From the time I used my first computer at 2 years old, until I was 19, I was a diehard PC user, with only some brief forays from DOS and Windows into alternative OS’s, and never Mac OS. Then, after I was deployed to Iraq, my laptop got clogged with sand and died. A senior NCO convinced me to forgo buying a high end gaming notebook and consider buying a Mac. A few days later, I had my very own Powerbook G4, and it’s still in decent condition today. My current build is a 15 inch 1st Gen Macbook Pro, running 1GB Ram and a 2.16 GHz Intel Core Duo processor, and OS X 10.5 (Leopard). I bought it in the summer of 2006, and carried it with me into my first year of law school at American University.
Here are the tools that I just can’t live without.
Simply put, Apple Mail is the best mailbox application out there. For the most part it’s fast and stable (though not perfect), it integrates with Spotlight, iCal, and god knows how many other applications, and works well with Automator for bulk jobs. The biggest plus to Mail, when compared to apps like Thunderbird, Entourage, or web-based mails like Gmail and Hotmail, is the spam filter. Mail’s spam filter and dynamic learning and training is the best spam filter out there. I average about 150-200 valid incoming mails a day, and about 3 times that amount in spam. Mail filters out all the crap, and I get at most one false negative every 3 to 4 days. I’ve further improved this by running it through Gmail’s spam filter, which gives double protection without extra processor overhead.
I also occasionally use Bigstring, a web-based mail service, for my secure emails, or when I need the highest level of anonymity and security. Bigstring lets you send emails that self destruct after a certain time period, or that you can “take back” after a certain time. Basic service is free, if you want POP or IMAP support, you can pay. Also, very rarely when I want to send an official email from my email address for my internship, I use Gmail’s interface.
I’ve switched completely over from Microsoft Word, to Pages. Pages is a cleaner interface, runs faster, crashes less (never so far for me), and has great looking templates. Not only that, it integrates with the word processing some graphic design features that are great, such as the ability to create table-less text boxes, graphics with varying degrees of opacity, and masks, with the distinctly Apple look. It’s freaking great, I love it. The exporting to doc/docx format, RTF, and .txt are flawless, which is more than I can say for Word.
For quick documents I use TextEdit, which comes with Mac.
I currently don’t have a good outlining tool. I haven’t tried OmniOutliner yet. Last semester I used Word Notebook to outline. It wasn’t great, but it worked. I haven’t yet tried Pages to see if it works well.
I blog. A lot. I currently have a law school related blog, a Wikipedia blog, a veteran’s affairs blog, a personal blog, two other websites, not to mention the articles I write for the news media and other blogs like this. It gets tough to manage all of those, especially when one is trying to crosspost. Thankfully, I’ve found tools that help solve the problem.
Ecto is a blog management tool. You register your various accounts, such as your Blogger account, your WordPress blog login information, etc. You can then drag and drop posts from one account and site to another. You can type up your blog posts offline, which is MUCH better than using the often archaic and slow web interfaces. Offline editing and composition are significantly faster and more integrated than the web interfaces, too.
I used to use iWeb, and enjoyed it, but I’ve moved on because it is too limited. However, that was the last version. With iLife ’08 it’s much better. If you are blogging on your .mac account, you might want to give it a shot.
Leopard’s Time Machine is phenomenal, and soon I’m going to spring for a Time Capsule as well. I back up to an Iomega 500GB external harddrive with a nice design and a slick blue LED that meshes with the LEDs in my bedroom (I have an LED light fetish for some reason).
Apple Backup is good too for things like school files or work that you may want to get from your .mac account. Leopard’s Back to My Mac wireless syncing between all Macs that you have on the same .mac account is good for people with multiple macs (even though I have two, I don’t sync them together.)
iPhoto. I hated it in 10.4, but I love it in iLife ’08 with Leopard. It’s actually useable. It syncs well with Aperture, and with iWeb, which I no longer use. I use it for my low resolution point-n-shoot camera photos, and stuff I take on my iPhone.
Aperture. I love Aperture. It makes my semi-decent photography with a digital SLR look great. I’ve printed photos I’ve touched up in Aperture on 4×4 high gloss books, and on 20x 15 canvas wrapped wood frames. Both look equally great. Aperture tends to run slow on 1GB of RAM though, so I stress that you shouldn’t even really consider it unless you have 2GB. Also, Aperture is easy enough to use that you don’t need artistic skills. I can’t do a thing in Photoshop, but Aperture is easy to understand and work with.
FlickrUploader. Screenshot above and to the right. If you regularly use Flickr, (and you should), FlickrUploader is the best way to get large batches of images uploaded to your Flickr account. It is simple, and doesn’t try to be too much.
There’s no better choice for an IM program than Adium. Hands down, it is the best IM tool on any operating system anywhere. The best part is that it doesn’t replace iChat, it supplements it. Adium, like a similar program called Pidgin, allows you to communicate with users of AIM, Gtalk, MSN, YIM, and more via a single client. It’s extremely customizable too. It can be modified to look like any application you like: iPhoto style, iChat style, iPhone style, AIM style, etc. You can adjust the transparency of the program to make it look like it’s completely floating on the desktop to completely integrate it. You can even customize the images for the dock icon, menubar icon, etc. The only downsides are that it has no AV support, so you’ll still need iChat or Skype for video chatting, and it doesn’t do IRC.
For IRC, Macs don’t have a lot of good choices. Colloquy is still the best looking one, and is stable, fast, Growl compatible, and user friendly. But its channel operator and scripting capabilities are woefully inadequate. Still, it’s what I use.
iCal is my calendar, and I’ve yet to find a better, more integrated program. It does everything you need while looking good, without the bloat.
I also use iGTD as a reminder to do things, but the much vaunted integration with iCal doesn’t seem to work for me, so I’ve been using it less and less. Instead I’ve just been putting up Stickies (located in the Applications folder).
Sunbird is a cool calender from the Mozilla team, but it doesn’t really beat iCal for me, since I don’t really use Firefox (too bloated) or Thunderbird.
I hate Quicktime and WMV, so I’ve installed VideoLAN Client (VLC), which is available in every major operating system out there. It’s rock solid, fast, plays all sorts of file formats, ultra high resolution, and it’s free.
My video camera records in HD under the AVCHD format, so until now I didn’t have any use for iMovie or iDVD, because they didn’t support that format, I had to use Final Cut HD or Final Cut Express HD. Thankfully, the iLife ’08 update for iMovie added AVCHD support, so for the relatively small amount of video editing (mainly funny videos of my cats) that I do, it’s iMovie for me.
iWork ’08. Keynote is a great replacement for Powerpoint, far prettier, more stable, more extensible and better for high res screens.
Numbers is better than Excel, but I haven’t had a chance to use either program significantly, so I can’t swear by how much.
Miro is a cool internet TV program that I’ve just started using. I haven’t got the hang of it yet but it looks pretty cool. It sets videos to expire so they don’t fill up your hard drive, and disables downloads if your disk gets too full.
Other dashboard widgets include Technorati Ping for my blogs, a Blogger.com publishing widget (used less often now), and one that displays ink levels for my printer wirelessly.
OmniDiskSweeper manages my hard drives to ensure that I don’t fill up my drives with useless files and then lose them.
That’s about it. Hope that it helps, and I’ll try to update this as much as possible when I get new apps!