 on my PowerPC Macs and the Open Source Eudora 8 on my Intel machine as my primary email client applications. I consider Classic Eudora to be the best POP3 email client ever devised, but I'm getting used to using Eudora 8 (which is based on the Mozilla Thunderbird email engine).

Eudora 8.0 is able to import your Classic Eudora account settings and Address Book information, a process you can initiate under the Tools menu, and I've found it quite quick and slick. You also have the option of downloading only the configuration files from Eudora Classic and are not obliged to bring in your email message archives if you're just exploring, although there is an option to just import everything in one fell swoop.

If you've already used Thunderbird, Eudora 8.0 transparently accesses the Thunderbird user profiles in the Thunderbird folder located in your Home folder's Library directory with no user action needed in switching back and forth between the two email applications, which is convenient.

A particularly important function for me is how efficiently support for multiple email accounts works. I have 22 email accounts configured in Eudora Classic, some with different SMTP server configs. Happily, Thunderbird/Eudora 8 handles individual account checks gracefully, although I find its task progress monitoring less to my taste than Eudora Classic's excellent and informative Task Progress window.

I didn't expect to, but I've grown to quite like Eudora 8 over the past five months or so and will likely stick with it.

3. Opera

I actually use several browsers extensively, but the one I use most is Opera, for a variety of reasons. I'm stuck on dialup, so Opera 10's Turbo compression feature makes it a no-brainer - way faster than anything else when Turbo mode is enabled. However, I've been a big Opera fan since long before Turbo was added.

It's fast in non-Turbo mode too and also has the best and most dependable Download Manager of any browser, plus a raft of little but important touches like a convenient zoom magnification menu on the main interface window. I also like the look, layout and features of the interface.

If it hadn't been Opera, I would probably pick Firefox as first runner-up.

4. Photoshop Elements

As with browsers, I use several image editing applications, but if I were limited to just one it would have to be Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 (PSE), because it's the most capable and comprehensive. Pixelmator is excellent as well, but it has a way to go to match PSE.

I've found Photoshop Elements to be without parallel (discounting astronomically expensive Photoshop CS) It's a digital virtual darkroom without the mess, chemical fumes, and hassle of working in the dark. The fact that it sells for under $100 is amazing. If you're at all serious about digital photography, you need this application.

Photoshop Elements is intended to be a complete, end-to-end software solution for anyone doing digital photography, whether they be a consumer amateur or even many a professional. It is designed to offer a user-friendly approach to fixing common photographic flaws and in enhancing digital images by way of a few clicks. I love what this program can do, and if there's another graphics application that comes even close to offering as much raw image-editing power and versatility for $90, I can't imagine what it would be.

Actually, the graphics app I use more than all others combined is the little Japanese freeware program ToyViewer, which seems to be ignored by all the other "favorites" lists, which is a shame because it's just superb within its limitations.

5. MacSpeech Dictate

I have fibromyalgia and chronic neuritis, and MacSpeech Dictate - and its predecessor iListen - have kept me in business for over a decade now. iListen was pretty good dictation software, but Dictate is great dictation software, and the combination of the powerful, accurate, and fast NaturallySpeaking speech engine with MacBook Core 2 Duo power is a marriage of software and hardware made in heaven. Dictate running on my 2.0 GHz Unibody MacBook isn't just convenient and helpful in a utilitarian sense - it's genuinely fun to use. Dictate's voice transcription capability is a dream come true, and it's so accurate that very little correction is necessary. I also find it useful for instant messaging or composing short emails or whatever if the program is already up and running. It's seductively slick.

Honorable Mention

What are your five (or more) favorite OS X apps?

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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